The missing link

I know the pieces fit cuz I watched them tumble down
No fault, none to blame it doesn't mean I don't desire to
Point the finger, blame the other, watch the temple topple over
To bring the pieces back together, rediscover communication

 

Tool -- Schism

*****

I cited this tune over at Lowetide's place the other day, finding some of Maynard James Keenan's lyrics resonated with the (hotly-denied!) reports of a rift in the Oilers' room and with the state of the roster in general. Rather than dally with the rumours or try to divine the true intelligence behind Ethan Moreau's remarks, I focussed on matters of record, namely birth certificates. These reveal a stunning gap where the heart of the roster should be. To recap the findings of my previous post, here are Oilers players and GP by age group through 78 games in 2008-09:

Age
Group ..... # ..... GP ... AvGP .. %team
----------------------------------------
36-39 ..... 1 ..... 61 ..... 61 ..... 4%
33-35 ..... 3 .... 217 ..... 72 .... 15%
30-32 ..... 8 .... 332 ..... 42 .... 22%
27-29 ..... 1 ..... 20 ..... 20 ..... 1%
24-26 ..... 9 .... 443 ..... 49 .... 30%
21-23 .... 10 .... 343 ..... 34 .... 23%
18-20 ..... 1 ..... 72 ..... 72 ..... 5%

----------------------------------------
Total .... 33 ... 1488 ..... 45 ... 100%

I have added two columns. The first is simply the average number of GP for players in the given age group; the second expresses the percentage of team GP for each age group. Here's a crude graph showing that % of GP distribution, featuring a very odd double-peaked curve.


That looks not so much like a team, but two different ones.

Comparison is the next stage of the analysis; it is obvious at first glance that the current age distribution is out of the ordinary, but how much so? Surely the place to start is with the '05-06 Oilers, the last time we know the pieces fit. Here was the distribution by age of the House of Cards that Kevin Built.


Age
Group ..... # ..... GP ... AvGP .. %team
----------------------------------------
36-39 ..... 2 ..... 56 ..... 28 ..... 4%
33-35 ..... 2 ..... 43 ..... 22 ..... 3%
30-32 ..... 9 .... 536 ..... 60 .... 34%
27-29 ..... 9 .... 472 ..... 52 .... 30%
24-26 ..... 7 .... 235 ..... 33 .... 15%
21-23 ..... 6 .... 204 ..... 34 .... 13%
18-20 ..... 3 ..... 25 ...... 8 ..... 2%
----------------------------------------
Total .... 38 ... 1571 ..... 41 ... 100%

In each column there's a fairly normal Bell curve with a single peak. Almost half (18 of 38, or 47%) of the players who suited up for the Oil during that chaotic season were between 27 and 32; moreover the same group played more games per player than the other groups; combine the two and the 27-to-32-year olds played fully 64% of the games. It's an interesting contrast to 2008-09, where not only is that huge hole at the age 27-29 level, but the distribution within groups is strange. Players over 33 averaged 70 GP; those between 27-32 averaged just 39. In 2008-09 the 27-32 y.o. group comprised just 27% of the full roster and played only 23% of the games. Let's compare the two graphically, with the 2005-06 Oilers represented in copper, the '08-09 squad in blue.


There are superficial similarities between the central curve of the '05-06 Oilers and the younger lobe of the current version, but there is a 5-year difference in maturity. More generally, the above starkly demonstrates the '08-09 Oilers have far more players near the beginning or end of their careers, while the '05-06 club had a critical mass of players near their peak.

Of course the 2005-06 regular season Oilers that stumbled and bumbled their way to 8th place was different from the leaner version that was wildly successful in that same post-season. Some guys were traded off mid-season; others who had a cup o' coffee at some point were out of the mix come playoff time, as was the case with all three 20-year-olds (Pouliot, Jacques, Syvret).

Age
Group ..... # ..... GP ... %team
--------------------------------
36-39 ..... 1 ..... 18 ...... 4%
33-35 ..... 1 ..... 24 ...... 5%
30-32 ..... 9 .... 169 ..... 37%
27-29 ..... 8 .... 130 ..... 28%
24-26 ..... 4 ..... 74 ..... 16%
21-23 ..... 2 ..... 42 ...... 9%
18-20 ..... 0 ...... 0 ...... 0%
--------------------------------
Total .... 25 .... 457 .... 100%

The 27-32 y.o. set comprised 68% of the active players and played 65% of the games, while the under-24s played an even smaller role with only Hemsky and Greene getting a sniff of playoff action. I won't show a graph, which varies but little between regular season and playoffs. I have noted for future reference that playoff rosters might provide a more streamlined methodology, a little less clutter with fewer players and a more constant "best possible" line-up. Of course, for that method to work the team in question has to actually make the @#$%^&* playoffs.

Which brings us back to 2008-09, where it's instructive to compare the Oilers with the competition. I'm using brute force, not code, so won't do the whole league. Let's just compare with geographic rivals and Northwest Division co-leaders Calgary and Vancouver. Here I have reduced each team to just the number of players in each age category, and the percentage of GP for each group.

Age ..... Edmonton .. Vancouver .. Calgary
Group ... # / %team . # / %team . # / %team
-------------------------------------------
36-39 ... 1 // 4% ... 1 // 3% ... 1 // 5%
33-35 ... 3 / 15% ... 3 // 8% ... 3 / 12%
30-32 ... 8 / 22% ... 3 / 14% ... 6 / 23%
27-29 ... 1 // 1% .. 13 / 38% ... 6 / 20%
24-26 ... 9 / 30% ... 5 / 16% .. 11 / 30%
21-23 .. 10 / 23% ... 7 / 21% ... 5 / 11%
18-20 ... 1 // 5% ... 0 // 0% ... 0 // 0%
-------------------------------------------
Total .. 33 /100% .. 32 /100% .. 32 /100%

The Oilers have gotten more GP out of guys 33 and older than either rival, and more GP from guys 23 and younger. In the middle both divisional rivals far outstrip the Oilers; note the 13 players Vancouver has used in the 27-29 group, compared to Edmonton's 1. Calgary's curve peaks a little younger, but fully 73% of their games have been played by players aged 24-32, compared to 68% for Vancouver and just 53% for Edmonton. Here's a graph showing Vancouver in green, Calgary in red, Edmonton in blue.

Next year Dustin Penner and Tom Gilbert -- dangerously assuming either is still around -- will turn 27; Pouliot, Jacques, Stortini, Reddox and O'Sullivan all "graduate" to age 24, and their whole generation of players will be one year older and presumably better. At the same time, Sheldon Souray, Lubo Visnovsky, and Fernando Pisani all turn 33, Steve Staios turns 36, and lest we forget, Dwayne Roloson turns 40. Whatever the validity of my artificial brackets, it's pretty tough to argue those guys on the far side of 30 will be getting much better; they'll just be getting older. The wheel of time keeps turning, but given the void of players cycling through the top of the career curve ours seems to be missing an axle.
It is incumbent on Oilers management to address this gaping hole in the coming l-o-n-g off-season. Such a hole cannot be readily filled from within.

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