Thoughts on the Oilers: Culture, gossip and trade speculation

pimg003I’ve never understood the infatuation with having a “winning culture” in hockey, as if it’s something you can just instill in your club. Really, the only way to obtain the elusive “winning culture” is by, you guessed it, winning. Not by dumping players (i.e., Souray, Horcoff, Gilbert, etc), naming captains, replacing photos in the locker room, or coming up with team mottos.

But culture remains one of those topics that people tend to gossip about when a team isn’t performing. It’s a vague, subjective concept, that suddenly becomes the basis for trade rumors and speculation.

Of course, when your team is dead last, you can expect a jump in these kinds of topics like culture. Teams that struggle are discussed more (see Oilers, Edmonton). Fans have opinions, losing teams clearly need lots of help, so the discussion will naturally center around the culture of the team, why the team is bad and how to improve the team.

This leads us to the rumors about Taylor Hall being a problem in the Oilers locker room and how the Oilers might deal him. It’s frustrating to hear about as an Oilers fan, but the majority of us get the whole rumor cycle and how the machine works.

The source of the rumor is, of course, unnamed. Why would Dreger or any insider give that up and risk their relationships and lose out on future material? It’s his job to inform, but we know, or at least should know, that his messaging is influenced by his employer, team managers and of course player agents. These sources have their own interests and agendas that we know nothing about. Instead, we get tidbits here and there through hockey reporters and are left to discuss and spread the information across our networks.

If the Oilers had an interest in dealing Hall, why would they diminish his value by leaking that he might be “uncoachable”? Add to the fact that Hall has been very productive for the club, providing good value for a very reasonable contract, and you can begin to see where the holes are in this rumor.

It’s obvious that whoever leaked this to Dreger is either trying to motivate Hall, who is mired in a slump right now, or is just trying to get other general managers talking and releasing information on who they might be looking to offload in a trade.

One former Oilers GM put it best in 2000:

Glen Sather, general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, recognizes the value of rumours.

“It is part of selling the game,” he says. “I think rumours are good for the game because they create interest.”

“A player reads a rumour in the paper that he is going to be traded, so all of a sudden his game picks up,” he says.

Sather points to Vaclav Prospal of the Ottawa Senators as an example.

“He was brutal until the stories came out that he was going to be traded, and all of a sudden he is playing a lot better.” (National Post, January 2000)

Now of course, there is always the possibility that a  player gets dealt. The Oilers have a lot of holes to fill, and Hall could get you a decent return. I just don’t see how leaking negative information about your player to a reporter would help facilitate any trade process.

Related: Oil City Speculation (2009)

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Thoughts on the Oilers: Managing coaches and coaching managers

pimg003Soon after MacTavish became GM, there appeared to a philosophical shift when it came to coaching and roster management. Not only was MacTavish revamping the entire roster, trading away Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and Devan Dubnyk in his first year, but he appeared to be committed to having a strong coaching staff that could support long-term player development.

Bringing in Eakins was an excellent move. Eakins performed well at the AHL level. He was an outside voice. And most importantly, it was who MacTavish wanted. The four year deal given to Eakins signified the importance of stable coaching as well as MacTavish’s level of accountability.

And even after the Oilers’ horrific start last season, MacTavish stressed the importance of coaching continuity and stood behind the hiring of Eakins.

And I would say, absolutely, yeah. I love the coach. To me, he’s done a lot. There’s been a lot of heavy lifting for him. We’re going to have continuity of coaching going forward, which is going to make a big difference going into next year. It’s the same coaching staff, the same messaging. You know how disruptive it is to change coaches. We’re going to have this continuity of coaching. For me, this guy has got the right balance of supporting the players and holding them accountable. There’s an accountability that like. Source: Cult of Hockey (January 2014)

At the end of 2013-2014 season, Taylor Hall talked about the benefits of coming back next season to the same coaching staff.

I think that it’s huge. I know for myself personally I’m really looking forward to going into a year where you don’t have that awkward first handshake at training camp. You know what the coach is going to be like, you understand each other and most of all you understand the system that he’s going to employ. We’re going to have the majority of our team back and to have the same coach is going to be great. And I think that you saw this year with the start that we had, it wasn’t Dallas’ fault by any means, but getting used to a new coach is always a little bit tough. Source: OilersNation (April 2014)

Over the summer, Craig Ramsay and Rocky Thompson were brought in as assistants to replace Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger, both of whom appeared to be there for transition purposes. The coaching staff now had a long-time coach in Ramsay, and a player-development type of coach in Thompson. A good sign for Eakins and coaching continuity.

But after another horrific start, MacTavish held a press conference where he emphasized that coaching was under scrutiny and that the team had made improvements by bringing in new assistant coaches. Eakins still appeard to be safe, especially with Taylor Hall voicing his support for the coach just a week prior.

Regardless of the talk, Dallas Eakins was let go this week. It’s been blatantly obvious that he didn’t have a complete NHL roster this season and now it’ll  be up to another coach to somehow fix the club. Unless the Oilers improve their player evaluation strategy and allow every player to develop at the right pace (see Red Wings, Detroit), we’ll likely see the coaching carousel continue.

Speaking of Detroit and coaching, there’s a great article on Mike Babcock that has to be read by someone with the Oilers. Quick excerpt:

To be an assistant on Babcock’s staff you have to do one specific thing.

“I want you to have a new idea every day, and I want you to fight for your idea,” Babcock said. “I try to hire people that are going to bring change. I’ve got that right in their job description.”

It’s all part of Babcock’s R&D philosophy, something he’s famous for among his assistants.

Not only is the Oilers on-ice product miles away from the elite teams in the NHL, but so to are the overall management strategies. While the Oilers search for yet another head coach, other teams have long-term coaches tied in to the player development process who are also finding ways of developing assistant coaches.

Here’s hoping MacTavish can develop and commit to a long term plan that involves aligning a strong coaching staff with a roster development strategy. He had the right idea when he hired Eakins. He just needs that same approach to  enhance the scouting and player development. Sometime soon would be a bonus.

Recommended Links

Sing me back home – Lowetide

Bloody Fingerprints – Hockeybuzz

10 Lessons Everyone Can Learn from the Oilers’ Misery – Grantland

Oilers Positives and Negatives 2013-2014

oilers_sabres_hockey_30120629-e1391483874353

Source: O.Canada.com

It’s disappointing when something doesn’t meet your expectations. It’s even more disappointing when your expectations weren’t even that high to begin with.

My prediction at the start of the year was that the Oilers would finish between 10th and 12th in the west. RNH was recovering from shoulder surgery. Gagner got hurt in pre-season. And, compared to playoff teams from last year, the Oilers defensive core lacked NHL talent and experience. Add to the fact you had a coaching staff with very little experience and a very young top-six, I just couldn’t see this club making the playoffs as a wild card.

Going through my Oilers posts from this season, I’ve compiled what I think were the positives (believe it or not, there were some) and negatives.

Continue reading

Thoughts on the Oilers: MacTavish on goaltending and coaching

Source: Calgary Sun

Source: Calgary Sun

Oilers GM Craig MacTavish provided some insight into the state of the Oilers in a recent interview with David Staples of the Edmonton Journal. The interview is broken up into four parts, the first of which can be found over at the Cult of Hockey.

Regarding goaltending, MacTavish revealed his hopes that one of his netminders would provide a “spark”, similar to what Jonathan Quick provided the LA Kings.

Quick developed. And he gave them the spark. He was the guy that gave them the spark that ignited that team. The team still has trouble scoring goals but they really were challenged back that year and it was all based on defence and the play of Jonathan Quick.

I find this point interesting only because LA, even though they were on the verge of a breakout, had some decent defencemen in front of Quick. Not to say that Quick isn’t an elite goalie. But I’d like to see how he would do playing behind the current defence core of the Edmonton Oilers. This also explains why MacTavish was after Jonathan Bernier, who was the backup in Los Angeles and developed in the same system as Quick.

MacTavish also provided strong support for head coach Dallas Eakins.

And I would say, absolutely, yeah. I love the coach. To me, he’s done a lot. There’s been a lot of heavy lifting for him. We’re going to have continuity of coaching going forward, which is going to make a big difference going into next year. It’s the same coaching staff, the same messaging. You know how disruptive it is to change coaches. We’re going to have this continuity of coaching. For me, this guy has got the right balance of supporting the players and holding them accountable. There’s an accountability that like.

Even though Eakins is struggling this year, I think it’s critical that they maintain some consistency behind the bench. I think by the end of next year, if things don’t turn around, MacTavish may have to make a change.

I was pretty skeptical about the Oilers hiring MacTavish. The optics were just terrible as another former player was getting the job based on their alumni status rather than their professional credentials. But since his hiring, MacTavish has completely re-done the roster through some excellent, simple, trades and free agent signings. I really do think the team is heading in the right direction and feel a lot more confidence in him over Steve Tambellini.

Highly recommend the entire interview over at Cult of Hockey.

Recommended Links

Did Craig MacTavish Move Ladislav Smid to Calgary Just in Time? – OilersNation

Simple Concepts – The Copper and Blue

 

Thoughts on the Oilers: Progress; Heavy Teams; Yakupov Struggling; Omark vs Schremp; International Hockey

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Source: Edmonton Oilers

The month of December has thankfully come to an end for the Oilers. The Oilers won five games out of 15, and went on a six-game losing streak. Taylor Hall has been the lone bright spot on the team, driving the offence. Unfortunately, the team defense continues to weigh down the club.

It’s been a long season, but I think it’s been a vast improvement from last year. There are obviously some major issues, but the team itself is in the first year of it’s second rebuild. A new GM, a new coach and new tactics have to be given some time to see progress. MacTavish has made a ton of moves since coming in and appears to be active in acquiring much needed help. And before critiquing MacTavish, consider the absolute mess that Tambellini left behind.

Heavy Teams

Anytime the Oilers play the likes of St. Louis, Los Angeles or Boston, the discussion of “heavy teams” pops up. It’s a common misconception that size alone can boost a team’s success. The only time size plays an actual role in game outcomes is when it’s used effectively to protect the puck. Possession is critical for success, and size CAN play a factor. But all too often, we see average sized players protect the puck well. Players from a very young age are taught proper skating and body positioning to protect the puck and regain possession. So why size is always trumpeted as the key to success doesn’t make sense to me.

Yakupov Struggling

It’s tough watching the young Russian spend more time on the bench, and recently the pressbox. The guy has a lot of offensive talent, but unfortunately his defensive game is still a  work in progress. Why teams think they can develop guy in the major leagues is beyond me. Eighteen year olds, unless they have some exceptional talent like Ovechkin and Crosby, should spend at least 50 games in the minor leagues before making the jump. A well developed minor league system can develop a player properly and give them time to adjust to the pace of the NHL

As for Yak, it would be easy to suggest that he be sent to the minors. But at this point, considering he had some success last season, it would be beneficial to give him real NHL linemates that can cover for him defensively, rather than pairing him with enforcers.

Omark vs Schremp

I took some heat last week for suggesting that Omark should not be compared to former Oiler Rob Schremp. I just don’t recall Schremp being anything more than a one-dimensional player, whereas Omark has received significant praise for his all-round game.

          Wasting Linus Omark – The Copper and Blue

Schremp’s advanced stats aren’t available, so judging by his boxcar stats alone, nothing stands out. Schremp also had a lot of negative reviews from scouts even before joining the Oilers and has since been a marginal hockey player.

          AHL Prospect Rankings: #8 Rob Schremp – OilersNation

International Hockey

I’m not a follower of junior hockey, but I do keep tabs on which European teams are making progress. It’s a good sign when more countries are improving year to year, as I think the game overall needs to evolve. Hockey will always be limited to a small number of countries, but the more nations involved, the more ideas and tactics can be introduced.

Recommended Links

The State of the Edmonton Oilers: It’s bad but not as bad as it looks – Cult of Hockey

Advanced Stats Crash Course: Possession (Part 1) – FlamesNation

Man of Action – OilersNation

A Look Back at the Oilers 2013 – The Copper and Blue

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: Coaching Stability; MacTavish; Quick Wins

Source: The Leafs Nation

Source: The Leafs Nation

Another home, shutout loss this week, which leaves the Oilers at 4-14-2. This team looks to be on pace to reach some all time lows. Brutal.

Coaching Stability

At this point, it would make little sense to fire Dallas Eakins. I agree that if this were any other team, a coaching change would be made. But the Oilers have gone through enough coaches over the past few years, that this would only add to the instability behind the bench.

The Detroit Red Wings, one of the most consistent franchises in professional sports, have always stressed the importance of stability both at the player and management level. Since 1993, the Red Wings have had four coaches. The current coach, Mike Babcock, has been there since 2005.  The Oilers on the other hand have had 10 different coaches since 1993. Eakins is the fifth Oilers head coach since 2008. Factor in the assistant and off-ice coaches, and you have way too much instability for young players to develop.

Think it’s important to remember how each coach brings different tactics, practice plans, etc., and that players always need time to adjust. I’m not defending the horrid start, it really is unacceptable. But a coach does need time to prove what they’re capable of. Too often, the needs of the team are trumped by what the fans want. It’s a difficult balance, but in this case it’s a better decision to let Eakins work things out.

MacTavish

The GM did an excellent job yesterday taking attention away from the struggling roster and coaching staff by holding a press conference. Really, there’s nothing new to report, but he sparked a  ton of useless content regardless. Everything that he said was already known: the Oilers were trying to land a defencemen at the 2013 Entry Draft; future picks will be used to get roster players, likely a defenceman; and this team is terrible defensively.

Oilers vs Flames on Hockey Night in Canada

If fans are agitated by the horrible start, I can’t imagine what a loss to the Flames this weekend will do. This is one of those games that the Oilers can win to calm the angry mob, mainly because it’s Calgary and it’s on Hockey Night in Canada. Doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things but it’s one of those “quick wins” that would appease the fans for a day or two. 

Recommended Links

The Detroit Red Wings and How to be Successful in the Long Run – Forbes

Wings GM Holland says stability, patience key to building winner – Windsor Star

Why firing your coach in a rebuild is nonsensical – Yahoo! Puck Daddy

The Coach – OilersNation