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.


Jonathan said...

All good points, and ones that aren't being talked up enough. The Stoll/Reasoner point is, IMO, the biggest of these, but 1 & 2 are downright scary on their own. Toss in the lack of a legitimate shutdown defenseman, and there is a ton of reason for worry.

All this, and expectations have never been higher.

Still, the most troubling thing (from MacT's perspective) has to be the early season schedule. I think he can coax a 6th-8th place finish out of this team, but if they struggle early I wonder if Lowe/Tambellini won't be tempted to axe MacTavish.

Kyle said...

That's a good point, I failed to mention the schedule, specifically the early part. It's going to be a rocky enough road trying to find a replacement for Reasoner and Stoll without having to do it one the road.

I think if the Oilers end up .500 or above upon the completion of the road trip they'll be in good shape, otherwise MacT might need to look out for the guillotine.

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