Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Some Disjointed Thoughts About The Oilers Defense

At the end of last season, EDM's defense looked something like (if all players were healthy):

Hejda-Smith
Smid-Staios
Tjarnqvist-Greene
Gilbert
Roy
Grebeshkov (ineligible for the season, playing in Russia)

The Oilers probably decided to let Hejda and Tjarnqvist go before UFA started, so we can alter the depth chart, on June 30th, to look something like:

Smith
Staios
Smid
Greene
Gilbert
Roy

On July 1st, the Oilers made multiple changes on defense, announcing the signings of Grebeshkov and Tarnstrom.

When these signings were first announced, I thought this was a good way to address the PP (speaking of Tarnstrom specifically) without having to shell out long term big money for a guy like Souray.

A few hours later the Oilers traded Lupul and Smith for Sanderson and Pitkanen. This deal seemed somewhat strange to me, in that the balance of the D had seemingly switched from not enough offence to not enough defence, but I reasoned that it was still pretty early in the FA season, and EDM could probably replace Smith (to some extent) via the UFA market.

The Oilers D chart looked like:

Staios
Pitkanen
Smid
Greene
Tarnstrom
Grebeshkov
Gilbert
Roy

with Grebeshkov a wild card, but since he's on a one way contract I'll leave him above Gilbert and Roy until it is shown otherwise.

This looked like a D that could use a defensive D, sure, but workable. A guy like Hejda didn't seem like he would be terribly expensive (and didn't turn out to be, either).

Then, come July 12th, the Oilers decided to sign Souray. This seems like a strange decision to me, in that I had figured one of the purposes in trading for Pitkanen and signing Tarnstrom was that they didn't want to spend a huge amount of money to address the PP. Having already acquired Tarnstrom and Pitkanen the Oilers don't receive the same boost in adding Souray that the Oilers would have had the decided to resign, say, Tarnqvist and Hejda instead of Tarnstrom and Pitkanen.

As a sidenote, I'm not convinced EDM wouldn't have been better off signing Nagy for 9 over 2 years, and Hejda for 1.2 mil. The numbers for Nagy and Hejda are both made up, but I don't think there is any reason to think them unreasonable. Hejda ended up signing for 1.0 in CLB, and Nagy for 3.5 in LA. True, Nagy may have looked at LA's roster, and decided to opt for a one year deal in a warm sunny city trying to play his value up for next season. But he'd be turning down, essentially, a guaranteed 5.5 mil salary the next season if he were willing to sign at 9 over 2 years with EDM.

Given that chain of events, EDM could be looking at a lineup of:

Nagy Horcoff Hemsky
Torres Stoll Penner
Moreau Pouliot Pisani
Thoresen Reasoner Sanderson

Pitkanen Staios
Hejda Smid
Tarnstrom Greene
Grebeshkov

VS

Penner Horcoff Hemsky
Torres Stoll ???
Moreau Pouliot Pisani
Thoresen Reasoner Sanderson

Pitkanen Staios
Souray Smid
Tarnstrom Greene
Grebeshkov

In any case, EDM is now left with the following 9 defensemen that the Oilers brass feel can be NHL level defencemen:

Staios
Souray
Pitkanen
Tarnstrom
Greene
Grebeshkov
Smid
Gilbert
Roy

Of those 9, 6 are on one-way contracts, and are thus near certainties to be on the roster at the start of the season. Those are:

Staios
Souray
Pitkanen
Tarnstrom
Greene
Grebeshkov

Of the remaining 3 defencemen, one cannot be sent to the minors without clearing waivers, Mathieu Roy.

That leaves only Gilbert and Smid eligible to be sent to the AHL without having to be paid an NHL salary or having to clear waivers. It would be surprising to see Smid sent down, even with a poor training camp, given his potential, but it also probably doesn't make sense to lose Roy to waivers if, for instance, Roy is clearly better than Smid at camp and the Oilers don't want to carry more than 7 defencemen.

At this point, I would imagine that Pitkanen, Souray, and Tarnstom are seen as the main PP defensemen, with one Staios/Smid/Grebeshkov filling out the fourth PP spot (if there is one, it may be that EDM uses a F as one of the pointmen on the PP.

On the PK one would imagine Staios, Greene, Souray playing a bunch, with Pitkanen and Smid seeing some time as well.

Grebeshkov is a total wild card, it remains to be seen how he reads the play at the NHL level and thus where he might play for the Oilers.

I would guess that the most likely scenario (excluding trades) would have the Oilers breaking camp with 2 G, 13 F, and 8 D, Gilbert being the only D of the 9 sent to the minors. I suppose they may try to sneak Roy through waivers, but it seems kind of risky to me given his (probably) cheap salary. Of course, it's only an issue if Roy is a guy not worth risking. I'm guessing EDM might feel that way about Roy since that they apparently gave him a one way contract for the second year of his new two year deal.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

GMs and the players that they covet: 2007. Part I.

About this time last year I wrote a post here with the same title, what follows is an extension of that. The principle idea is that GMs and their coaches are influenced by what they saw in the games they viewed live. Over and above what they know from video review, scouts and stats reports, that they were biased towards these games. Just human nature I think.

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First up, Colorado:

Ryan Smyth

This one is easy, so I'll start with it. We've all seen this hard match-up for yonks, I don't think an explanation is necessary. And I doubt that Giguere had to twist Joe's arm in order to get him to place a phone call to Ryan, I'm sure he's sick and tired of playing against The Mullet. Intuitively I would have thought that Smyth had played more head to head icetime against Sakic than any other forward in the league. They definitely saw him good, it would have been impossible to miss in this case.

Remarkably, all of the following Western Conference forwards played even a whisker more 5v5 H2H icetime per game against Sakic; H.Sedin, Iginla, Doan(!), D.Sedin, Tanguay, Halpern, J.Thornton, Moen. And Gaborik, Pahlsson, R.Niedermayer and Demitra were just a shade behind Smyth in this regard. Damn, must have been fewer penalties in those season series.

That's a murderer's row of forward opponents for Sakic, who played largely with Wolski and Brunette on the flanks and Skrastins and Clark behind him, and some frequently dodgy goaltending as well. And he still ended up well in the black at 5v5 +/-. That's a bit good.

Scott Hannan

Played four games against Sakic and it was a hard match all the way through. Here are the NHL game numbers for the curious: 20265, 20419, 20685, 21083.

An impressive 8.0 per game at 5v5. Only Lidstrom, S.Niedermayer, Foote and Markov saw more SakicMinutes(TM), but it wasn't for a lack of trying from Ron Wilson.

If Giguere was watching the games he would have been rating Hannan highly.

So two of the players that Sakic traditionally has gone up against are now on his side. That helps a bunch, especially Smyth. By way of example, there is no way that the Flames will continue to throw both Iginla's line and Regehr's pairing at Sakic, one of the two has to be moved onto Smyth's line or he'll kill your chances to win. The respect that Smyth gets from opposing bench coaches is impressive. Sakic's life just got a bunch easier. Good for him.

.

Next up, Calgary:

Cory Sarich

He played a whack against Iginla in the one game where these teams met. It looks like Playfair went for the forward match with Jarome, who as we all know, is every kind of good as a hockey player. So he managed to get Iggy out there kind of erratically, with different centres, but a staggering 30.1 minutes of combined 5v5 icetime against St. Louis, Vinny and Richards. Which is stunning, looks like Playfair tried to make sure that Iggy was out there whenever two of those three were on the ice. I never realized that Playfair was so aggressive as a bench coach, but that's just a phenomenal job on this night. Missed a shift and Vinny/Marty got out against Yelle's line and scored in the third, but meh, what can you do.

In any case that left Tortorella with the easy D matchup and he quite predictably went with Cory Sarich (who is terrific I think) at 10.7 H2H minutes of 5v5 mostly with his regular defense partner Nolan Pratt (who looks awful to my eye, that T.B team is fun to watch, but tragically thin).

Sarich also played the first unit PK except for when he himself was the penalized player. Iginla looks to have played almost all of the CGY powerplays, hopefully MacTavish starts going that route with Hemsky this season.

Unless Sutter was looking the other way all night, he saw Sarich good.

Owen Nolan

I mocked this signing when I first heard about it, but Nolan actually ended up posting decent numbers last season. EV+35 and EV-36 not including empty netters. The NHL opponents that he faced the most were the Shark's Joe Thornton and Teemu's line from Anaheim, not hard matches or big minutes though, and he got killed by them (EV+2 EV-11, ouch!) Besides that his EV numbers are damn good on a terrible team, had a disappointing powerplay year though. No rhyme or reason to the bench coaching in PHX from what I can see. Not with Nolan anyways. Nolan seems to have played a bit with everyone as a linemate; Sjostrom, Roenick, Comrie and Perrault were the top four.

So in this case the "saw him good" rule doesn't apply. Nolan was clearly a top six forward for the Coyotes, in the games against the Flames for sure, but the previous relationship with Sutter is surely the bigger factor in him becoming a Flame.

Aucoin

Iggy was the #1 and #2 opponent by icetime in 2 of the 3 games that Aucoin played against them, so that sounds good ... but it wasn't a hard match and clearly Duncan Keith was the first choice for CHI, and the matchup with Havlat on Iginla was critical one for them, when Havlat was out it was over early for Savard's team.

Everyone knows the situation with Aucoin: Terrific when healthy ... but he isn't healthy. I'd have to think that Keenan's influence is at play here. I'm guessing that Aucoin must have told Keenan that he would be fully fit for 07/08, or close to it. Purely speculating, but he did nothing to move Sutter's opinion in the season series with the Flames ... so that seems likely.

.

That's it for now, this takes longer to write up than I thought it would. I'll get back it again when the mood strikes me. In the meantime, somebody find out who they gave the Selke to this summer, go get it, and take it to Sakic's house. Maybe you should let Iginla hold it for a week or two, I dunno, I'll leave you to decide that yourself.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Offer Sheets and Dustin Penner

A friend of mine, around the time of the Vanek offer sheet, sent me an e-mail regarding RFA offer sheet, and RFA benefits, in this new CBA.

In the past we have generally agreed that RFA offer sheets were inevitable, and should have been used earlier in the CBA (IE. Spezza when OTT was pinched to the cap right after the lockout, as one example) by someone.

Here were a couple of his thoughts, and my expansion upon them, regarding the benefits of owning a draft pick:

(1) A team gains some (unspecified) value if a player over-performs his entry level contract. This benefit is most likely to occur with players taken at the top of the draft, as they are the ones most likely to be true contributors in their first 3 years in the NHL.

(2) You will probably underpay, by some unspecified amount, in the post entry level RFA years on a drafted player vs. a UFA. This is more true as the player moves up the pay scale, but less true at the very top end [Crosby, Ovechkin vs. Thornton (or his equivalent that is interested in maximizing his earnings)] and as the player is less of a clear difference maker (RFA 4th liner vs. UFA 4th liner).

(3) You have the right to match any offer sheet when a player is a RFA. Any ridiculous offer a team can decline to match, while any "fair" market offer a team can match and keep the player.

(4) In a NHL where offer sheets are common, the value of a draft pick drops even further than its value in the old CBA (where a team owned a player's "rights" for up to 13 years instead of 7 in the new CBA). As such, the compensation for each offer sheet becomes less in the eyes of all teams, further encouraging offer sheets.

(5) There is some non-zero chance that you can sign a player for under market value if he chooses to sign such a contract. Additionally, there is a (probably) improved chance that you will be able to retain said player as a UFA (maybe even at a discount) as compared to the scenario where you are just one of 20 or so teams bidding for a player with no previous playing connection to that player.

This all came about right after the Vanek offer sheet. After the Penner offer sheet, I sent an e-mail, saying:

Penner- So, are we agreed, Burke won't match and the Oilers are stuck with this contract?

I suppose it could work out, but the odds are long enough (IMO) that I wouldn't have made the bet especially given the value/potential value of EDM's 2008 1st rounder.

His response was along the lines of(I edited a little bit here and there):

Imagine that the 2008 pick is a player. He might be a UFA at 25 or so, and the team would probably get 5-6 good years out of the player. How much does the team pay him during this time? If he's really good I'm probably forced to pay him close to his fair market value either because of an actual offer sheet or the implied threat of one in a landscape where offer sheets are commonplace. If he's mediocre I might pay him something like 10 mil over the course of his RFA years (speeds's note - "And his value, over a comparable UFA, is probably not all that high).

Of course the deal turns based on Penner's performance, but I don't think everything has to be perfect for it to work out.... You take you chance that he's a complete bust and move your spending forward in time a little bit.

With Penner in particular I wasn't a fan of the offer, and even considering the above I still think that I wouldn't have made that offer were I in Lowe's position. It would be interesting to know exactly how much less the Oilers could have bid and still not had ANA match. 250K a year? 500K? 750K?

In any case, given the above along with all the other thoughts I've had about RFA's over the last while, I would look pretty hard at the RFA list every summer unless I expect my team to be awful in the next season or two.

I've read that some teams say a good draft lands a team 2 good players. A team can land two a year if successful with 2 offer sheets; one in the 1st and 3rd comp category, one in the 2nd rd comp category.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Garth Snow, you marvelous bastard

There is always something going on with the Islanders, always a lot of drama surrounding these cats. a long time ago I had a family connection to the club, so I always kept tabs on them to some extent, just out of habit. I've been watching more closely since Smyth went there at the trade deadline though, and it's a fascinating situation, similar in a lot of ways to the Oilers.

At any rate, I like Garth Snow as a GM. That's him on the left getting a serious perv on with some young women. How can you not like the guy? Next time you have an "if I were a GM ..." moment, you should think about this snapshot and set your priorities straight.

He has a degree in Business from Maine University, and a masters degree in Education Administration from the same school. His claims to fame so far are his bizarre hiring and his brilliant contract with Rick DiPietro. And he's just as full of bull as the rest of the GMs in this league. He recently told us that the Islanders, Coliseum can't attract star players.
"It's not Long Island in general, everyone knows it's a beautiful area," Islanders general manager Garth Snow said. "A lot of it has to do with our building. That's a big obstacle."

The Islanders offered Ryan Smyth more money than the Avalanche did, and that didn't help. The Islanders offered a few big players more money than they ultimately signed for elsewhere. Although Snow wouldn't name names, you might take a wild guess. If a player has his choice between the Garden and Nassau Coliseum, which is he going to pick?

This is going to be a problem for the Islanders until they get through the red tape and build a refurbished Coliseum, or until they build a team so good that players won't care what the rink looks like. Lots of luck
So at least he had the good sense to avoid shitting on the community in which he works. Let's hope that Kevin Lowe and the EIG follow his example on this in the future. This was perceived as an excuse for cheapness wrapped in more of Wang's endless lobby for public money for a new arena on Long Island. Islander fans, normally an irrationally optimistic bunch, well they went apeshit.

There is a strong group of hard core hockey fans on Long Island and environs. The beat writer for local paper Newsday, Greg Logan, he writes a very good blog that (he tells us) gets a huge number of hits, and it's not uncommon for there to be hundreds of replies to a post there. Logan became the lightning rod for a lot of fan anger over this, and you have to credit the guy for being open to criticism from his readers. He seemed to take it personally. And it lead to a blog entry entitled Is it the Coliseum or the GM? in which he brings in yet another possibility beyond the Coliseum and Snow:
As one prominent agent said to me, Smyth wasn’t the kind of person who figured to be comfortable in the New York area. Denver’s a whole lot more like Edmonton than Long Island is.
So New York just isn't Edmontonish enough? Hrmmm.

Now the Islanders won't be close to being a cap team this year, something that seems lost on their many internet fans at HF and Isles Mania, bless 'em. Garth Snow went hard at Smyth and Hannan, and missed on both. But you have to give credit to Isles management for sticking to their plan. It looks like they low balled offers to Viktor Kozlov and Jason Blake, and were low on term and dollars to Tom Poti as well. You have to mark a little easier on that last one though, McPhee rolled out a wheelbarrow of cash to Poti.

The fans were growing angrier and angrier, much worse even than Edmonton at the same time. Snow issued a statement saying that, in effect, he wouldn't be doing anything rash. He said that if the right player wasn't available, they'd wait. It takes stones to do that, and it didn't go over well with a very pissed off fan base. So Mike Bossy (who looks about 97 years old now, by the way) issued a plea for patience. Which was damn strange, but did seem to have at least a bit of an effect anyways.

They've made some curious deals since. Including a minor one that sent the Oilers back their own 3rd round pick, which Lowe would later use to acquire Dustin Penner. Fedotenko was a terrific pickup I thought, like Black Dog I was hoping he'd end up an Oiler. Then Guerin and Comrie, the former only agreeing to sign on the dotted line when they confirmed that they were willing to spend and bring in more offense (in this case, wee Mikey). That move alone shows you how much faith the players have in this organization. I mean do you really think Guerin would even think to make the same request to Colorado or Philadelphia? And at the press conference to announce his signing they named him team captain. Guerin seemed genuinely surprised.

Trent Hunter, who is just a terrific hockey player, went to arbitration today. It's an interesting story in and of itself, but more interesting is the story that this punted from the front page of the Isles official website, celebrating an appearance by ice girls Dina, Monica & Chanel on Maxim radio. I'm not sure why these girls are hanging out on some tarmac behind an industrial building, but I'm sure they have their reasons. Of course I went straight to a fan board to get the scoop. Obviously there is a tonne of commentary on the subject, I picked a couple of representative posts for you:

Richie Daggers Crime "Most of these girl's haircuts scream Long Island"

GlueleG "I like the one squatting on the far left"


Me too, GlueleG. Me too.

The website is much improved with the new format that the NHL has standardized on. Unfortunately they seem to have wiped out the player blog. That was a cool thing, even though it would get ignored for days at a time, there was some fascinating insight into the coach and a few of the players.

They seem to be big into the intarweb thingy. They have a box at the Coliseum that will be set aside for bloggers next year. Damn, do they ever pump Mirtle's tires in that linked page. Strange, because they've ripped the Toronto media pretty severely recently. most memorably was, I think, during the live blogging thing they did for the draft. One of them (Botti or Snow?) pretty much came out and said that TSN in general, and Dreger in particular, were in The Leafs pocket. Really ballsy stuff, and probably true, and surely he can't expect to get any love from them now. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it stemmed from TSN running a story about Snow trading Smyth's negotiation rights to the Leafs. Snow claims that he denied it categorically, but Dreger ran the story anyways. Which worked well for the Leafs because they could build some public momentum while letting Smyth know they were interested, all without risking tampering charges.

And Nolan is just about the most interesting coach in the game right now. Charles Wang is one hell of a character as well. Most importantly, the team plays a good style of game. An uptempo, Keenan type game. The East has a lot of fun teams, there is just generally a lot of terrific hockey played out there.

If I was a player I would have some real concerns about playing on Long Island. Mostly because I'm not convinced that they really intend to ever be a cap team. And also because there does seem to be a lot of drama around this organization. But as a fan, it's a cool choice as a second team to follow.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Dustin Penner

A quick and easy cut and paste from this site tells us something about the context in which Penner garnered his points last season. The data source provides only the top 75 opponents in terms of EV icetime, and I've just listed the EV minutes vs Oiler players here. I also chucked in all of the former Oilers that were on the list too, just for shits and giggles.

So, by way of example, Petr Sykora played 20 minutes and 36 seconds of head to head icetime vs Penner at even strength. And Petr ended up being EV+0 and EV-2 (0 goals-for and 2 goals-against, all at even strength). In fairness to Sykora here, both GA happened when he had the defense pairing of Young and Syvret behind him.