Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Over the last couple of days I've put up a couple of posts at The Copper and Blue about players who have become available on waivers. The first two players I profiled were Adam Hall and Nathan Oystrick who both have skills and salaries that could have made the Oilers a better team. Unfortunately both players have gone unclaimed (NHL teams - especially bad teams - don't use the waiver wire as often as they should) by the Oilers and by the rest of the league. Another unclaimed forward is Liam Reddox who has now been assigned, along with Theo Peckham, to Springfield, leaving the Oilers with 25 bodies on the roster two of whom will start the year on IR (Pouliot and Pisani).

At any rate, I was all nice and ready to put up another waiver profile when I see that fans have taken over The Copper and Blue for the next two days. So go ahead and post over there (you can win stuff!) and I'll do my thing at the old stomping grounds instead.

This post coming here is actually somewhat fitting since The Copper and Blue already has a post on the individual I'm going to profile now. It's almost cheating to say this player is a possible waiver pickup since the Minnesota Wild just signed Andy Hilbert today... and immediately sent the poor bugger to ride the buses. Nonetheless, as Jonathan pointed out in his own post, Hilbert has some good things going for him. For starters, he's an experienced hand having already appeared in 303 career NHL games and he doesn't need to be sheltered. Last season he took on 59 more defensive than offensive zone faceoffs (about middle of the pack for the Islanders) while taking on some of the toughest competition (2nd among Islander regulars in quality of competition) with average help (7th among Islander regulars in quality of teammates) and the results are actually quite good. On a team with a Corsi of -602, Hilbert's -68 actually looks decent. Similarly, his goal differential of -4 is quite good when put in the context of the Islanders' -56 total. Hilbert was also a plus player in each of the two previous years. All of this suggests that Hilbert is a safe bet to be a player that can take on real NHL competition without getting pounded. That alone should be enough to put in a claim.

But there are reasons he probably won't be claimed. First of all, he's 27 years old so he's not exactly a prospect anymore. Secondly, he doesn't have the size and jam... er... crust that the Oilers are looking for if his penalty minute totals are any indication (though to be honest, the Oilers could really use a player that can handle some tough minutes without taking a minor penalty every other game... I'm looking at you Moreau. Thirdly, he needs to play wing and the Oilers are in greater need of a center. Hilbert's 38.2% success rate on 186 faceoffs last year suggests that an experiment as a defensive center is not in the cards. Fourthly, although he's had some offensive pop at the AHL level that offense has never joined him in the show. Still, a player like Hilbert is probably a safer bet on the wing than any of Ryan Stone, Liam Reddox, Zack Stortini and many of the other fringe players the Oilers are going to run out over the course of the year. And it's in making consistent little improvements like picking Hilbert off waivers that a team gets better. Assuming they don't throw it all away by signing a 36 year-old injury prone goalie to a four year contract.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Two Plus One Better Equal Three

Chopping them down one by one. Over the last few days several players have been sent packing and the Oilers roster now sits at 26 with three guys on injured reserve. There's some noise going around about the Oilers needing to trim salary for the purposes of the salary cap, but that isn't really the case since they can exceed the cap this year by the amount of bonus money due to their rookies (Gags and Cogs). This isn't an especially prudent move given the possible stagnation of the cap, but it does give them some flexibility to start the year. They can always move some salary out down the line.

Anyway, the cuts. In the news release the Oilers mentioned that their roster went from 32 to 27 which means that both Toni Rajala and Kurtis Mucha have been sent back to their junior teams. As far as I know Mucha has not been given a contract. Jordan Eberle is going back to junior as well. This is the right call. Eberle had my perfect camp this year in that everyone seemed impressed with him, but he didn't make his shots and "force the Oilers hand." This is a sad day for a team like the Colorado Avalanche who are keeping not only Matt Duchene but also another 18-year old draft pick in Ryan O'Reilly. That's just not good long-term thinking. Three years from now, when these guys are 21, three years from UFA and looking for raises they're going to be kicking themselves. I guess it's the price you pay for selling hope.

Three more players were sent to the AHL in Kip Brennan, Taylor Chorney and Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk's demotion here merely meets expectations, so there's nothing for him to be excited about. Brennan and Chorney, however, have both had fantastic camps. For Taylor Chorney it's a nice vote of confidence from the new coaching staff. We've seen several players move up and down the depth chart so Chorney had to be at least a bit worried that his spot might go to someone else. It didn't. I'm sure it still stings to get cut, but he can be proud of his work. Brennan, meanwhile, has showed enough that we could get the call if one of the pugilists goes down with injury. That's got to be satisfying.

The final cut on Monday was Rob Schremp who, this morning, was picked up by the New York Islanders. It's surprising to me that a guy like Ryan Potulny sneaks through while Rob Schremp gets picked up. Just another reminder that, even four or five years down the road, draft pedigree still matters. Nonetheless, this is great for Schremp. He's going to get a chance to play in an offensive role, probably some time on the PP and it's all right close to his hometown of Buffalo NY. Good for him.

Further news this morning includes Liam Reddox on his way to the waiver wire. There are always mixed feelings when this kind of news comes out. I like Powder and hope that he stays with the organization but it's obviously preferable for him to move somewhere else and play in the NHL. What sucks for him is the "re-entry waivers" stipulation which may serve to keep him in the minors all year. That's a rule that needs to be changed.

So that leaves us with 26 players. Peckham, Pisani and Pouliot are all injured at the moment so we'll see what happens with them. Peckham will surely be sent down once he gets healthy. If the other two get healthy and no one else gets injured, there will still need to be two more cuts. It could certainly be an interesting start to the season. Looking at the practice lines the Oilers under Quinn are going in a different direction. When you don't match lines, there's no point in creating "checking" lines and "soft minute" lines and "power v. power" lines. It shows in what the Oilers have going on at practice: two players plus a rubbydub and if the rubbydub turns into a player, so much the better.

Line One
The Players - Shawn Horcoff (C), Ales Hemsky (RW)
The Rubbydub - J.F. Jacques (LW)

As Tyler Dellow has pointed out, J.F. Jacques is about to set records. The Wayne Gretzky of rubbydubs is one of the big winners at this year's camp. The coach sees something in him and that's got to feel good. And you know what, these guys might actually make some hay. Unless the other coaches are matching lines, these three should get some good opportunities at EV. Horc and Hemmer have been playing together for long enough that they could probably create offence on their own. All Gretz needs to do is bang in the corners and crash the net.

Line Two
The Players - Patrick O'Sullivan (LW), Mike Comrie (C)
The Rubbydub - Ryan Stone (RW)

Here's a line that worked in the preseason. I said myself a few times that I thought they might try it on opening night and here it is. These guys might struggle taking on tough competition but could also feast on some of the lesser lights. If they don't succeed, I doubt it will be because of Stone alone. More likely, it will be that the whole line is just in over their heads and needs more of a defensive presence. I can definitely see Fernando Pisani taking Stone's spot if he's an Oiler when he returns from injury.

Line Three
The Players - Dustin Penner (LW), Andrew Cogliano (RW)
The Rubbydub - Gilbert Brule (C)

Of all the rubbydubs I find this one the most offensive. Penner and Cogliano did show some things together so I like that pairing but I think Brule is a much inferior option to several of the other potentials uninjured on the roster, namely, Liam Reddox (who could take C or move to RW) and Robert Nilsson (who would play RW). Both of those players showed more in the AHL than Brule has and in the case of Nilsson bring a history of quite a bit of offence at the NHL level too. Given the fact that Brule is no defensive whiz it's astounding that he's even in the lineup. When Pouliot is ready to come back from injury hopefully that pushes Brule to the pressbox.

Line Four
The Players - Ethan Moreau (LW), Zack Stortini (RW)
The Rubbydub - Sam Gagner (C)

I'm pretty convinced that this is the way Pat Quinn sees this line. Sam Gagner has not performed particularly well through the preseason and if it weren't for his "golden boy" status may have ended up in the same boat as Robert Nilsson. Nonetheless, this line has some potential. For all of his flaws, Ethan Moreau is a pretty good shooter. Over his career Moreau has shot 10.2% and the vast majority of his shots have come at EV. Further, this line will be doing a lot more dump-and-chase than Gagner is probably used to. It should help him break some of his bad habits at the bluelines. If Gagner realizes what this line needs to do to be successful (some dump-and-chase to the corners for his big wingers which could open up room for more occassional moves at the blueline which may lead to a shot for himself or a dish to, more frequently, Moreau or a trailing D as Stortini crashes the net) this line could really work out well. I think it will really help Gagner to develop his game.

The extras so far are Nilsson and MacIntyre. We'll see what happens with them once the other forwards come off of injured reserve. This system of limited line matching should be interesting. Last season the Oilers were "chasing" the strategy of the other team for too often. Hopefully with the Oilers pressing their own lines, the other team will be the one forced to adjust and the Oilers can create an identity for themselves. In order for it to work though two players plus one rubbydub needs to equal three effective players.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Being in Two Places at Once

So I'm going to be writing for "The Copper and Blue" now which is a part of the Mirtle family of blogs. Firstly, Vic, I know that you must be a bit disappointed in me. I'm sorry for that and it may end up that the message-boarding of blogs will be as bad as you expect. I never lived through the message board days so... we'll see. I'm still going to be writing here frequently as well since a lot of the things I like to write about are duplicated over there. As an example Bruce is doing game recaps for the preseason already and it doesn't make much sense to have us both do them in the same space, thus it will end up here. Plus, some of the work I do is less Oiler-centric and more NHL or league-centric so I'll probably put some of that here as well. Basically, we'll see how things go.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Oilers Cut Five More, Celebrate with Loss

So in the last post I talked about how Ryan Potulny, Dean Arsene and Chris Minard would be disappointed to be sent out before some of the guys who they were ostensibly ahead of on the depth chart. While I'm sure the cut still stung (although in Arsene's case, he did get some nice comments from the coach), it turns out five other guys who didn't need to clear waivers were also sent out: Jake Taylor (AHL contract), Alex Plante (Entry-level contract), Ryan O'Marra (Entry-level contract), Bryan Young (AHL contract) and Milan Kytnar (Entrey-level contract).

I'm sure Plante, Taylor and Young feel good to have oulasted Motin and Wild since it means they've got a head start on regular work in the AHL though the competition for those spots will continue all year long. O'Marra too feel good to have outlasted some of the other forwards that were sent to Springfield earlier. This is a huge year for O'Marra as he's playing for his next pro contract. Kytnar is an interesting case. I thought he looked okay but not great in the games he played and he can definitely feel good about how many games he played before leaving but the length of his stay may have been somewhat predetermined by the fact the Oilers had a game in Saskatoon where Kytnar will be playing this season. Which is odd. The real difference makers are in the NHL by age 20. He won't even be in the AHL. Thus, he's probably just not that good. If he ever makes it, it will be in the "Kyle Brodziak" mold and, to be frank, there are a lot more Kyle Brodziak busts than Kyle Brodziak success stories. Here's hoping he does but I'm sure not going to start expecting it.

Now, the real story is who's still here. For the most part, the forwards that have stuck around are pretty predictable. Of the guys battling it out for spots 11-14 we still have Marc Pouliot, Robert Nilsson, J.F. Jacques, Gilbert Brule, Ryan Stone, Liam Reddox, Rob Schremp, Jordan Eberle, Kip Brennan, Steve MacIntyre and, as far as I know, Toni Rajala (who won't be making the team and is currently injured). Thsi is a pretty amazing accomplishment for Kip Brennan and is probably also encouraging to a guy like Steve MacIntyre since the presence of another puncher suggests his role is still under consideration.

On defence we can be generous and say that there is one spot up for grabs and that Jason Strudwick, Taylor Chorney and the injured Theo Peckham are still hanging around. On the one hand, this seems to be a major accomplishment for Taylor Chorney. In fairness he's played well in camp but his rookie season in the AHL was just plain bad. I've got to hope that, unless Chorney has improved substantially, the Oilers weren't blowing sunshine up Dean Arsene's butt when they told him that, "they don't worry about age or where a player was drafted. They said, 'If you're the best and we need somebody, you're going to get the chance.'" I suspect that either a) they're lying or b) Dean Arsene is taking what they said a bit far but I wish I could believe otherwise. If Gilbert Brule is cut, I'll believe (a bit more).

In goal, I'm a bit confused. I guess we'll say that there's a spot open for the backup goalie position but in reality we're likely to see all three of Khabibulin, Deslauriers and "Other" at some point this season. Right now "Other" is Dubnyk and he's fighting to keep it that way. Very likely, it's something he's going to be proving in the AHL rather than through the next week of camp, though performing well here would surely help his cause. Then there's the curious case of Aaron Sorochan and Kurtis Mucha. So far as I know the Oilers haven't officially said anything about either of them but Sorochan looks to have been in Springfield since the first day of the AHL camp which began on September 19th. Mucha isn't in Springfield and the Oilers are advertising their training camp roster at 34 so they do need one more guy. Thus, I must conclude that Mucha is still with the Oilers. That's a pretty darn impressive showing. From one of a slew of goalies in rookie camp, to main camp, to being one of the last four goalies left in main camp. At this point I think it's clear that the Oilers like him. I believe he's already passed through the draft three times and so isn't eligible for selection there but is eligible to play another year in the WHL. I could see the Oilers signing him and sending him back to junior for another season.

As for tonight's game, I thought that there were a number of veteran Oilers who could have been better (Khabibulin, Horcoff, Hemsky, Moreau, Souray, Strudwick...) but, let's be honest, this time of year is for getting back into playing the game for these players. Sure, I'd love to see them in top form but it's really not such a big deal if they aren't so long as the players and coaches are working together to learn the systems and correct the mistakes.

Now, for the tweeners at forward for whom these games are actually significant:

Kip Brennan: He had a fight and he's probably in worse shape after tonight and it's not because of the fight. Jacques killed him tonight. Not only can Jacques get guys like Regehr to fight him (instead of some other useless heavy), he can also play hockey better. Taking penalties never helps either (although the refs didn't do him any favours).

Gilbert Brule: More of the same in his third game of the preseason. He knows he's supposed to hit and sacrifices positioning to do it. He doesn't pick his spots. As I said a few days ago, it's like watching a player who's moved up from a non-hitting league and he's intent to get his licks in. I think he should be cut.

Jordan Eberle: Did not play. I think he should be sent down regardless of how he plays from here on out. Now, he has played well but... in spite of the hype "the sniper" has zero points and two shots on goal in three games against scrubs. Any talk of him being the Oilers best forward is crazy-talk.

J.F. Jacques: A big night. He really took advantage of being put with capable players who weren't on their game. I wouldn't go so far as to say he looked like he belonged on the top line, but he certainly did everything that he needs to do to make the team. A goal, a couple of big hits and a fight too. He's now had a couple of games like that and, I think, will survive regardless of how he plays from here on out.

Steve MacIntyre: Did not play. I feel bad for him but I think he's probably done for. He, like Brennan, just isn't good enough at hockey.

Robert Nilsson: I thought he was pretty decent tonight. Made a good read to pick up a point on the Oilers first goal and managed to stay out of the box on a night when that was a major challenge. He helped his cause but maybe not enough.

Marc Pouliot: Did not play but previous positive comments from the coach suggest he's doing fine.

Liam Reddox: Did not play. I liked his play in the second of his two games but he'd better hope that he plays tomorrow. Three minor penalties in two games also looks pretty ugly. He needs to stay out of the box.

Rob Schremp: Did not play and all of the other guys now have more than Schremp's two games but if he plays tomorrow he's back to par. If not, he's toast.

Ryan Stone: He managed to get a fourth game with Comrie and O'Sullivan which is certainly a positive. Although Quinn has mentioned him in the past, he wasn't one of the two "big" guys singled out after this game. I think this was the line's weakest game and part of that was on Stone. The little hooking penalty in the second was cheesy but it's not helping. Looked competent (well, as competent as one looks) killing the 5v3. Not a helpful night, but he didn't play badly either.

Interesting note from tonight: Ethan Moreau was bad. -2, one on a missed backcheck, and his 10:41 in ice time (only 5:49 at EV) bests only Brennan (I assume, Brennan isn't listed at I need to assume that's a bit of a wake up call similar to Pisani's sudden lack of ice time after a giveaway in his first game. Now, just like with Pisani, Moreau has shown enough in this league for enough time that there's no way that the man is getting cut for a rookie but I do think Quinn is sending a bit of a message.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oilers Make Typo - Send Out Wrong Ryan

Seriously. Pick one player to cut based on last year's AHL numbers:

62 GP: 1-9-10, 49 PIMs, no NHL callup

70 GP: 38-24-62, 48 PIMs, 8 NHL games

According to TSN the Oilers have shipped three more players to Springfield assuming they all clear waivers: Dean Arsene, Chris Minard and Ryan Potulny. Ryan O'Marra lives on. Crazy. Now, it's quite possible that there are more guys that are going to be cut and TSN only reported the guys who were put on waivers but if not, each of these guys is feeling awful.

For Arsene, getting shipped out before Taylor Chorney, Theo Peckham, Jake Taylor, Alex Plante and Bryan Young must sting. Arsene probably realized that he didn't have much chance to make the team out of camp but if this cut is an indication of the call-up depth chart he's a long way down the list.

Chris Minard and Ryan Potulny both played some at the NHL level last year and each had an outside shot at a roster spot in this camp. I mentioned that both didn't do much last night and indeed both were cut today. Being cut this early has to be bitterly disappointing, especially for Potulny who got his NHL time with the Oilers. The one potential bright spot is that there's enough time before the season that another team might make a waiver claim to take a look. Ryan Potulny scored 38 goals in the AHL last year. Chris Minard is 6'1'' and scored over a point per game in the AHL last year. That's not nothing. Someone may want to take a look and decide in a week if they're worth keeping. If it happens, I wish them luck.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Roster Cuts and Tonight's Performances

Before tonight's game against the Islanders the Oilers made six cuts to their training camp roster, sending Johan Motin, Viacheslav Trukhno, Geoff Paukovich, Colin McDonald and Charles Linglet to Springfield and releasing the guy that came to camp as a favour to Lubomir Visnovsky. None of these cuts come as any surprise and the real story is who wasn't cut. Guys like Jake Taylor, Bryan Young, Ryan O'Marra and Kip Brennan all have to be smiling huge. None of them played tonight so there's no real reason to stick around and yet none of them is on a flight south. It's got to feel good.

As for the game tonight, the Oilers looked pretty poor on the whole but there were a couple of positive performances as well.

Who helped himself? I think Eberle did for sure. Especially in the first two periods he was demonstrating some good vision in the offensive zone and never looked overmatched by the pace of play. He still hasn't faced anything close to a full team of NHL players and if it were up to me he'd be heading back to junior but he certainly helped his cause with tonight's performance. The other group who played well was the Comrie-O'Sullivan-Stone line for a third straight game. Every game Stone gets alongside those two is one more game with two guys that are locks to make the team. If the team were picked today I really do think that Ryan Stone might not only make the top 14F but would even be in the lineup on opening night. That would be a tremendous accomplishment and I must admit that I'm cheering for him.

Who hurt himself? Certainly Dubnyk didn't have his best game. Although Quinn said the battle for 2G isn't over in his press conference I'd think Dubnyk would need to prove he's clearly better in order to win the job. Tonight's performance makes the liklihood of that a distant bell. Although I like the guy, Ryan Potulny didn't stand out and, given his status as "challenger" rather than incumbent he really needed to. Same goes for Minard. Those two are in the same boat as Rob Schremp in that they probably had a real shot a spot with a particularly strong camp and, at least in the games, haven't done a whole lot.

One other note is on the subject of Fernando Pisani. Jim Matheson wrote an article today suggesting that Pisani may be in danger of losing his job. Now, Pisani wasn't particularly good tonight and was pretty dreadful earlier in the pre-season but, as one of the few established NHL veterans and consistently good PK options I'd have to think that his job is pretty much guaranteed. Anything else would be foolish and if there's one thing that Oiler management has proven it's that they're not foo... uh oh.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

One Problem with Preseason

One problem with preseason is that the quality of the teams you're playing varies wildly. Last night half of the Edmonton Oilers played a truly terrible version of the Florida Panthers. Tonight the other half of the Edmonton Oilers played a competent if unspectacular (no Sedins) version of the Vancouver Canucks. Now, this makes if awfully difficult to judge the guys on Team A against the guys on Team B. Pretty well everyone looked good against the Panthers and pretty well everyond looked poor against the Canucks, though in each case there were a few particular standouts and a few significant exceptions.

Florida Standouts:

Mike Comrie basically won over the Edmonton crowd in a preseason game with three points and a fight. One of those points was a sublime pass across the crease on the 5v3 to Shawn Horcoff who tapped in the goal. His whole line (Patrick O'Sullivan and Ryan Stone who also killed penalties with some aplomb) looked great for a second game in a row and I think it's just possible that the three of them are together when the season opens for keeps against Calgary.

J-F Jacques also played well. He hit. He scored. He fought. He looked terrible killing penalties. Watching him play was like watching his AHL stat-line in action. If nothing else, it certainly helped me to realize why the Oilers find him a tough player to give up on. Hopefully he can manage to play to a similar level against some real competition.

Florida Exceptions

Rob Schremp didn't stand out. On a night when Kip Brennan and Zack Stortini were creating chances, Rob Schremp didn't get anything going. At this point I would be very surprised if he made the team. Some of the guys making an impression have size on him which likely means that he's done. In fact, given a choice between Schremp and Brennan, I'd be betting on Brennan to make the team.

Vancouver Standouts

Bryan Young and Jake Taylor were exposed a number of times. On the winning goal Taylor made a pretty poor pinch and got left in the dust. Young then played the two on one about as poorly as possible. These guys were never going to be more than AHL defenders out of camp but the degree to which they were exposed shows how far ahead a guy like Smid (who wasn't perfect) is by comparison.

Gilbert Brule didn't look good on the left side with Hemsky and Gagner. He was trying to hit for sure and I guess that's commendable but it almost looked like a kid entering his first year of hitting. "Everyone's bigger and stronger but, by gosh I'm allowed to hit now and I'll go out of position to do it!" The only thing saving him from being cut is optics (Raffi Torres) and pedigree (top ten picks get plenty of chances).

Robert Nilsson was poor. A couple of stick penalties and a lot of dipsy doodling on a team that needs some guys playing more North-South hockey. His cap number might save him since, apparently, the Oilers lost a lot of money last year. Just ask Pat Laforge.

Vancouver Exceptions

I thought that, of the bubble boys, Reddox was the most impressive. He played well positionally, put in tons of effort and got his licks in when they presented themselves. He basically plays the game the Oilers want Brule to play but has those same optics (Raffi Torres) and pedigree (top ten picks get plenty of chances) working against him.

The Penner-Cogliano-Eberle line had another nice game despite the +/- column. Cogliano had a pretty rough night on the draw on the PK but was actually decent at EV for the second straight game and it's not likely he'd be taking those PK draws in the regular season anyway since it's likely that Horc would be first choice and probably Pouliot second (assuming he makes the team). At any rate, the line was able to continue to generate chances and the Penner-Cogs pairing still looks good. I still think that the Oilers need to send Eberle away and would much prefer Potulny playing in his spot on this line but they're effective, so it's hard to complain too loudly.

So where are we at? Well, I think the seven D are set as the seven guys that were here last year. As for the F, I think we have Hemsky, Horcoff, Gagner, Cogliano, Pisani, Penner, O'Sullivan, Comrie and Moreau as locks. That's nine. Then probably Pouliot and Stortini next in line which makes 11. That leaves three spots for Brule, MacIntyre, Jacques, Nilsson, Stone, Brennan, Schremp, Potulny, Reddox and the rest. At this stage I'd be keeping Jacques, Stone and Reddox though I'd like to see more of Potulny. I think the Oilers will probably go with Brule and Nilsson over Stone and Reddox. Should be fun to watch over the next week! What a nice thing it is to have hockey back!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Brent Sutter and Cognitive Dissonance

Here's Brent Sutter on Dion Phaneuf's hit to Kyle Okposo last night:

"There has been some disrespect brought into the game from player to player. That's something I've said for 10 years... In today's game it's considered a clean check. And yet it's a very dangerous check. When a player is vulnerable like that, you're putting yourself in a position to injure another player."

Wait... no... that was Brent Sutter on Doug Weight's check to his son Brandon Sutter. Well then let's see what Brent Sutter actually said about Dion Phaneuf's hit to Kyle Okposo last night:

"That's part of Dion's game. When he sees that open ice, Dion has to use it. It's one part of his game that makes him a unique player. You never like to see anybody get hurt obviously, and it's too bad that happened, and hopefully we've been told, he's going to be okay. But Dion still can't pass up that hit."

Huh. I guess the main difference is that the Weight check was one-on-one while Phaneuf hit a guy that had already been engaged by two other players. Thus, Phaneuf's hit deserves no criticism. Or maybe it's that the preseason is a higher stakes environment than the regular season since Phaneuf is probably fighting for his job with guys like Anton Stralman. Maybe I'll just give Sutter the last word:

"I probably got knocked out 10 to 11 times in my career and played through it. I'm not saying that's a good thing. That's why I'm so screwed up today. You can write that, too."

Cuts and Guys on the Margins

Yesterday the Oilers made 13 cuts to their training camp roster, most of which were were completely unsurprising. Philippe Cornet was sent back to his team in the QMJHL and a bunch of other guys who are overwhelmingly likely not to ever play a game in Edmonton were also cut. Let's face it, if you're cut this early in training camp and have a 2 as the first digit in the age column, you're not in the organization's long term plans. Which brings me to Andrew Perugini and Cody Wild, two players that have received some positive attention in some quarters.

Perugini's situation isn't all that bad really. He was never drafted and outplayed Bryan Pitton last year in the ECHL and at this point is probably slotted as the fourth best goalie in the system. I don't think his being cut really changes that. The fact is that Khabibulin is the #1 guy and that there are four other goalies in two seperate battles that the Oilers need to continue looking at. Dubnyk and Deslauriers are in a fight for the back-up goaltender position in the NHL while Kurtis Mucha and Aaron Sorochan are battling for what will likely end up being one contract. Perugini's battle will be at the AHL camp where he, Mucha/Sorochan and Pitton battle for AHL and ECHL playing time. Perugini's cut looks more like circumstance than anything else as there was really no reason to keep him around and the Oilers were carrying more goalies than they'd probably like.

Cody Wild on the other hand looks to be in real trouble. There's no practical reason for him to be cut instead of any of the other defenders and it looks like this cut was probably "performance-based," i.e., he's been passed by a whole bunch of guys. Defenders still in camp that weren't in the NHL last year include Theo Peckham, Dean Arsene, Jake Taylor, Taylor Chorney, Bryan Young, Johan Motin and Alex Plante which would puts Wild behind 7 guys likely starting the year in the minors which means it's quite likely that Wild will have a tough time staying in the lineup at the AHL level. Although some of the numbers have shown that Wild actually outperformed some of these guys last year (Young, Chorney) he wasn't able to impress any of the coaches last year. Maybe his superiors are weirded out by the vow of poverty he took at Providence.

With regard to the guys who might actually play for the Oilers this year I think it's worth remembering an interview that Rob Daum did at the end of July on the Pipeline Show. He mentioned a few players as guys he thought had a decent chance at winning a job in training camp:

"Ryan Potulny... Ryan Stone... Gilbert Brule... those are the three guys that jump out at me at this point in time, and of course you have to throw Robbie Schremp into that mix as well..."

It's good to remember that the only two coaches that know some of the players already are Kelly Buchberger and Rob Daum. If one of those two guys are on your side it likely bodes well for your ability to make a positive impression. It wouldn't surprise me if Potulny, Stone and Brule were brought to the attention of the new coaches at the start of training camp as guys to watch. Given the nature of training camp (it's short) that kind of extra attention can be a big help. Plus, any impression you make has some hutzpah behind it. As opposed to, "Wow, that Stone looked good tonight, but it's just one game..." it's, "Wow, that Stone looked good tonight and Rob said he played well in the past..." Daum probably also let them know to always mention Rob Schremp in a semi-positive light to avoid being asked about him in a follow-up.

Tonight the Oilers will be taking on the Panthers and Ryan Stone has another chance to impress. I'm pulling for him.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Worked Last Night

Well then. That unannounced hiatus ended up being a bit longer than I expected. It was a good break from thinking about hockey more than a reasonable man should and realistically, I didn't miss a whole lot in August. The last two weeks, however, have offered some excitement, including the return of actual games! Although I missed the first game against Calgary, I was lucky enough to watch last night's game against the Islanders in full and thought that it might be worthwhile to throw some thoughts out there.

So what worked? Well, I thought the best line by a mile was Penner, Cogliano and Eberle. They were able to generate a lot in the way of chances and generally looked like NHL players that were imposing their game on less than stellar competition. From what I can tell their faceoff split (which I think includes special teams on was 3 off zone and 7 def zone and I didn't notice many occasions where they were hemmed in, which I think is further evidence that they were moving the puck in the right direction. Incidentally, Cogliano had a passing night on the dot which could end up being a curse if he keeps it up through training camp. In other words, it's best for the Oilers that he's just as poor now as he will be during the regular season. But I digress. The point is that the Penner-Cogliano pairing was very good. Now, whether Penner is in better shape and skating faster or he just looks faster because he's alongside Cogliano I'm not sure, but the fact is that the two of them looked good skating together. I think it really helped Penner the game is more north-south than it is with Hemsky.

With regard to Eberle, I thought he did a good job of finding holes in the defence and winning a couple of pucks along the wall but, all things considered, I'd much prefer he spend another year in the WHL. In terms of potential for success against real NHL players and in terms of simple asset management I think it's the better choice. That said, Eberle's style of play meshed well with the other two. I think that Ryan Potulny would be able to equal Eberle's contribution at this stage and fit in stylistically with the line. It would also put him in a situation to succeed as he would have ample opportunity to use his best attribute (shooter).

By choosing a "line" (recognizing that this is very flexible) of Penner-Cogliano-Potulny some other opportunities are opened in the roster. My personal choice would be to have O'Sullivan take a turn with the proven pairing of Horcoff-Hemsky and let those guys go PvP. That would leave Moreau and Pisani to find a center to take the second toughs (Gagner?) and a whole slew of players for the fourth line (Pouliot, Comrie, Nilsson, Stortini, Jacques, Stone, Brule, Schremp...) who should be competent enough to form a nice outscoring option against the dregs of others.

The d-man I noticed the most other than Souray was Ladislav Smid. He played monster minutes and thrived. Sometimes you can see how good NHL players really are when you see guys you know playing at a lower level. Smid is a guy that still struggles at times on the bottom pairing in the NHL (as of last season) but against a mostly AHL crew he's downright dominant. As much as that's a good sign for Smid and the Oilers it's also a cautionary tale not to get too excited about success before the points count in the standings.

Which brings me to what didn't work. The Nilsson-Gagner-Hemsky group seemed to really struggle. Each guy was making moves extra moves at both bluelines and was turning the puck over. I think each one of these guys needs at least one person on the line to keep them grounded (or for more of their "Rob Schremp hockey" moves to actually work). In my opinion Hemsky needs a guy like Shawn Horcoff to be most successful.

Pisani. Eep. Now, Ethan Moreau took a lot of flack over the last year but Fernando Pisani wasn't much better. His scoring chance totals were poor (118-151), his Corsi was poor (-15.48/60 was worse than all but Stortini, Reddox and MacIntyre) and he was injured for part of the season after being out with illness for most of the season before that. Now, it's just preseason, but he looked bad last night. I'm cheering for him but I think there should be real concern that he's not the player we all remember (especially if he's remembered through Spring '06 coloured lenses).

The Power Play will heretofore be known as the Souray Play until I see evidence that it should be called something else.

As for the Islanders, John Tavares was pretty much invisible all game long which has to be a disappointment for Islander fans. Calvin de Haan, on the other hand, looked good, but the NHL marketing machine didn't get the memo.