Thoughts on the Oilers: Shot differentials, Player development, Perron traded

img005The club is sitting at a dismal 9-23-3 record. While most teams are staying competitive, the Oilers are making puzzling decisions on their prospects, sending away NHL players and getting outshot on a regular basis.

And the lower this team goes, it seems the more there is to talk about. Why is the team bad? How did it get this bad? Why does the powerplay struggle? Why can’t the goalies be goalies? The fun part of all of this is being able to go back and see all the things that lead up to this disaster. Remember when Draisaitl was described by MacT as being NHL ready? Or when Perron made those lovely comments about his team after the game against New Jersey?

Couple thoughts.

While it’s true that the Oilers were once offered Corey Perry and a pick for Mike Comrie, it’s difficult to say if he would’ve become the star he is today. Perry was selected in the first round by the Ducks in 2003, but left in juniors for another two seasons and then played around 20 games in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL. The Ducks didn’t rush Perry when he was a prospect and did the same for Ryan Getzlaf. The Oilers on the other hand didn’t even have their own farm team at the time and have developed a brutal reputation for rushing prospects and hampering their development (Gagner, Cogliano, and now Schultz, Yakupov, to name a few). So two things: hindsight is always 20/20 and the Oilers have been awful at drafting and developing players since at least 2003.

What we’re seeing from this Draisaitl situation is some of the flawed mentality of Oilers management when it comes to prospects. If Draisaitl’s rights were with a junior team that had a “winning culture” at the start of the year, there’s a good chance the Oilers would’ve secured the services of a veteran centerman like Derek Roy or Mike Ribeiro. That’s pretty unsettling knowing that the Oilers started the season with holes in their lineup, all because MacTavish didn’t like Prince Albert’s development program. It also makes you think of which players in the past were kept fledgling in the NHL only because their junior team didn’t meet the standards of Oilers management. And down the road, when another prospect makes the team at 18, we’ll have to question if the Oilers actually think the player is ready or if he’s there because the Oilers don’t like his junior or college team. Jujhar Khaira, who the Oilers pulled out of college to play in the WHL, comes to mind.

That Perron trade, wow. Unless that late first round pick the Oilers acquired from Pittsburgh is going to bring in a defenceman at the draft, I don’t see the point. I expected Perron to get dealt only because he had enough value to bring in a decent return (i.e., an NHL player to play defence). I thought Perron was outstanding last year. He produced well, possession numbers were good, and he seemed to be instilling some good habits into the roster. Basically everything you would want from an NHL player. This season has been brutal, no question, but the fact is he’s been extremely unlucky when it comes to finishing his chances. Michael Parkatti ran some magic and found that having this bad of a drop off in production is just unheard of. I’m sure the Penguins are aware of this and will likely see Perron bounce back, especially playing with experienced centermen.

It’s going to be amazing to play with any of those three guys, obviously. I just think the play starts from the middle, from the breakout when the d-men hit the guy in the middle. They’re the one that can bring a lot of speed throughout the neutral zone and then they kick it wide to getting it into the zone, they drive the net. – David Perron, Yahoo! 

I thought that was an interesting comment. Gives you a sense of what he looks for in a centerman and why it’d be important to have more than two NHL centermen on your roster. Perron spent most of his time with Arcobello, who struggled mightily this season and was dealt, and Draisaitl, an excellent prospect who really belongs in the WHL for now. Neither of those two had the speed or ability to drive to the net mentioned by Perron. It’s worth noting, that the Oilers’ analytics team played a key role in acquiring Perron. Here’s hoping they can work their magic again to find another gem for MacTavish.

Nice to see the Oilers collecting points with Todd Nelson behind the bench. But the shot differentials are just awful. In the past five games with Nelson as the head coach, the club has been outshot 169-115 (-54, all situations). That’s barely 40% of the total shots. The team wasn’t getting outshot nearly as bad under Eakins, but I’m sure once Nelson has his tactics established, that shot differential should (hopefully) improve.

Recommended Links

How Green Was My Valley – Lowetide

He Didn’t Want To Be Here – Coppernblue

Did Edmonton Oilers management mess up in not sending Leon Draisaitl back to junior earlier? Cult of Hockey

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