It’s been a topsy turvy first quarter of the 08-09 Oilers season. A great example is contained in this thread where you can read comments like “I would also have to say he must be one of the more challenging wingers to play with in the entire NHL as you know your role will be to watch him circle and try and find a soft spot to fire a one timer” and “the frustration with Hemsky is that he is now in his 7th professional season, and he’s making the same mistakes he made as a rookie.”
I have literally no idea exactly how difficult it is to score in the NHL but based on watching it for many years it’s pretty clear that it’s a ridiculous task. NHL coaches are fully aware of it and stack their rosters with people who can contribute to keeping the puck out of the net and then a few men to fly sorties into the opposition’s territory in hopes of a successful strike.
THAT’S why Ales Hemsky is so bloody important. The next time he’s playing poorly and turns the puck over 5 times in a game at the blueline, we need to remember that he’s still one of the best in the game at certain things and those things contribute to goals.
Do we really want to see an Oilers team that doesn’t have Hemsky?
- 88%: Ales Hemsky- I projected him to go 18gp, 6-17-23 and he’s gone 20gp, 5-16-21. He’s a little behind in PPG but considering the start and the linemate shuffle I’d say our man Ales is having a stellar season. His EV/60 number is 2.10 now which is “in the range” for previous seasons (2.36 a year ago and 2.09 two seasons ago) and remains a ridiculous powerplay performer. I can say with confidence that if Ales Hemsky played for Vancouver we’d be in awe of him, but for some reason Oilers fans are slow to recognize greatness when it’s right in front of them. It’s probably because everyone who follows Gretzky looks a little less awesome.
- 86%: Lubomir Visnovsky: I suggested he’d go 19gp, 3-10-13 and so far this season he’s 20gp, 4-8-12. That’s pretty close to bang on. I think he’s brilliant, and in fact Lubo makes other people better because of the number of “touches” he gets in games. Seriously, his “range factor” is off the charts, I’m always seeing Souray slow up because Lubo’s got the icing or a loose puck in the neutral zone being gobbled up by 71. He’s a puck hawk and he’s a very good one. I think you can make a strong case he’s been more valuable to this team than Hemsky, and I love Hemsky’s season.
- 80%: Sheldon Souray- I projected him to be 13gp, 3-4-7 at the quarter pole, Souray is in fact 19gp, 7-8-15. Offensively, he’s been shocking. Seriously, the guy has a rocket launcher back there and when the puck hits the net there’s going to be trouble for the other side. I may be marking him too harshly, but Sheldon Souray has some chaos in his defensive game and for that he comes in below some other guys.
- 75%: Shawn Horcoff- This fellow has a problem, and it’s the same as the one Gary Carter had with the Expos. When team’s don’t win, the fans define the reasons and then for some reason focus on the one guy who seems to be doing a good job in that area. With Carter it was RBI’s (“why can’t this team drive in runs? Gary Carter’s the cleanup guy, it’s his fault we’re losing!”) and with Horcoff it’s the faceoff circle. I mean he’s doing a reasonable job (50.1% in 421 faceoffs) but even MacTavish is rambling on about him needing to do better. Meanwhile Cogliano is doing so poorly that he can’t be used in important situations and the other PK C is being eaten alive as a penalty killer. Must be Horcoff’s fault. I suggested he should be at 18gp, 7-11-18 and he’s at 20gp, 5-6-11. I don’t think that’s a huge gap and he’ll have a better 20-game stretch down the line this season. I do worry about his coach, though.
- 72%: Dwayne Roloson- I pegged him at 3.20/.899 and he’s currently at 3.02/.913 which is a nice season. I don’t really have any kind of read on the Oilers goalies this season, as it’s not clear to me that the #3 guy (Garon) isn’t really the number 1 guy. Either way, Roloson is definitely in the home stretch of his Oilers career and is playing well.
- 70%: Andrew Cogliano- Reasonable expectations were pegged at 20gp, 5-6-11 and he’s at 20gp, 5-4-9 so would appear to be right on target. I shoud have taken some points away because Cogliano has not been able to step into that massive void up the middle that was left when Stoll and Reasoner left. No one could reasonably argue he was ready, but when the Oilers traded Stoll and allowed Reasoner to walk he must have been part of the plan (at least from the GM’s chair). He is not helpful in the FO circle and until recently was lacking in offense. He needs to be better, but I haven’t nicked him because this is an organizational flaw.
- 69%: Tom Gilbert- His reasonable expectations were 20gp, 2-4-6 and he is at 20gp, 2-9-11 at this time. I’ve nicked him heavily because of inconsistent play, although much of that is rightly placed at the doorstep of his D partner Grebeshkov in this report card. He’s come on as of late but needs to be better the rest of the way.
- 66%: Ethan Moreau- I had him going 13gp, 3-1-4 and Ethan is 20gp, 5-5-10 and playing with abandon. His number would be higher save for the usual dumb penalties and the fact that he’s played some of the season with skill players (thus making his offensive spike less surprising). It’s also a mystery to me that a team that appears to be ruddlerless on many nights hasn’t seen more leadership from him. He continues to be refreshing voice in that he speaks his mind but I can’t help feeling this club might be better if he was the one verbally arranging the furniture instead of MacT.
- 65%: Marc Pouliot- Projected to go 19gp, 2-5-7, he’s currently at 20gp, 1-3-4 which is well within the range. I’ve been reading some of the comments about Poo and it looks to me like some of us have been on the ether and some of us are seeing the truth. To my eye, he’s a better player now than he’s been at any time save for the two spring’s where Pouliot looked like he belonged. If the Oilers keep him on the ice for 12 minutes a night all winter I’m pretty confident he’ll be an NHL player by the time I’m yelling at my kids on holidays. His EV/60 number (1.26) is not far from where it was a year ago and he’s a pretty good player when out there with actual NHLers (as has been observed many times by Dennis).
- 62%: Jeff Deslauriers- I had him pegged at 3.50/.887 and he’s done way better, currently sitting at 2.44/.927 in 5 NHL games. If the Oilers lose the season they’ll play him a bunch but Deslauriers has played above expecations by any measure and his mark is less than expected only because they haven’t played him much this season.
- 58%: Sam Gagner- I projected Gagner to be at 19gp, 5-8-13 and he is at 19gp, 1-4-5. That’s a big dropoff, folks. Let’s look a little deeper. After 19 games a year ago, Sam Gagner was 2-7-9, -8. This season he’s 19gp, 1-4-5, -3. So he’s off offensively but his plus minus number is improved and against a little tougher opposition and with less impressive linemates than one year ago (unless I’m reading Desjardins wrong). His Corsi number a year ago was -5.6 and this season it’s -1.3, and most impressively Sam Gagner’s attitude is what winner’s are all about. No finger pointing, no pouting, no “whoa is me” just a solid work ethic and a lot of try. I wish I’d been that way at 19.
- 56%: Erik Cole- I pegged him at 18gp, 5-7-12 and he’s 20gp, 3-4-7. It’s off the pace by a little but that alone doesn’t explain the mark. He has been a disappointment in his own end where Cole seems unable to make simple decisions under pressure (at times) and in the offensive end where his passing and ability to take a pass appears subpar. I’m still a big believer in the guy and will absolutely agree MacT hasn’t handled him as well as he could have this season, but he needs to man up.
- 55%: Dustin Penner- Projected to have a 30 goal season, he would be at 20gp, 8-5-13 based on my projections. Penner is in fact at 18gp, 4-1-5 and well off the pace anyone wouuld have hoped for him. Although MacT’s public comments about him seemed to light a short term fire it’s been my observation that players usually quit on a coach at some point and this would be my guess with this player. Dustin Penner is in a spot right now that players have been in since I was a kid, and his situation reminds me of Rod Gilbert when John Ferguson arrived in NYC, or Darryl Sittler arrived at work one day to find out Punch Imlach was the new GM. The difference is that Penner has a long term contract and if MacTavish stays then these two will have to find some kind of peace over time. I don’t see much evidence that Dustin Penner is going to be the player MacT wants him to be and I don’t see much evidence that MacTavish is going to give him special status. This can only get uglier and I’d suggest at some point will cut the team in two, much like the Al MacNeil-Henri Richard incident did in 1971 (although that’s a bad example since that team won the Stanley).
- 54%: Ladislav Smid- He is playing his best hockey at this time. Playing decent minutes against decent opposition and not getting run over is his high water mark. I suggested he’d go 18gp, 0-1-1 and he’s gone 9gp, 0-2-2. His coach likes him so much as a defenseman he’s now on LW. Smid’s inability to create offense will end his NHL career. Score one for Dennis, but I swear by God Almighty there’s a player here.
- 50%: Mathieu Garon- I said he should be at 2.75/.915 and he’s 3.41/.889. It’s a weird season for Garon, as he was the starter but had less rope than anyone since Louis Riel. It’s not clear to me in any way that Garon is the least effective of these three goalies and in fact one imagines we’ll hear from him before the end of the season one way or another.
- 50%: Kyle Brodziak- Projected for 20gp, 3-5-8 and so far he’s 19gp, 2-1-3 but he’s looked lost for much of the year. I think last year’s rookie trio (Cogs, Gags and Brodz) are all experiencing what has happened to many players after solid rookie seasons: the revelation that their impressive season was exactly that, one season. You’re only as good as the last shift, so suck it up and get out there. I think he’ll be fine over the long haul but keeping the coach in his corner is pretty important.
- 49%: Robert Nilsson- I thought he’d have a big season (projected 19gp, 4-9-13) but so far he’s 20gp, 3-4-7 and has been less than expected most nights. A guy like Nilsson doesn’t bring enough things aside from offense that he can stay in a lineup when not playing at a high level. He’s building the foundation of a journeyman career and that means a few stops along the way. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets shipped out at or before the deadline.
- 48%: Steve Staios- Reasonable was 20gp, 1-3-4 and he’s 18gp, 1-1-2. There are some minus indicators here and maybe it’s just a slump but there should be some concern. He’s playing against soft opposition and his Corsi number is -14. This compares to -7.8 but against much tougher competition one year ago. I’d like some input here, but it looks to me like we should have a worried mind.
- 48%: Jason Strudwick- Reasonable was 14gp, 0-1-1 and he’s at 17gp, 0-3-3 which is certainly comparable. Strudwick has played well enough to force Ladislav Smid into a different career path but it seems to me his being partnered with Staios may not be helping him. Strudwick’s stay-at-home style would perhaps be better suited to a Lubo or Tom Gilbert and I suspect he’ll eventually find his way up the depth chart.
- 47%: Fernando Pisani- It pains me to put him here but the entire first stretch of the season has seen the Oilers struggle in areas (PK, EV) where they usually do well and one of the reasons they usually do well is Pisani. Reasonable expectations after 20 would be 19gp, 4-5-9 and he’s at 16gp, 2-4-6 which is off the pace but not an epic fail. Pisani’s mark comes because of his play away from the puck and believe me his calm feet and intelligent play were badly needed. Moving him to center might just be the worst move of the MacTavish coaching era.
- 45%: Denis Grebeshkov- Projected to go 19gp, 1-5-6 and he’s currently 17gp, 1-7-8 so has covered the offensive bet. The reason for the poor mark is that Grebeshkov went brainless much of the way through the first 20. Seriously. He pinched in at bad times and he also left bad leaves all over the table for his partner Gilbert. If there’s a goat on this club for the first 20, and I’m not convinced we need to point one out since their record isn’t horrible, my vote would go to Grebeshkov. Very poor.
- 30%: Zack Stortini- Well, we knew he wasn’t going to have a season like last year but I thought he’d be more than Wilfredo Tejada. I don’t think it’s his fault, really. Giving Stortini at-bats when he clearly doesn’t give you offense is like playing Bob Natal at first base: he can do it, but does it help you? You’d have to write a 4,000 word essay on how being purely physical overwhelms putting up even a dribble of offense with the minutes Zack is getting. One final word: I have nothing specific against Stortini, just a knowledge that when a team is having trouble offensively they shouldn’t devote 70 minutes of any season to a guy who is 0-0-0.
- INCOMPLETE: Liam Reddox- A nice couple of games since arriving and I think he may stay up with the big club. This is a Buchberger special, as the numbers were better for a few farmhands.
- INCOMPLETE: Steve MacIntyre: He had some interesting games and swayed the play a few times for the big club. I bet he has an NHL future.
- INCOMPLETE: Theo Peckham: Played one game with the big club, suspect he’ll be back.