Oilers Roundtable, Part II - The halfway point.

It's all gone very, very bad.  In fact, it's gone the way that most of us expected it would, the injuries have pushed the team down three or four spots further down in the standings than most predicted finishing spots.  All of our worst fears about the terrible Khabibulin deal came true, all of the teeth-gnashing over the lack of real forwards was warranted and the lack of organization depth decried by most has been exposed in a big way  WIth that, The Copper & Blue brings back the fan's roundtable with one question:  How can this be fixed?

Our lineup includes: the prolix Shepso, combining modern western philosophy and hockey at Bringing Back The Glory, with his co-writer BCB another of our contributors for this edition.  Chappy, owner of This is Not a Love Song (if it's about the Oilers it's a Blues song - and a bad one at that); HBomb, everyone's favorite bartender in the Oilers' 'sphere;  Dawgbone, one of our favorite writers in the sphere writing at After The Green Light; Woodguy, the level-headed and even-keeled commenter at LT's place; and SumOil, the most frequent commenter here and the biggest optimist that any of us know. 

Find the entire series here, tagged with 2010 general manager's roundtable.

Woodguy, Shepso and BCB have their go after the jump.

C&B:  How can this be fixed?

 

Woodguy:  How can this be fixed? To figure that out, we need to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with the Oilers.  A very basic look at this uses BTNs team scoring and defending rate stats at even strength and special teams to find out where they lack in comparison to the rest of the league.

The Oilers, currently the 29th team in the NHL in points, are:
-tied 8th in even strength scoring rates with 2.5 GF/60 5v5
-tied 26th in even strength defending rates with 2.8 GA/60 5v5
-tied 14th in powerplay scoring rates with 6.3 GF/60 5v4
-are 27th in penalty kill defensive rates allowing 8.5 GA/60 4v5

A healthy Hemsky brings their offensive placing up, especially 5v4.  So, on the surface of it, the Oilers can score well enough to make the playoffs, but defensively they are a basket case.

To see what constituted good defensive teams, I looked at the top 5 5v5 GA/60 teams, and the top 5 4v5 GA/60 teams in the league to examine the players on these teams who play the toughest 5v5 minutes, and the most 4v5 minutes on these teams.  There were 2 distinct types of names that showed up when looking at these teams:

1) Good NHL Vets: Rob Neidermayer, Jay Pandolfo, Paul Martin, Colin White, Jamie Langenbrunner, Radim Vrbata, Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, Rene Bourque, Nigel Dawes, John Madden, Zbynek Michalek, Petr Prucha, Tim Connolly, Henrik Tallinder, etc.  
-This type of player usually has 6+ of full time NHL experience, do not bleed against good NHL players and can kill penalties.  Most are not considered "expensive", the exceptions being teams that run Power vs. Power like Iginla/ Jokinen from Calgary and Pominville/Connolly from Buffalo.

2) Solid/Exceptional NHL’er usually in their mid 20’s: Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Troy Brouwer, Martin Hanzal, Jason Pominville, Tyler Myers (19 years old!) etc.
-This type of player is usually one of the best NHL players of their age given that they handle tough assignments without the benefit of too many years of experience.  These players are usually draft picks of the team they are playing for; it is very rare to be able to trade for one unless you are very lucky or overpaid dearly for them.

These two types of players are in very short supply on the Oilers. The Oilers only have 2 players who can be considered the Good NHL Vet:

Shawn Horcoff (having a dismal year, but has the history of doing well against tough comp), and Sheldon Souray.  (who really only had one full season out of three with the Oilers of doing well vs. tough comp)

The Oilers only have 3 players who fall into the "Solid NHL’er in the mid 20’s category: Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner and Tom Gilbert.  Penner and Gilbert are both 27 and a little old for "mid 20’s), but since both players went to college their NHL histories are too short to be true "Vets". Penner has been hidden from really tough comp this year, but that is now changing.  Gilbert has managed to outscore/stay even 5v5 the toughest QualComp of the Oilers defensemen while playing with worst QualTeam of Oiler defensemen this year.  Quite an achievement on this team for sure.  Ales Hemsky (who doesn’t kill penalties and was having a career year with one arm when it fell off at game 22).  He is in his 7th NHL season, you can call him a Vet, but he is only 26 so I put him in this category.

So, the Oilers only have one line that can play against actual NHL players.  It’s no wonder that they lose more than they win!  Who on the Oilers are supposed to be the defensive "Vets", but are failing?

Moreau- no longer capable of playing tough minutes as has been documented endlessly on the Oiler blogosphere
Staios – see Moreau
Strudwick – Your 7th defenseman by definition isn’t going to be as good as the other 6 but he is drowning against the worst QualComp on the team.  He is done as an NHLer.

These players must not be in training camp next year.  Do not resign Strudwick.  Trade Staios (I firmly believe he has some value, especially at the deadline)  If you cannot trade Moreau, then he must be told that should he show up to camp next year, he will be cut and sent to the AHL.  I’m sure they can soften the blow somehow by keeping him as a scout or in some capacity where he doesn’t interact with actual players.  Perhaps Mr. Katz can pay him his full contract not play through one of his companies and hide this from the NHL and NHLPA.

Is that all the defensive veterans?  Unfortunately it is. The only other player on the team who qualifies as a veteran is Lubomir Visnovsky and he is not run out against the toughest comp, but is used as an outscorer against weaker comp (and fills that role very well), so he really doesn’t qualify to be in this exercise of finding the defensive failings of the Edmonton Oilers. The greatest failure of management is that they have let their team exist bereft of veteran NHL players who can take on the best of what the competition has to offer since they made their run to the Stanley Cup Final.  Not coincidentally the Oilers have missed the playoffs all 4 years.  These players also tend to be handy in teaching the younger players how to play in the NHL.  Not seeing any progress in the younger players?  Look hard at the older players who are their role models (Moreau) or look at the holes in the lineup that should be filled with vets.

So, who are the Oilers good young NHL’ers who run against tough minutes but are failing?  

LW - JFJ – 24 years old, toughest minutes of any LW.  Abysmal NHL player.  Do not offer him a new contract.  You will lose his toughness, but he is a giant black hole who sucks everyone down with him.
RW – Patrick O’Sullivan – 24 years old.  2nd toughest RW minutes.  As others have written, he may have been caught in the JFJ vortex of suck but by the eye and by the numbers he has failed.  The Oilers may be trying to put a square peg in a round hole by having him play the toughest minutes.  Now that Pisani is back, his minutes may be a little easier.
C – Ryan Potulny – 25 years old.  Surprise!!!  Given that O’Sullivan has played 3 forward positions, but currently plays RW, Ryan Potulny plays the 2nd toughest minutes of any Oiler center and he has all of  80 NHL games under his belt.  He is not drowning and that is a very good thing for the Oilers, but he is not the player the need now to take this role.  Maybe down the road, but not today.  Keep him.
D – Denis Grebeshkov – Grebs is playing the 5th toughest minutes of the Oilers defence, but is put here because Smid  (who is 4/7) regularly plays with Visnovsky against the soft competition and Grebeshkov has been playing 2nd toughs with Staios.  How much of his defensive struggle are due to playing with his usual partner?  Tough to say.  Grebs is not having a good year and seems to be having trouble adapting to the new Quinn/Renney break out system.  He may be redundant if you are keeping Visnovsky and Gilbert on a team that needs to bolster its defensive play, but if you are wanting to run 1 "offensive" and 1 "defensive" defensemen he may have a home here.

Goaltending

Is there a worse free agent signing this year than Khabibulin for 4 years?  Many say no, and I agree.  There is not a lot that can be done at this position given the cap and Khabby’s over 35 contract status.  There have been teams keeping players on LTIR for over a year, but he still has 3 years left on this deal.  I do not think you could get away with 3 years of LTIR.  The best you can do is hope he gets better for next year.  You can try to trade him, but I’m not sure there are any takers, and for the purpose of this article, will assume no one takes him.  Khabibulin has regained form after injury before, but this is a long serious injury, and he is old.  With a good enough team in front of him, he may do well.  Let us pray.
 
It is very clear that what is primarily wrong with the Oilers is the lack of players who can successfully play the tougher minutes, particularly forwards.  The cupboard is not bare.  Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner, Gilbert and Souray can do it and outscore.   Unfortunately, there is no  2nd group of forwards to handle the next toughest minutes and it looks like Souray is on his way out of town (perhaps not a moment too soon given his drop off from last year)

Here are the Oilers who are in the current line up, and where they play on my team next year.  Lines and pairing are listed by toughest to easiest minutes so my 2nd line is more of a tougher defensive veteran line than a line that is relied upon to score:

Forwards:  
Penner – Horcoff – Hemsky
x(vet)-x(vet)-Pisani
x-Gagner-Nilsson
Stone – Potulny-Stortini
x, Pouliot

Re-sign Pisani for $750Kish.  This is exactly the type of contract and player that is mentioned above, a veteran NHL’er playing tough minutes for a cheap contract.

Nilsson is starting to earn the $2m/yr and has stopped drowning against tougher comp.  He has done the disappearing trick before, but I am loathe to give up on this version of Nilsson right now.  If Eberle comes to camp and eats his lunch, that is one thing, but it would have to happen for me to make the change. I am not handing that spot to Eberle and prefer him to start in the AHL next year unless he honestly wins the spot at camp.

I still like Pouliot (God help me).  He was the best defensive center in Oiler camp this year, can play wing, has tools to also put the puck in the net.   I’m re-signing him to the minimum possible and giving him another chance.

Defence:
x-Gilbert
Smid-Visnovsky
Peckham-x(vet)
Arsene/Other for extra D

Souray is on his way out.  If the goal is to add more defensive defensemen than Grebs should be traded as well.  Smid and Vis will need to step up and take the secondary toughs role. Bring in new older vet for 7th D, let Arsene/New older 7th vet and anyone else have a real competition for that spot.


Goaltending:
Khabibulin
One of JDD/DD

The above roster has a salary cap number of 39.35M This assumes:

Gagner signed at 3.0M
Pouliot signed at 1M
Pisani singed at 750K
Stone signed at 800K
Potulny signed at 1M
Arsene signed at 500K (or OTHER may be someone like Mike Weaver for $800K using $800K for cap calculation)
JDD/DD 800K

I believe these numbers to be realistic given performance and what other have guessed.

Oilers signed (or Oilers have RFA rights) through next year not on the above roster:

JFJ, Do not re-sign
Moreau – Trade, bury in minors, retirement (no expected return)
Cogliano – Duplicated skill-trade – upgrade 1D/2LW/2C/3LW in package.
Comrie – Do not re-sign
Brule – Duplicated skill -trade – possibly for veteran 2C or part of Souray trade.  You can keep Brule and trade Nilsson if you figure that’s best.
O’Sullivan – Trade.  Take what you can get to free up cap space.  If you can get 2C I’ll kiss you.  If no one wants the contract he plays in the AHL  (thanks for the unlimited budget Mr. Katz!)
Staios – Trade at deadline for whatever you can get.  Always a market for defenseman at the deadline.  If no deal possible, see Ethan Moreau
Souray – Key trading chip, probably with other players to get key player 2/3 LW/1D/2C
Grebeskhov-Too expensive when Gilbert and Visnovsky are on the team.  Can package together for 2LW/2C/1D with Cogliano/Brule/prospects.

So, you have Souray/Cogliano and Grebeshkov/Brule to trade (perhaps with prospects) to get back 2 good NHL players who can play against tougher competition.  A Brenden Morrow type to play 2LW or 2C would be a home run. This team needs quality leadership and you are shipping out the best leader on the team in Souray, so you need that type back.  I think this team has enough scoring to be a playoff team (with Hemsky in the line up)  Play this person with Pisani and Center X.

The other key cog you trade for is 1D.   

The other way to go on LW may be correct depending on who is available.  If you can get a Jamie Benn (can you tell I love all of Dallas’ LW?) then you take that deal even though it doesn’t immediately address the defensive issue and play that player with Gagner and Nilsson.

You have 17.55M to fill out the roster, but only spend 16.5M or less.  My spending guidelines would be:

-You spend up to 3.5M on 1D, going for a defensive specialist who doesn’t get the points to drive up his cost. (ie. Siedenberg (2.25), Tallinder (2.875) UFA examples)
-You spend up to 2M on 6D, can probably do it for less.
-You spend up to 8.0M 3LW and one of 2LW and 2C.  2LW is your key offensive addition, do not scrimp there unless you land a Benn type in a trade.  These are your key addition whether it be through trade or UFA (i.e. Ponikarovsky who absolutely has driven the corsi bus for years on bad Toronto teams if he can be had for 4.0M do it.)
-You spend up to 2M on which ever of the above 3 you didn’t fill
-The extra forward spots can be filled by a vet looking for a job like Comrie (although I prefer someone who can kill penalties) for 1M again IF he isn’t starter, but there to fill for injury.   You can also fill it with Omark if you want to give him a shot in the NHL.  Given his track record I’d guarantee Omark an NHL spot for 1 year, but certainly not giving away a starting spot.  He’d have to earn it.

This give your entire team a cap hit of 57.5M with the cap being 58.9M

If you get a Benn type (let us pray), then you have a lot more cap room, but you lose that veteran leadership of the Morrow type.  You spread the extra dollars to the 2LW and 2C to improve quality.  There is no harm spending much less than that.  Having cap space during the year can really help facilitate trades and give you the upper hand.  Make sure your additions are on the Corsi bus, or when you can, grab a Morrow or Poni who actually drive that bus. All of this assumes that Mr. Katz allows some extra spending to bury contracts if needed.   Billionaires are handy that way. Can Tambellini cut bait with enough players to do it? Will Lowe let him?

If not, good riddance to both of them.

 

Shepso:  How can this be fixed? I have 3 words to describe the ultimate solution to all of this team’s woes.

Shit. The. Bed.

I’m serious. If the Oilers continue to crap out, it is the only real way to send a message to the owner and the management that something really drastic needs to happen to make changes.This may piss some people off, but really it's not about any sort of dive for five; one highly rated prospect (not named Crosby or Ovechkin) does not a contender make. While Derek and I have been saying all year that our current GM is effectively Mr. Dithers, also known as Paul Martin, I think it’s time for a different comparison; Gerald Ford. He was simple man put into a position that seemed to be a bit over his head. He was ill prepared to deal with the economic crisis, OPEC, or the disengagement from Saigon, yet he did it anyway. Let’s be honest, that portrayal of Ford on the Simpsons said it all. If I remember correctly, it went a little something like this…

Ford-"Hi Homer. Say, do you like Football? Do you like beer? Why don’t you come over to my house and we can watch football and eat nachos?"

Homer-"Yes Mr. President."

Both- (Walk for a bit and then collectively stumble on Ford’s driveway) "D’Oh!!!"

While Tambi looks a bit like a moron, or at the very least a caretaker GM, K-Lowe looks like Nixon to Tambo’s Ford. This may seem a touch far-fetched, but please hear me out. Like Nixon, K-Lowe created an economic disaster in the wake of promises of victory, and like Nixon, K-Lowe retired to the comforts of being a "former president" with all the benefits of having the secret service at his disposal, not to mention a really fat pension paid for by the people without having to take responsibility for the disgrace of the inevitable collapse in the aftermath. Like Nixon, K-Lowe won everything there was to win, and had the reputation for being something of a fierce competitor, incredibly knowledgeable about a great many things, and knew how to really piss off his enemies (USSR=Brian Burke). He tried for peace with Honor, and although it netted us one Dustin Penner, it lost the heart and soul of the people. Nobody looks at Vietnam as a great American triumph, but rather the first war America lost in the defense of an indefensible set of ideals. K-Lowe built a team with little skill, little heart, little grit, and rewarded his people (as has been mentioned in great detail around these parts as of late) on the decline of their careers prime-time contracts for twilight talents. 2006 was the Oilers Vietnam, and 2007 was the fallout's beginning. Then, quietly, K-Lowe resigned from his presidency to avoid the disgrace of his own personal Watergate (Ryan Smyth), ushering in a new era of back-room leadership and a salary cap team filled with uncertainty in these dangerous economic times.

2008 brought us Gerald Ford Tambellini. He was ushered in unsuspectingly to the people to watch over a once proud and mighty people as they fell victim to their own hubris. Under Ford, America lapsed into a period of severe economic recession, not to mention hopelessness and despair. So confused and broken were they that in Ford’s wake they actually elected a peanut farmer (and nuclear physicist) from Georgia named Jimmy Carter who was endorsed by Hunter S. Thompson! Now I love the good Doctor, but really, would any of you vote for anyone backed by HST? I would, but I am also a left leaning academic type, so I clearly shouldn’t be listened to either.

My point is this: desperate times call for desperate measures. The people that have placed the team on this path need to be held accountable for their actions. MacT fell on his sword/got the ax at the right time. The same sort of thing must happen to management if there is any hope for the future of this organization. I could leave a long list of players who need to go, of trades that should be made, of players that need to be acquired in the off season, but I don’t see a point to that. Until a new leader is elected to run the show for a while, none of those speculative things matter.

The organization is broken and somebody new has to try and fix it. My vote is for Quinn to move upstairs in a move similar to Cliff Fletcher’s role a few years ago with the (ugh) Leafs. Let Quinn finish out his three years building the team he wants to have here. The man is a winner at every level. Give Renney the reigns behind the bench and let OTC have control over the player management. While the Quinn rebuild is underway, let the prospects like MPS, Eberle, Omark and Lander develop in the AHL so that the intense pressure and scrutiny of being the saviors of the city doesn’t kill them. As far as current roster players are concerned, make sure Gagner is re-signed and that Hemsky doesn’t want to leave. All other players can be eliminated. Kill the head and the body will die. It’s time to cut off the head of this organization, French revolution style. We want new leadership. The people have spoken. Lowe and Tambi, it’s time to go. Daryl, I hope you're listening

Vive L’Oilers! Vive la Revolution!

 

BCB:  One way to look at this all important question, to the Oiler Diaspora, is through Georges Sorel's concepts of the proletarian or syndicalist strike and the political general strike, found his 1908 work "Reflections on Violence".  There is not just a class composition difference in these types of strikes but a conceptual difference in what they effect: "if the Syndicalist general strike is connected with the idea of an era of great economic progress, the political general strike calls up rather that of a period of decadence."  Is the Oilers stagnation and collapse over the last four seasons an 'economic' problem, that they did not progress and that they still suck?  Or is it that the last four years has been a period of decadence: that society (the Oilers) are in miserable shape based on a collapse of order and this has stalled 'economic' progress?


It is not as simple as looking at the tyranny of Lowe, but maybe it is?  During the pre-lockout game, the Oilers were just not progressing.  The solution: to have a proletarian general strike (I am not referring to the players, but the small market owners), or to change the economic structure of the league so that all class (owners) could share in the 'era of great economic progress'.  The problem today is the decadence of the Oilers . . . it is not just that they are not progressing, but there has been a collapse of the order of work ethic and no new idea has replaced it.  Look at the desire of the players pre-2007 and afterwards: the ethic of the MacT and K-Lowe teams has disappeared, and not new order has emerged.  

So in my opinion, the Oilers need a political general strike. But Sorel does point out to a danger with this type of upheaval in relation to the Belgium general strike of 1905: "in such conditions the only aim of popular insurrection must be to take power from one group of politicians and to hand it over to another--the people still remaining the passive beast that bears the yoke." The Oilers must not make this mistake, that by handing the reigns of the Oilers from one set of politicians (Lowe and Tambo) to another corruption and ineptitude must be replaced with another order or a new vision of the Oilers.

So practically what do the Oilers do to fix this problem: fire everyone, but it is not as just a mass purging that will fix it but a new ideas/order that replaces the current brass.  I would look to the out of the box changes that end up with non-traditional hockey folks like Mike Gillis, Scott Howson, or even the hated Brian Burke in charge of teams.  These folks came from a mixture of hockey and non-hockey jobs,and bring in a new order and new idea that shapes the teams they run.  The Oilers need to focus on hiring a new GM, one that doesn't bring a famous name or come from the traditional pathway of player to GM.  They have to be a new political order.  

Oh, and trade Souray, Grebs, Pisani, and Cogliano at the dead line for young players, expiring contracts and draft picks. Staios, Moreau, Strudwick, and O'Sullivan need to be traded (or anything) or at least bought out this summer.  Leave Eberle, MAP, and the 2010 first round draft pick in the AHL for next season, and let them develop against big men.  Hire a bunch of UFA veterans on one year contracts for next season, and attempt to finish 8th (so that our younger players- read Smid and Gagner- can get second season experience).  For the fans: drink lots this winter, spring, and summer while praying that the new guy in charge does attempt to move Gagner, Hemsky, Smid, and Penner.
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