Reasonable at the AS Break (The Blue)

The absolute star of the Edmonton Oilers in the 08-09 season is the defense. Four of the club’s top 6 look like they may get beyond 40 points and their year over year numbers are pretty much impressive across the board.

The big worry moving forward is injury, as Sheldon Souray’s seasons often involve stretches when he is unavailable.

That said, it’s been a beauty run for the blue in 2008-09. Lubomir Visnovsky gives sports fans an idea about how the Baltimore Ravens would play defense on the ice, with his puck-hawk style giving the Oilers an interesting wrinkle in the neutral zone and down low. Many have noticed that Lubo turns the puck over a lot, but it has to be mentioned that he also has way more touches than any defender on the club. He’s a beauty player.

Sheldon Souray has also been spectacular, with his freak shot from the point reminding oldsters like myself of the golden days of table hockey when magical tin men with their sticks curved just right were unstoppable.

Sometimes the Edmonton Oilers blue is pure magic this season. Here’s a look.

Visnovsky P:43gp, 7-21-28 (.65) A:46gp, 7-22-29 (.63)
He’s been a wonderful player for the Oilers this season. His 5×5/60 (0.87) and Corsi (6.4) are an improvement over one year ago (0.80 and -0.7) and he’s playing well in a prominent role. His GF/GA ON number has improved greatly (59-74 a year ago and 33-25 this year) but a lot of that is probably a reflection of team quality. By any measure I gave him an aggressive number and he’s covered the bet.
Souray P:29gp, 6-9-15 (.517) A:45gp, 12-19-31 (.689)

Souray has been splendid this season. His 5×5/60 (0.99) and Corsi (-3.1) are an improvement over his injury-plagued season in 07-08 (0.76 and -5.4) for the Oilers. His GF/GA ON number is better (28-30 versus last year’s 11-16) and he’s playing against top flight opposition (with quality help). I think we can give him full credit for an outstanding season. He has a real chance at 20 goals this season, and would become the first Oiler D to score 20 since Paul Coffey broke Orr’s record in 1985-86 (Coffey scored 48 that season).

Gilbert P: 46gp, 4-8-12 (.250) A:46gp, 3-21-24 (.522)

My theory with Gilbert is that he would be forced into a more defensive role and that the lack of PP time would hurt his numbers. He has in fact exceeded my full-season prediction at the AS break and is once again having a career year offensively. This year’s 5×5/60 (1.23) is the best on the club (D) and his -5.0 Corsi comes against the toughs and with average help. Last season’s numbers in those categories (0.98 and -5.2) got him a very nice contract and he is delivering on the promise this season. His GF/GA ON this season (35-32) is a slight improvement (65-67) over one season ago. Tom Gilbert has more than covered my bet and is delivering a quality season in a very tough role.

Grebeshkov P: 42gp, 1-12-13 (.310) A:43gp, 4-17-21 (.488)

And the hits just keep on coming. An erratic start (it lasted quite awhile) gave way to improvement across the board and he reaches midway with a nice line. 5×5/60 this year (1.22) is just shy of a club best and his Corsi (5.4) is a very nice number. These compare favorably to last season (0.84 and -1.3) and it’s reasonable to suggest that the Oilers most important signing this summer will be this player (Cole being the competition for said honor). His GF/GA ON is 33-27 and although it was also quality a year ago (45-41) there’s slight improvement even on that quality number. He looks chaotic and some of his decisions are a nightmare, but the boxcar and the secondary numbers are just fantastic. He rounds out a ridiculous top 4 at halftime.

Staios P: 46gp, 1-8-9 (.196) A:44gp, 2-5-7 (.159)

Steady Steve hasn’t lived up to his name this season but has had an offensive year “in the range” up to the All-Star break. His 5×5/60 (0.68) compares well with a year ago (0.65) but his Corsi drop (-13.7 this year, -7.8 a year ago) is even more ghastly when considering his toughness of minutes have also dropped this season (compared to the other men on the blue). He played (according to Desjardins) the toughest D minutes a year ago and is playing some of the easier minutes this season while getting poor results. He was playing with end-of-the-roster help both seasons and we should probably talk about the injuries taking their toll and his possibly being a spent force after a nice run with the Oilers. Sometimes these veterans respond at he’s not 45 or anything but there are warning signs.

Smid P: 40gp, 0-3-3 (.075) A:32gp, 0-4-4 (1.25)

He’s covered the offense and honestly looks more confident with the puck this season. He’s never going to be Paul Coffey and one doubts there’s a lot of PP time in his future but the game has slowed down a little for him. His 5×5/60 this season (0.56) is double his 0.25 of one year ago. Smid’s Corsi (-11.9) is a concern, especially considering last season’s respectable -7.0 in a tough season overall. He played mid-level toughness with subpar help a year ago, and is facing slug minutes with dead men walking this year. I honestly don’t know if Staios or Smid is the problem and don’t want to overtstate the issue because it may just be that the other 4 are kicking ass and these guys look awful in comparison. One thing is certain: if the Oilers look like a playoff team at the deadline this third pairing will be addressed by management.

Next up: the goalies.

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24 Responses to "Reasonable at the AS Break (The Blue)"

  1. quain says:

    Smid and Staios have both seen dips in their quality of competition and their Corsi… which would line up with the fact that they’re also playing with the Oiler dregs. I don’t have the numbers to back it up, but my instinct tells me that these guys would have a nicer Corsi playing tougher comp.

    I guess my point is that replacing Grebs with Smid behind Hemsky causes a much smaller drop in Corsi than replacing Hemsky with Moreau.

  2. Asiaoil says:

    Vis: glorious player and we were damn lucky to get him for spare parts. Lowe is a dolt but occassionally has stokes of genius – this was one of them.

    Souray: I’m on record saying that Souray would be a better 2-way player for this coaching staff and in this system than he has been elsewhere – so I’m not surprised. Provides needed toughness and real leadership otherwise I’d be inclined to sell high right now.

    Gilbert: smooth, smart and signed longterm. What’s not to like? – but he could be trade bait in the right deal if we choose to go with Grebs longterm.

    Grebs: another very good signing by Lowe (whatever you think of him you have to admit he knows dmen) but we have an embarrassment of riches on defense. I think we can sign him but it will cost us and we don’t have the cap room

    Staios: like Moreau I think we have a chance to off-load Staios at the deadline before it’s too late – and next year is likely too late.

    Smid: he’s right on track as far as I’m concerned to have a Chris Phillips – Robyn Regehr kind of career. Sign him long-term now and it will be considered a bargain in 2 years.

    Strudwick – what is he paying MacT to say such nice things about him in the face of abysmal results? I’d be embarrassed. Wave goodbye in the summer or throw him into a deal at the deadline and bring up Peckham.

  3. godot10 says:

    4 defensemen is NOT an embarassment of riches. It is a prerequisite for a team to contend.

  4. Jfry says:

    terrific and thank you

  5. Doogie2K says:

    I’m on record saying that Souray would be a better 2-way player for this coaching staff and in this system than he has been elsewhere – so I’m not surprised.

    It always killed me to see the same people who wrote off his 26-goal season as unsustainable talk about his -28 number from the same year as though that was full value. I never figured he’d be this good, but I never thought he’d be that bad, either.

  6. Fake Craig McTavish says:

    Is there a GM of a contender stupid enough to take Staios at the deadline. I can’t think of one.

  7. knighttown says:

    I'm pretty sure you're being unfair to Smid here LT, and let me explain.

    Expanding on quain, any discussion on Smid (or any other defensive defenseman) needs to start with the fact that his GAOn/60 is 1.82, far and away better than any of the big 4. Souray is next at >2.5. So what exactly does a scary Corsi and a stellar GAOn/60 mean?

    1. He's lucky. In this theory, Corsi and GAOn/60 will always move toward each other and over enough games these will both move toward "average", whatever that may be for any given player.

    2. He's safe. If Lubo is the Baltimore Ravens then using this maybe Smid is the 1990's 49ers who gave up a ton of yards but were able to limit teams to 3 points when they were in the red zone. Signs are there that support Smid being a bend-but-not-break type of defenseman. Sure, you can cycle all day and get some pretty good looks from the point and the high slot but you don't see anyone get behind him for a breakaway or 2-on-1 too often and dammit if he's going to miss the guy on the backdoor play anymore.

    All four of the guys above him have an aggressive trait or two that I've seen enough to call a trend:

    Souray-Souray likes to jump the cycle. This will end two ways; either he turns the puck over and goes the other way improving his Corsi or he bites on the cycle fake or misses the cycle pass and the puck is in the slot with no defenseman around. This would hurt his GAOn/60 but not his Corsi too badly because that play would have ended with a shot anyway…just not as good a shot.

    Grebeshkov- Grebs is downright awful on 1-on-1's , in fact, even though I've been calling for a Grebs turnaround for quite awhile (back in Coach's acid rants) Huddy needs to work with him on the old fashioned "look at the chest, not the head" strategy. And anytime he gets beat you're looking at a scoring chance so ok corsi and poor GAOn/60.

    Visnovsky is extremely aggressive on the pinch and only a notch above Grebs in 1-on-1 defense so is subject to the same thing.

    Gilbert-actually I can't think of a "trend-style" play for him so I'm not sure why his GaOn/60 is high. I assume he's a pretty good defensive defenseman playing against fantastic forwards? And in fact the stats back that up. Looking at forwards with QualComp's at 0.05 or greater (like Gilbert) shows mostly Redwings (Rafalski, Lidstrom), Sharks (Vlasic) and Hawks (Keith, Seabrook). In fact it is a very, very select group that have a QC and Corsi over zero that does not play on an elite team. That list does include Matt Greene and Joni Pitkanen though:)

    Anyway, so Smid is defensively safer than any of those guys which decreases his GAOn/60 and worsens his Corsi (in comparison).

    Now on the offensive side of the puck, Corsi is a direct result of shots and Smid's 0.5 shots/game is in the bottom 5 of all NHL defenseman who have played more than 32 games. Others include Kurt Sauer, Brendan Witt and Ossi Vaananen. And almost making it too easy for my argument, all three of these guys have awful Corsi's (-17 at best and -21.1 at worst…bottom 5 in NHL). We've raved about Sauer on this blog and I think any of us would take Brendan Witt.

    Three things i learned from this research:

    1. D-Men that bring NO offense cannot be fairly graded by Corsi. The left side of the ledger is just too small.

    2. D-Men that play exclusively against the toughs cannot be expected to put up elite Corsi's unless they play for the Detroit Red Wings. The line in the sand should probably be -2.0 for Corsi as 2/3 of the 39 +0.05 QC guys have negative Corsi's.

    3. If the Rangers are displeased with Michal Roszival as the rumors imply, he's be a great pick up to replace Staois. His +0.04 QC and +4 Corsi are elite and show me his -8 (+/-) is a mirage. His 5 million dollar per year contract is scary and undoubtably too high but if we could unload two bad contracts to rid the Rangers of this millstone we'd have our Chris Phillips.

    Staois + Moreau for

    Roszival + a top prospect (Grachev or Sanguinetti)

    This allows the Rangers to compete now and get rid of that contract and the Oilers to shore up a problem spot and add a damn fine prospect.

  8. Oilman says:

    There are 2 teams that I think would entertain the idea of a Staios trade – the Rangers were already noted, the other is the Canadiens. I believe there were rumors a few years back regarding Staios to MTL.

  9. PDO says:

    So I’m sitting here in my brand new Fast Eddy Reed jersey, read a few words about the Ravens, and of course it relates to Visnovsky, whose jersey I am strongly considering getting.


  10. Lord Bob says:

    A few years ago, Oilman, Staios was desireable property.

    I went on the record saying the Oilers should have traded Staios about two seasons ago. Disappointed they didn’t; who was it who said that it’s better to trade a player too early than too late? Because now I think he’s our cross to carry.

  11. Asiaoil says:

    Interesting knighttown – but you may have to qualify it more as in solid defense-first guys on bad teams. Phillips and Volchenkov are -3 and -6.8 respectively and no one in their right mind would call either a bad dman. Could be a little like an elite goalie having a good but not great SP on a bad team.

    Staios is tradable – and his cap room is valuable because losing the Staios plus Penner or Cole salary (about $7 mil) brings the potential to sign an elite winger. We just have to accept getting little in return and he’s gone to a team making a run.

  12. Schitzo says:

    One thing I’ll give Lowe credit for is his absolute insistence on having a franchise defenceman.

    First Pronger, then the Chara offer, then Souray and Vis. Every time he’s been proven right.

  13. Jonathan Willis says:

    One thing I’ll give Lowe credit for is his absolute insistence on having a franchise defenceman.

    First Pronger, then the Chara offer, then Souray and Vis. Every time he’s been proven right.

    Except of course that the year of the Chara offer we wound up with Daniel Tjarnqvist as the “franchise defenseman” instead.

    And pre-lockout we had Janne Niinimaa.

    Souray was a bad bet; to his credit he’s kept his high-end offense while radically altering his defense this season. Still, he’s had a bunch of surgical work done on him, so there’s always going to be an injury concern there, and since this is peak value right now, I’d be hesitant before looking at it as his established value.

    Then again, those are just the odds – he could prove me wrong.

  14. dawgbone says:


    or what it means is he’s playing against players who can’t finish instead of the Iginla’s of the world.

  15. Marc says:


    I’m wondering if we shouldn’t revisit some of the assumptions underlying the view that it was too risky (which I agreed with at the time).

    It wasn’t just the risk of injury, but also that he was coming off by far his best offensive season ever and but still managed to finish -28. It seemed likely, if not probable, that he’d never put up the same offensive numbers so we’d be stuck with an injury-prone below average defender with declining numbers and $5 million+ cap hit.

    The fact that he’s been our best defensive dman and playing a ton of tough minutes changes the equation. He can help the team even if he isn’t scoring. Paying a 30+ year old top pairing all around defender is a lot less risky than paying a 30+ year old one dimensional defender. There wasn’t nearly as much criticism of the Pronger and Neidermayer deals, I think because these guys were the former rather than the latter.

    It’s only been half a season, and the injury risk won’t go away, but our underlying assumption about what kind of dman Souray was, and hence how risky the deal was, might have been wrong.

  16. Schitzo says:

    Except of course that the year of the Chara offer we wound up with Daniel Tjarnqvist as the “franchise defenseman” instead.

    And pre-lockout we had Janne Niinimaa.

    Regarding Chara, I meant his instinct was right (Chara is a beast). My point was that “acquire top end defenceman” is always on his (post-lockout) list of priorities.

  17. Coach pb9617 says:

    who was it who said that it’s better to trade a player too early than too late?

    Branch Rickey. See LT’s Clemente thread.

  18. Coach pb9617 says:

    It’s only been half a season, and the injury risk won’t go away, but our underlying assumption about what kind of dman Souray was, and hence how risky the deal was, might have been wrong.

    I’ll admit my underlying assumption was wrong. He’s not nifty with the puck or making a pass, but he been very solid in a number of areas that I didn’t think existed in his game.

  19. Coach pb9617 says:

    I think he was right about Pitkanen too, Mac just wasn’t the guy to get the most out of him and he was still pretty damned good.

    If he ever finds his Master Po, he’s going to explode.

  20. knighttown says:


    Re: defensive d-men on a weak team.

    Let’s test the thought. I’ve picked a few guys across the NHL that I view to be defensive defenseman (observationally). Some are excellent at it and play 1st pairing while others are just average (like Smid) and play against average opposition. The one thing they all have in common is that when they are on the ice, offense is an afterthought .

    Good teams/elite defenseman/playing high QC:
    R. Regehr- +6.8 Corsi (worst on team)
    M. Komisarek- -7.7 Corsi (2nd worst)

    Average Team/avg. dman/toughs
    N. Schultz- -9.6 Corsi (worst)
    D. Hamhuis- -7.3 Corsi (worst)
    Z. Michalek- -11.8 Corsi (3rd worst)
    R. Scuderi- -12.5 Corsi (2nd worst)
    B. orpik- -14.1 Corsi (worst)

    Avg. team/avg. d-man/soft comp (Smid Comp)

    Brian Allen- +9.8 Corsi against the softies, by far the best on the team.

    So what do I see from this?

    1. No offense pretty much means an ugly Corsi unless you are like Regehr, on an elite team whose 3rd line probably hems other teams 1st lines in all night.

    2. Most “defensive d-men” play the toughs. Brian Allen is the one exception in this mini-study but based on his numbers it is probably time for a promotion. However, Smid is playing similar minutes on a similar team and Allen proves to be a difference maker with these underlying numbers where Smid certainly does not.

    In summary, most teams don’t use a Smid/Staios pairing, which in theory is a shutdown pairing used to shutdown the other teams 2nd and 3rd lines! Do these guys need to be shut down? Other teams seem to try to outscore these lines with Grebeshkov types. I’d say Smid is in training to get a huge bump in QC next year and if that fails he probably battles it out with guys that outscore by scoring for the 5th/6th spot.

    @ dawgbone

    Good point. Chances are if Iginla and co. are out against Smid his negative Corsi results in a worse GAOn/60, which goes back to the above post. A line in the sand for Smid would be to produce a team best GA On/60 against the softies and move the Corsi more toward zero, ala Brian Allen. That would be dominant in his role and would warrant a promotion to shutdown pairing.

  21. speeds says:

    The Oilers have been very good with D, but not infallible. ie. Hejda

  22. Asiaoil says:

    Very small samples but there is probably something to it. Also to be considered this season is that the Oilers bottom 6 has been a complete mess this season – probably averaging about -18. Hard to make honey out of horse manure – and so Laddies -11 is decent in that context – and context is everything with most hockey numbers as you’ve been saying.

  23. Bruce says:

    Kinghttown: Good analysis, however there is one important difference between Smid and all your “comparables”:

    R. Regehr- Age 28, 9 seasons, 635 GP
    M. Komisarek- Age 27, 6 seasons, 325 GP
    N. Schultz- Age 26, 7 seasons, 494 GP
    D. Hamhuis- Age 26, 5 season, 369 GP
    Z. Michalek- Age 26, 5 seasons, 309 GP
    R. Scuderi- Age 30, 5 seasons, 266 GP
    B. Orpik- Age 28, 6 seasons, 343 GP
    B. Allen- Age 28, 8 seasons 373 GP

    L. Smid- Age 22, 3 seasons, 174 GP

    Add experience, and stir.

  24. Asiaoil says:

    Bruce – exactly – all this talk about needing a Phillips on the roster is just impatience – give Smid another 18 months and that’s what he’ll be. Expecting a 21 year old to play like a 28 year old is wildly unrealistic – especially when experience is what “makes” a shutdown” dman.

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