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The Stars Were Bright

In my time at the Copper & Blue, I've developed a bit of a schtick as a negative Nellie. Oh, everything's gone wrong, this player sucks, that player sucks worse, reverse three stars, all of that nonsense. It's pretty easy to do when your team is losing every game in sight stuck in the National Hockey League basement and I like nothing more than the easy path.

But the Oilers aren't universally terrible (hard though it is to imagine from their record). There are a few precious players in that miasma of shit. If anything, I admire them all the more for toiling so hard on such a miserable club, for giving us their all when they have every excuse to crawl into the woodshed, curl up into a ball, and wait for the sweet release of the off-season. They are the sole redeeming features of this horrible hockey club with its horrible management and ownership which is going to steal a few dump trucks full of cash from taxpayers already dejected from watching this team constantly lose.

So when I speak of those few bright spots, perhaps I get a little aggressive and a little over-protective. Without them, the Oilers would truly be a worthless pile of dogs. The old scornful saying about "cheering for laundry" would have achieved a new meaning as I would have loathed every player in that laundry for defecating all over decades of tradition from Bill Hunter through Ryan Smyth.

This is, essentially, a long-winded warning to take this article with a grain of salt. I'm not a numbers guy. I wear my heart on my sleeve. In this case I think the numbers back me up but if they didn't I'd be arguing the same thing anyway. Perhaps I'm unconsciously twisting the data to fit my hypothesis instead of twisting my hypothesis to fit the data.

But, by whatever flawed method I got there, I am sure about one thing. The Oilers had better re-sign Fernando Pisani.


First off, and least obviously, re-signing Pisani is a good hockey move. His post-Stanley Cup Finals contract, four years at $2.5 million per year, was a bad deal and a bad signing: paying a guy at the top of his value. Luckily, we're in the opposite situation right now. Pisani's stock with the casual fan has never been lower. His counting numbers are worse than pedestrian: two goals and no assists in twenty-two games. His recurring ulcerative colitis is an obvious concern to a once-strong player. It's hard to imagine Pisani possibly making a million dollars in 2010-11. He could easily sign one of those cheap veteran contracts we all crucify the Oilers for not acquiring.

Of course, if he's not getting the results, no matter how cheap the contract is it's poor value. But the secondary numbers are heavily in Pisani's favour. His QUALCOMP of 0.120 is first on the team (by comparison, Shawn Horcoff is second among regulars at 0.044). His QUALTEAM of -0.242 is last among regulars. He's playing the best opposition and he's playing with stiffs. His PDO number of 928 is second-worst in Edmonton behind Theo Peckham (875). The opposition is throwing their best players at Pisani's unit, his colleagues are absolute stiffs, and he has horrendous puck luck.

After all that, his relative +/- is -0.27. Anything below zero is below team average. In spite of colitis and useless linemates and stiff opposition and having Jeff Deslauriers in goal, he is slightly worse than Edmonton's average (this average, of course, including guys like Ales Hemsky, Sheldon Souray, the late lamented Two-Arm Shawn Horcoff, and other relics of a bygone age).

Pisani's shots against/60 is 28.7, which isn't good but slightly better than the median and closer to the best on the Oilers (Ryan Stone, 24.0) than the worst (you're not going to believe this but it's Ethan Moreau, 34.5). He is almost on the median of shots for/60 with 25.9, compared to a team-leading Sam Gagner (30.6) and, in yet another unbelievable upset, a team-worst Jean-Francois Jacques (20.1). Ales Hemsky, to pick a name, was only a 26.2 this season.

Nobody's saying that Fernando Pisani is going to unleash holy hell upon the Western Conference in 2011-12, win a Selke trophy, and steer us all to the promised land. But for one or two years at, say, $750,000 per year, how is this not a player you want on your team?

Yes, there are intangible factors to my championing Pisani's cause. Pisani is among the last core players of a Finals run that made heroes out of him, Mike Peca, Shawn Horcoff, Dwayne Roloson, and a certain defenseman I am loath to name. He's a classy, quiet veteran in a dressing room full of brash braggarts and youngsters. He's a community-minded guy but, then again, so is Ethan Moreau. What distinguishes him is the way he goes about his work. He played junior 'A', he went to school, he never had the most skill but he always had the best work ethic. He was drafted, somehow, so late a pick that most paid him no heed. And he showed up to training camp and he worked like hell, and he went to the minor leagues and he worked like hell, and there was an injury crunch and he got his chance in the NHL and he worked like hell and the whole time he kept his head down and his nose to the grindstone even when he was slamming in playoff goals like Glenn Anderson.

There aren't enough players like that in the hockey world anymore. Guys who aren't in the lineup because they're Sidney Crosby or the coach's pet, but because they just bust their hump and get results. Can you blame me for liking the guy a little more than his skill would allow? Do we really want to snuff out that shining light?

If you see Pisani taking a regular shift for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2011 wearing #32 or something and playing with Raffi Torres on his other wing, it won't break your heart just a little?