Oilers vs Flames followup, 3 October 2009

Lots of nasty comments directed my way over David Staples’ place. I didn’t give enough credit for gritty play and didn’t use my eyes were the best of the comments. Herewith follows my rebuttal, because I have my own blawg to feed and I can’t stand typing into comments boxes anyway.
I think I can boil down the thought behind the flames (har) to this: the Oilers played gritty, which is what they’ve been missing since 2006, why are you hating on them? They only lost because of a couple of fluke goals! If they keep it up this way, the wins are sure to come! Why so many 5s?
I am Jack's black eye
Let’s get this straight: I don’t give a good gosh darn how gritty the team plays if they lose. I don’t give guys 7s just for hitting a lot; I give guys 7s for hitting a lot and scoring. Yeah, Calgary scored a couple flukes, and Edmonton scored a couple Kipper should have had as well, so it evened out. Yeah, JFJ was pounding guys all night, and Stone’s hit on Giordiano was a beauty (even if the Flame did get away with some blatant interference to keep Stone out of the play), but…
The Oilers hit one hell of a lot in their playoff series vs the Stars in 98, 99, 2000, 2001. They got past the first round exactly once. The next game a team wins based on hit count will be the first. Good teams don’t care about being hit, they just put the puck in the net. It’s the mediocre teams who take solace in the sentiment of “well, we sure did outhit them!” Scoring goals wins games, nothing else. It might feel good viscerally to see Phaneuf get some of his own medicine back, but he doesn’t care, his slapshot will be just as hard the next time, and when he scores that’s all the validation he’ll need.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the happiest guy in the world if the Oilers go 81-0 the rest of the way playing exactly like they did Saturday night. I say if they keep it up, they’re a .500 team and 8th in the West at best. At worst, they’re going to be just good enough to not be a lottery team. Hooray.
The killer for me is their top offensive guy, Hemsky, was playing in a PvP role. That’s exactly what he was sulking about last year, and he’ll be annoyed again this year – and with good reason, it doesn’t give the team the best chance it has to win. Except hanging him off Gagner’s wing is probably no recipe for success either. Horc’s the best centre for Hemsky, but he’s the only guy who can hang with the big boys too. Play Hemsky with Comrie? Who would you want to see riding shotgun on that line? Last time I checked, Esa Tikkanen was retired.
Quinn’s in a real pickle, much to the surprise of nobody. He needs a checking centre, and ideally, one he can trust to go out and take on the Iginlas and Sedins of the world. With all due respect to guys like Brule and Stone, they’re not it. They just don’t have the NHL experience yet. Until Quinn gets that piece – through trade, signings, or somebody surprising – this team is sunk, and it doesn’t matter if JFJ pounds Phaneuf through the boards once, five times or five hundred times; it doesn’t matter if Gagner one-punches Conroy to the ice or if Souray drills Moss right through the end boards. Physical play helps – it’s essential to separate the man from the puck. But good players don’t get scared, that’s why they’re good players in the first place. They’ll just go about putting the puck in the net and thumbing their noses at the Oilers, sinking from one too many holes in the lineup.
(Edited 0045h EST: slight wording change in first paragraph so my past English teachers won’t hate me as much.)

Grading the Players: 2009-10-03 vs CAL

I haven’t graded since 26 April, so I’m pretty rusty. I think the Oilers would sympathize. I barely had any pluses or minuses against any names at all, which could indicate that my powers of observation were lacking, or that no Oiler really did much to stand out one way or another. Either way, not a great game, but the only terrible came at the worst possible moment. Sadly, I realized about five minutes before the game that I have no recording device, so some details of some plays will have been lost to the vagaries of an old memory and whatever replays I can find online.
Smid, 5: 13 minutes of icetime. He was on the ice for 5 total goals – Glencross, Penner, Dawes, Brule, and Gagner. Dawes scored on the power play, as Phaneuf played the old “hey guys, watch this, five feet wide and off #5’s chest and in!” bankshot. I’m not sure how that goal went to Dawes, but it doesn’t matter. Smid wasn’t really at fault there, and by the same token he wasn’t much of a player on the three Oilers goals. He was scrappy at times, and had not-terrible coverage most of the time, so a 5.
Horcoff, 5: 19 minutes on the ice, 4:11 of PP time and one shot. -1 wasn’t deserved, he was on the ice for Moss’ second goal. He won faceoffs and wasn’t bad defensively, but he needs to do more offensively. He was out against Iginla’s line a lot in a power vs power matchup a lot, and while they were bottled up several times, they did their own share of bottling as well. Maybe deserves a 6 for helping to shut down Iggy et al, but the guy needs to put some in the net himself.
Cogliano, 4: a bit of a weak game from the speedster, not so much for what he did, but for what he didn’t do. I suppose it could be a good thing that he was almost unnoticeable, but his line wasn’t really a checking line. Showed good moxie getting up after being crushed along the boards, but he wasn’t zooming around much. Maybe it doesn’t do him any good to be lining up with two of the slower Oilers, but there’s not many who can keep up with him anyway.
Moreau, 6: weak penalty and he was barely used on the PK, odd for a checking winger. Yet his hit led to a rushed pass that got bobbled to Gagner, so on the whole, a good game from TheCaptainEthanMoreau. If he plays just like that most nights, the team should be ok – it’d be better if he could eliminate the weak penalties altogether though. Not a bad night for 11 minutes of icetime.
O’Sullivan, 5: On the plus side, he had 6 shots, and some of them were pretty good chances. Another 3 missed the net, at least one of which would have been a golden opportunity. On the minus side, none of his 9 chances went in. What’s better, a guy who gets 5 chances and 0 points, or a guy who gets 2 chances and 1 point? I also thought he should have had better coverage on Moss’ first goal, although that being a penalty kill maybe he was where he should have been, I don’t know.
Jacques, 4: 3 shots, 5 hits and 2 shotblocks. I thought only one of his shots was good, and he wasn’t creating a lot. 4:07 of PP time, with which he did little. Maybe he needs a few games to settle in, but I can’t see him staying with Hemsky for long. I love his effort, but he’s a bigger, slower Liam Reddox on the top line at this point.
Staios, 6: I was shocked that he had nearly 20 minutes of icetime, which is a great thing if you’re a defensive dman. 2 shots and one blocked, 1 blocked shot. He was a bit of the goat on the first Moss goal, I think he lost track of the Flames players and they got between him and the net. Still, a pretty decent outing from the former Thrashers captain. I thought the holding penalty was weak, his roughing one is forgiveable.
Penner helps Regehr to adjust his helmet
Penner, 6: Second star, a goal and an assist. He started the game strongly and, like the rest of the team, seemed to sag a bit in the second. He came back a bit in the third. His goal was a typical Penner goal, jamming it in from directly in front, and the assist came off a nice setup for Brule that the centre was frankly lucky to have scored. Manhandled Regehr early on, which must have been a surprise for #28. If he’d kept that first period play up all game, would have had a 7 or an 8. You can tell he’s tired of answering the weight questions too. Who wouldn’t be? Mike Milbury being angry at somebody for their manners is priceless too.
Stone, 4: Gritty play, but I think a secondary error on the Moss PP goal, he should probably have had the cross-ice pass. He’s going to have to do more than check a smaller player into the bench to keep getting 13 minutes a game.
Grebeshkov, 6: A nice low-event game from #37. I saw him get hemmed in a bit too much for my liking, but that’ll happen when you play as much as he did (22:30). He got a lot of power play time on a 0fer night though.
Souray, 5: It’s not that His Hotness had a bad game, but this was one where he needed to assert himself in every aspect. His cannon needs to be on-target, not headhunting. He was good defensively though, and nearly got a stick on the Moss gimme goal. Led all Oilers whose last names don’t start with K in icetime with 25 minutes. Like Horcoff, his -1 was undeserved.
Stortini, 5: It took 3 guys to help him off the ice after he clearly did Something Really Bad to his leg, and he was back the same period? The man is indestructible. Prust must have been happy it was #46 and not #33 he scrapped with though. +1 from Gagner’s goal, although he didn’t contribute much to it. If he plays like that he’ll never be sent down, although he may not play every single night either.
Brule, 5: He got lucky on his goal, but you usually have to be in the right spot to be lucky. He needs to get better on faceoffs if they’re going to be a secondary scoring line though. Some giveaways pulled his mark down.
Visnovsky, 5: Nice first hit also helped Glencross to pot his first of the season. Weak night on the power play, but was decent enough at evens. Hopefully he’s still feeling the effects of too long a layoff.
Gilbert, 5: No scary moments, for either side. -1 from the Moss goal, I think the puck came up-ice on his side. Another guy who needs to produce on the power play for this team to work. Just average.
Hemsky, 5: The Hemmer-magic was not really evident tonight, as he was probably hampered a bit (see Horcoff). He needs a winger to set up, and I don’t think JFJ is that guy, all due respect to Pat Quinn. Power play is all I need to say at this point. Credited with 3 shot blocks, which I didn’t notice, but hey, good on him.
Gagner, 6: 2-8 on faceoffs kept him from a 7. I don’t know why he decided to fight Conroy (I’m not sure Connie knows why either, he seemed a bit bemused in the penalty box), but he did ok there. Opportunistic goal is exactly what the doctor ordered, he made the most of 9:55 of icetime – 30 seconds on the PP isn’t really much time to get things done.
Comrie, 5: He’s finally settled into the role that MacTavish saw for him all those years ago, a decent supporting player who can chip them in. Powerplay though, 3:30 of nonproductive icetime there. His second assist on Penner’s goal came off a faceoff win though, part of what the Oilers were missing last year. I doubt he can keep up the current pace of faceoff wins though.
Khabibulin, 3: “The player is usually involved in at least one massive blunder that directly contributes to a goal against.” Enough said? He should stay in the net on a rolling puck like that, especially in a tie game with less than a minute left. He played well enough the rest of the night – a few great stops, but mostly vanilla.
Coaching staff: we don’t usually grade them, but a few comments. This idea of spreading the scoring out almost worked tonight, but long-term, I can’t see JFJ staying on the top line. In fact, the longer he’s there while Penner plays like he did for 2/3 of the game, I think the more points this team gives up. Similarly, the longer Brule and Stone have spots on the roster, I think the worse off the team is going to be. None of those three are going to suddenly discover scoring hands, and while all proved themselves well in the AHL in that respect and have some size, each have some weaknesses that should keep them all to fourth-liners at best. Brule has the most upside, but Stone’s skating makes Penner look good and Jacques’ difficulties with creating plays or putting the puck in the net himself are well-documented. After last night, I’ve no reason to think this season will be any different from before. The defensive pairings seemed to work fairly well most of the night, although it was a bit curious to see Grebs get 5 minutes more than Visnovsky. Nearly a third of Vis’ icetime came on the PP, so maybe the coaches want to work him back into gameshape while giving him some easier minutes and we’ll see the numbers get more even. I don’t know that the Horcoff PvP setup will work well either; if Hemsky thought he was being asked to be a checker under MacT, I can’t see him being happy with this arrangement either, and O’Sullivan shouldn’t get more power play time than #83.
Overall, they played well enough that you weren’t left thinking “This is an NHL team?” but considering the talent they have, they should have shown more. We’ll see what they have to show in the next few games, but if things keep up as they did last night, I can see Nilsson being brought in off popcorn duty to sub in for whoever’s in the doghouse by game #5.

Grading the Players: The Grades

David Staples and I (and any other volunteers) are going to try our hands at grading the players again this season. Here’s the original marking sheet from last season, which I’ll be again using. Some of the descriptions are a bit dated, considering they were based on the team two years ago, but you get the point. Last season, David went to a more simplified version, but it’s pretty much the same:
10. For a player to get a perfect score, he’d have to have a Gretzky or an Orr of a game, multiple goals and assists, at the very least a hat trick, or maybe four or five assists, that kind of night, something utterly extraordinary. For a goalie, it might mean saving 40-plus shots, many of them tough, but getting a shut-out and winning in a shoot-out.
9. In this case, the player would have to have a Messier or Coffey or a Fuhr of a game. So we are talking at least a few points, exceptional offensive and defensive play, a truly dominant performance. For a goalie, this would be an outstanding performance.
8. A great game, an Anderson, a Pronger or a Ranford of a game. The forward would have to be involved in at least one scoring play, and also show dominating two-way play. The defenceman wouldn’t have to score, but would have to be a tower of power all over the ice. For a goalie, he could let in a few goals, but no weak ones, and he would have to steal the win for his team.
7. A good-to-great game, a Tikkanen, a Lowe or a Roloson (vintage 2006) of a game. The forward will likely put up one point and he definitely must be effective at both ends. As for the goalie position, they might let one bad one sneak by them in such a game, but still would need to make the key saves to get this score.
6. A good game, a Pisani, a Spacek, a Salo of a game. Maybe the offence wasn’t great but the defence was superlative, or the other way around. Maybe there were a few bad moments, but, overall, things balanced out. Maybe the goalie let in a marginal goal, but otherwise he was competent enough.
5. An average game, a Kevin McCelland, a Don Jackson, a Ron Low of a game. Not good. Not bad. Competent. A few mistakes, maybe one that leads to a goal against. Good enough to stay in the NHL.
4. A Dave Hunter, a Pat Price, a Ty Conklin of a game, where the bad outweighs the good. A game where a big forward only makes a few aggressive plays but is otherwise passive, where the mistake-prone defenceman looks jittery, where the creative but erratic forward gives away the puck too much. A goalie would have to let in a bad goal at a key moment and let his team down.
3. A bad-to-terrible game. A game where a player is generally ineffective at both ends of the ice. It’s the kind of game that has fans calling for a young player to be sent to the minors. The forward generates little offence and is weak in his own zone. The defenceman gets beat consistently. Thoughts of trading a veteran player are sparked. The player is usually involved in at least one massive blunder that directly contributes to a goal against.
2. A terrible game. This player is just totally out-to-lunch in the game. He makes multiple blunders that lead to goals against or excellent opposition scoring chances.
1. An utterly atrocious game. The player shows zero hustle or intensity and makes mistake after mistake that lead to excellent scoring chances and goals against.

Schremp and the draft

Rob Schremp is one of those high-skill, high-risk players that gives scouts nightmares. Yes, every scout likes to hear about how smart they were, drafting Pavel Datsyuk in the 171st overall in the 6th round, but what about Ryan Barnes (55th), Tomek Valtonen (56th), Jake McCracken (84th), Brent Hobday (111th), Carl Steen (142nd), or Adam DeLeeuw (151st)? Those men have 2 NHL games played between them. If Detroit’s scouts are so goddamned smart, why didn’t they take Datsyuk with the Barnes pick and after the draft go on about how they couldn’t believe he was still available that late? Yet you let a high-skill guy slip and next thing you know, some blogger’s writing about how you could have had Mike Ribeiro if only you hadn’t taken Michael Henrich instead.
That 1998 draft was terrible for the Oilers, by the way, their man in the first round was the only one to never play even a single NHL game. Meanwhile the guy taken just before him has 580 points and was still looking for a contract this September. It took a certain heterochromatic college boy taken 99th to give the Mighty Oil any semblance of respectability at all in a decently deep draft. But I digress.
The point is, the draft is largely a crapshoot. Sure, the odds are more in the scouts’ favour in the first and second rounds, guys taken there tend to bust less than the guys taken in the 5th round, but for every Miro Satan there’s any number of boulevards of broken dreams.
The Islanders plucked Rob Schremp (not in picture) off waivers the other day, much to the satisfaction of all three of the man’s remaining fans. “Finally,” they say, rubbing their hands together with glee, “we’ll see what he looks like with the shackles off! Old Man MacTavish just couldn’t stand skill players who wouldn’t play in his mold!” When Schremp fizzles on the Island, it will be “See what the Oilers system has done to yet another quality prospect? Why oh why can’t we be more like the Wings?!”
Yes, Deroit’s had lots of success. Yes, I believe they have a quality system. Yet they could have had Andrew Cogliano, but they took Jakub Kindl instead. Even if they wanted D, Marc-Edouard Vlasic was still on the table. Perception is a funny thing; Edmonton’s busts are the fault of the coach, the GM, the scouts – anybody but the player – where Detroit’s are written off as the vagaries of the draft. Anybody still think Igor Grigorenko’s going to come out of nowhere and prove to be better than Tomas Plekanec, Stephane Veilleux, or even Patrick Sharp The Pride of The University of Vermont?
This isn’t some “bash Detroit to pump Edmonton up” article though. Edmonton’s clearly had developmental issues. Lack of a farm team will do that to you every time, and there’s no question their prospects have suffered because of it. Detroit’s still the class of the league for the last 10 years, but even they have obviously bet on 12 a few times when there were some 7s left in the dice.
Returning to the man in the title, Jonathan Willis thinks that Schremp will get 40 points, 25 on the PP with the Isles. Willis is a smart man, and others are probably making similar bets, but I say if Schremp gets 40 points, it’s with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, not the Isles. Mike Comrie, who has a much better pedigree than Schremp at this point, only managed 49 points in 76 games playing with Bill Guerin and Miroslav Satan in 07-08. Meanwhile, Schremp has struggled to score in the AHL and will be playing with has-beens and up-and-comers. Yes, the Falcons were terrible, but let’s face it – the Islanders didn’t win the Tavares Sweepstakes by sending in the Reader’s Digest cards.
I want Schremp to succeed, I really do. I don’t like seeing anybody fail, much less young men my favourite NHL team drafted in favour of Mike Green, Schremp’s teammate David Bolland, or David Booth. But if – and that’s a huge if at this point – he succeeds, it will be despite himself, not despite Craig MacTavish or Kelly Buchberger or Kevin Lowe. And for every Ray Whitney you throw at me, I’ll return a Jani Rita; for every Daniel Cleary, I’ll return Pat Falloon and Jason Bonsignore, with a side dish of Alex Selivanov.

Heatley’s Baggage

Something the media and bloggers and… well, let’s face it, nearly everybody who’s commenting on the situation keep bringing up is Dany Heatley’s baggage.
Let’s put things out in the clear here: he asked for a trade from Atlanta, and the team acquiesced. He asked for a trade because he had been involved in an accident that got a friend and teammate of his killed. He didn’t try to dodge responsibility; he took what was coming to him legally, pleading guilty to 4 of 6 charges. He’s never once said he didn’t feel responsible for what happened.
How many of you delivering speeches from the throne about how Heatley has a history of selfishness have been involved in a car accident? One that got somebody killed? One that got a friend of yours killed? One for which you were responsible? How can you possibly know how you would feel in that situation?
Dany Heatley asked for a trade from a place that reminded him of his dead teammate. Every time he laced up skates in that dressing room, he’d look at his dead friend’s empty stall and be reminded: I had a responsibility in Dan Snyder’s death. Every time he’d drive to the rink or to his favourite places in town, he’d be reminded: I could be doing this with Dan, but he’s dead.
How many of you can honestly say you wouldn’t want out in such a situation?
Drawing a line between two points and calling it a trend is not only poor scientifically, it’s poor understanding and it’s a poor way to treat a human being. Next time you’re writing about how Dany Heatley is a poor human being for requesting TWO TRADES, think about the circumstances of the first request. Look across at your co-worker, and imagine how you would feel coming in to work if that person was dead and it was your fault. Then hold yourself to the same standard you would hold Dany. Next time you snap at your wife or kid or co-worker, think: “Next time I do that, I’m trending and I am a poor human being and have no grounds for complaint.”
I don’t want Dany Heatley as an Edmonton Oiler, but it’s not much to do with his character and everything to do with the hockey. Demonize Heatley for the position he’s put the Ottawa Senators into, if you feel like it. Attack him for never winning a Stanley Cup and not scoring when it counted, if it makes the story better. But don’t attack him for his tendency to request trades. The circumstances are different, and so should your story be.