Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ray Shero's NHL Defense Corps

Ray Shero is the GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Prior to that he was an assistant to Predators GM David Poile, who I think is one of the smartest guys in the league. And before that he was the assistant GM in Ottawa. A total of 14 years as the second in charge. He has also worked as a player agent, played NCAA hockey and was selected by the L.A Kings in the later rounds, but never made it to the bigs. And, the most interesting thing in Ray's bio ... he is the son of legendary coach Freddy Shero.

He had a terrific trade deadline day, which moved me to google his name.

The way his defense corps is structured makes a lot of sense to me. Granted he did inherit much of it.

First his comments on Sergei Gonchar:
"'Gonch' is a quiet guy by nature, but a real good person who really cares about winning and his teammates," said Penguins GM Ray Shero. "He plays lots of quality minutes and hard minutes. He's a guy who wants to play against top players. He's a top defender, but everyone thinks of his offense only. Gonchar plays plenty of time on the penalty kill with Mark Eaton. He wants that reputation of an all-around defenseman. That's a great attitude to have. The most important thing he gives us is minutes, the quality minutes that allow us to bring other players along properly."

It's the ripple effect. And it's good to see Gonchar getting some credit for this. Zubov is another who doesn't get the props he deserves for playing against quality opposition.

Shero also acquired Mark Eaton. You may remember riversQ hammering away at us trying to make us believe that Eaton was playing the hard minutes in Nashville last season. Turns out Mark himself agrees:
“My role in Nashville was a defensive role. I played a lot of penalty kill and played the tough minutes against other opponents’ big lines,” he said. “Going into turning pro, I had more of an offensive game that I think now is still a little bit untapped. Hopefully, that can come to the table as well in Pittsburgh.”

Turns out that Eaton's offensive potential would remain untapped this season. A gaudy plus-minus though, +14 at 5v5. Trailing only Crosby at this.

He inherited Ryan Whitney, a promising young defenseman who was drafted 5th overall in 2002 but was not brought into the NHL until last season. He just turned 24, and he's already the third best defenseman on a good team, he's going to be a helluva player.

Then there is the list of AHL and Euro league vets that got a chance. Scuderi, Nasreddine and Welch seemed to stick. Orpik is 26 now and isn't the player everyone hoped he would be, but he's a useful NHLer in the same mould as the other three. Same goes for Melichar, who is 28 years old now.

When they traded Welch in the Roberts deal they acquired Kwiatkowski to replace him as a depth defenseman, he's 30 years old and has played 264 NHL games, and a lot more AHL games than that. A useful player though. If you consider Welch and Kwiatkowski to have similar value, then Ray Shero essentially acquired Gary Roberts for a 4th round pick. Not a bad day for him.

They also have veteran bruising defenseman Eric Cairns on the roster, but with the addition of Laraque I suspect he is redundant now.

Gonchar is expensive, but he's worth it. The guy is a difference maker at even strength, shorthanded and especially on the powerplay. And the rest of this D corps is pretty effective and will be cheap as borscht again next season.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Jeff Tambellini

An interesting player, this Jeff Tambellini. He's still young at 22, but his birthday is coming up soon. He made the Islanders team out of camp, after receiving kudos from the coaching staff for arriving in tremendous physical condition. Then he had a poor game in the opener, a blowout loss to Phoenix, and was returned to the minors. Granted the Islanders have a veteran forward lineup, there's just not much space there for a young player to fit in.

Dan Marshall, coach of the Islander's AHL affiliate, was pretty happy to see him coming there, and he pegged him pretty well in this quote from the Connecticut Post.

Sound Tigers add top prospect in Tambellini
by Michael Fornabaio, Connpost.com, Oct. 18, 2006

BRIDGEPORT — The deep forward corps of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers picked up another sharpshooter last week when Jeff Tambellini came down from the New York Islanders.

It's the other contributions Tambellini can make that excite coach Dan Marshall. "A goal scorer who backchecks is pretty rare," Marshall said. "That's a bonus."

Tambellini looks to be a player from the same tree as Horcoff. There is a remarkably extensive history of the player assembled here. Like Horcoff he absolutely tore up the BCHL and went on to play college hockey (Tambellini played for Michigan, Horcoff for Michigan State). Tambellini lead the team in scoring as a freshman, the first to do that since Comrie, both registering 44 points in their first year of NCAA hockey.

In his sophomore year there is a big drop in production, I can't find an explanation for this, though at first blush it looks like he stopped producing for the middle part of the season. I'll assume an injury factored in here, but I don't know.

In his junior year he was dominant. 57 points in 44 games, and an almost impossible +30, which of course lead the team. He's been a PP producer at every level too, so he must have been on the ice for only a handful of goals against at even strength in this season.

Presumably he is a smart hockey player, he is certainly a clever person, the list of scholastic awards is extensive.

In his first year as a pro, L.A. head coach Andy Murray was not impressed with him in camp and sent him back to the AHL. His season as broken down below:

2005-2006 AHL Manchester Monarchs
56 games played.
39 points at even strength.
24 goals against at even strength.
Damn good, in fact best in the AHL by this metric. And the closer you look the better it gets.
His team is +22 at even strength when he is on the ice and -1 when he isn't.
He had a mix of linemates and appears to have made a lot of others on that team look good on the stats page.

And now this season, again far more points at evens than goals against:

2006-2007 AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers
46 games played.
26 points at even strength.
19 goals against at even strength.
His team is +12 at even strength when he is on the ice and a whopping -43 when he isn't.
Playing on a weaker team this season, still, he's clearly separating himself from the field. No regular on this team is a plus player when they aren't playing with Tambellini. And he added 25 points on special teams as well.

2006-2007 NHL New York Islanders
15 games played.
6 points at even strength.
4 goals against at even strength.
He was +4 at even strength during limited icetime, about 8 minutes per game.

Of course the NHL numbers are far too small of a sample to draw any conclusions from. Still, he didn't get murdered or anything, in fact the opposite just going by the results. Again with more points than GA. In any case it's getting to the point where you have to acknowledge that he is either a damn good hockey player or the luckiest bugger around.

I've watched for him in a couple of Isles games that I saw recently. Nolan didn't use him much, and there isn't much flash to his game, he's quick and hard on the puck and looks to be a player to me. I didn't get the chance to use his shot much, apparently a strength of his game. Granted I'm clearly in "saw him good" country here.

As far as these difference-maker numbers go ... these are not in the same category of results that Spezza and Staal put up in the AHL at a younger age, it would be wildly optimistic to compare him to those guys, but he's not a mile behind, and he's a mile ahead of the AHL numbers guys like Lupul, Stoll etc threw up ... granted they probably weren't as motivated in that lockout year either.

It makes a guy wonder about the effect of opportunity. Lupul was a higher draft pick and found himself getting NHL icetime early, playing "his game" much to the chagrin of Anaheim head coach Mike Babcock, and knocking out some decent counting numbers on the way to a gross overpay this September.

Comrie jumped through the Van Ryn loophole and played the holdout card on his way to a financial bonanza.

Anson Carter saw the writing on the wall with Crawford's Avalanche team and demanded a trade (after just one camp if I remember right). Not to dis Anson, few have squeezed more cash out of their skillset than him, credit where credit is due, and I would have done the same. Carter would make a very good agent one day if he decides to go that route.

And at this point I think that all the smart money is on Tambellini being a better NHLer at the age of 28 than any of the guys mentioned above at the same age. And chances are that he'll have earned a hell of a lot less cash on his route there.

On the subject of the Islanders, if you don't already check out Greg Logan's very popular blog, you should. It's terrific stuff, he covers the Islanders for Newsday. Hopefully this sets the future trend for other NHL beat writers.

And while I'm at it I'll steal a Ted Nolan quote from there, and make Dennis, Tyler, Riversq et al into fans of his at once. This after the Ranger game on Sunday: “Well, it was a one-goal game -- one fluky one and one four-on-three in overtime,” coach Ted Nolan said, referring to goals by Rangers Colton Orr and Michael Nylander. “I thought we outplayed them. We outchanced them. Sometimes, as much as you want to execute, it comes down to luck and bounces."



Note: All the numbers used here do not include empty net goals, and are about a week old.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Renewed Faith

I have to say, I have renewed faith in Oiler fans after last night's game. I haven't read the papers today, so forgive me if this has been beaten to death already, but whoever attempted the banner release ... they really are a quiet genius, they really are. Plenty of room for criticism on the execution though.

I'm talking about the dude/girl who tried to send Ryan Smyth's hand drawn jersey to the rafters next to the existing ones, on the tails of helium balloons. That was gold. Better yet was that when the rest of us figured out what he/she was trying to , Oiler fans cheered louder than they had all game. Normally the Oilers are cool with tomfoolery like this, they were down with the balloons, but it wasn't long before they saw they saw the #94 mock jersey attached to the thing and the ushers descended like hounds released by the squire. Funny stuff.

And then Oiler fans cheered louder yet (booing) when the ushers did the nab-pop-crumple thing. God bless all of you, Oiler fans. I'd almost given up on you. And I was wrong.

On the execution: How the hell did anyone get helium past the security at the door anyways? Or the poster for that matter? A baby bag I suspect, nobody checks those seriously. Still, well done. Not enough lift though, the thing kind of drifted weightless and rolled along the crowd instead of going up. A shame. Next time get a techie on board with the plan. This could have been much more hilarious if done better.

And even though it's hard to deny that Lowe's Oilers are going to hell in a handbasket ... gotta love the fans. That sort of shit is priceless.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sather As President

We all know more than we ever wanted to about Glen Sather already, but his stint as GM under 38 owners was an interesting time, and worth a closer look I think. Hole and Saville were the front men for the EIG (Edmonton Investors Group) at the time, and were the only people who had much regular contact with Glen. The relationship between Sather and the EIG was clearly an acrimonious one, there were several leaks to the media during that time, mostly through Terry Jones. And the picture being painted ... it didn't feature a happy family.

I remember him laughingly remarking about owner interference, offering up a comment mocking how some of these guys think that running an NHL team is like running a gas station. It struck me at the time that it was probably a lot more like running a gas station than Glen realized. And that since Cal Nichols built his personal wealth through a chain of service stations ... well, if I was Nichols I would've been pissed.

Nichols would regain control of the EIG, succeeding Jim Hole as chairman, and Sather's days as President and GM of the Oilers were numbered. The EIG had already doubled advertising inside the building, sold the naming rights to Rexall, and found ways to sell blocks of tickets. Now Cal would hire Pat LaForge away from the Meat Council (I kid :D ) and the EIG would take an aggressive approach to growing the business. They added considerable sales staff, brought in an Alberta tax revenue stream, increased advertising, pay-per-view television, third jerseys were introduced, a mini-pak program was pursued successfully to sell tickets to less popular games, they modified their schedule to place more weekend games (resulting in a lot of home back-to-back games, which is a bad thing for on-ice results, but you've got to take the rough with the smooth), they brought in a Oilers lottery, showed games in movie theatres during the playoff drive one year, then the Heritage Classic, and that's just off the top of my head.

While it is nigh impossible for an intelligent person to rationalize the often contradictory claims of revenues and profits of the EIG, it is equally impossible to deny that these are very good businessmen.

By far the boldest move was to add 11 luxury suites, as well as an upgraded scoreclock, upgraded seats and I think mezzanine level electronic advertising, though that may have come the next year. On March 19, 2001, Brownlee wrote that the costs for this were about 10 million CAD, and the next day CBC said that the Oilers Investors group would pay for all of this.

Cal Nichols would also issue a "cash call" in March of 2001.

Busy month. ;)

As well as adding luxury suite revenue, this would reduce the seating capacity at Rexall, which I'm sure was an important element in increasing the demand for tickets, and ultimately in increasing not only paid attendance, but actual attendance, which is extremely important as well.

Back to Glen:

There has been much implied about Sather's reckless spending causing the EIG grief. But for the life of me I can't find any evidence of that. Aside from his own 2.5 million CAD salary, he ran a tight ship. He ran one of the smallest front offices in the league, the scouts didn't travel much, relatively speaking. And they weren't equipped with any expensive technology. The team flew on scheduled airline flights often. There really aren't a lot of obvious places that you can control costs beyond that. His problem, in my opinion, was the lack of revenue grwoth under his term. And in this regard, Sather was a failure as President, and LaForge has been very successful.

Now NHL player payroll is the biggest single cost in this business. And gate revenues are the single biggest source of cash. If it were my business I think I would be working to a set variance of Gate revenues plus in- arena revenues (less advertising) set against player costs. I'd probably hedge currency at least moderately as well, depending on the advice of the CFO, and I'd maintain as much revenue from advertisers in USD as possible. But I digress ... and since I don't have that information anyways, I just slapped up straight gate revenues against straight NHL payroll in the chart below. The Levitt Report shows that the average multiplier to include preseason and playoff gates is 1.125, I've used 1.1 here because I would think that the Oilers would be budgeting on two playoff gates during this time, and in any case that's pretty much what they got.


Spot the pattern?

If you can keep these equal it's going to be very, very tough to lose money in this business, at least if we use the Levitt report as a template. As long as this is under control only so much can go wrong here.

So I would contend that as a GM, or extended further, as a manager of hockey operations ... Glen Sather did a good job.

I included Lowe's first year in here for a reason, he really was left in a tough spot. Clearly Hamrlik's salary had to go, and so did Guerin's (which Sather had back-loaded). I would think that Lowe and the EIG would have preferred Guerin to be dealt in the summer, but with the restructuring the Oilers had missed some teim and had very poor ticket sales and terrible attendance for the early part of the season. Practically, it would have been a poor decision to move Guerin before they did.

And Weight? He was a goner, either that or the rest of the team would have to be gutted. Weight knew that too, said as much, and Lowe has never let a player look at the books since. Rightly so.

In any case the additional revenues from expansion were drying up at this time, and they needed to be replaced. The business was under control, but surely there was a very real concern that the payroll levels they were committed to maintaining within their framework would not be enough to keep the team competitive, and that this would ultimately affect revenues. Without the cost certainty of revenue/payroll linkage, it was a risky time to own an NHL franchise to be sure. But they a bold decision to invest further in an effort to strengthen revenue, and they have run an effective business and have done very well for themselves pre-lockout, if we use the data from the Levitt report as a guide. And post-lockout, well financially they are in a terrific position right now.

Sources for attendance, payroll, and average ticket price: teammarketing.com, andresstarspage.com, USAToday.com, kenn.com and The Edmonton Oilers by Mike Gaschnitz.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Apparently Eight wasn't Enough: Wild/Oilers and everything inbetween, ie Eric Duhatschek as Alicia Silverstone, March Sadness and the future, Conan?


By Dennis

I know that last proclamation is gonna hurt Mirtle but he doesn't read this page anyway so I guess it really won't hurt him after all;) A few of us have spent the days post 94 bitching and complaining and flat out demanding that the local media take an objective look at all things Oilers and while I think that's a lost cause I still think it's a battle worth fighting. And while it's frustrating enough to read people from Edmonton fucking things up or just being plan wrong it's yet another to read a local guy getting it wrong and even worse again considering this guy's beat is Western Canada.


The Pronger trade demand is listed as the beginning of the end of the '07 season and I'll agree with The Hat on that one but for different reasons then him and seemingly every columnist and beatie agree upon. There's some talk there of how the Oilers lacked a puck moving D all season and how picking up a guy like that is like finding a unicorn drinking from the fountain of youth, OK he didn't frame it as being that impossible mind you, but I just had a wicked idea of how the Oilers could've plugged that hole. What if the Oilers had picked up this puck-mover in exchange for Pronger!! Or failing that how about they picked up a real difference making forward!! Yes yes I know that no one wanted Chris Pronger and the four years and approx $25 mill that remained on his contract because the cap was stuck at 30 mill and the NHL had said the cap wouldn't rise so how could you ask someone to fit him into their budget? Plus he wasn't that great anyway and the NHL had passed a rule where GM's weren't allowed to make players that had requested a trade sit out a few months or perhaps even the full season. Wait, everything I just said was wrong.

And so was the way Lowe handled the entire Pronger situation.

So right off the bat the Oilers were fucked if they thought that Smid was more than a young cat who was likely to struggle playing as a 5 or a 6 dman let along in the top four. And apparently Kevin Lowe doesn't have access to NHL shift charts or plus/minus stats because if he did he would've known that Lupul would have to score 40 goals every year to be even worth a mention in a Pronger package. Once again the league was against Kevin Lowe in this regard just like they are every June when he tries to move up in the draft and Bettman and his minions mass txt all the other GM's and tell them they're not allowed to deal with him.

But as bad as it was that Eric D gave Lowe another free pass on the Pronger DISASTER, it was even worse when he threw out these two lines:

1: Only nine months ago, his team was the talk of the league — an eighth seed that had slipped into the playoffs in the final fortnight of the season, only to record three consecutive upset wins and advance to within one game of a Stanley Cup championship.

2: As a team, they were probably never as good as that miracle run to the Stanley Cup final suggested. But it is hard to imagine that they are as bad as their current woes imply either.

As I mentioned this guy covers Western Canada for the Globe and yet he feels like falling in with the masses and painting the Oilers as a team that was lucky to be in the playoffs in '06. I'll be one of the first ones to say that they struggled like MoFo's down the stretch but for a huge section of the season the Oilers were a bought and paid for contender that was only being weighed down by what can be accurately described as just hideous netminding. It pains me to read writers and fans from all over the league talking about how this spring could paint them as the next Oilers because I get the feeling they believe that MacT woke up in the middle of April to find a fairy had left a bag of magic dust at the foot of his bed and that the coach sprinkled accordingly and ta da you have a Cup contender. The Oilers had two lines that could shut you down and then they had a soft min line featuring mostly Hemsky-Stoll and Samsonov. They didn't do a heckuva lot but that's damn fine third line in terms of ES TOI wouldn't you say? They had a PK that would rather take a puck in the mouth then give up a chance from the slot and their PP was damn good until the Finals. On the backend they had a damn solid top four featuring one of the best defensive dmen in the league, Smith, a tough cat who makes a decent first pass, Staios, a guy who had all around good numbers before the Oilers picked up him in Jan, Spacek, and one of the league's top two dmen, Pronger. In goal they had a guy who'd posted some great years of Sv Pct prior to the Oilers picking him up at the deadline. But yeah other than that they were junk and if say the Rags or Leaves grab the 8th spot in the EC then damn right they could get on a similar run. So yes Eric you might have a presspass but I have two eyes and access to numbers that you either don't know exist or don't care to examine and all of those say the '06 Oilers were as good as last spring's run suggested. Put that team back on the ice in '07 with the same level of fitness and they're winning the first round for sure and are a good bet to make the final four. And one last thing, and I'll hit this a little bit later, comparatively the Oilers are indeed as bad as they're playing right now. For the most part they're getting outchanced every game and though we're getting a look at a bunch of kids not many of them project to be differencemakers and on the backend you've got at least two and maybe three guys that don't even belong in the league. Put all that together and they suck.

On to last night's latest loss and I can't describe how odd it is to watch this team right now. I'm a love and death guy with all the teams I root for, granted the intensity of said emotions ebb and flow depending on the squad and time of the year but if I'm in for a penny I'm pretty much in for a pound. March Madness began yesterday and my Hoyas look like a good bet to at least make the regional finals. They're a 2 seed so they took on a 15 yesterday and blipped early but then were downright workmanlike for the duration of the game. I've followed this group pretty closely for the last three years and it's fun to think that it might pay off so that's what I'm focused on right now. Of course there's still time for the Oilers and with Nilsson making his debut that gave me even more of a reason to watch. But the weird thing is I was openly rooting against them. I don't have anything against this team winning a game or two down the stretch and I can certainly feel for the players because the only thing they have going for them currently is a fat paycheque but as a schadenfreude addict I certainly didn't want to see them beat the Wild. One of the things that will make me feel better about this year is if all of the Habs, Leaves, Flames and Canucks are out of the playoffs by the second round and given the Oilers position in the NW division they have a hand in how the standings finish so if the Oilers are to win any remaining games I guess a win tomorrow night against the Blues would be best though that could impact the draft pick so fuck it let's lose them all:)

I can imagine this losing streak is taking the absolute piss out of Kevin Lowe and I'm getting a big charge just thinking about that. The guy is an egomanical hardass, and maybe I just decribed the majority of all NHL GM's, and this has to be absolutely killing him and that pleases me. This is what you get for fucking up first Pronger's demands and then the 94 negots. That thinned the depth of this team and while no one could anticipate a run of injuries this significant it's almost like karma's teabagging Lowe on a nightly basis. The killer is that for all the talk about the future and how everyone, including me, is enjoying getting a look at the kids it's becomng clear that most of them are nothing worth getting excited about.

Let's pretty much skip last night's ninth loss in a row altogether and just talk about the kids because it's their influence on the lineup that's lead us down this path and it's to them we'll look to for hope when the summer's passed and no one signed here;) Nilsson looked good last night and not to throw back a goal but the most impressive play to my eye was a saucer pass he sent to Pouliot. He's also a great skater who sometimes looked like he cared about his own end and knew what to do when he was back there but it was one game and looking at his size and the first game reports there's a lot of reasons to believe he plays on the outside and just how many of those guys can one team house and still be successful? We've already got a Hemsky, we're giving Lupul more rope to hang himself than Manute Bol and Schremp's down in the A forgetting to do shrugs, shoutout to Mike W from CiO;) It certainly is true that young Pouliot's an NHLer and he's hitting a lot of doubles right now that will eventually start to go over the fence once we give him the same set of linemates and a dyed in the wool rule but what else do we have? Brodziak could be a 4th liner but what difference does a guy in that role make unless he's an out of this world penalty killer? I love Jacques nearly as much as his parents do but enough is probably enough with this guy. He's gotta go back and work on so many things before we should start to believe that he's a top niner and as soon as you start to speak about a prospect as a 4th liner then the shine is off. Stortini has a tonne of heart but as a fighter is a lightweight in a heavy's body. Once again a 4th liner. Syvret is at best a bottom pairing guy and Young needs at least two more full seasons in the A and most likely three. We're holding more auditions than a guy who just got funding for his first porn shoot but what are seeing that provides us with any hope? Not much as far as I'm concerned. Pouliot is the only guy that should be able to make a difference in the top nine and maybe Nilsson as well if we can totally shield him but we're already doing that with Lupul and how is Hemsky gonna look in a power vs power role without good old 94 on the opposite wing?

One of my favorite lines when it comes to the Lowe's bluster about the Oilers stockpiling prospects and depth is there's actual depth and then there's perceived depth. Lowe once turned Brew and two prospects into Pronger and that looks like a once in a career move and I hoped you enjoyed the fruits of that move before they rotted to Smid and Lupul. Can Lowe do it again? I doubt it and I hope there's another Pleau out there without a satellite dish, or without great scouting or with a contract that he can't handle because I've seen the future these past few games and outside of Pouliot and maybe Nilsson it doesn't look that bright.

I don't think Lowe's gonna have any great success come draft weekend, July 1st and beyond because even though I'm leaning towards the idea that no one seriously does want to play in Edm I can also lead to the side of the guys that say an overpay will indeed bring people north. Of course when the Oilers are niggling with Smyth, what's the chance they'll toss out some extra K for Briere? And I don't want to damn the '08 season just yet because Roli has had a good year amidst the shit storm, Hejda looks like a player if we can get him back and perhaps this injury decreases his visibility league wise and a kid like Smid should only get better from this experience of top four min. Plus I'll put money on a bounceback year for Torres and one of these days Hemsky's gonna show up and go over a PPG as well. But the defense is still suspect and no one knows how to make a PP work and/or keep it humming and some of the skills guys are ones that need to be babysat. And as LT says we need some cheap guys somewhere as to level out the guys who are already making the big paper. To that end there doesn't seem to a lot of help coming from the farm and this is what we're learning down the stretch. That and don't anger the hockey gods by counting your spring playoff revenue and going on the cheap the next year and then screwing over your best player and having management lie about how it all went down.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

February 16th, 2005

NHL history buffs will remember this as the day that Gary Bettman cancelled the 04/05 season.

Patrick Laforge called a press conference that same day, and made it more interesting. Out of the blue, as part of a prepared statement, he declared that the Oilers had made a profit of about $6 million in 03/04, that year of the missed playoffs and the low Canadian dollar. It stunned me when I heard him say it.

This caused a stir on message boards and amongst sports talk radio callers. Here is the best thread on the subject that I could find. The information in this thread is passed on by Lowetide's friend Louise, known as Ice Dragoon on this message board, a few posts down from the top. She is a cool lady and was a staunch EIG supporter, but facts be facts.

Note how a young mudcrutch7* is quick to reply, starting with an expletive. :D There was some pretty good hockey talk on that Oiler board during the lost season.

Now the really strange thing is that nobody in the Edmonton print media even acknowledged this, at least not that I remember then or can find now. It would be cool if somebody could dig something up in print. If Grabia had been blogging about the Oilers then it would have given cause for thousands upon thousands of words of verbage, much of it profane.

Now Oiler fans with good memories probably also recall that Oiler players were some of the most outspoken NHLPA members anywhere. By my memory the NHLPA had been provided with the UROs of six teams (the Oilers were one of them, Chicago another ... hopefully someone can fill in the blanks on the rest). Anyhow, I remember Ethan Moreau going on The Team and really crossing the line in revealing details of the Chicago URO. And quite possibly wrongly on Ethan's part as well. Staios, Georges and Brewer all chipped in their thoughts on the lockout at times that winter, maybe other Oilers as well.

What follows is a good little snippet from a Tychkowski article from the February 17th, 2005 edition of the Edmonton Sun. The day after.

- Q: THE EDMONTON MARKET IS ONE WHERE A RESPONSIBLE BUDGET AND REALISTIC PAYROLL WORKS - THE TEAM IS DECENT, EVERYBODY'S MAKING GOOD MONEY. SO WHY HAVE THE OILERS BEEN SOME OF THE MOST OUTSPOKEN PLAYERS AGAINST A CAP?

LOWE: My personal view is that they haven't been given all the information.

LaFORGE: Kevin said it best. I hope that they're informed enough to make these kinds of decisions ... but I'm not so sure. I think there's an opportunity for information upgrade."

Things that make you go hmmm.

.

And as an aside, I was checking on articles from February 16th, 2005 and I came across this archived CBC story, Lowe and Laforge must have been knocking out interviews like movie stars on a film promo junket at the Marriott:
"The Oilers say they're spending more than 75 cents on every dollar earned on player costs."

And of course, everyone's favourite Cal Nichols quote from the Toronto Sun in October 2003 originally, and then bizarrely slapped onto the NHL's own website during the lockout:
"Our gross revenues have exceeded $80 million. Now, if we cannot run a hockey team of 23 players, there's something drastically wrong here."

Yes Cal, something is drastically wrong here, Yes indeed.

So, let me do the arithmetic here: .75 x $80 million = $60 million. $60 million spent on players in 03/04. Ah, those were the halcyon days, Oiler fans.

Monday, March 12, 2007

What The Hell is Mike Smith Up To?

Interesting fellow, this Mike Smith. Years ago I remember hearing an interview with him, he explained the reason that the Winnipeg Jets went all Russian in the 90s. Apparently they saw the writing on the wall with salary inflation, and felt it would be difficult for them to compete in the future. According to his math at the time, a Russian born player that contributed the same to the team, he earned about two thirds of a comparable non-Russian player. It was at that time that the Winnipeg Jets made the strategic decision to focus on Russian hockey players.

Now I don't know whether Mike Smith is a good judge of talent or not. But anyone who is consciously searching for market inequities in the NHL and developing a concrete plan to exploit them, well they're unique. Ever since I've made an effort to listen to his interviews when I can.

Not your typical hockey executive, buddy has a graduate degree in history if I remember right, is a collector of art, and is pals with Harry Sinden. A strange mix to be sure.

Sinden has a good story about him, apparently Smith was no longer with the Jets, and was in Russia on a scouting trip when he heard that Mats Lindgren and Boris Mironov were traded to Edmonton for Dave Manson (iirc). He called Harry and asked: "Is this right?". Harry replied: "No. But it's true."

He got caught up in that peculiar arrangement with the Leafs. He had traded for Mike Sullivan and Jason Smith, Quinn refused to play either much at all, and these two were the target of a lot of criticism from the coach. Apparently Jason Smith couldn't close the gap on wingers quickly enough to be a bonafide NHLer.

Anyhow, at the press conference when Sather acquired Jason Smith, somebody in the media hoard asked a good question: "Isn't Smith worth more than a 2nd round pick?". Smith's answer was something very, very close to: "Yes. But I shopped him to 29 teams and this is the best offer I got." ... he went on to explain that gator wasn't playing for the Leafs, so it didn't make sense ot NOT trade him.

I think Mike Smith was the first GM to hire outside council for arbitration hearings as well. Though I may have that wrong, "Mike Smith" is not an easy name to google. And for that reason I've had to trsut my memory for this post.

I did find an article through google about a guy named Hornung, who was paralyzed from the neck down. Mike Smith hired him first as an intern, and later as an employee of the Blackhawks. He was equipped with a voice activated computer and amongst other things he reviewed scouting reports for consistency (I imagine the scouts loved that ;) ), and looked for patterns and trends. I have no idea what that last bit is about.

Now, as mc79hockey told us several weeks ago, Mike Smith has formed a company that claims to be able to assist NHL teams by providing them with better means of evaluating players using innovative statistical methods. This Boston Globe article is the only thing I could find that sheds even a smidge of light on this thing. Scroll a bit of the way down page 3 to find the start of the article. His partner, this Richard Coleman fellow, is a difficult guy to find out anything about as well. And my internet search for "Coleman Analytics" turned up nothing useful. Smith's few comments on the subject don't help much, though it appears that he's now into 'clutchness', which is a departure for him. Curious stuff, if anybody has heard anything else about what Smith is doing, do let us know.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The EIG is the Machine and I am The Rage

I need you, my witness,
To dress this up so bloodless
To numb me, and purge me now
Of thoughts of blaming you
--RATM, Testify
Totalitarian regimes have often used existential threats to consolidate power and to eradicate dissent. The eccentric Kim Jong-Il, for instance, uses the threat of supposedly imminent war with the United States as a tool to force upon his people a perpetual military culture. To continue the Orwell theme on this board, 1984's Big Brother used the threat posed by Eastasia and Eurasia to compel the people of Oceania to support his regime. Now, Cal Nichols is certainly no Kim Jong-Il or Big Brother. However, the story of the Edmonton Investor's Group illustrates the fact that existential threats can cause individuals to blindly follow questionable leaders.
The 2005-2006 Edmonton Oiler team was the best hockey club Edmonton has seen in 15 years. The current team, however, is on pace to have the worst season in 10 years. The fall has been quick and devastating, and is a direct result of a series of poor decision-making by Kevin Lowe and the EIG. The trade of Chris Pronger for cheap youngsters instead of veteran talent, the refusal to sign a Markov or an Eaton in the off-season, and the trade of Ryan Smyth are the three decisions that have undermined the current and future success of the Edmonton Oilers. There is one factor that has motivated each of these moves: money. Despite massive profits from the 2006 playoff run, and some of the highest gate receipts in the league, the EIG have refused to spend enough money to ensure success, and even refused to keep the Oiler's talismanic left winger, Ryan Smyth. Despite this failure to commit enough funds to the team, the EIG still retains heroic status, and has been completely above criticism from the fans or the media. To make sense of this, one must understand the dramatic events that led to the EIG taking control of the team during an era of existential threat.
Who controls the past now, controls the future
Who controls the present now, controls the past
In 1995, Quebec city lost its team to Colorado. A similar fate struck Winnipeg in 1996, as the Jets moved to Arizona. The fan bases of the remaining small market Canadian franchises, in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa, were in a constant state of fear. These fears were realized in Edmonton in 1997, as Peter Pocklington was forced to put the Oilers on the market because of massive personal debts. A bid for the team by Les Alexander resulted in a March 13, 1998 deadline for a local ownership group to put down a 5 million dollar deposit to buy the team. With only days to spare, Cal Nichols finally assembled enough owners to commit to buying the team. The EIG were heralded as heroes who, through great personal sacrifice, kept the Edmonton Oilers alive in Edmonton.
Since that time, the EIG have continually released pleas of poverty via the Edmonton media. The old CBA supposedly prevented a successful franchise in Edmonton, and Cal Nichols claimed that without a salary cap, the EIG would be forced to sell the team. This, despite the fact that The Oilers turned a profit in 2003-2004 even without playoff revenue. Indeed, a close examination of the Oiler's finances suggests that the personal sacrifice of the EIG has been greatly exaggerated. The team is now worth $146 million, more than double what the EIG paid for it. The team's debt is one of lowest in the league, and the profits are high as well. In hindsight, buying the team has been a very good investment for the EIG. However, the group still maintains its immunity from criticism. This man even wants to build a new arena just because the EIG is such a swell organization.
Oiler fans need to stop the hero worship now. The team has undergone a rapid descent, and those responsible must be held accountable. The only alternative is a team that is perpetually underfunded, and is perpetually mediocre. To those who think playoff success is possible without a serious change in direction, Jim Mora has a message for you: THE RANT

Friday, March 09, 2007

Stealing from LT

Congrats to Bryan Young, who will play the first man-game for the Edmonton Oilers from the 2004 draft.

I definitely, at the start of the year, would not bet Young would be the first guy from the 2004 draft to get into an NHL game.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Ted Nolan Talks About Trade Deadline Day

From an interview with ESPN.com.

Q: You're back in the NHL now and your Islanders look primed to get back to the playoffs. How were you able to make a deal for Ryan Smyth?

A: So many names were coming up, like Billy Guerin's name came up. Then, all of a sudden, Ryan Smyth's name came up. We put the same offer up to Edmonton that we had put up to other teams and they went for it. Give [Islanders GM] Garth Snow credit -- he just stuck with it. When Garth called me at 3 o'clock and told me we got the deal done, I couldn't believe he pulled that deal off.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Ruddy Faced Russian

I remember Terry Jones used that turn of phrase to describe Alexander Selivanov. I remember at the time thinking that Terry was just about the last guy who should be commenting on anyone else's appearance. Now this is all just by my iffy memory, but I'll carry on.

Selivanov was always startlingly frank in interviews, it was refreshing. Unfortunately what he had to say was almost hard to believe. Alex's game, according to him, was to stay up high in the defensive zone. Apparently when he was on his game he got a lot of breakaways.

Phil Esposito would occasionally chirp in to remind us Edmontonians that Alex was the kind of player that needed to play with high end talent.

And I don't think that anybody needs to be told that you don't play a breakaway specialist against Forsberg's line.

Kevin Lowe was the coach at the time, and though he never criticized Selivanov publicly, at least not that I recall ... it was pretty clear that Alex was fighting him. And personally, I never faulted Lowe for buckling down on him, trying to change his game. Because Alex's game was going to earn him a lot of scratch at arbitration, but it was going to lose the Oilers a lot more hockey games than it won them.

Anyhow, I 'm struggling to find the quotes on and by Alex Selivanov with google, but here are a couple of other things that nail it pretty well:

Courtesy of pelves.com, TB Coach Terry Crisp, on rookie Alex Selivanov, ‘Yes the guy can score you 40 goals. Yes I love it. What I don’t want is him causing 60.’

Courtesy of lcshockey.com, Jacques Demers,
'Right now, I like Alex Selivanov the person, but I don't like Alex Selivanov the hockey player. He has to learn to play for the team, not play for himself.'


And Alex Selivanov is not unique, there are a bunch of players in this league that have a wide streak of his game in their's. Almost all are young, and most won't change and will follow Alex's career path. Some actually will change, and usually that means they stop scoring and eventually become reliable depth players.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Unique Mr Blake

That's not Modano's grandad in this picture, it's Jason Blake of the New York Islanders. That's not a flattering picture, but this guy isn't aging gracefully. I've seen quite a bit of the last two Isles games and when you see him on the bench, buddy looks old enough to retire from the post office. Plays like a much younger man though.

I checked for Blake on hockeydb.com and it's one bizarre career path.

I just assumed he was a lot younger because you never really started hearing about him until a few years ago. But he's 33 right now and will turn 34 before next training camp.

I always think of Pisani as the prototypical late bloomer. But this guy has to be the new benchmark for me. At least in the modern era. On Blake's 29th birthday, he had scored a grand total of 19 goals in the NHL, and had played only 194 games.

If any GM had acquired him at that point, and predicted he was going to become a scorer, hockey fans everywhere would have laughed out loud.

But the guy has been a regular scoring threat for the past 4 NHL seasons. Consistent and effective, and from what I have seen, and by the numbers, he can play against anyone. And prior to this season he has put up most of his points without playing with Yashin. The guy can just flat out play the game, you'd have a helluva time proving otherwise. Still a mystery why he couldn't have found a way to contribute more when he was in his 20s, though. To say the least, this isn't a very long track record.

Next is hearsay taken from a fanboard, so believe it at your own peril, but apparently shortly after he was acquired as an Islander his wife became very ill (cancer while she was pregnant or some such, according to the Islander fans) and the wacky but likable Charles Wang offered his private jet to Blake, flying him around to be able to spend as much time with his wife as he could. If true, then it's a nice gesture considering the guy was way too old to be a prospect and had never had success as an NHLer at the time. This wasn't star treatment or anything.

So you can see why Wang is a bit pissed at Blake's salary demands, reported to be $17M over four years.

For the life of me, I can't imagine anyone paying him this much. Though there are a few GMs in this league that are capable of anything. I suspect that the Isles will wait until the market determines his price in July and then try to work out a contract that is a bit more reasonable.

A strange case though, I mean the guy didn't play his first year of pro hockey until he was 26 years old, so maybe there aren't as many hard miles on him as a guy who had been living the grind since they were 19, I don't know. But then you look at the guy, and you'd guess he was wearing his age on his jersey. It's just such an unlikely story, the way he came out of nowhere. And while there is nothing in his game to suggest that he will go back to "nowhere" ... he's such an odd case, that for some reason I think he just might. And while a lot of forwards are still positive contributors at the age of 38, those guys were almost always damn good when they were 25 too, they weren't playing in college.

I just don't know if there are any reasonable comparables for this player, and I wouldn't even guess how the market will react to him. A damn interesting player. And he's a guy to watch in July.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Update #1: YKoil's new blog is now linked on the sidebar. He's a clever guy and an interesting writer, I'd highly recommend it.

Update #2: While I was at it I linked to MJ's baseball style NHL conference standings. The presentation isn't as nice at the ones Matt sometimes puts up at BofA. But they update automatically, so they're always current.

Update #3: The Isles/Rangers game is on RDS and Versus. It should be a good tilt. Poti and Bergeron are in the second pairing and see quite a bit of the other team's best players. And they do pretty well. Poti has looked genuinely poised in both games I've seen him play this year. Seriously. The bottom pairing of Campoli/Meyer is kind of "fun but frightening" though :)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

At What Price Ryan Smyth?

Kinger's got an analysis of Ryan Smyth's worth over on Always On The Road and has set up a collection of strawmen to abuse. He then proceeded to post it at HF and welcome all challengers.

First off, let's give some background on Kinger's approach. It's basically a bunch of comparables and he focuses on counting stats per game. The list is as follows (with cap hit and contract length in parentheses):

Arnott ($4.5MM/yr, 4yrs)
Sullivan ($3.2MM/yr, 2yrs)
Brind'Amour ($3.6MM/yr, 4yrs)
Koivu ($4.75MM/yr, 2yrs)
Alfredsson ($4.34MM/yr, 3yrs plus two mutual options)
St. Louis ($5.25MM/yr, 4yrs)

Alright, first off let's get rid of the useless comparables, shall we?

The Brind'Amour comparable is particularly laughable. Brind'Amour signed his deal at the ripe old age of 35 and is far too old to be an meaningful comparable

Alfredsson's deal is from before the lockout and thus has the benefit of being both stale and reduced by 24%. On top of that, he's got a couple of mutual player/team options at the end of the deal at $3.8MM/yr which drives down the overall value of the contract and thus the cap hit as well.

Although Smyth does compare reasonably well with both those players, their situations aren't really close at all. Forget about those two strawmen.

Since I'm sporting, I'll add a couple of comparables to replace those two. Jokinen and Doan come to mind. If you're keeping score, the new list is:

Arnott ($4.5MM/yr, 4yrs)
Sullivan ($3.2MM/yr, 2yrs)
Jokinen ($5.25MM/yr, 3yrs)
Koivu ($4.75MM/yr, 2yrs)
Doan ($4.50MM/yr, 5yrs)
St. Louis ($5.25MM/yr, 4yrs)

Personally, I'd say the important items for comparison are ES and PP performance, strength of opposition, and distribution of minutes by situation. I'd love to reliably include goal differential at 5V5 and the PPGF/hr numbers (especially the latter, because Smyth has killed there for two years running) but I really just have the numbers for Smyth and the other Oilers for the past couple of seasons. I don't have the Corsi metric (The for/against differential of shots + missed shots + blocked shots for players while they're on the ice) that Vic appears to use once in awhile either. I think Tyler mentioned he was going to broach the subject as well, so I imagine he'll provide some of those numbers.

OK, let's start with Jason Arnott. Over the past five years, Jason has posted 2.36 ESP/hr as compared to Ryan Smyth's 2.31 ESP/hr. I'd call that a pure production saw-off, if there ever was one. On the PP, Arnott has posted 4.27 PPP/hr to Smyth's 4.06 PPP/hr - a slight advantage. Arnott averages about 130min per season less than Smyth with a ES/PP/PK minutes breakdown of 77%/21%/2% as compared to Smyth's 70%/23%/7%. According to Gabriel Desjardins' site, Arnott ranks 102nd in the league in minutes toughness as compared to Smyth's 56th place ranking.

Desjardins also keeps track of penalties drawn and taken while a given layer was on the ice - it's like PIM +/- and probably gives another good barometer of the balance of play. Smyth ranks 9th in league according to Desjardins Not only does Smyth outscore difficult opposition he and his linemates also draw penalties at a much faster rate than any of the comparables listed. My expectation would be that this is common practice for Smyth.

To summarize, Smyth provides the same production as Arnott at ES and draws more penalties all while playing tougher opposition. In fact Arnott may be playing slightly tougher opposition this year because he has played 2nd fiddle for the past few years in Dallas behind Modano, who has soaked up tough minutes for a very long time. On top of that Smyth has been taking on an increased role in the PK unit - from about 3% of TOI a few years ago to 10-12% over the past three years. Is all of this worth an extra $1MM? I think this is a compelling argument on Smyth's behalf.

Sullivan was a great find by Kinger. He is signed for cheap at $3.2MM and his numbers are very good. He's got the edge over Smyth in ESP/hr but has pretty similar PPP/hr rates. The major difference though is the difficulty of opposition. This year, Smyth ranks 56th while Sullivan ranks 89th. That's not a huge difference though and I'm not sure how to quantify the difference in terms of something meaningful anyway. I'd be willing to bet that this is a high ranking for Sullivan this year - the Central division has been terrible for some time and Sullivan has spent the past eight seasons toiling in what has been one of the worst divisions in hockey in almost every one of those years. Besides the question of minutes toughness over the past five years, I'd also argue that Sullivan signed a deal at a low point in the market. He signed his deal in August 2005 shortly after Pronger agreed to a very friendly deal with the Oilers. I think this comparable probably hurts Smyth's case a little bit, but there are some significant holes in it. This is a feather in Poile's cap - even if Sullivan typically plays poorer opposition, he's certainly throttling them and at $3.2MM/yr he's a great deal.

I think Vic said he thought Doan might be the most overpaid player in the league yesterday. I'm submitting Olli Jokinen for that title. Jokinen was in the same situation as Smyth last year and signed a very generous four year contract extension with a cap hit of $5.25MM/yr. In the past five seasons, Smyth has superior ES scoring rates (2.31 ESP/hr vs. 1.94 for Jokinen), the same PP production as measured by PPP/hr (4.1 vs. 4.1 PPP/hr) and Smyth now kills penalties while Jokinen no longer does so. The strength of minutes gap is laughable (Jokinen ranks 404th in the league) and surely a strong argument on Smyth's behalf. I've looked at Jokinen's shift charts in previous years as well and he wasn't spending much time versus the elite players in the East before this year either. Furthermore, Smyth's 9th place ranking in PIM+/- is oceans away from Jokinen's 391st ranking. This is a powerful argument on Smyth's behalf and Jokinen's already up at $5.25MM/yr.

Koivu's next on the list. They're pretty close at ES (Koivu has had some impressive seasons) and Koivu has a decided advantage on the PP of over 1.1 PPP/hr. However, Kinger managed to find a guy that is less durable than the myths say about Ryan Smyth. If you're worried about Smyth at the end of a five year deal, how would you feel about Saku Koivu? On top of that, Koivu doesn't appear to play the same level of competition that Smyth faces, nor does his line draw penalties at the same rate. Koivu's another comparable that helps Smyth's case in my opinion.

I don't have much to say about Doan that Vic didn't already say and I think the numbers speak for themselves. Smyth's just a far superior player. Doan's making $4.5MM/yr and surprisingly is a much better comp than two of Kinger's old men. Doan provides a great argument on Smyth's behalf. No wonder Gretzky was so quick to defend his buddy Lowe after the Smyth deal. Gretz owed him one. Big time. That ridiculous extension threw Lowe under the bus in the Smyth negotiations.

St. Louis is last. Smyth's rates are eerily close to the ones that St. Louis puts up. Again, Smyth blows him away in minutes toughness and drawing penalties and St. Louis averages only about 100 extra min of TOI. Richards' line appears to take the tough minutes in TB and if I recall correctly, he's been doing that for a few years running which leaves the Lecavalier/St. Louis duo to go after the next best opposition. This is another guy signed at over $5MM that Smyth has a clear advantage over.

What else can you say? This was a bad move for Lowe and although we've been promised the other shoe will drop we can't really believe that can we? I have a sneaking suspicion that if the Oilers do get a UFA, they'll make a major mistake on someone obviously not elite like Timonen.

EDIT: The pictures with the data are coming. Blogger's giving me a headache.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

They Loaded Boxer into the Van

I'm pretty sure we've used Animal Farm as a theme here before.

We're cynical like that.

This Edmonton Oilers/Ryan Smyth saga is screaming for a allegorical treatment by Orwell, so I'm just going to hurtle down that path.

I was just a boy when I first read that book. Like most EPSB graduates, the book was presented to me as a useful historical commentary that framed the Soviet Union's plight in a justifiably anti-Bolshevik viewpoint, which of course was Orwell's main intent anyway. However, the main theme that struck me at the time was the perverse behaviour of the characters, which was something that seemed to transcend the Reds. It was definitely the perversity of human nature that resonated for me. The incredible deviousness of the antagonists and the crushing disappointment caused by the self-destructive character flaws in the protagonists created that overwhelming feeling. A giant mess of corruption, jingoism and selfishness. I got that same feeling of perversity on Tuesday Night. Mark Messier Night.

"No animal shall drink alcohol to excess."

For me the blood started to boil while listening to 630 CHED's game cast of the Phoenix game on Mark Messier Night. Rod was busy with the ceremony for the first ten minutes of the game, so Squealer was left to handle the PBP duties with Chris Joseph as the less than able colour man. The crowd noise was minimal, in fact I don't recall hearing much at all besides the commentary. It wasn't until Rod donned the headphones and picked up the microphone that the real fun began to happen. The boys were all a-titter tonight and it's likely the spirits were flowing. They'd just spent most of the past two days being warmly embraced by the Boys On The Bus in the usual conjugal manner. Shortly after Rod's arrival was when the game truly went south and the crowd noise started to pick up. A chorus of boos started to fill the sound channels not occupied by Rod and Squealer's voices.

Rod and Squealer had trouble hiding the glee in their voices. They seemed totally oblivious to the fact that they were watching the Oilers lose to the Phoenix Coyotes. Unconcerned that, part way through the second period, the team was losing 3-0 to a bottom feeder in a game that represented their hopes for a last ditch playoff run. They were in some other world. One that Ryan Smyth isn't in and certainly one with which I cannot relate. The trend continues for pretty much the rest of the game - crowd booing in the background while Rod and Squealer sound just a little bit too happy.

At one point early in the 3rd period Rod stops and chuckles in the middle of play "Hey guys, I'm trying to do a job here."

Yeah guys he's trying to do a job here. Stop dragging him back to the '80's all the fucking time.

Rod obviously realizes a little context is in order since there's a hockey game underway and he's randomly blurting out things unrelated to the action. After all, he's got a job to do and although the visual component of the Voice Of The Oilers mostly involves wiping brown stuff off his nose, he does get paid for the audio component. "That was the GM of the New York Rangers and the TV colourman for the San Jose Sharks saying hello. The press box is really busy tonight with all these people here and we're getting lots of greetings." He adds in a slightly condescending tone. The crowd boos again almost on cue.

Shortly after that, Sjostrom takes a penalty and the Oilers proceed to totally duff the PP opportunity. They seemingly spend as much time behind their own net as in the opposition's zone. What's left of the crowd boos a little more.

Shortly after that, the Oilers manage to draw a couple of penalties and get an extended 5on3 advantage. They muster a few chances but fail to get the puck past Joseph. Squealer exclaims "The Oilers generated lots of pressure on that 5on3." The crowd boos again heartily.

I turned it off soon after that with about five minutes remaining. I think Squealer and Chris Joesph talked about the impact of Ryan Smyth's absence while Rod was cavorting with the past, but that was about it. Out of sight, out of mind.

"Napoleon is always right." - Boxer

I guess I should have expected it. Oiler fans on the messageboards rallied around the family. With a pocket full of shells. They start young in E-Town - I recall walking out in my driveway about a week after the Gretzky trade as a ten year old boy with my hockey stick and my road hockey net. I'd recently adopted the persona of Martin Gelinas. Everything I'd heard on the radio was that he had lots of "scoring potential" and that Vladimir Ruzicka was the best Czech player ever and probably one of the best offensive players in the game... Not in the NHL, but nevermind. Gretzky could leave - no problem. We still had Messier and a bunch of swag from the trade. I could be Martin Gelinas. He was going to be a star.

Even Sacamano over at BofA found the time to post about Lowe's latest gambit. He framed it appropriately with:

To be honest, it depresses me when fans take up the "it's a business" torch and bury their emotions in order to evaluate trades based on dollars saved, cap room, strength of draft years, and all kinds of other impersonal considerations.

but ultimately concluded;

"Seems to me like it was the right move. And given Lowe's track record of making consistently good moves over the last 6 years, I'm not about to throw myself off the Highlevel."

Others were not so kind to Smyth. He has been labeled greedy. His style of play and level of skill were ground to dust in a few hours all over the major Oiler fan messageboards and amongst Team 1260 callers. His contribution to Oiler success has been so marginalized over the past few days that I have to think that many fans will be shocked to see how highly coveted Ryan Smyth will be and what he gets paid on July 1st. They're also going to be shocked at how poorly this team plays without the guy.

"He's not a gamebreaker. He's not an elite player. I'm not happy that Ryan Smyth is our best player."

Those were the common refrains I read on the messageboards and from some of the commenters in the Oilogosphere. Well, now what? The nose has been cut off and now's the time to look in the mirror. The Oilers are no longer a team with Ryan Smyth as their best player. They're much worse than that now and the prospects (pardon the pun) for the near future don't look promising.

"I will work harder." - Boxer

Ryan Smyth's press conference yesterday was a sloppy mess. It wasn't just his hair or his dental work. He obviously wrote his speech himself and delivered it with a quivering lip and healthy dose of cliches and well-worn phrases. He painstakingly tried to include every name of every person in the organization that had helped him along the way including Kevin Lowe. Even during the question period, Smyth refused to place any blame on the Oilers. Napoleon really is always right.

Today we discover that there is one true sports journalist in Edmonton after all. Barnes writes that the two sides were split over $500,000 over five years. The paltry sum of $100,000 per year was the insurmountable difference that the Oilers couldn't stomach. According to Barnes, the Oilers had gone up to $5.4 MM/yr over five years and Smyth/Meehan had stuck to their guns at $5.5 MM/yr for five years.

I've got a pretty good idea what Tyler, Dennis, Sacamano, Grabia, Lowetide, the CinO boys and the other regular participants in the Oilogosphere think about this deal. I am highly disappointed in the whole process as well as the outcome. The EIG has pledged to ice a competitive product thanks to the newfound financial landscape afforded them by the salary cap in the "New NHL." They have publicly admitted significant eight figure profits and they've corroborated reports that they gross over $1MM in gate revenues per regular season home game. However, they have failed to invest that money into the hockey team and the money they have spent has been inefficiently allocated by Kevin Lowe and his staff.

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff were signed to deals that made sense to me. They are either young or relatively young players with several seasons of prime hockey left in them. They're key components right now and they are going to be key components of the team in three years. I'm sure Smyth could understand that. Smyth should have been a little angry though when Ethan Moreau was extended at a cap hit of $2MM/yr or when Steve Staios was bumped up at $2.9MM/yr. I'm not sure what Smyth had to do to get into the inner circle, but it seems he didn't quite make it.

The last part of Animal Farm is very interesting as it really brings the story full circle. Now I'm just waiting to see the EIG pull that same Ace of Spades.

Mr. Pilkington pulled that card too.