The Killers

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I think we can agree that the best measure of the value of an offensive forward in the NHL is how he performs at even strength. Scoring on the PP does have value but, especially with fewer and fewer penalties being called, being able to score at evens is critical and, of course is even more valuable in the playoffs where the referees tend to swallow their whistles.

So, early this season, who is killing it at even strength?

*All numbers courtesy Behind the Net.

Last season, the 5 most dominant scorers P/60 5V5 were:

1) Ryan Getzlaf – 3.32

2) Corey Perry – 3.11

3) Jamie Benn – 2.95

4) Taylor Hall – 2.91

5) Tyler Seguin – 2.84

It would seem that elite scorers need to produce above a rate of about 2.25 P/60 to be in the conversation.

So, let’s take an early look at who is killing it so far this season and who is struggling.

There are currently 107 players who meet the 2.25 threshold and you know that regression will weed out a lot of those in the coming weeks but there are a few players whose early season production has been eye popping.

1) Rick Nash – 6.67

2) Jeff Carter – 6.19

3) Mikhail Grabovski – 5.67

4) Tyler Toffoli – 5.63

5) Tanner Pearson – 5.55

6) Jamie Benn – 5.24

7) Matt Cooke – 4.95!!!

8) Ryan Strome – 4.79

9) Ryan Getzlaf – 4.76

10) Corey Perry – 4.74

11) Brock Nelson – 4.66

12) Chris Higgins – 4.59

13) Nick Bonino – 4.39

14) Ryan Carter – 4.35

15) Jakub Voracek – 4.34

16) Jason Zucker – 4.08

17) Nikita Kucherov – 3.98

18) Jaden Shwartz – 3.94

19) Henrik Zetterburg – 3.91

20) Tyler Seguin – 3.91

Some observations about that list would seem to be in order.

I have no idea what’s gotten into Rick Nash. Last season he produced at a pitiful 1.84 P/60 at evens. Perhaps the easiest and most accurate analysis is that his shooting percentage this season is 31% and that’s not likely to persist. Nash is 18th is SOG this season at 29 so I imagine he should drop down the list pretty quickly.

“That 70’s Line” in Los Angeles should likely be renamed “The Killers”. What prompted this column is that I noticed Tyler Toffoli was producing elite scoring while playing only 16 minutes a night. With Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik both out with injury, that line’s ice time will go up so it will be interesting to watch how that affects their production. Based on my viewings of the Kings, I expect they won’t miss a beat…they’re that dominant.

The New York Islanders are a pretty good hockey team. With 3 players on this list, they are producing a lot of offence and are quietly in a position to take over the top spot in the entire NHL if they can beat the Winnipeg Jets at home tonight. I wouldn’t bet against them.

The Vancouver Canucks were worried about secondary scoring when they traded Ryan Kesler to Anaheim in the offseason but, so far, their second line has been very, very good.

Chris Higgins, Nick Bonino and Alex Burrows (2.64 P/60 5V5) have certainly held up their end of the bargain and with the Sedins (Daniel 3.82),  (Henrik 3.78) and (Radim Vrbata 2.73) all well ahead of the 2.25 mark, their scoring is not an issue although their D has been weak so far this season.

Worth noting in the Kesler vs. Bonino race, Kesler has 3 goals and 7 points while Bonino has (you guessed it) 3 goals and 7 points. However, when you look at P/60 5V5, Bonino is outpacing Kesler by a wide margin…4.39 vs 1.25

Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff decided a few games ago to overload his 1st line by running Benn – Spezza – Seguin as a unit so I imagine you might see the Stars’ numbers actually improve. You have to remember that all 3 members of that line can play at centre and watching Ruff deploy them has been an interesting exercise in coaching tactics.

So far this season, Spezza has taken 120 draws while Seguin is at 51 and Benn is at 49. Nice problem to have!

And then there is Matt Cooke. What the hell is he doing on this list anyway?

Well, I expect he won’t be for long but, despite his long, long rap sheet, Cooke is a pretty good hockey player when he’s not doing something stupid.

A few other observations when parsing the numbers:

Sidney Crosby is off to a relatively slow start to the season (2.30). That’ll change at some point.

Watch out for Zack Parise. He’s currently sitting at 3.61 but he also leads the NHL in shots on goal with 48 in only 7 games played.  If he keeps shooting at that rate and his shooting percentage rises from the current 7.5% to his career average of 11.3, he’ll climb this list pretty quickly.

The “high flying” Edmonton Oilers offence isn’t.

The Oilers leader by this metric is Benoit Pouliot at 2.55. That’s a decent number but  Jordan Eberle is the only other Oiler player above the 2.25 mark while RNH (2.24) and Taylor Hall (2.18) are struggling to hit the mark. The Oilers have recently had a steady diet of home games against EC opposition so, when the rubber hits the road and they play a schedule more heavily filled with the Big Boys in the WC and the Pacific Division in particular….we’ll, let’s just say “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear”.

The Oilers are also letting David Perron die on the vine by playing him on the 3rd line. Last season, Perron posted a good, not great, 5V5 number of 1.96 which has dropped to a mediocre 1.62 this season. Unless his role changes, I can’t imagine he’ll be too eager to re-sign with the Oilers when his contract is up.

Is something wrong in Chicago?

Although the Hawks are off to a very good start (5-2-1) Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews haven’t been producing much at all at even strength. Kane is sitting at 1.08 while Toews has yet to produce a point at evens 0.00

Something worth watching.

 

 

Young Guns

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Increasingly, the NHL is a young man’s game.

Take a gander at the top 30 scorers in the NHL this season and you’ll notice a boat load of under 25 players producing at a high level.

So, who are the best Young Guns early in the 2014/15 season?

1) It’s pretty hard to argue against Tyler Seguin as being the best of the bunch considering he is leading the entire league in scoring and is on pace for a 60 goal 133 point season. Dallas coach Lindy Ruff has moved Jason Spezza to his first line with Seguin and Jamie Benn and the line has been all but unstoppable.

2) And then there is Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli was a 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft and has been a revelation since joining the Kings last season. Toffoli blossomed during last season’s march to the cup by the Kings and he hasn’t looked back. Now on a line with Jeff Carter and our 3rd pick of the Young Guns rundown, Tanner Pearson, Toffoli is surging into the stratosphere as a scorer.

3) Tanner Pearson was drafted 30th overall in 2012 and is beginning to make the 29 teams that passed on him look pretty stupid. Pearson is on pace for a 70 goal season and, while he may not get there, I would’t bet a whole lot of money that he won’t score 50. Oh, and by the way, Pearson just turned 22 in August.

4) We tend to forget that John Tavares just turned 24. He may not be the consummate goal scorer that Steven Stamkos is but he’s pretty much a lock for 80+ points if he remains healthy.

5) Steven Stamkos is off to a relatively slow start by his standards but he’s on pace for 55 goals and I have little doubt he will get there if he remains healthy.

6) Ryan Johansen has picked up right where he left off last season despite an acrimonious off season where he didn’t get a contract until late and missed training camp. Johansen is 7th in league scoring at the moment and is on pace for 51 goals and 112 points. Boy, that next contract is going to be a doozy!

7) Watch out for Jonathan Drouin. The youngster suffered a broken thumb in training camp and missed the pre-season and the Lightning’s first 5 games of the season. He’s been moved to play on the 1st line with Stamkos and has produced 3 points in 4 games. I expect he’ll give Pearson a run for rookie of the year before all is said and done.

8) Taylor Hall has had a decent start to the season with 7 points in 8 games. He’s on pace for 41 goals and 71 points but that won’t cut it in this group. It’s also worth mentioning that the Oilers have been blessed with a schedule laced with EC opponents and the team is 0-4-1 against the WC. The sledding is about to get much tougher.

9) Tyler Johnson is quietly putting up a pretty nice season for the Bolts with 8 points in 9 games. Only 1 goal though so he’ll likely stay under the radar.

10) Alex Galchenyuk is starting to make the drafting of Nail Yakupov 1st overall look like a whiff. Galchenyuk has 3 goals and 7 points in 8 games played and I would imagine he’ll thrive in Montreal.

The Rest

The Colorado Avalanche quartet of Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly has struggled to score so far this season but I don’t expect that to last very long. Just too much talent so we’ll have to revisit this half way through the season.

Nail Yakupov, the 1st overall pick in 2012, continues to struggle to find a place in the lineup and despite a severe zone start push and sheltering is not producing anywhere near someone with his draft pedigree. I expect he’ll be traded or return to the KHL before the Oilers have to sign him to his next contract.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is another player who is not meeting his draft pedigree. Although he has some nice 2 way skills, his scoring does not meet expectations.

Jonathan Huberdeau, who was selected 3rd in the same draft as Hopkins and Landeskog has also been very underwhelming.

The performance of Ryan Johansen over the past season and a bit shows that some players take a little longer for the light to go on but, increasingly, young players tend to bolt out of the gate and are up and running by at least their 3rd season.

Those that don’t can become suspects pretty quickly.

 

 

 

800 Pound Gorillas

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So, as some teams complete the first 10% of their seasons, it’s worth looking at which teams are really playing well and which might be benefiting from either a surplus of power play opportunities or an unsustainable power play percentage.

Pittsburgh, for example is cashing in on 36.4% of their power play opportunities this season and, although they led the league a year ago at 23.4%, you can expect some regression there.

That’s not a huge deal for Penguin fans since their team is also very good at even strength posting a 5V5 F/A of 1.09.

Don’t think 5V5 matters much? Well, here are the top teams from last season:

1) Boston 1.53

2) Anaheim 1.39

3) Los Angeles 1.28

4) Chicago 1.27

5) St. Louis 1.22

6) San Jose 1.17

7) Tampa Bay 1.16

8) Minnesota 1.15

9) Colorado 1.12

10) New York Rangers 1.07

11) Columbus 1.06

12) Pittsburgh 1.05

13) Dallas 1.04

14) Detroit 1.03

15) Phoenix 1.00

16) Montreal 0.99

Please note that 15 of those 16 made the playoffs last season and only Phoenix didn’t although they missed by a hair.

The lesson here is that you’d better be good at even strength, the state in which most of the game is played, or you’re doomed.

So, in an early season snapshot, let’s take a look at the contenders and pretenders so far this season with the caveat of small sample sizes.

The Gorillas

1) Minnesota leads the way with a 5V5 FA ratio of 4.00. The Wild have only played 5 games and have yet to score a PP goal this season but they have been so good 5V5 that they’ve managed a .600 win percentage.

2) Nashville 2.00

3) Calgary 1.80

4) Chicago 1.67

5) Anaheim 1.60

6) Los Angeles 1.57

7) Tampa Bay 1.50

8) Washington 1.44

9) New Jersey 1.36

10) Ottawa 1.33

11) Dallas 1.23

12) New York Islanders 1.21

There are several other teams with a positive 5V5 percentage so one good or bad game could change their status but there are also several teams that are a mess at even strength and you can likely count them out of the playoff race soon if not now.

The Chimps

30) Buffalo 0.35 (OMG)

29) Carolina 0.43

28) Arizona 0.53

27) Edmonton 0.64

26) Winnipeg 0.65

Save a massive turnaround in even strength play, those are your leading contenders for Connor McDavid in the 2015 draft.

Snapshots

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Throughout this NHL season, I’ll be taking a closer look at how the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars compare in on ice performance and in season personnel moves.

The reason for this is that the teams have some very striking similarities in both their recent history and that both teams hired a new GM to take over in the summer of 2013.

Jim Nill was hired in April of that year while Craig McTavish took the reins of the Oilers a couple of weeks earlier.

MacTavish swaggered onto the scene promising “bold moves” and preaching how impatient he was to turn things around in Edmonton.

As it turned out, while McTavish was blustering, Nill quietly went about his business making a series of moves that got his team into the playoffs in his first season.

There are, of course other parallels between the two teams.

Both are owned by Vancouver based billionaires and both were coming off a prior season near the basement of the WC. (Dallas had 48 points, Edmonton 45 points in the lockout shortened season).

Both Dallas and Edmonton also added new head coaches that summer with Dallas opting for Lindy Ruff and Edmonton opting for Dallas.

Now, normally, I like to take a look at things after 10 game segments but Lowetide has a post up this morning that trumpets the offensive output of the Oiler forwards. LT has a penchant at looking at what the Oilers are doing while not providing any context about how the Oilers” performance stacks up against the rest of the league so, in the spirit of this ongoing series, I thought a little sobriety might be in order.


Oilers 5V5 Scoring

Jordan Eberle 1.85

Taylor Hall 1.64

Benoit Pouliot 1.64

Nail Yakupov 1.60

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 1.51

Teddy Purcell 1.37

David Perron 1.36

Matt Hendricks 0.81

Leon Draisaitl 0.80

Boyd Gordon 0.76

Mark Arcobello 0.63

 Stars 5V5 Scoring

Jamie Benn 5.77

Tyler Seguin 4.68

Antoine Roussel 3.21

Ryan Garbutt 3.16

Jason Spezza 3.03

Cody Eakin 2.37

Erik Cole 2.32

Shawn Horcoff 2.30

Patrick Eaves 1.67

Colton Sceviour 1.11

Vernon Fiddler 0.99

Ales Hemsky 0.00 (no wonder he’s now on the 3rd line)

What we see here is a Dallas team that is so deep that the Oilers leading scorer by this metric would rank 9th on the Stars.

We also see that former Oiler Shawn Horcoff is actually scoring at a higher rate than the Oilers’ leading even strength scorer Jordan Eberle.

This won’t end well.

Left Wing Lock

 

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Tonight we get the luxury of watching the two best left wingers in the NHL. Taylor Hall has four goals and he’s become the clear-cut emotional leader of the team. It should be very entertaining to watch him and Ovechkin go head-to-head.

This is Jason Gregor spewing nonsense over at Oiler Nation.

Taylor Hall is NOT one of the best two left wingers in the NHL. Not even close.

Hall isn’t even the best LW in the WC of the NHL.

In fact, there are several players who I would take over Hall on my team if I had to win a game or a playoff series. Hockey Canada and the people who voted for NHL All Star teams also happen to agree with me.

Gregor was, of course referring to Alex Ovechkin as the other “best left winger in the NHL” but the second or third best, at least, is not Taylor Hall.

Likely the best LW in hockey is Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars.

14 players voted on who they would pick to build an NHL franchise around, and Sidney Crosby picked Jamie Benn: “He just does everything pretty well,” Crosby said. “Two-way guy. He’s big and strong and tough. He does a lot of good things. And he’s young. He’d be the guy right now.”

Benn, who turned 25 in July, led all LW’s in the league last season with 34 goals. (Ovechkin played RW last season and scored 51G albeit in the easier EC)

Hall finished the season with 27 goals and 80 points (1 more then Benn) but, as usual, Hall gave up way more than he scored finishing the season at -15 to Benn’s +21.

But let’s drill a little deeper.

I think we can agree that the best measure of a player is his ability to produce at even strength since  PP points are more rare and serendipitous. Here is how the top 10 LW finished in 5V5 P/60 last season.

1) Jamie Benn – 2.95

2) Taylor Hall – 2.91

3) Gabriel Landeskog – 2.57

4) Thomas Vanek – 2.57

5) Phil Kessel – 2.52

6) Milan Lucic – 2.35

7) Joe Pavelski – 2.32

8) Chris Kunitz – 2.29

9) Patrick Maroon – 2.29

10) Max Pacioretty – 2.26

Pretty heady company and Hall looks pretty good here but now let’s take a look about 200 feet down the ice.

Being an “outscorer” is critical to success in hockey because it doesn’t much matter how much you score if you give up even more.

5V5 +-/60

1) Dustin Penner – +1.79 (I KNOW!)

2) Milan Lucic – +1.58

3) Chris Kunitz – +1.36

4) Joe Pavelski – +1.34

5) Ondrej Palat – +1.33

6) Jamie Benn – +1.32

7) Loui Eriksson – +1.24

8) Patrick Maroon – +1.19

9) Gabriel Landeskog – +1.19

10) Valeri Nichushkin – +1.03

55) Taylor Hall – -0.36

Now, some context is required here. For example, Chris Kunitz is being pulled along but the best player in hockey and Milan Lucic benefits from playing in front of an outstanding back end but that doesn’t account for how dreadful Hall is at outscoring.

Mason Raymond is better.

Those were the numbers for last season and it’s early days in the 2014/15 season, but at the moment Jamie Benn is ranked 10th at +3.61 while Taylor Hall is 83rd at -1.31.

Something to keep and eye on before proclaiming Hall “one of two best LW in hockey”.

He isn’t…not even close.

 

 

 

 

Hockey Notes

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1) The third week of the NHL season kicks off tonight with only one game scheduled…The Tampa Bay Lightning are in Edmonton to take on the Oilers. This will be the second game the Oilers have played against a team that made the playoffs last season…the first being a 6-1 bitch slapping at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings.

The Lightning aren’t quite the Kings and will be without Victor Hedman tonight but expect the result to be about the same. Steven Stamkos has his mojo back and should find little resistance from the Oilers’ defense. Stamkos has 5 goals in his last 3 games and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he leaves this game with another 2-3.

 

2) Stamkos was honoured with the “3rd Star of the Week” this morning by the NHL . Taking 2nd Star was Frederik Anderson, the Ducks goaltender who posted a .955 save percentage but the 1st Star was Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars who led the NHL with 8 points in 3 games.

You may recall I forecast that Seguin would flirt with 50 goals and 100 points while being in the race for the Hart Trophy.  Well, still early days of course, but Seguin is on pace for 66 goals and 131 points. That’s my boy!

 

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3) Dallas coach Lindy Ruff loaded up his 1st line on Saturday night against the Flyers with Jason Spezza centering  Jamie Benn and Seguin. The trio produced 4 goals but you have to wonder if putting all your firepower on one line might come back to bite you.

4) Now, here’s an oddity. The Stanley Cup champion and possession darlings, the Los Angeles Kings, are getting absolutely hammered on the shot clock early this season. The Kings  are giving up an average of 36 shots/game…and have a shot differential of almost -10 per game. Only the hopeless Buffalo Sabres are worse. The Kings also sport a record of 4-1-1. Go figure.

5) Speaking of the Kings, “That 70’s Line” continues to be lethal. Tanner Pearson has 5 goals  and 7 points (+7) while Tyler Toffoli has 3 goals and 7 points (+9).   With remembering that Toffoli was selected 47th overall in the second round of the NHL draft while Tanner Pearson was 30th overall in 2012. Once again, Kings head scout Michael Futa looks like a genius.

6) Every season there is a Cinderella team in the NHL. Last season it was the Colorado Avalanche who rode the percentages and, now that the wheels seem to have fallen off the pumpkin in Denver, it appears the Calgary Flames might be the team headed to the ball. The Flames, while being outshot by 9 per game have been riding hot goaltending (Hiller .942 and Ramo .920) and the stellar play of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie to a respectable 4-3 record while playing only 1 game at home. The Flames start a 5 game homestand tomorrow so have a chance to remain in the black through October. That won’t sit very well with fans at the other end of the QE II.

7) And, about those Oilers. Worth noting that Alex Galchenyuk is on a PPG pace with the Montreal Canadiens while Nail Yakupov remains almost an afterthought in the Oilers offence and continues to be the subject of trade rumours. And, just asking, what the hell is wrong with Jordan Eberle? More on Yakupov here.

8) Jonathan Drouin might make his NHL debut tonight against the Oilers but, according to Bob McKenzie, tomorrow night in Calgary is more likely. As Bob points out, Drouin should make the rookie of the year race much more interesting but he’ll have an uphill climb adjacent the aforementioned Tanner Pearson who barely still qualifies and has been lights out so far this season.

10) And, even more importantly, why is Dustin Penner still unemployed? Although he is getting slammed on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Firsts

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The Edmonton Oilers have been derided in many quarters for having had the chance to draft the 1st overall pick  3 years in a row and then produce no tangible results in the standings.

As you may know, I believe the Oilers drafted the wrong player in the first round all the way back to the Sam Gagner Wellwood draft in 2007 with the exception of taking Jordan Eberle in 2008.

It would seem my assessment of the Gagner draft has been vindicated now that he’s playing on the 3rd line in Arizona and Jakub Voracek has outscored him in 30 fewer games.

But the real focus of this piece is the 2009 – 2012 drafts where we’re reaching a point that sone indications of success or failure start to show up.

I was speaking to an acquaintance today about the status of 2009 10th overall pick Magnus Paajarvi in St. Louis.

Paajarvi has yet to play for the Blues this season and I was told he will only ever see 4th line minutes if he does get into a game. The friend also told me the Blues don’t want to lose him on waivers but are trying to get a 3rd or 4th round pick for him.

Dmitri Kulikov would look pretty good for the Oilers about now wouldn’t he?

No need to rehash the 2010 draft since the Taylor/Tyler debate is worn and tattered but I would imagine the Oilers would be much further ahead in rebuild V 4.0 if they had selected one of the best 2 way centres in the league instead of a flashy winger even one as good as Taylor Hall.

Had the Oilers drafted Seguin instead of Hall, I imagine they might have then selected Gabriel Landeskog 1st overall in the 2011 draft….and that would have been the right thing to do.

Landeskog is a big, heavy winger who takes on the toughest competition and comes out ahead (career +34) while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is trending as a 2nd line centre and PP specialist.

Which brings us to Nail Yakupov.

TSN’s Dave Hodge has ignited a firestorm among Oiler fans when he penned this critique of the Oilers’ draft record.

My thumb is down to the Edmonton Oilers’ decision to select Nail Yakupov with the first pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. I know you’ve heard that before, the Oilers are sick of hearing it and Yakupov is burdened by it. Unfortunately for Yakupov, the criticism will continue until he gets a fresh start somewhere else and the Oilers address their pressing need for blue line help. The Oilers could have solved some of their defensive woes if they had used that 2012 pick to select Ryan Murray, Jacob Trouba, Olli Maatta, Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm….the list goes on. In a strong class for defenceman, after years of using top-ten picks on forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner, it was time to take a blueliner. Instead, the Oilers took the only forward since Patrick Stefan in 1999 that did not warrant the No. 1 honour. It’s not that you can’t go wrong with the first pick, it’s that you can’t afford to.

Yakupov is likely the most disappointing 1st overall pick since Patrik Stefan in 1999 (give or take the NYI losing their marbles in picking DiPietro in 2010).

These are the other forwards drafted 1st overall in the 10 years preceding the Yakupov pick:

2002 – Rick Nash

2004 – Alex Ovechkin

2005 – Sidney Crosby

2007 – Patrick Kane

2008 – Steven Stamkos

2009 – John Tavares

2010 – Taylor Hall

2011 – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

2012 – Nail Yakupov

Yakupov is now in his 3rd NHL season and, although the his lockout shortened rookie season skies observations somewhat, we still should be able to suss out what Yakupov should be producing based a rough average of what the other 1st overall picks produced in their 3rd seasons.

Remember that a forward taken 1st overall is normally drafted at that lofty position because they can score and score a lot.

Nash – 54 GP 31G 23A 54P

Ovechkin – 82 GP 65G 47A 112P

Crosby – 53GP 24G 28A 72P

Kane – 80GP 30G 58A 88P

Stamkos – 82GP 45G 46A 91P

Tavares – 82GP 31G 50A 81P

Hall – 45GP 16G 34A 50P

RNH – 80GP 19G 37A 56P

Now, let’s rank them by their PPG

Ovechkin – 1.36

Crosby – 1.36

Hall – 1.11

Kane – 1.10

Stamkos 1.10

Nash – 1.00

Tavares – .987

RNH – .700

Even with RNH acting as a huge drag on the average point production, I think it’s fair to expect a 1st overall pick to produce near 1 PPG in his 3rd season. 

Of course injury could impact a player’s performance as it likely did with Crosby’s third season but, as far as we know, Yakupov is healthy and should be expected to begin producing at an elite level.

As of this morning, Yakupov has 1G and 1A in 5GP (-6) so, if he’s going to live up to his draft pedigree he’d better get going soon.

The Oiler diehards have come out in defense of the Yakupov pick in the wake of Hodge’s critique basically saying “he was the consensus overall pick! so the Oilers drafting him can’t be criticized”.

That is, of course, patent nonsense.

Consensus is often spectacularly wrong as we can see in this article about 364 British economists. 

Now, it’s far too early to label Yakupov a bust and it’s certainly too early to even know if he can become an elite forward in the NHL but anyone who isn’t concerned by his performance to date is just whistling past the graveyard.

In the meantime, those of us who wanted the Oilers to take Galchenyuk can console ourselves with his his early season PPG scoring pace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magic Bus

Try as you might, you will not convince me Kevin Lowe is not still driving the Oilers’ bus.

Lowe hired Steve Tambellini and then let him fiddle while the Oilers burned.

Then, in a bout of divine inspiration, he hired Craig MacTavish to oversee the on ice activities  of the team while other more eminently qualified candidates were not even considered.

Lowe hired MacTavish, in my opinion, because they think (and act) alike.

That might be a good thing if there was some evidence that Lowe and MavTavish knew how to construct a winning hockey team in the contemporary NHL. But they don’t.

MacTavish, in one of his first rash acts as GM, fired his head coach and hired Dallas Eakins, a rookie head coach who has never won anything at any level of hockey.

And here we are.

The Interwebs have been ablaze with Oilers WTF moments in the past couple of days.

TSN analyst Ray Ferraro, one of the most insightful observers in all of hockey had this to say:

It’s actually quite amazing the early season struggles of the Oilers. I hate talking about the Oilers bc I feel like I’m a broken record. Compounded errors by making the same errors over & over again. If this is what the season looks like in 4 more games they need to get Draisaitl and Nurse back to junior.

The LA game was worse than the Arizona game. The biggest issue they face is at no point did it look like the Oilers felt they could win that game against LA. The coach looked like he didn’t have any answers. Was first time I thought they might not be able to stay the course w the coach.

I thought last year it seemed like a debacle from the get go in Edmonton. From almost the very first day even taking away the donuts from the writers. His focus was too wide. You can’t change the world need to focus on what’s right in front of you & they had plenty of work in front of them.

Now you get to the 2nd year & they should be more comfortable & there should be signs of improvement and there really hasn’t been. Would they be better served with a more experienced coach? They can’t be less served.

Here’s the thing, they [Edm] have all kinds of talent, but over the past few years they don’t score a lot of goals either. They [Edmonton] never score 5 on 5. What’s Hall 4 years in? I assume there comes a point where he thinks we’re making progress & then he says we’re the same spot we were in 4 years ago.

We saw last year how Frustration burns in that kid [Hall]. He has an engine that constantly churns. I can’t imagine [Hall] wants to sit there & watch the early part of your career waste away [on a team] that can’t show improvement.

Their [Edm] model for building the team is clearly flawed. If they can’t see that, I don’t know what they’re looking at. You have to start almost again at what your model is going to be and the model can’t be getting 18/19 year olds into your lineup.

MacTavish said in camp they have to find out if RNH & Eberle are great, not good players. The league is different than it was in 1985 you need to be able to defend & counter off your defense. Forwards don’t dominate the game like they did before. There’s too much back pressure. The Oilers have half a dozen forwards who are all the same.

They have no variance in their lineup. It’s really difficult to find something positive to say about them [Oilers]. Sometimes I try, but I just can’t.

 

The esteemed Bob McKenzie also weighed in today in a similar vein and Puck Daddy devoted a lot of pixels to a round up of the Oilers “Tire Fire”

So, if the entire hockey world, outside the fan boy apologists, can see this why doesn’t Daryl Katz?

He doesn’t strike me as dim witted so perhaps Occam’s Razor tells us he doesn’t give a shit.

Revenue is fine, the value of the franchise is increasing exponentially and the Oiler faithful keep lapping up the drek.

At some point, Dallas Eakins is likely to pay the price for the team’s lack of performance and we will see another episode of rinse and repeat but as Ferraro and others have intimated, the fish rots from the head down and until Katz is willing to cut off the head nothing much will change.

 

 

 

 

 

Cabinet of Curiosities

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So, here we are 1 week into the NHL season (give or take) and some early observations are in order.

1) Edmonton Oiler fans are already near a revolt. The team, as expected, has done a face plant right out of the blocks. Remember I called them to finish 13th in the WC although, based on early returns, that may have been optimistic. There was optimism among the rabble that the Oilers had solidified their D and sorted out their goaltending in the offseason  but both have been nothing short of dreadful and Viktor Fasth is already on IR.

Remember I mentioned the Oilers were a Nugent-Hopkins injury away from a disaster? Well, guess what? As expected, opposition players have been targeting Hopkins, Hall and Eberle with huge, clean hits and already the Oiler kids are back and blue.

As of this writing, I imagine Daniel Winnik is just licking his chops.

There are some observers, particularity at Lowetide’s blog, that the Oilers are “better” this season and point to small sample size Corsi ratios to back up their argument but as long time poster Woodguy has pointed out repeatedly, the Oilers “improvement” has been based on score effects rather than reality.

So far this season, the Oilers are giving up 31.7 shots per game while last year they gave up 32.9

When your goaltending and D are sub par and the opposition is getting unimpeded shots from the prime scoring areas, giving up 5+ goals per game is not surprising.

In the game against the Kings, the Oilers were outshot 13-7 in the 1st period and the Kings went on cruise control after taking a 3-0 lead. They then spent the last 2 periods capitalizing on Oiler defensive mistakes and, in the 3rd period, were obviously playing to get Jonathan Quick a shutout.

The Oilers are getting more shots this season but, as Woodguy has pointed out, the reality is they are getting those shots while playing from behind. That has no sustain.

2) The Colorado Avalanche have started very slowly with a 1-2-0 record after losing their first two games by shutout to the Minnesota Wild. Like the Oilers, the Av’s are giving up way too many shots and, at least against the very impressive Wild, also had trouble generating offence. From the viewing I’ve had, it appears that the Av’s offseason additions, Jarome Iginla and Daniel Briere along with Alex Tanguay are having trouble keeping up with the speed of MacKinnon, Duchene and O’Reilly. It’ll be interesting to see how Colorado responds to the issue.

3) 2 teams, the Minnesota Wild and the Vancouver Canucks, won’t play their 3rd game of the season until Friday night while some other teams will already have played 4 or 5.

That may give both teams a bit of an early season boost since they’ve had time to practice, rest and heal any nagging injuries but, later, they’ll be playing a compressed schedule that may take a toll.

Given their lack of playing time, it’s hard to get an early read on either team but the Wild have been dominant and the Canucks seem to be having fun again. If the Canucks can get their PP back to near the top of the league as they were just a couple of season ago, watch out. So far, they’re at 30% and it appears Radim Vrbata, a RH shot, may be just what the doctor ordered. Sweet Georgia Brown may be back in the house.

4) The Dallas Stars wobbled out of the gate but their victory over a very good Columbus team was just dominant. Jamie Benn showed again why he is the best LW in hockey notching a Gordie Howe hat trick with 1G and 3A. Oh, and Tyler Seguin scored 3 goals with 6 shots and was +4. Take that Taylor!

5) Every season there is a Cinderella team that rises from the ashes to compete with the Big Boys. This season, I think it’ll be the New York Islanders. Garth Snow (I KNOW!) killed it in the offseason adding Grabovski, Kulemin, Boychuk and Leddy and already his moves are paying dividends. Snow has managed to acquire so much centre depth that the Isles are actually playing 3 bonafide NHL centres on one line and, folks, we know the key to winning in the NHL is depth down the middle.

6) The Florida Panthers played a game against the Ottawa Senators earlier this week. Or did they? The announced attendance was 7,211 and I can tell you that I watched the game and if there were actually 3,000 in attendance, I would be shocked. Apparently, Broward County is considering whether or not they would be better off without the Panthers and, unless they are ingesting some of those illegal substances that are so prevalent in Florida, they will just tell the team to GTFO. Quebec City is beckoning.

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Who Are These Guys?

Had a chance to watch the LA Kings demolish the Winnipeg Jets last night. The poor Jets were stifled by the Kings top line but it was “That 70’s Line” that did most of the damage on the scoreboard.

Jeff Carter between Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson accounted for 3 of the Kings 4 goals while another “youngster” Drew Doughty picked up a couple of points as well.

That got me thinking again about how the Kings were built and how they will likely be perennial contenders as long as their current management team remains in place.

Anyone who has been paying attention will know that I’ve been trumpeting the abilities of Dean Lombardi for a few years now given his ability to draft, develop and trade his way to 2 Stanley Cups (and counting).

But, while Lombardi is IMO the best GM in the game, he’s got someone standing next to him feeding him ammunition while he plunders the league.

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This is Michael Futa.

Here’s his bio from NHL.com

Michael Futa is in his sixth full season with the Kings as Director of Amateur Scouting.  He was named to his current position on June 5, 2007.

Futa came to the Kings after five successful seasons as General Manager of the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), where he was named OHL Executive of the Year in 2005.

The Attack advanced to the post-season in all five seasons with Futa at the helm, and high profile players like Trevor Lewis (17th overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft) and Wayne Simmonds (second round, 61st overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft) played for Owen Sound during Futa’s tenure there.

Futa has also served as Director of Team Ontario’s Under-17 program for three seasons, and his Under-17 team won the gold medal at the Canada Games in 2007.

 

 

Futa was heavily recruited by the Vancouver Canucks last summer when Trevor Linden was looking for a new GM. The Kings responded by giving Futa a promotion and, one assumes, healthy raise to keep him in the fold. It could be the best money the Kings have ever spent. Vancouver then turned to Jim Benning who has a very similar resume to Futa’s….but Benning is a story for another day.

Futa hit the ground running at the 2007 draft selecting the following players who now have more than 100GP in the NHL.

1st round – Thomas Hickey -123

2nd round – Wayne Simmonds – 452

4th round – Alex Martinez – 206

4th round – Dwight King – 160

That’s 4 NHL players in one draft!

But Futa didn’t rest on his laurels.

The Kings drafted 2nd overall  at the 2008 draft and had two first round picks, one of which was a whiff on Colten Teubert but they still walked away with 3 NHL players:

1st round – Drew Doughty – 445

2nd round – Slava Voynov – 187

5th round Andrei Loktionov – 155

Not bad…but more was to come in the 2009 draft.

* At this point it becomes a little more difficult to assess draft success just based on GP but we can still get a pretty good idea who may have been blocked in the King’s system by their embarrassment of riches.

1st round – Brayden Schenn – 195

2nd round – Kyle Clifford – 279

3rd round – Nick Deslauriers – 19 (blocked in LA but now a regular in Buffalo’s lineup)

4th round – Linden Vey – 20 (blocked in LA but now a regular in Vancouver)

6th round – Brandon Kozun – 3 (blocked in the LA but now a regular in Toronto)

7th round – Jordan Nolan – 136

WOW! It looks like the Kings drafted SIX NHL players in one draft.

If you’re playing along at home, you’ll note that, in Futa’s first 3 years as the head of amateur scouting, the Kings appear to have drafted 13 NHL players. I’m told average scouting should deliver 2 NHL players per season so the Kings are consistently destroying the averages.

But he wasn’t done yet.

The 2010 draft delivered Tyler Toffoli (75GP) while the 2012 draft has already yielded Tanner Pearson (28GP)

Things get a little murkier now due to it taking time for draft choices to develop but we’re starting to get some clarity on some other Futa picks.

Valentin Zykov was selected 37th overall in 2013 after the Kings traded a fistful of lower picks to the Edmonton Oilers…a trade the Oilers may regret in the future. Zykov is playing this season in the QMJHL (7GP 4G 6A 10P)

The Kings also selected Hudson Fasching in 2013 and Lombardi has since traded the college star to Buffalo for Brayden McNabb who was drafted by the Sabres in the 3rd round in 2009 draft and the 6’4″ 205 lb defenseman is now taking a regular shift on the Kings’ blue line. Win-win.

So, what does it all mean?

It means that Futa has given Dean Lombardi a huge arsenal of bullets to renew and re-invigorate his lineup for the foreseeable future.

Lombardi has, of course, traded many of those assets to plug the holes that used to exist in his lineup and to replace aging veterans like Willie Mitchell as their careers wind down.

That he can plug in players like Toffoli and Pearson on his second line gives us a pretty good indication that the Kings dominance is not going to end anytime soon.

A great read on the new wave of GMs here.