The Oilers are on the road tonight against Chicago, after thrilling the hometown fans with a win over the Penguins. It’s important to remember that this Oiler team are not road warriors, and that Chicago is a dominant team. A win tonight is too much to ask for, but more of that “thinking man’s hockey” we saw Friday night at Rexall would be a tremendous sign. Small victories are big steps, and cutting down on turnovers, going entire games without those chaos ‘chasing the puck’ shifts that result in a goal or a penalty, and effective play for 60 minutes are all good signs for this hockey club. That Pittsburgh game could be something to build on, or it could be a one game mirage during a season spent in the desert.
This is Billy Ashley. He was a monster outfielder for the Dodgers and 20 years ago a big time prospect. Ashley lit up the PCL with homers and it was thought the big man would have a tremendous major league career. As it turned out, he played in an ‘extreme’ hitter’s park in the minors, and once all the air was let out of those numbers he couldn’t make enough contact to stay in the lineup.
Ashley had some amazing slumps during his big league career, one of which caused him to utter the hilarious “I think the pitchers are reading me” line. I think the Oilers may have that problem, certainly Ales Hemsky has (imo) been easier to defend all these years due to predictable moves. Hemsky will deke and pass 99% of the time, dump and shoot about 1% of the time. That’s a tell, and has had an impact over the years. Now, we know that possession is 9/10′s of the law and the zone entry data we’re getting now is brilliant, but a “controlled” dump once in awhile might open up the game for a fellow.
- Craig MacTavish on Taylor Hall: “He hunted down the forecheck, got it over to Sam, Sam back to Ference, through a simple play. Where before he would try and beat those two guys and take it to the net, turn it over and it would be going to the other way. So that is a big structural change in the game, the way that he’s thinking. When you watch good teams — and these are the things we are trying to impart on these players — you watch good teams. We went to New York and watched Anaheim play. Arguably the best line in the game is Getzlaf, Perry and at that time it was Penner, they’ve made a change since then. And I watched them play throughout the game and Perry had two chances to score the whole game, but he made the right play with the puck all the time. And that’s what we’re trying to impart on our players.”
A lot of this is working hard on the forecheck, but for me it’s always been galling to see Edmonton’s skill players driving right into the teeth of the defense. Send it into the corner, well placed, and then gain possession that way. Not all of the time, but at those times when the defenseman won’t give the zone (standing up at the blueline) and a one-on-one deke will leave the player exposed (jailbreak the other way). I’m not even suggesting Taylor Hall do it more than once in awhile, but being aware of the defensemen and calculating the risk/reward has value, and it’s nice to know the Oilers are asking their young guns to be open about new ideas. God love Ales, he never did do it much, and Robyn Regehr that rat bastard made him pay.
- Craig MacTavish: “We’ve got Curtis Hamilton who’s finally started to develop and take a turn. It looks like he’s going to be a player. He’s 215 pounds. He can get some zone time. Pitlick has started to develop. Marincin is here, he looks like he’s going to be a good player. He’s played well. Gernat has started to develop. So there are a number of guys. Klefbom, he’s developing. What we have to do now is we’ve got to get these competitive guys into our organization. I’m happy with the high end forwards. I believe that we very much can win with the talent level that we have. Now we have to develop the competitiveness.”
I’ve made this point forever, but we really do need to wait five seasons on a draft crop. The long and winding road needs to run its course, and even then we can never be sure. If we use that rule (5 years) then we can safely call the 2008 entry draft: Eberle home run, no second round pick, no third round pick, Johan Motin the 4th round pick is a regular in the Swedish League but played only one NHL game, Phil Cornet the 5th round pick played 2 NHL games and is trying to make it with another NHL team via the Charlotte Checkers, Teemu Hartikainen the 6th round pick played 52 NHL games and may get some more but is a draft success by any measure, and then Jordan Bendfeld the 7th rounder is out of hockey.
I honestly don’t know how we can be critical of Stu MacGregor’s 2008 NHL draft. Home run, wait two rounds, draft a couple of kids who end up getting a cup of coffee but don’t make the grade, and then a late round curio who had enough talent to get several auditions amounting to 50 NHL games. The 2008 draft was what we thought it was, with really no exceptions.
- Craig MacTavish: “I want to make a deal. And every deal that I try and make is, especially if I’m going to lose a pretty valuable piece, I want to make sure we’re getting a piece back that is going to be a part of the championship team. Will I do some peripheral moves where guys that are just stop gap guys for us that will bring in somebody else that will be a stop gap guy, I’ll do. There’s probably a deal or two or so, probably one decent size deal and probably some smaller ones as the trade deadline comes about. My day is I come in here and I go through the Rolodex of GMs and try to figure out things that would make sense to both. I want to see continued development of our core group . I want those guys to continue to improve their decision-making. I want more gamesmanship out of them. We’ve got strength and conditioning. We have specific objectives for every guy. I want the coach to continue to instil the work ethic that he’s instilled so far. He’s building a much greater commitment to off-ice training and work ethic in this group. Ference has been an unbelievable resource and supporter of that.”
The bigger deals are probably for defense and added grit up front, the smaller deals are probably UFA’s for picks. Treena S. Oil had the Bruins scouting Nick Schultz and Anton Belov Friday night, and the Islanders looking at Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky, so maybe that’s Travis Hamonic or Andrew MacDonald and maybe that’s Brock Nelson, but there’s chatter out there.
And maybe the Oilers go on a roll and the trade talk dies away. I don’t think so, though.
- Craig MacTavish: “(Aaron) Ekblad is the right-handed defenceman that seems like a book-end for Nurse. …There’s some good players. The type of player we need is a guy like Curtis Lazar, like that type of driver. He and Nurse are kindred spirits, they’re just good leaders and good foot soldiers, that’s the type of guy that we could use. We get Ekblad, that’s another big piece.”
I’ll tell you this: I don’t think the Edmonton Oilers draft Aaron Ekblad. There’s so much already in the system, and if he were the only option available, sure. However, the guy they’ll take—if they make the pick—is Leon Draisaitl.
A quick note to thank David Staples for his brilliant 4-part interview with Craig MacTavish, which I’ve quoted heavily here (and really didn’t touch the surface). It’s rare to get a wide-ranging interview with a management person that focuses on issues and questions that go beneath the surface, but Staples clearly did his prep and asked very good questions. MacT didn’t answer them all to my satisfaction, but he was extremely open and the overall feel of the series is a revelation. Thanks Mr. Staples, who by the way will be a guest on LDWLT tomorrow morning.
Barons photo by Rob Ferguson, Oil Kings photo by Lisa McRitchie. All rights reserved.