Thoughts on the Oilers: Losing Streak; MacTavish and Goalies; Omark Traded

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Source: Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers have only three wins in their last ten games. The club is in the midst of a 5-game losing streak and will be hosting the St. Louis Blues this Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada. The way this team is playing, especially defensively and on the powerplay, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the streak continue to finish off 2013. Fun times in Oil Country!

MacTavish and Goalies

Looks like the Oilers will continue rotating between Dubnyk and Bryzgalov until one of them is the clear-cut starter. I’m still hoping Dubnyk can bounce back and reclaim the starter position, but it’s clear that he doesn’t have the confidence of management. Prior to signing Ilya Bryzgalov, the organization had sought other goalies including Ben Bishop from Ottawa back in April and Jonathan Bernier from LA in the summer.  Then there were all sorts of rumors about Ryan Miller being of interest to the Oilers in the early part of the season.

Looking back over the years that MacTavish was head coach, he never seemed to have a clear-cut, elite, number one goalie. Tommy Salo was the starter early in MacTavish’s coaching career, but was phased out to make room for Ty Conklin. Conklin never really panned out, and the organization was forced to have a ridiculous goalie rotation in 2005-2006. The Oilers had to deal a first round pick to acquire Roloson who played a big role in getting the Oilers to the finals in 2006. Roloson appeared to be the guy for MacTavish in 2006-2007, but then split playing time with Mathieu Garon the following year. What stands out in this goalie history is that MacTavish never had the luxury of having a solid, consistent, goaltender, and, because of his experience, likely overvalues elite goaltending.

Omark Trade

The Oilers shipped out Linus Omark yesterday to Buffalo in exchange for a 6th round pick. Omark has a tremendous amount of skill that was showcased in the AHL, where he scored 47 points in 46 games and was heavily relied on by the Oklahoma City coaching staff. Stats like that typically indicate the player could put up some decent numbers in the NHL according to Desjardins equivalency calculation. Unfortunately, Omark didn’t get the right opportunity in the NHL, as he was typically brought up for short stints to play empty minutes on the third and fourth line. There’s an abundance of skilled forwards in Edmonton with higher draft pedigrees than Omark, so hopefully he gets a fair shake in Buffalo.

Here’s hoping we’ll read about his renaissance in a few years, similar to what was recently written about former Oiler Dustin Penner.

Recommended Links

The Linus Omark I Knew (Was the one that surprised me the most) – Tend the Farm

Segla framåt, du begåvade – Lowetide

Fare Thee Well, Linus Omark – The Copper and Blue

Building a Winner – OilersNation

Now Eventually You Do Plan To Have Power, On Your Powerplay, Right? Hello?  – OilersNation

Burke, Value and Truculence – FlamesNation

Thoughts on the Oilers: Winning; Goaltending; Player Assessment; Player Development

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Since beating the Flames on November 16th on Hockey Night in Canada, where they scored four unanswered goals in the third period, the Oilers have won four of their last five games. The winning has significantly reduced the number bogus rumors and there haven’t been any player agents stealing headlines during this stretch either.

But even though the memory of the three straight shutout losses at home are fading, the conference standings are still a harsh reality.

Vs. Nashville

Ilya Bryzgalov also got his first start as an Oiler, shutting out the Predators last night, and is likely to get another start tonight against the Blue Jackets. I typically don’t agree with starting goalies on back-to-back nights, considering Dubnyk is playing pretty well, but it’s a common decision by the coach to go with the mythical “hot hand”.

The Oilers played a pretty solid game last night as well. The improved scoring chances for and against by each line combination looked pretty promising, so hopefully they can play well in front of Bryzgalov again.

Player Assessment

It’s still pretty obvious that the Oilers lack the strong defensive play to compete in the western conference. It’s been the same story every year since the 2006 squad which included sound defensive players including Chris Pronger. For a while, I thought it was the coaching or gameplans that were at fault. But as the losing seasons pile up, you have to consider some deep rooted problems in the organization.

I’m beggining to wonder if it’s the Oilers assessment of players drafted and acquired that is a weakness here. Assuming that the Oilers have some sort of model or criteria to assess players, there might be some qualities the team is overlooking. Perhaps scouts aren’t looking at deeper performance measures and perhaps letting their biases take over. It’s hard information to uncover, but the on-ice performance and the lack of depth at the centre and defensive positions are enough to question team management.

Player Development

Another issue is how poorly the team has handled the development of its prospects in the past. Far too often, players have been rushed into the league, without the proper training and preparation. The best example of this is Sam Gagner, who was drafted in 2008 and made the roster when he was only 18.

I’ve always wondered what another season in the OHL and a season in the AHL could’ve done for Gagner. He’s a complete player, but I really think the pressure of playing in the NHL and not getting the right training early in his career has hindered his true potential.  Only in recent years have the Oilers established a solid farm league system, something that was missing when Gagner was drafted.

The Detroit Red Wings have always produced exceptional talent, and I think it’s in large part to their patience with prospects. Every player that gets drafted by the Wings typically completes a few years in juniors and then plays a season or two in the AHL. This included Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, who both played a few seasons in minor leagues prior to becoming the teams franchise players.

A related article over at The Hockey Writers concisely lists off how to ruin an NHL prospect, using Buffalo Sabres prospect Mikhail Grigorenko as a case study. In summary: rushing a player before they’re ready for professional hockey and setting him up for failure is a sure way to derail a hockey career.

Recommended Links

Five ways to run an NHL prospect – The Hockey Writers

Why goalies should almost never start back-to-back games – Broadstreet Hockey

Sam Gagner needs to step up his game to show he belongs – Edmonton Journal

Bryzgalov’s “Hot Hand” – The Copper and Blue