Trains, Planes and Automobiles

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real.
-Gordon Lightfoot.

Many years ago in a huge building not far from the railway tracks there lived a hockey team that was deep down the middle. No, check that: historically deep down the middle. When 99 left the ice Messier powered onto it and as he flagged MacT would play his measured and intelligent style. At the deadline, they’d add Keith Acton just so the other teams would know what overkill looked like and that doom awaited them in the second season.

The period of time since the Chris Pronger trade has seen monumental imbalance at one roster spot or the other. I always imagined a plane on takeoff, with one wing barely off the ground and the other halfway up the sky and seeking more. Balance has been a mystery for the Edmonton Oilers since the day the music died in Raleigh.

With a new group at the helm there are plenty of chores to do, many of them surrounding this crazy load of disjointed players on the roster. A bunch of small skill forwards married to a bunch of other forwards who can’t keep up; a bunch of young centers who can’t play the position married to a 40-ish goalie who should be pushing for his final shot at a Stanley. And two freaking guys on the whole roster who have a 50% chance to win a faceoff.

If the Edmonton Oilers were an autombobile, they’d be one of those modified Ranchero’s you’d see on the prairies in the 1970s (note: teenage boys and young men in their 20s had this weird habit of cutting vehicles that weren’t Ranchero’s in half and welding on the ass of a half-ton. I personally have never seen a more ridiculous site).

Especially at center.

Below we listed the even strength faceoff numbers and found (well we knew already) that over half of the center position was devoted to developing kids. One thing is absolutely clear: you can change the coach, you can change the GM, you can change the locker room colors, you can change every damn thing you want, but you cannot roll out kids and expect them to beat men in the National Hockey League (unless they’re Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Anderson, etc).

With that in mind, let’s do up a quick depth chart for the Oilers at center. The numbers are 5×5/60; 5×4/60; quality of competition; quality of linemate; +/- in endzone faceoffs and finally FO percentage.

  1. Horcoff 1.59/3.68/toughest/toughest/+156/53.9
  2. Brodziak 1.62/7.02/soft parade/dregs/+149/51.6
  3. Gagner 1.69/3.12/3rd level/good 2nd level/-39/42.0
  4. Cogliano 1.69/3.39/3rd level/3rd level/-39/37.2

These are the guys who took the faceoffs. Horcoff took 1756, Brodziak 947, Cogliano 702, Gagner 690. Pouliot was next on the list at 211, but we’ll look at him when discussing the wingers. By the way, we looked at defense and goal earlier.

Some things we can conclude:

  1. Faceoffs are important and when you’re losing like Gagner and Cogliano did well it’s time for reinforcements. It’s not the most important stat, but it isn’t death by papercut either.
  2. Breaking in two young centers at one time sounded like a bad idea and now we have proof.
  3. A little help for Horcoff is extremely likely to improve his numbers in all areas.
  4. Kyle Brodziak is underrated if you go by the boxcars. He should be able to make some hay if he gets better linemates and the Oilers can sign a veteran center to help in the FO circle.
  5. The Oilers have to decide between Gagner and Cogliano at center. Move one to the wing or trade him. This is unbearable.

Tambellini made some nice moves at the deadline (O’Sullivan, I liked Kotalik) and signed a safe head coach to get them through 40 miles of bad road. Hopefully the days of “you’re going the wrong way, you’re going to kill somebody” are in the rear view.

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