Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Corsi Numbers

During the lockout Darcy Regier was a keen advocate of rule changes, you probably remember the groovy shaped nets that the Sabres organization were promoting. I heard Regier on the radio a few times then, he is one hell of an interesting guy. He was making compelling arguments using statistics I had never heard of; where the pucks went in, which percentages in which part of the net, number of goalposts and crossbars hit, and so on. Sabres goalie coach Jim Corsi also spoke on the radio, just once that I heard, a very technical guy with the demeanour of a scientist speaking on CBC radio, and surely the source of all the wonderful data that Regier was bandying about. In any case I gave him credit for it.

He also used "shots directed at net" as a measure of the activity in a game. I had no idea they were even tracking this stuff. Since then the NHL has added missed shots, blocked shots, goalposts and crossbars to their play by play sheets. They also show you who was on the ice for each event.

The Corsi numbers for the Oilers are to the side here. I don't include blocked shots here, it's the total number of missed shots, saved shots, goalposts, crossbars and goals directed at the opposition's net while a player was on the ice ... minus the same at his own end of the rink. These have been corrected for ice time, every Oiler's numbers have been prorated to Staios' EV ice time, because he's the Oiler with the most of it.

As a point of reference: Zetterberg is +91 by this exact metric, and looks poised to lead the league again by this measure, in spite of playing tough opp. Granted Babcock teams are always a little shot happy, surely that helps. Lidstrom will lead all defencemen at this, he's +60 already (after the Staios' ice time level correction) and probably by some distance, in terms of just shots +/- he's been a world beater ever since the NHL started publishing shift charts, probably longer. Really, in a fairer world he'd have won 10 Norris trophies in a row by now.

Unstoppably, player's results will gravitate towards the Corsi numbers as the season goes on. A few good bounces here and there can make the early stats misleading. To pick on an old favourite, Lupul is EV+/- +3, and Corsi -41. The drop is inevitable, just is.

As an aside: Scott Hannan is an abominable -60 by this measure. A country mile worse than any of his team mates. Matt was right, something is wrong with Scott.

And as always, common sense should be liberally applied. And as with all hockey stats, without applying the context (i.e. who these players were playing with and against) it will be of lesser value.

On the Oilers:
- Stoll is off the rails completely.
- Hemsky has arrived.
- Gilbert is just flat-out too good for school. Rookies should suffer at this, especially defenders. Imagine where he'd be if he wasn't playing tough minutes with Grebeshkov recently?
- Maybe Reasoner really is back on from, he has looked it.
- Penner and Pitkanen have managed to produce better Corsi numbers than my eyes tell me they should have. I'll trust the numbers.

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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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Has Lowe Already Changed How Teams Handle Their RFAs?

TSN.ca reports this afternoon that the Washington Capitals have signed summer '08 RFA Alexander Semin to a 2 year contract extension. Please note that this picture was shamelessly taken without permission from their own article.

My first reaction as I read the news was "good for Washington - they're going to need to keep guys like this around AO if they want to be any good". However, as you pay a little bit more attention to the details, Semin's contract appears to be out of whack.

First off, Alexander is just 23. It's going to be a few years until he's eligible for unrestricted free agency and he is playing on a team that may just have one of the few true franchise players in its ranks and yet he signed for just 2 more years. Coming off of Dustin Brown's 6 year extension this doesn't exactly reek of commitment to Semin's organization.

Before I get into how K-Lowe may have affected this signing, there is one more caveat regarding Alexander Semin that already suggests a lack of commitment to the Capitals. Semin was picked 13th overall in the 2002 draft and has played in just 2 full NHL seasons. The lockout obviously factored into this but so did Semin's seeming preference to stay in Russia immediately following his draft and again once the lockout was over. It's hard to think he wouldn't have made Washington's bare bones roster in 05/06 so I am simply going to suppose that $ played a factor.

When it really comes down to it, $ are exactly why I think Lowe's RFA attempts played a part in Semin's contract. 2 years at $4.2M and $5.0M is a little bit steep for someone with such a limited track record in the NHL. His best season was less than a point per game and his only other season was <0.5PPG. Clearly Washington isn't paying for potential here either, in that the majority of contracts handed out to players of Semin's age and experience level have been long term ones where the team appears to overpay in the short run for potential development over the course of the contract.

So if Semin isn't making sweeping statements of commitment to the franchise, if he's going for short term and big $, and if Washington is still going along for the ride, something is clearly up. When Semin has played just 3 games so far this season due to injury and has just one assist to show for it, the Capitals should have been in a position of power or at least patience. Why not wait until Alex is back on skates and see if he is still producing at his career level? You're already clearly paying him for that level of point production, why not give circumstances the opportunity to play out and lower Semin's bargaining power?

Either:

1) I have severely underestimated Semin's star potential in the NHL,

2) Washington's GM is a fool who folded too soon and threw too much $ over too short a term for an injured player who might not cover the bet even if healthy,

or

3) Semin's past tendency to flee to Russia, clear desire for $, and preference of a short term contract are indicators he would have been perfectly content to sign an offer sheet. The numbers (both dollars and term) on his contract are more indicative of what a UFA in his shoes would make in the old NHL than an RFA, he's got two picture perfect precedents to point to (say that one 5 times fast, and he's got a history of bolting for the highest bidder.

So which is it? My thoughts are a little each from #2 and #3. I am insinuating an awful lot about Semin's commitment level and suggesting that Lowe opened the door for him to lean on the Capitals harder than he would have been able to in the past. I am also saying that signing an injured player to primo $ over short term when you've got a couple of months to watch his stock fall is a poor play regardless of your bargaining position.

Friday, October 26, 2007

New Kids on the Blogroll

The Oilogosphere is growing like a weed, and there is some good stuff out there. I updated the sidebar by cutting and pasting Lowetide's links, and I've added a couple as well. These are folks who haven't done much to promote themselves, so maybe you didn't know that they were out there.

He Score He Shoot is a joint Leafs/Oilers blog, and a couple of the guys there are damn funny. People who speak of 'poison being poured into the ears of Oiler fans' and post this picture of Mike Comrie that he wishes was lost, well they get top marks from me.

Copper Blue Dreams is the joint effort of Josh and Jon G, well written and well worth a regular stop.

Let us know if there are any other good ones we're missing, and within a few short months one of us will get around to adding them to the sidebar. Or, if you are an Oilogosphere commenter that's too lazy to start his/her own site, and you have something to say, and you aren't a shithead, and you want to start writing posts here ... contact RiversQ. There are a bunch of you who really should write more.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

2.86% Of The Time, It Works Everytime


The Oilers' PP is now 1/35 and counting.

I haven't commented much on Dustin Penner.
I'm noticing something eerily similar to last season with Lupul. For the first 5-6 games last year, I was astonished at how soft Lupul was along the boards (LT probably remembers the game - three chances to get the puck five feet out of the zone on the same shift. All failed.) and how ineffective he managed to be in the offensive zone. Then, after a couple of more games I started to see some of the upside that Lupul had - Lupul could pass the puck, he had a decent top gear while skating in a straight line, and a legitmately impressive shot when he got it off. Of course, we know how that story ended.
I realize this is just my hangup, but should I be worried that I'm following the same progression with Dustin Penner?
During the first five games, his glaring weaknesses seemed pretty evident. I don't care about anyone's "Lindros Theory" about big players looking lazy; if a forward is last into the offensive zone and the last player back into the defensive zone on nearly every shift, he's slow and/or lazy. The aesthetics of his stride has no impact on my evaluation when he can't even make it on my screen. Other than his speed, he also was not a physical player and had no clue about his assignments in his own end. Reports from training camp suggested that Penner was out of shape and that certainly seemed to jive with what I was seeing.
As with Lupul, I did start to see flashes of why the Oilers liked this guy. He is basically Georges Laraque with hands and a clue how to get the puck to the net. Just like Big Georges was effective by keeping the puck behind the other team's net rather than playing a total game, Penner is going to keep his job in the NHL by maximizing territorial advantage. That is a valuable thing. I almost hate to say it, but that's the kind of thing that made Todd Bertuzzi a terrifying player for a few years while playing with a healthy Markus Naslund.
For the past few games, Penner has been Jekyll and Hyde. He looked decent tonight playing with more appropriate linemates but he was mediocre in Phoenix and godawful against Calgary. The only way the Oilers won a faceoff when he was on the ice is if the centre won it clean - Penner didn't win a single puck battle against Calgary in the faceoff circle. (I'm not even worried about the silly penalties.) I suppose the problem could still be fitness because he was trending up until the Calgary embarrassment and now he had a decent showing tonight.
Now what?
I'm not sure he'll earn his dough, but he certainly has a chance if he is indeed playing his way into shape and manages to get a more appropriate role on this club.

Prom Night be Damned, I'm Doing an Oiler Post Game

Tonight marked the first game since opening night I was able to watch an Oiler game from start to finish and as such I wanted to put up some of my post game thoughts. Most of the focus on other blogs and in the mainstream media is going to be on Ryan Smyth's return to Edmonton (and rightfully so) but despite Smyth being the Oiler of my generation as well as the NHL player who gives the most meaning to my hockey fandom, Ryan will not be the focus of this post. Apparently for the good of us all I've decided that emotions are for real life and observations are for blogging. Here goes:

Interesting to see 10-14-83 get the majority of shifts after Avs powerplays - looked to me as if MacT was hoping to get at least one goal via counterpunch. I thought he might have been tempting fate a little bit using so much youth on the PK in Horcoff's place but it certainly seemed to work out alright, what with the rejuvenated Marty Reasoner holding down the fort along with help from Brodziak, Cogliano, et al. The one PK Horcoff played a significant role in of course was on the Reasoner penalty and then you had Gagner coming out for the last 7 seconds or so - I know this because I panicked a little bit on the couch when I saw there was still enough time for Colorado to get a chance together. Based on past posting history (whenever ago that was) it should be clear that I lean towards caution in terms of situational match-ups and I do so especially in the case of youth. Thankfully, MacT gambled right tonight, and that is all that I will say about special teams.

Jarret Stoll has the same overall skill level as he did when he peaked last season but nowhere near the physical assertiveness and control. Sakic sure made him look awful down low for a goal but I won't dwell on it. Assertiveness is a word I might use a few more times in this post so I will warn you now but it only seems appropriate for me to note Stoll's lack of it on a night when Raffi Torres was showing us how it is done. One of #14's best games that I can remember in recent history and I loved the physical aspect of his game tonight. For the naysayers, look at tonight's game tape and tell me that he can't make a pass - they were quick, clever, and on the tape (if only for one night only - please understand that I know I am talking about him at his best).

Speaking of quality physical play, I saw Dustin Penner throw people around at least a couple of times tonight, including what I considered to be a questionable hit leading to Tom Gilbert's goal in the 3rd period. The goal was expected based on the pass he got and his positioning and the assist was a fluke bounce off his skate, but the net effect towards helping Edmonton win was definitely evident tonight. By my eye, Penner has shortened his shifts up since the beginning of the season - can anyone comment on this? I remember reading an astute comment somewhere that suggested that Penner looks exponentially gassed as his shifts wear on and it would be nice to see that a concerted effort has been made in this regard.

It seems odd that I would go on this long without mentioning the excellent play of Samwise and Andrew. Gagner is clearly not at a point where he can create space for himself offensively and gets thrown around quite a bit but he consistently makes great plays when he does have the puck with time. Again I will skim past his excellent two assists and point out a smaller example of something he does already at 18 that shows me excellent NHL vision. I believe it was in the last portion of the 3rd period with Samwise in possession but at the end of a long shift in the neutral zone. He looks cross ice towards Sanderson but the direct passing lane is blocked so he makes a very heady play and makes a pass too far for #8, off the boards, and back into Sanderson's lane for him to skate onto. Did anyone else notice this play? IMO, no one on this team other than Hemsky makes that pass.

Cogliano too had a great game. I don't know how many extra scoring chances he will create over the course of a season through speed alone and I don't know what percentage of those will actually end up in the back of the net but it is always fun to watch a player do things that other players can't. In #13's case of course it may have resulted into one or two semi-harmless pucks directed at Budaj but also one or two that end up in the net on other nights. He could also teach Brodziak a thing or two about how to play a 2-on-1. Not that #51 had a bad night - in fact he had a solid one in my books - but he is an example of a player who could stand to be more assertive when he has the puck. I did notice that where a player like Gagner may occasionally err on the side of trying to create too much (see his last rush of the game for example), Brodziak often errs on the side of the safe play. It is a nice counterbalance to see and I can certainly see how he is being called this crop's Pisani by some.

If it seems after all this that I am surprisingly pleased with our players for a loss, please understand the context in which I write. I am fully aware that Edmonton is re-building and am employing the "small victories" approach to the current season, process over results if you will.

Another plus: Staios and Tarnstrom didn't look exposed as Edmonton's #1 pair. Tarnstrom was in position most of the night by my eye and even laid a few checks while Staios was very solid but for one giveaway I didn't like in the 3rd. This clearly won't always be the case but props to them tonight. Gilbert too, but get Grebs the fuck out of here. Heck, Roy looked good tonight but for some reason Grebeshkov had to take the world's most useless penalty and follow it up by making an obscene spin attempt at the blue line leading to a Colorado goal. Putrid.

Finally, Jacques played his best game that I have watched at the NHL level. Touched the puck a few times, got it towards the net once or twice, and hit people nearly every shift. Bueno.

Comments?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Shift Chart Program

Matt Fenwick posted an intriguing quote from Mike Keenan the other day in a post at Battle of Alberta. This concerning the role of Lombardi, and his line, on the Flames. And Mike's vision of him being a guy that they would want out there for the first shift after the power play. Of course this is a time when the other team gets their best players out there, and your best players are usually tired from having just played on the PP unit. It's an important gig on any team. Though as you can see here, it didn't really work out that in the Colorado game on Tuesday once they got past the first period.

For those that are interested in this sort of thing, and just generally interested in the context in which hockey players get their results, I've put up a program that builds the shift charts from the NHL game number. The PP times are illustrated there as well. And you can drag and drop the player rows to see how the coaches were running the benches.

I remember hearing Roger Neilson say that the most important shifts in a hockey game are the ones just after a powerplay. That was over twenty years ago, but I recently read some Neilson quotes off of the web that extolled the importance of the first and last shifts of the period as well. In due time I'll add markers on there to show where the period ends, and if there are any other suggestions I'll incorporate them at the same time, assuming that they are achievable with my limited programming abilities. Roger was a rare bird, in that he seemed to be genuinely trying to make us understand more about the game at that level, and he never got pissed when it went straight over our heads, which separated him from guys like Ron Wilson and Pat Quinn. Some of the things Carlyle was throwing out for consumption during last year's playoff run were equally good. Hopefully Keenan, who replaced Roger in Manhattan, inheriting his mysterious and evolved statistical database, and later hired Neilson as his head coach when he got the gig as GM of the Blues ... hopefully he carries on that tradition.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Game Notes by Dennis

Just a few notes on this. I decided to take a rough count of scoring chances for and against for this game but I only decided to tally the first forty minutes. My reasoning being with the Oilers down two goals heading into the final frame, they'd take more chances and thus would play in a style that doesn't represent their usual MO. If they were a team that normally played a trading-chances style from the drop of the puck, I would've included the final frame. That not being the case, I decided just to log the chances from the first two periods.

This isn't perfect, mind you, but it gives a fairly solid idea of which team's outchancing whom and which lines are coming out on top. This doesn't speak towards which lines carry the mail in terms of tough matchups, though you can see what can happen when "good" lines gets assignment against "bad" ones. As always, I'll be using numbers to indicate the players involved. I imagine that anyone interested enough to read this post is also interested enough to check out the gamesheets to see just which Oilers I'm talking about.


1st Period

+ 22-19-8 pick up a scoring chance, not sure who against, when Miller tries to go up the right boards but that's blocked by 22 and then 19 and 8 go in for a two on one with 8 being the triggerman

+ 27-10-83 line create a chance with 83 taking a shot from the slot and this comes vs Kesler-Morrison-Naslund

- Cooke nearly sweeps in a huge rebound off a Ritchie shot, ie Isbister is the other winger, and this comes against 8-13-12.

+ 81-13-12 roars back on the same shift with their own chance from a breakaway by 8.

%% Edm PP: No chances for or against

$$$ - VAN GOAL: Oilers 44 out of position on big hit and both him and 27 lazy in their defense and Sedins/Pyatt score on 27-10-83

$$$ - VAN GOAL: Burrows-Rypien-Cowan scores against 14-19-89 off a rebound from a shot that really should've been gloved by Garon.

+ Wraparound attempt by 27 while playing with 89-83. This happens against the Burrows line

+ Slot attempt by 8 while playing with 19-51. This happens vs the Sedins

$$$ - EDM GOAL: 44 scores on a pass from 89 with 10-83 rounding out that line. Goal comes against Sedins

First period chances: 6-3 Oilers with all of the chances coming at even-strength



2nd Period:

%% Edm PP: No Edm chances

$$$ VAN GOAL: Shorthanded marker with the Oilers employing 16-25 as their
pointmen and terrible pinch by 16 off the left point.

- Pyatt, while playing with the Sedins, hits the pipe though I'm not sure
who this was against. It wasn't a pure scoring chance, just like Lidstrom
scoring from centre against Cloutier in '02 wasn't a scoring chance;) but
because it drew iron, it has to be counted.

+ 8 breaks free again and this time while playing with 16-83. The chance
comes against the Sedins

%% Van PP: No Van chances

+ Oilers get a SH chance off a broken three-on-two with a sweeping attempt by 24 that's first thwarted by Morrison and then by Luongo

$$$ EDM PP : GOAL. Two chances by 14 and he bangs in the rebound.

$$$ VAN GOAL: Morrison, playing with Kesler-Naslund, vs 14-19-83. An odd combo by MacT that was the first line after the PP marker and a very weak goal by Morrisson. Looked like Roli totally lost his position in net.

- Sedins with a chance off a jam play and it happens against 27-10-83

Second period chances: 4-3 for the Canucks but one of the oddest periods you'll ever watch. The Canucks had no chances between their SH marker and the Morrison goal and were in pure trap mode.

Chances after two periods: 9-7 Oilers

Just a couple of things to throw out to finish this post. I guess it slipped by me but apparently the Oilers reacquired Ty Conklin before tonight's game and in a move that further shocked me, he dressed up as both Garon and Roloson. Seriously, there was an odour on all five goals and Roli made two, maybe three saves of note but overall a terrible performance both by the Oilers starting pitching and their bullpen. You'll be hard pressed to win against anyone when your netminding is this bad but when it happens in a game against Luongo, you'll need a whole lot of luck on your side.

In Roloson's defense, it was the first time in four appearences that his play was less than stellar so it's not overly worrisome. Garon, on the other hand, needs to bounce back large considering his first two starts have furrowed many a brow. I had the chances after 40 min at 9-7 Oilers but two of Canucks chances would've easily been erased by decent netminding so from the goalie out, the Oilers did their job.

I'm not saying Robert Nilsson will be farmed out tomorrow, but I think that given his recent praise for Pouliot, MacTavish must have decided to replace MP with Jacques because Pouliot is somewhat injured. I really can't think of another explanation and with Jacques looking comfortable in a role with 14-16 and Nilsson, along with Reasoner and Brodziak, clutching the shortened bench short straw with Reasoner and Brodziak, this kid won't stay in the picture if Pouliot is able to play on Saturday night in Vancouver. It should basically be down to him and Brodziak for the next healthy scratch winner.

It's really hard to fault the Oilers for this loss. They outchanced their opposition and this is what one looks for when it comes to a home performance. Bad netminding at one end and steady to stellar netminding on the other end would eventually spell their doom and in that regard this smelled an awful lot like the '06 season where you had a feeling that even if the Oilers drew close, their netminding would let them down.

Note: Word just leaked out that Nilsson has indeed been sent down but that Jacques will join him and Schremp and Stortini will take their places. I thought I was past the point of caring about what happened with Jacques but JFJ out and Stortini in must mean that MacT wants a goon and not a player. I know Stortini's NHL point totals are better than Jacques but I can't think of any other reason. Nilsson out for Schremp is quite simply re-arranging soft-minute chairs on the Titantic. Neither should ever be expected to be anything more than a vulture but if one of them works out then the organization will be better for it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

MacTactics on the Road

MacTactics is another Dennisian term, and it fits here. What MacTavish does and what he says are often completely different. We're at the point now, with technology, that he can be cornered we he starts talking nonsense for the greater good. MacTavish surely knows that the media can call 'bullshit' on him if they choose, and it's made him more interesting. I mean fairly quickly it's going to occur to him that nobody in the Edmonton media has the awareness or the stones, or the alternative career options available, to do that. But there is a window right now that is worth looking through. Personally, I think it's worth listening to audio clips when you have a chance.

Now I'll take the quantum leap from what MacTavish says to what MacTavish does:

In Detroit Babcock whacked the Oilers with all the heavy hitters at once. By the numbers, all of Zetterberg, Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Rafalski and Holmstrom were on the ice together a bunch. I guess I should have seen the "A" Plan coming. A bit harsh for a home game against the Oilers, I mean it's not like it's game 65 for the Wings are they are gearing up for the playoffs. But they had lost in Chicago, that's bad luck for the Oil. And pregame interview Babcock talking about how the weaker teams still have belief for the first 20 games or so, until there is separation ... with benefit of hindsight we should have seen this coming.

And now, just the facts. Icetime vs Lidstrom+Zetterberg combined:



This also implies icetime against Datsyuk, Rafalski (who has been playing tough minutes since his rookie year) and Homer. The trend is blindingly obvious. Though Huddy/MacTavish's decision on how to run the defence is still a mile up in the air by the looks of this. The very first shift of the third period Huddy marched Souray and Greene out there ... damn, I don't know what to think. By midway there seemed to be more Pitkanen and Staios, though personally I don't notice the D that much when I watch the games, it seemed that way.

And the Gagner vs Zetterberg cuts from the shift chart. Gagner registers as the Oiler that played the least vs Z, but a bunch were in the same vicinity. Gagner in blue, Z in green:

The Green strips on the edges are DET powerplays. The shift after opposing PPs is the sweetest icetime available. If anyone on the fanboards is bitching that Gagner isn't getting enough opportunity, well they've been smoking the drapes. It doesn't get better than that. And if you moved him with Hemsky Penner ... Well Babcock would probably move Zetterberg/Datsyuk and Rafalski to Horcoff ... but Lidstrom, Homer, Cleary, Draper etc will be there to face him, and he'd get destroyed and demoralized. I wish that wasn't true, but it is.

Back to point.The only head to head icetime for Z vs Gagner here was probably in the DET end of the rink. And it was factually after Zetterberg had been on the ice for a stretch against Horcoff's line and was tired, or at least more tired than when he started the shift. The gap between Horcoff/Hemsky and Gagner/Pouliot, in terms or responsibility and in terms of impact on results ... well they are well represented in the first graphic.

.

So the question for tonight's game in Minny, where the miserable Lemaire runs the "A" game plan even against the weak sisters; who plays immediately after Horcoff? Because you just know that Lemaire will load up all of Gaborik, Demitra and Johnsson against that line, he has to. My guess is that Rolston/Bouchard get that gig for Minny, and these guys have shown that they can exploit weak players. So where does Gagner go? Either the press box or the Boogaard minutes, I suppose.

Jesus. We haven't even started talking about Nilsson, Cogliano, Brodziak, Sanderson (love Dennis' and MC's comments on the guy, I can't make it mesh with my memories though), Stoll, and Jacques. And that's before injuries. And the D is not as bad as I first thought, after brief viewing, still.

As an aside: Does anyone have a picture of somebody, who looks like Craig MacTavish, with a dozen corks in a bucket, trying to hold them all under water at once? I'm going to need that this season methinks. :)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

QFT


I caught this a couple of weeks ago while I was on semi-hiatus.

MacTavish on Keenan from a David Staples article in the Edmonton Journal*:

"His biggest weakness was his inability -- and it might be his biggest strength -- to rationalize defeat. ... It's hockey, and there are times as a team that you play well and you lose, and he had a hard time differentiating that from the times that you played poorly and lost."

That's just a fantastic quote right there. I imagine there are a few other NHL coaches with such enlightened views on the game, but quotes like this make me very happy that the Oilers' coach is one of them. It's a shame that more people don't recognize this truism in athletics.
------
*Hat-tip to gnash at BofA for the find.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Take That Hippie! Four More Years!

This is going to be one of those catch-all posts, where I just rattle off comments in a stream of consciousness manner.


- I might as well start on the title. Lowe's extension comes as a complete surprise to me. It's out of left field for me because organizations typically at least put up a facade of due diligence. In this case, the bare minimum probably consists of a full 60+ games to find out if there was any method to the madness in that gong show offseason we just witnessed. A four year extension for this GM so quickly makes no sense to me, unless of course the Oilers are a little more concerned with marketable front men rather than effective decision making.

This comment from Laforge in particular is puzzling:

"We think this is part of our road to the next Stanley Cup. Kevin's a terrific leader, prepared to do what he needs to do. But he has a PLAN, you know. I've talked to a lot of Kevin's peers, and they don't have a plan. They read and react."

Now try to rectify that with this Lowe comment from LT's site:

"What happened was, all of a sudden, we got a lot of defencemen. We traded for Grebeshkov. We signed (Dick) Tarnstrom. We traded for Pitkanen. We signed (Sheldon) Souray. Then, I'm thinking, 'Holy mackerel, we've got a lot of guys here."

If I could say one thing about Lowe's offseason, it's that he didn't have a plan. Except maybe to giv'er.

- As far as the team on the ice goes, I'm very happy with the results so far and fairly pleased with the team performance based on the small amount I've been able to see so far. I watched the season opener against SJ from the 18 minute mark of the first period on (thanks DirecTV) and I thought they looked alright. They got well outchanced in those two periods to my eye and the Sharks apparently hit three posts in the first period on top of that. However, you can't look a gift horse in the mouth when it comes to the hockey gods.

I thought Tarnstrom and the kids all looked pretty good. So did Sanderson. To me the defense doesn't look that mobile, but they do make a first pass much better than last year's group, so there's some improvement in puck movement. On the other hand, the forwards appear to be a quicker group.

- Brian Burke is off his rocker at this point. This kind of talk is bound to draw lightning bolts from the heavens. I'm not sure the spectacle is going to deflect attention away from the fact that his team is not very good this year. (For obvious reasons - they've taken a pounding so far in personnel) Nor will it absolve him from blame in the Penner affair in the first place. He definitely should have taken Penner to arbitration.

- Lastly, the Hockey News Yearbook had an interesting little feature amidst a whole lot of nonsense. (If anyone can make heads or tails of their "Future Watch"ratings or their Top 50 Player List, I'd love to hear it.) It relates to the NHL's mess of a schedule:



The disparity in travel is incredible. Of course we all have a rough idea of this stuff, but I like the format the Hockey News used here. I'm not sure what impact of this really is, given that things like strength of schedule and back-to-back games are probably more important, but the differences are still staggering.

All I know is that the "best" team in the SE division this year will have a total cake walk - a terrible division and they leave their timezone just three times all year.



Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Until then I think that we give him the benefit of the doubt and see how this year plays out."


I copied the title verbatim from one of the comments to the latest post on mc79hockey.com.


I assume "we" refers to fans/Oilogosphere and "him" is Kevin Lowe of course. I don't mean to pick on the original commenter because he's one of a cast of thousands, but this shit drives me bonkers.


It drives me nuts because I've heard this one before.


In May, "then" referred to training camp. Fast forward through the offseason and all of a sudden we discover that "then" refers to May 2008 and we're supposed to forget about a whole summer's worth of schizophrenic asset management and just set another deadline with no expectations.


Why mess around? Let's just say it like it is.


Oiler fans are just killing time until The Rapture and only then, when Kevin is high in the sky floating up to heaven like a stray helium balloon, will we decide whether or not Lowe spits or swallows as a GM.

Hope and Expectations


Allan K. Chalmers:
The Grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.

Friedrich Nietzsche:
Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man.

This is a strange October to my mind. I've never seen an Oilers season start with fan expectation so far apart from the regular season points line from the bookies. I've posted messageboard preseason polls on this issue for yonks, and annually Oiler fandom seems to be fairly consistently a couple to a few points higher than the over/under. Myself included.

This season it's off the map. The spread is far wider, there just isn't much in the way of fan concensus. And the average expectation is north of 90 points., with a whack of fans expecting a hell of a lot more than that. Even that average is a whopping 15 points OVER the 76 points from the bookies. (75.5 and 76.5 are the only levels I've seen anybody taking wagers on, and they're probably being generous, because even at that level they'll draw almost all of the action on the 'over', i.e. the bookies will lose money if the Oilers manage to better 76 points)

Last season, the Oilers were pegging towards 86 points on the day they dealt Smyth (iirc 66 points in 63 games). The preseason over/under was 88.5. For the three years previous to that, here are the oddsmaker's over/under and the actual points that the Oilers ended up with:

2002-2003 (90.0) 89
2003-2004 (91.5) 92
2005-2006 (94.5) 95

And Oiler fan expectations were within spitting distance of the over/unders AND the actual results at the end of the year. But this year ... not so much. Personally I'm hoping for the best from the Oilers, and I wish I could will myself to actually expect something over 80 points from this crew, but it ain't easy.

My point, and I do have one:
I think Kevin Lowe is Sonny Corleone in Lowetide's analogy. Because failing is bad, but falling a mile short of expectations is a killer.

Monday, October 01, 2007

There's no reason for Gagner to not end up signed today

I've read in the papers that this may be a difficult signing for the Oilers, but I just don't see how.



For the Oilers, signing Gagner is a huge relief, in that you don't have to worry (however small that worry may be) about re-entry in 2 years.



For Gagner, entering the NHL a year or two earlier than projected has huge financial ramifications down the line with regards to getting his cheap years out of the way as early as possible.



He will be paid the cap, with the max in signing bonuses (10% of the rookie max, I believe, in this CBA). The only item of contention regards the bonus structure. Gagner would of course like to receive max bonuses, but given the talent projected in 2009 it's no guarantee he'd get more in bonuses 2 years from now, and even if he does he could potentially be sacrificing 2 NHL seasons (more likely 1) and thus it's probably not worth haggling for much more, if any more, than that which the 6 OV pick ordinarily receives.



From the Oilers perspective they would like to minimize bonuses due to their cap implications. Since the Oilers aren't tight to the cap, and are allowed to go over the cap for bonuses even if they were, I can't see them being overly concerned with Gagner's bonuses. If Gagner happens to hit the bonuses, he'll have been worth the money and it will be one less player they'd have to trade for during the year to be competitive.



I'd be surprised if this doesn't get done today, as to me it makes sense for both sides to sign.