Thoughts on the Oilers: Goaltending, Coaching, Personnel, Mo’ Money

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Source: Edmonton Oilers

This season can’t end soon enough. The Oilers are 24-43-13 with two games remaining, and are destined to finish 28th.

Goaltending

The Oilers will be looking for a new goaltender this summer with Fasth heading to free agency and Scrivens settling into a backup role. I thought Fasth would be the guy to take over, but alas, the Oilers will likely dump a pile of money at someone like Antti Niemi. His numbers are nothing great, but because of his experience and Stanley Cup ring, the Oilers, or another desperate club, will make a pitch for his services.

Good/average goaltending is really all a team can ask for from their netminder. It’s really more important to have an experienced defence core, which to me, makes or breaks a goalies career. If the Oilers want average goaltending, they really should save the money and avoid someone like Niemi. Instead the club should pursue someone younger with upside like Cam Talbot (NYR) or Martin Jones (LA). Unfortunately, MacTavish tried this last season with Scrivens and Fasth, and failed, so it’s likely he’ll chase an experienced goalie. I’m hoping the Oilers’ analytics team can uncover a goalie whose career has been good, but value has dropped because of a poor year. Darcy Kuemper (MIN) comes to mind.

Coaching

This is going to be a tough decision for MacTavish. Do you go with Nelson who has done an okay job as interim head coach or do you chase one of the top coaches who might be available after their respective playoff runs? MacTavish struck out once going with a younger coach, so my guess is he’ll make sure his next hire is a veteran guy. Not to say that Nelson or Eakins aren’t good candiates. Both have done excellent work at the AHL level providing guidance to developing players, and are worthy of NHL positions. I just imagine MacTavish going down a safer route, so he faces less criticism if/when things go south.

Size

It seems every time the Oilers lose, I come across comments online and the radio about how the Oilers need to be bigger.

Chasing a single trait like size, or even speed or skill, is extremely short sighted and is often influenced by our own personal biases and experiences. When assessing anything, whether it be a player or a car or an idea, it’s critical to remain open minded. The Oilers, for whatever reason, have chased size (i.e., coke machines) drafting or acquiring players who had limited potential (JF Jacques and Brad Isbister immediately come to mind). It’s easy to find size..just sort the list by weight and height. But it’s harder to get a big player with strong complementary traits like skating, puck control and endurance. It’ll be interesting to see how the scouting staff does this summer.

Katz

A lot has been made of how terrible the Oilers have been since Katz officially took over the club in 2008. David Staples from the Cult of Hockey put some numbers to it to highlight just how bad they’ve been relative to the rest of the league.

At the end of the day, there really is nothing we can do with who owns the team. The NHL, and other professional leagues are just a time-filler for owners. They all have other legitimate businesses running, and pro-teams are really just for fun for them. It always makes me laugh when someone refers to hockey as a “business”. It’s a cartel. Similar to the drug trade. They have their own rules, their own measure of currency, and their own economy and operational structure. So to hope that another owner comes along and takes the game more seriously is just wishful thinking. You can hope Katz can hire the right managers and staff, but it’s clear that he goes with people he knows personally and has an attachment to. Can’t do much about that, so we kinda have to roll with it.

Side note: I’ve come across a lot of interesting research on social behavior and norms, cognitive psychology stuff. One thing that’s apparent is how money impacts our decision making, the norms that guide our behavior and our relationships with others. It’s possible that Katz’ deep pockets, and early promises to spend to the cap,  may have altered how the Oilers assess and acquire players. There was a time when the Oilers actually pieced together a nice roster (see 2005/2006, Oilers). But something changed along the way where they now rely heavily on free agency and less on true scouting and asessement. Just a thought.

Recommended Links

Don’t Worry, It’s Almost Over – The Copper and Blue

The Character of the Oilers – Oilers Rig

Patience and Prudence in Development – Lowetide

Edmonton Oilers Player Grades, Game 71-80 – The Cult of Hockey

Corsi Didn’t Help Tyler Dellow or Kyle Dubas – Hockey in more than 140 Characters

Money Changes Everything – Dan Ariely

Thoughts on the Oilers: Goalies, Player Development and Prospects

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Ty Conklin

Great to see Devan Dubnyk have such a great bounce back season. Beating the Oilers must have felt pretty awesome for him (100 times), but he also had  a pretty solid performance against the Predators last night, another team where things went from bad to worse for him. I know a lot is being said about Sean Burke’s impact on him in Arizona. I’m just curious as to why Burke isn’t having the same impact on Mike Smith, who has been struggling all season.

Worth noting that in the 2013 off season, Dubnyk had to make changes to his game because of new rule changes impacting goalie stick lengths. This story gets a little lost since it’s safe to assume that professional athletes should be able to adjust to rules. But stick length, especially for taller goalies, can have a major impact on the goalie’s posture.

Two inches may not seem like much, but goaltenders grip their stick where the shaft intersects the thicker paddle, so changing that point relative to the ice can force an altered stance or blocker position, opening up holes on the blocker side arm, and even causing balance issues in the crease. [In Goal Magazine]

The full article from that summer on how the changes impacted Dubnyk, Eddie Lack and Robin Lehner is worth a read. Dubnyk had a terrible season after the change and the latter two are still competing for starter positions in Vancouver and Ottawa respectively. Maybe give Dubie a call and find out about this head/trajectory training.

Taking a look at this Matt O’Connor fellow, who has drawn attention from many teams for his performance in college. His history and stats look quite similar to former Oilers netminder Ty Conklin (Source: HockeyDB).

Matt O’Connor
Season Team Lge GP Min GA SO GAA W L T Pct
2010-11 Youngstown Phantoms USHL 29 1713 98 0 3.43 10 16 2 0.886
2011-12 Youngstown Phantoms USHL 50 2886 146 1 3.04 28 16 5 0.902
2012-13 Boston University H-East 19 1110 53 0 2.86 8 8 2 0.910
2013-14 Boston University H-East 22 1224 59 0 2.89 7 9 4 0.920
2014-15 Boston University H-East 25 1518 53 1 2.1 17 3 4 0.929
Ty Conklin
Season Team Lge GP Min GA SO GAA W L T Pct
1995-96 Green Bay Gamblers USHL 30 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1996-97 Green Bay Gamblers USHL 30 1609 86 1 3.21 19 7 1 0.908
1998-99 U. of New Hampshire H-East 22 1338 41 0 1.84 18 3 1 N/A
1999-00 U. of New Hampshire H-East 37 2194 91 1 2.49 22 8 6 0.908
2000-01 U. of New Hampshire H-East 34 2048 70 0 2.05 17 12 5 0.920

Conklin as you may recall, was another good college prospect that the Oilers actually took time to develop in the minors and as a backup before giving him the starter job. It’s easy to recall his horrible 2005/2006 season and his playoff….ah you know what, never mind. The concern with the Oilers chasing O’Connor is that they’ll probably promise him lots of ice time, like they did with Justin Schultz. Any young player would love to fast track his career and would jump at the opportunity to join a team with little depth. This of course is never good for any young prospect as it’s critical for players, goalies and defensemen especially, to develop in the minors first. Unfortunately, the Oilers have built a reputation of being a place where young guys get ice time handed to them and the pressures of winning are non-existent.

Must be fun for fans of playoff teams and bubble teams on trade deadline day. Rather than make a push for anything, the Oilers will likely be off loading an NHL player or two for picks. It’ll also be a good indicator of what MacT’s plans are for the marquee prospects in the system. I’d prefer to see guys like Nurse and Draisaitl spend some time in the minors. But MacT might just be clearing a spot at the deadline for these prospects in the hopes that they’ll be ready for the NHL. It makes no sense to rush these guys who’ll be playing key positions in a few seasons.

Recommended Links

The challenge for Todd Nelson and the Edmonton Oilers is just to avoid embarrassment – Cult of Hockey

Development and the Edmonton Oilers – Cult of Hockey

About Nail – Lowetide

Updated Oilers Possession Stats – Copper and Blue

Are the Oilers Set at Centre Now? – Oilers Rig

Thoughts on the Oilers: Shot differentials under Nelson; Keeping Fasth; Pre-Pronger Era

Anaheim Ducks v Edmonton OilersWith Nelson behind the bench, the overall perception of the Oilers has improved as they’ve started winning games. Even though Nelson has only won three in regulation since Eakins was fired, there’s a general sense of optimism that the team just might start turning it around. Unfortunately, they’ve been getting outshot quite regularly, which never ends well for a club.

2014-15 Oilers Shot Differentials (5on5)
Coach Games % of shots shot differentials
Eakins 31 49.4% -18
MacT/Nelson 5 45.1% -23
Nelson 16 45.0% -71

The team is getting the wins, but it shouldn’t hide the fact that the club is still weak in a number of areas. I’ve liked Derek Roy’s play and hope the Oilers can either sign him or at least be inspired to seek out a legit NHL centerman. The defence is still in need of an NHL player or three. And the goaltending, which hasn’t been awful as of late, will likely get revamped for the 2015 season.

Glad to see Fasth getting some starts.  He’s looked pretty good, especially the other night against Pittsburgh when the rest of the team played terribly for the majority of the game. His 5-on-5 save percentage (adjusted) has been respectable  in 2015. Whether that’s because of the head coaching change or the new goaltender coach is anyone’s guess. Thought I’d break it out by coach and goalie coach.

Adjusted Save% (5on5)
Head Coach Scrivens Fasth
Eakins 90.28 88.97
MacT/Nelson 89.55 66.96
Nelson 90.68 93.25
Adjusted Save% (5on5)
Goalie Coach Scrivens Fasth
Chabot 90.03 86.97
Schwartz 90.59 91.00

Source: War on Ice

The team is leaking shots at an alarming rate, so Fasth will have to continue standing on his head to bail out his team. He should be the guy the team goes forward with, but will likely be shipped for a draft pick at the trade deadline. It’s also encouraging to hear the Oilers are pursuing goaltender Matt O’Connor, who has played extremely well at the college level. Just wish we had, you know, developed our own goalie.

Definitely hoping the Oilers can beat the Leafs in Toronto on HNIC. Not because I dislike the Leafs, who are actually fun to watch with guys like Kessel and Kadri on their roster. But because of the positive attention the Oilers will get in the biggest media market. Oilers win and they’ll receive lots of praise for winning under the new coach and the prospects coming down the pipe (with lots of links to Nurse’s performance at the World Juniors). The Leafs on the other hand will receive negative coverage for not rebuilding soon enough like the Oilers (hah!) and point to the tough decisions Shanhan and company will have to make at the deadline. Fluff pieces are nice once in a while.

Edmonton Oilers (1990-2014)

Edmonton Oilers (1990-2014)

I’ve been looking back at some of the success the Oilers had before this nine year drought. One thing that stands out is how well the teams were built even before the 2005-2006 season, and how good they were at generating shots. People can quip that the 2006 run was a fluke or that it was all Pronger. Their regular season was outstanding from start to finish. Had the goaltending been stronger before Roloson showed up at the deadline, they would’ve finished much higher than 8th. But the few seasons before the lockout, the team was generating shots and holding their own against some of the best teams in the league. They missed the playoffs, sure, but the team was getting some very nice production from all areas of the roster. No idea if it was the ownership change, or the management structure, but something altered the way this team evaluates professional and amateur players. The Oilers made some excellent trades in the early aughties, but haven’t been able to replicate that success under Katz. Here’s hoping the promotion of Bob Green can make an impact.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, be sure to listen or read Jason Gregor’s interview with Ryan Smyth. Smyth’s personality came through really well on the radio making the whole interview exceptional. He’s not the most polished guy when he talks about the game, but you can tell from his interview why he was revered in Edmonton. The guy had a tremendous career and really connected well with the community. Think it’s only a matter of time before someone hires him for a player personnel manager role.

Recommended Links

Are the Barons Developing Enough NHL Talent – Lowetide

You can’t trust *some of* the people who cover the Edmonton Oilers – Oilersnation

It’s Been Nine Years – Copper and Blue

Trade Talk: Save the damn puck edition – The Oilers Rig

Thoughts on the Oilers: 2014/2015 Season, Forwards, Defence, Goaltending

Leon Draisaitl

Leon Draisaitl

This is year two of the MacTavish-Eakins era and needless to say, there has to be progress following last season’s train wreck.

Forwards

I think the new additions will be a massive boost to the club. Experience still counts in this league, so it’s refreshing to see guys like Pouliot and Purcell flanking a very young and developing core. Both are still in their primes, making serious money. But both should be counted on for secondary scoring.

The top six overall looks like a legit NHL group. But because of the weaknesses at centre, this club is one injury away from entering the McDavid sweepstakes. There is never a good reason to keep a player under 20 on your roster, unless he’s Crosby or Ovechkin. And again the Oilers will be relying on a young prospect to produce with Draisatl securing the second line centre position. Here’s hoping he can at least get the softer minutes (i.e., offensive zone face offs, power play time, against easier competition). With such a glaring hole at centre, I think most assumed the Oilers would’ve sought out a veteran player like Derek Roy or Derek Legwand.

Defence

This group is definitely an improvement from last season, with the addition of Fayne and Nikitin. But it is still far from being a top NHL caliber group. Guys like Schultz, Klefbom, Marincin and Nurse are still developing, but will likely be asked to play high end minutes. If this club can stay healthy, and the team is smart enough to keep Petry long-term, I think they can compete well in their division. My expectations when it comes to how they play as a unit is much higher with the addition of Craig Ramsay on the staff. It’ll be interesting to see if he can find a way to better utilize this group and find some success in 5-on-5 situations.

Goaltending

This is one area where I’m still unsure about. If the coaching staff can limit the ridiculous amount of clean zone entries and two-on-ones like last year, I think this tandem is good enough. But if those same defensive lapses and poor coverage emerge from last season, no goalie will stand a chance. Here’s hoping some stronger possession play through all three zones will help the goalies. From what I saw last year and the pre-season, I’m predicting Fasth comes out as the clear cut number one goalie by November.

Bold Predictions

Regardless of the glaring hole at centre and the question mark in net, I think there’s a lot of potential in this current roster. The wings have a lot of talent and experience, and stack up well against the top teams in the league. The defence has improved with new roster players and the addition of Ramsay. MacTavish has brought in proven possession players with experience, which should hopefully translate to less time scrambling and chasing the puck. An additional 10 wins from last season isn’t asking for much, so I’m predicting they make a jump up to 10th in the west this season.

2013/2014 Season:

29-44-9
67 PTS
203 GF
270 GA
14th in the West

2014/2015 Predictions:

39-36-7
85 PTS
220 GF
240 GA
10th in the West

Top Scorer: Taylor Hall
Best defenceman*: Jeff Petry
Likely to get dealt: David Perron

*Based on boxcars and advanced stats

Recommended Links

The Autumn Leaves Drift by My Window – Lowetide

Are We There Yet? – Copper and Blue

Oilers Rig Podcast – The Oilers Rig

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: 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