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.


David Moss


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