Bad Assumptions and Lazy Journalism



I think Allan Muir is an excellent sportswriter. I've even said so. But in his latest column, he makes a lazy mistake that has been made by plenty of his colleagues and continues to be made often:

And this was no fluke, not like the Oilers of 2006. From the beginning of the season to the frantic final seconds, this team displayed a level of skill, heart and sheer will that made them worthy representatives of the Eastern Conference.

Why do so many writers make this error? Three reasons- first, the Oilers finished 8th in the west, second, they didn't win, and third, they regressed the following season.

The Oilers 2005-06 record was most emphatically not an indication of the team's talent level.

Just for fun, let's look back at the save percentages of three goaltenders the Oilers used prior to the trade deadline:

Jussi Markkanen - 37 games - .880 SV%
Mike Morrison - 21 games - .884 SV%
Ty Conklin - 17 games - .880 SV%

Despite that collection of talent, somehow the Oilers only ranked 12th in the league in goals-against (interestingly enough, 8th in the west, showing yet again the differences in relative strength in the conferences.) A very modest save percentage (say, the .905 Roli posted after being acquired) would have saved the team 7 goals against. A league average save percentage would have done even more. All year long, the Oilers came up short in that most important position: goal.

Next, an aura of respectability automatically descends on the winner of the Stanley Cup, even if that winner was lucky enough to a) face a team icing three AHL blueliners (due to injury - Doug Janik, Jeff Jillson and Nathan Paetsch) in the conference finals and b) face a team without its starting goaltender in the Stanley Cup finals during its run. The fact that the Oilers managed to stretch the series to seven games after losing Roli and watching first Conklin (game 1) and then Markkanen (game 2) fall apart under pressure was remarkable. Most teams, when spotted a 2-game lead in a 7-game playoff series, make shorter work of their opposition. To be sure, the Oilers got their share of luck, particularaly in the Detroit series (their best opponents in that playoff run, in my opinion) but the Oilers would not have lost that Finals series if Dwayne Roloson had been between the pipes.

Finally, the 2006-07 collapse of the team had many nodding; this is what Cinderella teams do. That's asinine, given the amount of turnover between the 06 finals team and the 07 "we get to draft Gagner!" team. On defence alone, the loss of Chris Pronger, Jaroslav Spacek and Dick Tarnstrom was crippling and was never adequately addressed. Up front, Mike Peca, Radek Dvorak and Sergei Samsonov defected. Injuries to Hemsky, Stoll and Moreau were also damaging. Despite this, the team limped along towards a near-playoffs finish, until the trade of Ryan Smyth and Marc-Andre Bergeron for futures combined with injuries to virtually every Oilers defenceman to send the team into a prolonged slump that didn't end until game 82. At times, the Oilers were dressing 5 rookie blueliners (Gilbert, Roy, Syvret, Young and Bisaillon) as a result of injuries and the aforementioned trades/free agents.

None of these change the fact that the Oilers had a deep, talented squad that absolutely was one of the top teams in the league in the 2006 playoffs by any measure. Smyth, Horcoff, Hemsky, Stoll, and Samsonov combined with Peca, Torres, Pisani, Dvorak to provide a veteran group of forwards that complemented each other nicely and could play any style of game. The defense was equally deep, headlined by the guy who should have brought home the Conn Smythe, Chris Pronger, and veterans like Spacek, Staios, and Smith. Dwayne Roloson played the best hockey of his career in net, and with a group like that, calling their accomplishments "a fluke" is simply wrong.

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