Thursday, January 18, 2007

At What Price Development?

I'm going to flavour this post with an analogy from my personal life.

Below is a picture of New Charles.

He's had a rough couple of weeks. At some point last week he either escaped from his owners or they unceremoniously ditched the poor dog. On Tuesday he lost a street battle with a cement mixer and was definitely lucky to escape with just a limp and minor injuries. We took him into our home on a temporary basis after a quick visit to the vet. On Wednesday, he was attacked by my neighbour's pit bull in a freak encounter. Again, he was lucky to escape with minor injuries because that SOB is a homicidal (canicidal?) maniac.

Anyway, I'm going to explain why New Charles reminds me a little of Joffrey Lupul's situation and why I'm going to stop ragging on the guy for a little while.

Now, it was certainly New Charles' fault that he got hit by a cement truck. I'm sure we can agree he wasn't thinking properly, when he stepped out on the road Tuesday morning in front of several tons of fun. However, I think we can also agree that if New Charles' owner wasn't a total jerk, he'd never have been out there in the first place. This assessment is slightly similar to my dilemma with Joffrey Lupul. Sure he's at fault for the shockingly poor results at even strength and on the PP, but how come MacT keeps throwing him over the boards? And furthermore, why does he insist on playing Lupul on the #1 line playing against cement truck opposition?

The answer has to be development, which is a disturbing theme for any Oiler fan hoping for a competitive team this season. Dennis and I discussed this yesterday and I think we basically agreed that MacT is tearing Lupul's game down and trying to build him back up again. The thought process is likely that the Oilers are giving up a fair amount in the short term, but it's hard to argue that Lupul isn't going to be a better player as a result of this experience. Sure, MacT could have put him on a line with Sykora and Reasoner and asked them to play bottom sixers all year. Lupul would probably get his 30+ goals and get the Edmonton media off his back, but the Oilers would be no closer to having a skilled RWer capable of tough sledding.

This same thing probably applies for Greene and Smid. Any sane individual running an NHL team with an interest in winning games in 2006-2007 would have pegged these two guys for 6/7 duty at best. Instead they're playing crazy minutes and, along with Lupul's prominent role, the three of them have punched a pretty big hole in the Oilers' goal differential this season. (We can argue about this if you want, but the numbers are overwhelming in my opinion) So what's this development worth to the Oilers? On the job NHL training is not a cheap thing. It's hard to put a number on it, but I'd say the price tag has got to be on the order of $6-10 million this year. That's a round or two of playoff money plus their salaries.

I don't know about you but I think that's a whopper of an investment cost. So what's the payback? That's the thing about player development. We really don't know and in all likelihood the Oilers can't say for certain either. Oiler fans can only hope it means that Lupul, Greene and Smid become elite contributors sooner rather than later.

The other major implication of this strategy is that it makes trading any of these three guys that much harder. Lupul's situation is already complicated by the optics of the Pronger deal and if you consider the non-trivial investment the Oilers have made in this kid, there's no doubt in my mind that they basically can't afford to trade him. Same goes for Greene and Smid - the Oilers have already suffered through 40+ games of growing pains, so why trade that investment away?

Anyway, that's my piece on Lupul. I'm going to lay off him for awhile. He's learning and the Oilers want him to learn. He's going to suck in the meantime but hopefully he becomes a real player in the long run.

As for my own predicament... New Charles is getting better by the hour it seems and he gets along well with our dog, but we're going to have to get rid of him in a week or two. (Our "little" guy is an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix with two different coloured eyes we've had since he was a puppy. Basically, we ain't trading Horcoff.) If you're reading this blog in the Greater Atlanta area and would like a nice dog who's been damn lucky to escape with a little club foot, send me a line. I'm not asking for much...

Just Coburn and a 3rd rounder.


Blogger PDO said...

However, I think we can also agree that if New Charles' owner wasn't a total jerk, he'd never have been out there in the first place.

So does this mean you're a total jerk for allowing him to get attacked by the Pit Bull?


Just busting your balls.

That said, I can't agree with you and it's for one fundamental reason.

When Matt Greene or Ladislav Smid have their epic fuckups, atleast you can visually see them learning. You can see them being upset as their mistakes. You can see that they're putting in the effort to try to fix these problems.


He goes and hides in his basement praying to God that no one will talk to him on the street if he has to buy some milk.

I like what MacT's trying to do - but I don't think it'll work with Joffrey because he plain and simply doesn't have a set. Remember Matt Greene after that horrific game in the Finals? He went out and talked to the reporters. Admitted he was terrible. Compared it to his cat dying.

I don't think we'd ever see Lupul have the guts to admit he's had a bad game.

Instead he needs a center who can do all the work for him and get him the puck.

1/18/2007 3:16 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

Instead he needs a center who can do all the work for him and get him the puck.

To be fair, Lupul never said that. One of the local hacks did.

I have no doubt that Lupul's learning. Now does he have the necssary physical and mental attributes to make use of this information? I lean towards agreeing with you, but apparently Lowe and MacT do not. Otherwise, why would they let so much ride with him?

We could argue about Greene's learning curve too, but I'll save that for now.

1/18/2007 3:23 pm  
Blogger Dennis-IOF said...

Great stuff Cam.

I've been a total vagina when it comes to Lupul but I do see him making some progress. It bothers me that he doesn't go to the slot and doesn't bang in rebounds, and yes I realize I just said a mouthful;), but I've been noticing more and more grit in his game.

The other night I saw him carry the puck down the wing and muscle a one handed pass into the slot for Horc and I saw him try and block some shots as well. Little by little that's coming and he's also keeping his mouth shut and that's scored some points with me as well. The Oiler started out feeding him the soft min but a few games ago they just decided to give him the tough min and live or die with him. And it makes sense because they've already paid him big bucks for the next 3 years so it's just as well to try and break him down and make him responsible.

Of course that does nothing for our D corps this year because one of our young forwards will have to be traded for a D and it's most likely gonna be Lupul or Torres.

Which brings me to Greene and Smid and it's gonna be another gong show next year if both these guys are playing 15 min PLUS.

We need some vet help on the backend and someone's gonna have to be dealt to get it.

But I will agree with Cam that when you look at how the Oilers are dealing with Lupul, I doubt it's gonna be him.

1/18/2007 4:18 pm  
Blogger namflashback said...

Riv, great posting. They've been running school house and I think we can all agree that makes sense for 07-08, and 08-09.

Since all the boards and call-in shows are talking about the coaches and their shortcomings, it really speaks to MacT being a "process coach."

Its tough sledding for the fans, and probably takes a ton of antacid for the coaches/mgmt themselves.

Looking at next year, the D is interesting -- with so much invested in Smid and Greene, you don't trade them. Its hard to argue against MAB's results and contract. You just extended Staios. You have Gilbert knocking. Roy is intriguing. Hejda might be ok. So -- help in the top pair left hole is the key TD or offseason acquisition. Greene is in the way of Gilbert, but Gilbert has the kind of skillset you want to develop. Where's the room on that right side going to come from?

1/18/2007 4:52 pm  
Blogger PDO said...

We could argue about Greene's learning curve too, but I'll save that for now.

I know you want to save it, but here's my reasoning for the comment..

There are times where Matt Greene looks good. Really good. He looks like a guy who can actually have a huge impact on a game with good breakout passes (which, he is capable of making), speed and size.

I haven't seen a single game this year where Lupul has looked like he could ever be that type of player.

What's even worse? For a guy who does nothing but get pimped about his great shot; how many goals this year has he scored because of that shot?

3. The breakaway against Detroit, one against Vancouver and one against Columbus.

Every other goals been a Smyth goal.

I know they all count the same...

But when you're a one-dimensional player and you've created that much with your one dimension, there's a big problem, no?

1/18/2007 5:51 pm  
Blogger Black Dog said...

Interesting stuff.

Lupul's in such a weird place - we're not seeing any of his shot as PDO said, not really seeing him being a difference maker up front at all. Does he have one multigoal game?

But I have to say there are signs. He is trying. You'll watch a game and see him fail to win the puck and get it out of his end three consecutive times and then on the next shift he makes a great read and takes away a scoring chance for the opposition. So there are signs.

Still wish he'd score a few more though.

And I guess Greene is for another day but while he still has his terrible nights he'll turn around and have a game like he did on Saturday where he was excellent. Big game and he did his job plus head manned the puck very well a number of times.

Smid, on the other hand, is twenty.

I guess we forget about the fact that these guys are kids. Of course then I look at the young Sharks and think what the hell? Of course Bernier and Carle were sent down so what do I know?

Anyhow, great post - hopefully LT will come by, read some kind words about one of his boys and come in from that ledge he's on.

1/18/2007 6:42 pm  
Blogger Dennis-IOF said...

Yeah some of them are kids and some guys are 5 mill under the cap and yet they want a new building;)

That's what pisses me off more than anything.

1/18/2007 7:53 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

Well, I thought that was a pretty good game from the Oil tonight although I did miss the first period. Who says Horcoff can't play? Heck of a game from him tonight. Thoresen was a handful in the O-zone tonight too.

Update on my end - New Charles' owner called tonight and he's back in his real home after one hell of an ordeal. Apparently his real name is Niko, but he looks like a New Charles to me.

1/18/2007 9:52 pm  
Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

Fuck, you have a dog with the wife? Holy fucking married.

1/18/2007 9:57 pm  
Blogger dynastydays said...

well after 30 minutes of a pretty intense game of hand grenades, and an embarassing amount of missed open nets by the ducks...

a few hits happened. By the oilers? Go figure.

Anyways the ducks yet again ignore the cycle and working the puck down low for most of the game. Is carlyle an idiot?

Thanks randy for making my prediction of a win tonight possible. hi five! very nice... I like.

Horc and Pisani were the guys stirring the pot tonight. The Oilers looked really flat for a lot of the game except for those two guys. reminds you of why Moreau would be such a big help right now.

Ok enough rambling for now, one final thing, someone needs to tell the canucks that they are uh... the canucks. They seem confused right now.

1/18/2007 10:00 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Well said, rivers.

I'm of the same thinking on Lupul. When the trade happened I expected to like him about exactly as much as I liked Selivanov, but he's looking a lot better than that in the past month or so.

He's playing positionally solid hockey, he's rarely cheating for offense, and he's the first guy back quite a bit. The play does die with him a lot in the offensive end, you expect a guy with good hands and decent size to win possession of the puck more in board battles.

Hopefully that will improve, though in the back of my mind I have a fuzzy image of Chimera. I like Chimmer, big strong guy too, hit and fought, positionally terrible but good speed and good character I always thought. And if you saw him, Pisani and Smyth all standing next to each other in street clothes you wouldn't think that the latter two guys would have a hope in hell of winning a puck battle against Chimera. In fact the opposite was, and is, true. Baffling that the guy just can't win the puck more.

We'll see how that aspect goes with Lupul, improvement there is the key with this player imo.

If Lupul starts finishing more of his chances the Oilogosphere will surely target another I vote for Greene! ;) And he will start finishing better, he has a long track record of that, surely only the natural born worriers are concerned about that aspect, no?

1/19/2007 9:10 am  

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