There’s Something Different About the Oilers: an article by the Prof

I cannot say for certain what it is, but something is different about the Oilers these days. Even though they lost the Kings’ game, I didn’t despair. I don’t know what it is, but I think they are playing better. I think the goalie pulled a “Quick one” (I know – cheap) on them and stole the game, actually – as goalies sometimes do.

The Oilers played up tempo most of the night and perhaps the only glaring difference between the Oilers’ play and the Kings’ play was that the Oil didn’t seem as willing to throw the puck on the net from anywhere as the Kings did. They actually waited to have shots, which I am starting to think is not that wise a tactic. When someone scores the winning goal after being blanked for almost 160 games, you know lightning can strike. I half wanted Smid to score the tying goal – but, of course, he didn’t.

Here is what I saw. Cogliano was a water bug – everywhere. Nilsson looked as if he is a threat every shift he is on the ice. Souray can shoot – which is hardly news. Penner is a bull – so much stronger than anyone else I have seen. In his almost dust-up with long-time friend Matt Greene, he made Greene look tiny. And Gagner, while he needs to get stronger – he barely squeezed through the sideboards with the puck in the Third Period, can play. He looks like he is one smart kid. Brule and Penner really do have some chemistry – how many times did they “just miss?” And, Deslauriers seems to be gaining confidence every game. I am not that concerned if Khabibulin doesn’t come back – although I don’t want anyone to have a bad back, the money is an issue, and I suppose Deslauriers has to rest sometime.

Anyway, it was one of those games when you saw the Oilers dominating, but somehow just knew a goofy goal would decide it. And, Quick was really the difference.

Although I never played hockey myself, and can hardly serve as an expert, I seem to be seeing more lucky bounces score goals than I have ever seen before. Perhaps, this has always been the case – but, being an Oilers’ fan suggests that I watch mainly Oilers’ games. One difference I see between the Oil this year and last is that they are scoring more close-in goals – more shots that seem to not be as much set up by good plays as the result of lucky, untimely bounces for the other team. Certainly, that was true of Potulny’s goal.

I am thinking that perhaps the kids should start beating the puck to death towards the net – every time they can. If the average scoring percentage is 10% (actually it is 10.3 %) ten more shots per game will score one more goal per game. The puck has to bounce off someone for Cogliano one of these times. I hope it is twice or even three times the next game.

Here’s a daring prediction – Cogliano with at least 35 points. Right now, the season is almost half over and he has 8. Anyone else believe that Cogliano will end up with 15 goals this year?


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The Oilers 9th Day of Christmas

On the 9th day of Christmas, my Oilers gave to me...

Some point production for Andrew Cogliano.

There is something about the way Andrew Cogliano has played over the last few games that suggest to me he's on the verge of breaking out and going on a hot streak. Unfortunately, he can't buy a point.

The worst part is, if Cogliano could buy a point, he'd spend every penny he had thanks to this being a contract year for him and the Oilers ready to say goodbye should he be asking for too much without the numbers to back him up.

Tuesdays game against L.A. was a perfect example. Cogliano was a plus 1, he worked hard, he was in on a lot of action, but he just couldn't seem to get on the board. He even had what looked to be an assist taken away from him on Sheldon Souray's goal.

Edmonton fans know Cogs as one of the fastest skaters in the NHL. He's made for an excellent penalty killing weapon for Pat Quinn and he wreaks havoc on the forecheck with his speed, but this year, he reminds me of the guy in your office that deserves a promotion but never gets one because he's too valueable where he is.

Pat Quinn likes the chemistry of Cogliano, Moreau and Potulny. Frankly, he likes the combo of any of the guys on the 4th line with Cogliano with them and as such Cogs gets very few opportunities in offensive roles.

On pace for 7 goals and 19 points, Cogliano is also on pace for a very small contract as an RFA and for the Oilers, they can't afford to have what was supposed to be a 20 goal per year prospect not producing.

On the 9th day of Christmas, I'd like to see Cogliano get at least 9 more goals that his projected pace of 7. Even that's not enough.


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A Lot of Questions for Oilers Heading Into Game Against L.A.

Despite a few days off between games for the Edmonton Oilers, there's been no shortage of news.

Starting with the rumours surrounding the status of Nikolai Khabibulin, the news is anything but good. There has been no confirmation of any sort of scheduled surgery, but the rumblings at this mornings presser was the he was having a "procedure" to fix a "spinal" issue.

If you're an Oiler fan, a teammate and especially Steve Tambellini, this is about the last thing you wanted to hear outside of "Khabi is done for good".

Should a surgery take place and one that could end Khabibulin's career, the Oilers will be on the hook for every penny of Khabibulin's 4yr $15 million contract. With all the choices available during this past summer, this would prove to be the biggest gaff by Steve Tambellini and co.'s tenure as management and hurt the organization moving forward unless they can find a loop hole.

Denis Grebeshkov will make his return to Rexall Place against the Kings and speculation exists that Pat Quinn might choose to run seven d-men instead of six and let a forward sit.

Patrick O'Sullivan was moved down line and it sounds as though a message is being sent that while he's still getting his chances he needs to be more productive in burying them. It's obvious O'Sullivan misses Mike Comrie who he developed some chemistry with at the start of the season.

Speaking of Comrie, he still isn't skating with the team and a return isn't expected before Christmas. In fact, many seem to think he's out for possibly close to another month.

The L.A. Kings with their loss last night are tied at the top of the Pacific standings with San Jose and look to rebound against an Oiler team who was hot, but has a tradition of stumbling when returning home from longer road trips.

Edmonton had a team meeting to address the start they'd need to have to maintain their momentum against a much stronger team than any of the teams from which the Oiler took their last five victories.

Look too for the Oilers to rough-up one Michal Handzus or anyone defending him. After hitting Hemsky from behind and ending his season, Handzus has a few players looking to send a message. If Strudwick plays tonight, you may see early sparks as he had something to say the last time these two teams met.

It should be an interesting game and while the Oilers are coming off of five straight wins, a must win in terms of telling us exactly where this team sits against tougher competition and at home with a couple days rest.


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On the 10th Day Of Oilers Christmas...

On the 10th day of Christmas, the Oilers gave to me...

#10 from the Chicago Blackhawks - Patrick Sharp

I am a fan of Patrick Sharp. Those that read this blog frequently, probably already know that.

I love the way he plays hockey, I love the the skill he brings and the element of success on both ends of the ice and the fact that he's done all this without the expectation of a top pick (he was taken 95th overall in the 2001 entry draft).

Patrick Sharp plays in a land of great skill in Chicago, yet he seems to be able to set himself a part and standout. He's making more than fair money for his production, he's young and willing to do the things most players won't and in short, he's everything the Edmonton Oilers could use.

I did a quick article on the Bleacher Report about a caller to one of Edmonton's local radio shows, who suggested Ales Hemsky for Patrick Sharp and Dustin Byfuglien.

While I'm not an advocate of moving a good contract (which Hemsky's is), or Edmonton's leading scorer over the past three to four years (which Hemsky also is), I have to admit, at the thought of adding a Patrick Sharp, I'd be willing to say adios to Hemmer.

In 31 games this season, Sharp is a plus/minus +10 with 9 goals and 15 assists for 24 points. Nah he's not a point-per-game player right now, but he brings so much more than just offence, that you have to account for it.

Sharp is over 50% on faceoffs, he kills penalties and plays monster minutes on the powerplay, and he's a versatile forward who can play wing or center if the need exists.

On the 10th day, I'd love to see Patrick Sharp as an Oiler.


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What did Pat Quinn Want to Be When He Grew Up?: an article by the Prof

I was thinking about Pat Quinn today – comparing him as head coach to MacT. It intrigues me that Quinn is also a lawyer – having received his law degree (actually it was a J.D., the abbreviation for juris doctor or doctor of jurisprudence, the formal name given to a university law degree in the United States) at the University of San Diego – obviously between hockey games and during summer breaks while he coached for the Los Angeles Kings.

Interestingly, Quinn’s legal education didn’t seem to teach him to stay out of legal trouble. In 1986, he violated his contract with the Kings to secretly sign as the general manager and president of the Vancouver Canucks for the 1987 season.

Obviously, Quinn’s signing was an egregious (this is the kind of legal description a lawyer might use) conflict of interest, and when the Kings made his signing public he was banned from NHL employment until 1990. But, that’s another story.

Anyway, the fact that Quinn was trained to a lawyer caused me to ponder two questions. First, why does a hockey player become a lawyer? Second, in a face-off between the skills of a hockey coach and a lawyer, how do they match up? In other words, are comparable skills needed to be a good lawyer and a good hockey coach? To this second question, I think the answer is yes.

Here are some skills lawyers need. First, you must be good at disputing and proving your points. It also helps to be competitive. You have to be able to persuade people, be quick to observe things, and you must have people skills. As much of any argument is won on the personality of the presenter as it is on the presentation of the facts. You also need to know the rules and be able to apply them.

To become a lawyer, you study business, communication, journalism, reading, researching, analyzing, and thinking logically. Excellent writing skills are also a must – the point is that you have to make your points succinctly and directly. These points have to be clearly communicated and without nuance – you have to be a straight-up guy.

To me, these are some of the same skills I think hockey coaches must have. There in the scrum of a game, within the heat of complex and dynamic action, players are waiting to be convinced. Watching Quinn stick handle on the Oilers’ bench, it strikes me that the communications he has with his players – except for the extended time of a called time out or a TV commercial – are exceedingly short. You have to say what you have to say in a short amount of time. We’re talking a sentence, tops.

Furthermore, hockey coaches have only the flash of a moment to convince people to accept their ideas. There is no time to debate or compete for attention. Quinn seems almost ultra-competitive in a patient sort of way. He seems quick to observe things, has people skills, seems straight to the point, and I know I wouldn’t want to argue with him. He scares me.

Are all coaches like Quinn? I think not. Law and hockey are so diverse that it is probably impossible to describe a typical lawyer or hockey coach. Each lawyer or coach works with different clients/players and faces different problems. I cannot, for instance, even start to get my head around the different needs of coaching Shawn Horcoff, Patrick O’Sullivan, Ladislav Smid, or Robert Nilsson. But I can imagine that coaching each player is different – and not having English as one’s first language also causes a communication issue. Strudwick is different than Stortini, who is different than Visnovsky, who is not at all like Gagner. All this takes some sense of insight.

So, that Quinn has been schooled in the skills of the legal profession – analyzing issues in light of existing situations, synthesizing ideas in light of different facts and multifaceted issues, and combining diverse ideas into a coherent whole – has to help. Then he has to advocate these ideas to individuals with different agendas, offer intelligent counsel on a game’s requirements, speak clearly, and negotiate effectively. These are skills of both the law and of hockey coaching.

I cannot imagine the pressure of coaching NHL hockey. But I bet that reading situations, listening to the insights that arise, analyzing and synthesizing the sights and sounds of a game and the needs of players, advocating one idea over another, and counseling, speaking, and constant negotiating are keys. Quinn, and perhaps all good hockey coaches, must be smarter than the average bear.

Given this set of smarts, why again would Quinn sign a secret contract in 1986? Perhaps the answer is that it was 20 years ago! Being Quinn’s age myself, I hope I am smarter at 60 than I was at 40.


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On the Oilers Eleventh Day of Christmas...

In this continued series on what is on my Christmas list for this years Oilers team, we take a look at Day 11. On the 11th Day of Christmas, my Oilers gave to me...

11 more faceoff wins per player on the Oilers roster who has taken more than 100 faceoffs this season.

Right now, the Oilers sit a horrid 28 out of 30 NHL teams in faceoff percentage this year. There is evidence in this still young season, that lost faceoffs have directly resulted in losses for the team and cost the Oilers crucial points in what is always a tight Western Conference.

If the players who take the majority of the faceoffs on this team (we'll count for the purpose of this example only those who've taken over 100 this season), won only 11 more faceoffs each, the Oilers would vault from 28th to ironically 11th place in the league at 50.9%.

What sounds like a small number, if done by only 7 players would make such a big difference the results would be amazing.

If Horcoff would have won 233 out of 456 instead of 222, Gagner would have won 171 out of 325 instead of 160, and Penner 114 out of 215 taken instead of 103; all three of those players would then sit over 50% for a faceoff percentage joining only Gilbert Brule who is currently winning more draws than he's losing.

While it still wouldn't put players like Patrick O'Sullivan and Andrew Cogliano over the 50% mark, it would make their percentages more respectable than the 39.1% and 39.6% they sit at respectively.

11 more faceoffs per forward who takes a lot of draws would make Edmonton a more confident team in their own zone. They'd feel the confidence to take control over a forward who faces them in the dot and effectively clear the zone. In the offensive zone, especially on the powerplay, it would give Edmonton literally an extra few seconds to a minute every game of opportune scoring chances.

For Shawn Horcoff, it would mean less double shifting, less pressure on his injured shoulder, and more opportunities for offense. He needs those opportunities if he's ever going to live up to his whopping contract that fans just won't let him live down. They don't notice how much he brings without big offensive stats, so for a player like Horcoff 50 points a season is crucial.

At his current pace, Horcoff is set for 19 goals, 16 assists and a total of 36 points. Not nearly good enough for a player making his kind of money and not currently at 50% on the dot. His maintaining a solid 20 minutes of ice-time every game, just won't be enough to justify what he makes in a salary cap NHL.

11 more faceoffs in this example would likely have given the Edmonton Oilers two more points this season, which would place them in tie for 10th in the West. If we really examine it, who knows, we might find 4 possible missed points thanks to faceoffs, which would place Edmonton inside the playoff picture looking out, instead of from the outside looking in.


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How Can Ugly be Beautiful, or Are the Oilers Learning Something New?: an article by the Prof

I really didn’t think that the Oilers could pull out a 5-3 victory, especially when down three goals with two minutes left in the second period. But, they did it; and it was ugly!

Let’s review the goals.

Goal One: At 19:49 of the Second Period, Gilbert Brule gets number 8 from Dustin Penner. Penner is behind the net, digs it free to somewhere towards the front of the net and there is Brule to smack it two times and eventually somehow slide it in. If I saw the goal right, even Penner’s pass bounced off a St Louis stick. Ugly!

Goal Two: At 8:31 of the Third Period, Gilbert Brule gets number 9 from Sam Gagner and Dustin Penner. Penner is on the sideboard, slides it to Gagner, who hits Brule coming toward the net. It was a goal that the Oilers actually looked as if they knew what they were doing – still, all in the close quarters of a 20-foot space on the ice. Not beautiful or highlight reel, by any means; just really hard work – what I would call white collar ugly and blue collar gorgeous. Only sort of Ugly!

Goal Three: At 11:19 of the Third Period. Sam Gagner gets number 7 from Dustin Penner and Gilbert Brule (here are these names again). Penner fights and fights behind the net and, like the first goal, doesn’t even look at the net. Somehow he gets it out there and, for some reason, Gagner is NOT hanging back but moving toward the net and (did he mean to do this or did it just hit his stick) it slides in. Really UGLY!

Goal Four: At 13:52 of the Third Period, the Oilers score my favorite goal of the night. Shawn Horcoff gets number 7 from Robert Nilsson and Lubomir Visnovsky. Two things make this my favorite goal – one I am a huge Nilsson fan (I think he thinks the game better than any other Oiler except perhaps Visnovsky) and second it was the little battle Horcoff won to get turned around toward the goal that was the key. Within a two-foot space, Horcoff fights to turn around with #15 of the Blues all over him, gets his stick on the ice – where Nilsson hits it and the puck goes in. Beautiful in an ugly way! It was the battle Horcoff won in that confined space that sealed the goal for the Oilers. Sure, Nilsson made a great pass – he can do that. But, again, it was the little battle won by Horcoff. Blue collar UGLY!

Goal Five: At 17:03 of the Third Period, just for good measure Dustin Penner gets his 18th unassisted. He just goes – strong and fast – up the right sideboards and towards the net. Can he lift the puck over the goalies blocker? Nope. Can he deke and slide it in the open net? Nope. What he can do is somehow charge straight at the goalie – can you imagine what Conklin was thinking? – and somehow push it literally through the goalie. Nothing pretty at all – just ugly strong! UGLY strong.

The Oilers’ Insider noted that perhaps Penner is on the radar for the Olympic team – well perhaps the bigger ice space on the Olympic sheet will be his nemesis. Perhaps not – but he led the Oilers in UGLY on Friday night. But he wasn’t alone. How many blind pushes of the puck toward the net just go free because no one is going to the net? How many battles get won and the puck slides to nowhere? How many times does Gagner go to the net, get nothing, and circle back and go to the net again? I would like to count the number of times Brule’s bus route ran to the net with empty seats.

Obviously, these UGLY things win games – winning battles in the smallest of spaces. Not giving up the puck – somehow pushing it toward where someone might be. An Oiler teammate – great. But a bounce off an opponent sometimes does the trick as well.

The Oilers didn’t win pretty because they didn’t spend much time in open ice where passes look crisp and plays seem decided. They beat the puck to death and put the Blues on their heels. Once this started to happen, the rest of the game just seemed to open up.

The next step is not waiting until Souray gets tossed from the game to make up your mind. Can you imagine if the Oilers started to do this ugly grunt work from the start of a game? I am starting to – well, almost. I am not jumping on the Oilers’ bus route just yet. I am beginning to like UGLY!


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