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The Edmonton Oilers And Rookies In Deep


...this is a great argument for not burning years of service and entry level contracts on 18 and 19 yr olds. These are things we have been saying since the lockout...

--The extremely bright RiversQ, in our comments section.

Rivers is right.  Edmonton fans, at least the ones around here, have been talking about 18 and 19 year old players and their inability to move the puck in the right direction in the NHL.  And we've discussed wasting entry-level contracts in full-blown apprenticeships.

I followed up the article that Rivers was commenting on with a closer look at the Corsi and Qualcomp numbers broken out by age and showed the obvious - the older players outperform the younger players, but even then, the only players likely to win the territorial war are the ones getting easier assignments.  I drew this conclusion:

There is a way to get productivity out of players in their first three years of eligibility, likely even on bad teams -- feed the young prospects soft minutes.  However, the question becomes one of asset management.  Is it worth burning through three years of a high-end prospect's contract if they're only effective against third and fourth line minutes?  Signing cheap free agents capable of beating third-level minutes and allowing a prospect time to develop away from the NHL, while not burning through contracts, is a more prudent option.

George Ays at Blueshirt Banter picked up the Corsi vs. Qualcomp idea and ran it using young defensemen, extending the selected age group to include defensemen ages 18-22.  "Defensemen take longer to develop" is an old hockey axiom and George's work is a step towards proving that.

In his article, he used a Corsi vs. qualcomp plot like I did and it's not flattering towards the Oilers.  What stands out, to me at least, is that the Oilers have three of the worst eight points in that plot.  Two seasons from Ladislav Smid and one from Taylor Chorney, who is neck-and-neck with Jack Johnson for the worst season that even Bruce can remember.

George concluded his study in much the same way that I concluded my forward study:

What this does tell us is that young defenseman are capable of coming into the league and making an impact, as long as they're coming in on their terms.  When you are forced into the situation as Edmonton, Colorado, and Phoenix have been over the last couple of years, however, the results can be troubling.

All of this makes it more bizarre that the Oilers aren't learning from these mistakes.  Between Steve Tambellini's inability to bring in forwards capable of hanging in there against real NHL minutes and Kevin Lowe's recent barnstorming with the rookies tour, the Oilers are obviously quite happy to keep selling the future, all while watching their young players get buried in the present.  Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Ladislav Smid, and Taylor Chorney were all rushed to the NHL much too quickly and their early results show it.  And the Oilers, as a result of depending on these not-ready-for-primetime players, have suffered.  But on the bright side, all of this mismanagement brought Taylor Hall to town!  And without shelter, he's going to get buried too.  But on the bright side, the carnage won't be as bad as that which J.F. Jacques will have to endure!

And it's not just about the players getting buried.  The Oilers are burning through entry-level contracts like these supposed young impact players are a dime-a-dozen.  Sam Gagner's contract clock was started at least a year too early and because of the state of the team, the Oilers are starting both Paajarvi and Hall's clocks too early.  What's the point of using up team-controlled years on likely impact rookies when they're going to get drilled on a bad team?  This is especially true of a team that could go out and get league-minimum veterans to take the same drilling.  Why not find, and even overpay in the short term, a couple of veterans capable of doing the hard work, playing tough minutes, killing penalties, and taking defensive zone draws in order to shelter the kids?

Yes, Taylor Hall will be very good.  As will Magnus Paajarvi and probably Jordan Eberle.  But they are still kids about to enter a man's game.  Remember, young players facing off against even second-level minutes still take a beating.  Both George and I have demonstrated that young players need shelter to succeed, but it's going on four years now and the Oilers refuse to fix the problem.  This all reminds me of a Bob Dylan song, and really, Dylan has a song for everything so that's not a surprise:

In a little hilltop village they gambled for my clothes
I bargained for salvation and they gave me a lethal dose
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn
"Come in" she said
"I'll give you shelter from the storm".

I don't know who "she" is, but I sure wish she had some sort of management role in Edmonton.