The Old Man and the C

One thing we can agree on about the Edmonton Oilers: when they are good enough to make a SCF, they are strong, strong, strong at center ice. When the club was winning Stanley’s in the 1980s and 1990, center was the domain of 99, 11 and several other top quality men of varying skills. In the 2006 Stanley run, Edmonton also boasted a nice group of men (among them Shawn Horcoff and Michael Peca) in the middle.

Since that time, Edmonton has been in a “rebuild” period brought on by the dual trading of Pronger for kids and the decision not to replace the veteran D lost that summer (Pronger, Spacek, Tarnstrom) with anything resembling NHL players. So the Oilers decided to bring in kids at center as well. Here’s a quick look at opening nights over the last 4 seasons at the position:

  • 2005-Horcoff, Peca, Stoll, Reasoner
  • 2006-Horcoff, Sykora, Stoll, Reasoner
  • 2007-Horcoff, Stoll, Reasoner, Cogliano
  • 2008-Horcoff, Gagner, Pisani, Brodziak

Cogliano was on last year’s team and did play a lot of center, but he was not at the position on opening night 2008-09. As the C became less and less experienced, unusual things began to happen. Among them:

  • A number of wingers had extended trials at center, most recently Fernando Pisani and Dustin Penner.
  • Two centermen (Horcoff and Brodziak) spent a large number of draws in their own-zone.
  • The coach protected the two kids (Cogs, Gagner) who struggled in the dot.
  • The Oilers gave over 700 faceoffs to a man who had a 37% success rate.

One of the things Adam Oates did when he was an Oiler was to help young men like Jarret Stoll improve in the dot. When the Oilers sent Stoll away in the brilliant Visnovsky deal, they once again failed to address a need created by the outgoing player. Why? I’m pretty certain the coach must have felt he could cover that area with Brodziak and Reasoner (who was sent away later that summer) and it’s been mentioned a few times by organization men that faceoffs aren’t as important as some people make it out to be (I have searched this morning but cannot for the life of me find a quote, so will ask for you to accept my word on it).

The last time Pat Quinn coached was 2005-06, same season Edmonton went to the finals. Just for fun, allow me to list the top centers for Quinn’s team that season and their career GP entering the season, their total faceoffs and then percentage.

Quinn’s Leafs

  1. Mats Sundin (1086gp) 1557 54.0%
  2. Jason Allison (486gp) 876 50.1%
  3. Clark Wilm (395gp) 694 52.3%
  4. Kyle Wellwood (1gp) 593 56.3%
  5. Eric Lindros (678gp) 480 53.5%
  6. Matt Stajan (70gp) 373 44.5%

A very veteran group. It’s reasonable to assume there were be even fewer faceoffs taken by kids had Allison and Lindros been able to maintain good health. It’s interesting also to note that Nik Antropov was on this team but Quinn didn’t trust him much in the FO circle (172/34.3%) for good reason.

What does that tell us? Aside from the possibility of some kind of Quinn voodoo (those are silly numbers above) it looks like Quinn likes experience on the dot. A guy like Clark Wilm was an extreme role player (he averaged 8 minutes a night at EVs that season, 4 on the PK and scored 1 goal all year) but useful in this area. Now, let’s look at the 08-09 Oilers (current career GP, all else the same as above).

MacT’s RagTag Group

  1. Shawn Horcoff (560gp) 1756 53.9%
  2. Kyle Brodziak (175gp) 947 51.6%
  3. Andrew Cogliano (164gp) 702 37.2%
  4. Sam Gagner (155gp) 690 42.0%
  5. Marc Pouliot (141gp) 211 43.0%
  6. Fernando Pisani (362gp) 123 46.0%
  7. Dustin Penner (261go) 114 47.4%

I think Quinn will be grumbling early about that group (remember, Brodziak is gone and replaced by Gilbert Brule who was 51.3% in 78/fo’s the last time he was in the NHL for an extended period but that’s not enough to suggest he’s a solution).

Which leads me to the following conclusions. Should the Oilers remain inert for the rest of summer, all of training camp and into the regular season, one or more of the following might be what they’re thinking:

  • Quinn believes he can improve the kids (Cogs, Gags) away from the puck and in the dot.
  • The organization is so giddy about Pouliot’s move to center they’ve convinced themselves it’s a plan.
  • Brule is in fact a better center than we think he is.
  • They’re going to move a winger to center and haven’t told us about it
  • Sam Gagner is going to be on the 1line.
  • They’re going to play Penner with Cogliano and use the big winger in the FO circle.

Any other ideas? It would be a much better plan to bring in some experienced help, even if it is from the Clark Wilm (Blair Betts) tree. Steve Tambellini’s current coach was also a GM a long time ago, and there’s a coach in waiting. As frustrated as he sounded yesterday afternoon in the media conference, the job rewards action and punishes trygheit.

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