Thursday, October 30, 2008

Resurrection


About a year ago today Patrice Bergeron was nailed from behind by Randy Jones. He really didn't play again until this preseason.

Bergeron has been a bit of a favorite player of mine, playing on a line with Sidney Crosby on two occasions for Team Canada; the 2005 World Juniors (the dream team, I believe Cory Perry was the third man on that line) and in the 2006 World Championship Team (Brad Boyes was the extra man there).

Bergeron already has quite a few honours in his career: He was the first player ever to win a World Championship gold medal before winning a World Junior Championship gold, he was the tournament MVP for the juniors in 2005, and I'm almost certain that at one point he was the youngest player in the NHL (although I could be wrong here). One of my favourite Bergeron moments comes from 2005 when Ovechkin went to take Bergeron out with a solid check; Bergeron braced himself and hit back (Torres/Phaneuf style) and ended up injuring Ovechkin, taking him out of the game permanently. Pretty impressive.

The good news is that Bergeron is still impressive, really impressive. I was checking up on his desjardins today, and although the sample size is small, Bergeron looks like he's a difference maker.

Quality of Comp: 0.14 (7th)
Quality of Teammates: 0.35 (2nd)
PTS/60: 2.01(5th)
GFON/60: 3.51 (4th)
GAON/60 : 1.51 (9th)
Difference: 2 (4th)

And in regards to the difference, only one player above Bergeron (Sturm) was playing a higher competition - without looking at shift charts I'd guess the two are playing together and are driving each other's pleasant results. (As a side note, Andrew Ference is one of the three ahead of Bergeron in the difference category).

One also has to imagine that Bergeron results would be better if he didn't have a 3.33% shooting percentage. For all those that believe the extreme will tend back to the average over time, Bergeron is due for some god damn goals like Edmonton is due for snow. His NHL average shooting percentage is just above 10%.

Update: Well, it looks like Patrice is back on the scoreboard.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

L-OIL-ty


No doubt I'm late to the party here regarding the whole Oilers/Blogging gong show (for more details check out these two posts or click on any of the fine Oilers blogs on my sidebar) but I must say I had a few general thoughts that haven't totally been covered.

Obviously the whole morality of the incident has been discussed ad nauseum but what's really sad is this horrible feeling of cognitive dissonance that has slaped us all in the face. The bottom line is that I (and probably anyone that bothers to read this amateur's writing) is a pretty big hockey fan. I love hockey in just about all instances - road hockey, shinny, league games, out door rink, on rollerblades, hell, I've even watched some sled hockey and while I hate the sport I've even watched field hockey, because really, who among us can resist watching girls running around in short skirts waving giant sticks and chasing balls?

Hockey is fantastic.

I'm very passionate about the game, and while I'm not the type of guy who goes to a game and starts chanting, I wanted to cry watching two game sevens in two years and losing both of them. I love the Oilers, I love the Flames, and I really love watching Canada.

But there are just some ugly things about the game that are hard to ignore.

The lockout pissed me off to no end. I know a lot of people felt that the owners pleading for a system that made them more money was an insult, but I can't imagine the players themselves could have looked any worse. Day after day we had to listen to Glen Healy and Nick Kypreos make absolutely inane comments about the labour stoppage which at best were idiotic and at worst offensive. Even Jarome Iginla, Mr. All Canadian, the most honest to goodness 'aw shucks' guy that has possibly ever played the game, said something during the lockout that just made me think 'shut the fuck up Jarome.'

It's hard to cheer for someone that presents themselves in such a bad light.

I'm actually a little surprised Flames fans aren't experiencing a little dissonance themselves. Way back when Bertuzzi pounded Moore's brains out, almost literally, I had some mixed feelings. Obviously what Bertuzzi did is pretty indefensible, but I tended to feel that there was some unfortunate circumstances; I've seen a whole lot of really dangerous plays in which someone probably should have been hurt, but for whatever reason, they escaped unscathed. Bertuzzi wasn't the worst one I've seen, it just had the worst result.

For that, rightly or wrongly (I'm not here to judge) Bertuzzi was crucified - none more so than by Flames fans. The pure hatred by Flames fans that I've talked to over the years, as well as the chorus of boos inflicted on Bertuzzi at the 'dome is proof positive of Calgary's general disgust for Bertuzzi. But what's this?

Bertuzzi is now playing arguably the best hockey since the Moore 'incident' and Flames fans have not exactly bit their tongue at his success. The level of embracement of Bertuzzi cannot be overstated, and there's really only one reason - he's helping the Flames win.

I am being a bit unfair here lumping all Flames fans together - I know Kent has taken a fairly dispassionate approach at evaluating Bertuzzi's affect on the game.

In the same sense though I too am just as guilty as Flames fans of the same crime. I have to ignore or forget that lockout and the things that transpired if I am to enjoy the game. Hopefully one day Dave at CinO can forget what was done to him as well so he can go back to enjoying the game. And it is a great fucking game.

Oh, and sorry for the title of this post.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I Saw Alexandre Despatie Last Night

After watching Bertuzzi for a couple games I've truly come to believe that he has been targeted by the refs. While in the overall scheme of karma that makes a lot of sense it also as a principle doesn't really work. Bertuzzi may have been guilty of a very legitimate penalty several years ago but that doesn't mean that he's guilty of some other act.

This point brings me to last night. You can check the play over at CiO (i couldn't find the clip at youtube and I don't know how to steal mikew's great work at saving and uploading that file) and while I think Bertuzzi walked a fine line there I don't think he did anything other than compete for the puck and actually let up a bit at the end.

Johnson on the other hand defies many laws of physics that would be implied with a forward momentum push and drops as if he has literally been shot in the back.

I'm not one of those people who can't reconcile two penalties (the initial call + the dive call) in one play - just because a player dives doesn't mean the initial infraction never happened, so I could've lived with a boarding penalty to Bertuzzi if the unsportsmanlike call had gone against Ryan Johnson.

I'm not going to blame the referee here; it's a fast game. The ref sees 'BERTUZZI' stalking a guy going to the corner, the guy goes flying pretty close to the boards and he looks hurt - it's going to happen.

What I do see as disappointing, is as far as I can tell, there is not going to be any formal review of the issue by the NHL. I want to be very clear about this; I am not a bitter fan railing against losing the game, this call perhaps didn't even affect the outcome. I am just a disappointed fan who hates to see diving, regardless of the perpetrator. Ryan Johnson serves as an example only.

Here, via the NHL website, is the rule on diving:

Rule 64 - Diving / Embellishment

64.1 Diving / Embellishment – Any player or goalkeeper who blatantly dives, embellishes a fall or a reaction, or who feigns an injury shall be penalized with a minor penalty under this rule.

A goalkeeper who deliberately initiates contact with an attacking player other than to establish position in the crease, or who otherwise acts to create the appearance of other than incidental contact with an attacking player, is subject to the assessment of a minor penalty for diving / embellishment.

64.2 Minor Penalty - A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player or goalkeeper who attempts to draw a penalty by his actions (“diving / embellishment”).

64.3 Fines and Suspensions - Regardless if a minor penalty for diving / embellishment is called, Hockey Operations will review game videos and assess fines to players or goalkeepers who dive or embellish a fall or a reaction, or who feign injury. See also Rule 29 – Supplementary Discipline. The call on the ice by the Referee is totally independent of supplementary discipline.

The first such incident during the season will result in a warning letter being sent to the player or goalkeeper. The second such incident will result in a one thousand dollar ($1,000) fine. For a third such incident in the season, the player shall be suspended for one game, pending a telephone conversation with the Director of Hockey Operations. For subsequent violations in the same season, the player’s suspension shall double (i.e. first suspension – one game, second suspension – two games, third suspension – four games, etc.) See also Rule 29 – Supplementary Discipline. (Source)


I think we can clearly establish that Johnson violated Rule 64.1 yet escaped on ice punishment. However, we can see that whether the on-ice officials called a dive or not they are eligible for review by Hockey Operations. So while I cannot place a high level of culpability on the on ice officials, I certainly can do so to Hockey Operations; I don't think there's any other way to say this other than stating 'if this play is not reviewed they clearly aren't doing their job.'

Another issue I have with Rule 64.1 is the harshness of the penalty. First offence is a letter, second offence is a $1000 fine, third is a one game suspension. If that doesn't sound like a joke to you then you must be humourless. On the off chance Hockey Operations reviews the play, and decides it was a dive, they have to do that 2 more times for there to be any in game consequences.

Here's my proposition: For any infraction, first, third, eighteenth, the player receives a one game suspension.

The one game suspension though will not be much of a deterrent; you give Ryan Johnson a one game suspension and how much are the Canucks going to miss him?

For a while the league had some sort of Scarlett letter diving thing, but as far as I can tell that plan fell to the wayside.

If it were up to me I would not simply fine the player, I would fine every member of the team, including coaches. They would all be fined at the nominal fee of $1000 which means that it wouldn't really be hurting their pocketbooks all that much, but it would create an extra incentive to not be hated by your team - it makes the whole organization accountable for the transgression of each individual player. It would hopefully create a self policing system between players. The team should be embarrassed when one of their players embellishes to such an obvious extent.

You might argue that in cases where Hockey Operations gets it wrong upon review, this is an overly harsh punishment, but I would bet the psychological effect of being wrongfully prosecuted (persecuted) would actually have a positive fortifying effect on the team.

Is there something I'm missing here?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Warrenergate



I touched on the subject during the summer, but once again Sutter has brought himself under fire thanks to his mismanagement of Warrenergate.

There was an anonymous commenter over at Kent's yesterday who in my opinion was either: a) an idiot, b) didn't understand the real issue or c) both.

Now it seems to me his/her position was that Kent et. al had no room to rant because they didn't know the whole story, and there was probably some sort of insider information that was the key variable (they then mocked Kent for not being an insider, which he never claimed to be anyway, SWEET!).

They also then commented that Boyd was going to play tonight anyway, so what was the difference?

I'll handle the second point first because it's the simplest to address. The anger wasn't so much because Boyd was sent to QC, it was because it wasn't a hockey decision. By all rights Boyd deserved to be on the team; he's had a great preseason, he was ok last year and he has a great pedigree.

Now onto the first point. Was there some invisible but still legitimate reason Boyd didn't make the team? Well, it was invisible only in the sense it was such a subtle and long process that most people aren't exactly putting the puzzle pieces together. Was it legitimate? Well, that depends on how you look at things; we KNOW it wasn't a hockey decision in the sense that worse players than Boyd made the team instead of Boyd, but it was a hockey decision in the sense that the Flames wouldn't have been able to play because they were above the cap and therefore wouldn't have been able to play (actually, I don't really know the penalty for being over the cap, anyone want to enlighten me?).

Let's recap the (relevant) events leading up to this incident:

Jun 28, 2007: Primeau signed to three year contract

Ok, first of all, the only thing that can be reasonably said to that is 'what the fuck?' It's not that Primeau is terrible, because he's mostly just bad, and it's not like his contract pay rate is so bad either, but why a three year term? Was it really necessary to get Primeau 'locked up' in the sense that he was such a desired player we didn't want him testing the market for fear of losing him? Could the Flames have not just signed him to a one year deal and then evaluated their coffers the next summer and if they were really desperate for centers resign him at that time?

5 Jul 2007 - Eriksson signs two year contract

The next event is slightly related to an even I've left off the list because it's like a negative event in that something didn't happen when it should have, but this signing was made 'necessary' because the Flames decided not to sign Giordano (Giordano was ahead of the fans as Matt notes here). But again, why did the Flames sign this guy to a two year deal? He was a minor role player in one of Detroit's cup wins, played in the RSL for a while, then apparently he's proved he can play in the NHL so much so that Sutter put two year's worth of faith in him? I mean, Sutter partly solved this little problem by hiding it in the AHL but it's just such a bizarre long shot asset management move that you have to think a lot would have had to go right for it to pay off.

Jul 1, 2008: Prust signed to one way contract

Another head scratcher. What had Prust done that had him deserving of a one way contract? I'm not going to go into it because you can't prove a negative but I'm welcome to someone challenging my point.

Jul 2, 2008: Vandermeer signed to three year contract

I think Flames management at least got an appreciation of what Vandermeer brings to the table, but I would say what he brings most of the time is 'toughness' and inconsistency. His first few games in Calgary I would say he was pretty effective, but by playoff time Keenan was utilizing him as a 13th forward. Utility forward/defenceman aren't exactly the most sought after commodity on the hockey market so one has to wonder why that while the coach wasn't really too interested in Vandermeer's skill set the GM was. And interested in it for 3 freaking years. And remember, this is a guy who was traded to Philadelphia last year who took a 1/3 of a season peek at him and decided to pass, and they're not exactly drowning in veteran NHL defenders there...

Jul 20, 2008:Andre Roy signed to contract

This is probably the most perplexing and infuriating move of them all. The Flames finally let Godard go, and then they pick up Roy. I'm not nearly as against the enforcer as is say, Kent, but why? Who is he even protecting on this team? Everyone on the Flames is a fighter. Iginla will fight. Langkow will fight. Regehr, Sarich, Vandermeer, Phaneuf, Primeau, Bertuzzi (watch out for his hook!) etc. etc. It's not even like the Flames are the Oilers with a bunch of undersized kids - this is pretty much a veteran roster, at least all the key components are. This is pretty much a complete waste of money and roster space.

All summer: not unloading Warrener

I mean, this has been discussed ad naseum but I have to say; Warrener is injured. There is no doubt. But he's been playing injured for at least a year, probably closer to two. The man just looks fragile out there, and although he's got the heart of a lion his body is just clearly unwilling. But he is no more injured today than he was on his last preseason game, and he's probably healthier than he's been other times he's played. My guess is that the LTIR move is simply so that he doesn't have to spend the remainder of his hockey days riding a bus in QC. But really, the simple and smart solution would have been to just buy Warrener out. That way he's totally off the books, doesn't have to play in QC; I mean, is being told your body is so messed that you're no longer of use to the team any more humiliating than being bought out? Is this really about Warrener's ego?

So was there a key variable that I, as a fan, missed that was the reason Boyd was sent to the QC (for a day). Not at all - the reason was lack of smart planning by the GM. Hell, I didn't even assault Sutter for not unloading Aucoin or trading for Aucoin, because at least those moves are moderately defendable.

I have to say, Sutter has his strengths, but this whole incident just makes him look dumb or at least overly and stupidly sentimental.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

World of Captains, Ship of Fools


after this mission it will let you go
help you to forget everything and everyone you know
in a world of captains baby, ship of fools
don't you know they're lying when they're telling you it's been all right?

Once again I'm stealing from LT, but it's both an easy an appropriate segway into the subject matter. The lyric by the way is from Near Fantastica from Matthew Good's first solo album Avalanche. This picture of Good is definately before his solo days, I'd put it around 1999 and he's holding one of the most beautiful guitars in the world, a Gibson ES-335 I'd say.

The point of the lyric in this context is thus: Expectations this season for the Edmonton Oilers are about as high as I've seen them in the last 10-15 years, besides from maybe 05-06. Everyone seems to think this is the year, and I think it's at least a somewhat reasonable proposition; the Oilers have some legitimate prospects (Gilbert, Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Grebeshkov, Brodziak) who made real strides near the end of last season, they have a mobile defensive group and a goalie who seems poised to lead.

Expectations probably explain why MacTavish still has a job with the Oilers-this small market franchise with it's limited resources has really only been expected to compete once, and that year MacTavish delivered.

MacTavish has also probably been helped by the fact his good friend Kevin Lowe has been the one evaluating his competency - not saying MacTavish has ever deserved to be fired up until this point but I think lesser GMs would probably have done away with him some time ago - after all, coach is a very time sensitive job.

Here are IMO some of the top reasons fans should be wary about the upcoming Edmonton Oiler season. Bare in mind I am not the only person voicing these concerns but I don't think I've seen them all consolidated in one place as of yet.

1. Garon's Play and Shootout Victories

I think it would be hard to argue Garon didn't have a great season last year, but the question is, can he keep it up? His NHL experience beyond last year was pretty limited - 60 wins and 56 losses over a span of 7 seasons. That included a couple seasons of backup in Montreal with not great .884 SV%, an AHL demotion and then recall for more backup duty the following couple of seasons with Montreal with an outstanding .931 SV%.

Two uneven season in LA with a .901SV% and, impressively, held a winning record, 44 wins and
36 losses.

Last year Garon had 26 wins and 18 losses, although it has to be noted he had 10 shootout wins and stopped 30 of 32 shootout shots.

Garon has a lot of question marks around him; one or two seasons does not a number 1 goalie make. That said, I think Garon is very much worth a gamble; we didn't see a lot of holes in his game last season, but we have to expect him to come back towards the middle of the bell curve. MC79 had a terrific post up just the other day.

The better places on that list have some starrier names. If I was a betting man - and I’m not - my guess for Garon would be pretty close to league average, as opposed to last year, whereas his scaled save percentage for last year was .914. I have a hard time seeing how the Oilers make the playoffs with that, no matter what that knob/idiot Mirtle says. (Source)


I think it's unreasonable to think that Garon will have a similar shootout record this year. I think it will be hard for anyone to ever beat 30 for 32 in a season ever again - that's a mark that we could see stand for many years to come.

The Oilers need regulation wins this year; they will not be as successful this year once time expires.

2. Development Trends

People have this idea in their head that player development is a steady curve, but it's not, at least not always. Some players figure shoot above the curve and they look great short term but end up mediocre long term (look at Angelo Esposito's Jr. records for instance, although he's a very short term example of what I'm talking about). Some players start slow and play uneven hockey year after year until something clicks.

I think Oilers fans have to prepare themselves for the likelihood that one or all of Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Brodziak, Gilbert and Grebeshkov will take a step back for part or all of the year. The glare of the spotlight will be on them this year, and so will the burden of expectations, and rather than having a reduced or more sheltered workload, they will have an increased and heavier workload.


3. The Stoll/Reasoner Workload

I keep referring back to this post by Jonathan which was based on some great work by VF. It shows how heavily MacT relied on Stoll and Reasoner for defensive zone coverage. While Hemsky is the remaining Oiler from 07-08 who played the top competition, it was Stoll and Reasoner who were ranked 1 and 3 last year respectively. And while Hemsky got to play with top quality linemates, Stoll and reasoner were pretty much given the bottom of the rung.

Now somebody has to take over that workload.

Now I'm not saying Stoll or Reasoner did a particularly great job last year; much of the time they got eaten alive. But while they were taking their lumps they were opening up holes for the rest of the roster, holes of opportunity for the likes of Cogliano, Gagner and Nilsson.

Now someone has to pick up the slack, and I'm not sure on this roster who has the horses to do it.

Brodziak and Pouliot are being nominated as centers for the job from various sources, as well as the possibility of Pisani, Cole or Penner on the wings. This is going to be a wild and possibly disasterous experiment.

It might not be worse than Stoll and Reasoner, but I think it's reasonable to think it could go pretty wrong.

4. Healthy Horses
A lot of this year's plans are built around guys with questionable health. Sheldon Souray has historically not been the type of player to lace them up for all 82 games; nor has Hemsky. Eric Cole seems to miss around 15 games a season, and let's not even get into poor Ethan Moreau's last couple of seasons.

I don't necessarily think these guys are the most worrisome of the group - I tend to have this belief that all players get injured eventually. That is, I think we can expect someone unexpected (that is some clumsy phrasing, sorry folks) to get injured. If that's Horcoff or Garon, god help this team.

---

It's not really a bold prediction to say a coach might be fired, but I really think the chips are stacking up against MacTavish this year. He has to deliver on this mission or they'll let him go.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Andrew Cogliano

Andrew Cogliano first came to my attention during Coaches' Corner (see, Don Cherry still does in fact have a purpose) while Grapes was bemoaning the fact the Toronto Maple Leafs skipped over the Ontario native for some 'foreign goalie.' He was partly ignorant by slagging Tuukka Rask who went on to have two stellar World Junior Hockey Championships, but he was also pretty much correct because Toronto traded Rask for Andrew Raycroft, and then of course Rask's first win came against Toronto a couple of years later. Oh, and it turned out Andrew Cogliano is a pretty damn good hockey player.

Cogliano was known as a somewhat offensive guy in the minor ranks and I'll never forget his lack of offence for Canada in those World Juniors. He kept getting top line minutes, tons of minutes and chances ad infinitum, and last but not least, a top gear that was unmatched. The comp that kept coming to my mind was Todd Marchant. Great sense, great wheels, no finish. Turns out that prediction, at least for Cogliano's rookie season, was only 2/3s right.

There's no denying Cogliano had a stellar rookie season, and I think in most seasons it would have been at least Calder nomination worthy. Toews, Kane, Backstrom, Gagner, Price and Cogliano were all probably nomination worthy, but Cogliano isn't flashy like Backstrom and Kane and he wasn't a national hero like Toews, doesn't have the raw talent of Gagner or Backstrom.

There's no denying Cogliano was sheltered by MacTavish last year. He didn't play against high level competition (although he didn't have high level linemates) but somehow he found a way to put the puck in the net - a lot.

All his offensive stats are incredible for a rookie G/60, PTS/60, GFON/60.
His defensive stats, not so awe inspiring. Not surprising for a rookie though.

A couple words of caution though for Cogliano's upcoming season: like Jordan Staal who had an awesome first year offensively, Cogliano has a sky high and possibly unattainable shooting percentage. His shooting percentage was 18.37% last year, while say Iginla averages about 15% on a good year. Staal had a 22% on his first year, while about 7% during his second. Now Cogliano actually has a history of a high shooting percentage with a 26.97% shooting percentage in his final college year. Some in the Oilogosphere have argued Cogliano is predisposed to a high shooting percentage because of the sorts of high quality chances he creates with his speed - whether that's true or not will probably be determined this year.

Another word of caution - with Reasoner and Stoll gone, Cogliano will most likely have to play tougher minutes. If that happens, I think it's fair to say that treading water is probably progress.

Projection: 2nd line
Key Stat: 3rd overall GFON/60

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Craig Conroy

07-08 Projection:

Left the team after FA negotiations with Darryl Sutter fell apart in the summer of ’04, but seems ecstatic to be back. Was inconsistent in his return with the Flames in the spring, occasionally taking bad penalties. Either he has good chemistry with Iginla, or Iginla is so good he makes it look like he has chemistry with Conroy. Can be physical, but isn’t, or at least isn't often enough. Most talkative Flame.

07-08 Evaluation:
As much as I enjoy Craig Conroy, there is little to suggest he isn't on a relatively steep career decline in terms of ability. While the mind seems willing the flesh seems weak. Kent has made it a mission to articulate Conroy's offensive deficiencies and while I don't completely agree with Kent (I believe there are worse options on the Flames as well as better) he does have a very valid point. Conroy should not be on the first line.


While Conroy's behindthenet.ca column here actually looks pretty respectable I think there are a couple of things we need to remember:

Firstly, he was playing with topnotch teammates. Funny enough, Langkow is rated as having better teammates than Conroy which would imply that Langkow was bringing down the line, not Conroy - hey, I guess desjardin's system isn't perfect. The most important teammate anyone on the Flames can have though is Iginla, and Conroy often played with Iginla, and there is no doubt Iginla was hoisting Conroy's numbers up. Other things to note; Iginla always played against the top competition, therefore, Conroy played the top competition.

It is curious of course that Conroy had the top 2nd assists on the team. 2nd assists are a bit of an anomaly because there are so many different ways we can conceive of them happening - while first assists would tend mostly to be a direct intention of a scoring play, a 2nd assist could be as simple as a breakout pass or a dump in. Why does Conroy have the best on the team?

One theory is that it's just pure fluke - someone has to have the most second assists and Conroy just happens to be that person. I think the mostly likely explanation though is that his linemates (Iginla and either Tanguay or Huselius) happen to finish a lot of plays, and judging from the number of 1st assists Conroy has, they finish a lot of plays that he's not directly involved in, at least not puck wise. Anyone disagree?

I've been ragging on Conroy a bit and I really should add that he does still have some value. He reads the play well defensively and is used to playing pretty decent competition. There shouldn't be any reason why he can't be a very competent shutdown guy for the Flames, something the Flames haven't really had for a while.

Projection: 4th line
Key Stat: 1st overall quality of competition

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sam Gagner


It's hard to be anything but positive when talking about Sam Gagner. I liked him the first time I saw him, well before he was on the radar of most Oiler fans, and he hasn't failed to impress since. Beat the odds to make the team one year ago and did enough during that 11 game tryout period to make himself stick throughout the rest of the year.

What sorts of skills does Gagner have? Reads the play well, great positioning instincts, above average hands. What type of skills doesn't he have? Well, you're not going to see Gagner dominate with his physicality, he's certainly not blazingly fast (although he is quick) and he's probably not going to be given a lot of defence first assignments by his coach.

Before I get into the desjardins numbers, I just want to make the note that Gagner did just about as well as can be expected as an 18 year old in the NHL.

The most obvious thing we can take note of here is that Gagner played with pretty much the best linemates on the team and also against some of the softest competition. With that in mind, I think it's fair to say that if he treads water in terms of his counting numbers this year we can call it a win. With the departure of both Marty Reasoner and Jarret Stoll, both of whom were carrying the heaviest loads competition wise, I think it's fair to expect Gagner will have to face tougher competition, at least some of the time.

His offensive categories were relatively pedestrian although that had mostly to do with his lack of goals - making great passes is definitely is definitely his strength.

Finally, one more note - MacT was playing Gagner 4th most of all forwards- the coach has confidence in his rookie, no?

Projection: 2nd line
Key Stat: 1st in quality of teammates

Monday, September 29, 2008

Matthew Lombardi


07-08 Prediction
After a wild first ride in his first season with Calgary, in which he was severely concussed by Derian Hatcher during the playoffs, Lombardi has steadily increased his hockey sense and found ways to use his overwhelming speed to his advantage. Needs to become a better passer and needs more than one move on the penalty shot and shootout (forehand-backhand-fivehole, here’s hoping opposition goalies don’t take note…). Was Canada’s 2nd best forward in the 2007 World Championships playing next to Rick Nash (who was Canada’s best forward), thereby proving he has 1st line potential.

07-08 Evalutation
Despite everything my eye tells me when I watch Lombardi, he just seems unable to create offence. He flies around the ice, he's usually in good position, but he doesn't finish very often. Granted, we know Lombardi has been playing with some pretty poor linemates - but I don't think that's the entire reason he can't seem to put the puck in the net.

Below I have his EV stats, but I'd like to preface them by pointing out that I found Lombardi to be a very good penalty killer, very crafty when a man down.

Lombardi's stats are all so...middle of the road - maybe that's good considering who he was playing with, but I just feel like he should be doing better. He has two stats that jump out at me: His GF/60 is atrocious, while it seems that Keenan didn't pick up on it because he seemed to play Lombardi as much as anyone- more so it seems; his EVTOI/60 was third on forwards.

This year is going to have to be Lombardi's year; Backlund appears to be knocking on the door and the Flames simply have too many centerman. From the sounds of it Lombardi will get every opportunity to play on the second line; if he doesn't grab the position this year and make something of himself, he could become redundant.

for Kent's thoughts, click here.

Projection: 2nd line
Key Stat: 3rd place on forwards for TOI/60

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fernando Pisani

I'm not really sure what the consensus is about this picture, but for my money it was the absolute highlight of the 2006 playoffs. Just when all hope seemed lost Fernando burst in on that break and just wired it. Very few moments in life are as perfect as that one.

Of course everyone knows about Pisani's bout with ulcerative colitis, something will never truly go away but for now (and hopefully for a very long time) it's under control.

It's hard to find a player with such a lack of flair that is as celebrated (at least in the Oilogosphere) as Fernando Pisani. It's like he's some sort of lightning rod of appreciation for both the traditional scouting (he always seems to be in the right place, he does the little things right, he reads the play well) and the great statistical revolution.

The great thing about Pisani is that he proves right those people who appreciate great 'smart hockey.' Substance over style.


Check out these desjardins numbers from Pisani on an injury reduced season. We can see that he was on the bottom third of the roster for teammates, but he was on the top third for quality of competition. Babysitting a bit perhaps?

His GF/60 isn't too shabby either. Of returning Oilers from 07-08 only 3 players were better than him per minute (Horcoff, Brodziak, Cogliano). Strangely Pisani was not very strong on first assists; perhaps the people he was playing with simply weren't finishing off chances very often.

From the sounds of things MacT is looking to put Pisani at center on the third line - IMO it's the forward position needing the most endurance and the most thinking. Pisani should be fine.

Projection: 3rd line
Key Stat: 4th for forwards in Quality of Opposition

Sunday, September 21, 2008

When Bob McKenzie Speaks, I Listen


Popped onto my computer tonight after watching Entourage to write my piece about David Moss and I got a little distracted watching Bob McKenzie's '6 Cities in 6 Days' Calgary Flames 'evaluation.' I pretty much idolize McKenzie, he seems to me to be the far and away best hockey columnist in the world and I think when he says something about your team it pays to pay attention because it's more than likely he heard it from the horses mouth.

Now, McKenzie is saying that as of now, Bertuzzi is going to be accompanying Iginla and Langkow on the top line, while Lombardi will be flanked by Cammalleri and Bourque. It's the placement of three (Lombardi, Cammalleri, Bertuzzi) players out of that six that really interests me.

We know that both Cammalleri and Bertuzzi are used to playing soft opposition at EV, and we know that Cammalleri faired poorly even with top linemates while Bertuzzi did well but with top linemates (going by last year, of course). Judging by McKenzie's remarks, it looks like Keenan will give one (Cammalleri as of now) the soft opposition, while the other guy will get good linemates (Bertuzzi).

Happily, it looks like Lombardi might get a chance with decent linemates, something I think a lot of Flames fans have been waiting for for a long time.

The lines, as of today, look like this:

Bertuzzi - Langkow - Iginla
Cammalleri - Lombardi - Bourque

There is a third option though:

Conroy/Bourque - Langkow - Iginla
Cammalleri - Lombardi - Bertuzzi

Now, the Flames are pretty center heavy, and besides Iginla, there are no wingers who are going to most often outplay the top EV opposition - Bertuzzi and Bourque or Cammalleri could be pretty interchangeable there (except for potentially the offence they bring). On the other hand, Conroy for instance, is used to playing the other team's top opposition - he's playing off position but with so many centermen on this team it's pretty much bound to happen at some point anyway.

The beauty of this lineup is that Keenan can throw the 2nd line over the boards against the other team's muckers and with any luck they should be able to dominate. The skill level at least is overwhelming and Lombardi for sure has some defensive presence of mind in case things get really bad. This line could operate somewhat like whatever line MacTavish throws Gagner and Nilsson on; they play the weaker opposition and ya, sometimes they get caught with their pants down but on average they're probably going to come out on top.

Plus, this gives Boyd a spot on the third line to develop and get his sea legs while Primeau can hang around on the 4th. You could also argue this opens up a spot for Backlund to compete for: that third line one. If Boyd doesn't carpe diem Backlund might be able to get in there - he might also be able to go for the Primeau position but I don't think that would be the best for his development.

The drawbacks? Well I've already mentioned that during road games that second line could get caught out there. Secondly there isn't a lot of players on that line looking to take care of business in their own end - it could get seriously ugly at times. Finally, how hard does this hinder the first line? I would argue the effects of having Bourque out there instead of Cammalleri or Bertuzzi will be perceived to be much bigger than they actually are, but they could nonetheless exist.

Thoughts?

David Moss

07-08

Got his ‘cup of coffee’ in the NHL last season and showed some real potential. Uses his body effectively and plays bigger than his size. Has a pretty good nose for the net, scoring 10 goals in 41 games. Has to show consistency and will have to fight for a 2nd line roster spot this year. This picture is a great example of the way Moss plays – down and dirty.

07-08 Evaluation
Moss had a pretty interesting season mostly because we didn't really get any better idea of what he's capable of than we did during his cup of coffee the season prior. He played through most of the first third of the season, had an ankle injury (missed 14 games), played for another month or so, then missed another 19 games due to a leg injury. One can only assume that during his middle portion or so there that he was still recovering to some degree (getting back into game shape at least) and then same can be said when he returned from his leg injury.

His counting numbers are not impressive. 41 GP, 4G, 11PTS. He's got all the makings of a 4th liner all right.

To my eye though it always seemed as if Moss was getting lots of chances and creating offensive opportunities, if not simply because he just always seems to be 'around.' I don't think my eyes weren't deceiving me too much, but they weren't exactly dead on.


Here we see that he was playing with about the third liners of the team, and while it looks on his offensive categories he may not have been driving results, he was at least keeping pace, which leads me to believe that perhaps if he had better linemates, he'd keep a better pace.

Another thing to note of his offensive abilities regarding last year; his shooting percentage was about 7%, about half of his previous season with the Flames, and a solid 5% or so below his career average. If we can safely say that a player with a high shooting percentage will come down after a good year, can we also not predict that a player with a low shooting percentage will come back up after a year?

David Moss is never going to be a 1st line difference maker or anything like that, but I think if he was put with some speed (Glencross/Boyd) and some smarts he could put the puck in the net once in a while. As long as he stays healthy I believe he could prove his worth this year - one way or the other.

Kent's take on Moss from back in July(!)

Projection: 3rd line
Key Stat: 5th overall PTS/60

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kyle Brodziak

I don't think there's any question Brodziak had, on average, a good year, and although I couldn't prove it, I think he just kept getting better as the year went on. He had 4 G 9PTS +6 in his last 10 games and he just looked good.

According the information compiled by LT, Brodziak looks to be a big part of the future here in Edmonton, and I don't see any reason he's wrong. The only issue is that which he shares with Glencross - not a lot of at bats to judge him by.

Now there's also been some talk (myself included) about Brodziak stepping in and helping to fill the heavy lifting roles vacated when Reasoner and Stoll left town. Tall task indeed.

There's nothing really obvious that jumps out about Brodziak's stats. Firstly, we know he's playing pretty low level competition which makes sense considering his number of at bats, and we also know he didn't play with anyone particularly special. He also, on average, didn't really shut down the opposition at all - he had the worst GAON/60 on the entire team, which to me brings some doubt as to his 'heavy lifting' ability.

His G/60 was pretty damn impressive - 2nd on the team. But even that wasn't enough to come close to outscoring the opposition on average - I mean, his +/- wasn't bad, but if he had been getting, say, Sean Horcoff like ice time, it would have exploded.

Look, I'm not saying Kyle Brodziak isn't a good hockey player - or even that he won't be able to do the heavy lifting - but I think MacT needs to think long and hard about throwing Brodziak into the deep end right away. He still needs some swimming lessons.

Projection: 4th liner
Key Stat: 2nd overall in G/60, last in GAON/60

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Curtis Glencross

This is a picture of Curtis Glencross (center) scoring against the Flames. As I recall that game was in November or so and his whole family came into town to watch it. He 'Stempniaked' the Flames, I believe the Jackets won 3-2 and he scored 2 goals. Ouch.

Glencross had quite a year, especially after he was traded to the Oilers. He only has 71 NHL games under his belt so the sample size is small but what we did see seemed to be something worth watching.


Glencross split games between MacT and Hitchcock but it seems they both utilized him in the same way: throw him out against the other team's bottom rungers and watch him fly.

I ranked him against all of his old Oiler teammates (simply as a matter of behindthenet.ca conveniance) , and while Glencross was playing with the worst teammates against the worst opponents, he must've been winning just about every battle out there. Check out the numbers of this '4th liner.'

2nd overall GF/60
6th overall PTS/60
1st overall GAON/60

Very impressive.

Out of all of Sutter's summer acquisitions, this one has the highest chance of paying off. It's a gamble because despite of all his stellar numbers, there's one dubious number: 71, total NHL games played. That's a pretty small sample size. Despite that I think it's a good gamble - Glencross is exactly the sort of upgrade depth guy the Flames could've used last year.

Here's what Kent and LT had to say about him.

I'd say there's a slim outside chance of Glencross making the 2nd line, but I would think at worst he's a decent 3rd line guy.

Projection: 3rd line
Key Stat: 1st overall GAON/60

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ethan Moreau

07-08 Season Preview
A top notch athlete in terms of strength and conditioning. Moreau has a win at all costs attitude and is very well respected in the dressing room, considered by many to be the future captain of the Oilers. My only issue with Moreau being named captain is that it's hard to lead when you spend only 15 minutes a night (tops) on the ice, regardless, Moreau does not need a 'C' on his shoulder to be a leader. Has tremendous speed and is an excellent forechecker. Is very willing to fight. Has almost zero closing ability which is exemplified by his offensive numbers, but god knows he gets plenty of chances.

Update: October 2, 2007 - Ethan Moreau named head captain of the Edmonton Oilers

07-08 Season Evaluation
First of all I think I'd like to say that I stand behind my earlier argument that there were better choices for captain than Ethan Moreau, only because of his limited ice time, and now obviously, because of his limited healthy time (I still like Steve Staios for that option).

It seems I was only half correct when I said Moreau simply cannot close on scoring chances. While the overall team production (GFON/60) is the absolute worst when the Moreau is on the ice, he's not actually that terrible at putting the puck in the net (6th overall for returning players).


A lot of red overall for Moreau in the offensive categories, but nothing that surprising. What is worth mentioning, and again, something I have ignored for all my other profiles save Nystrom, is Moreau's absolutely terrible corsi number. Now the sample size is pretty small so that could account for some of the issue; to my eye I don't remember Moreau the ice being tilted so heavily toward the Oilers' net when Moreau is on like I do with Nystrom (although that could explain why team production drops so much when he's on the ice). But it doesn't explain why, if the opposition is getting so many shots, his GAON/60 is so fair. Up front he's behind only Stortini and Nilsson. Seems like something doesn't add up.

No reason to expect anything but the same from Moreau this year. I suppose it's possible MacTavish starts off trying out Moreau with some of the heavier lifting - the sorts of situations Reasoner had in the past - but it's also possible Brodziak gets that job and MacT slots him in with Stortini and a newbie on the 4th.

There is a Lebrun article that both Jonathan and LT are talking about where MacT has been hinting at Penner and Moreau on the 3rd line. Let it be so.

Projection: 3rd liner
Key Stat: 3rd forward GAON/60

Monday, September 15, 2008

Eric Nystrom


Unlike Dustin Boyd, we can't put up a photo of Eric Nystrom playing in the World Junior Championship; Nystrom played for Team USA, but that was in 2003 (the relevance of that photo is certainly waining) and besides, google images doesn't seem to have any copies of a photo of Nystrom in Team USA digs if any in fact exist.

Another difference between Nystrom and Boyd is that at 25, I think we can safely assume Nystrom has finished his growing pains. What we now see is what we're going to see for the rest of his career.

Not that what we see now is all bad. I think Nystrom has carved himself out a nice little niche as a 4th line energy guy - he crashes, he bangs, he cycles. He must be used sparingly though.

Nystrom isn't really in the red in any categories (good) but he certainly isn't in the green (bad). One thing that moderately concerns me but I haven't really discussed among any other player is Nystrom's corsi number - it's worse than any other player on the team. Now to my eye there is a lot of running around on Calgary when Nystrom is on the ice, and there are a lot of shots against. Certainly the corsi number supports that idea.

I think though if you put Nystrom out there with some half decent defensive guys he could be ok. His GAON/60 really isn't that bad, its certainly not as bad as the corsi number would suggest, so maybe the shot totals are up but the shot quality is down. There's hope anyway.

Projection: 4th line
Key Stat: 3rd ranked forward GAON/60.

edit: I would be negligent to forget to include Kent's take on Nystrom from back in August which is better than my own.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dustin Boyd

Dustin Boyd played for Team Canada during one of their last 4 straight World Junior Championship wins, the second one in fact. This team was notable for a few things; one year after the dream team (Getzlaf, Phaneuf, Crosby, Richards etc), they played in Canada, two notable or infamous players were on that team, Steve Downie (who was fantastic) and Luc Bordon (RIP). Note, Andrew Cogliano also played on this team.

Boyd wasn't half bad himself; he scored 3 goals in the round robin (although none in the final 2 playoff games). At the time it seemed he had a bit of a scoring touch, could be a nice little 2nd liner.

Boyd hasn't been great.

There's probably a lot of reasons for his results: Firstly, Keenan has been playing him with just about the worst teammates possible. Not the absolute worst but pretty near the bottom. Secondly, Boyd is just young. He turned 22 in July so it's not really surprising he's unseasoned; Boyd needs time to develop, and he needs decent teammates to do it with.

I think the most interesting thing when you look at Dustin Boyd's desjardins numbers is that his point production is far ahead of where you would expect it to be given his linemates. Now, he doesn't pass Matt's 'line in the sand test' but the only players left on the Flames who did happened to be playing with Jarome Iginla (or happen to be Jarome Iginla).

Now, I'm not necessarily saying Boyd is going to jump out and score 25 goals this year, but prorate his effort last year we get close to 20. The Flames have virtually no scoring depth, so I think it would make sense to at least try playing him on one of the top two lines on a trial basis.

Obviously he's going to need someone on the line who can teach him to play defence, but Boyd still has promise. I think it's time to invest some playing time in him.

Projection: 3rd line
Key Stat: 2nd overall GF/60

Addendum: It's been a couple months since I last read Kent's musing on Boyd but he agrees with me (or I agree with him). Great minds I hope.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Zack Stortini

This is a picture of Zack Stortini training with 'the Mandelbaums' (as LT has dubbed them) apparently setting up for a power clean (note his grip width is too narrow for a snatch and his double overhead indicates he's not going to deadlift, although I think a regular clean is just as likely). There was a lot of talk during the offseason about what sort of money Stortini would be willing to take to play for the Oilers given his limited role/ability but that's all been cleared up so all is good from the Stortini camp.

Watching Stortini last year I think we saw something of a transformation in his game. He started the season and indeed his career playing a chicken with his head cut off style but his role was narrowed and focused as the season progressed last year and he turned into a pretty effective energy guy/agitator and arguably, even shutdown.

It's obvious looking at the numbers that MacT isn't exactly comfortable throwing Stortini out there against anyone; he's dead last on the team in terms of even strength ice time per game. He's also 2nd to last in terms of the competition he faced.

The good news is that Stortini did ok with the job he was given. His teammates were among the worst on the team but they were doing a fantastic job at keeping the puck out of their own end. Stortini was the very best in the team in fact.

I have to admit I'm a Zack Stortini fan; he doesn't fight well and he's not overly skilled, but he found a way to be a very useful player for the Edmonton Oilers.

Projection: 4th liner
Key Stat: 1st overall GAON/60

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Marc Antoine Pouliot

This picture appears to be taken shortly after Pouliot was drafted and I must say, his chances of making an impact on this team were probably a lot higher that day.

I think Pouliot did a not bad job during his spot duty during the 2nd half of 06-07 (46GP, 7G, 11PTS) and it just seemed like he was never really given a shake in 07-08. I think he actually did ok though.
He's got some red exploding out from those desjardins numbers but it's not entirely bad. MacT played Pouliot against the softest competition but he also played him with the worst teammates. Pouliot wasn't dominating his competition but I'd say he was at least hanging in there.

Some Oilers fans (and bloggers) have been proposing Pouliot's best chance to make a real impact is to take Stoll's position as the shutdown centerman; I have to agree. There simply isn't any room for him on one of the top two center positions right out of training camp, (between Horcoff, Gagner and Cogliano) so Pouliot has to beat out Kyle Brodziak on that third line.

He's not going to do it with pure offensive ability; Brodziak was certainly outscoring him; Brodziak also had a better FO% (51.5% - 47.7%) and took more ( 3.7/g - 1.8/g). I don't know Pouliot's FO data, but Jonathan has some that show MacT was putting Brodziak in more own zone faceoff situations than any other rookie.

With all that being said, I'd say Pouliot's chances of being the shutdown guy aren't good.

Projection: 4th line center
Key Stat: last on forwards in Goals/60

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Marcus Nilson



Marcus Nilson is not a terrible hockey player. He's been grouped with a couple of players that are pretty much terrible (Eriksson, Warrener) but he's easily the class of that group. He scored 4 goals and 6pts for Sweden in this year's World Hockey Championships which to me shows that he must still have some gas left in the tank (more goals by the way than he had all year for the Flames). How much gas is of course up for debate.
I don't think we can claim that Mike Keenan was putting Nilson in a tremendously bad position. He was playing the absolute worst competition and at times his linemates were downright middle of the pack. Certainly he wasn't getting a lot of icetime, but I think Keenan was justified in restricting Nilson's icetime.

The best thing that can be said about Nilson, and it can't be said of everyone, is that he wasn't drowning in his position. He was at worst treading water and if his job is to stop his opponents from scoring he is succeeding.

Projection: 4th liner
Key Stat: 1st overall in GAON

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dion Phaneuf

07-08 Prediction:
Had an up and down season in 06-07. Opposition began to compensate for Phaneuf’s presence on the blueline, but he still managed 17 goals, 4 game winners. Destroyed Denis Hamel early on in the year with a thundering check, but was quieter than his rookie year. Did not mesh well with Robyn Regehr. Ice time increased. Asked to play a pure shutdown/containment role for Canada in the World Championships, Phaneuf was nothing less than spectacular.

07-08 Evaluation:
Phaneuf's counting numbers continued their increasingly impressive rise to 17 goals and and 60 points. I don't think he had any single highlight reel hits this year but that's ok, I'm more concerned with his actual defensive presence.

I don't think there was any better illustration of Phaneuf's shortcomings than in the playoffs against San Jose. While there was no doubt he was contributing offensively (3G, 7PTS), it was nothing less than heart attack hockey seeing him go against Joe Thornton. It's unfair to accuse Phaneuf of not being strong enough, but quite frankly, he just couldn't handle Thornton, especially down low. There's no shame in that obviously, Thornton is one of the league's elite. It just appears that Phaneuf isn't, at least when it comes to defensive zone coverage. Not yet anyway.Looking at behindthenet.ca numbers I think we can get a bit of a year long illustration of what I'm saying. His offensive numbers are all stellar, (1st in GFON for defencemen, 1st in pts/60 for defencemen, etc). He's obviously a workhorse (1st overall in EVTOI/60) but I have to think that at least some of his totals are because of the fact he gets top notch teammates.

The disappointing part of the behindthenet.ca numbers come in the fact we can see he's facing 2nd tier opposition and not really stopping them from scoring goals. He's not even in the first half of defenceman in terms of opposition shutdown ability.

Right now Phaneuf is a very good defenceman, but if he ever hopes to win that Norris he was nominated for he needs to tighten up his defensive zone coverage.

Projection: number 1 defenceman
Key Stat: 1st for defenceman in GFON and PTS/60

Sheldon Souray

07-08 Prediction:

Appropriately labeled a 'chaos defender' by Lowetide. Is often as likely to cause a goal against as a goal for. Has given up a couple of unsightly highlight reel one on one situations, although cut down on that 'issue' in the most recent season. Has an absolute boomer from the point and a real mean streak. Is a physical presence. Appears to be well respected by players. Is absolutely not as good a player as Ryan Smyth despite his pay scale.

07-08 Evaluation:
I must admit, looking back, I've been a bit hard on Souray. I think everything I wrote about him in my 07-08 prediction holds pretty true, but when he first went down with shoulder trouble last season I made the comment that the Oilers were probably better off without him playing. His counting totals weren't very impressive and he seemed to be on for a lot of goals against. From that point on Souray really only made cameo appearances for the Oilers, but he was surprisingly effective. Bare in mind this is an extremely small sample size.

Sure, his GFON was brutal (worst for defenceman, 2nd worst on the team), but look at his competition and his teammates; MacT was giving Souray pretty tough assignments and making him babysit his linemates - surprisingly he pretty much came out on top. MacT wasn't totally throwing him under the bus like Stoll or Reasoner (or Staios) judging from IOF's handy little graph, but he was obviously being challenged.

Souray's most promising statistic? His GAON - 3rd on the team and first for defenceman. Isn't that supposed to be his weakness?

Obviously last year could have been an anomaly both in terms of play and in sample size, so this year will be a real test for Souray.

Still, I'd rather have Smyth.

Projection: 1st pairing defenceman
Key Stat: 3rd overall GAON, 1st for defenceman