Sunday, August 19, 2007

Stock taking: the Oilers so far

Well, it's been a little over two weeks since K-Lowe put on his extra-fancy RFA-huntin' cap and bagged us a Dustin Penner, and aside from Monday's addition of a new assistant coach in Rob Daum, there hasn't been so much of a peep since then about the Oilers in terms of trades or signings that may yet be in the works.

With the UFA crop dwindling and GMs standing pat until training camp settles things down, the consensus is that the Oilers are done dealing. So with camp just a few weeks away, let's take some stock and see where we're at.

According to, the Oilers have so far taken on $45,144,ooo in player salaries, spending to 89.7% of the cap. They have $5,156,ooo in cap space still available. Spending breaks down as such: Forwards, $24.862M; Defence, $15.515M; Goaltending, $4.767M.

Barring any training camp holdovers or unforseen moves, opening night lineup most likely looks something like this:

Stortini, Brodziak



So? Like one of those magic eye paintings, if you stare at that list long enough, it actually starts to look like a legitimate NHL lineup. Our goaltending tandem is the strongest I've seen on the Oilers since... oh man, when was the last time we even had a good goaltending tandem? Joseph-Essensa in 97-98? Salo-Markkanen in 01-02? Anyhow, Roloson is still enough of a difference-maker to win more than half the games he plays, and Garon is an upgrade on backup in both the short- and long-term — and at a combined price tag of less than $5-million, they're a good value, too. I'm happy.

In terms of the defence, the additions of Souray, Pitkanen and Grebeshkov certainly make this one of the most purely talented blue line corps the Oilers have seen in a long while. But as many have pointed out, there is a marked lack of actual defensive prowess in the lineup, and we probably could have done with one less lefty puckmover — say, oh, Tarnstrom — as only Staios, Greene and Gilbert bring a right-handed shot, and Gilbert will unfortunately spend most of this season staring down the barrel of Grebeshkov's one-way contract and probably shouldn't be counted. Still, despite its clear tendency towards the offensive end of things, this is a defence that I'm actually comfortable rolling with. Maybe it's because it kind of looks like a lineup I'd put together in EA's NHL 2007. I pretty much win all the time at that game.

Ah, and we arrive at the forwards. The first thing that pops into my mind looking at this lineup is "Where are all the goals?" I see just two forwards here who even come close to 30+ goal potential (Penner, Torres), four who could reasonably be expected to score 20-25 (Hemsky, Horcoff, Stoll, Pisani), and three who will probably score in the neighbourhood of 15-20 (Moreau, Pouliot, Sanderson). Reasoner and Thoresen will likely come in under 10 apiece. Nilsson could end up playing anywhere from 2-line to 4 and is an unknown quantity at this point, but I have a bad feeling about the guy nonetheless. I wouldn't be surprised if his season mirrors Lupul's Oiler year, right down to the fewer than 30 points, minus-29 and a quietly disgraceful trade out of town.

Nilsson aside, I could trick myself into thinking this was actually a pretty good forward lineup. Offence is a glaring soft spot and we most certainly need a scoring RW and maybe even a LW with playmaking skills to boost Stoll's even-strength numbers. Penner's obviously a scorer but won't come close to replacing Smyth's offence, though his impressive size and strength will change the face of the first line, and I'm keen to see how Hemsky and Horcoff use the extra room. Going down the depth chart, there's a lot of speed, grit and defensive accountability — MacT types, as they say over at Lowetide — from the 2-line on. We may not score so much, but at least we look like a tough team to play against. A return to an 03-04 shutdown style of play would be more than welcome.

Anyhow, not much more to say. We've got a defence that's short on defence but long on offence, an offence that short on offence but long on defence, goaltending that looks about as strong as it's ever been and a power play that may turn out to be awesome enough to bail us out of this whole mess. Maybe not a playoff team, but not destined for the lottery either.

We'll be doing more in-depth analysis as we get closer to opening night, but I'm interested to hear what everyone thinks at this point. Looking good? Looking bad? Are there any FAs that could still help?


Steve said...

I don't mind this team. Before Penner, I said we were a first line left winger away from contending for a playoff spot (meaning eighth place and an expected first round exit, but if the right people get hot at the right time and there' a decent deadline deal or two...where have we seen that before?). I don't know if Penner is who I was talking about, but he's better than nothing.

And even using your goal figures, we're not in bad shape scoring-wise. You named two guys who could score thirty (which makes 60), four who will score 20-25 (let's split the difference and say 90), three at 15-20 (52), two at under ten (15). That makes 217 goals from the forwards, and we haven't counted our nominal second line right-winger. Let's give him 15, which puts as at 232 goals from forwards. Given Souray's addition, our defense will be extremely disappointing if it doesn't net at least 25, which brings our total to 257. A total of five teams in the Western conference scored more than that last year (and three of those five got 258).

Of course, somebody's going to have a sub-par year: is Pisani stays on the third line all year, 22.5 may be a little optimistic for him. Torres could stall at five (because who the fuck knows with Torres?). Sanderson may have deteriorated even more than budgeted.

On the other hand, Hemsky could have a breakout year, Nilsson (or whatever rookie forward get substantial playing time) could surprise us, Sanderson could make a partial return to earlier form, and Torres could score forty (because who the fuck knows with Torres?).

The point is that this team has the potential to be entirely satisfactory offensively. Defensively it will suck, even with the improved backup, and I'd still pay better than even money for the team making the playoffs. But it won't be contending for a lottery spot without some pretty shitty luck injury-wise.

Steve said...

Actually, my defensive scoring numbers are a little low - Souray and Pitkanen should get 25 between them, which means that the total number - factoring in Staios, Greene, Smid, and Tarnstrom - could be as high as 30.

(Yeah, I'm not a Tarnstrom fan. The sooner we manage to replace him with Gilbert, the happier I am.)

Jellyfish said...

Last year around this time, we were all holding our dinks and saying: "OMG our D sux0rs but look at our explosive offensive firepower!!! Lupul, Hemmer, Torres, Smyth, Sykora, Pisani, Horc, Stoll ZOMGWTFBBQ!!!!111one We're going to see a lot of games with scores like 5-6! WTF!!"

Only to see way more scores like 3-2 or 3-1 (not in our favor) pan out.

Looking at this forward line-up, yeah, you could be cautiously optimistic and think we'll get a couple of guys scoring 30 goals, but I'm afraid we'll be stuck holding our limp dinks for another year at least, fellas.

Penner will get 20-25 goals, Horc 15-20, Hemsky 10-15, Torres... uh... let's say 15ish, Stoll 15-20, Nilsson 10-15, Moreau 10-15, Pouliot 10, Pisani 15, Sanderson 10-15, Reasoner 5-10, Thoreson 5-10.

On the D, we might get 15-20 out of Souray at best, 5-10 out of Pitkanen, and 5-10 out of Tarnstrom.

That adds up to 165-225 goals. I suspect we'll be right in the middle of that ass-sucking bracket.

Steve said...

jellyfish, each of those numbers is realistic in isolation, but you're basically expecting every single one of our forwards on our top two lines to have a shitty year. I just can't see everything going wrong like that - if nothing else, if Torres has that kind of season Sanderson gets some increased playing time, and he'll break fifteen.

Even last year, not *every* member of The Vaunt underperformed. Sykora scored as many as we could reasonably have asked of him (his other deficiencies notwithstanding), Smytty was Smytty (at this point you might well ask what those two have in common vis-à-vis their position on this year's Oilers roster), and Stoll was looking fine until the concussion.

I can't see *everybody* underperforming like that. Don't get me wrong, we're not actually going to score 257, but I think 225 is closer to being a low-end estimate than a high-end one.

Anonymous said...

You mean they haven't bought out Sanderson's contract yet?

mike w said...

The way I see it, the Oilers have to score 250 goals, which is about the average for playoff teams last year. Of course, they could score much less and still make the playoffs, but I don't think of this defence as being a shot-blocking, technically sound shutdown crew.

This is how I see the Oilers making that target, which requires a lot of things going right, especially with the powerplay:

20 25 20
25 20 15
10 10 15
8 5 5

25 10
10 5
5 5
3 1

These numbers are based on reasonable expectations based on past performance, with a little luck thrown in. I'm probably guilty of indulging in the Alexei "chickens before they hatch" Mikhnov optimisim here, especially with Grebeshkov, Nilsson and Pouliout being expected to contribute.

What worries me the most is scoring depth, much like early-2000s lineups of old, especially with second line even-strength offence. The offence will score more than last year (which isn't saying much) with some puck movers in the back end, but this team isn't overly speedy or skilled upfront, which is worrisome.

The Oilers desperately need a right winger, and I expect to see at least one defenceman traded, if not now then at least after training camp.

--Chris said...

I'm also cautiously optimistic about our offensive production. We're rolling out enough offensive talent that we should be able to generate some goals, especially if Pisani moves into the second line (what can I say? I love the local kids - I'm still sore that we let Whitney walk).

I think Souray is going to help our our powerplay a lot (hopefully no more of that 4-forward kooky lab experiment).

As for our lack of a 30-goal scorer...of the 30 teams in the league, 23 of them had a 30-goal scorer on their roster last season. Two of the seven teams that made the playoffs (Dallas and Nashville) didn't have 30-goal scorers (I blinked twice when I saw Nashville didn't have one, even though they tallied 272 on the year). So, while it'd be nice for one of the boys to step up and hit 30, I don't think it's essential for team success.

gary b said...

my money's on Nilsson being the (RW) surprise. i know we only saw him for a bit at the tail end of the season, but he appears to have skill AND hustle. like a Thor, but with better hands? speaking of Thoresen, i just don't see him having the kind of lousy net luck he head last season, not with the kind of game he plays. not sure what what that translates into goal-wise, but certainly at heck of a lot more than 4.

Nilsson gets every chance to fill one of those top 2 wing spots (i'm guessing the coaching staff lets him sink or swim before they make another move). i think he'll thrive with real minutes, and i like the idea of him and Torres on a line throwing themselves around with (not too) reckless abandon.

i dunno, with all the crap swirling around this town since last season ended, i'm actually feeling fairly positive we'll ice a competitive team. nothing wrong with a bit of youthful enthusiasm in the lineup, i think the D is miles better, Garon is a nice pickup... and although we may not see the benefits right away, having ONE farm team (instead of roster spots on five different ones) has got to help with instilling habits and sytems into the brains of whichever players become the future of this team.

Steve said...

The D is miles better if you're looking to improve the powerplay. But quick, who are our best two defensive defensemen this year? Staios and...Greene? Smid?

I can't see us letting in fewer goals this year than last. But we'll score more too, I think. I don't think that will translate into the 6-5 games jellyfish was talking about, but maybe we'll go from losing 3-1 to losing 4-2.

mike w said...

Every late summer/early fall we start slating in players that will have a breakthrough year, and yet bitter wisdom should tell us that it is unlikely to happen.

Even if Nilsson has a good season, we should expect baby steps; in my books that's making the team, not scoring 20 or more on the second line. When you think of current Oilers like Hemsky, Stoll or Horcoff, they weren't players that parachuted into top lines or big minutes, but instead had pretty good rookie seasons before maturing into better and more productive players. The way I see it, we don't have the calibre of offensive prospects that can make a Malkin-esque jump into the NHL.

And a 31-year-old Pisani as a scoring second-line winger is an equally starry-eyed prognostication. Don't get me wrong, he's an invalauble player, but expecting more than 15 goals is a bit much based on past performance.

Santa Merda said...

To be completely honest, it looks like it's going to be a team that will be tough to play against, but will still lose most games by one point or so. All our losses will be close, but they'll still be there.

As an aside, could y'all add my blog to your side-bar?

Mattstro Disastro said...

It's certainly better than it could have been. Damage control is a success, I think, but only after a few weeks of playing will we know for sure if this is something "solid" or something that looks or sounds like solid, but isn't. Like, I dunno. Squalid? Soiled?

Anonymous said...

Are we becoming the Leafs of the West? Plenty of above average talent performing just as you'd expect, fighting valiantly for a playoff spot or first-round win and falling, tragically, just short.

-sad face

Pleasure Motors said...

Are we becoming the Leafs of the West?

An ownership group chiefly interested in profits over performance, a fan base that happily supports them with season-ticket sell-outs, an organization desperately clinging to past glory that seems ever-more intangible and impossible to recover...

The comparison has been made a lot before, but it's still a disturbingly apt one. Ales Hemsky will be our Mats Sundin before too long.

Pleasure Motors said...

Oh, and while we're on the subject, I've convinced myself at least one of our young forwards plays way above his head, if only out of necessity. Maybe it's Nilsson, maybe Cogliano, maybe Thoresen, but somebody who probably shouldn't be a second-line winger will play like it this season, and then underperform on what will probably be unreasonable expectations through the three-year contract he gets next off-season.

I'd like to call it the Raffi Torres supposition, but he signed his contract the wrong year and I think I'm the only one around here who dislikes him.

Steve said...

I think I'm the only one around here who dislikes him.

The guy's clearly a little nutzo, and I wouldn't want him marrying my sister (which is fine, because he's not Russian anyway). I also wouldn't want to have a beer with him, or have him any closer to me than he has to be to smack a guy against the boards after he (Torres) relinquishes the puck.

marcus said...

Only the most wild-eyed optimist would argue that a team with a very porous D, no legitimate top line player (Hemsky is nearly there), and a missing 2nd line RW is an actual playoff contender.

Nope, I'm afraid we're looking at 10th place at best.

Chris! said...

Sure -- but how porous is this defence, exactly, and how much will a defence-oriented forward system and strong goaltending correct for that?

Nothing to base any of this on but pure speculation, of course, and I don't think 10th place is a stretch. But only the most bleary-eyed pessimist would argue that fifth-worst in the conference is the best the Oilers could hope for next year.

Anyhow, there's a big difference between playoff team and playoff contender. Just ask the Falmes.

marcus said...

I'll give you this: thank JESUS that Lupul is gone. With a defensive corps that isn't exactly, well, defensive, having Lupul in the line-up would be a recipe for disaster. Turnover & giveaway central.

My prediction: no Oiler D-man will walk away with a net plus rating next spring.

Jellyfish said...

Er, a defensive group of forwards?

Okay, I'll give you Horcoff, Pisani, Reasoner (I guess), Stoll, and Moreau, but is that enough to carry the day when you've got guys like Hemmer, Nil Ballsoff, Torres, Penner, Pouliot, and Sanderson barfing up the puck to Ryan Smyth in an Avalanche jersey?

Steve said...

Hemsky has improved defensively (I credit MacTavish), and he's certainly no Lupul. Pouliot seems pretty solid defensively, and that will only improve as he learns (especially if he's learning from MacT). My understanding is that Penner's at least competent defensively. Torres is a special case - he's got some nice defensive play, but there's no question that he loves to give the puck away. At least he hits the guy right after, though. That leaves Nilsson, who I imagine will be pretty bad defensively but who people seem to expect to be playing with either Stoll or Reasoner, and Sanderson, who I thought was actually okay defensively but about which I could easily be wrong.

I'm not overly concerned about the defensive play of this team's forwards. I don't think we'll be saying, come the trade deadline, "Man, if only our forwards gave the puck away less, we'd be fine." In general, I agree with chris!; tenth is certainly a possibility for this team, maybe even the most likely possibility, but it's not the upper limit of reasonable possibilities.

And giving it away to Ryan Smyth isn't our concern - what's he going to do with it, shoot it?

(And I am an admirer of Ryan Smyth who considers Lowe's handling of that case to be his greatest shortcoming, even ahead of the also terrible Smid trade.)

(I call it the Smid trade because it's the only unambiguous name I could affix to it. Calling it the Pronger trade might make people think I was criticizing Brewer et. al. for Pronger. I'm too lazy to type two names, you see, although evidently quite happy to type lengthy parentheticals.)

Jeremy Lighting said...

Unlike some of you other negative nellies, I see these Oilers as EASILY a 6-8 place team, and possibly more... Penner will likely explode with 40 goals, Hemsky and Horcoff are due to rebound from a bad season, Torres couldn't do any worse than last year and will likely rediscover his "bad touch", Nilsson and Pouliot will turn some heads, Sanderson is highly underrated and is good for 20 goals if he stays healthy, and Pitkanen and Souray are off-the-charts crazy good with offensive potential.

I can't wait for the playoffs next year. :)

Anonymous said...

Sanderson was washed up when he played in Vancouver 3 years ago. He has lost his wheels and will be out of Edmonton before the all-star break. The oilers made some nice moves, but they are gonna battle for 10th or so and only a fool could see it different. Maybe when Lowe is gone after this season, things will change.
ps. Torres will have a great year, even though I cant stand him.

Anonymous said...

If I stare at the page long enough the Oilers make the playoffs.

Then again, if I stare at a thing long enough it pretty well turns into anything my imagination can come up with.

No Schremp, Nilsson in and out of the lineup, A few more lame-asses like Thorenson "miraculously" appearing at TC to screw rookies out of a shot...

plus the usual weak cast of Oiler forwards...a top ten pick for the Quacks.

Hunter1909(banned from HF boards for free speech LOL)

Anonymous said...

I am thinking the oilers are going to be a 6-8 place team not a problem. Even last year they were fighting for first in the conference with vancover and calgary right up until christmas. At the begining of the season last year everyone said vancover didnt have a shot and look what happend? they excelled above everyones expectations even with a lack lust line up. Once smyth left, everything went down hill, not because he was the heart and sole of the team, but because they were moving people into his postion that could fill the void. They lost all chemistry and didnt have time to gain any due to injury after injury. They played the last 25 or so games with mostly rookies. I really think that penner is the guy that can replace the loss of smyth. He has great size, very good hands, and given a guy like hemsky (great play maker)on the wing i think they will do great together. I love torres, i saw lots of potential in him last year. hes a wild card and i love it. Between him and stortini, they could cause alot of problems for the opposing team. Stoll would have done 30-35 last year if it wasnt for the concussion. I also think the addition of sourey is awsome!! To have an experienced and respected blue liner want to play in edmonton,and growing up an hour from the city, should do wonders for the moral of the players. Goaltending is awsome now..Roloson is great in sperts. Got to remember he's 40+. He gets tired, but we have a solid back up now to help the load. The oilers might not have the flashy names on the roster like some of the other teams, but what they do have is a talented young team. If they can find some chemistry they will go far. Look 2 years ago?? they werent the best on paper either and just sqeaked into the playoffs, and inturn went all of the way to the finals...The edmonton coaching has always done onething right. They are able to get heart out of there players, which has always made them one of the hardest teams to play against because of there style, and one of the most exciting teams to watch!! Show faith in the team!! i really do think they are under estimated, and i think by christmas all that say other wise will have there mouths shut. I have been watching the oilers for over 20 years now, and the potential of these young guys this years is some of the best young talent edmonton has had come through in the last ten. Aslong as the edmonton fans stay on board and give these kids, and vetern players some confidence to go out and do there job, not only will they make playoffs, but will turn some heads doing it