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It’s Edmonton Oilers day on PHT

Aug 14, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Colorado Avalanche v Edmonton Oilers Getty Images

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Edmonton Oilers.

Change has been consistent for the Oilers over the last five years. Five coaching changes. Three captain changes (four, if you count the one game Ryan Smyth wore the “C”). Numerous personnel and front office changes.

And this summer was no different.

In an effort to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006, Edmonton made some big moves. Literally. The club addressed its lack of size and depth on defense by adding Nikita Nikitin (6-foot-4, 223 pounds), Mark Fayne (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and Keith Aulie (6-foot-6, 228 pounds). Up front, a big splash was made by inking Benoit Pouliot to a five-year, $20M pact — this coming after Pouliot, at age 27, scored a career-high 36 points with the Rangers — and the club finally parted ways with Sam Gagner, who always seemed to be in the rumor mill, by flipping him to Tampa in exchange for Teddy Purcell.

Changes happened off the ice, too.

A pair of polar opposites were brought aboard as Dallas Eakins’ assistant coaches: Rocky Thompson, the former journeyman pugilist and Craig Ramsay, the longtime NHL bench boss. Thompson is just 37 years old and was playing professionally in 2007; Ramsay, 63, is a well-traveled veteran that’s head coaching gigs in Buffalo, Philadelphia and Atlanta to go along with assistant/associate jobs in Florida, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Boston.

Upstairs, the Oilers made a bit of a splash by hiring advanced statistics blogger Tyler Dellow as an analytics specialist. Eakins called the Dellow hire “the perfect match” for the organization, adding “we think there’s going to be a great opportunity to look at our team in a number of different ways that Tyler can help us.”

So yes. Change abounds.

The real question, of course, is if the results will be any different. The Oilers were bad last year, finishing dead last in the Western Conference while allowing an NHL-high 270 goals. Granted, the Taylor Hall-Jordan Eberle-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins troika is still maturing and wildly talented, the defense looks to be better and the goaltending situation should be more fluid with a full season of the Ben Scrivens-Viktor Fasth combo… but the Oilers still play in one of the NHL’s toughest divisions, and they went an ugly 8-17-4 against the Pacific last season.

Given how badly things went in ’13-14, it’s fair to suggest the Oilers will be better this year than the last. But how much better? For a team that hasn’t tasted the playoffs in six seasons, minimal improvements probably won’t appease the suffering fanbase.

  1. rmccleary97 - Aug 14, 2014 at 8:21 AM

    Saying this year’s Oilers defense is better than last year’s Oilers defense is like being in the 80s and saying this year’s Ford Escort is better than last year’s Ford Escort. It didn’t take much for that to happen, and it’s still not a glowing endorsement by any means. They still lack a top-pairing defenseman, have a ton of 5/6 guys, and even if Nurse makes the roster expecting him to make a huge impact may be asking too much (and he’s not so special that he’s going to magically lift the play of the rest of the blueline).

    Hall, Eberle, RNH and Perron will probably put up big numbers again, maybe Purcell contributes some as well, maybe Pouliot repeats that 15-21-36 – but the bottom 6 forwards are yet again going to be the place where offense goes to die. At least the Oilers have the core of this team together for years to come; at the current rate, Edmonton might finally hit .500 in the standings at the end of those contracts.

    • trmallen - Aug 14, 2014 at 2:04 PM

      Colorado Avs.

      Near last to playoff spot the next season under similar circumstances.

      Not saying that it’ll happen, just that it does happen.

      A huge part of the Av’s success was the final emergence of Erik Johnson on defense.

      Nurse, Marinicin, and Klefbom all look to be developing into top pairing defensemen. Possibly Justin Schultz as well. Not this year, but not too far away (i.e. at the tail ends of Hall’s contract) either.

      Pouliot, Fayne, and Purcell weren’t brought in for scoring as much as their very strong possession stats.

      Competing for a playoff spot is a reasonable expectation.

  2. patthehockeyfan - Aug 14, 2014 at 8:45 AM

    Great to see that the Oilers added some big defensemen. Maybe the goaltending situation will improve based on those additions. Allowing the most goals in the regular season (270) is pretty awful, especially when compared to the league leader in least-allowed goals (LA Kings with 168).

    Ben Scrivens’ performance against the Sharks back in January (59 saves – oof!) is still a record-setter; yet, allowing 59 shots to hit your goaltender is nothing to be proud of. The Oilers blocked another 22 shots in that game, 16 Sharks’ shots went wide and 3 hit the post, making it a 100-shots-attempted game. (oof! #2)

    (Full disclosure: Scrivens was a part of that LA goaltending team last season that won the Jennings Trophy for the Kings.)

    Good to see that Scrivens and Fasth will be getting some help.

    As to the stats hire (Tyler Dellow), an Edmonton Sun reporter, Derek Van Diest, went on an epic rant on Monday about Dellow and statisticians in general. The anti-stats – pro-stats camps are digging in, and will present controversy for the foreseeable future (which is what we like here on PHT). If PHT allows, I’ll include the link below.

    http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2014/08/11/edmonton-oilers-reporter-goes-on-incredible-anti-stats-rant/

    • withseidelinn - Aug 14, 2014 at 10:04 AM

      Seems like a lot of guys have a problem with Tyler Dellow. Not sure what the issue is with him, but I’ve read a few things about him being arrogant and extremely difficult to be around. Fairly interesting to see him land a legit NHL gig while a bunch of reporters like Steve Simmons are still chirping at him.

    • bsaures - Aug 14, 2014 at 10:49 AM

      Reading his comments it’s clear that a) he has a problem personally with dellow probably because he knows someone like him will likely take his reporting job soon because no offense to van diest he is probably too stupid to learn even the basics of what dellow does.

      And b) he has no real argument as to why stats are bad except for the whole eye test junk

    • rmccleary97 - Aug 14, 2014 at 1:07 PM

      I’ll agree on one thing: the use of “advanced stats” is getting overhyped. Stats like Corsi and Fenwick are glorified versions of “shots on goal” – and most people recognize that if you outshoot the opposition, you’re more likely to win. PDO is a largely contrived stat where two “simple” stats are combined to create something that largely has no context and where “good” and “bad” values are explained away with “regression to the mean” (as if any of these people have any idea what “mean” is for players, especially when those guys have only played a couple years in the league and/or there’s limited data on the guys to begin with). Corsi and Fenwick don’t tell me anything I wouldn’t already know, and PDO is influenced by factors outside a specific player’s control. Maybe more problematic is that while some of these stats are correlated with winning percentage, they have no predictive value in that I can’t take data from this season and project what a guy is going to do next season … unless I know how his team is likely to do – in which case, again I can pretty much use win% as a proxy for what I want to know.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s value in looking at game data at a granular level – but I think the vast majority of people are parroting each other and latching on to whatever the latest buzz words are without stopping to ask, “does this tell me something I didn’t already know?”

      • guitarhunterdude - Aug 14, 2014 at 2:46 PM

        I think Fenwick and Corsi are mainly useful in finding which teams are over- or under-performing and likely to regress; they can be a bit redundant for the good teams, but they’re still useful.

        PDO is somewhat useful in that regard too, but it’s not perfect. The next step with PDO is figuring out every team’s aggregate base PDO (by projecting team sh% and sv% based on career averages and the number of shots they should take or face), and figuring out whether the team is over- or under-performing based on that. Not terribly complicated, but a step forward.

      • wfoddis - Aug 14, 2014 at 3:03 PM

        First, on whether PDO is a contrived stat and deviations are explained away, you may want to check this out. What the analysis shows is the robustness and usefulness of PDO.

        http://www.pensburgh.com/2010/6/23/1531707/pdo-and-what-it-means

        Take away: Based on the analysis of 7 seasons (refers to Dellow’s analysis), PDO predicts what is it is supposed to predict: If a team’s save% and shooting% is above or below the mean (approx. .92 save% and 8 shooting%). The writer (not Dellow) also looks at PDO at the individual level. Again, players regress to the mean over time.

        Second, does possession can tell you more than win/loss, that is, is it a better predictor of future performance? You bet it is. For instance, if you look at Colorado’s win/loss last season and ignore their possession metrics and PDO, you’d think they had a great season. But the underlying numbers tell a different story. Unless Colorado sees considerable improvement in their possession numbers, they will be very lucky to make the playoffs this year. (They were very lucky last year with a PDO of 1018, namely, unrealistically high save% and a few guys with shooting %’s way above their means such as Stastny & O’Reilly.)

        If you used team possession metrics to predict playoff performance over the last 2 seasons (I didn’t look further back) rather than win/loss, you would have done much better in your playoff pools. The top 4 possession teams made the conference finals in the 2012/13 (the top possession team won the cup). In 2013/14, LAK were 1st, Chicago was 2nd, NYR were 6th, and Montreal was 26th.

        Third, as to whether you can use possession metrics to predict a player’s future performance, I don’t understand this criticism. Point production is best predicted on past performance (accounting for their age, expected line-mates, shooting%, and expected shots on goal). The benefit of possession metrics is to assess whether he helps or hurts a team’s possession when his points don’t tell the whole story (e.g., 30-40 pt player). Relative Corsi and With-Or-WIthout-You (WOWY) Corsi are very useful here. That’s why the Oilers stats guys are gushing over the acquisition of Pouliot. Not a big point producer, but very strong possession metrics. In other words, you can rely on him to have the puck going in the right direction most of the time even when he is not producing. That means fewer shots against–an area the Oilers have been terrible at for years–and thus, fewer goals against.

  3. govtminion - Aug 14, 2014 at 8:45 AM

    This will be a better team simply because they have halfway decent goaltending now. Dubnyk was just wretched last year- his side-to-side movement in particularly is just shockingly bad. Giving up the net to… hell, just about anyone really is an improvement, but the Oilers made some real strides in that department as the season went on. A full year with better netminding can only help their cause.

    Will they be GOOD? Well… probably not. But it’s a step in the right direction, and that’s more than Edmonton’s seen in a while.

    • trmallen - Aug 14, 2014 at 2:08 PM

      I had been a Dubnyk backer until last year.

      His save percentage had been steadily improving every year until last year when it dropped through the floor.

      The year before he had been right in the middle of NHL goalies in save percentage. Which isn’t too bad when one considered that they ranked near last in the League in shots allowed (i.e. spending way to much time in their own zone).

      Last year’s crash on his part was unexpected and was a big part of why we started the season so horribly. And it was in a contract year for him.

  4. hockey412 - Aug 14, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    It’s really hard to say if the ship can just be turned around and make it work. Most teams have a formula for rebuilding…not just grab all the talent you can, but they draft based on need, time it takes to mature to NHL status, etc. Some teams believe in getting the goaltender first, if available, or building from the blue line up. Seems like they just grabbed wings, really. A lot of them. They did grab Gagne and RNH but there were questions on both of them and their ability to stay healthy. Didn’t draft much on the blue line at all.

    Hopefully the changes will at least keep the fans into it. I still think it’ll be a while before they see the playoffs, but at least they are trying.

    • trmallen - Aug 14, 2014 at 1:50 PM

      Disagree.

      There are two competing theories when drafting. 1. Best player available. 2. Need. Most teams go with the first. They go with the first because they know that if nothing else, they can then trade the best player available for what they need at a later date. Get the most value with the pick. This year, they managed to arguably take the best player at #3 overall as well as draft for need (large second line center).

      And the Oilers actually have been investing by drafting defensemen the past few years. Just haven’t done it with their #1 overalls. Many non-Oiler fans don’t realize this.

      The year Taylor Hall was drafted #1 overall, they drafted defenseman Oskar Klefbom near the end of the 1st round. The year Ryan Nugent Hopkins was drafted #1 overall they drafted defensemen Martin Marincin with the very first pick of the 2nd round. Last year they drafted defensemen Darnel Nurse with their #1 pick (7th pick overall). They’ve also drafted interesting defensemen prospects in Musil (2nd round pick), Gernat (5th round pick), and Davidson (6th round pick). So it’s not like they haven’t been drafting defensemen… including fairly early on… they have.

      What many fans don’t realize is that all of the #1 overall picks made the team as 18 year old rookies and the defensemen drafted in the same year simply take more time to develop. But those defensemen drafted are now starting to mature and add muscle and will be competing for starting jobs very soon.

      Nurse was the very last cut made before the regular season last year and many people thought that he was good enough to had made the team. Marincin and Klefbom didn’t make the team last year at the start of the season but were both starting at the end of it. Marinicin in particular was our best defenseman and looks like he’ll make the team this year from the beginning.

      It’s hard, and dangerous for any team to start rookie defensemen but the Oilers could possibly have as many as three this year (Nurse, Klefbom, and Marincin). Defense is actually now a position of depth in our development system. Center is where we are razor thin.

      Gagner was traded. Nugent Hopkins had the same shoulder surgery that Taylor Hall had the season prior. Hall, like Nugent Hopkins, was once unfairly labeled as “injury prone” but has been healthy now for one full season and the lockout shortened season. He was a top 10 scorer in the League both of those seasons. I think RNH will have a breakout season himself and shed the “injury prone” label.

      No Oil fans are predicting Stanley Cup. But I don’t think that competing for a playoff spot is out of the question either. If Colorado can do it, so can we.

  5. luz56 - Aug 14, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    No where to go but up .. Still having Lowe and the Killer running the show isn’t a good sign..lots of young talent

  6. pjblake2redwings - Aug 14, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    they need to trade nail yakupov to get something while they still can before he just bolts off back to Russia

  7. savior72 - Aug 14, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    What happened to the St. Louis Blues day story that was here a couple days ago but went missing?

    • shaundre93 - Aug 14, 2014 at 1:06 PM

      It got looted

  8. badguy711 - Aug 14, 2014 at 10:31 PM

    The Oilers have had an unprecedented amount of draft capita. Not only should they be embarrassed at how many first overall picks they’ve gotten but Oiler Fans should be able to brag at all, not even a little, when they get good. They have been given a top (if not the absolute best) prospect for over half a decade now. That is unfair on a ridiculous level. They should win Stanley Cups, and if they don’t they should be even more embarrassed. Joke franchise. Absolutely shameful.

  9. endusersolutions2013 - Aug 14, 2014 at 11:59 PM

    I doubt they will make the playoffs due to the conference they play in. 5 central teams made the playoffs last year, and the only team that does not appear to have improved over the support was the 1st place team.

    The 3 Cali teams making the playoffs again is pretty much a given.

  10. russ99a - Aug 20, 2014 at 1:52 PM

    Last year the Oilers were derailed by three big problems:

    Poor quality defenseman corps
    AHL quality goalie tandem
    Rookie coach thinking he had all the answers

    MacTavish has done pretty well fixing the first two, though not with the marquee names some fans would like to see. Eakins has been great in interviews and the new coaching staff and Dellow hires are a nice first step. We’ll see if he’s just as open and listening to ideas when it comes to the players.

    IMO, they’d need to get some breaks with injuries, players breaking out and other teams falling back for the Oilers to make the playoffs, but stranger things have happened.

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