Friday, June 30, 2006

Quality of Opposition at Even Strength

An important thing obviously. It's a lot easier to look good and put up results against Steve Ott than it is against Mike Modano, I think we all agree on that.

Below are the results of a simple metric for giving an indication of this. It is the sum of the EV+/-'s, and EVicetimes of every player on the ice for every goal scored. Then multiplied by the EVicetime, and then x10 to make it easier on the eyes.

If you are comfortable with matrices, and are a linear thinker ... this sort of stuff is very easy to do.

Empty net goals were ignored in this script. 4on4 goals are included.

My code searches only by jersey number, so in situations where more than one player used the same number (Cross, Tarnstrom, D. Smith, Spacek) ... I cannot separate them out without real work, so I ignored them instead.

Player's roles and linemates change through the season, sometimes even game to game, this should come close to catching all of that though. The fewer the minutes ... the more room for error. A few goalposts here and there, a soft goal here and there, and the numbers can get skewed a bit. Overall it should be pretty close, but this should be regarded as a reasonable indication only.

Quality of linemate is not considered here, nor has the result been parlayed through to account for the fact that good players that play against other good players a lot hurt each others difficulty of icetime numbers. This is just a simple metric that is repeatable by anyone with even modest programming and math skills.

Also, if I've done this right then you should be able to click on the image to enlarge it.

So, if you're the type of person that notices the matchups ... how does this mesh with your memory of events?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Comparing Two Defensemen Rationally

Humour me, pretend you're Billy Beane for a minute. But looking at the seasons of a couple of NHL defensemen instead of baseball players.

Which of these guys do you like better, by how much, and why?

Both are real seasons of real players. And both are obviously good years by them. But no cheating by looking it up. :-)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Chris Pronger & Barret Jackman

Barely played a shift together during Jackman's terrific rookie campaign, and barely any the next season either. Though they might have if both had ever been healthy at the same time.

I just had to say that. The home team love for Pronger caused some on the internet to create the story that Pronger "made Jackman look good!" back then. It was repeated so often that even astute hockey board and blog posters have started claiming it as fact. And that's just too much.

Jackman played with Al MacInnis for almost the entirety of that campaign. In fact Al was the unofficial "Jackman for rookie of the year" lobbyist, he loved the kid. And MacInnis is one of the best defenceman to ever play the game, I'm sure it helped Barret a bunch to be paired with him during his debut season in 02/03.

But the authoritative voice is the one that supports it's arguments with facts, so:

At 5on5 in 02/03:

Jackman: EV+59, EV-47

Jackman with MacInnis: EV+51, EV-38

Pronger: 5 games played

Friday, June 23, 2006

Potential Pronger destinations

Just thought I'd throw this up there, see if we can think of any deals that might/might not make some sense while waiting for the seemingly inevitable trade that will, no doubt, not live up to our expectations.

PS. I hate that VAN got Luongo.

Anyways, potential Pronger destinations:

PHI - Richards, Carter, Gagne, Pitkanen, Niitymaki. We have heard that Lowe likes Downey as well. Picks might well be a part of any deal, PHI's arent particularly high. Ryan Potulny may also be a decent prospect.

BUF - they have a million RFA's and some pretty good ones. They also probably have cap room, depending on which ones they move.

CHI - Barker, Seabrook, Ruutu, Bell, Calder, 3 and 33 OV, Bertram, Skille

LA - Frolov (on a 3 mil per year 5 year deal, pretty attractive), Dustin Brown, Visnovsky, Cammelari, Garon, Conroy?, Brian Boyle, Kopitar, Tukonen (LT loves the Finns)

BOS - Boyes, 5 OV, Toivonen, Bergeron, Sturm, I'll include Raycroft, but reluctantly. I'll also include Yan Stastny, for the comedy of him being traded between the 2 teams again. Would definitely be another #1 D for BOS, and there's a history between the GM's. Also, Mark Stuart and Boynton and Brad Stuart, though the Oilers would probably need the latter signed to an extension first.

STL - 1OV. And what else? I think they don't have what the Oilers need

PIT - hehe, these guys do. I'm assuming Malkin and Crosby are off teh table, but maybe Malkin isn't if the deal gets big enough and PIT wants to win starting next year. Even without Crosby and Malkin though PIT has some nice young, cheap pieces that EDM could use and save money to spend on UFA's. IE. 2nd OV, Fleury (probably not particularly avail), Whitney, Orpik, Christensen, WElch. Well, maybe there isn't all that much there. If it takes Pronger and Hemsky to get Malkin involved, what else do you need to get it done?

PHX - always include them in any trade possibilities.

FLA - Bouwmeester, countless forwards.

Well, that's top of my head. Anyone see any better fits, for both teams, that I'm missing?


EDIT #1:

Spector's lists NYR, OTT, FLA, BOS, ATL, and CHI as the 6 teams that have already contacted the Oilers. Well, I mentioned only 3 of those teams, so I might as well comment on the other 3:

NYR - a bunch of interesting pieces. Marc Staal, Prucha, Lundquist, Montoya, Korpikoski, Tyutin. They have some other pretty decent prospects as well, not sure what NHL ready players they have avail as well.

ATL - I think Hossa would be the likely guy here, but would he be too pricey for EDM? What else would EDM want? They do have Coburn as well, one of the vaunted top 3 D from the 2003 draft as well (others being Suter and Phaneuf).

OTT - would be funny if they got Meszaros this way, is all I'm saying. But they have a bunch of other interesting pieces, obviously Spezza and Havlat come to mind quickly , guys like Vermette, Eaves, and Kaigarodov as well perhaps?

FLA note - I forgot to specifically mention how much I was a fan of Olesz back at the draft, really liked this player from what I heard, back at the draft. Saw nothing of him except highlights when he scored last year though.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

2006 Draft Outlook

Context Matters

Even before the puck dropped in 05-06 there were a group of Oiler fans out there who felt that the 05-06 season was the season that Oilers should be trading in some future for some right now. The feeling was the drafting and free agent collection process had put a solid foundation in place for later, and that if there ever was a time to "go for it"...well, 05-06 was a top contender because of its strategic importance. Many reasons could be readily listed: the cap was going to rise faster the than the budget so 05-06 was the lone opportunity to spend on par with the field; the place was unattractive to UFAs; the fan base were expecting a post-cap resurgence and post-season appearance; and to avoid making an omelet facial the ownership needed to be proved right about just needing a level playing field.

As I recall it there was debate about how to "go for it". Given the known budget restraints, certain Oilers fans suggested a suitable plan would be to save up budget space by gliding through the season with the cheapest possible squad that could still cling to a playoff spot when the trade deadline came. Then the plan would be max out the rest and to load up full bore to try to become the first 8th-seeded team to reach the finals. Given that picks seemed to be the trading chip of choice at that part of the season, such a plan seemed to all but ensure that Lowe and Co. would be scarce commodities at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

As it turns out — whether by design or accident — Lowe's dealings seemed to follow the broad strokes of such a plan. Prospects were traded in early, saving the picks for the deadline. Two prospect/suspect Ds plus a bag of cash were used in to upgrade Brewer. Some budget room turned York into Peca. Then Spacek and Tarnstrom were obtained for some prospects and toe jam. And finally the deadline is when we saw the top three picks leave. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round 2006 picks for Samsonov and Roloson, with Stastny and Reasoner thrown in to seal the deal.

Prior to last seasons' trades the Oilers had added significant pieces to their stable of prospects via assets acquired through earlier deals. They acquired enough picks to draft an incredible 14 prospects in 2002. Then 12, 10, and 8 prospects in the years to 2005, two fewer each year. The trend may continue too since they have only 6 picks in 2006, 5 if Florida resigns Semenov. That's less than half of the number of picks early in Lowe's tenure. A precipitous drop, and nothing in the first round.

Considering the number of prospects and picks they've sent packing recently, you almost have to wonder if the dolts in the main office should have thought ahead and shelved their AHL team for a few years!

2006 Expected Values

I have heard this year is looking like a poor draft year, with the talent dropoff occurring unusually early. If this is true, the 2005-06 year was a good year to make a push at the deadline, adding another possible rationale to the list. From what I've seen of the draft, the normal course appears to be that the majority of good players can be pegged early and the GMs do a decent job of selecting them in the right order. At some point in the draft the ability to predict player value approaches random chance and the later rounds tend to look just like what you'd expect a series of guesses to look like. If the draft is shallow, the tail-end "guesswork" part of distribution should appear earlier.

With that context and assuming no trades, here is an estimation of the number player games and points that the various teams can expect for the upcoming draft:

You Should See A Table Here

The table is ordered by the expected number of games picked by teams. Edmonton comes in third last, just above the cup champs (still smarts to type that). Edmonton was #8 by this measure last year, with about double the expected games played. Its obvious that having top picks generally will push you towards the top.

Columns 2-11 list the picks for each team, and define a set of brackets. In past versions of this table, I've used the per-round brackets of 1-30, 31-60, etc. However this linear scale makes little sense applied to the expected value estimation process. Any reasonable look at the draft history shows the pick values non-linearly decrease. It looks roughly logarithmic to me so I've used a log scale for the brackets (picked a log factor that made them look about right to me). Nothing terribly meaningful there but I find it easier to read the importance of the picks.

To estimate the games and points expected I used the pick weighting technique by Dawson and Magee, using the 13 years of historical draft data from 1987-2000. I didn't do anything to discount the draft year, which the model has provision to do. So if the draft class is shallow, consider the table to be an optimistic estimation, probably especially for the lower half of the table. In case you're curious, by this measure the 1st round pick the Oilers gave up to get to the finals was an expected 289/263 games (forwards/D) and 155/52 points (forwards/D) in an average draft class.

If you believe that Lowe's regime isn't strong at the draft, maybe this turn is encouraging, because they've been pretty successful in the trade and sign mode of building a better team, and not all that many GMs can claim to have succeeded there. I'm interested to see if Lowe makes deals with the picks, to see if he's looking for more or fewer swings at bat.

A couple of notes on the sidebar

* The Oiler EV+, EV- and EV points thing has been set up to give results for the playoff run. Some surprises there, probably because most of us tend to remember recent games more strongly.

* Using the salary cap calculator on the sidebar, if you enter 2120 (i.e. USD 2.12 billion) as the total league hockley related revenue for 05/06, then you get the cap as $44 million, and the floor at $28 million. Which are the numbers being bandied about confidently by many media outlets.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

This should be fun

It was a great run!

Go ahead. Try to paste a sticker on me saying "doesn't live and die with the Oilers" and I think it quickly slides off and flutters away.

Sure, the loss hurts. A G7 loss should hurt exactly as badly as a G7 win feels great. No shame in that, it's a symmetry thing, one of the beautiful conservation laws of nature. Call it "conservation of emotion": with pain always being generated in exactly equal proportion to joy. The first law of hockeydynamics; the empathy law. Didn't everyone know this immutable equation coming into the preseason?

Plus the destination isn't everything. In the preseason which "lives and dies with the Oilers" fan says to him/herself: "oh, if they win the cup I'm happy, but if they don't, it's a wasted season and after 82 regular season games plus possibly several rounds of the playoffs, I'll be retroactively pissed off with the entire season if they don't win their last game"? The run counts. The season was frustrating and good and worth watching as an Oilers fan. The playoff run was fun, fun, nailbiting fun. Rem Murray started G7 of a finals series as a bona fide NHL player with a good shot at winning it all. Any reasonable fan watching him and the Oilers down the regular season stretch would have been astonished that he should find himself in such a situation, but during the run he managed to rediscover his legs. It's only a guess, but I'd say if he is given an option to undo his decision to come out of retirement he takes the G7 loss every time.

And the point about the incredible string of events needed to get there is important, but only because it puts into sharp focus how special the events are. Not random and not inevitable, but something inbetween. No dynasties anymore? Huzzah! So let the Oilers go again to the cup finals next season: if there are no true powerhoses what stops them now, should they keep a decent team, except for a modicum of luck?

That non-analytic junk out of the way, I can say I'm now very much looking forward to the draft and the signing season, and I'm glad that speeds pushes the pace and gets things going. I think I'm as excited about the off season as I was last year, which I find a little shocking. Sucks that Minnesota isn't picking 30th, but oh well.

Currently, the Oilers have 14 players and no starting goalie. I look at every UFA as just a guy the Oilers or anyone else could sign, so I end up being astonished at how many people pick UFAs to return.

These are the concerns I can think of at the moment:
  • Goaltending is an issue. I hope Roloson isn't back unless it's for fairly cheap, and I can't see it. Lowe went with a good gamble last season and then fixed it at the deadline. Unless he gets someone really good on a trade, I'm hoping he'll be smart enough to do the same thing next season.

  • I hope they can attract some UFAs at a good price, including Pisani and Dvorak. A potentially annoying scenario is Sutter proffering a couple more pesos for Pisani, as Pisani seems like a player Sutter might want to boss around. Hell, Dvorak seems like a Sutter player also (can't score).

  • Regarding the D, I suspect they'll keep Bergeron and hope they ditch Spacek and resign Tarnstrom. Both Spacek and Staios seem considerably less shiny after the playoffs, but they're quality players. But I think the price of Spacek will be such that I'd rather see them spend money elsewhere. I like how Tarnstrom makes decisions and passes at the point and agree with speeds that 2 D manning the PP will still be common. If their goaltending is half as shittacular as the last season, they better still maintain a top end D.

  • The Oilers probably can afford to attract a higher-end forward star next season. I'm as yet undecided as to whether I'd like to see it. Their PP numbers this season were pretty good even without a real "total package" top-end forward, but their ES game dropped a lot and MacT was running with three lines a lot of the time. The point is that sprinkling the salary across the lines to add some good outscorers might improve the team substantially while reducing injury risk (in terms of both standings and cost). Help keep the PP specialists (and you know we'll have a couple) properly babysat. Concentrating that salary on a top player might improve the team the same (maybe more), but adds injury risk and (most likely) salary risk going forward if the player wants a long contract.

No Time to Dwell

As heartbreaking as that loss was, Kevin Lowe has no time to waste crying over spilt milk. The draft is this Saturday and he's got a lot on his plate in the meantime. If there is a silver lining to the loss, it's that Lowe shouldn't be overly sentimental with this roster. (Trust me, I know I'm reaching with that one.)

- The cap is now $44MM with a $28MM floor and the Oilers have just 11 players under contract for 2006-2007 (Pronger, Moreau, Conklin, Harvey, Markkanen, Bergeron, Staios, Smith, Smyth, Greene, and Torres) for a total of approximately $19.7MM. I'm not sure what happened to Winchester here, but I'm under the impression that he's under contract for $500K this year as well.

- The RFA list isn't lengthy but it's probably expensive: Horcoff, Stoll, and Hemsky.

- The UFA list is better described as both lengthy and expensive: Peca, Dvorak, Pisani, Spacek, Tarnstrom, Roloson, Samsonov, Laraque, Ulanov and Murray.

- The list of kids knocking at the door is growing as well. Jacques, Pouliot, and Schremp look to be near NHL ready and The Yeti Named Mikhnov is lurking in the background as well.

I guess the major thing to address are the Oilers' specific needs, which I would rank in the following order:
1. Goaltending
2. ES play
3. Defensemen

Goaltending is a critical area of need that the Oilers must address. It appears to me that Markkanen is a suitable backup, but there is a significant question regarding Roloson. Will he be healthy? How much did his price drop? Is he due for a decline in 2006-2007? Longtime OilFans poster GabbyDugan (who needs to hurry up and join the damn blog) posted a list of UFA goalies here which he gleaned from this link. The eternal wisdom of the Boston Bruins has pulled Thomas off of Gabby's list, but I think the rest of them are fair game. There are some options there for sure, but it's hard to say any of them are any better than Roloson if you assume he's capable of replicating his recent performance over the past couple of years.

The ES play this year concerned me and although the goaltending was crap for most of the season and the Oilers had some iffy defensemen at times, I still think the forwards were out of sorts. MacT used the Smyth/Horcoff/Hemsky line in a bizarre way to the detriment of the team at ES and the fourth line was never used consistently enough to provide much of an impact. The Oilers stand to lose a couple of solid performers as UFAs in Dvorak, Peca and Pisani. All three are generally very strong in terms of GAA and although Pisani might come back down to Earth offensively, the other two can be expected to rebound offensively. Peca's a goner, but Dvorak's price should be right and the Oilers probably can't do much better with a different RW from the UFA ranks. Personally, I think the Oilers are better off spending their money on known commodities at ES than blowing huge wads of cash on PP divas.

The Oilers already have five defensemen signed and probably 3/4 of their top two pairs, but they need a little depth. Personally I'm in favour of letting Spacek walk and signing Tarnstrom at a cut rate - something like $1.5MM/yr. He had a horrible year statistically and his track record suggests he'll bounce back hugely on the PP if he gets some minutes there. Personally I despise the use of two dmen on the PP, but MacT/Simpson are going to insist on it then very few teams have a pair like Pronger and Tarnstrom to have back there. While I think Tarnstrom will be serviceable at ES with middling difficulty of minutes, the Oilers likely need another veteran so that MAB/Greene share the 6/7 minutes.

Lastly, here's my two lists of UFA's to look at:


New UFAs
M. Eaton
D. Markov

Elias is a pipe dream for sure. Mostly because he'll want $7MM/yr for 4-5yrs and the length of the deal in particular would be hard for the Oilers to stomach. It seems that's the deal in pro sports these days. If you want an elite free agent you have to be willing to pay him big money for two years after he's gone off the deep end. Paging Neil Smith! Paging Glen Sather!!

Arnott's a dicey one as well mostly because of his history in the town. If it wasn't for that I'd love to see Horcoff, Arnott, Stoll, and then Reasoner or Pouliot as the Oilers' four centres next year. I'm fairly certain MacT would like to play four lines at ES a little more than he did this year and he probably can't do that with Peca surely gone, Murray over the bend, and unknown rookie commodities.

My wishlist would be the following: Sign a UFA goalie for about $2.5MM, keep Markkanen at $0.85MM and cut Conklin loose. (Does a buyout make sense here? I think it might - there's no replacement player cost to consider really because they're paying Markkanen regardless of what happens. If you can't trade him, you save about $400K) I'd like to see Tarnstrom and a veteran UFA dman added for $3MM combined to bring the blueline total to about $14.8MM spent on 7 dmen. I'd like to keep Smyth ($3.5MM), Horcoff ($2.5MM), Hemsky ($2.5MM), Stoll ($1.5MM), Torres ($0.9MM), Moreau ($1.1MM), Dvorak ($1.0MM), Reasoner ($0.7MM), Harvey ($0.54MM) and Pisani ($1.8MM) as nine of the forwards totalling $16.0MM. This grand total is roughly $35MM assuming a Conklin buyout. I assume the Oilers will spend around $40MM this year which would leave about $5MM for Lowe to pay a couple of youngsters and upgrade a forward spot. This would mean Elias is out of the picture, but potentially Arnott or Langenbrunner could be available.

The amount of work that has to be done is either a blessing or a curse and I can't decide. On one hand, Lowe's got way too many things to screw up here. The flipside is that he's got plenty of freedom to make significant gains.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Key Observations from Game 6

Obviously there was a lot of special teams minutes in Game 6, but the Oilers' staff clearly feel they're playing a tired team and that the Oilers now have the depth advantage up front. I haven't seen the post game minutes summary look like this all year.

At ES, all Oiler forwards fell in between 7:02 and 9:34 minutes played. This is a very tight distribution for the Oilers. Hemsky played the minimum at ES and the 9:34 belonged to Rem Murray, making it even more remarkable. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think the Oilers have rolled four lines like this since Reasoner left the squad and even then MacT didn't have much confidence in the fourth line all year. This is a significant factor in my opinion. The Oilers' gameplan was to skate them out of the rink tonight and they felt there was strength in numbers.

The second point has to be related to the power play. I told Dennis the other night that I thought the setup they used for awhile against Detroit might be the answer for the Canes cheating up high - Hemsky on the LW halfboards and Samsonov down low in the LW corner. It turns out that's what the Oilers' staff thought as well and I thought it looked pretty dangerous for most of the night. The PP goals came on the rush, but they looked dangerous when Hemsky and Samsonov were playing catch down in the corner and were unlucky not to bag a couple of goals from the setup. (The Hemsky-Smyth-Samsonov tic-tact-toe that Samsonov just missed would have been a thing of beauty.)

Lastly, I thought Dvorak had a strong game in particular. He was a little more aggressive carrying the puck and he basically finished that 3-on-1 chance that was denied by the stupid rulebook. (Speaking of that, if A=B and B=C can the NHL just get it together and declare that A=C? It's insulting to have things otherwise.)

Game 7 should be a heck of a game.

Friday, June 16, 2006

You say toe-may-toe, I say toe-mah-toe

I was over at mc79 hockey reading Tyler's takes on Games 4 and 5 and I found it kind of funny that we saw the two games so differently. Basically, if I understand him correctly, he thought the Oilers played well overall in Game 4 (despite the obvious lack of offense that everyone will agree on) and carried most of the play at even strength. His game log for Game 5, indicated that he thought the Canes actually had the advantage at ES.

I disagree with both of these assertions.

I saw game 4 as a reasonably solid win for the Canes. I thought they played a pretty complete game and stifled the Oilers' feeble attempts at creating offense. The Oilers had a lot more trouble coming through the neutral zone in this game than any other in the series and really struggled regaining puck control in the Canes' end on the dump-ins. I thought it was a solid technical game overall for the Canes. Incidentally, it was the first one I've seen from them this playoffs (Of course I should mention that I've only seen 4 Canes' games this postseason that the Oilers were not involved with - 1 against NJD and 3 against Buffalo). Let's face it, they love to run and gun.

Conversely, I thought the Oilers played their game pretty well in Game 5 and I thought they carried the play at ES for the most part. Tyler mentioned the penalties drawn by the 'Canes as evidence of their ES dominance, but I'm quite certain at least a few of those 'Canes' PPs came from penalties drawn in the offensive zone (Hemsky's for sure) and certainly some of them were flat out atrocious. ie. Stoll's penalty on Brind'Amour off the faceoff and the one Tarnstrom took.

By the numbers, the Canes mustered just 24 shots on goal and (according to CBS Sportsline's Play-by-play )12 of those came on the PP. Since I don't recall any PK shots, that means they had just 12 ES shots over 63 minutes of hockey. The Oilers meanwhile had just 3 measly PP shots, 2 SH shots (Fernando!) and 24 shots at ES.

Furthermore, the Shots Directed at Net support the way I saw these two games. In Game 4, the Oilers picked up 48 Shots Directed at Net vs. 44 for the Canes which was easily the closest margin (+4 for the Oilers) of the series. In game 5, it was back to normal in favour of the Oilers 73-56, a differential of +17 which has been typical of this series thus far. FYI, it has been +14, +20, +11, +4, and +17 for Games 1-5 by this measure, all in favour of the Oilers.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

"Look at me. Know whatcha see?..."

"... You see a bad mutha."
- The Boss by James Brown

That pretty much sums up Raffi Torres' 2006 playoffs for me. He's been nasty since Game 2 of the San Jose series, when he viciously knocked Milan Michalek into Neverland. Last night's Game 5 performance was a tour de force for Raffi. He creamed Aaron Ward shortly after the Pisani goal in the 1st period and then proceeded to hit anything that moved, positioning be damned. The Pronger/Torres sandwich that sent a despondent Weight to the trainer's slab early in the 3rd period was almost laughable as Torres had no business getting involved. Later in one shift in the third period, Torres obviously drew the ire of Mark Recchi. Recchi took two runs at him in that shift, Raffi saw each one of the coming and ended up laying the lick on the old man. The replays showed him looking down at Recchi with a crazed Sacamano face before turning to join the rush.

In the post game press conference, MacT addressed Raffi's play this way:
"I think I finally found a way to motivate Raffi. I won't tell you what it is, but I think we found it."
No shit. I wonder what the heck that motivation could be. Battery acid in his morning cereal? Maybe MacT has taken his family hostage? Maybe it's this?

Regardless, I tend to give Torres a lot of flack 'round these parts for a variety of reasons. (The short list? His puck support on the LW boards; horrible passing; general uselessness on the PP; an inordinate number of lucky RS goals; bad penalties and constantly taking himself out of position to make a hit.) Right now though, Torres is a very valuable weapon for these Oilers and he's cut down on his mistakes enough so that we can focus on the fact that he is a bad mutha.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Game 5 Exorcism

This is Sacagawea on the US dollar coin.

She has been exorcised from the ice at the RBC arena by none other than Ryan Smyth. No doubt the ESPN description is a little lacking here - I'm sure Ryan had both skates off, one in each hand, and he was wailing away like Edward Scissorhands on a snowy evening.

I can feel a win coming already. Hurricanes, kiss your mojo goodbye.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Thoughts heading into G4...

...that are based on what I've seen thus far and especially from what I saw in G3.

- Did it warm anyone else's heart to see Tarnstrom playing the full two min alongside Pronger on the Oilers 3rd period PP? And how about that save Ward made on #44 when he went side to side and got the pad down? That all happened because Horc won the draw and whipped it back to 23 who made a nice soft pass to Pronger over on the right side. Tarnstrom is a known commodity on the PP. Plays like that will be the norm and not the exception. I don't know why MacT all of a sudden made this move and don't get me wrong I'm not looking a potential gifthorse in the mouth. I thought it was something that should've and would've been done between series' when there was lots of time to draw up some plays and repitition would ensue.

- Staying on the topic of the Oilers looks to me like it's about to click. I know that's not a bold statement given it's been good throughout the whole playoffs but when you start to get chances eventually those turn into goals. Edm had between 5-7 SC's, scoring chances, on their PP in G3 so if it keeps on raining the levy's going to break.

- We knew Smyth had to score if the Oilers had a chance and we thought he eventually would. And Horc had been hitting the ball hard enough in the first two games that eventually he was gonna find a couple of gaps. So no big shock to see both guys chipping in on Sat night. If you want to know the next Oilers likely to break their goal scoring slumps then I'd say Torres, Peca and Pronger are good candidates. Yes I know Pronger scored in G1 but he started getting the puck to the net last night and the Oilers PP kettle is about to boil. Peca was back to generating SC's so I'd guess he's about ready as well. BTW, he's the Oilers #1 centre right now in terms of ES TOI which is super interesting consider that MacT has taken Horcoff away from the PK and has replaced him with Murray. I like this move because it let's us bring the Horc line right after the penalty's killed and in keeping with that them Smyth never saw any SH time in G3 either. To close this point MacT played the 10 line for two of the first three shifts in G3 and got them out against the Addams Family on the third shift of the game and Horc would go on to open the scoring.

Note: this theory does not apply to Radek Dvorak because that man has zero scoring ability.

- Vic will tell you that forwards drive the Wilson numbers metric and I'm not well enough versed on that topic to debate him. But I do know this: a far greater number of bad things happen when Matt Greene's on the ice as opposed to good. Things like him taking stupid penalties or his teammates having to take penalties because he's out of position. Let us also not forget that if it were an official stat Greene would most likely lead the league in icings created when a successful outlet pass was certainly achieveable. There's also the times when teammates have to ice the puck because Greene's on the sheet with them and things have taken a turn to Chuck Barris Ave.

- I know I'm gushing about Tarnstrom but did anyone else notice his shot block on Weight late in the 3rd? It's Weight so he's probably not gonna score;) but it was still nice to see 23 head out into the slot and shield that shot from Jussi.

- A pretty good job by Jussi I must say. A couple of really good saves and his rebound control was rather excellent. He won't make too many second saves like Rolo can and could but he's not killing us either and that should be good enough at Rexall where the game changes because of MacT's line matching.

- Which brings me to Peca's job on BA in the dot. Peca took care of him and his line finished -1 against Carolina's only consistent line at this point but they certainly matched them and most likely bettered them in SC's. Which was the story of the night as the Oilers had far more many chances to score than Carolina.

- What am I wrong about when it comes to Carolina, ie is it their defense or netminding? I think their D can be had and I don't think Ward's as good as he's being made out to be. But the kid allows a big shot of rebounds and if the Oilers aren't popping them in then maybe the Canes D does a consistent job of clearing the bounds and if that's the case then I'm wrong about them. Staying with Ward for a second...if you believe that luck and bounces matter than you'd rather be an Oilers fan than a Canes fan right now. After scoring some nice luck in G2 there was a big swing last night in favour of the Oilers. One Carolina shot went off Tarnstrom's skate and safely into Jussi's pad and another went off Smith's skate and right to Whitney in the crease and yet Jussi stopped him cold. At the other end the Smyth goal had all the charm of Mike Commodore's undershirt.

- Is Staal slumping or is he just worn out? He's not even generating chances so I'd go with the latter. If that's the case it makes it much easier to match lines unless Lavatory decides to juggle his lines to try and jumpstart Archie Andrews. Staal continuing to pretty much no-show combined with Markkanen catching some lightning in a bottle with give the Oilers a fighting chance.

- Not a great game from Pronger in his own end. Justin Williams, who's been the best player for both teams in the first three games of the season, took him wide a couple of times and I counted three times Pronger could've cleared the zone but didn't.

- I'm still not sold on Jussi so I'm not even sold on the Oilers winning G4 let alone the series. If you believe in things like scoring chances then you know the Oilers totally deserved to win G3. By that metric they also deserved to win G1 but first Rolo and then Conklin conspired to let in no less than three combined questionable goals while at the other end Cam Ward was making like Ron Tugnutt for the Nords at Boston Garden. That's to take nothing away from the Canes win because the team with the best netminding wins a tonne of games. I'm just looking at chances created and wondering how much of a difference it will make where one goalie's already stolen a couple of the gams and the other guy's shaking off rust and frost at the same time.

Some good things to build on from the Oilers G3 is that they showed a helluva lot more discipline with the Canes enjoying just five PP opps. Which means just four really when you consider that Matt Greene has to take at least one penalty a game. The PK % is gonna take a hit with Rolo on the shelf so the offense is a good defense. Edmonton also seemed to get back some of their bounces mojo and if you don't believe these things matter than just look at who leads the playoffs with most saves by the post.

The Oilers had way more of a forecheck going in G1-2 and in G3 they laid back a little and also made sure the D stayed within themselves as well. No one with argue with that approach. But if this is really going to be a series than I'd imagine Cam Ward has to have at least one bad game and the Oilers have to get their PP going. And Jussi has to be at least good which is a tall order for a guy coming in under these circumstances.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Those Crazy Goalposts

A long time ago on OilFans Dennis threw out this theory that if you hit more goalposts than the other guys you usually lose the close games. I'm sure that most people thought he was batshit crazy, but it made sense to me.

Anyhow, some goalpost stats were thrown about in a comment on mudcrutch79's site the other day. Apparently they now put these on the play by play sheets at So I wrote a little program to strip all of that info off of said sheets, for the regular season and the playoffs. Which was surprisingly easy to do.

Some cool stuff, or at least I think so. At some point I'll post the list somewhere, but for now some bits and pieces:

* After two rounds of the playoffs the teams that had been helped out by the posts the most were EDM(12) and CAR(10) and BUF(9). If the nets were a couple of inches bigger each way ... none of these three teams would have still been alive by that point. (ANA had only been saved by the posts 6 times, but had only rung the iron four times themselves, so no room to bitch there. :-)

* In the four game sweep of the Rangers, Brodeur had help from the posts and crossbar a staggering 6 times. The iron only helped out Lundqvist once. His luck would turn in the next round.

* In the four game winning streak vs the Habs, Ward got help from the posts and crossbar 5 times, Huet only once.

And a couple of regular season tidbits:

* Jagr(12), Shanahan(12) and Staal(13) scored a lot of goals but also tagged a lot of iron. Hossa, Iginla and Naslund all had 11 posts in disappointing scoring campaigns. Most guys who scored a lot were in high single digits at goalposts and crossbars (Cheechoo with 9, Crosby 8, Ovechkin 7, Gionta 7, Gagne 9, Heatley 7, etc ... that seems about par for the course).

* A lot of guys should expect to score more next year based on some piss poor luck with the posts this season. Hossa(11), Sykora(12), Boyes(9), Erat(8) and some guy on the Blackhawks named Bourque with 9.

* Apparently Modano hit an absurd number of posts and crossbars in 03/04. This year he hit a post and a crossbar in the first couple of weeks ... then never hit another all year. Freaky.

* Selanne and Carter only hit 4, Torres and Bertuzzi only hit a pair each. Stillman only hit 1. The Sedins hit 14 between them (my script just grabs the surnames).

* If the goalposts are run by Satan (and I suspect that they are), then CuJo and M.A. Fleury sold their souls. And Belfour and Conklin should have. :D

* Poor Conklin, by the time the teams came back after the Olympic break, he had only been saved by the posts once (the OTL loss to New Jersey). The dice would start rolling his way though, he would get 3 posts behind him in the three game winning streak after the Oly's before the Roloson acquisition. Cujo had close to 40 in the same timespan, obviously Joseph had played far more minutes, still ...

* Roloson had a helluva streak of goalposts behind him early on as an Oiler, including 3 in the critical win against VAN. And obviously another streak again in the playoffs in the first two series.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Angels Have Lost Their Desire For Us

I spoke to `em just last night and they said they won't set themselves on fire for us anymore.

Those are Springsteen's words of course. And they fit here, it seems that way to me anyways. I mean to my eyes the Oilers have barely had a lucky bounce since the Moreau goal in game 1. Surely one of those deflections should have found the net in game two, or one of their blocked shots could have bounced a better direction, a rebound could have found one of them them somewhere with space. Just didn't happen. And the Canes were rolling so many sevens it was ridiculous.

Ah well, we certainly can't bitch about this issue during the playoff run as a whole. And these things tend to balance out.


BTW: I'm just talking about the game up to the point that Moreau punched Ward in the head for no apparent reason. That marked the end of any serious attempt by the Oilers to mount a comeback in my opinion.

BTW#2: Good to see Georges take a run at Roli-runner Ladd. You could see he had him in his sights for a while. Turning his back to Laraque that far away from the boards ... probably the most cowardly, and smartest, thing that he could have done there.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Hockey Quiz

Another quiz, have a go, no cheating!

1. Over the course of the 05/06 season we've all shuddered as bad angle shots have come in on Conklin (who, btw, Bob Stauffer has now convinced me is the best choice for starter in Game 2, after listening to the 1260 show today). And we all know that the final memory is the lasting one, ergo the madass love for Turco because of his shootout play. Anyhow, over the course of the 05/06 season, how many extra goals would you guess that Conklin needed to make the save on in order to be above average in even-strength save percentage?

2. When this Oiler player was on the ice in the Anaheim series at 5on5 the Ducks were LEAST likely to get a shot on net, who is he?

3. Which Oiler player played the LEAST percentage of his icetime against Selanne or Marchant in the ANA series?

4. When this Oiler player was on the ice in Game 1 vs Carolina at 5on5 the Hurricanes were LEAST likely to get a shot on net, who is he?


Take a shot and be honest, it's just for the fuck of it after all, a perception vs reality thing. Good luck and God bless. :-)

How to choose the starter?

So, how do the Oilers approach this? Is it an "Anyone But Conklin" scenario now?

On what basis do you choose? The goalie most steady and reliable? Is there any way to knowwho that is?

The goalie who, at his best, is the best left? Is it possible that goalie is Dubnyk?

For me, I start Markkanen, cause I feel better with him in net than with Conklin. Very scientific, I know.

On the other hand, even though I loathed the pick at the 2004 draft (and even now), the build-up and drama of seeing Dubnyk in the pipes would be a fun ride until/if/when it all went spectacularly wrong, lol. Or it would be a fantastic story if it worked.

Should the Oilers buck the popular opinion and start Conklin. Should they worry that he "choked under the pressure", or whatever happened there?


Some other game thoughts:

- How glorious was that Hemsky goal?

- Don Cherry was right, what was Bergeron doing on the SH 4-3 goal? That one was obvious even to me at the time, and my former coaches would attest that I was never the most defensively responsible player. I don't know that he would have got there anyways (depends how early he would have made the read to back off), but at least Williams would have been in a race.

Monday, June 05, 2006

"It's the same thing as Radek's"

That was Craig MacTavish comparing Dwayne Roloson's injury in Game One of the Cup Finals with an injury Radek Dvorak sustained in Game One of their second round series with the San Jose Sharks. Dvorak would go on to miss the next eight games and 12 days.

So it was with those six words Craig MacTavish began what is likely to be a five game eulogy for the Edmonton Oilers season of 2006.

It's hard to look at this whole game and not focus on the play that knocked out the Conn Smyth candidate or even the game winning goal for Carolina where Ty Conklin misplayed a dump-in into a tap-in for Rod Brind'Amour.

And right now I'm not even gonna try.

I'm toggling between the NHL Network and The Score with all the talking heads musing about how this is just another hurdle on the Oilers journey.

Of course we all know it's done.

If the Oilers had a snowball's chance in hell with either of Conklin or Markkanen then Roloson wouldn't have been such a big story in the first place.

This is Dennis again. Technical difficulties were resolved for just one post.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Whale For The Killing

It's admittedly weird that I live in a country which has seen two of it's NHL teams re-locate with one of them eventually winning a Cup and yet I can seperate them from their infancy while still associating the Carolina Hurricanes with the Hartford Whalers.

The only explanations I can offer is that the old charges of the Brass Bonanza played in the Adams Division and if you grew up hating the Habs as much as I did then you liked every other team in Jack's bracket. Of course that doesn't explain why I let the Avalanche nee Nords stand alone now does it?

Sometimes I go old school when it comes to memory and I can recount almost verbatim things I read in some editions of The Hockey News from the early to late 80's. I don't know why your memory works like that but I suspect LT has the same thing going on. I was reminded of this a couple of nights ago when a few buddies of mine dropped by and we enjoyed some libations and somehow began talking of Richard Dotson and the '83 White Sox rotation. With G6 of the Pistons/Heat as our nostalgia soundtrack I wondered aloud why it is that I know so much less about players in the NBA in '06 then I did back in '86 given the advent of the internet and all the information it holds.

Back to the '06 SC Finals and if you mention the Canes to me then I'm thinking of the days of the Whale with Francis, Sly Turgeon, Luit and oddly enough one of the NHL's gunslingers of the '80's in Torrie Robertson.

So here we go, Edmonton against Hartford so let's break it down shall we?

Note: I really can't do anything with numbers that MC hasn't already done, taken pictures of and then plastered all over the net. I will throw out old timey metrics like icetime and plus/minus and try to draw conclusions from those antiquated stats:D

Goaltending: If there's one thing Oilers fans have learned from this Cup run it's this: you'd better be damn strong from the defense and beyond if you plan on winning a series while being bested in the netminding department. Oilers were outchanced in the Det series and yet they finished it in 6 games. Edmonton had that trouble through most of the Salo era but now they're in a time when Roloson makes you earn nearly every red light. Roloson is nearly 37 years old and has craved this chance for a long time and you might not say it from the tone of his voice but the guy is clearly a fierce competitor that's acquired a certain amount of bitterness and a healthy chip on his shoulder from his days in Minnesota. I'm not complaining because it's serving him well and if you don't believe in yourself I don't think you can expect your teammates to believe in you. On the other end Carolina has a 22 year old goalie who's set to play at least two and most likely three games in what is a certifiable madhouse. He's also a guy who's been winning at least some games while giving up a few bad goals. The only times Rolo has looked less than great for the Oilers was G4 against SJ and G4 against Ana and the latter was a game where he was throwing up more than Woody Harrelson after the cunnilingus scene in Kingpin. This might be sacrilege in Edm but based on regular season numbers I think the Whale would be best served if Gerber was the one authoring this long run.
Advantage: Edmonton

Defense: The Whalers don't have a Chris Pronger. They once had THE Pronger but that was quite awhile ago and now their top two dmen, at least in terms of icetime, are Hedican and Ward. The former was a combined -34 in the '03 and '04 seasons and now he's drawing the most ice on a team with a chance to win the Cup? I think they should invent a word that means super flummoxed because that's how I feel right now. Ward's a steady enough guy but once again I don't think you're winning a whole lot with him carrying the second biggest sack of mail. Note: as I continue to slam the Canes you'll think I'm really undervaluing them and especially in light of their 12 second season wins. But just be patient and I'll get to that. So we've established that one team has a Pronger and the other doesn't and would it be too much to suggest that Hartford doesn't even have a Jason Smith? Carolina does have two impact, at least by first glance, centres in Staal and Rod "The Bod" Brind'Amour at the helm so on the road MacT's looking at which tandem to match up against Staal and which goes against Jesse Ventura. I feel comfortable with the Spacek/Staios tandem no matter who they draw and when things turn at Rexall the Canes defense is so underwhelming that Jarrett Stoll's line might even score a point or two.
Advantage: Edmonton

Forwards: This one gets a little dicey because at least IMO home ice won't be a factor in this series unless they play a seventh game. Wow I guess I just broke new ground with that observation but just hear me out first OK? What I mean is that for the first six games you'll see three where Laviolette decides who plays against whom and for the other three MacT makes the call. Now if I thought Carolina was good enough to win three of the first six games then I'd give the forwards edge to them but I don't believe that's the case so I'll call the forward situation to be pretty much a wash. If you're MacT and you're going on playoff numbers alone then I'd suggest he aim his primary five man unit not towards the Cullen-Staal-Recchi line but rather towards the Williams-Brind'Amour-Stillman troika and here's why. Staal does have seven goals this playoff season but just two of them have come at ES and let's run with that theme shall we?

Here's a look at these two lines in terms of ES goals and collective +/-:

Staal's line: 8 goals ES and -1.
Billy Graham's line: 12 goals ES and a collective +26.

A couple of notes on this. These were the lines that Car went with for the last three games so I have no idea how long they've been units. Also you could argue that on the road at least there's a explanation for this swing because Staal's been seeing all the tough min and the other line's been swooping in and then away with some nice spoils. That's still a pretty big gap though and if they're gonna keep those lines intact I'd be tempted to let Spacek/Staios take on Staal and then let Pronger/Smith face off with The Body.

On the other side of things I read a couple of interesting notes today. The first had to go with Hemsky going back on the 94-10 line. The other had to do with MacT perhaps following up on the talk of how the plan of attack against Carolina will mirror the plan against Detriot and that begat the Oilers practicing the trap yesterday in upsate NY. Winchester made his inital foray into the playoffs because MacTavish felt that 27 couldn't skate well enough to fit into that particular plan. So in thinking of lineup construction and the ensuing matchups it's hard to believe that Hemsky will remain with the 94-10 for more than half of their ES shifts. I'd imagine Dvorak or perhaps even Harvey will see as much time on the first line as will Hemsky. Unless we're talking the plan at Rexall and then maybe they try and hide Hemsky a little. We know that four of the top six forwards in terms of ES TOI will be 94-10-34-37 and it's hard to imagine that 20 won't chime in there somewhere else as well. Back to the 3rd line of the Canes for a second and it features Whitney-Weight-Ladd so even though the Canes will try and get some of their top six against the Stoll line in Carolina I think the Weight line's soft enough that maybe MacT wouldn't mind letting Stoll take them on at home. One last thing. Moreau and Murray played together for a lot of games and showed some real chemistry in the latter part of the Anaheim series. On the other side of things the Canes 4th line has played together for 54 games collectively and haven't recorded a point between them. That's not a misprint.

Special Teams: As you can see from MC's site the Canes PP success has been built upon the backs of some less than stellar PK competition. So I'll take the Oilers PK to fair at least decently against the Canes PP and the Oilers PP can light anybody up or they can go into a funk against anyone. I truly believe it's more about their execution or the lack of it when it comes to their ultimate numbers.

Prediction: Truth be told I would've been a lot more worried about an Oilers/Sabres final than an Edmonton/Carolina affair. Most fans with a clue or at least some semblence of objectivity would agree that had Buffalo would be in the Finals had at least two of Numminen, Khalinin and Tallinder been available for the Conference final. I won't bring Connolly into this because the Canes were missing Cole. Yet it still took the Canes seven games to beat a team who's defense corps would eventually be as recognizable as Darkman's face.

I'll take the Oilers in six but I'll say the same thing I did heading into the Anaheim series where I reserved the right to ammend my prediction to Oilers in five if they take G1 on Monday night. For as much depth as the Canes proclaim to have on offense they're still relying on a rookie goalie who's shown at least a couple of cracks and there's no one with even half a grain of sense who wouldn't give the Oilers a serious edge on defense.