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What to do with the Oilers' forwards - Top Six Potential

There's a scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian where the Centurion is looking for Brian after the crowd gives him a reprieve.  The Centurion finds the jailer and his assistant and inquires as to the prisoner's location:

CENTURION: Where have they gone?!

JAILER: We've-- we've got piles of it 'round the back.


JAILER'S ASSISTANT: Oh, don't worry about him, sir. He's ma-- he's m-- he's ma-- he-- he-- he's m-- m-- m-- he's m-- he's m--


He's mad, sir.

The complete randomness of "We've-- we've got piles of it 'round the back.," along with Cleese's reaction to it always make me laugh.  Why do I bring this up?  Because the Oilers have piles of it 'round back, "it" being small forwards lacking in stature and NHL experience, but loaded with the dreaded potential.  On the big league roster alone the Oilers have Gilbert Brule, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson, Patrick O'Sullivan,  and Linus Omark in the KHL.  Outside of the professional ranks, they've got Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paagarvi-Svensson and whichever of Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin end up coming to Edmonton on draft day.

Let's dig into the pile of "it":


Gilbert Brule

#67 / Center / Edmonton Oilers



Jan 01, 1987

2009 - Gilbert Brule 41 11 13 24 -1 23 1 0 2 0 82 13.4

I've already written about Gilbert Brule's performance this year and his upcoming negotiations, so I won't rehash.  I will recap however.  Qualcomp 11/12.  Qualteam 7/12.  Corsi 7/12.  Zonestart 9/12.  Scoring chance rank 7/12.

He's being outshot and outchanced.  Yes, the points are coming, but it's an aberration.  One thing I wanted to add to the previous look at Brule is his Corsi and EV numbers without Penner, who will pull his numbers up and Jacques, who will push them down:

GF GA SF SA Shots Ratio
2009 - Gilbert Brule overall
25 23 225 251 .478
2009 - Gilbert Brule - w/o Penner or Jacques
7 10 81 95 .460

He's not spent any time of significance with Horcoff and Hesmky without Penner, so we can assume that this time is relatively easy when it comes to qualcomp. He's not driving play against lesser competition, he's not outscoring or outshooting, he's not doing much of anything.  In fact, the numbers aren't special.  Look up and down this list and you'll see similar or better numbers.  These aren't numbers that are worth getting excited about.

As I said in my previous look at Brule, his contract is up and Tambellini should be pointing to these numbers during negotiations.  I predicted that Brule will get $2,250,000 million a season, which would be a huge mistake.  There are piles of it laying around.  If negotiations aren't going well, replace Brule with Nilsson and move on.  If Brule wants north of $1,500,000 per season, plug in Linus Omark and send Brule packing.  The Oilers have leverage, wasting it would be sad, but predictable.


Andrew Cogliano

#13 / Center / Edmonton Oilers



Jun 14, 1987


2009 - Andrew Cogliano 44 4 6 10 0 11 0 0 0 0 66 6.1

I've taken to referring to Andrew Cogliano as "Godot", as in "Waiting For".  The organization has been waiting for Cogliano to turn the corner for two and a half years now.  He's played over 200 games in the NHL, but his production has been stagnant, and the rest of his game has yet to come around.  Even though the obvious solution is a move to the wing, Cogliano continues to languish at center, and this year has been relegated to the fourth line.

He's spent most of the last six weeks with Ethan Moreau and Zack Stortini who are his most common linemates this year.  He's got a qualcomp of 6/13 and a qualteam of 4/13, largely based on his early season time with Penner, Brule and Gagner.  I would expect both numbers to slowly fall to the bottom of the list over the next three months.  His Corsi is 9/13, but his OZone faceoff percentage is 8/13, so we can cut him some slack there.  His +/- on is actually 6/13, but he's being buoyed by a .943 save percentage behind him - the third highest on the team.  If he were to get Horcoff'd with his luck, these numbers would make our eyes bleed. 

His scoring chances data is very interesting - he's 9/13 on the team.  Three of the four gents behind him include  Stortini, Moreau, and Jacques.  He's deep into the red in chances differential, but it's not because of chances against.  His chances against / 15 is 5.226 on a team that averages 5.246 chances against / 15.  He's actually better than average against.  It's his chances for data this year that has hurt him.  He's averaging 4.282 chances for / 15, the team average is 4.633 / 15.  The only players worse than Cogliano on the chances for list?  Jacques, Stortini, and Moreau.  That Moreau and Stortini could be holding Cogliano back is not an epiphany.  What could be interesting, however, is comparing his chances numbers to 2008-2009.  Cogliano generated 4.157 chances for / 15 -- he was worse last year in this department.  He was much, much better in chances against at 4.421 / 15 - perhaps Marc Pouliot is a significant upgrade over Zack Stortini.

In the end however, the Oilers have a winger that won't play wing, or a center that can't win faceoffs.  200 games in, he still needs other players to drive.  He has the skills to be an effective player, especially on the penalty kill, but more and more he's looking like Petr Kilma.  Cogliano still has value around the league.  He's got amazing speed and had 36 career goals by age 21. It seems that he will be an effective wing eventually, but can the Oilers afford to wait?

Cogliano has some guys breathing down his neck at wing right now:  Eberle, Omark, Paajarvi, not to mention the college centers; he's going to have to do something significant to separate himself in the next three months.  If not, the Oilers should be looking to move him if they can get a win in a trade.  He's still on his first contract and shouldn't see an enormous raise, so he could be very attractive to a number of teams, especially teams in the Eastern conference.


Sam Gagner

#89 / Center / Edmonton Oilers



Aug 10, 1989

2009 - Sam Gagner 43 9 16 25 -5 25 2 0 1 0 97 9.3

I don't think anyone in the media or 'sphere has been as tough on Sam Gagner as I have.  Last year, during his month-long phase of drop passes to the opponent, I suggested more than once that he should view the game from the press box.  I didn't like that Gagner would make a drop pass for a two-on-one against and after the game Craig MacTavish would blame Kyle Brodziak for being soft.  Gagner would start the next game on the second line and make the same pass.  Craig MacTavish would blame Dustin Penner and send him to the fourth line.  It seemed to me like Gagner was getting undeserved favorable treatment.  Then, at the beginning of the season, Pat Quinn made up for all of that and more.  Quinn began calling out Gagner in his initial press conference, talking about a fancypants center that wouldn't pass.  His harshness continued by demoting Gagner one line at a time through training camp until he got to the fourth line.  That's where the kid opened the season and Quinn openly challenged him to prove his worth before he could move up.  Gagner could have responded negatively, but instead, he took the quiet, measured approach and said he would turn it around.  And he did.

Gagner's play this season has been a revelation, at least to me.  He's not lighting the world on fire, but like Dustin Penner last year, his underlying stats are solid, even surprisingly so.  Like Cogliano, Gagner's stats are still being affected by his early season time spent far afield from his time over the last six weeks.  Gagner's qualcomp is 10/13 and his qualteam is 1/13.  His offensive zone faceoff percentage is 5/13.  His scoring chance numbers are 3/13 and he's one of only three Oilers in the black in chances.  His Corsi is is 4/13 and his EV +/- is 8/13 with 28 GF and 30 GA.    His PDO suffers slightly because he's 8/13 in even strength save percentage at .894.  Give him league average goaltending and he's 28 GF - 21 GA.  Let him hit the hard eight on back to back rolls like Cogliano's .943 and Gagner is 28 GF - 15 GA.

The real story on Gagner this year is the game that he's played since moving up to the top two lines after playing his way out of Quinn's doghouse.  He's been paired with Dustin Penner off and on, and some thought that Penner was the key to Gagner's success.  But a closer look shows something really interesting:

Gagner with Penner: .512 (157-156), +7

Gagner w/o Penner or Jacques: .546 (111-87), -4

The above numbers are the shots ratio (SF-SA) and EV +/- for Gagner in situations with and without Penner this season. Gagner is outshooting in all instances (except when J.F. Jacques is on his wing but this is not a surprise). 

Gagner is outshooting, outchancing and should be outscoring and he's all of twenty years old.  It's likely that next year Gagner himself will be the second-toughs center that the Oilers have so desperately lacked for the last three years, provided that the team is able to supply him with wingers that aren't going to get run over at even strength.  Gagner's entry-level contract is about to expire and I expect that he's going to get a significant raise, probably something in the Dave Bolland area, or about $3,300,000 per year.  He's a keeper for the long term, and if Edmonton ever figures out this free agency thing, I'd expect Gagner to get a 10-12 year deal sooner rather than later.


Robert Nilsson

#12 / Left Wing / Edmonton Oilers



Jan 10, 1985

2009 - Robert Nilsson 29 6 8 14 -12 6 3 0 1 0 50 12.0

I'm a huge Robert Nilsson fan and have been since the day he came to Edmonton.  He's one of the most talented men on the team and has shown it in spades over the last three years.  If the team were to make a highlight reel of the top ten plays each season, Nilsson would have three per season.  His passing skills are second-to-none on this team.  It might be heresy to say that he can surpass Hemsky in this category, but it's true.  His skating skills are also top-shelf and he brings a world dipsies and doodles to the ice. 

With all of that talent comes lapses.  Nilsson is prone to the big mistake and in the last two years has disappeared for weeks at a time.  He also lacked the physical element to his game, not from a standpoint of hitting, but he lacked the ability to take a hit, to battle back, to get leverage and steal a puck.  That seems to have changed this year.  Since coming back from injury, he's been a different player.  I'm a bit miffed about a missed opportunity involving Nilsson, as I had an opportunity to speak to Nilsson right before he came back, unfortunately, the Oilers put the kibosh on that conversation.  Nevertheless, Nilsson has been among the best on the club since coming back.  He's been physical, he's playing a heady game and he's shooting more often that I can remember since his arrival.  The occasional mental gaffe is still there, but this looks like the Nilsson of two years ago - the Nilsson that landed the current contract. 

Nilsson's underlying stats are all over the place.  He's played on every line thus far this year and has spent significant minutes with Horcoff, Penner, Cogliano, Gagner, Stortini, Stone, and Jacques.  His qualcomp is 10/13, his qualteam is 7/13 and his offensive zone faceoffs rank is 6/13.   He's not had the most difficult of assignments so it should show in his shooting and scoring underliers.  His EV +/- On is 10/13 (13 GF - 22 GA) and his Corsi is 5/13, but like Shawn Horcoff, he's been victimized by some really bad goaltending - his even strength save percentage is 10/13 at .884.  If he could find some league average goaltending, the numbers change significantly, 13 GF - 15 GA.

His scoring chance data comes in only slightly ahead of Cogliano's - he's 8/13 on this team and unlike Gagner, his chances rate has not improved since last year, in fact, it's pretty much the same ratio year over year.

Nilsson has one more year left on his second contract at $2,000,000.  While he remains a personal favorite of mine, the dollars don't make sense on this team.  There is a large supply of fowards of his ilk and if the Oilers could pay Jordan Eberle or Linus Omark more than $1,000,000 less, they should.  The Oilers should be looking to send Nilsson out in a trade this season...

...UNLESS they can't come to a favorable agreement with Gilbert Brule.


Patrick O`Sullivan

#19 / Left Wing / Edmonton Oilers



Feb 01, 1985


2009 - Patrick O`Sullivan 44 9 13 22 -20 22 3 0 3 0 118 7.6

Patrick O'Sullivan has had a difficult year.  Bruce reviewed it in depth while skewering O'Sullivan.  I didn't have much to disagree with in Bruce's piece until this week.  After discovering what was happening while J.F. Jacques was on the ice, I have softened my stance on O'Sullivan.  We've seen that O'Sullivan and Horcoff are suffering because of some awful luck and terrible goaltending.  If Quinn can keep Jacques away from O'Sullivan for the rest of the season, we should see a vast improvement in his second half performance.  I wrote about the Jacques effect earlier this week and how O'Sullivan's numbers have plummeted because of it.  He's still being outshot and outchanced, even without Jacques, but it's not nearly as severe as his overall numbers suggest.

O'Sullivan's qualcomp is 4/13 but I suspect it's been 3/12 since Hemsky's injury.  His qualteam is 11/13 thanks to J.F. Jacques and his EV +/- is 12/13, but we saw above that it's due to the bad luck and J.F. Jacques.  His Corsi is 11/13, in front of only Moreau and Jacques, and his zonestart has been a relatively easy 4/13.  His scoring chance differential is 10/13 and like Cogliano the Oilers are struggling to generate chances with him on the ice.  However, O'Sullivan without Jacques would be 5/13 in scoring chances. 

What does it all mean?  I think O'Sullivan is one player that we don't have a clear picture of at this point.  Saddling Horcoff and O'Sullivan with J.F. Jacques and asking them to face difficult competition was clearly a mistake.  Jacques was in deep to face fourth line minutes, and torpedoed his two teammates against the toughs.

O'Sullivan has one year left on his second contract at $2,925,000.  I don't think O'Sullivan has done enough to have much value left in any sort of trade.  I do think, however, that O'Sullivan without Jacques will prove himself to be able-bodied when it comes to playing against real NHL players.  If O'Sullivan has a nice second half, he should be welcomed into the lineup next year and penciled into the middle six.  If O'Sullivan can't find his game apart from Jacques, by all means, try to find him a new home.  I have a feeling that O'Sullivan is going to be the player that surprises everyone over the next 38 games.


Linus Omark

#30 / Left Wing / Dynamo Moskva



Feb 5, 1987

2009 - Linus Omark NHLE 42 15 9 24 -6 26 5 0 4 0 73 20.5

Linus Omark is an interesting player.  He blew the doors off of the SEL as 21 year old and jumped to the KHL when, in his eyes, the Oilers lowballed him by not guaranteeing him a roster spot.  He's now enjoying success with Dynamo Moskva as they head into the playoffs.  His NHLE has him on a pace of 47 points this year, down from the 66 point pace from last year in the SEL  There is consistency in his production by team though - he accounted for 15.4% of Lulea's offense two years ago, and this year he's accounted for 14.7% of Dynamo's offense.  He's not keeping pace with teammate Jiri Hudler, but he's third on the team in points.  He's not living off of the power play either, as two-thirds of his goals have come at even strength.  His shooting percentage is up there, but the same holds for Hudler and Weinhandl.  Johan looked at Omark here and came to the following conclusion:

...he's a proven scorer in two different leagues and on the national team plus he's one of the most entertaining players around, just make sure he's not your first option for defense on that line.


If the Oilers are able to get a return for Cogliano and find a place for Brule or Nilsson's contract, it makes sense to bring Omark in to take on third-level minutes.  I say this with the caveat that they must also bring in at least two more forwards of size and stature that are able to take on second tough minutes.  If they fail to do that, then Omark makes no sense.


After reviewing the forwards that are currently in the employ of the Edmonton Oilers we're left with a lineup that looks like this:

Top three:  Hemsky, Horcoff, Penner

Middle six:  Gagner, O'Sullivan, Omark, Pisani

Bottom three: Brule, Pouliot, Stone, Stortini

Healthy scratches:  Potulny

Callups:  Jacques, Reddox