Monday, March 12, 2018

Oilers improve a bit after trade deadline - Why?

The Oilers have been playing much better hockey after the trade deadline.  It took them a few games to adjust to the new units and lines, but they appear to be hitting some sort of stride.  They look a little faster.  Is it because Nuge is back?  That's a big part of it, yes.  But he was here when the Oilers weren't playing well. 

McLellan boggles my mind sometimes.  With Maroon traded for pucks, he goes BACK to using slumping boat anchor Lucic on McDavid's wing.  Well, for the zillionth time--it doesn't work.  So what to do?

Everyone called for Nuge to be moved to McDavid's left wing.  McLellan finally tried it versus the Wild and it worked.

Further, in the past six games, the Oilers have been on the penalty kill 13 times.  Only 1 goal!  That's a 93% PK.  Wait, what?  They must have been on the road as their road PK is much better than at home, right?  Nope.  Five out of six games were at home.

What's going on?  Seriously.  Is this really a "fire Johnson" thing?  Perhaps it's not.

David Staples over at the Journal - Cult of Hockey Blog was tweeting about one potential culprit and the improvement of another. 

Mark Letestu as the culprit and Cam Tablot as the improvement.

Since 4C Mark Letestu was traded at the deadline for a faster winger Pontus Aberg, coach McLellan has had to adjust the PK units.  Letestu was already off the top PP unit with Strome filling in.

There was also discussion that the PK unit had too many lefties which opened the passing lanes.  Perhaps that's why Letestu was kept on, as he's a righty.  But so are Kassian, Larsson, and Pakarinen, so I'm not really buying that one.

Before we examine those PK units, let's start by showing how the PK did with and without Letestu.

Well that doesn't look very good. 

That's better.


Now what about Cam Talbot?  We need to look at his save percentage 5v5 versus on the PK.

Even Strength Save Percentage:
.916 before trade deadline (Feb 26, 2018)
.920 after trade deadline

Shorthanded (PK) Save Percentage:
.967 before trade deadline (Feb 26, 2018)
1.00 after trade deadline (!)

Yes, improved.  Hmmmm.  Now is the PK better because he's better, or is he better because the PK is better?

In doing some further digging, I found this very interesting article at Copper and Blue regarding the "L" PK formation.  A lot of teams use the box or diamond.  Oilers don't.  Good power play teams figured this out and made the cross-ice pass to the weak side leading to a goal.  Talbot's better play last year covered up this glaring weakness.

Look below at where Letestu would be on the PK in an "L" formation (in this case a backwards "L").  He's likely at the top or in the middle on the left half-wall ("55" on right side in diagram below).  If teams get the puck on the half-wall, sure they can't swing it around the outside against the "L", but if your defender on half-wall doesn't get there in time or backs off, that leaves the entire weak side open for a shot, or action down low. 

Leon Draisaitl isn't very good here either.  But then we have to ask, if the players can't adjust to the system, then either the system is bad or the player is bad.  If the coaches kept putting bad players on the PK, then that's just bad coaching.  But you have to ask if this "L" system is good at all when the Oilers have BY FAR THE WORST PENALTY KILL IN NHL HISTORY over the past year.  That can't be just the players, can it?

McLellan's stubbornness here and not employing the right lines until way after it was already a good idea certainly has made us armchair fans and media pundits cringe, but think of the players and losing their confidence in said system.  When they lose confidence in a system, they tend to not play as hard for it to work and it crumbles.  Think about Eakins' "Swarm" 5v5 defensive system.  Total disaster.  Players couldn't make it work.  They lose confidence in the system and then the coach.  Coach loses his mind.

Good coaches look at their talent and make the system fit that talent.  Amazing systems can take any good talent and make it work, but often, those systems are complex and require lots of practice.

In Letestu's case, last year on the power play, he was pretty darn good himself on the left wing weak side to take a one timer cross-ice pass from McDavid.  He even got a couple shortys on the PK.  He was also pretty good on the shoot out.  Something happened.  Age?  The league got faster?

So, as you watch the remaining games, take note of the Oilers penalty kill and watch for:

1.  Formation:  "L", Box, or Diamond?

2.  Who is the middle forward defending the left half wall?  Is he covering that guy well and preventing a cross-ice pass?

3.  How's Talbot doing?  Is he pushing hard enough across when the cross-ice pass is made?

If special teams is solved with these minor tweaks, then Talbot will be better, and the Oilers can be better.  Not great, but better.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Nugent-Hopkins for Duchene?


My sources tell me that Matt Duchene paid a visit to Daryl Katz' house in Edmonton today.    My gut tells me it's a swap with the Oilers having to send Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and a 2019 draft pick due to Nuge's contract being longer.  Here is the tale of the tape.  Green highlighted cells indicate advantage over the other.

Relatively even players, except Duchene is nearly 50% better than Nuge on faceoffs and Duchene was on a terrible team last season (hence the -34 +/-), but overall, he appears to be a better value than Nuge is right now and you're not locked into Nuge's salary.  It also gives you time to find and wait for Puljujarvi to take McDavid's right wing so you can slot Draisaitl back to 2C and then look at trading Duchene.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Expansion Draft Mania


We haven't had an expansion draft in a long time.  The Las Vegas Golden Knights can pick one player from each of the 30 teams.  Teams are allowed to protect either 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie, or 8 players and 1 goalie.  All 1st and 2nd year pros under contract and unsigned draftees are protected so players like McDavid, Nurse, Benning, Caggiula, Puljujarvi, Slepyshev are already protected and don't count toward the protection count.  This has left teams having to expose some vets for good or bad.  I'm not going to mention the mostly AHL players as I don't think Vegas will look at them. I'm not showing the current UFAs like Pitlick until the Oilers sign them, like they did with Pakarainen.

For the Oilers, they will protect 7-3-1:

Leon Draisaitl
Milan Lucic (no movement clause)
Patrick Maroon
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Jordan Eberle
Zack Kassian
Mark Letestu

Andrej Sekera (no movement clause)
Adam Larsson
Oscar Klefbom

Cam Talbot

Which exposes:

Benoit Pouliot - while this is who we want Vegas to take, at $4m, they won't

Jujhar Khaira - very real possibility Vegas snags him, as JJ can score, hit, take faceoffs, and I see him on the Oilers roster, essentially replacing Matt Hendricks

Iiro Pakarainen - being injured for most of the year, I doubt Vegas takes a gamble (see what I did there?)

Griffin Reinhart - surely he gets taken, as decent defensemen are rarer than bottom forwards, and Griff showed he can play

Mark Fayne - at over $3m in the AHL, not a chance Vegas take him

Laurent Brossoit - Vegas won't take him--not enough games under his belt, and I'm wondering if this was a reason he didn't play a lot, and Chiarelli actually thinks there's a real good goalie here.

This all essentially leaves the Oilers roster at:

Forwards: ~$43 million in cap with Leon taking $7m:

Patrick Maroon - Connor McDavid - Jesse Puljujarvi
Milan Lucic - Leon Draisaitl - Jordan Eberle
Drake Caggiula - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Anton Slepyshev
Benoit Pouliot - Mark Letestu - Zack Kassian
Jujhar Khaira - Iiro Pakarinen

Now the question marks are on Jesse Puljujarvi, if he makes the team, does he slot in with McDavid, which is the long-term plan obviously?  Does that then push Eberle out to make $6m in cap space room?  It's possible that even if Pool Party doesn't make the team this year, Chiarelli could sign Pitlick after the expansion draft and slot him in, but his injury is a big concern.  He could also look for a UFA like Justin Williams at a lower cost, still trade Ebs and move Anton, Zack, and Iiro up a line, although I would say, not ideal.  If Khaira gets snagged, then it's likely Pitlick gets signed.

Defense:  ~$20 million in cap:

Oscar Klefbom - Adam Larsson
Andrej Sekera (IR) - Kris Russell (UFA)
Darnell Nurse - Matt Benning
Eric Gryba (UFA)

Sekera will be out until December if all goes well with his torn ACL.  Kris Russell talks have begun but we're hearing over $4m over several years, but the Oilers don't have the cap room unless they move someone out.

The Oilers still need to find a true 2nd pair right handed puck mover at around $3m, and with Sekera injured, although it doesn't count toward the cap, Chiarelli can find a replacement rental at less than $5.5m, but what happens when Sekera returns?  My guess is the Oilers will sign Russell to a 2 year at $4m/yr then trade him when Sekera returns, but that's only if they find a true 2RHD, otherwise, they go over the cap, unless they trade Eberle.  Make sense?  Didn't think so.

Goalies:  ~$5 million in cap
Cam Talbot
Laurent Brossoit

And others like Mark Fayne bring the cap hit just under $73m, which gives the Oilers no real cap room as it stands.

These Benoit Pouliot (2 years left at $4m) and Mark Fayne (1 year left at $3.5m) contracts have really come to bite the Oilers in cap space. That's $7.5 million right there.  If somehow Chiarelli can buy out one of them, then maybe Eberle will stay on another year, but when McDavid's entry-level contract ends after next season, then you need a whole pile of cash to pay for his next big-ass contract.  And if you can't trade Pouliot at that time, you'll have to buy him out AND trade Eberle.

Then after that, you're still paying Nuge $6m to play 3rd line centre.  That's not economical either.

Essentially, MacTavish's tenure has left Chiarelli with a lot of work to do in the next while.  And I have full confidence Chiarelli will make it happen.

Let the mania begin.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hendricks the Hero

As you all know, during Oilers home games, two Canadian military personnel are honoured and "Hendricks' Heroes" is displayed on the screen which shows the player giving jerseys to those who serve.  It is always a proud moment for our city and even though the player is from the U.S., he still felt it necessary to do such a thing.

So if there is one player I will miss more than any that have departed the Oilers over the past 11 years besides Smytty (although he did return) it's Matt Hendricks.

When then-GM Craig MacTavish traded goalie Devan Dubnyk to Nashville for Matt Hendricks I thought, "Who is this guy?  I've never heard of him."

Then he started playing and he brought that toughness the team so desperately needed.  And by toughness, I mean sacrifice.  Never afraid to drop the gloves.

Never afraid to block a shot.  Never afraid to check a guy into his bench.  He was the sort of player you could not help but love.  And don't forget "The Paralyzer" shootout deke move he patented.  Or yes, the puck to the jewels he took even at a time when the team had no hope of making the playoffs.

Edmonton Journal stalwart Oilers guy Jim Matheson wrote a nice departing article about Hendo here.  Jim is correct when he says Hendricks will likely become a coach.  He's got that respect, locker room presence, and knowledge of the details of the game that will benefit the players that play for him.

The Oilers video at the beginning of the home game shows Hendricks holding his child at home and then training with a quick clip of him screaming at the camera.  It gives me chills.  It always will.  It shows he knows what it means to be a father and to sacrifice.

Courtesy Edmonton Oilers

Courtesy Edmonton Oilers

During the playoff run, when I saw video clips of Hendo in the Oilers locker, fully dressed in uniform and gear, going by each player and pumping them up, I wondered that this was a bit odd for a benched player to be doing this.  

But the iced players wanted him there.  It just goes to show what Mark Messier said a year ago is so very true.

"It's very simple. No individual can win a championship on his own. It's just that simple. You need a lot of support, you need a lot of people thinking the same way, all in alignment. You need the heart and the dedication and the character to make it happen.
"We realized that. When you win, the stage is big enough for everybody. You've got to make everybody feel that their contributions are just as important as the next guy's no matter whether it's 30 minutes a game or two minutes a game. Everybody's got to feel that they're important.
"If they don't bring their best every game, you have zero chance of winning there. We were able to convince everybody that came here that they were important and we needed them."
Mark Messier
at the Farewell to Rexall Place Ceremony

As he's a UFA on July 1 and unlikely he'll be resigned with the Oilers, we can only wish Matt Hendricks well on signing with another team.

He gave it all every game and when he arrived, he brought character to a team that didn't have any, And as fans, we should be grateful and thank him for his sacrifice and his time as an Oiler.

For me, he'll always be Hendricks the Hero.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Oilers lost but they won hearts back

Young fans pressed up on the glass prior to the Oilers first playoff game.
Photo courtesy of myself.
Another game 7.  Another disappointing loss.  For those fans who weren't around in 2006, I say "another", because we had the same feeling.  We also had hope for the next season. And the next. And the next.

Now THAT was disappointing.  I'm sure you'll take a game 7 disappointing playoff loss over ten years of not even getting to have that feeling, 97 times out of 97.

While there have been thousands of us who have stuck with the team through thick and thin, through several complete roster, coaching, and management changes, with the hope and belief of a better tomorrow, and unconditional love, this season end and playoff run has:

1.  Instilled excitement and awe from new young fans (see photo).  Yes, Connor McDavid most certainly has a lot to do with that, but you must include Cam Talbot, Leon Draisaitl, Patrick Maroon, Milan Lucic, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, and Darnel Nurse, among others into that mix now. Several years ago, many kids couldn't really name any of Oilers, let alone bother to watch them, because their parents didn't either.  For you die hard parents who did watch them with your kids, you can't tell me your son(s) and/or daughter(s) didn't really have a favourite player--maybe Hall or Nuge, but not to the level of McDavidom.  When parents are excited, kids are excited, and then the parents are even more excited that their kids are excited.  It's a happy feedback loop.  It's contagious.  The kids are future season ticket holders.

2.  Woke up the crowd at the arena.  Holy wow was it quiet during the season.  It was being called Rogers Library.  Maybe we were just simply in tune with every nuance of the game and didn't like the distractions of cheering loudly.  That first playoff game was magical.  Every hit, every pass, every shot, blockshot, save had the crowd awing and ooing to noise levels comparable to some of the goals during the decade of darkness (DoD).  So loud.  So awesome.

3.  Brought people together.  I pretty much watch every game.  Even during the DoD, die hard friends or my dad and I would get together to watch.  But now everyone wants to watch.  Friends and family who didn't watch before love watching now.

4.  Made us hate the refs.  I won't go into detail, but man, something has to be done. Hello, team owners!

A few more points about feelings... aw.....

I have this feeling that as we analyzed players and games over the last ten years, that we were able to somehow, but not really, bring this team to a higher ability winning level so that new and returning fans can enjoy this "thing" called the Oilers for years to come.  You're welcome?

Maybe it was the false sense of pride we had during that time when Lowe and Co. made the team shittier and shittier, so that the hockey gods looked down upon how freaking dedicated we were, and granted us the Golden Ticket and the gift of Connor McDavid.  But I don't believe that anymore.  There has to be the components that bind the team together.  Mark Messier used to say that every single person on the team is important.  These Oilers have finally learned that again.

Throughout all of this, for all of us, and the players and staff, the most important thing is that the players:

5.  Won our hearts.

And for that, we can be grateful, and ever hopeful.

Always believe.

Never give up.

Let's GO Oilers!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Game 4 vs Ducks: "Finding ways to lose"

Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry interferes with Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot as puck shot into Oilers' net.
Image courtesy of Sportsnet.
In every series, there always seems to be that one guy no one expects to step up.  For the Oilers it was Zackassian in the 1st round.  In this one, it's Jakob Silfverberg.  Before the puck dropped, my wife and I commented on how this guy was dangerous.  I think we'll stop saying these things from now on, but I'd like to take that extra and unnecessary "f" in his name, add some letters to it and give it back to him, if you know what I mean.  I'm not saying I don't like the guy, but damn.

Quick recap...

Oilers deserved to win game 1.  They defensively shutdown the Ducks and potted 3.

Oilers didn't deserve to win game 2.  Anaheim outplayed them, but the puck luck was with the Oil.

Oilers didn't deserve to win game 3.  They were outplayed in periods 1 and 3.  Goaltending wasn't up to snuff, but neither was the Oilers defensive game.

But in game 4, it's a different story.  Did the Oilers deserve to win the game?  First period was Oilers Oilers Oilers, but then they took some dumb penalties, and got into serious trouble in the 2nd period.

Then the Ducks had their "7th man":

Goaltender interference, challenged by McLellan, denied, but goal counted.

Offside, no coaches challenge left for McLellan, but goal.

Even the smart learned CBC/Sportsnet panel of MacLean, Kyprios, Hrudey, and Friedman all agreed on these bad calls.  When THEY agree, then I'll tell ya, the NHL had better do something about the crappola shit-reffing.  Every fan in every series is commenting on how bad the refs are this year in not enforcing the rules, but particularly the absolute inconsistency.

Luckily the Oilers poured it on late in the 3rd and The Drake potted one in front to tie it up to go to overtime. Relief.

Then icing by the Ducks was marked by the 1st linesman with his hand up, but it was waived by the 2nd linesman, seemingly thinking Klefbom could get to the puck in time, which he absolutely could not, and then the ref got in the way in the corner, a soft battle on the boards, and next thing you know, the puck is in the Oilers net. More on that in a sec.


No excuse for Jordan Eberle to not only make one, but two soft plays. I'd say he looks like a rookie out there, but he was better as a rookie so it's an insult to his former self.  Already in his bad books, Coach McLellan promptly relegated Ebs to the 4th line and then benched him for many shifts with Anton Slepyshev moving up the lineup.  He's way faster and harder than Ebs and actually shoots well.

Then Nuge actually gets the puck in front of his net for a split second, but because he doesn't swiftly shoot it out like the instincts should make you do, Getzlaf treats Nuge's stick like a paper doll and pots one past Talbot.

In OT, icing or not, a soft play on the boards by the Oilers young D, and Getzlaf has no trouble retrieving the puck to dish it to none other than Jakob Silfverberg left alone in front for a zapper of a shot.

And you know, if that was Eberle on the other end, he'd have caught the puck in his catcher's mit-of-a-stick, held it there for 8 seconds, and lobbed a soft wrister right at Gibson.


Soft plays against a hard team will kill you.

And that, my friends, is how the Oilers are finding ways to lose.

Friday, April 28, 2017

"Finding ways to win" and analyzing Anaheim line matchups

Oilers forward Zack Kassian fights Ducks Ryan Kesler in Game 1 of Round 2
Image courtesy of Edmonton Journal

"Finding ways to win"  

I've always had difficulty in understanding what that common canned cliche spouted by players in their interviews actually means.  I can't stand cliches.  What is "the way" exactly?

In looking at Game 1 vs. the Ducks, "ways to win" consisted of generally taking advantage of Gibson's weaker goaltending, but even with McDavid not really producing, he still has an incredible effect on the game.

1. McDavid drawing penalties
This put the Oilers on the PP more than once to take advantage of Ducks weak PK.  Many say he's been playing hurt or is suffering from the flu going around the team, but McDavid is still able to skate faster than anyone and draw hooks, and that's mighty valuable.

That counted for 2 goals from Letestu on the left side from a rebound off Gibson.

2. Behind the net goals
On several occasions, Nurse, Sekera and Larsson all saw lanes to the net.  Sekera went behind on left side and tried to slip one off Gibson and it almost went in with Gibson sprawling.  Larsson then tried the same thing on the right side and the puck deflected off of a Ducks d-man and went in, making it the game winning goal.  I believe the Oilers goalie coach Dustin Schwartz saw this weakness in Gibson and instructed the Oilers d-men to "go for it" and they then actually practised this drill.

That counted for 1 goal and almost 2.

3.  Poor line changes
The Oilers used to be bad on this in the season. The OT goal against the Sharks in game 5, they took advantage of their own line change where McDavid went off and Desharnais skated on, snuck inside down the middle to accept a perfect needle pass from Draisiatl and score. Where in Game 1 vs. the Ducks, the Ducks were caught on a bad line change while the Oilers were in the o-zone and Larsson saw an opportunity to pull a Desharnais, slipped into the middle, and again, got a perfect pass from Drai to zing a wrister for a goal.

4.  Shadowing McDavid
This strategy can backfire. It stymies Getzlaf on performing more offense and in taking offensive draws where he has to match with McDavid in draws in the d-zone, and it's proven to free Draisaitl to do this magic, which he most certainly has.  It's a one or the other situation, but the Ducks can't seem to stop both.

Analyzing Anaheim line matchups...
Courtesy of, the Corsi weighting per line/pair is displayed against the competition.
Below, the top 6x6 are the d-pair matchups and the rest are the forwards.

Main match-ups:

Anaheim d-pairs against Oilers d-pairs:
Fowler/Montour pair got beat by Oilers 1st pair (Klefbom/Larsson)
Lindholm/Manson pair got beat by Oilers 2nd pair (Sekera/Russell)
Theodore/Bieksa pair got beat by Oilers 3rd pair (Nurse/Benning)

Anaheim d-pairs against Oilers forward lines:
Fowler/Montour pair got beat by most Oilers lines
Lindholm/Manson pair beat Oilers 1st and 3rd lines
Theodore/Bieksa pair got beat by most Oilers lines

Anaheim forward lines against Oilers d-pairs:
Ducks Getzlaf 1st line got beat by Oilers 2nd pair (Sekera/Russell)
Ducks Kesler 2nd line beat most Oilers d-pairs
Ducks Thompson 3rd line beat Oilers 1st pair (Klefbom/Larsson)
Ducks Vermette 4th line pretty even with Oilers Desharnais 4th line.

Anaheim forward lines against Oilers forward lines:
Ducks Getzlaf 1st line got beat by Oilers Nuge 2nd line.
Ducks Kesler 2nd line pretty even with Oilers McDavid 1st line.
Ducks Thompson 3rd line beat Oilers Letestu 3rd line.
Ducks Vermette 4th line got beat by Oilers 3rd pair (Nurse/Benning)

Oilers beat Ducks in 8 main matchups
Ducks beat Oilers in 4 main matchups
No clear adv. in 2 main matchups.

While it seems Anaheim had more puck possession in the Oilers zone, they didn't have as many grade "A" chances.  These games are decided by slight edges, where the top six of each team usually matches up well against each other, the advantage goes to the teams with an edge on power plays and defensive or bottom six heroes.