Friday, March 17, 2006

Sweet Sixteen No Longer Sufficent

Well here we are firmly entrenched in March Madness' ample bosom and for me things kick off in a little while when Georgetown takes on Northern Iowa in a 7/10 matchup in the Minneapolis bracket. I got home yesterday just in time to catch the end of the Pacific/BC game which was a 12/5 showdown in said bracket so it held my attention with an upset perhaps making a longer Hoyas run a little more realistic.

The last couple of minutes of regulation showcased all that's chaotic, sometimes non-sensical but ultimately exciting about the tourney. The underdog Pacific had the favored Eagles on the ropes but as can happen so many times Pacific got caught up in the moment and started launching three's at an alarming rate even when they were on a fast break and an extra pass meant a virtually uncontested layup. With players's range extending seemingly every recruiting class the three point line isn't as daunting or intimidating as it used to be. But to the purist or the pragmatic the three point shot is still a weapon best used in comback efforts or as a complimentry tool. So this game became just another example of the young upstarts and/or underdogs going for the throat and not taking the longview. Of course when nothing's expected of you then there's nothing to lose and sometimes you're just loose enough that you don't realize the magnitude of the contest or the situation.

Well what happens when you're on the other side? Isn't it easier to be Pacific than Boston College? I certainly think so from a mental standpoint and here's where things have all of a sudden changed for the Edmonton Oilers.

Despite being in the throes of trading day shock and excitement over the Samsonov acquistion I still couldn't help but be nagged by the idea that there's a sea change when it comes to the Oilers and the NHL's second season. And by the time Lowe had finished speaking about raised expectations from all of the fans, players and management I couldn't help but be bludgeoned by it.

A four year consecutive absence from the playoffs had Oilers fans and players alike wound up by the time they made in back '97. Two years and subsequently two playoff round wins later and some of the faithful we're even convinced they had a chance to beat a '99 Stars team that would go on to the win that year's Cup and then make it to the finals the following year as well. Though as much as the fans wanted to believe there were never expectations. The NHL was smack dab in the middle of the salary explosion and when you added up the dollar signs then everyone was happy that the Oilers just lost by one goal.

This trend continued and reached it's zenith for the Oilers in '01 when the Edmonton club was painfully close to knocking off the Stars but lost it's biggest piece that summer when they were forced to deal Doug Weight as he entered his last year before unrestricted free agency. Weight further tied management's hands by limiting his new destination to either Detriot or St. Louis. It was the worst of times for the fans and the best of times for the apologists. Edmonton missed the playoffs in two of the next three seasons and there was always a wink and a nod that the ultimate reason for failure was the valley between the payrolls of the rich and the poorer.

Most times it was hard to fashion a formidable argument.

Flash forward to '05 and the new NHL and though teams had some kind of a device to retain players given the rollback it was still true for the most part that the talent had begun to scatter somewhat more evenly throughout the league. So here sat the Oilers in 8th place in their conference and with a team that looked as good from the defense out as any in the conference. Lowe plugs the hole in net with the acquistion of Roloson and then on the last day bolsters what some already considered a formidable offense by adding the engimatic Samsanov. Now finally the rabbit has the gun but can it pull a trigger weighed down and greased with newfound yet familiar and resolutely passioned expectations?

It's a new reality for the Edmonton Oilers heading into the playoffs and no I'm not under the impression that's even a lock. But if they do get there, even as say an 8th seed, now you're facing a Detriot team with a comparitively bloated points total but payroll

So while the Oilers aren't exactly entering the NHL's big tournament resembling a #1 seed returning five seniors and boasting a nine man rotation they can also no longer cling to the identity of a small conference at large bid where success is attained by just sticking around for the first 35 minutes.

No more one goal losses as a baromoter of acheivement and it's certainly no longer enough to just to make the dance. At this point you gotta take someone home.


Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Very well said Dennis, even though the basketball stuff did little more than confuse me. :-)

Expectations are higher. And they deserve to be.

A couple things:

- On local radio here yesterday they interviewed a hockey beat writer for the Windsor Star. He said that the Wings are feeling really confident heading into the playoffs, but they don't want Edmonton in an early round.

- How long before Samsonov really fits in? I know he's wowing us with nifty moves, and has been great on the powerplay. But man o' man the play spends way too much time in the wrong end of the rink when he's out there. Got me thinking about deadline day deals for offensive players (Oates and Ferraro spring to mind, Zhamnov too, York and Dvorak for the Oil) ... it's a bigger gamble than it seems methinks.

The game lines have actually dropped a whisker since the deadline Reasoner/Samsonov deal, and at first held flat with the Roloson deal. Which is to be expected ... change is never a good thing at this time of year, not in the short term. Is there enough time for these guys to really fit in? I mean I'm sure there is for Roloson before the deadline. Samsonov ... probably, but we'll see.

3/17/2006 1:16 pm  
Blogger Dennis said...

Sorry about the confusion, Vic. I was watching hoops so I figured I'd try and connect that with the Oil's persuit of a playoff round victory;)

Maybe I'm stretching here but it seems to me that everytime Sergei's looked impressive it's been at times other than 5-on-5. You had that lovely assist to 94 and a couple of other dandy PP moves in CBJ and then that marvellous goal against Min on Sunday night which was scored during a 4-on-4 situation. Another assist on Tues on the PP and then last night's latest helper which was acheived guessed it..more 4-on-4 time. On OF I've opined that 12 has looked good with 10 and he's looked good with 83 and now that I'm thinking of it he did play some shifts with 94-83 in Min on Sun, 94 being the centre, and they contributed with some chances.

But in the grand scheme of things 12 has looked best when paired with Horc or Hemsky and if he's not gelling with 14-16 then should we really be surprised or judgemental? We've indentifed two guys who he's comfortable with so why not throw up a 12-10-83 line and send Smyth to the RW with 14-16? It's hard for me to believe that 12 wouldn't be able to keep up 94's offensive end of the 1st line's bargain.

3/17/2006 1:42 pm  
Blogger oilswell said...

Great stuff Dennis, you're on form holycrap. know I love spinning the best conspiracy for fun.

At the start of the season some of us speculated on Oilfans that the standard MO for these Oilers might well be be to hedge their bets and shoot for an opening roster that was just cheap enough to sit at 8th at the trade deadline. The idea, of course, being that there are two parts of the regular season: pre deadline and post deadline, and you cheap out on pre-deadline and then acquire salary at the deadline, meeting your expected total payroll costs for the year at the end.

You know, I think moving back the trade deadline was beneficial for this strategy. For just the point you suggested, VF. It allows the team to get together a bit. Spacek and Tarnstrom were acquired well before the deadline. (And still Green draws in, BTW, suggesting that Lowe wasn't even bluffing when he suggested that you can't actually have too many good D). Ignoring the possible strategy move of getting both on the same day, the timing allows settling in. Lowe could have acquired a goaltender also before the deadline, but didn't. Incompetance? Waiting on the market? Or hobble in at 8th and make the obviously quick fix?

Hey, I don't know if that was Lowe's plan, but if I were GM with a restricted budget, I'd sure as hell cheap out in the first season in order to bulk up maximally for the second season so I can kick ass in the third season and go deep in the playoffs. The aim is to roll into the playoffs with the best team on your yearly budget. Pro scouts suddenly are your friends.

Samsonov for Reasoner+? WTF if not that? In what other scenario is Samsonov in the Oilers start-of-year budget?

It's a fun thing to think about, but pure speculation. All I know is that I'm hoping the Oilers are shooting for 8th at the deadline next year. I'm having fun.

Regarding Samsonov, I'm with Vic in wanting to see MacT put his EV+/- sinkholes into one basket. If he could just control ES, FFS, the Oilers would be that much tougher. I'm guessing that would mean Samsonov draws in with Stoll and Hemsky?

3/17/2006 8:46 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Good post, oilswell. Not much to argue with there, though it certainly gives Lowe the benefit of the doubt. You've lost me with the shorthand though. "ES, FFS" ?

And you're right, Dennis has been on fire lately. :D

3/17/2006 9:52 pm  
Anonymous roddie said...

"If he could just control even strength, for fuck's sake...." :)

3/18/2006 9:43 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

roddie said...

"If he could just control even strength, for fuck's sake...." :)

Okay, controlling the even strength matchups and the FFS (faceoffs). What can I say, I'm not a quick study. :-) Bloddy confusing shorthand I thought.

3/18/2006 11:21 pm  
Anonymous roddie said...

FFS = For Fuck's Sake!

PS - Loving the blog so far, great reading and good attitude.

3/19/2006 5:19 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

roddie said...

FFS = For Fuck's Sake!

:D Told ya I wasn't a quick study.

3/20/2006 9:15 pm  

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