Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Paranoia and the Oilers fan

This post over at BoA and the ensuing comments have given me reason to pause of late. Cosh, Grabia et al are introducing me to an entirely different kind of Oilers fandom, one I never even knew properly existed: the confident Oilers fan.

Perhaps it's because my formative fan years were spent during the Great Depression, when gas was cheap, Alberta was still in deficits, and any remote gain in the Oilers fortunes (We drafted Ryan Smyth! We beat Dallas and Colorado in round one! We have an all-star goaltender capable of carrying the team!) was immediately and suddenly met with crushing, crushing defeat (We drafted Jason Bonsignore! We lost to Colorado and Dallas in round two! He bolted for free agency without even blinking!). And, you know, for the most part, that hasn't changed: Stanley Cup Finals come up, number one goalie goes down, Norris-calibre defenceman skips town, all-star forward fractures neck and is out for life (wait, that hasn't actually happened yet). Anyway, as I alluded to during the wild hedonism of our playoff run, Oilers fandom for me has always been about looking for the bombs on a sunny day, and as such, when there are real, legitimate worries that pop up, I'm swept into a crippling self-doubt normally reserved for when I have to talk to girls, except I rarely worry about my weight in reference to the Oilers.

I realize that, to an extent, it's playing into Matt's hands, but Jesus: he's right. I can hear all the arguments I want, about our better goaltending, and the relative unimportance of defence, and the SWAT team of forwards bringing down-low dominance to our offensive game, but I still look at our D and see a collection of AHLers and players about two depth chart spots above where I'd like them to be. And pointing out how terrible Calgary is doesn't change the fact this is, on paper, our weakest defensive corps since Jeff Norton was throwing breakout passes directly at forecheckers.

Bergeron had 35 points, a full five of them after the All Star break, which is coincidentally about when he stopped playing with Pronger for good. Jason Smith looked like a first-pairing defenceman with Pronger and a grizzled fourth without him, whoever was wearing the pants in the Anaheim series (I'll grant there's no single stat to quantify this, it's hard to quanitfy the contributions of a left guard, too). Staios and Tjarnqvist are undoubtedly the type of guys you want to round out a defensive corps, but maybe not be playing 25 minutes a game, and everyone else either hasn't ever played in the NHL before (Smid, Gilbert, Hejda) or hasn't proven they can play anything other than sixth-defenceman minutes (Greene, I guess Syvret, though his chances to make the team seem to have dwindled to zero).

This, though, is besides the point: why the confidence all of the sudden? Admittedly, it's utterly hilarious for Flames fans to accuse anyone else of gloating after a playoff run, since they literally didn't even need the league to be operating to rub it in our faces, but, uh, yeah: has our near-Cup experience given us the steel skin and blind faith of a Sutter disciple, or are the rest of you always just this loudly confident? Me, I'm still hollowing out the bomb shelter, waiting for good news so I can start worrying about something else. I wouldn't say I was screaming that the sky is falling, but I'm certainly waiting for it to happen. I'll leave the hubris for the Flames fans, who I pray will get to watch their team never get past the first round until the Calgary tower falls hot dog-like in the curve of the Saddledome, making Darryl Sutter and his progeny into permanent loonies embedded in centre ice.

27 comments:

Lowetide said...

Don't you worry Pleaure Motors, you're right on track. The man who can look me in the eye and tell me without hesitation that this defense can get it done is either a liar, a blowhard or drinking the good scotch from the top drawer.

bigleaguer said...

Interesting post... I have to agree — being an Oiler fan has been like reading 19th century German literature. Following a hopeul struggle with life, someone will die a long, lingering, moral-filled death at the end to teach us the lessons of the industrial revolution.

I remember thinking after the Oilers won the Sharks series that they had to win the whole thing because they had captured lightning in a bottle and that it would be many years before they'd get that close again.

But the reason for Oiler optimism now is a bit of a backhand. They've traded away superstars before and they'll do it again. Pronger's not even the fifth best Oiler in history to be dealt away, so the Oilers should rebound from this, shouldn't they?

joninabox said...

There's no such thing as good scotch as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, it's very hard to believe that our defense compares even to that of Buffalo or Carolina last year. The difference is largely that, Carolina for example, was laden with veteran defensemen for their defense by committee. Sure, we could try the same thing this season, but we're missing half the veteran members of committee when our bottom half potentially consists of Bergeron, Greene, Smid, or Hejda.

I think we're still a playoff team, but I think there are going to be many plays this year that make us slap our heads in amazement, much like the goaltending last season.

Pleasure Motors said...

Pronger's not even the fifth best Oiler in history to be dealt away, so the Oilers should rebound from this, shouldn't they?

They might, but if you consider that, when the five people ahead of him on that list were dealt away, we either had a few of the other four to keep us competitive, or we tanked almost immediately (assuming that list is, roughly, Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Kurri and, uh, Joseph?), I'm still worried. Though I do admire your guarded, tenative optimism.

I also want to emphasize that the Flames can eat it.

mudcrutch79 said...

The man who can look me in the eye and tell me without hesitation that this defense can get it done is either a liar, a blowhard or drinking the good scotch from the top drawer.

What about the man who can tell you that this defence is good enough to get it done until the bad teams are ready to start giving players away?

HBomb said...

Point for mudcrutch79.

How much better is everyone going to feel if they can add a Brad Stuart, Chris Phillips, or Paul Martin for next to nothing?

I am, personally, one number 2 dman away from thinking this team is as solid as can be. Turn Bergeron plus other assets to someone who can play legit top-pair minutes with Smith, pair DT v2.0 with Staios, and have the youth-pairing of Smid and Greene, and away we roll.

Oh yeah, Peca rented at the deadline too. The equivalent to adding Samsonov last year in March (scoring winger was essentially the secondary need to goaltending) will be improving the depth at center for the playoffs.

Prus said...

In Sutter we Trust...you would to if Ron Bremner and Craig Button ran the team previously.

bigleaguer said...

PM: The list is 99, 11, 7, 17 and 31. All are in the Hall of Fame. All were traded. Pronger's still got a ways to go to get there, because I know Clark Gillies, and Chris Pronger... you're no... ahh, forget it.

What gives me some optimism is that the Oilers have an above-average offence, something they haven't had in at least a decade. Remember when they had the top-five GAA in the league (I think) with Salo's wonder year?

Ninth. Couldn't score.

Every time they added a scorer this summer (or kept another one) my optimism rose a trifle.

What I like about most of the defencemen the Oilers have is mobility. I assume Hejda and Smid have some wheels. The holdovers from last year can skate well. I'd rather have some mobile question marks on the back instead of overrated sloths like Hal Gill or Mike Rathje.

The other thing about the question-mark defencemen is that they're young. They all should move upwards in quality this season. Now the cautious fan in me says that's a lot of guys who need a lot of improving, but I'll look in the drawer for some Chivas and give 'em a chance.

Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Mudcrutch is bang on.

This team is good enough to hang around until good defencemen come cheap.

Lets not forget a few years back when the Oil were always eighth or ninth with essentially this type of D (and Eric Brewer) with iffy goaltending and very little upfront.

if they struggle Lowe will add a body or two.

They will be fine.

Did someone say soemthing about buying me a drink?

Lowetide said...

MC:

My point is why cut it this close? Why not send Smid to the AHL, keep Hejda as the 6-7 guy who might force Greene to the PB (not a terrible thing imo) and deal for a top 4D to go with Smith, Staios and Tarnqvist.

The roster options are there (speeds wrote a beauty post on the subject on IOF) to lower the dollars spent so far.

The Oilers being so obviously weak in one area and waiting for the PHX's and CBJ's to fall away means another horse race to 8th place and all of the disadvantages associated with same.

It is no sin to enter a season balanced and with all the holes filled.

Chris! said...

I agree with LT. I've been fairly surprised by our disinterest in locking down a defenceman prior to opening night. No doubt there were guys we pursued to no avail over the past couple months, but like LT, I don't get why we should think that waiting until December to make a move is better than making a move now.

I don't know; it's possible that Lowe may have been waiting to see if any blueline surprises emerged in training camp before he made any rash decisions, but yeah. Tom Gilbert is no Paul Martin.

And speaking of Paul Martin, why aren't the GMs in this league circling the Devils like hungry vultures? Lamoriello is trying as we speak to weasel out of Mogilny's monster contract by convincing the league that he has a career-ending injury — why are we waiting for this to happen? Why aren't there ten GMs throwing offer sheets at Martin and Gionta? The Devils are in absolutely no position to match anything over three years/$3-million. If Martin was keen, this would absolutely work. Pay your respect to Lou by offering him a pick and a prospect first. But if he doesn't go for that, take care of business, for god's sake.

I really hate this collusive GM fraternity crap. Like Clarke said, offer sheets are in the rulebook. Why shouldn't we use them?

Anonymous said...

There is no "fraternity" of GM's working to prevent offer sheets. You really think the Oilers wouldn't like to nail the Stars or Flames or Canucks if they could?

The reason offer sheets are not used is that the penalty if the other team does not match is prohibitive. Especially in an age with the cap, no team can afford to give up a bunch of number one draft picks. This coupled with the fact that you almost always have to overpay to get the player to agree to the offer, means you pay too much now and you pay too much later (when you don't have a cuple of cheap # picks to slot in).

Martin (who is not likely any better than Smith or Staios) might cost $3 million a year. This is 2 or 3 #1 picks for a #3 defenceman.

Why not trade a middle prospect or one #1 pick in January for a #1 or #2 defenceman who will not cost that much (1/2 years salary)? On top of this you can grab a guy who you have seen play for 1/2 the season, is playing for a big FA payday. You also have chance to scout your own team (maybe the play of Greene and Smid make defence less of a priority).

Besides, when you are citing Bobby Clarke as a visionary, you may want to second guess your theory
:-)

Barry

Anonymous said...

I checked the CBA, the compensation for offer sheets (I was a little high on my penalty for Martin):

An offer of $2 - $3 million costs a first and a third draft pick.

An offer of $3 - $4 million costs a first, second, and third round pick.

In order to make the offer, the team has actually have the picks to give up in the next draft.

Barry

Anonymous said...

this is, on paper, our weakest defensive corps since Jeff Norton was throwing breakout passes directly at forecheckers.

Oh, come on! Since Mr. Norton left town, we've had guys like Drake Berehowsky, Christian Laflamme, Bert Robertson, Scott Ferguson, Alex Henry, Sven Butenschon, Sean Brown, Cory Cross, Igor Ulanov, Tom Poti and Frank Musil grace our 4-6 spots on D. A veritable who's who of guys who should not be in the NHL.

Last year at this time, everyone was shouting for a top line centre and goaltending. Lowe wanted to let the team play, and evaluate needs as the season progressed. He's doing the same thing this year. He doesn't want his hands tied to start the season, he needs to give himself room to make moves as the season progresses, if the need arises.

The need to make moves will arise, and it may very well be the need for a D-man, but why would Lowe change his strategy this year when it worked so well last year?

Alan

Pleasure Motors said...

I am the only one who thinks the "wait and see" approach, especially in reference to last year's performance, is a little retarded when you have obvious holes? Our playoff run notwithstanding, "worked so well last year" was us sliding ass-backwards into the playoffs due largely to the Canucks sucking during the stretch more than we did. I'd hardly consider desperately clinging to eighth spot a successful strategy to run a team—we were a goal away from having this discussion with Craig Simpson as our coach.

I'd also like to point out that the goaltending question we were waiting to sort out was a fairly large contributor to that whole seven-game losing streak at the start of the season. What place would we have been in with a solid (like .900 save %) goaltender out of training camp? Or hell, a five-game losing streak instead of a seven?

I don't know, the guys at IOF show a lineup with a guy like Martin that still gives us a whole lot of wiggle room to upgrade as we need, and without the huge, gaping, glaring hole in our depth chart to start the season. While I agree we shouldn't sell the farm for part-time gain, I think we could give up something fairly inconsequential, at least in light of the return (a reliable top-pairing guy).

Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Besides, lads, if they were to coast into the playoffs they wouldn't be our Oilers.

We need that annual edge of your seat playoff drive that runs from Christmas on. It wouldn't be an Oilers' season if they had a spot clinched by March.

Where's your sporting spirit? your joie de vivre? Your je ne sais quoi?

Hmmm?

Anonymous said...

I think mild pessimism is very much warranted. Look at the history of lower seeds who make it to the Finals in recent years (Florida, Washington, Carolina (2002), Mighty Ducks) and you'll see teams that 1) Lost in the Finals, and 2) did not come close to repeating that run the following season. The reason is simple: they weren't as good as a Conference Champion should be in the first place, but had a lot of things go remarkably right that have almost no chance of happening again (see Pisani, Fernando, 14 playoff goals).

The Oil were a .500 team last season (including OT and shootout losses) and would do well to repeat that this season.

Steve said...

Here's a possibility: Lowe has been trying to nail down a defenseman, but the price has been too high. He's gambling that the price will come down over the course of the year, as teams get more desperate and/or as the defensemen in question get closer to unrestricted free agency. He'd rather go into the season with a hole on the assumption that the hole can be plugged later for cheap, than he would mortgage the future now to go into the season intact.

Plus, I don't think we're yet at the point that we can say with certainty that this corps can't get the job done - we only know that we're far from certain that it can.

If the price of Paul Martin is Jarrett Stoll at the moment, but might be only a second round pick and Brad Winchester later, let's go into the season with a hole.

(Bear in mind that I'm the guy who agreed with efforts to sign Leetch.)

(Also note that my above hypothetical Paul Martin prices are not represented as being reflective of what Jersey's probably asking. I'm not the Oilfans trade talk forum.)

Alana said...

So, Lowe just signed Sebastien Bisaillon. I know nothing about this guy -- speaking of defensive woes, what do y'all think about this move?

Pleasure Motors said...

Steve,

That may indeed be a possibility. That doesn't explain why people who aren't Kevin Lowe are looking at our defensive corps and seeing nothing to worry about, though.

Also: that's great news about Bisaillon, but probably not the type of news that helps us right now. Actually, I think I'll throw together a post about that.

Pleasure Motors said...

All right, blogger is being retarded, so I'll just put my thoughts here: I like the signing a lot.

After some early jitters in the rookie game, Bisaillon looked pretty poised, and I saw him play against Phoenix, as well, with Hejda, and I don't think he made a bad play all game. He's clearly got some offensive skill (71 pts, 35 of those goals, in the Q last year, and 48 the year before--how is it these guys don't get drafted?), and seemed to have a really good lateral vision, if that makes sense (I find defenceman, especially young ones, tend to look more north-south for offensive plays, understandably since that's usually the direction they want to go, but I remember a few pretty clever plays across the ice that, most of the time, would have ended up as giveaways or lost ground, and the fact he can recognize that already is pretty promising).

I certainly don't think a strong team has him in their starting six (or roster seven) just yet, but he'll probably round out quite well in the AHL. I doubt, barring quicker-than-normal progress, we'll see him again this year, but next year he'll probably be in the mix, worst case scenario probably on a mid-season try-out.

As far as comparisons, the obvious one is Bergeron (undrafted high-scoring QMJHLer), and that seems decently close, although Bisaillon looks a little more calm in his own end, and he's decidedly less physical, despite being a bit bigger (he certainly doesn't go for the huge check, the way Bergeron does). I'd say the high cieling for Bisaillon would be a second-pairing powerplay specialist, probably more of a pointman passer than a slick rusher (a middle class man's Mathieu Schneider). I wouldn't count on seeing that for at least three or four years, though.

So, yeah, I really like the signing, but it probably means more for next year than this one. If all the young talent (Smid, Gilbert, Bisaillon, Greene, even Syvret) the Oil have turns out, though, we won't be worrying about D for another decade.

Anonymous said...

alana.. sebas is an '86r kiddy from qmjhl team and put up what looks like good offensive d-man points in limited game time.... i posted a link to qmjhl bio on a post somewhere a few days back when i noted he was the only tryout invite that didn't get cut on friday
-mikeL

Andy Grabia said...

It's not that I'm completely confident. I'm not. But a)who can prove that Lowe hasn't been on the phone non-stop? The price is probably too high. He may have also been waiting to see how some rookies did in camp, both up front and on the back end; b)I like the team at the start of the season this year better than the team at the start of the season last year; c)if resources are limited (i.e. cap), I'd rather Lowe use the money on forwards and a goalie than defencemen; d) I wouldn't have spent the amount of money being spent on free agent defencemen this year. Would any of you? The market was high, but will likely drop as the year goes on; d)this defence is no worse than the one we had two years ago. Back then it was: Brewer, Staios, Smith, Bergeron, Ulanov, Cross and Ferguson. And our offence is about ten thousand times better. e)you've all bought into the hype about Chris Pronger. How many Cups has he won? How many teams did he CARRY on to Stanley Cup victory? None. He's nice to have, but he isn't everything; and f) everyone's stress is misplaced. Roloson is the worry. And the thought of Craig Simpson's powerplay for another year just made me eat my fist.

Andy Grabia said...

The man who can look me in the eye and tell me without hesitation that this defense can get it done is either a liar, a blowhard or drinking the good scotch from the top drawer.

I'll say it, without hesitation. Until you show me what "get it done" means, I'll say it non-stop. I mean, let's put it on the line here. How many Wins will it cost us? Anyone? What will the net be, based on how many Wins the offence and Roli get us? And can anyone back it up with numbers?

1-10 in the West will be a logjam, just like it was last year. I'm willing to bet that the goals Sykora and Lupul get us in the shootout alone will give us 4-6 extra points.

Lowetide said...

Andy:

There's an old SNL skit where John Belushi is the father of a poor family and he has Super Bowl tickets. He's going to sell them but wants the best possible deal. At first he gets decent offers but turns them down, and half hour before game time he's getting quality offers.

Twenty minutes later he gets enormous offers and they keep getting better but he turns them down until game time when there is no one left and he has the tickets, a poor family and little else.

GOD strikes him dead. It's a funny skit.

Ordinarily, I'm on side with Lowe's decisions. Vic once said on his blog that he always felt Lowe is the guy betting 7 every time in Vegas and that's the way to go and he has built a solid team doing it.

But sometimes you need to fuck it. Fuck it fuck it fuck it fuck it.

Pay too much, give up a better player than you're getting, deal Schremp and a pick. Throw in Mikhnov, whatever.

The Edmonton Oilers ARE good enough to win the Stanley Cup up front, and if healthy their goaltending is fine too.

So why not make that one final step now? So what if you overpay?

Why on earth would you wait to see how things play out when you don't have to?

Not every trade has to be a winner, sometimes you need to overpay to complete the set.

The Oilers need to trade some of Hockey's Future for the here and now. I don't see any other way.

pete said...

Pleasure Motors said...

I am the only one who thinks the "wait and see" approach, especially in reference to last year's performance, is a little retarded when you have obvious holes? Our playoff run notwithstanding, "worked so well last year" was us sliding ass-backwards into the playoffs due largely to the Canucks sucking during the stretch more than we did. I'd hardly consider desperately clinging to eighth spot a successful strategy to run a team—we were a goal away from having this discussion with Craig Simpson as our coach. I'd also like to point out that the goaltending question we were waiting to sort out was a fairly large contributor to that whole seven-game losing streak at the start of the season. What place would we have been in with a solid (like .900 save %) goaltender out of training camp? Or hell, a five-game losing streak instead of a seven?

What he said.

The "do the same thing as we did last year" strategy only works if you conveniently forget what you were all thinking from September up until Vancouver told you to play through in April.

I'm not an Oiler fan, but for a GM with strong revenues, cap space, and tradeable assets, not addressing a glaring hole in the roster is inexcusable.

Sherry said...

I have nothing of importance to add except:

Marvin!