Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Keeping Your Powder Dry

There are basically two ways to build a Stanley Cup contender and it doesn't seem that the Oilers have been following either approach:

1) Suck for a pretty long time. Three years is a good start, but you might need an extra year or two depending on your drafting record.


2) Build a reasonably cheap team and collect some prospects and picks in the event that an elite player in his prime hits the market. Joe Thornton and Chris Pronger come to mind as examples and there have certainly been others.

I recall Tyler Dellow used the title phrase to describe this latter strategy back when the Oilogosphere was mostly on the messageboards and I think it's a good way to think about it. Plus with Pat Quinn as the new head coach old-timey phrases are de rigueur. (Although he might not approve of a saying that originated with Cromwell.)

Skip forward a few years and #2 seems a lot more like an actual plan than it did before. Thanks to the salary cap and more liberal free agency in the current CBA, it seems almost commonplace that elite-level players with years of prime production come available every offseason. However, you still have to keep your powder dry to take advantage and that happens to be the Oilers' problem.

Just the public list of available talent is tempting and we don't even know who teams like Boston are willing to move to open up cap room.

- The Sedins hit free agency and they're still only 28. The only catch is that you probably have to take them both.

- Bouwmeester is truly an one of a kind free agent as mentioned by speeds over at his site. A legitimate #1 dman at the age of 25 available as free agent? Bonkers.
- Gaborik, Hossa and Havlat are all players with proven track records for driving results and should each be able to provide 4-5 years of quality production. The catch is that you probably have to sign them for 2-3 years beyond their best before date and Gaborik and Havlat have serious injury concerns.
- Lastly, there's Dany Heatley. He's an interesting player, mostly because the Oilers haven't had a player quite like him in a very long time and I'm not even sure what his value would really be, because he's not like the other players I've already listed.

Let's take a look at some of Heatley's selected stats:

The first thing to note is that he's obviously an accurate shooter. Four straight years since the lockout with overall SH% greater than 15%. That is impressive. The second interesting thing is that he has seen his PP icetime drop as a percentage of his total icetime over these four seasons. That doesn't necessarily mean anything but it probably explains why his shooting rate appears to be declining over that same period.

If you check out Vic's site, you can find the underlying stats for Heatley for the past two seasons.

The Corsi is good, but you'd expect that given the starting position of his shifts.
What jumps out at me is the differential in faceoffs starting and ending shifts. I would expect a coach to use a player like Heatley this way, but I'm a little shocked so many shifts ended in his own end. I haven't looked at this before, but is this typical for a serious offensive player like this? At 5v5 Heatley is still shooting the lights out and I'm guessing he's a pretty consistent 13-16% shooter at ES, which is again impressive. However, given the underlying numbers, it's probably safe to assume that Heatley has seen his regular season production as an NHL player driven by favourable starting position and high shooting percentages (and of course some pretty decent linemates). I don't think that's really what the Oilers need right now. They need more players that move the puck to the good end first. The problem with a player like Heatley (besides the fact that they're really really expensive) is that your team has to be pretty good already to make use of him. The Oilers aren't there yet in my opinion, so at least with Heatley maybe it's a good the powder is long gone.

As for the rest of the offseason, I'm hoping for a couple of players that drive possession, but I honestly don't know how Tambellini is going to make anything happen. Adding any one player of quality (that is paid commensurate with his ability) is going to require a minimum of 2-3 deals and that's a hard thing to count on. Two players is probably a pipe dream.


Blogger spOILer said...

Nice post, RQ.

There's no question that despite the plethora of talent available, the less cap space you have, the more difficult deals are going to be to make.

Tambellini was complaining before leaving Edmonton that it was difficult to make a trade because of the necessity of matching salaries. What he didn't mention was that it was a problem of the Oilers own making.

6/25/2009 9:43 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

Well, I guess he can't really trash his boss, can he?

The Oilers are going to do something this week. I hope it's not crippling.

6/26/2009 3:34 pm  
Blogger Scott said...

Good post RiversQ. I certainly agree about Heatley. The guy would have been a monster on the pre-lockout Oiler teams that were already pretty good at EV because they didn't have too many people to hide and needed help on the PP. This whole being a "have" team happened a couple years too late for that group (although 2006 was still a nice climax). A real shame.

6/28/2009 12:15 pm  
Blogger Jonathan Willis said...

Nice post, RiversQ. I'm still disappointed that the Oilers didn't commit to a complete rebuild once Pronger and every free agent left town, but they are where they are.

Tambellini seems like a meticulous sort though - I wouldn't put it past him to actually have a plan.

6/30/2009 11:22 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Good stuff again. One thing though is that the teamxfaceoffs.php script doesn't add in the shifts that ended in goals. You have to add them in yourself. So Heatley's zone shift improves dramatically with that in.

Slow and steady is probably the best way to go for the Oilers. Really gunning for Bouwmeester would have made the most sense. Though even if JayBo was hell bent on playing in Alberta, for the life of me I don't know why he would select the Oilers over the Flames even if they had been interested.

Playing in Canada is fun when you're winning, fresh hell if you're not, and the Oilers don't look likely to be world beaters any time soon.

Slow and steady is probably the better course. But if we resign ourselves to the fact that Katz is hell bent on adding a star player, the Oilers could do a lot worse than Heatley methinks.

Also, the OTT playoff run team had already traded away Chara, and were playing the big line power vs power through that season and run. Heatley even referred to his responsibilities against the Crosby line as 'defense first', which stuck with me because it seemed like a tremendous amount of respect for a player who was only 20ish years old and didn't have terrific linemates either. And of course they ended up against Gonchar almost every shift as well.

From a PR perspective, Heatley hasn't helped himself here. But precious few NHL hockey players are salt of the earth types anyways. It is the Canadian way to assume that about players until decisively proven otherwise. But that twisted national delusion shouldn't affect us. And the return in trade seems fair, though it might be a tad rich considering there aren't many suitors.

7/06/2009 7:48 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Also, I agree with Scott. The 03/04 Oilers really were full value for that very good EV+/- rate. The faceoff zones and EV shot rates were right where they should have been. That team had a lot of forwards who could do everything but finish. Heatley would have made a huge difference to that squad methinks, especially the powerplay.

7/06/2009 8:05 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home