Monday, October 29, 2007

Say it ain't so

I'm obviously a pretty big Craig MacTavish fan. I've wasted many an hour on the messageboards defending the poor man's honour. Usually this is pretty easy to do, because MacT's decisions in the past have been fairly sound, but there's smoke on the horizon.

In general, the guy has preferred substance over style and seemingly hasn't been afraid to make unpopular decisions. (Comrie be damned, he'll play him as needed.) Now of course MacT has his blind spots (PP personnel anyone?) and he's made some mistakes (matchups vs. Carolina in the SCF for one) but I think most of the Oilogosphere has appreciated his general aptitude and pragmatic approach. My general opinion has been that his gameplans and game day rosters have been a reasonably good approximation of what it takes to win a hockey game on any given day.

Thus far, 2007-2008 has not looked like previous years.

Really the offseason should have been the first clue. According to the dailies, MacT was heavily involved in pro scouting the Stanley Cup playoffs and supposedly had more input than ever into player personnel decisions. Well, I think it's safe to say that the offseason was sheer madness and that stink is on MacT as well, even though Lowe has taken all the heat from Regier, Burke et al.

The regular season decisions have made little sense as well:
  • Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate a good cuddle as much as the next guy, but even I can't fathom why Serial Hugger Zach Stortini continues to draw into the lineup at the expense of Brodziak or Pouliot. Now the latter two haven't exactly been stellar, but at least they've each laid claim to some solid game performances this year.
  • Souray looked out of place as a top minutes dman in all situations. (How the heck did MTL use him on the PP last year anyway? I'm guessing he only shot the puck)
  • Instead of Dick Tarnstrom we see Roy or Grebeshkov. This is flabbergasting. I can't fathom what this decision has to do with winning hockey games.
  • He and Huddy have consistently experimented with matching players like Gilbert and Gagner against the Sakics and Iginlas of the league, sometimes for extended periods of time.

At the same time, MacT's old habits die hard.

  • He's back to his old tricks with the PP personnel. The dmen play way too much and he seemingly refuses to play Hemsky on the PP as heavily as every other coach in the league plays their best PP producer. Meanwhile the PP has been drowning.
  • Roloson is playing far too much. He has also had some pretty uneven performances, so I can't see sticking with him.

I've heard the arguments that the Oilers may be just throwing the kids in the deep end. Giving Cogliano, Gagner, Gilbert, Greene and Grebeshkov a trial by fire. This could be the plan, but if it is I think it's the wrong move. I'm not sure there is any good evidence of this but young players should probably be put in situations where they have a decent chance of success. The welcome side effect for the fans is that the team has an outside shot at winning some games while the kids develop anyway. Personally, I don't think trial by fire is ever the preferred development approach. Those that espouse this approach are typically in the middle of it and don't have any other options besides pillaging the waiver wire or their farm club for AHL veterans.

This is not the Oilers' situation IMO. They have Tarnstrom. They have Staios. They have Horcoff, Torres, Reasoner, Hemsky and even Sanderson and Penner. They can afford to ride these players as hard as necessary until the reinforcements can climb down off their slabs.

I can handle the botched trades, the bad negotiations, the silly offer sheets, and the fucked up rebuild. I can handle watching a pretty poor team this year because players like Cogliano, Gagner, Gilbert and Pouliot are fun to watch and they are getting better. What I can't handle is not bench coaching to win.

This Oilers club is sitting at +19/-29 at 5V5. Although I agreed with bank shot over at LT's site the other day that the Oilers' offense didn't look good, that's not exactly true. The PP is terrible and is killing the GF totals, but the 5V5 GF ranking is a respectable 11th going into tonight's action. The 5V5 GA is dead last in the league. More goals wouldn't hurt, but offense is not the problem, the defense and goaltending is the problem and the Oilers need to shore that up tout de suite.

In previous years, after the team has been porous and the bench coaching has been a little loose MacT has made corrections. If that doesn't start tomorrow night against Detroit, then this year is going to be even longer than I imagined.

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Blogger choppystride said...

Re the lineup musical chair...

MAP, JFJ, Stortini, Nilsson, Grebs, and Gilbert are RFA's after this season.

On top of that, Stoll and Pitkanen are likely RFA targets.

So I think MacT might be in the process of trying to figure out what to keep in his arsenal going forward. And he most likely wants to make his decisions ASAP.

At least that's my theory.

10/30/2007 12:46 am  
Blogger Black Dog said...

Not sure what makes Pitkanen and Stoll likely RFA targets - would it be Stoll's one goal? Or Pitkanen's stellar play at both ends of the ice? I like them both - Pitkanen is a nice block for the future and once Stoll gets untracked he's probably pretty good tradebait. But I wouldn't be too worried about the offer sheets flying.

Playing musical chairs for the lineup is fine but when you are hauling one of your two healthy veteran Dmen out of the lineup (one who has played pretty well at that)or you are taking a guy who can play at the NHL level and may have a career out for Stortini, then things don't seem right. I agree Riv, things just haven't made a lot of sense at times.

10/30/2007 5:22 am  
Blogger dubya said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/30/2007 11:19 am  
Blogger dubya said...

I've quit trying to defend or understand the decisions. Tarnstrom plays his best game (with Staois on the top pair), then sits 2 out of 3. A power play with multiple weapons, but no movement, no down low play, and amazingly bad success rates. Along that train of thought, why is Marty Reasoner on the power play? Stortini not only playing, but playing tough minutes and in the last three minutes when down by a goal. This in a game where he single handedly deflated his team by vigorously hugging Owen Nolan as Nolan repeatedly punched him in the face. Pouliot and JFJ rewarded for occasional strong games by PB duty in the next game, or demotion to the AHL. Schremp called up to play about 30seconds, Nilsson sent down for being the only one on his line creating offense.

Lowetide said it on his site, I almost looks like MacT's trying to shove this team up Lowe's ass. (But as you said, he supposedly contributed to this 'plan')

10/30/2007 11:21 am  
Blogger nameht said...

Tonight against Datsyuk and Zetterberg

"You have to try and get the puck and get some offence going against them," MacTavish said. "That's why I like (Tom) Gilbert and (Denis) Grebeshkov against them because they can grab the puck and move it and not turn it over.

"If you do turn it over in a critical position against them you're going to dig it out of your own net. They're a handful."

10/30/2007 11:35 am  
Blogger mc79hockey said...

I have a somewhat serious addiction to listening to Stauffer's show, just because you hear the most ludicrous shit. I like to think that there's a list of "Batshit Crazy Ideas" that are thrown out there for discussion. Amongst yesterday's ideas was signing Stoll for six years at $4+MM annually. The one that really caught my attention was Robin Brownlee going on about how he thought that the Oil would be 2 and 11 shortly but at 5 and 7...well. Meanwhile, they're getting fucking bombed in goal differential and riding the shootout. That's fine so long as it lasts but this team looks to me like it's crying out for a 1-9 stretch at some point.

10/30/2007 12:41 pm  
Blogger Dennis said...

Wow, when's the last time this team was that at at ES when it came to 5v5? I know there were years like '02 when this team couldn't score a fucking goal and Comrie looked like a potential godsend but I don't ever remember us being this soft in our ow end.

The bottom line is you can't have all these young dmen PLUS established dmen like Pitkanen not being great in his own end or Souray coming off a -28 and EXPECT to be much better.

Not sure the season but remember the year the Oilers PK unit allowed goals in like 20-odd consecutive games? I had an old saying back then that if you set up on the Oilers, you scored on the Oilers. Well, this year I'll change to if you pin this D corps in it's own end, you'll wind up with a nice rebound goal or perhaps even a tap-in. These guys are just not good enough and/or experienced enough to be able to hang in there and not get killed.

And of course MacT is making matters worse by playing Grebs, and Souray before him, way too much and then benching guys like Tarnstrom for bonafide AHLers like Roy.

I thought it would be easier to stomach but like Cam said, MacT isn't bench-coaching this team to win. Certain decisions have been made like Smyth and Pronger that makes it harder to match and succeed overall but there's still more he can be doing.

10/30/2007 3:27 pm  
Blogger Andy Grabia said...

This Oilers club is sitting at +19/-29 at 5V5. Although I agreed with bank shot over at LT's site the other day that the Oilers' offense didn't look good, that's not exactly true. The PP is terrible and is killing the GF totals, but the 5V5 GF ranking is a respectable 11th going into tonight's action. The 5V5 GA is dead last in the league. More goals wouldn't hurt, but offense is not the problem, the defense and goaltending is the problem and the Oilers need to shore that up tout de suite.

Thanks for posting this.

10/30/2007 4:33 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

I don't have much to add or argue with, I am impressed that members of the press are asking these sort of uncomfortable questions to MacTavish. Rishaug, perhaps? In years past this sort of thing would gone unnoticed.

MacTavish's answer to the reason that Grebeshkov and Gilbert were taking on the tough minutes is priceless though, thanks nameht.

The 5v5 icetime vs Zetterberg in the last game vs Detroit.


D. PENNER 10.6
A. HEMSKY 10.4
J. STOLL 1.4


At some point MacTavish must have resigned himself to the fact that this team didn't have a hope of making the dance. And it happened after this game above.

10/30/2007 5:24 pm  
Blogger Slipper said...

I recommend everyone to try to catch the Zetterberg interview on TSN. The sportscaster (most likely Rishaug) asked Z about his opinion of Grebs and Gilbert. It's pretty classic stuff.

10/30/2007 6:38 pm  
Blogger Scarlett said...

Good comments especially about what the hell is MacT doing. Souray playing the PK?? Tonight is a perfect example. He barely played Cogliano in the second period but look what happened when he used him more in the third: tons of chances. Why did he only play 2 mins in the second?? I find most of MacT's lines a mystery.

10/30/2007 11:02 pm  
Blogger Bank Shot said...

The Oilers have played more games then most teams.

Although the Oilers currently sit in tenth in goals for at even strength, there are about 7-10 teams that are ahead of them in goals per game.

Realistically the Oilers are in the bottom half of the league in even strength offence.

11/01/2007 12:05 am  

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