Sunday, March 30, 2008

Its Alright Mama



A terrific night Friday. Not the result, of course, but the company.

What was interesting was the mood. Even with the last second goal by Sakic everyone was in pretty good spirits. Maybe the low expectations we all had for this team? Sure.

But also because there is a lot to like about this team. A lot. There have been a lot of complaints over the past eighteen months about how this team lost its identity and this was true enough. In my opinion this changed when Phaneuf bumped Cogliano in the first game after Horcoff went down and Moreau went after him. Of course this goes against the grain, to point to a single moment as a turning point in a season, but this event certainly showed that the Oilers were not going to fold like they did last season. Lets just say that Moreau's action was a sign of what was coming. We all recognize Moreau's gregarious leadership qualities but saying that he single handedly turned the team's fortunes by slapping Ugly around is elevating him into the pantheon of the mythical great leaders like Yzerman. ;)Follow that big win with a handful of others and a surly attitude that manifested itself even when they lost (such as the Vancouver game) and suddenly it has become clear that this team is going to play with an elan that has been missing a while.

This past week is a perfect case in point as to why fans might be forgiven for walking around with pretty big smiles on their faces. First they play a home and home against Wild on Jacques Lemaire, a team that has choked the life out of the Oilers the past number of years. Every game against them always ended with questions about Oilers' heart and brains because the Wild just made them look terrible each time they played them.Monday they rolled right over them. Wednesday they went to Minnesota and lost but five goalposts had a part in that. Friday they fell behind the Avs early and came back hard. The Sakic goal was a killer. So what does this team do? They go into Calgary the next night and walk out of there with a win.

The negative - they came out of a possible eight points with only five.

The positive - a few breaks Wednesday and six seconds less on the clock Friday and they go four for four. Eight points out of eight against divisional foes, three of those on the road, against teams that have pretty well handed the Oilers their asses in recent history.

This team is coming along.

A final note on last night's game - paying special attention to Greene and Grebeshkov, who along with Staios and Gilbert had nice games. Both of these kids have come a long way. Greene will never be pretty with the puck but he used his size effectively and the fact that he was out at the end of the game shows MacT's confidence in him. He has come a ways. And there is a lot to like about Denis Denis. Closes on his opponent quickly, uses his body well to eliminate guys along the boards and he is starting to show a lot of confidence with the puck.

A BIG goal doesn't hurt either.

Two games left to go and things still remain unlikely but I could really not give a damn. This is a sweet team and their attitude and play this week, an O fer last season, makes me thing that we will have a lot to cheer for these next few years. Even the growing pains are easier to take when your team plays like this.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'll Tell You What You Can Do! You Can Be A Man!


I made the point in my last post that some of what is happening with the Oilers is the result of some good luck but that it also clear that this nice finish to the season is the result of a lot of good that will be sustainable next season.
In other words things are looking up. Some of the comments that have been made around the sphere lately (and I will try and attribute these where I can - I am too lazy to go searching through thread after thread for them).
- that this team has no quit, as Dennis remarked last night - go down to a team that has a history of making the Oilers look awful; no worries, you come back and take the game to them and with a break or two you would win it; lose your best allround player, your captain, Souray, Torres; ring off a run to end the season that puts you in playoff contention with just over a week to go - that's an intangible - call it character, guts, whatever you want - but its something good
-that all of the people who saw doom for this team (myself included) did not take into account that sometimes the model breaks and your team of kids somehow beats the odds and makes an improbable improvement - Grebeshkov, Nilsson, Gagner, Cogliano, Brodziak, Stortini - whether its confidence, being put in a role that they can succeed in, renewed focus, more icetime, the right linemates - all have taken a large step forward as the season has progressed
- that guys like Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff can become stars, that Tom Gilbert, although he has struggled for a while now, can step in and play top four minutes, score 10+ goals and 30 + points and keep his head above water for the most part, that the PK can thrive despite losing key parts, that the PP can do the same - once again the idea that the model is a model and sometimes good things happen outside of it
In the space of six months a bunch of kids have established themselves as viable NHL players, survived injuries and a management team that left far too many holes in the roster for my liking, again!, and have given us a fun stretch run that nobody, not even the most cockeyed optimist, could have predicted.
And I give you the man who made some oddball decisions earlier in the year, a guy who seemed caught between winning and developing kids. The man who deserves a ton of credit. See that list of good things above? He is responsible for most of it. At the very least he can coach the kids. He has made chicken salad out of chicken shit.
Craig MacTavish and his staff had better get some respect now.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Caw! Caw!


Its too bad really, all of those points given away in October and November when the Oilers had one PP goal in fifteen games or whatever it was. Completely unbelievable really. It was that bad. Now at the time the misfiring PP was just part of a team that was finding ways to lose. Remember those days? They would spend the majority of the first in a team's zone and come out of it down 1-0. Every mistake seemed to end up in their net. Every opposing team's goalie looked like Georges Vezina.
I was a skeptic about this season and I am usually a diehard optimist. Its my nature. Even last year I saw a playoff team, even a team that could do some damage as long as Lowe picked up a veteran or two for the blueline. We know how that turned out.
So last fall I looked at a D corps with a possible top two man in Joni, a solid second pairing guy in Staios, gigantic pylon Sheldon Souray, retread vet Dick Tarnstrom and a gaggle of rookies and sophomores. I looked at the forwards with Pisani and Moreau out and saw five established NHL players in their primes, two guys who looked to be on their last legs and a bunch more kids. I was unimpressed.
Still I reasoned that ninth or tenth might be a possibility if everything fell right. A lot of teams supposed to be better then the Oilers, like the Kings, did not impress me (I was right on there). I figured if Hemsky made the jump, Penner proved everybody wrong, Torres, Stoll and Horcoff bounced back and a couple of kids up front and on the back end arrived early and everyone stayed healthy and they got standout goaltending then they might end up where they look to end up.
So, um, Hemsky has become what we thought he might be and Horcoff had established himself as an elite centre in this league before he went down and, well, nothing else went right.
Except they won a lot of shootout games. I believe it was around Christmas that someone made the point that in the previous sixty games the Oilers had not even ten wins in regulation. Now shootouts count for points and that's fine but believe me if you're a serious contender you're not going to be relying on Bettman points to stay in 14th place in the conference.
And then Horcoff went down and it looked like spring 2007 redux but something funny happened. This team began to win. Sometimes they were lucky but in the fall they had some bad luck so the luck didn't bother me so much. And sometimes, sometimes they were just damn good. Winning in regulation became normal. Winning by four or five goals became common. The power play began to look like a power play. Puck movement. Players moving their feet. Plays being made. In the fall the PP might score once in a while but it was terrible. Most of the time was spent retrieving it from their own zone. Now, even when its not converting its dangerous.
I'm not a big numbers guy and a debate is raging all over the 'sphere right now about whether this is a long run of luck or if there is something 'there' there. Regardless its been a lot of fun and I think its time to sit back and enjoy it. I think the team has been hot (meaning lucky) in a lot of cases and I think that's ok. I also think there is a lot underlying the success, a lot that even the most diehard optimists would not have predicted. Put your hand up if you thought:
- Sam Gagner, hard pressed to hit 30 points when Horcoff went down, truly a boy among men for nearly the whole season, would run off over a PPG in the last 24 games and will likely end up with over thirty points; I believe Vic noted in a thread last night that Gagner's Corsi numbers over the last two months (approximate) have been terrific whereas previously they were brutal - they may have a special one here.
- Robert Nilsson, whose future looked iffy just two months ago, would find the consistency and jam to establish himself as an NHL player, looking to break 40 points himself
- Cogliano would have eighteen goals after a lot of struggles earlier this season
- Brodziak would have 14 goals, Glencross 12 and with Stortini they would form a terrific line that has outscored and certainly outplayed its opposition consistently
- not one but two young Dmen, Gilbert and Grebeshkov, would become viable options in the top four, especially Grebeshkov who was terrible at the beginning of the year
Its really quite ridiculous.
And I'll tell you who deserves a ton of credit - Craig MacTavish and his staff. Considering what he had to work with at the beginning of the season has any coach done more with less? And will this finally kill the myth that MacT cannot work with young players?
Do I agree with what Lowe has done with this team? No I do not. I think he blew it last year and I think he came into this year without a plan. The Souray signing especially is an abomination.
But yeah he has amassed a lot of nice young talent and he deserves credit for that.
I think they're going to fall a little short - there is pretty well no margin for error but its exciting stuff and its made it fun to be an Oilers's fan again.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

In His Ninth Game He Was Born Again


Happy Easter for Marc Pouliot. We here at the McLean household celebrated the resurrection of the Christ Jesus by playing hockey, drinking at McVeigh's and eating ham and chocolate. We're pagans and we're going to hell.
Well, at least I am.
Meanwhile Marc Pouliot, like Jesus Christ, has risen from the dead. A kid who has battled injuries, illness, his own indifference, a position change which went poorly and the fact that apparently every single player in his draft year is going to the HHOF suddenly looks like he may have figured it out. And just in time to save his career.
This year started with a move to the wing, an indifferent camp (again), getting farmed out and then nine games in his first stint with the Oilers which were positively Jacquesian in their futility. No goals. No assists. A minus seven. And back to the minors, maybe buried for good as Gagner, Cogliano and Brodziak zipped by him and Schremp.
Another callup a few weeks ago and it figured that this was it - I believe Lowetide called it Last Chance Texaco for Pouliot. A couple of games where he basically made sure that he would not get scored on. And then, well, the kid started to play. Saturday in the latest "Biggest Game of The Year" mere seconds after the Oilers finished coughing up a three goal lead Pouliot won a puck battle in the neutral zone along the boards. He wheeled out with the puck, moved it to a teammate and then charged into the zone and retrieved the shootin and moved it to the net. He followed up on the play and scored what can only be called a HUGE goal. Not just big. HUGE. Right, Andy? It was truly clutch. ;) All joking aside, the kid came out and made something happen when something had to be done. That's pretty cool.
So in the nine games since he has been recalled Pouliot has a goal and five assists, all at ES I believe. He has been a plus in five games and a minus in one. He had one game at 7 1/2 minutes but for the most part his icetime has been from around 9 1/2 to 12 minutes a game.
Its a damn small sample size and I don't think Stoll is going anywhere myself but does anyone out there think that Pouliot might be able to do a job if he's put between Torres and Pisani. Might cost a few games early on because for all of Stoll's troubles he is an established NHLer but maybe longterm? Stoll's main value is on special teams and on the draw. Pouliot is only two points behind him at ES for the season.
In any case the kid (another one!) is back in the mix!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Release The Hounds!



Ooh ah ooh ah ah! Ooh ah ooh ah ah!
Had a good lunch today with your friend and mine, Tyler Dellow. Always good conversation and of course we discussed the Oilers. Neither of us gives the Oilers much hope - they gave away far too many points before Christmas - but we agreed that this last six weeks has been a lot of fun, certainly a lot more fun then the disastrous end to last season. They have to get better still but its heartening to see what the kids are doing. Good times.
They still have a chance - sacamano shows how they can get it done. The problem is they have to be perfect. A loss tonight and they're pretty well done seeing as the Canucks smacked the Yotes around on Monday. Still, its lots of fun. I figured if all went well they would be about where they are right now. A lot has gone wrong and they are still in it. Good stuff.
In a post I wrote in August I discussed some pretty famous rookies from the last twenty years. Real quickly here is a summary of what I came up with:
These are the years they put together as rookies. The ages are approximate. For example Mats Sundin was born in 1971 and his first NHL season was 90/91 so I have him as 19 for simplicity's sake.
Daniel Alfredsson - 23 years old, 82 GP, 26G-35A, -18
Martin Havlat - 19 years old, 73 GP, 19G-23A, +8
Marian Hossa - 19 years old, 60GP, 15G-15A, +18
Jarome Iginla - 19 years old, 82 GP, 21G-29A, -4
Saku Koivu - 21 years old, 82GP, 20G-25A, -7
Alex Kovalev - 19 years old, 65 GP, 20G-18A, -10
Dustin Penner - 24 years old, 82 GP, 29G-16A, -2
Daniel Sedin - 20 years old, 75GP, 20G-14A, -3
Henrik Sedin - 20 years old, 82GP, 9G-20A, -2
Ryan Smyth - 19 years old, 48GP, 2G-9A, -6
Mats Sundin - 19 years old, 80GP, 23G-36A, -24
Some of these guys were playing with pretty good teams. Some were broken in slowly. Others played big minutes and with some pretty good linemates. Iginla played with Dave Gagner and another rookie Jonus Hoglund, according to a commenter.
Anyways here are Gagner and Cogliano's numbers presently:
Sam Gagner - 18 years old, 71GP, 10G-35A, -17
Andrew Cogliano - 20 years old, 74GP, 16G-25A, +3
One of the things Tyler said today and that has become quite apparent is that Gagner is a player. These numbers bear it out. He is younger then everyone on this list and has outscored six of them already. One more point and he is past two more. Only Alfredsson, Sundin and Iginla will be ahead of him and Iginla is within reach.
Neither Gagner nor Cogliano look out of place when you put their numbers against this list.
Of course in the end this may mean nothing but its damn nice to see, no?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Summer






Hard to believe these two are members of the same species, no? Joni is not a handsome man.


The Oilers are fun to watch these days and after last night's miracle in San Jose some normally sane folks, including your truly, were actually thinking, if only momentarily ... um, playoffs.

Not going to happen - they have to win tomorrow and Thursday and, well, pretty well every other night they have left on their schedule but its fun that they are, in what looked to be an awful awful year, actually winning their share of games.

This despite some injuries and a number of guys who are off the charts underperforming. Its a good sign of things to come hopefully.

So as John Ferguson Jr. used to say "going forward" what can we expect? I am going to start with a few pretty reasonable assumptions before getting started.

1/ This team is being built for 09/10, 10/11, 11/12. Those are the last three years of Hemsky, Penner and Souray's contracts. When all is said and done they will blow it up, keep Hemsky and dump Penner, keep Penner and dump Hemsky, use the profits from multiple cups to sign all three :) - anyways that's what we're looking at, I think. Playoffs are the goal for next year. Then things really get serious.

2/ Money is not an issue. With Katz in charge this will be a cap team. Hell, they nearly are now.

3/ After seeing a trickle of kids (Greene, Pouliot, Winchester) in 05/06 increase steadily until it became a flood this season we may see one or two (Liam Reddox?) get a shot as a role player next year but for the most part its going to be a year to give the present kids a year to establish themselves. Looking at what's coming up there are a lot of nice pieces in the next wave- Petry, Chorney, Peckham, Trukhno, Nash, Reddox - I just don't think we will see any of them next year.

Reasonable? Can we agree on these points? Maybe a kid comes out of nowhere but I don't see it.

OK, so we have a team that has gotten its share of bonus points but has also been without a lot of key parts through the season. Lowe has said, to a lot of mockery from many quarters, including this one, that he likes this team. Of course, he's not going to say otherwise but one wonders if they had picked up another win here or there, if Horc was healthy, if Pitkanen had not missed a month earlier in the season, if they might not be ahead of the Canucks. Lets not kid ourselves here. This is not the team of two seasons ago, veteran, deep, playoff ready. This club would get clobbered in the first round but I think we can also say that compared to last year's mess the team has taken a positive step forward. Now, going into next season, what are Lowe's expectations and what should ours be?

The Top Six Scorer - this club was thin up front going into this season and early this year when they were outplaying teams but losing 3-2 and 2-1 every game (or so it seemed), the general consensus was that this team needed a guy who could play in the top six and score some damn goals. Well, don't look now but this team is middle of the pack in offence and the PP has been going at about a 20% clip over sixty games. Penner has been poor since Horcoff went down but one more goal gives he, Horc and Hemsky twenty plus apiece. Penner is not very popular right now but I would hazard a guess that with Horcoff instead of Stoll or Reasoner he would likely be good for another four or five goals in the last twenty games. These three make up a decent line with Horcoff and Hemsky both scoring at just under a PPG rate.

Now, throw in the kids since Horcoff went down and there you have Gagner at over a PPG, I believe, Cogliano close to that and Nilsson having established himself as a bona fide NHLer. It was just six weeks ago or so that the feeling was that Nilsson was the big question mark and the guy who had the most to gain or lose down the stretch. Well, he has become a player. I'm not a huge stats guy but I trust uber commenter Dennis who has Nilsson producing at a pretty good rate at ES, considering his minutes.

Gagner and Cogliano are over forty points. Nilsson will probably hit that level with nine games left. Gagner, at 18, has an outside shot to hit fifty and Cogliano could hit twenty goals.

Now, considering the fact that these guys all struggled to various degrees this season and saw their icetime doled out accordingly, why would this not be your second line next season? You never know what might happen but if they are each in the 55 -60 point range (reasonable, no?) is this not acceptable production for your second line? Why go out and spend 4 million a year on Michael Ryder? Why spend 2.5 million a year on him? Three youngsters, on the cheap - this is the way to go, imo.

Third line centre - its likely going to be Jarret Stoll. He has been pretty awful. Two ES goals and one of those into an empty net at that leave him eighteenth on the team. That production for 2.2 million isn't going to cut it but Stoll had 68 points two seasons ago and was putting it together last season before he got dinged. He's an easy target for sure but he has no trade value right now. A year from now he may also have no trade value but does it make good sense to give up on a young centre that easily? In 2009 paying him 2.4 million coming off another awful season when you might be able to slide Ryan O'Marra or Riley Nash or a cheap vet in there will make no sense. Hell even if he has a decent season next it might not make that much sense. But this team is not cap strapped right now and dumping a guy for nothing when he could rebound doesn't make a lot of sense. His season has been one to forget but you don't trash a guy who was coming on for one bad year. You might not like him when you become a contender again but if he has come back at least you can get value for him. Play him with Pisani and your LW for a season and see what happens. As for that LW ...

Third line LW - probably the most interesting issue for next season. Presuming they can sign Glencross who has been a nice find for the fourth line then you are left with deciding between Torres and Moreau for that third line LW spot. Moreau has barely played in two seasons now and I think Raffi on that third line is the better option. He was the better option in '06 and he hasn't gotten worse defensively in the past two years that's for sure. He's durable, this season notwithstanding. He can chip in more offence. He can hurt people. But unless Lowe tries to have his cake and eat it too by keeping all three then Raffi is going to get dealt and Glencross will be on the third line by Halloween when Ethan goes down. Hard to trade your captain and harder to trade a guy who has barely played the last two seasons. Shame.

Joni and Rachel McAdams - Rachel has nothing to do with this except I like thinking about her because she's so pretty! Naw, the million dollar question this summer is what do they do with Joni. Before he was injured in 05/06 he was averaging over a point per game. A Dman, playing for Ken Hitchcock, so you know he wasn't a fucking tool, averaging over a point a game. Hitchcock told Brownlee that since his two injuries that year (knee and ankle) Pitkanen was never the same again. Now, here is a guy who is a minus two (eliminating the EN goals) this season, playing tough opposition, generally ~ 25 minutes a night, with some real jokers in front of him. The Oilers have some nice D and then they have Joni.

Now, Joni gets hurt a lot, to the tune of around twenty games this year and he's no Jason Smith in terms of his intensity. He is also the most impressive raw talent on this club.

So, can you give him a longterm deal at ~4 per, especially when you have big cash already tied up in Souray, Penner, Hemsky and soon to be (hopefully) Horcoff? That is a big gamble.

Or do you trade him and watch him become Larry Robinson?

Either way Lowe could look like a genius or a total fucking dummy. And you know what, I would say sign him and if you were to say to me 'NO WAY' I would be hard pressed to argue. Its a real bitch and it could make or break this franchise for years.




Friday, March 14, 2008

LOWETIDE

Bloggin', bloggin', bloggin',
Bloggin', bloggin', bloggin'
Bloggin', bloggin', bloggin'
Lowetide!

Postin', postin', postin'
While the beers are flowing
Keep them prospects comin'
Lowetide!
California Seals
Really make me squeal
Do you remember this guy?
Pouliot will make it
My fortune I would stake it.
He just has to stop being so shy!

CHORUS
Who's that guy? Saw 'em good
Saw 'em good, who's that guy?
Who's that guy, saw 'em good
Lowetide!
Pouliot, JF Jacques,
JF Jacques, Pouliot,
Pouliot, JF Jacques,
Lowetide!

Keep drinkin', drinkin' drinkin'
Though she's disapprovin'
Keep them prospects comin'
Lowetide!
Don't try to pigeonhole 'em
Just find a good comp for 'em
Talents like Sam Gagner can't hide!
My heart is palpitatin'
The Stanley will be waitin',
Be waitin' at the end of this ride.

Lowetide!
Lowetide!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bad Luck


Not for this young man. For Rob Schremp.
Lowetide has a quick post on the latest from Guy Flaming and while Schremp is near the top of the list the truth is that unless something big happens between now and next February his time as an Oiler is done. He will likely be moved at the deadline next year I think unless someone gets hurt or fails miserably next season and he comes in and does a terrific job to replace them.
So he had better be hoping for some misery to befall one of the kids or for Penner or Hemsky to get hurt badly enough that he can get an extended audition where he can prove to the Oilers that he is a better option then someone else in the top six.
Unlike Pouliot or Jacques who got their chances and failed to impress, Schremp has had his own run of bad luck. Of course unlike those two guys he doesn't have another option other then top six minutes.
Last season the team had very little bubbling up in prospects up front. Schremp wasn't ready but there wasn't even a spot for him with nine veterans for nine slots. Then Smyth was moved and the summer saw Lupul and Sykora go too. Stoll was coming off a concussion and so this fall there were plenty of openings, even with the Penner signing. When Pisani and then Moreau went down it became clear that Stoll and Torres would have to pick up some slack checking.
So what happens? Even recovering from his own injury troubles he had a decent camp but he was outplayed by Islanders' castoff Nilsson, the collegian Cogliano and a barely eighteen year old Sam Gagner. Passed by, just like that.
We knew politics and his age would mean Nilsson would get his shot but Cogliano seemed slotted for the AHL and Gagner for junior. Now it looks like Nilsson has created an NHL career for himself and the two kids will likely never play a game in the minors ever.
And next year - well there are no guys even close to Schremp's level in terms of competing for an offensive spot on this club. The problem is there are no offensive spots.
He's pooched. And in two years, if he is still an Oiler, Riley Nash will be in camp and if Trukhno has anything he will be in there and then there will be whoever they pick this summer. Penner, Hemsky and the kids will still be under contract and one has to think Horcoff will be too.
In a year and a half Rob Schremp is going to be Robert Nilsson. Trying to save his career with a team other then the one that drafted him.

Monday, March 10, 2008

But On The Other Hand


Just two days ago I posted about next year. My thought was that the Oilers would be looking at Penner/Torres/Moreau on the LW for the first three lines, unless they packaged Pitkanen for a top six winger and bumped Torres down a slot or moved him out entirely.
I am starting to wonder now if the answer might be at hand already.
I haven't really liked Penner's game for most of this year but we have to assume that he is going nowhere and that next fall he will be lining up with Horcoff and Hemsky once again.
Where my thinking has changed is the second line. The kids have taken charge since Horcoff went down. When 10 went down I figured we were in for a nightmare along the lines of last season's freefall. Instead the team is a ridiculous 11 and 4. Now some of those victories have been is large part to our old friends smoke and mirrors but then again there were plenty of games this fall where the Oilers outchanced and outplayed their opposition and every single mistake they made ended up in their net so fuck those guys.
Back to the kids and a couple of not so young guys. Going over the gamesheets of the past month Fernando Pisani's name is popping up all over the place and of course Glencross, Brodziak and Stortini deserve credit for their play. And while Hemsky has been saddled with either Stoll or Reasoner as his pivot he has produced at just under a PPG pace (5G, 7A), this with a bad wrist as well, remember. Since Horcoff went down here are some more nice numbers to look at:
Gagner 3G 13A
Cogliano 6G 7A
Nilsson 3G 8A
Gilbert 2G 7A
Grebeshkov 1G 6A
That's pretty damn good anyway you cut it. I think it was not more then a week ago I figured Gagner and Cogliano might break forty points, a number I would have been ecstatic with at the beginning of the season. Both are at thirty seven now. Nilsson is at thirty three.
So what I am thinking is this - for quite a while now the thought has been that Cogliano might be slotted in as the third line pivot. The Todd Marchant role, as it were, playing between Moreau and Pisani. Now I know the past month is just one month and its a small sample size but before Lowe goes trading Pitkanen for a top six forward or blowing a wad of cash on Michael Ryder or picking up another dumb contract like the injury prone Parrish, why not go with these kids next year as the second line. Why spend a big wad of cash on a guy like Ryder or Parrish who has his flaws anyhow? Why trade a guy like Pitkanen who may drive a lot of people crazy but still, it must be said, has tremendous upside? Why not give these kids a chance to run with it? Give them the easy minutes when you can, see if they can do what they are doing for longer then a month, see if you can squeeze some numbers out of these guys when they are young and cheap.
Cogliano is the key. 15 goals for a rookie is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering that there were a lot of times this year where he wasn't seeing a lot of the ice. If he can score twenty five or thirty then you had better give him the opportunity to do it.
You go this route and then bump Torres to the third line to play with Pisani and whomever you want to slot in as your pivot. I'd say move Stoll but maybe he is your guy. Maybe you throw in a kid like Pouliot and, no I am not kidding, I think he could succeed with those linemates and in that role. It won't happen though. Or maybe you pick up a guy like Conroy or better yet someone younger.
With Penner and Souray's contracts already weighing this club down they can't be throwing money at another maybe like Michael Ryder and they should be moving a guy who is woefully underperforming like Stoll. Let the kids have a whirl and build a beauty shutdown line with Pisani and Torres. Then you have a fourth line with Moreau, Brodziak, Glencross and Stortini, maybe Pouliot.
Yes? No? Take a nap?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Wait Until Next Year!


I like this picture of Horcoff a lot.
Sitting here drinking some good beer, watching a little HNIC. Listening to Bob Cole saying Oduya over and over again. Sounds like he's saying "I'll do ya". Creepy shit.
And by the way, its snowing. SNOW in Toronto.
Mirtle has a good post looking at man games lost to injury. He doesn't include guys like Mathieu Roy, only players he calls "core guys". He also breaks it down further by weighing the contributions of those hurt - so for example the loss of Joe Sakic carries more weight then that of Raffi Torres.
Its a neat exercise. Interesting to note how some teams, Colorado, Boston and San Jose notably, are in playoff spots despite injury problems. Chicago and Washington likely could point to their injury issues as a legitimate beef if they fall short of the playoffs. Both teams have been hit hard. Meanwhile the Leafs, who popular wisdom says have fallen on hard times because of injury problems, actually did pretty well by either of James' metrics.
I really can barely fathom how much I am enjoying the embarassment the Leafs are experiencing. My hatred for them is becoming almost pathological. A few months ago Shoalts had a nice article on the Leafs and the Habs and how a few years back they were basically in the same position. The Habs hired Gainey while the Leafs hired Ferguson. Now the Habs are in first place in the East, loaded with young cheap talent while the Leafs are hobbled by huge longterm contracts to ridiculous veterans, looking at their third straight year out of the playoffs.
Whenever I am sad about the Oilers I just think about the Leafs and I feel much better. Not boner better but better.
On both of Mirtle's lists the Oilers are near the top and one wonders - is Lowe right when he blames injuries for this season's failure? I really have so little faith in the guy now I really can give him very little credit for anything. Story in the Journal today which finally clears up what happened with Hejda, who just happens to be the top Dman on the BJs, all for less then a fifth of what Souray makes. Apparently Hejda wanted to come back to Edmonton and the Oilers wanted him. And they could have had him for a year at just over a million bucks. The perfect contract. A veteran for one year at reasonable cost. Same type of contract Sykora and Tjarnqvist had. And Lowe dropped the ball. Asked him to wait a couple of weeks while he sorted shit out. And Howson swept in.
Fuck me. Lowe is a dummy.
Anyways, Lowe has said all along that he likes this team and that they have been done in by injuries. Nine points out right now. I wonder if his point is valid. No Pisani in the first half. No Torres for the second. Horcoff out for a month now. Pitkanen in and out of the lineup. Souray and Moreau basically out for the year. Are all of those games lost worth three more wins? That would put them three points out of the playoffs and in tenth. Four wins would mean a point out and a game in hand. Of course investing money in a guy like Souray who has a long history injury means Lowe has nobody but himself to blame in at least one case.
Anyhow, next year. Considering that Lowe "likes" this team, the fact that pretty well everyone is under contract or should be signed relatively easily and that it looks like there will be very little bubbling up from Springfield, what can we expect?
1/ With three fair size contracts - Souray, Penner and Hemsky, three guys who might garner big raises in 2009 - Horcoff, Garon and Pitkanen, and the core young guys all needing to get paid in a few years, I don't see the Oilers dipping into the UFA pool for a big name or making a move like the one Dallas did for Richards. Unless they can move Penner or Souray, as well as Stoll and Torres, there is only so much money to go around. So no big splash this summer.
2/ Extend Horcoff this summer. He is the Oilers' best player. Locking him up would send the proper message to the fans and his teammates. Plus did I mention he's their best player? Having him, Gagner and Cogliano up the middle for the next few years looks pretty good to me. If Nash proves to be a player and also makes a career as a centre Horc can move to the wing. If he drops on the depth chart he can play the role of a shutdown guy who can generate offence. It has become apparent that Stoll is not an option. Based on MacT's relationship with Horcoff I would say that this deal gets done before next season starts. It has to.
3/ Sign Gilbert longterm. He has struggled a little lately, sure, but a guy who has kept afloat playing top pair as a rookie and who has added offence, mostly at ES, is a guy you have to lock up.
4/ I'd love to see Souray moved but it won't happen. I think next year's D is the same as this year's D. The next two guys coming up are Peckham and Chorney and neither will be ready next season. We'll see the same seven with Roy the first option from Springfield. See how it goes and then move one of Greene, Smid or Grebeshkov if Chorney or Peckham can make the move the next year. Pitkanen is the question mark of course. The enigma. No longterm deal this year I would say, based on what the the organization seems to be saying. And he may be the guy to get moved this summer, as part of a package for someone like Mike C. from L.A.
I'd prefer to keep him but I don't know if we'll see it.
5/ Sign Glencross. A fourth line with him, Brodziak and Stortini I like with Reddox in the mix as well. Some energy and jam and both Glencross and Brodziak can chip in some goals plus Brodziak can play the PK.
6/ I'd prefer a soft minutes line of Gagner, Nilsson and Penner but that means finding someone to play with Horcoff and Hemsky. Not sure if that is Torres. I'm not sure if they can move Raffi this summer. I respect what he brings but I think either he or Moreau is gone unless they stand pat with Pitkanen and in the UFA market. If they do then Raffi gets one last shot on one of the top two lines. Part of me prefers him over Moreau, for the obvious reason that Moreau has basically missed two whole seasons. A healthy Moreau just brings it every night though and Raffi is a passenger on too many nights. When he is making an impact he's a beauty. Paying a guy two and a quarter for such an uneven performance is a waste of money though. Can't see how they move him though, not coming off a knee injury.
7/ Stoll, on the other hand, is a goner. Unless Cogliano or Gagner plays the wing. Its possible but I cannot see how they can keep the guy. I know, I know, I've been saying they cannot move him until they sort Horcoff out but the guy has 2 goals and 8 total points at ES this season. 8 points. That's the same as Zach Stortini. By my count sixteen players on the Oilers have more ES goals then Stoll. For over two million bucks that is nowhere good enough. Trade him for a pick. Package him for someone. Cut him.
I think the timeline for this team is as follows. Next season they want to compete for a playoff spot. With a year under the kids' belts, health and luck, its a possibility. Then the following three years, the last three years of Hemsky, Penner and Souray's contracts, are the years they figure to make their move.
I think this summer Lowe doesn't do much and that this team, yes, this team, is going to look a lot like the team that takes to the ice in September. I think if he gets a guy who can play on the top two lines that we might see Pitkanen moved but otherwise I think the D is as follows:
Pitkanen/Gilbert, Smid/Staios, Souray/Greene Grebeshkov
The way Grebeshkov has developed you might swap him out with Smid. If Pitkanen gets moved then Roy is your seventh or maybe they go out and get a cheap vet. You know, like Jan Hejda.
Up front I think its also going to look the same.
Penner/Horcoff/Hemsky, Torres/Gagner/Nilsson, Moreau/Cogliano/Pisani, Glencross/Brodziak/Stortini, Reasoner, Reddox
I like Marty, think he should be gone, but he's a MacT favourite and a guy who can do a little of everything, include sit in the pressbox without bitching, so my guess he is back. Ideally to me they would pick up someone to play on that second line and they would move Torres or drop him to play with Cogliano and Pisani. That would mean Moreau on the fourth line or gone. Unlikely. A third line of Torres, Cogliano and Pisani would be a beauty I would say.
One last thing, and I know I have gone on forever, but hats off to Fernando Pisani. The guy comes back from a disease that could have ended his life, never mind his career, and he's on pace for just under twenty goals and has done his usual terrific job.
He's something. Here's hoping that under Daryl Katz he will be the first prominent Oiler to play his whole career in Edmonton. Followed by Horcoff and Hemsky. :)
Oh, if you are into pubs, its alive.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The End Is Nigh (Thank Dog!)



Pity Kevin Lowe if you are in the mood to - I certainly am not. Apparently he threw a fit in his box the other night probably because he is realizing that he very well may be remembered as the guy who traded Steve Stamkos or Drew Doughty for Dustin Penner.
Was out walking the big fellow the other night, another storm here, and ran into a search party. They hadn't seen Penner either.
Now Lowe might point to injuries and guys who have underachieved as the reason this team has failed but while he may like his team, he is in the definite minority. Fact is this team, like last year's squad, was so obviously flawed from the get-go that one could predict its failure. And one cannot point to the injuries and bad luck without pointing to what has gone well on the other side of the ledger as well. There is no way that Tom Gilbert was projected as a probable all rookie team candidate with ten goals and playing top pairing minutes, no way that they could have figured that Garon would supplant Roloson completely, no way that they could have guessed that so many kids would prove to be good bets.
You can't have it both ways.
So, going into the summer there will be plenty of questions surrounding this team and perhaps the first one on the agenda will be the status of Jarret Stoll. This season has had its share of disappointments but the play of Stoll, who had a pretty good few months last year before he was derailed by concussions, is perhaps the biggest. His future with the Oilers is tied to two situations, imo. Do they extend Horcoff? If they do not then he sticks around unless Lowe wants to go into 2009/2010 with Gagner, Cogliano and Brodziak as his top three centres. Which he may because he's shown not a lot of sense the last couple of years. If they extend Horc then I think he's a goner this summer unless they are committed to having either Gagner or Cogliano playing the wing.
Me, I would go Horcoff, Gagner, Cogliano as my top three but I can see the tempatation to see if this year is a blip. If it is and they keep him then they have a reasonable guy to plug into their top three centres or they can trade him and likely get a reasonable return. Right now we're talking a draft pick or a guy coming back who has also had a terrible year. And the Oilers have a few too many of those guys to pick up another.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Glory


Tottenham Hotspur a week ago.
Kevin Lowe might have had a hand in Spurs' management last summer. A strong young team who finished fifth in the Premiership two years running, Spurs came into this season looking to make the leap into the top four in England, a spot that includes a space in the European Champions' League. Their big issue last season, a leaky D that often coughed up goals late in games and especially on set pieces (corner kicks and free kicks for you non-fans out there). So last summer Spurs went out and purchased ... one of the top young strikers out there.
Autumn saw a lot of 4-3 losses and Spurs faded out of the European picture pretty quickly. Their manager was canned, replaced by a Spaniard who immediately went out after Christmas and picked up two quality defenders. Last Sunday Spurs beat powerhouse Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley for their first trophy in years, guaranteeing themselves a spot in Europe next season. (For non fans reading this, this is a big big deal - both the tournament championship and the spot in Europe).
Oh, and to get to the final the Spurs beat their arch rival, Arsenal, who have owned them forever, 5-1. The game was barely over and the team was selling a DVD. There is not really a comparison to make here. Imagine the Oilers winning their opening round series in 2006 against Calgary rather then Detroit, make it seven games rather then six, and have the final be 14-0 for the Oilers. That would be approximately the same deal.
So at least one of my teams is winning. Actually in this post I will praise the Oilers, not bury them. For a rebuilding team they are on a nice run. After a 7-5-1 January that included three Bettman wins, they put together an 8-4 February with seven of those wins coming in regulation. Finally we are past that stretch where you could look back sixty games and barely need two hands to count regulation wins. And this has been done without Horcoff, Torres, Souray and now Moreau and Smid. Its been done with Pitkanen in and out of the lineup, with Hemsky hurting and with Penner looking like a big big fucking mistake. And amongst the scalps taken - the Flames, the Avs, Wild on Jack Lemaire and the Wings. Not so bad.
This doesn't absolve Lowe for making a hash of things the last two seasons. Indeed forget Pronger and Smyth and imagine this - a team without Souray and Penner. In their place Hejda or Danny Markov and someone like Bill Guerin, a couple of veterans on shortterm deals. I would guess the team might be better and even if not the Oilers would still have those three picks this summer plus they would not have ten million dollars wrapped up in these two guys for four for more years.
You only have to check out the Leafs to realize how when you spend big money you had better do it right.
Anyways enough grumpiness for a moment. There is no guarantee with kids because they get hurt, they lose confidence, they get sidetracked but the Oilers and, yes, Kevin Lowe, do deserve credit. A lot of positives to look at on this club. Two rookies looking to top forty points (I said I would be ecstatic if that happened in September). Gilbert has hit the wall but he has been playing top pairing minutes most of the season and is at 9-16, nearly entirely at ES. A trio of young D in Greene, Smid and Grebeshkov who have all made decent strides this season. A fourth line of kids that looks terrific with Brodziak having ten goals and Glencross having eight in 45 games played. Plus Stortini is an NHL player apparently. Throw in Nilsson who looks to be player and you have ten, ten!, kids. Nice on player procurement. Not all of them will end up becoming players who can help the Oilers win but its something to be positive about.
Add in that Horcoff has become the man, Hemsky has become a man and Fernando Pisani has come back from a life threatening disease to score at a twenty goal pace (close enough). You have Staios rebounding from a poor start, Garon giving better bang for the buck then nearly any other goaltender in the league and the fact that this club seems to have found itself, playing a fast, aggressive style that harkens back to a few years ago.
Things are shit but there are plenty of bright spots. This team might have folded up like last year's - instead they are giving us something to cheer for in these last couple of months.
Now if we could only find a Spaniard.