Not ready for prime time

age

For quite some time I have had a pet peeve about the make-up of the Oiler roster. Too many young unproven guys, too many old expensive guys, and nowhere near enough prime-of-career guys. I wrote this and this on the subject last April, noting the gaping hole in the middle of the age spectrum. What has changed so far in 2009-10?

Let's look at the forwards. So far this season Oilers have already used 19 (!) of them. I have divided them into 5 groups, by hockey age (as of Feb 1, 2010, as defined by Hockey-reference.com):

Entry level (age 20-22): Cogliano, Gagner, O'Marra
Developing (age 23-25): Brulé, Jacques, McDonald, Nilsson, O'Sullivan, Potulny, Reddox, Stone, Stortini
Prime (age 26-28): Hemsky, Penner
Late prime (age 29-31):  Comrie, Horcoff, MacIntyre
Veterans (age 32-34):  Moreau, Pisani

If that seems like a lot of developing players, it is. Let's check out the distribution by number of players, number of GP given those players, and percentage of ice time.  

Age #fwds %fwds %GP %TOI
20-22 3 15.8% 17.5% 17.3%
23-25 9 47.4% 43.8% 39.8%
26-28 2 10.5% 15.3% 19.5%
29-31 3 15.8% 13.4% 14.6%
32-34 2 10.5% 10.0% 8.8%

(The same categories are represented by the blue, red, and green lines respectively in the graph up top. Sorry for its poor quality, although it's much better if you click to view it in full size. New and improved!)

Pat Quinn has ridden his prime time horses -- both of them -- pretty much as hard as he can. Still, for every minute one of them spends on the ice, younger players have received nearly 3 minutes. So what have all these developing players done with said ice time? Results after the jump ... 

 

Age G/GP P/GP +-/GP G/60 P/60 +-/60
20-22 0.14 0.45 -0.08 0.58 1.82 -0.07
23-25 0.16 0.40 -0.23 0.73 1.77 -1.07
26-28 0.45 1.06 +0.36 1.41 3.34 +1.16
29-31 0.23 0.44 -0.20 0.86 1.64 -1.12
32-34 0.13 0.22 -0.07 0.57 1.00 -0.29

No surprise to see Penner and Hemsky with massively greater production on a per-game basis. Even parsed on a per-minute basis their goals and points output is roughly double all of their teammates. No adjustments have been made to account for powerplay time, which obviously will favour those players. That said, the starkest contrast of all can be seen in the plus/minus columns, where the prime timers have been awesome while all other groups have bled goals against. This is particularly noticeable in the age 23-25 bracket, where several still-not-ready-for-prime-time players have posted some underwhelming numbers at both ends of the rink: Robert Nilsson, 1 goal, -12; J.F. Jacques, 2 goals, -9; Patrick O'Sullivan, 4 goals, -11. Ouch, ouch, and more ouch.

I'm not for a moment suggesting that if the Oilers added a couple more players in their prime years they would produce on the level of Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky. I do, however, think the team would benefit from having something resembling a "cluster" of players around those peak years. It was a problem identified last year, and one that was hardly solved with the addition of Mike Comrie

Without getting into a statistical breakdown on the blueline, it is readily apparent that the Oilers have another big split in the experience levels of their players. Of the 8 players with 10+ GP, four of them are currently age 26 or younger (Gilbert turns 27 in January), and the other four age 33 or older. Only 29-year-old Dean Arsene (2 GP) fills the void in between those two groups. And in goal it's more of the same, where the choice is between old and breaking down or young and inexperienced.

On the roster as a whole, the Oilers have already used 31 players in 2009-10. Just 5 of those players -- Penner, Horcoff, Comrie, Arsene, and the departed Steve MacIntyre for goodness sake -- are currently between the ages of 27-32.

Early results suggest it is not a recipe for success.

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