Monday, July 17, 2006

Waiting for the D

The networks have practically been clogged with discussion about the Oilers defense — or lack thereof — for this season. The last two posts at Lowetide's den were devoted to the D: just how bad are they, and how can they be fixed? This level of concern from a guy who likes the Oilers' chance of winning the cup soon. Obsessed, are we?

Fellow IOFer (I just love that term) Vic has already been soothing the savages with the calming voice of logic. I take a cue from this and add a simple recomendation for patience on the matter.

For one thing, it's a fair question right now as to whether Lowe is using the same modus operandi as last season. That is, to start out with some real question marks on paper, let the early season show what the real question marks are, and fill them in as the opportunities present themselves. Last season, the main question marks were in goal and the first line centre. Remember the message boards worldwide were having a hearty chuckle at the Oilers pair of goalies? And that even the Oilers fans routinely enjoyed loathing Horcoff? He was sometimes charitably given the 3rd line C status, right? Turns out that Horcoff did pretty well, and the 1C turned out not to be a problem. And it turns out that Lowe was able to fill the holes as time went on, and the team did reasonably well after all. It was costly, but one wonders whether fixing the problems at the start of the season would have been more costly, or even possible with the dollars the ownership would pry from their vaults.

Would last season's roll-and-remediate strategy work well again this year? As I see it, that depends on two things.

The first question is how bad the gambles really are. Last season, I thought both the Horcoff and Conkkanen gambles were pretty reasonable. Going for Conkkanen were SV%, platooning, and the two chances that a #1 would emerge. Horcoff had his excellent European working vacation in his favour.

The second question is how costly it is to fix the problems. On that front, it should be noted that only one of the two aforementioned supposed problems were ever fixed by Lowe. That would be Roloson. The cost was a couple of picks, a pretty small pile of cash (all things considered) and some premature white hair for Oilers fans. Some risk was added in that nobody was as sure as the Oilers were of Roloson's ability to perform, or whether the team would mesh in time. Perhaps, but I'm unsure as to whether the risk would have been greater at the start of the season. I'll leave it for others to guess as to whether it would have been cheaper to fill the G spot at the start of the season. It seems unlikely to me. You gotta know when to fix. It should be noted here also that the main things Lowe fixed were the depth D and some secondary scoring. While important, these were hardly the concerns most frequently voiced at the beginning of the season.

So assume for the moment that Lowe is willing to roll into the season with some glaring flaws on the paper roster. Is this still a sound strategy? I believe there are some reasons to think so. For one thing, accurate evaluation of defensemen seems to be a strength of the organization. If their thinking is that the current on-paper D is a reasonable gamble, then this is a good organization to trust with that gamble. I trusted them less with the goalie gamble last year; frankly, I'm not even sure they fully understood the risks. Another reason to like the strategy is that a non-flashy defender seems to be about the cheapest thing to acquire, as Vic routinely points out. Actually, last year amply demonstrated this fact for this very team, as Lowe got Spacek and Tarnstrom for dryer lint and some cash. Convenient that they had some expendable prospects and salary space, eh?

Few people on the planet know if Lowe is planning to deal some future for some right-now. At this point I don't have too much trouble waiting for the D. This is why I can't get troubled by Dennis' angst about the Pronger deal. In the ideal world, the GM who's willing to give the most also solves your problems at the same time. But that's not always the case. Its reasonable to suppose that Lowe thought the Ducks deal gave the best overall value.

And Burke sent Lowe some pretty nice coupons to go shopping with. Lowe has an extra 1st rounder, a 2nd rounder, a cheap young proven roster goal scorer, and a well-hyped prospect to work with from the Pronger deal. Pretty much all of these are easily converted currency. These are effectively the cash of the NHL. If Lowe was looking to cash Pronger in for easy-to-move assets, it might be hard to do worse. Heck, Lowe might even be able to inflate AHLer Smid's value by giving him a roster spot and some easy minutes.

Of course, Lowe might be planning not to fix the problems this year and is, instead, either biding time until the time is right or actively building for the future. If that's the case I'll be disappointed for sure, but at least I'll have the entertainment of watching Dennis spill venom onto the net. Anger seems to throw him into his best form. I'm already looking foward to the first half.

10 Comments:

Anonymous namflashback said...

oilswell, good perspective. I think last season, the goalie gamble was a necessary one since many goalies would need to deal with the new equipment, rules, and the lockout layoff. Lots of teams made the same gamble. Some teams (T-Bay) had to ridicule their goalies in the playoffs.

mind you, in looking at Rollie's mid-season stats -- didn't really indicate that he had the new #'s figured out.

I'm with you, if this is a gamble the Oilers are willing to take -- its probably the one that they have the best instincts at turning up roses.

The Jan Hejda deal was Lowe's "back off, I'm not going to get pushed around" gesture to the rest of the league. It helps insure that it is another GM that calls him -- rather than the other way around.

7/17/2006 10:12 am  
Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I just wish I knew what Lowe was doing, period. Your assumption is valid, and I agree with it, but at this point we are all just assuming. It would be nice if Lowe popped his head up for a minute and gave us even an bit of an idea on his thought process. Every time I see Scott Howson talking I sprout ten new grey hairs.

7/17/2006 11:23 am  
Anonymous Big T said...

What fun would it be if Lowe told us his plan before he put it in action??? Wouldn't that kind of nullify his plan if he told every other GM in the league what he was doing? I get that you're kidding though Andy, when you say you want Lowe to tell you what he's doing - don't we all?

I think that what Oilswell has said here is probably Plan B with Plan A now being to sign or make a good trade for a quality (and cheap) defensman.

Time will tell. Expect the unexpected as well.


T

7/17/2006 2:18 pm  
Blogger Dennis said...

The Smid acquistion was either an admission of panic or the first move in what is a rebuilding process.

And yes Horc did end up working out but looking at our D I don't think either guy's primed to make a Horcoffian leap.

Smith - good and steady for sure but the more you play him the better he isn't.

Staios - remember when he turned our guts on a gamely basis when he started getting too many min? Those days are likely back.

Greene - his his footspeed improved THAT much since June where he won't be challenging Dave Schultz's single season PIM mark?

MAB - Here's how my faith they had him in: Greene was playing over some come the Finals.

Smid - 20 years old and yes he's played in the CEL and the AHL and blah blah blah. There are only so many soft min to go around and chances are this kid would need all of them. Plus when's the last couple of times a kid this year didn't need to be sheltered and I wouldn't even show this guy the light of day until he didn't need to be babysat

Hejda - Horachek, Pisa and Haakanaa!!!

Personally I think Lowe's rebuilding but he doesn't have the guts to say it.

7/17/2006 10:59 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

Dennis:
First, there's no such thing as a Horcoffian leap. Unless it's defined as "playing kind of like you have the last few years." Seriously what changed? He played tough minutes and put up good scoring rates at ES and on the PP. Same old, same old. The only real difference was the extra PP minutes.

It's hard to challenge the stuff on Smith and Staios because I don't have the numbers handy. My hunch is that the minutes thing for those two guys is a myth like Pronger and the playoffs.

You're absolutely right on Greene IMO. Worst on the club in Minors/ES hr and he actually doubled his rate in the playoffs!!! Personally, I think the explanation has level of competition written all over it.

I'm not convinced that MAB can't hack it as a 6/7. Of course that means Smid can't be here.

Hejda? I don't know a damn thing about him and neither do you.

Rebuilding? Well, we'll see what they look like come training camp. If they start the year playing three rookies up front and the current blueline roster then I'll agree with you.

7/18/2006 1:35 am  
Blogger oilswell said...

Greene had a rep in college of taking a lot of penalties. I wonder if his NHL career isn't just a continuation.

The Pronger acquisition could easily be interpreted as a rebuild move. No question, I think. Got some young players and suddenly they're holding a bunch of picks instead of giving them away. Hey, they're even saying they're actually going to have an AHL team in 07'08! So Dennis' supposition cannot be easily cast away.

My post, in part, asked to look at the bigger picture. Some things don't make complete sense if you take a rebuild as the goal. If they're rebuilding, why grab a Roloson for 3 years? Just to avoid a top-5 pick? Maybe the Reasoner, Tjarnqvist and Hejda acquisitions are reasonable, but why not just trade some vets for younger guys? Those guys are all, like, 28 or more. If it's really a rebuild it seems like a half-assed rebuild. A steady-state or biding-time move seems to fit the evidence better, I think.

As for Horcoffian improvements, I think there is merit in wondering about that. Horcoff was already a season better at the start of 05'06 than he was at the end of 03'04. Young players get better though, and the Oiler lineup has a lot of players still entering their prime or chugging along through its heart. It might not need to be one guy. But if you want to search for one, perhaps a guy that might be able to make a Staiosian leap is Tjarnqvist, whom you apparently forgot. He has a history of playing some high level hockey, although not much of a record in the NHL.

But I'm not even really interested in arguing Blankian leaps in this thread. I think you missed the point of the post. I'll repeat it in short form, because I'm sure I was unclear.

Last season had two main apparent weaknesses creating Official Oilfan Ulcers. It required a Horcoffian leap to fill one of them. This season, it looks like one, and it's in an area that is not only relatively inexpensive to fix, but is also in an area the organization has demonstrated strength in finding good players. My point was its a good setup if the organization is thinking of fixing things as they come up, and as opportunity arises.

I'll add two points too.

1. The way that some teams are spending, it looks like a solid bet that good opportunities will arise.

2. Even if the team is rebuilding, the way the team is set up looks pretty fine to me: having a good goalie as the highest paid player, having strong forwards, and filling the D with relatively cheap but solid vets.

7/18/2006 8:48 am  
Blogger Dennis said...

Well I guess you're one of the disciples of the "forwards drive the results" movement and I can't really argue with that.

And I like our goaltending and our forwards. But that D looks awfully weak right now.

7/18/2006 4:55 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Good post oilswell. From a recruitment POV, the Oilers have done very well at grabbing guys who appeared to be fringe NHL defensemen and squeezing a lot of miles out of them. An optimist will point to the good bets (Staios, Bergeron and Ulanov, Cross (pre-05/06)) ... and a pessimist to the lost wagers (Luoma, Horacek, Henry) ... but the chipstack is pretty high imo.

Of course that was before the new rules, which may have changed things for some guys. It certainly seemed to by my eye, though most teams didn't see the disaster with their bottom pairing like the Oilers did last season. In any case there is no reason to believe that the Oilers organization has lost it's ability to evaluate defensemen.

Defense is a funny position to evaluate at the NHL level. A lot of guys have gone from hero to asshole in the span of a year or two, and vice versa. And a lot of very good defensemen have cleared waivers at some point in their career, or been traded for peanuts. A lot of defensemen have played ijn all star games, only to be widely considered a bag of suck by their team's fans a couple of years later. Context matters a lot to these cats imo.

I just read through Lowetide's blog and his fear of the Oilers defense corps is obvious. Dennis the same of course. And their both smart hockey fans, but I dunno, I just can't get too worried.

Time will tell. As mudcrutch likes to say, the NHL under the current CBA has become an efficiency contest. And some guys (notably John Ferguson, Tallon, Lombardi) have put most of their eggs in the defenseman basket. While others (Lowe, Wilson, Rutherford) have put most of their eggs in the forward basket. History will determine the winner. It's an interesting time to be a hockey fan methinks, especially if you've got a bit of 'armchair gm' in you.

7/19/2006 9:01 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Good post oilswell. From a recruitment POV, the Oilers have done very well at grabbing guys who appeared to be fringe NHL defensemen and squeezing a lot of miles out of them. An optimist will point to the good bets (Staios, Bergeron and Ulanov, Cross (pre-05/06)) ... and a pessimist to the lost wagers (Luoma, Horacek, Henry) ... but the chipstack is pretty high imo.

Of course that was before the new rules, which may have changed things for some guys. It certainly seemed to by my eye, though most teams didn't see the disaster with their bottom pairing like the Oilers did last season. In any case there is no reason to believe that the Oilers organization has lost it's ability to evaluate defensemen.

Defense is a funny position to evaluate at the NHL level. A lot of guys have gone from hero to asshole in the span of a year or two, and vice versa. And a lot of very good defensemen have cleared waivers at some point in their career, or been traded for peanuts. A lot of defensemen have played ijn all star games, only to be widely considered a bag of suck by their team's fans a couple of years later. Context matters a lot to these cats imo.

I just read through Lowetide's blog and his fear of the Oilers defense corps is obvious. Dennis the same of course. And their both smart hockey fans, but I dunno, I just can't get too worried.

Time will tell. As mudcrutch likes to say, the NHL under the current CBA has become an efficiency contest. And some guys (notably John Ferguson, Tallon, Lombardi) have put most of their eggs in the defenseman basket. While others (Lowe, Wilson, Rutherford) have put most of their eggs in the forward basket. History will determine the winner. It's an interesting time to be a hockey fan methinks, especially if you've got a bit of 'armchair gm' in you.

7/19/2006 9:02 am  
Blogger Dennis said...

Thank you for reminding me of Mikko Luomaa:)

7/19/2006 1:45 pm  

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