Thursday, October 31, 2013

An Oilers healthy lineup...

What happens when Hall, Smyth, Joensuu, Pitlick, Hamilton, and MacIntyre all return?  This is a difficult task to put the lines together.  It's fair to say now that we need defensive-minded forwards with at least 1 or 2 on each line. With that in mind, consider this:

1. Hall-Nuge-Ebs:   Nuge n Ebs are both not too bad defensively.
2. Jones-Arco-Gags:   Jones is playing well d-wise and can get in front of the net, and Arco is one of our best forwards d-wise and is better at centre than Gags in my opinion--heck in many people's opinions.
3. Perron-Gordon-Yak/Hem: Yak/Hem aren't high defensively but Hemsky is better. Picture Gordon winning a faceoff in our end back to Justin and he fires it to Yak, Hem, or Perron and a way we go.
4. Smyth-Pitlick-Joensuu:  Now THERE's a 4th line.  Pitlick can actually play centre.

It's pretty crowded, isn't it?  What of Ryan Hamilton, Lander, Gazdic, Eager, MacIntyre?  Keep Lander as he's the most versitile of the bunch. Gazdic just isn't getting any bites on fights and is proving himself not worthy.

But right now, with Perron day-to-day and Hall, Smyth, Joensuu, Hamilton, and Pitlick out, I would suggest this:
1. Jones-Arco-Ebs2. Yak-Nuge-Gags
3. Lander-Gord-Hem
4. Gazdic-Acton-Eager

From Bob Stauffer this morning at practice we have:
1. Jones-RNH-Hemsky
2. Yakupov-Gagner-Eberle
3. Arcobello-Gordon-Lander/Hamilton
4. Gazdic-Acton-Eager
..Smyth skating as a D. No J. Schultz

That 3rd line is all centres. Poor Arco.. he really should be at centre on at least the 2nd line.  And what's this about Justin?  Not another one!

On defense, it's pretty straight forward, but each line should have a puck mover and a stay-at-home.  Belov and Justin just doesn't work for anyone.

1. Ference-Petry
2. Smid-J.Schultz
3 .N.Schultz-Belov

If any injuries should come (Justin?) there's a slew of decent 5/6 guys like Larsen, Fedun, Marincin, Davidson to call up, but that means we gotta send down Hamilton.

What a mess.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Leaves 4 - Oilers 0

Oilers with 43 shots! FORTY THREE!

Beat em on faceoffs and hits again too. 

As I said in my previous post, our wingers have been cheating on D. They really didn't do it much today.

But when one bloody defenseman pinches in on offence, shouldn't the other (hello Belov) move to the back to help or a forward (hello Gagner, Yak)?

Oilers took too many risks and it cost them. Too many giveaways and bad passes. 

Plus all the injuries including Perron sick today leaving them with 11 forwards and Jones and Ebs playing lots of minutes.

What I still don't get is why we're playing our top offensive line against the other team's top line? 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Oilers Plague: Top 6 Wingers

David Staples from the Edmonton Journal Cult of Hockey Blog posted today about the scoring chance differentials of Oilers wingers over the past several years.  He's concluded that wingers like Perron, Yakupov, and Hemsky have not been very good at playing good defensive-style hockey.

In watching this team intently for years, especially since 2007, the year after the Cup run, and when we lost or traded a lot of defensive-minded players, the team has been abysmal on defense overall.

And yes, while the defensive core has also not been up to par either, this year, the defense are actually much better than the past two years, and while everyone is asking for those impossible-to-find-and-trade-for #1 and 2 d-men, they're not looking at what's finally glaring out at us all, and something I've been saying since the season started:

Oilers top 6 wingers suck at defense.  They're cheating for a breakout play and not pinching in to help their defense and centre teammates to actually gain the puck back first.  They're expecting them to just flip it up to them and it's obviously not happening all the time.

Krueger's defensive system last year essentially allowed wingers to cheat, but it opened up a huge hole in the gap that when a team knew how to exploit it, they were firing off shots at Dubnyk at an unprecedented rate and why the team was one of the worst five on five.  Actually, they were absolutely atrocious five on five.  

So in comes Eakins this year with a very demanding swarm defensive team system.  In watching some of the scoring chances and goals against us this year so far, the entire system breaks down with the wingers cheating and not helping enough.  It's as if they're still used to Krueger's system.  It's really why Yak got sat.  He even admitted he doesn't like to play that style.  And it makes me wonder if that's why St. Louis traded for Perron, being that St. Louis is a very defensive-minded team.

Yakupov, Perron, Hall, Hemsky, and to a lesser extent, Eberle, don't have the greatest scoring chance differentials and are all to blame.  Hemsky most of all.  And you don't need stats to see it.  We've been witnessing it for years and it's been frustrating to watch.

Thank God for our top nine centres playing excellent defense. Nuge, Arcobello, and Gordon have been carrying the forward lines this year in playing good two-way defense.  This year, they're actually in the top 5 in the league in scoring differential 5 on 5.  Unfortunately, the special teams aren't up to snuff, they're taking too many penalties, goaltending is questionable, and the injuries have piled up a la 2011.

At Eakins' presser this morning, he said he believes the team is commited to this system and it'll take time for them to adjust to a defense-first mindset and compete level.  I sure hope so.

This system works. It's worked with the Marlies, but it takes commitment from the team.  It's why he sat Kadri when Eakins coached him.  But look at him now.

These are examples of why exactly MacT brought Eakins in and why this fan believes, Eakins is the guy who isn't offering the quick-fix, but the longer-term solution to fix a problem that has been plaguing this team for 6 years.

While it might have been a good idea to put Eakins as coach and Krueger as associate coach and in charge of special teams instead of Keith Acton, here we are.

I just hope it turns around in the next 7 games.  There are glimpses in all the close games and being able to compete toe to toe now with the defensive teams that are dominating the league.

So hang in there, Oilers fans.  We've been doing it for 6 years, another season isn't gonna kill ya, but for me, only if our wingers actually commit to defense first.  So far, not so good.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Oilers 1 vs. Kings 2 (SO) notes

The Good

Richard Bachman. Wow. It was his point and his point only.  I won't go further into him being a backup or #1 at this time. Way too early.  He's a bit small though and needs to come out more to cut angles compared to Dubey who generally stays tight to the net.

Yak scores his first of the year and on a PP.  Hope it's the first of many, many more, especially with Hall out of the lineup. We need that shot threat.  I've said all along that Nuge and Yak need to switch spots on the PP and put Jones in front instead of Perron.  

Jonesy.  Tenacious. Going after Clifford for kneeing Nuge was noble, but perhaps dumb.  That said, it turned a corner for the Oilers who soon after had Yak score one off a rebound.  I liked Nick Schultz's hit on Clifford as well.

The Bad

Our puny but skilled offence didn't get a chance to do much as it was fighting along the boards with the big Kings and losing more often than not.  Wow do we miss our power forwards Joensuu, Pitlick, and Smyth right now.  Our guys were beaten up by the 3rd period and had little energy left.  It's amazing they got through it with 23 shots and only 1 goal.  

The reffing.  Perron got punched in the back of the head in front of the net. No call.  Reminded me of the no call on Nuge against the Leaves. Then Nuge gets kneed by Clifford and no call.  Kings 2nd goal got called back due to goalie interference but there was no penalty for goalie interference although it did seem Schultz pushed him into it. That said, it seemed like a reffing paradox to me.

Hemsky's passing.  I'm so sick of him looping around to the left side and passing backwards and losing the puck, it's just sickening to watch after all these years.  Someone make him stop when he gets behind the net. Just stop. Right there. Now. And then go back the way you came.  Eberle does it all the time, why can't you, Hemmer? Why?  WHY WHY WHY?!?!?!?!?

The Ugly

The number of shots Bachman faced put the Oilers Corsi at a terrible 25%.  The "Swarm" was ineffective, although I hate to beat a dead horse here, but the wingers are still cheating and not fully committing to a team defense.  Not as badly as before, but Eakins must be losing his mind.

Questions remain...

Is Bachman the backstop saviour?  We'll see.

Will the Oilers make the playoffs now?  Very highly unlikely now after 13 games unless they can go 40-19-10.  Why? Because the Western teams are kicking the crap out of the East and the point total will be around 95 or more points.

When is Gagner back and what to do with Arco, who's been playing very well both ways (including leading the team in hits!)?  I say keep Arco and put Gags on his right wing, drop Hemsky to third line... OR send Acton down.

Healthy line up 1:

Healthy line up 2:

I look at this though and say, someone has to be sent down or traded when Hall, Gags, and Joensuu are back. It's crowded.  You gotta know that MacT is going to do something.  But unfortunately, they gotta be healthy.

Did I mention I hate the NHL refs?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Oilers at Coyotes Rant

That was one of the most unluckiest games for the Oilers I've ever seen. The refs were just awful. The elbow on Petry should have been a misconduct. Ference and Smid didn't do squat to deserve time in the box. Arco deflects a high shot that caught the post to go in on LaBarbera. 

Eakins has been mentioning the "Hockey Gods" and how they haven't been kind. I'd suggest not even thinking about Hockey Gods to not give them any clout, if they exist. 

Once again, the team played well overall but can't seem to find the twine. Everything they didn't do well last year, faceoffs, defensive system, shots, going to the net, puck possession, five on five, the Oilers are doing above average overall. But all the positives from last year, we're not doing--PK, PP, goaltending, and mostly, team play. 

A big thing Eakins is also learning as he goes is line matchups. It's almost as if he's experimenting these first chunk of games. Why our first line with a defensive lack like Yak is matched up against Ovechkin seems insane to me. 

Speaking of Yak, on the PP, why is he not on the right half wall to unleash his Sowetzer and Nuge not behind the net working magic and a big guy in front of the net clearing paths? Even Eager would do here now.

The 3rd and 4th lines have played very well both ways the last two games. I'm a huge Pitlick fan and was ecstatic he scored his first goal today. Sucks he got injured on that crazy hip check hit though. I hope he bounces back.

Speaking of luck, let's not forget we're missing two top scorers and now three power forwards. 

I still believe this team is better overall than last year because our five on five is much better. When they find a better PP system and lineup there, I think it will turn around in 10 more games. 

But I fear, like you, it will be too late.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Avs at Oilers notes

Simply put, the Oilers played the Caps game and were timid physically due to the Caps having the best PP in the league and the Oil not wanting to take any chances at all. It was very apparent.

Oilers were toe to toe with them 97% of the game and had a zillion chances. 

The 4th line was way better tonight and on the 3rd line, Jones and Pitlick were bright highlights on the forecheck.

But overall, the Oilers played a safe game and despite the basically even shot and chance differential, they also just couldn't pot anything, except Justin's pinching goal. 

But this safe style...

How did that work out for them?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Oilers vs Caps n Pens (2 losses)

I'm not going to go into the obvious reporting of the game, just my holistic thoughts on this team, which I believe I'm quite in-tune with.

Defense -- the "Swarm":

The system that was mightily effective for the AHL Toronto Marlies making them the best defensive team in the league has not yet translated for the Oilers, currently with the worst defensive numbers.  Something is out of balance here.

The Oilers executed it much better against the Pens than the Caps.  More often I saw two Oilers on one against the boards with a third lurking right behind. And those two Oilers were right on top of the guy too.  Against the Pens I even saw Pittsburgh have three of their guys on the boards against our three, which signals to me that this is a smarter system and when executed, a much more effective system than Krueger's, which allowed the wingers to cheat.  

But, there are offensive drawbacks. It's also why we don't see Hallsy getting a couple steps ahead of the opposition on the left wing and streaking alone to the net.  This is now a "defense first" team.  And until everyone buys in (looking at you Yakupov) and executes it all the time, if one guy is out of position, it leaves a hole in the slot for the opposition to exploit, like they did to us time and time again last year and why we were by far the worst defensive team in the league.

The Oilers are improving on this system every game, but they are still struggling on getting the puck out of their own end.  Too many backhanded passes up the boards is not quick enough.  Belov is still adjusting to the smaller rink on this part of the game.  Smid's stick handling is not up to snuff either, it really never was though, but it's affecting the team.

Overall, we know this system works but its the wingers that have to commit to making it work in order for it to be effective.

Offensive style -- crash:

There is heavy competition for the top six wingers and they want to impress with goals and assists.  But because the wingers can't cheat in this system, they're trying to make the long, cross-ice pass, which is very risky and teams have been intercepting it. Hall and Hemsky have been the absolute worst in the league on this.  Eakins is continuing to promote a more simple game, with less risk.  

You'll also note against the Pens, the Oilers were putting more pucks on the net and crashing it, hoping for garbage goals, which Eberle FINALLY got one after what seemed like a million chances from him.  I was hoping to see Ryan Smyth or Jones out there for more of that grind.

Our shot total and chances are up from last year and this is a huge improvement, whereas last year, the Oilers recorded their worst shots on goal ... ever ... at 12 and most games, they trailed big time in shots for and against.

Goaltending -- new pads and sticks:

Unlike many Oilers fans who don't look around the rest of the league and take note in patterns, I have.  It seems taller goalies are having difficulty adjusting to the new narrower pad and shorter stick regulations, and Dubnyk, being one of the tallest goalies, is having a hell of a time, and so is LaBarbera to an extent.  The hot goalies of last year, are not off to good starts either--Lundqvist, Quick, Miller, Luongo, and more.  These pads and sticks ARE having an effect. Doesn't it seem odd to you that many goalies appear a bit awkward out there than before?

All that said, there are other goalies doing quite well.  Perhaps, their pads and stick from before weren't that big of a difference to the new regulation, but our goalies need to practice and figure this out now.

New Coach - New System

I still feel the Oilers are adjusting to this new coach and system, albeit quite slowly.  They appear to be competing for the puck better and gaining possession back more quickly.

Conversely, the coach is adjusting to this team as well and trying to get them to commit to his system.  He's had to bench Smyth and Yak to hold them accountable and by this logic, others should be benched too (Hall and Hemsky).  Eakins is experimenting with lines and seeing where the chemistry is.  I think he should just ask the players.

Some of the line combinations have been odd, but last night's seemed to have the best chemistry:
  1. Hall - Arco - Ebs:  OKC line finds chemistry again quickly.
  2. Perron - Nuge - Yak:  Nuge and Yak need to play more together because I think Nuge is only centre that compliments Yak.
  3. Smyth - Gordo - Hem:  Hem plays better with defensive centreman (re: Horcoff) and Smyth seems way more comfortable on this style of line too.
  4. Jones - Acton - Brown:  Jones is better than Gazdic or Brown.  This 4th line overall though needs work. No wonder Eakins limits their time.  
What do we do when Gagner comes back?  Arcobello has been playing very well both ways and his advanced stat numbers show it, I'd hate to see him go.  But is Gagner best at centre or right wing? His faceoffs aren't great and he's a leaky centreman, albeit he has tonnes of skill and scoring finesse.  Something doesn't seem right.  I just don't think this team has have enough room for both Yak and Hemsky on the right wing.

Why not do this:

Hall - Arco - EbsPerron - Nuge - YakJonesuu - Gags - HemskySmyth - Gordo - Jones

or this?

Hall - Arco - Ebs
Perron - Nuge - Gags
Joensuu - Gordo - Yak
Smyth - Acton - Hemsky

The Short Term Goal

I think they're improving every couple of games and adjusting to commiting to this system.  All of the above comments hopefully lead the Oilers to be near .500 by the 20th game.  If they don't, let's hope some luck goes their way, injuries are kept low, and with the increased number of shots and chances ratio to the opposition continues on this positive path, if I can believe things will go our way eventually, so can the players.

If things aren't on the right path by that 20th game, look for MacT to try and deal a goalie (he is already), one or two d-men, a skilled winger (Yak), a vet winger (Hemsky) and picks in return for a true #1 goalie, defensive winger, or #1 d-man.  

I also predict Ryan Smyth will retire either by the Olympic break or trade deadline.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Oilers 5 Leafs 6 - The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Good
The Game.  That was a fantastically entertaining game. And wow, was it ever fast... back and forth, goals, great plays.  Toronto fans certainly got their money's worth, the bastards.

Ok, how about those offensive lines?

The new Smyth-Arco-Eberle line.  Suck it naysayers. Ryan Smyth has 3 goals on the season doing what he does best--going to the net. That said, he was on a line with Eberle, who also played well with a beauty wrist shot that had enough power to go through Bernier's glove, and who dangled in the slot with a perfect pass to Smyth.  But how about that Arcobello? He's above 50% on the dot, hitting, and passing really well.  Smyth's TOI wasn't huge but with 5 shots in 12 minutes, that's a very good stat.  Arco got robbed by Bernier. I wish Dubnyk would make saves like that.

Nuge. He's currently our best all-round player. Another goal. His skating and defensive positioning is a joy to watch. He still needs to improve on the dot as he was 9 of 19, but it'll come.  I think Hall and Hemsky on this line works.  Hall and Hemsky were ok.

Joensuu-Gordon-Perron.  I thought Perron played well... he's fun to watch.  But what happened to Joensuu?  It seemed Hall doubled his time on this line, replacing the Big Finn on some shifts.  Gordon is solid. The guy gets so low on faceoffs, he's literally kissing the ice.  I think he's been a great improvement over Horcoff.

We outshot them, out chanced them, out hit them, out faceoffed them.  And we've been doing this much more consistently than last year.  And that's why I believe the Oilers are better than last year and will do better... but Dubnyk.. more on that.

The Bad

Yak benched.  Not sure why.. defense?  Eakins sending a message?  He's got over 4 chances per 15 minutes per game so far, by far the highest on the team up to tonight's game.

The 4th line was basically benched the entire 3rd period.  I don't recall seeing Gadzic, Acton or Brown out there.

Belov didn't have a good game defensively making some weak backhanded passes on the boards out of the corners was atrocious.  That indicates to me he still hasn't fully adjusted to the smaller rink.

Our wingers are STILL cheating on defense and not executing Eakins' swarm system by pinching in lower to help.  I don't think our defense are the problem here, they're not getting help from the wingers which is trickling down to Dubie.

The Ugly

Dubnyk.  Kadri's shot from the low side should not have gone in.  Lupul's goal was also soft.   But even though Nuge got the back of his head punched which led to a 3 on 1, the goal wasn't bad, but it was the bad rebound he gave on a big fat platter that led to the OT winner goal that was bad.

The refs.  Nuge gets punched in the back of the head and knocked down which led to a 3 on 1 to close the game.  Clearly a penalty, especially in OT.  What a joke.  Fuck you refs and your continued bias toward big market T Dot. Fuck you fifty times. Fuck!  There was also a skirmish started by Ference and one of the Leaves punches and jumps on one of our guys, Perron I think.  No penalty.

Oilers can't seem to beat Canadian teams so far.  With a minute left and we're up 5-4, I thought the absolute worst would happen, and it did.  I guess I know my team.  But here's to hoping things turn around in Washington on Monday.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Oilers - Game 1 vs Jets

Highlight players: Joensuu, Hemsky, Belov, Gazdic! 

Struggled: Yak, Ebs, Justin, Smyth

Poor: Hall, Dubnyk

Blame the "poor" from above all you want but wow are we weak weak weak down the middle. One guy. Only one guy with NHL experience at centre (Gordon).

I'll say it again--Hall clearly misses playing with Ebs n Nuge.

4 goals should win most games. And it was true until the 3rd period. Oilers executed their new swarm D in the first two periods quite well but about 6-7 minutes into the 3rd, the tank ran out.

Eakins admitted to poor player management. Joensuu's line should have been playing top minutes but he was 5 minutes behind Smyth. As Eakins said, Smyth had an average game.

Dubnyk missed two goals and was bow average tonight.

Hall turned over the puck too much.

Those three guys need to step it up.

Oilers - The "A" Game and Smyth

Today, Eakins announced 6 alternate captains. Six. Hall, Nuge, Ebs, Gags, Smyth, Nick Schultz. With Nuge n Gags out that leaves four, all who have worn an "A" before. It's a good thing. All have led by example. I'm particularly enamoured by Smyth not only being on the first line with Hall and Hem but being given an "A". Eakins must see what I see and what Krueger didn't, where he buried him in an unknown position on 4th line centre.
I've said all along that Smyth should be Smyth--parking and grinding behind and in front of the net, which, by the way is 4 inches shallower, fitting for wrap arounds. Look for that along with deflections and garbage goals from the veteran.

To the Smyth naysayers, it was unfair for him last year under a very bad defensive system.

This year is a clean slate. Eakins has said so and shown it. Smyth has had nothing to prove other than being himself.. a true tough, experienced grinder.

Game on!

Edmonton Oilers - Season Insight

With the NHL season starting today, my obsession with 'everything Oilers' that has consumed my life this past year, and reading everything I can about every player, I want to share my own insight on the team I've been following since I was about 9 years old.  

I've been mighty impressed with the new advanced statistics gathered and analyzed by Oilers' bloggers (especially 'Boys On The Bus' and 'The Edmonton Journal Cult of Hockey Blog') that have consistently confirmed my own feelings and thoughts watching the games the past season.


There's been a lot of improvements this summer with the team. Let's look at them and at what the future holds this season.

1. Tambo gonzo--the return of MacT.
The first move was President of Hockey Ops, Kevin Lowe's firing of GM Steve "Dithers" Tambellini. Well deserved. It doesn't take a good GM to get 3 #1 picks in a row. It's bad luck followed by luck.  The hiring of former captain and coach Craig MacTavish as GM appeared to be a recycled 'old boys' hire.  But we all have to admit, MacT's moves and style have been night and day compared to before.  He's brought back Scott Howson from Columbus as his right hand man and Billy Moores as Director of Coaching Development--a very smart move on its own.  OIL UP.

2. Ralph gone. Dallas? Dallas? Who the f@#$ is Dallas?  
In playing sports for many years, I've always had an instinct for defense, where defense is #1. It's difficult to practice defense on your own in any team sport. The only way, really, is to have great instincts, experience, and be in great shape.

So this early summer, when MacT made his first "bold move" by firing rookie NHL coach Ralph Krueger and replacing him with a soon-to-be NHL rookie coach, the successful AHL Toronto Marlies' coach, Dallas Eakins, it was a shock to many.

However, in further insight by several bloggers, the homework was done in looking at the absolutely abysmal five-on-five record of the team last year.  These bloggers showed video clips of what was a very leaky defensive system, and they had all the stats to back it up too.  This system, what we can gather, appears to be based on a "big rink" European-style, where the players are more spread out in their own end, particularly the wingers, who stay high near their blue line, perhaps ready for a quick offensive transition break-out.  This style, in theory, would make sense with the run and gun young offensive talent the Oilers have.

But this is not Europe. It's a smaller rink. I remember watching the first episode of "Oil Change" and seeing 1st pick Nail Yakupov on the rink with Sam Gagner and Samwise telling the rookie that due to the smaller rink, wingers are expected to pinch in and help out the d-men and the centre with their opponent(s) on the boards by staying quite close. Well, the opposite happened under Krueger's system.  Wingers stayed high, and the lowly centreman was tasked with the help--on both sides of the rink.

Why do you think Ryan Nugent-Hopkins offensive numbers were down but his defensive Corsi rating against tough opponents was high?  The Nuge spent more time playing defense.  Why? Because that was the system he was under.  And that system, my friends, has never been used by any team in the NHL ever.

We're sure MacT looked at the success of Eakins' defensive system with the Marlies', a team that had the best defensive record in the AHL last year, in comparison to the Oilers', who had, by far, the worst five on five defensive record. Eakins' uses a "swarm" system, which is quite common.

But combined with a high focus on fitness, playing a more attacking, quick possession regain defense, Eakins' recognizes that it's success depends on the players having a high fitness level.  No way you could use that system in the KHL as the rink is so big, energy management becomes a parameter.  And for a team that lacks size like the Oilers' to use brute force to gain the puck, the bet is that a high level of fitness and determination will beat a lazy Dustin Penner brute force style a majority of the time.

So, I believe, Krueger got fired because of his terrible defensive system and Eakins' got hired for his good system and more. Much, more.

This will be the biggest impact of change this year.  He admitted today that it's taking a while for the players to adjust and buy into his system and there is still work to do on that front.  Let's hope it's sooner rather than later.  Culturally, it's been night and day.  Krueger's style was "too esoteric" by MacT standards.  Eakins' has come in with a "clean slate", "we're not a young team", "unflappable" style that has been very refreshing for all of us, more so the players.  "You play well, you'll play more."  No more donuts at press meetings--veggie plates instead. Dressing room changes.  Joining new d-man and captain Andrew Ference at fitness mornings at the Legislature with 200 random Edmontonians at 6am, he's set a very serious tone in this city.  OIL UP.

4. Defensemen.
Goodbye Whitney, Peckham, et al. Hello Cup guy-local guy, Andrew Ference, now our captain (which I predicted). Hello, KHL #1 dynamo Belov, former Oiler Grebeshkov, Horcoff trade guy Larsen.  Not only is there a better system in place (not hard to be better than total crap), but the D are at least 40% better than last year as far as experience and skill.

4a. D-prospects.
Unlike last year all teams have had a chance to have a proper development and training camp and preseason. With the loaded up prospects from the past two years, much attention has been placed on young, future stars. The 2013 Draft had the Oilers go big on defense with Darnel Nurse and he developed and adjusted quickly during camp. Many thought he'd actually make the team, at least for the first 11 games before he'd be required to be sent down without a pro contract.  Other d-prospects, Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, Taylor Fedun have impressed and this fan is sad to see Fedun sent down, especially after a disappointing injury at camp previously. I also liked Larsen.  The Oilers have good d-depth now, especially on call-ups.  I'm not worried about it anymore. Finally.

5. Forwards.  

a. Goodbye captain Horcoff, hello Boyd Gordon. Horcoff was a love/hate player with a huge contract that did not sit well in a low-cap market for this season. The jury is out if high faceoff/defensive Corsi Gordon will fill the shoes and many feel he's a perfect 4th line centre, not 3rd line due to his lack of offensive prowess.  Let's call this EVEN for now.

b. Perron for Paajarvi. This WAS a bold move. St. Louis needed some younger talent with a lot of potential. Oilers needed results now although Maggie had a very good end of season momentum. The timing was perfect. This was a steal of a trade and one of MacT's best moves so far--especially in so far that we have recently learned Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, after seeing Maggie in camp, sees what we saw all along: fast, good skills, but not forceful enough, especially for the style that the Blues play.  Perron has so far been very good during preseason. Blues fans were very sad to see him go.  OIL UP.

c. TTFN Hartikainen, hello Jesse Joensuu.  I was a big Hartski fan and at times it looked he'd breakthrough somehow, but like Paajarvi, it didn't pan out and he's off to Europe on his own while the Oil maintain his rights.  His replacement?  Islanders winger, Finnish big man Jesse Joensuu, who has blown the doors off of expectations as low as they were, during camp.  Another great pick up by MacT. OIL UP.

d. 4th line. What a mess. Who knows who's on it day to day.  Right now it looks like Eager - Acton - Brown.  Picking up former Oiler Steve MacIntyre to play tough guy now sees him on the IR. His quick replacement was Dallas AHL prospect fighter Luke Gazdic.  I used to be an Eager fan because of his speed, and didn't really miss him being sent down last year, but with better coaching, he's ideal for the 4th line with limited minutes.  Is Wil Acton a slight improvement over Chris VandeVelde or Anton Lander?  Perhaps a wee bit so far. But I'll take him over Belanger any day.  On the right, Mike Brown remains. Tenacious indeed.  Gone down are fan-favourite Ryan Jones, who has lost his step from the eye injury last year. I think I'd rather have him in than Brown but we already have a pile of skill.  We do need more toughness.  Is the 4th line better than last year?  We'll see.  EVEN, but OIL UP if they can get the top three lines to play more PK and better 5v5 defense where the 4th line isn't needed as much, which is what I think is going to happen--more 3 line scoring rotation from Eakins'.

e. Forward prospects. Quite lacking.  Mark Arcobello filling in for Sam Gagner right now, which is what he'll continue to be--a fill in.  Great skill, but way too small for a 2nd line centre.  Heck, Gagner is too small for that too.  I was impressed with Tyler Pitlick as a future, if not called up 4th line winger.  Linus Omark? Meh.  Had a terrible camp, made maybe two good plays.  AHL guys Ryan and Curtis Hamilton,  are also notable mentions, but definitely Jujhar Khaira.  Andrew Miller, MacT's early pick up from Yale was a disappointment compared to expectations.

6. Backup goalie. 
Goodbye Khabbi, hello Jason LaBarbara from Phoenix. I liked the Bulin Wall and think he's a tad better than LaBarbara.  Everyone's saying Dubnyk needs to be a bit better. Well no shit, but I thought he was outstanding last year already.  Let's talk in 20 games and see.

6a. Ty Rimmer.  Very good prospect who's leaped over Tyler Bunz (who just got sent to the ECHL again).  Richard Bachman and Olivier Roy are the guys in OKC.  If Dubnyk gets injuried though, yikes.
Dubnyk is better than last year but backups aren't as good, so OIL EVEN.


Those are the major changes and the Oilers have many more improvements than lack. Now let's look at what we need as far as players to win the Cup.

1.  Two-way centre.
With Nuge and Gags out injured, Hall has moved over, albiet temporary. With AHL-level guys Mark Arcobello and Will Acton filling in, we really don't have a full two-way centre at all right now.  Many waived centres were bypassed by MacT.  I can only think that this big piece of the puzzle is what MacT is building up for--a megatrade or something--the real bold move everyone is hoping for.  On Draft Day he traded away higher round picks for many more lower picks.  But with the Oilers on the cap limit, we'd have to move Hemsky and or Nick Schultz and a pick.

2.  #1 D man.  
Is Andrew Ference the guy?  He's not big enough nor a more offensive guy than Justin Schultz to be a true #1, like a Chara or Weber. All good teams have this kind of guy.

3.  Solid 4th line.
Shorthanded, greasy goals galore, while truly stopping the other team from scoring.


Who needs to really step up?

1.  Hemsky:  MacT not finding any takers this year, Hemmer couldn't have it any better than being paired with Hall and Smyth right now.  Eakins has been very impressed, but a couple times during preseason, Hemmer wasn't playing due to illness or injury, which makes none of us fans surprised at all.

2.  J. Schultz:  His play diminished throughout the year.  Let's hope his fitness level improves so he can handle his first big full season.

3.  Dubnyk:  No more crappy bad angle goals please, and that's all we ask. It happens to the best of goalies, but just saving a few of those could make all the difference.

I'm not worried at all about Hall, Eberle, or Yakupov one bit, except Hall will likely score less at centre.


Here's how the healthy lines COULD go, in my humble opinion:

1. Hall - Nuge - Eberle:  The chemistry stats on these three is through the roof. Can't split them up although perhaps Hall and Perron switch so Hall plays with Yak.
2. Perron - ???  - Yakupov:  They need a big guy to clear the way for Yak and Perron or Hall to zoom in on the wings.
3. Joensuu - Gagner - Hemsky:  Not a bad 3rd, or heck, 2nd line at all.  Very skilled.
4. Smyth - Gordon - Brown:  Experienced and smart, although I'd love to see Tyler Pitlick on this line for sure next year.

For now:

1. Smyth - Hall - Hemsky:  Hall clearly misses playing with Nuge and Ebs but doesn't mind Hemmer and less so Smyth.
2. Perron - Arco - Eberle:  The right side pair played very well together in OKC last year.  Perron will hopefully make up for Arco's lack of NHL experience for now.
3. Joensuu - Gordon - Yakupov:  Very interesting line up, with three players and nothing in common.  Big checker, faceoffs, and super skill.  I think the chemistry will take time with these guys.
4. Eager - Acton - Brown/Gazdic.  I hope they don't play much.

Ference - J. Schultz:  should be very good.  Justin couldn't ask for a better guy to be paired with right now.
Smid - Petry: no surprise. Let's hope Petry continues to improve and not go stagnant.
N. Schultz - Belov:  a small shutdown guy paired with a big all-round player in Belov.


Is this a Stanley Cup team? No. :
Is it a playoff team?  Just barely.  They WILL win 50% of the games including shootout wins.

I predict, like many have, that the Oilers will finish 4th or 5th in the Pacific behind the California teams and maybe Vancouver.  If 5th, they'll be ahead of the 4th place Central team so they get in on the new crossover.  The Canucks, now the Oilers official rivals this year, will see the Oilers beat them in the season series (last year overall, the Oilers were slightly better) and THAT alone will make the difference.

But with the improvements over last year that I've mentioned, I think the Oilers are one of the most underrated teams in the league and will have a much better year because of a new serious focus on defense, which will be 40% better than last year (players and system), fitness level, attitude, combined with even more skill (Perron, Joensuu, Ference, Belov), toughness (Joensuu, Ference, Perron, Gazdic, Belov), and depth.

1. San Jose Sharks:  It's time. Many predicted they'd go all the way last year.
2. Anaheim Ducks:  They're old, but they're good.
3. LA Kings:  Always lack during the regular season, but tough tough tough.
4. Edmonton Oilers:  The Rodney Dangerfield of the league will surprise most, especially the jerks at TSN.
5. Vancouver Canucks:  Loungo will burst with all the pressure.  Torts will piss everyone off but they'll make the play offs because the Central division lacks.
6. Arizona Coyotes:  Could possibly be better than Vancouver but they're sooo booorring to watch.
7. Calgary Flames:  Coaching is not the problem here at all... poor management of long term. They'll certainly steal many games from top teams, so no one should be complacent.

1. Chicago Blackhawks:  They're just pure excellent.
2. St. Louis Blues:  It's definitely time.  Top defensive team in the league.
3. Dallas Stars:  underrated.
4. Nashville Predators: not as good as many think
5. Winnipeg Jets:  could be better than Nashville but the Jets were in a shitty division last year.
6. Minnesota Wild:  boring and overrated
7. Colorado Avalanche:  they're the new Blue Jackets.. and will grow this year but be much better next.


1st Round:
Oilers vs. Sharks
Kings vs. Ducks
Canucks vs. Blackhawks
Stars vs. Blues

2nd Round:
Oilers vs. Ducks
Blues vs. Blackhawks

3rd Round:
Oilers vs. Blues

Stanley Cup:
Blues vs. Penguins:  Blues.  A few have predicted but their D is tops.  Toews Team and then Syd and Co. won't be able to get through it.

Call me a crazy optimistic fan, but it's entirely possible, especially with a healthy Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and a big trade for another two-way centreman near the Spring deadline. No one is predicting what I have here, that the Oilers go to the Conference finals, and that suits me just fine.  Call it a BOLD MOVE.

And SOMETHING has to happen this year.  We've waited long enough.  The rebuild IS over.