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

 

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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

Thoughts on the Oilers: Winning Streak; Shots on Net; Goaltending; Realistic Expectations

Source: TSN.ca

Source: TSN.ca

Amazing what a three-game winning streak can do. Since the Oilers embarrassing streak of three straight home shutout losses, the team has bounced back scoring 15 goals to defeat the Flames, Blue Jackets and Panthers. In those three wins, the Oilers scored 14 straight goals before allowing one against the Panthers.

Shots, Shots, Shots

The Oilers continue to get more shots on net compared to last season.

The question becomes how good are the shots that the Oilers are taking. Michael Parkatti of Boys on the Bus has been tracking shot quality. His work is well worth reading as shot quality is a critical factor for team success.

The best part about winning is that the Oilers aren’t being mentioned in trade rumors. The majority of the stories being written are about the small things the Oilers are doing well, such as the powerplay and penalty kill.

Goaltending

The other positive of the winning streak is that Devan Dubnyk can continue playing without the chatter of Ilya Bryzgalov taking over. Pretty sure if the Oilers had lost any of the past three games since Bryzgalov joined the Oilers roster, there would be all sorts of content produced about the Russian netminder. I think the signing of Bryzgalov is a good one for the Oilers as they definitely enhanced their tandem. But the additional narratives about Bryzgalov’s character and his run-ins with the media are a bit much. This was quite apparent when he first arrived in Edmonton as very little was asked about his on-ice performance and more about his personality and attitude.

Realistic Expectations

But with all of the positives coming out, there is a harsh reality that the poor start to the season has already cost the team the playoffs. To make the playoffs in the Western Conference, a team would need about 95 points.  For the duration of the season (58 games) the Oilers would need to win games at the same rate as the best teams in the league to make the playoffs. Possible, sure, but the odds are firmly against this roster.

The advanced stats also suggest that the Oilers are headed to their eighth straight year out of the playoffs. Tyler Dellow put together a piece comparing team Corsi rates at the quarter pole of the season and how it’s a fairly clear indication of whether or not a team makes it to the playoffs.

NHL Teams Due to Rise Up, Fall Down Standings – Sportsnet

I can’t say I’m disappointed. My expectation going in to the season was that the Oilers would finish between 10th and 12th place. This was mainly due to the fact the Oilers hired a new coach, started the season with one legit centreman (Boyd Gordon) and that the defense was weak compared to other Western Conference teams.

Recommended Links

Signs of Life – OilersNation

Defense Needed: Apply Within – The Copper and Blue

Of Note: Eakins on Forecheck – mc79hockey

How Devan Dubnyk Got His Groove Back – Oil on Whyte

Get Happy! – Lowetide

Thoughts on the Oilers: Rookies; Rumors; Trades; Shots on Net

Source: Edmonton Journal

Source: Edmonton Journal

The Oilers continue on their four-game road trip, where they picked up a win in Florida, but dropped a decision to Tampa Bay. I thought the Oilers played well in both games, even though they lost in Tampa Bay and ALMOST blew it against the hapless Panthers.

Taylor Fedun

Great to see the young defenceman make it to the NHL and score a couple goals right away. Fedun has made a remarkable recovery coming back from a shattered leg which he sustained on an icing play. Since the injury, the NHL has smartened up and introduced hybrid icing to reduce the number of accidents occurring.

Trade Rumors

As long as the Oilers struggle on the ice, they’ll be mired in absolute garbage trade rumors. Nothing irks me more than garbage information, so it’s been a challenging week hearing about Nail Yakupov and Jordan Eberle potentially on the trading block.

Hockey fans have to remember that teams use media outlets and “insiders” to throw off rival GM’s and potential trade partners. Unfortunately, this leaves a ton of garbage information for fans to decipher through and digest.

Trades

Friday was a busy day for the Oilers as they dealt away defenceman Ladislav Smid to Calgary for prospects, and then later signed free agent goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. As you can imagine, Twitter was flush with junk information on who would be next to go on the Oilers.

I’ll never quite understand how teams justify shipping out players for prospects. Shouldn’t the objective of every team be to find good players and keep good players? Can’t be shocked that the Oil pulled this off once again, I but remain surprised that the team is taking a chance on Bryzgalov. Dubnyk has struggled and the case can be made that the players may not have a lot of confidence in him. But I don’t see how Bryzgalov is a major upgrade, as he was recently bought out by the Flyers. Regardless, lets hope the Oil can get their act together and get some wins on this current road trip.

Shots on Net

Great point by the Oilers Radio Bob Stauffer last night after the loss in Tampa Bay.

Recommended Links

“The Grass Is Always Greener” Is Not To Be Taken Literally – mc79hockey

Omark and Eager Returning to Oklahoma City – The Copper and Blue

Permanent Revolution: Oilers Trade Smid for Magic Beans – The Copper and Blue

The Remarkable Story of Taylor Fedun – OilersNation