Why a 6th overall pick is valuable?

There are really only two positions in hockey: centre and defense. I know many of you will disagree and point to very good quantitative evidence that I am wrong. Most likely someone is typing up a reply about the existence of wingers and goalies. Actually, who am I kidding . . . no one is replying since that means someone would be reading this blog.

As an Oiler fan and a rearguard, when I used to play the game, I tend to focus on the Oilers’ blue line (or lack there of). It is hard to not believe in wingers since the return of the Mullet and the holy trinity are joined by Omark and Hemsky—plus a little dash of Eager and randomness (see Jones’ contract). I wouldn’t keep Harkitainen if he be use to unload The Boozen’ Wall; like the fat man / skinny girl let slip a few weeks agao. Man, we could have got a third round pick back, too: stupid, stupid Tambo. I mean I would love to love wingers right now, but I couldn’t care less. Omark is awesome and if they trade him they are an addled mind (price tag & talent). It is hard to give a shit about the goalie position either: unless the Boozen’ Wall goes to jail . . . oh I have never hope for anyone to go to jail before him (and I still think it is a terrible place that we should not send anyone!). PS: he is in jail and that does not seem to be solving the problem either. This leaves only centres to talk about . . . and this sucks.

Depth Chart

Gagner

He is the de facto number one centre: for now. Long term he is either going to be traded to fill a whole at RH defense or in the crease—any handed is fine for the ‘tender. The other route is that Sam and The Nuge form a top two set of centres . . . very shifty & very cerebral, a perfect core for a puck possession team with a couple elite talents on the wings.

Gagner is in real danger of losing first unit PP time and some easy offensive zone draws to The Nuge. I not would be surprised to see them with even PP minutes by the end of the season. It is essential that Gagner steps up and plays well against tougher competition this year. I’d like to see what he could do with Ryan Smith as his left winger and one of those talented RWers (read not Jones).

Horcoff & Beleganer

Horc might be a bit over paid but there is nothing we can do about it; Beleganer is signed to a value contract at under two million.. I just combine the captain’s and the new guy’s contracts together and come up with 3.625 million for 3 season per defensive centre. It is kind of still expensive and there is that final season of Horcoff’s contract, but at least there will be a couple centres in their early 30’s dress in Blue and Orange silks. I think we can expect about 120 to 130 games per season for the next three years between the pair old pivots.

I think they will take the lion share of defensive zone draws and the PK minutes. I could see one of them lost this job over the next few years; if Gagner adds a penalty-killing element to his defensive game or The Nuge takes over some of the harder minutes. Other then that they fit a specific role (defense) and have a decent two way game. They can chip in a few points and are a lot more dangerous around the net then most teams two top defense-first centres. I would pencil both these centres in the ‘bottom six’ even if I expect them to get a lot of minutes at the end of tight games and be mainstays on the penalty kills.

The Nuge

Here is the wild card. He gets his 9 games—and even if he does stay with the NHL team, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go play the world juniors. I think he stays but gets sheltered minutes kind of like Segiun did this year but different. I think The Nuge is going to get powerplay time; most likely beginning on the second unit. I would not think it is unfathomable that Renney would protect him late in the games. The coach running the other three more veteran centres at evens, and The Nuge getting power play time and the occasional shift. If we could break down qual-comp by period, my guess is the former first overall doesn’t get protected as much in the first period or two of games, but in the third—if everyone is health—he often goes a while sitting on the bench between shifts.

I say he makes the team because he gets the ‘push’. The Nuge has some very real competition for ice time with the three centres above him . . . maybe too much? What really is going to affect his fate is the amounts of injuries the Oilers’ suffer at this position.

Brule

Most folks write Brule off. He is damaged.

I think he will come back with a little bit of vengeance and fight for 4th line minutes. He needs to come back as a professional and accept the press box at the beginning of the season, and chip in when needed. He keeps players like Lander and VV down in the AHL until the bodies start adding up in the wounded tent.


A Reflection on Defense Men


One of my favorite French writers Georges Sorel, once said: “So little are we prepared to understand pessimism that we generally employ the word quite incorrectly: we call pessimists people who are in reality only disillusioned optimists” (Reflections on Violence, P. 9). He goes on to say a bunch about pessimism and politics that I find to be quite thought provoking.

I am not going to talk to you about those here, but rather point out why the phrase I quote above is relevant to Oilers Hockey. (You can find a bunch more interesting reads about pessimism about hockey here or here, by the way.) But I am going to tell you that I am disillusioned optimist vis-à-vis the Edmonton Oilers.

I want to be excited and cheer for the Oilers; when I watch Hall or Pääjärvi, I cannot stop myself from thinking that “this is the greatest thing since sliced bread.” The optimism abounds. I call hockey my ‘soap opera’ since I follow it everyday and it gives me something to cheer about. Classic optimist behaviour?

I am just disillusioned since there still is a crappy blueline: easily the biggest weakness in getting to a playoff contending team. It has been like this since the summer of 2006 . . . it is not getting better by itself, here. It is hard to turn on the television, year after year, to watch games (that will end far after midnight) knowing the once mighty Oil have a blueline in the bottom third of the league. Sometimes we have the worst blueline in the entire league. Reason for Disillusionment?

Here is the line up as we have it, based on a bunch of arguments other places.

Left Defense


Right Defense

Whitney (22+ min/Not-the-toughest comp./#1 PP)

___________(22+ minutes/experience playing toughest comp./1st unit PK)

Smid (18+ min./maybe can play toughest comp./2nd unit PK)



Gilbert (20+ min./has played toughest comp./used in all special teams)

Barker (12-16 min/third pairing-offensive/some PP time)



Peckham (12-16 min/third pairing-old skool/no special teams)

Sutton (12-16 min/third pairing-can hurt peeps/maybe PK)


Petry is not on my Oilers Team. Sorry all those that love him. Petry would be my first call up. First and foremost, Petry does not fit a description of having experience 22 minutes a night playing the toughest the opposite can throw at him actual NHL career. Plus Petry is a better PP than PK man, imo. The Pitcher’s Son can clear waivers both ways: I doubt Barker or Sutton would survive re-entry waivers, and no one else (but Chorney) would survive the hook going down. Imagine, an Oilers blueline that could afford to send Petry down to the AHL. When injuries do hit, Renney will have a defenseman that could come and fill in at a multiple of situations. There is no other player but Petry that can be shuffled back-and-forth while playing at such a high level. This means what 20 games of Petry being in the minors to start the season and maybe a few more games in the triple AAAs, if, the NHL club avoids a major injury or two near the end of the season. The more minutes in the AHL will mean more development at all the special teams, strength & conditioning, and lots of even strength experience with the toughest of AHL competition for when Petry comes to the big leagues.

Oh, sign me up for that scenario. Plus this means we have to fill in that other defenseman position from a trade or free agency (since Petry is better than the rest of the AHL defensemen). An ‘actual’ NHL defenseman, at minimum.

Washington

It seems like they have spent too much money and are over the cap and have a lot of defensemen. The thing is that Poti is unlikely to return in my opinion—lets set the betting at 50-50: so really, without Poti, the Caps have just over 1 million to spend, one Karl Alzner to sign, and 6 NHL defensemen under contract. Carlson won’t be traded; Hamrlik can’t be traded; Erskine has a nice contract; the rest of them . . . anything is possible. If, I was Tambo, and I am not, I’d be calling Mr. McPhee.

Denis Wideman shoots right and can play both sides of the rink I am told. That sounds nice. Quickly from Behind the Net: last year Wideman played 16.91 TOI at even strength and had a 0.80 Points per 60; 3.8 power play TOI, and 3.36 Points per 60; plus had another 2.32 Penalty Kill TOI. That is a lot of icetime, and not bad production. I am not going to look up his experience against tough competetion, but lets assume it sucks. He got a contract just a hair less then 4 million, and is a UFA next year.

He is worth trading for by the Oilers, at the right price. He was just traded for a 3rd round in 2011 and an ECHL player or some bag of pucks. Just make sure the deal is not too much more, but still an upgrade from Washington’s perspective: maybe a good looking forward prospect and a 3rd round in 2012. As for the slightly-off-blue-chipper, I’d suggest (in this order): Toni Rajala, Tyler Pitlick, Chris VandeVelde, Curtis Hamilton, or Anton Lander. They all ain’t going to all make the show . . .so come on Brass, display to us why you are worth your money: choose the one that you don’t think will make the Oilers and toss it in the ring for a part we need. I really think a promising second round draft choice and this years third is going to get McPhee talking real hard on the phone.

Maybe, just skip the McPhee part. The Oilers could deliver an RFA contract to Karl Alzner! He is not the experienced player we are looking for now, and not a right defenseman, but I still think the Oilers should look into this. It would mean most likely trading a Left Dman (Whitney or Smid, or maybe one of the three on the bottom pairing . . . ok, anyone but Gilbert or Petry) but the age group would grow around the ‘core’ and add a defenseman to go along with Petry at the blueline ‘core’. It would make the team better on in the long term and this year, but just not as good as I want the blue line to be this year.

It would have to be as large as possible a contract, but not too much and give away the farm. The compensation for a second round contract ends at about 3.1 million a season, and any more then five years does not count in figure out compensation. A $15.5 or $12.4 payout over five or four years is what would take for this to happen. And it still not happen, if I was McPhee, I’d gladly pay Alzner 3.1 a year not to let him walk. I think the Oiler brass could make the contract unpalatable for the Washington Ownership.

Here is what I’d do, make it a five year contract with most of it coming in bonus money. The average salary would be one million for each of the five years, and the rest of it comes in signing bonus. This way the player is protected from the possibility of a lockout effecting their salary. Make the first signing bonus (say 11 days after the contract is signed) for 7 million dollars, and the second signing bonus paying out 3.5 million on July 1st 2012 at midnight. If Alzner is signed to a RFA contract then Mr. McPhee cannot trade him until July 1st 2012, and will be forced to pay out eleven point five million dollars in that first year of the contract. That is a lot of money for the ownership to swallow even if the Caps get the player for the next four for basically nothing.

Grading Tambo: Why is Everyone thinking this is a Success?

Here is Lowetides’ wish list (or really the basic things all fans can see that the Oilers need) and I am going to base my grading on it. So, folks are pretty excited about the Oilers’ haul over the last week . . . I’d say they are. Me: not so much. Is this a step in the right direction? Yes, but it is a small step.

Interlocutor: Bloody Hell!! What do you mean? How can the Oily Brass make a forward play, but it is not a long enough ball for you? Fuck’n twit.

Well, the Oilers finally started to get ‘actual’ NHL players, but the problem is that not enough of them are NHL players or they play the wrong position.

Interlocutor: You whine like a babe without his mother’s tit about getting a checking centre that can win draws and once you do you complain. Fuck’n Oilers Fans are worst then those c*nts in East London that support the Blues.

Well, I am not complaining about Éric Bélanger; I think that he is a good pick up, even if the term is one year too long (but alas we were bound to over pay in some way). That is a good deal (might I say great deal if it was completed about two years ago) . . . with Bélanger we get a six-foot centre that can kill penalties and has 53.9% faceoff percent over his career. The thing is that I do not give extra points to Tambo for this signing: he scores a C+ since it is something he needed to do (answering one question right on a tests does not guarantee an A, but just keeps you score going in the right direction). Now if Tambo would have found a bigger centre or one with some more offensive (plus the PK and Faceoff ability) he would have got some extra bonus points, but those players really aren’t available this year.

Interlocutor: What about Arnott? Or are you still mad about the shit that he said during his first tour in E-ville?

Arnott does not have the faceoff ability that the Oil need and Bélanger can provide so he is not really in the same camp, but I would have loved to watch that big frame skate around with Omark and Pääjärvi. But on to the second point: truculence . . .

Interlocutor: Now you got to be chuffed about this. Bob's your uncle: we got two hooligans!!

I like the Ben Eager signing, I really do (especially since it means that the beloved SMac never sets his feet on the ice at Rexall again). Eager is one of these ‘actual’ NHL players we have been looking for: he can skate (hence make a few big hits on the forecheck and he can stand up for his team mates). His contract is one year too long (similar to Bélanger) but it is really not that much at 1.1 Million: hence could be bought out, traded, or hide in the minors if we need to. The other side of the truculence is not so good: Darcy Hordichuk. Well he has the ability to give a good quote—an element sorely lacking since the departures of Pens and Marty Sakic—I just don’t think he is a real NHL player. A good AHL player for sure, and better then I could have ever dreamed of being? Yes, so if he is good in the room and doesn’t play every night he should be fine . . . he is an o.k. 13th man and paid like one at that (under a million on a one year deal).

So Tambo has only scored two out of five. Bélanger is a player that we desperately needed, so he gets a point there. Eager and Hordichuck are an up grade over SMac/Stortini/JFJ, and Tambo earns another point there . . . but not any bonus points since these pick ups are one-dimensional: a defensive-only centre and some fists that can skate. There is nothing over and above the basic answers to these questions.

Interlocutor: But you got to admit that transferring for the Mullet-Man’s rights was cracking!

Yes, Tambo trading for Ryan Smyth was an excellent move, but one that fell into his lap. I am not going to bitch about the fact that we tried to sell the Kings some damaged gods, cause I’d think they would do the same to us (given the chance). Symth is the biggest part of the up grade, imo. He really gives Renney options: he is a player that can play the toughs, can PK, and can help on the PP. Beauty! But again no bonus points: Fraser could have been put in the AHL if everyone beat him out (and would have made that team better) or been a 13th forward . . . it is not really addition by subtraction—but it does clear up one contract space, I guess, so that is some kind of silver lining. If Tambo signed either Smytty or Hemsky to an extension at reasonable dollars (say the former at 2 years at 2 Million a season & the latter to maybe 5 years deal with about a 27 million dollar overall payday), I’d have given him extra points here too.

Interlocutor: Claiming the Smyth deal was jammy is a little wankery. Tambo has done a good, if not great, job filling three o’ the five conditions . . . that is 66% in my books or a pass and you have not even got to the Defense Men . . . you a mug to think that he can’t ‘pass’ this test.

Well, I have been complaining about the lack of ‘actual’ NHL defensemen for a while now: come to think about it, complaining about Dman is basically a full time occupation over here at this blog. Do I think Tambo fixed this today? NO!

Andy Sutton basically replaces Jim Vandermeer: an over-paid veteran that is physical but on the downside of their career. So losing a player type like Vandermeer and replacing it with Sutton is a wash. There is no upgrade here, as we still have an old seventh defenseman (actually we have three 7th Dmen: Sutton, Petry, and Peckham . . . only one should be in the line up each night if the Oilers are looking to win but we got at least two dressed for each match as it stands).

Interlocutor: Fuck’n Wanker. Do you think getting real blue liners is as easy as going for a pull on a pub-crawl? They tossed of Foster to sunny California and pick up a former #4 overall section as well . . . what do you think about that? It has got to be worth a mark in your grading.

I would rather have Foster than Sutton: both had terrible seasons last year, and while Sutton can hit Foster should be able to score more this year—both are brutally in their own defensive zone if their numbers from last year tell us anything. This just comes down to age: Foster is younger, hence more likely to rebound, and Sutton was basically what we hope Peckham will turn into.

Cam Barker is slow and has been terrible since going to the Twin Cities. I hope he can turn it around this year, but look at the signing (2.25 Million for one year, and then Barker is an RFA). I guess it is good to get him when he is still a RFA, we have his rights if he turns around this season but that is an expensive contract to qualify. The problem is that Barker’s top end, for this season, is basically a number four defenseman, or the weaker link on a second pairing. That is what Smid is!! I am unconvinced that Barker is an ‘actual’ NHL defender that can play in the top four at even-strength: he has the pedigree but not the track record . . . I wonder which most GMs would rather have.

Overall, Tambo added two bottom pairing Dmen and traded away one. That is a crowded bottom end of a roster with Barker, Smid, Sutton, Peckham, and Petry. All of them should be battling for playing time on the bottom pairing, with maybe two (Smid & Barker) having the ability to take some second paring minutes if someone gets hurt. The Oil still have one of the weakest bluelines in the entire league, if Tambo wanted to score points, with me, here he would have need to add at least one top 4 Dman but maybe two ‘actual’ NHL players to get full marks. Signing Harry Potter to a two-way deal helps out OKC, but does nothing for the NHL depth. The addition of Sutton & Barker, and the subtraction of Foster give him 0.25 out of 1 for me. This brings Tambo’s total score to 3.25 out of 5.

Interlocutor: I think your demands are a little up-market for the team that plays in the Siberia of Canada. What is the last question that Tambo has to answer?

Goaltending! Nothing on that front.

Interlocutor: OK, I’ll agree with you there (but who knows . . . maybe the Boozen’ Wall will play like he once did or Double D might step into his own). Either way 3.25 out of 5 is 65% . . . that is a good grade from my grade school days.

Well, I am a Teaching Assistant for the last couple years, and I told all my students that 66% is average. They always get mad about this, since they were all eighty plus students in high school and now in uni they are getting sixties. But they were above average in high school but now they are only average at university. Same as Tambo: if he was in Hockey Canada or the CHL then maybe fixing three of the five holes in your line up would be considered great, but this is the big leagues so GM are expected to ace all the question or at least get above 75% if they want a real ‘pass’ in my books.

Fixing the truculence problem should not be that hard . . . it is like having a few multiple choice questions on the test . . . even if you just guess you should be able to get the right answer about 25% of the time and these questions are not that difficult (they just test if you read the textbook). Dealing with the defensive centre is a must for a team like the Oilers. In the past Tambo didn’t even attempt to answer the question, or, last year, maybe Fraser was just like writing down everything you know for a short answer but never getting to the root of the question. Having Smyth fall into your lap is similar to having the one question that actually interests you show up on the test: you never studied for this one since it was the only time you did not fall asleep in class. Finding real NHL Dmen is the hardest thing to do—the essay question at the end of the test. I guess Tambo gets part marks for drawing up an outline, but he never actually wrote anything down in full sentences. Lastly, Tambo forgot to answer the question about the ‘tenders. I started to run after him shouting that they did not finish the test, but Tambo—like most students—just kept walking away to get to the pub a little early. Overall, Tambo gets a pass or an average mark for Free Agency and Trades this week. Maybe he’ll get a few more marks in the future (if Barker or Sutton really steps up) or if the Nuge wins the Calder trophy. I have marked good students down before and I will again in the future, but most of the time it is for their own good.