This is the worst team in the history of the Edmonton Oilers. Obviously. It's a statement that requires no defense and will attract no argument. But, position by position, the strange thing is that we're not that bad. Sure, goaltending's an obstacle, but the 1998-99 Edmonton Oilers featured Bob Essensa, Mikhail Shtalenkov, and Tommy Salo, all of who were (if you can believe it) worse than Jeff Deslauriers, never mind Nikolai Khabibulin. The forwards are bad but at least we're not relying heavily on David Oliver, Shayne Corson, and Mike Stapleton like the 1995-96 Oilers were. And for all the foibles of our depth defensemen the 2005-06 Oilers had Igor Ulanov, Cory Cross, Dick Tarnstrom, and Marc-Andre Bergeron and they made the Stanley Cup finals!
It is a sad day when we're finishing last and yet not even the best at being the worst. We all hate people who use injuries as an excuse, but looking at the roster injuries are an excuse: granted, in a "this is a 22nd-place team that is stuck in 30th place" sort of way, but all the same.
There is, however, one glorious exception. It lurks like a foul beast at the bottom of the Oilers roster, mocking us with its terribleness. It's played a combined 110 games for us this season, or as many as Ales Hemsky, Mike Comrie, and Denis Grebeshkov combined, even though one half of this terrible tandem started as the worst defenseman on the Springfield Falcons. They're two very different players: a 6'3" load of bricks on the wrong end of his thirty-fourth birthday, and a 5'11" finesse defenseman who turned twenty-three in April. Even the potential nicknames are terrible: "Chorwick" sounds like an English village, and "Strudney" doesn't sound like anything.
A statement like that takes a little justification, I realize. Justification perhaps more well-reasoned than shouting "just look at them!" and shaking you like an Etch-a-Sketch. There are problems there: it's hard to find information as simple as time-on-ice for Oiler seasons in the distant past and advanced statistics are just impossible. So when I say the worst pairing ever, I have to qualify that: the Oilers well have asked Dave Lumley to do a shift on the blueline with Jim Playfair back in 1984 and they could have gotten scorched for nineteen goals against and I wouldn't know. But as far as regular pairings that history can record? Chorney and Strudwick are the worst.
It's not just the shifts the length of a Norse saga, but the unique combination of utter worthlessness on both the offensive and defensive sides of the puck. In seventy games, Jason Strudwick has no goals and six assists; the second-worst points per game among Oiler skaters who have played at least twenty games. The worst belongs to Chorney, with no goals and three assists in forty games from a man who is allegedly an offensive defenseman. By comparison, in his ill-fated post-lockout season Igor Ulanov had three goals and six assists in thirty-seven games and even Cory Cross mustered two goals and three assists before we traded his sorry ass. The worst-scoring defenseman on the previous worst team to wear the oil drop, the '93-'94 Oilers, was a young Luke Richardson with two goals and six assists.
Richardson was also the plus/minus chump on that team's blueline, with a -13. That's pretty bad. Richardson saw a revolving door of fellows on his pairing but got a good taste of the long-forgotten Adam Bennett, who ran up a -8 in only 48 games. That, also, was pretty bad. But, son, you ain't seen nothing yet. Jason Strudwick is -14 and Taylor Chorney is -16. -16! In his number of games that's truly remarkable and holds up well against the all-time nadir: the pairing of Matt Greene and Ladislav Smid, two young men who combined for a -38 on the Ryan Smyth Death March 2006-07 Edmonton Oilers.
Depressingly, Greene and Smid are the closest thing we have to equal Strudwick and Chorney. Smid and Greene spent far too much of 2006-07 together, picking up ten points each and sodomizing us with those truly dreadful plus/minus numbers. Of course, there are extenuating circumstances. Greene was in his first full NHL campaign and Smid was in his first NHL season full stop. Neither of them were, say, allegedly "steady" and "reliable" defensemen in their mid-thirties. They were superior offensively to Strudwick and Chorney by just a staggering margin, and considering what cinder blocks Smid and Greene are in the attacking zone that's a hell of a statement.
Greene was a team-worst -22 on a blueline that featured regulars Smid (-16), Marc-Andre Bergeron (-9 in fifty-five games before going to the New York Islanders in the Denis Grebeshkov deal), Daniel Tjarnqvist (+3 in only thirty-seven games thanks to injuries that let him miss the Death March), Jason Smith (-13), Steve Staios (-5), Jan Hejda (-6) as well as cameo appearances from Tom Gilbert (12GP, -1), Mathieu Roy (16GP, -7), Danny Syvret (16GP, -10), Bryan Young (15GP, -8), and of course the legendary Sebastien Bisaillon (2GP, -1). There are a lot of minuses on that list. Compared to the likes of Smith and Bergeron, Smid and Greene are bad but not slam-your-head-in-the-desk-drawer awful. It's almost too obvious to say, but that team was really bad for more reasons than Ladislav Smid and Matt Greene.
Context actually makes Strudwick and Chorney look a lot better. The worst plus/minus on the current Edmonton blueline is actually Sheldon Souray (-19) in a frankly unbelievable 37 games. Steve Staios was also -19 before we shipped his sorry ass out of town. Tom Gilbert, also known as "the good one", is -10. And, to give us all hope for Taylor Chorney's future, Death March whipping boy Ladislav Smid was +5 before he got hurt, which I think may make him Jesus.
So how can I rank Chorney and Strudwick above (or, rather, below) Greene and Smid? Let me resort to the crudest trick of the bad author and go point-by-point:
- With Smid and Greene, we were suffering in the present to try and improve the future. Smid, awful though he was as a 20-year-old four years ago, is currently a legitimate shutdown defenseman in the Barret Jackman mold. Matt Greene was Taylor Chorney's age in 2005-06 and came on a little more slowly but is a positive part of a very good young blue line in Los Angeles. While the optimist might suggest that Chorney will turn it around, Strudwick is a veteran. At his age, each season should be worse than the previous. Which is pretty damned depressing.
- Smid and Greene didn't play together anything like consistently. Craig MacTavish's famed blender was set to purée throughout the Ryan Smyth Death March. Smid famously ate suicide passes from Steve Staios for much of the winter and Greene played with whoever Charlie Huddy would deign to put with him. Chorney and Strudwick, meanwhile, have been pretty much locked in as a unit since Chorney got called up.
- Smid and Greene are both better all-rounders than Strudwick and Chorney. As we've established, their offense was far superior. Moreover, both Smid and Greene were better at the little things: they made a lot of mistakes but they could at least clear the zone or (Smid in particular) find an outlet pass. Jason Strudwick, by contrast, is the Patron Saint of the HUA, and for a 5'11" guy who made his bones in college getting points Taylor Chorney could not be a worse offensive player.
- Greene's 2005-06 +/- per 60? -1.25. Wow, that's bad! Smid's? -0.83. Not good either! Jason Strudwick this year? -0.93, and Taylor Chorney? -1.57. Unbelievably - and it takes some doing - in spite of the difference between their +/- numbers Chorwick actually give it up worse than Greemid... er, Smeene... Smid and Greene did.
It's going to be a long summer, Oiler fans. The trades we're all hoping for, deep down inside, we know aren't going to happen. There's nearly a fifty percent chance that we're going to pick second rather than first and be stuck with whichever one of Seguin and Hall the other guys didn't want. There's an even bigger chance we'll do something stupid and draft Cam Fowler or something. And even if everything breaks right, we're still going to enter 2010-11 with a lousy team packed to the gills with unready youth and Nikolai Khabibulin.
But let's look on the bright side. We've seen the worst defensive pairing in Oilers history. May there never be another.