• Ryan Whitney and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. No, not Against Dallas. Against Colorado. The Second Game, Not The First.

    by  • February 8, 2013 • Uncategorized • 15 Comments

    One of the things I hope to learn before I die is just how the Edmonton media identifies Oiler related topics to write about. Take Ryan Whitney. Now, Jim Matheson is a sort of harmlessly oblivious guy, but after the Oilers-Avalanche game, he kind of had a bead on Ryan Whitney for some reason. He wasn’t alone – in his column about Whitney, he mentioned that someone (presumably not him) had asked Krueger about Whitney and gotten nothing in reply.

    Whitney, of course, sat out against Vancouver before coming back in against Dallas and ending up as the evening’s goat as Jaromir Jagr cut him open to score the game’s winning goal. The harsh reviews poured in:

    That line from Jones about Whitney not showing up is, honestly, a little bit cheap. “Guy has series of foot problems, guy has terrible mobility” isn’t exactly the same as “Guy tweets pictures of pan full of sausage and potatoes, guy shows up at training camp too fat to play,” to pick one entirely hypothetical and made up thing.

    On the one hand, this is an obvious observation to make. On the other, Whitney was an immobile horror show on defence last year, the media was well aware of it and they spent their time going after Ales Hemsky instead. Hemsky had a contract that expired and there was some reason to think he was on his way out; Whitney didn’t.

    For all I know, it’s a coincidence that Whitney’s taken way more of a kicking from the Edmonton media this week than he ever taken. Having watched this team for fifteen years or so though, it strikes me as an amazing coincidence that the media kind of moves in packs with these people. A pack goes after Ryan Smyth in 2007. A pack goes after Ales Hemsky. A pack goes after Ryan Whitney. Given that the complaints of the pack, at least with respect to Whitney, have been valid and obvious for a year, you wonder who leads the pack and decides when it’s time to attack?

    Alright, that said, I was interested in going back and taking a look at Whitney’s game in Colorado, just because it was a bit of a turning point for him in a bad way. I tried to kind of look for stuff that might have caught the coaches eyes in terms of him not playing well and JPGd it all.

    Whitney’s first shift – notice that he’s the guy playing the off side. I feel that this is something worth mentioning. When Mark Fistric came to town, Tambo was all “He can play both sides.” Instead you’ve got Ryan Whitney, who hasn’t played a ton on the other side, being the guy stuck doing the shifting. This has, as I’ll show, had some small impact on him. If nothing else, if you’ve got a guy who’s struggling, putting him in an awkward position seems unwise.

    Tough to see but Whitney’s exchanged passes with Fistric here. Fistric didn’t really move with the forechecker to give Whitney an option and then missed the pass, which hit his skate and let the Avalanche enjoy an extended period in the defensive zone. This isn’t really on Whitney.

    This is going to become a bit of a running theme with Whitney in this game – turnovers, or an inability to get the puck out of the corner. This is the first instance where being on the wrong side costs him, I think. Dubnyk has just knocked the puck around the net to him, with a forechecker in pursuit from the other side of the ice.

    If Whitney’s a right handed shooter, that puck’s easy to pick up and clear on his forehand. Instead, he’s taking the puck while facing back behind the net, gets knocked off the puck and the Avalanche recover it.

    Part of the problem for a skill guy in playing on the bottom pairing is the lack of other skill guys around you. Here’s Whitney, on the right side, going cross-ice to Mark Fistric, out near the blueline. It’s a good pass but…

    …Fistric somehow misses it.

    This next set illustrates what I think is a more serious problem with Whitney, in terms of his lack of mobility. He’s on the right side, backing in against the Avalanche forward, who pulls up:

    Look how big the gap between Whitney and the Avalanche guy gets:

    Whitney just kind of ends up in no-mans land. The pass is made kind of in front of him, to an Avalanche who is tied up with Mark Fistric. He gets loose and the Avalanche get a decent chance:

    The play here is coming down the ice to from Whitney’s left. The puck is being passed over towards 44.

    This is another mobility thing. Whitney’s successfully knocked the puck over towards the boards. He’s now in a footrace in which he’s got a decent head start, albeit with no momentum:

    He doesn’t even end up getting close to the puck:

    It wasn’t all bad. The guy can make a killer breakout pass. Here he is finding Eberle, who gains the blue line with ease:

    This is another kind of ongoing problem with Whitney – dealing with guys who have the puck on the boards. He’s the defenceman just below the goal line, to Dubnyk’s right here:

    Basically, Whitney’s miles off the play and not really able to get close until Fistric finally steps in and pastes the guy, separating him from the puck. I’m not a hitting fetishist – it’s a way of retrieving the puck, not an end in and of itself – but Whitney never seems like he’s able to get into position to separate the Avalanche player from the puck as things go back and forth here.

    Here’s an example of the problems with playing on the off side I was talking about. Three Avalanche along the boards and Whitney’s stuck trying to keep it in on his backhand:

    A predictable turnover leads to things coming up the ice:

    Basically, what you see in that sequence is two Avs coming over to Whitney’s side, the puck being chipped past him, Whitney being unable to turn in time to keep up, the puck being retrieved and passed back past a Whitney who hasn’t been able to catch up and then ending up on a stick in the slot, where an astute defensive play from a forward was the only thing that prevented a scoring chance.

    Beaten behind the net again, second period edition:

    Some days, nothing goes right. Here’s Whitney blasting up the ice, head up looking for a pass:

    Catching his foot on the linesman:

    Careening into the boards and losing possession:

    Hoping that someone else will get back and cover for him:

    He sure can pass the puck though.

    This is the goal against on which Whitney kind of got posterized. Note that Hemsky never really had an angle on the puck carrier.

    I thought at the time that Whitney took too much heat for this but he doesn’t really play the 2 on 1 at all.

    If you need a reminder that the hockey gods are fickle, this picture is decent I think – this is at the Avalanche blue line immediately before the Avalanche score. If the Avalanche player beats Hemsky to the puck, he’s most likely just going to whack it off the boards to try and prevent Hemsky from getting it. Instead, Hemsky knocks it past him, where it’s taken by another Av and Hemsky’s never able to get position and the Avs score. Those whom the gods would destroy, they first let win a puck race.

    Race for the puck, head start blown, puck not cleared, zzzz:

    Race for the puck, head start blown, puck not cleared, zzzz:

    A one on one, results in acres of room, which lets the pass go through towards the net with ease. Fortunately, nobody was there:

    Like I said, I’m not particularly an advocate of hitting for its own sake but I do wonder why Whitney didn’t bury the guy here:

    And that’s the game. I didn’t think it was a noticeably more terrible game for him than usual but maybe I’ve been numbed a little bit. The sequence of photos sets out what I think is the real problem in his game – guys can quickly move the puck around him in his own end. He’s not a rockhead player but he’s unable to get close enough to players to close them down.

    Of course, you might wonder why Whitney’s deficiencies are only now becoming a thing when they were there for all the world to see last year and barely received any comment. To me, the real story here isn’t “RYAN WHITNEY TERRIBLE” – that’s old news. The real story is “OILERS MANAGEMENT BETS ON LONGSHOT; DOESN’T PAN OUT.” I suppose that’s old news too but it’s still going to be a problem after June 30, which Ryan Whitney won’t be.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    15 Responses to Ryan Whitney and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. No, not Against Dallas. Against Colorado. The Second Game, Not The First.

    1. Kevin McCartney
      February 8, 2013 at

      Great post, Tyler. One thing I would add that places his passes to Fistric and the play at the blue line on his backhand a tad more at his feet (if you will) is Jason Strudwick’s point from Oiler’s Nation the other day. (I know, I know, but it takes an immobile defenceman to know a…?).

      Strudwick made the point that one of Whitney’s main problems right now is that he doesn’t move when he receives the puck. That rang true with me instantly – he’s always passing flat footed and almost never moves to change the angle of the pass. The forechecker only has to manage his passing lanes, and the opponent’s defence can cheat to pick off passes rather than having to respect the rush and/or multiple passing options the puck carrier is creating. I think you see that point in the images you’ve provided. Yeah, Fistric doesn’t adjust for the forechecker in that first turn over, but if Whitney steps up two strides, that forechecker is no longer relevant to the play (apart from restricting Whitney’s time with the puck) and Whitney has a better lane to Belanger, the weak side winger (who I assume is also scooping) or can take the red line for the dump (I don’t know what is up ice from the screen shot).

      I think his mobility even limits how effective his passing can be and I’m sure teams will (or will continue) to exploit him for turnovers and extra room in the corner.

      • Tyler Dellow
        February 8, 2013 at

        This is a good point.

    2. Pete
      February 8, 2013 at

      Good post. I enjoy these photo sequences – it’s interesting that some of them are exactly as I remembered, while a few point out that my memory of what happened was completely inaccurate.

      I’m exasperated by the media’s suddenly piling on Whitney. My heart doesn’t bleed too much for guys making millions of dollars per year, but it’s got to suck to be Whitney right now – he’s on a team that potentially is going to be something special in a couple years, and he seems to enjoy being part of it, but instead of being able to participate when things get more fun, he’s likely staring down an early retirement from the thing he loves and (was) great at, while getting eviscerated in the press and online, and likely getting booed at the grocery store. On top of that I’d imagine he’s in a fair bit of physical pain. Shitty situation.

      I’m not as paranoid about / hateful of the Edmonton sports media as most of the Oilers bloggers and commenters – I have some sympathy for the media guys too, as they’re struggling to look relevant while working in an obviously dying industry. And I don’t believe there’s a Vast Oiler Conspiracy, where some PR flack contacts Matheson late at night and whispers “Lowe’s given the OK. Ride Whitney out of town.” But it’s still bullshit. Any fool could see this coming for well over a year now, no matter how many optimistic interviews Whitney gave – what’s he going to say? “My foot’s all fucked up, and I’m terrible now”? So everyone ignored this, until they collectively decided to get on Whitney’s back, while still giving Oilers management a free pass, despite the fact that they (a) traded a very valuable player for a guy with congenital foot problems, and (b) didn’t plan for said congenital foot problems to be an issue. It’s easier to kick Whitney when he’s down (and heading out of town soon) than it is to stir up trouble with guys who have power in town, will be here for a while, and can throw their weight around. The media look like cowards and bullies on this one, and I’m thoroughly unimpressed.

      • Tyler Dellow
        February 8, 2013 at

        Pete –

        Your last paragraph kind of says what bugs me about this. Whitney’s terrible, it’s not really his fault, what do people want from him?

        That said, maybe I’m more paranoid than most but we know that guys like Lowe and MacT have thirty year relationships with Matheson and Jones. Matheson was on this road trip. When the tone turns so suddenly on one of these guys, well, is it such a reach to think he was having an off the record drink with Lowe on Friday night and Lowe mentioned that they’re disappointed with Whitney? I’ve read Red Fisher’s book and he talks about a number of things like this with guys in MTL – basically, getting told what question to ask.

        • Pete
          February 8, 2013 at

          Totally possible, for sure. I’d argue, though, that all sports media guys love “access”, and live vicariously through the team: it’s human nature, writ large by a bunch of guys who all would have been star hockey players, for sure, except for the whole being terrible at hockey thing. Celebrity journalism and rock journalism are usually the same way – these writers define themselves and how satisfied they are with their lives through association with the powerful, successful and famous, just like the fans who tweet “OMG I saw Eberle at the mall!”, as if it mattered. It’s a weird job, made all the weirder by the fact that traditional print media is obviously in its death throes. So there doesn’t have to be a conspiracy – they can read the writing on the wall without any direct statement from management, and they want to stay “buddies” with Lowe or whoever, because hey, they’re on a first-name basis! The Oilers don’t have to instruct – these guys know what to do and when to do it.

          I guess you think they’re corrupt, I think they’re weak. Not too complimentary either way. Ah well.

          • Doogie2K
            February 8, 2013 at

            I’d be more inclined to believe this if it hadn’t happened a dozen times already, starting with Peter Pocklington using the media to gun down Paul Coffey in 1987 and working all the way along to Ales Hemsky last year. In one of the above-linked posts, Zona gives a decent list of guys bombed by the media, usually on their way out of town, from the last couple of decades.

            • Pete
              February 8, 2013 at

              It’s gone on forever, yeah, here and elsewhere, and I don’t doubt that the Oilers will play the access card when required, but: Occam’s Razor. Team management could deliberately have had the media in their back pocket for the last thirty years, making demands as to what’s printed, but it’s more likely that a lot of the media guys are just pussies, who’ll deep-six their ethics and kick a guy when he’s down, for a chance to feel like they’re part of something. Most people are like that, not just those in the media.

      • Tyler Dellow
        February 8, 2013 at

        Oh, and as to the point about how this sucks for Whitney – I actually wrote that way, way back in August of 2011:

        I really hope that Whitney’s right and this is nothing – he really comes across as a decent guy on Twitter and, regardless of that, it’s obviously frustrating for him that he’s having these repeated problems. At the same time, sprained ankles from catching a rut in the ice don’t seem awfully common that to me and it’s worrisome that he seems to have had a setback from something as common as that.

        Then he blocked me on Twitter and called me a nerd for pointing out he was bleeding scoring chances. Jerk.

        • Pete
          February 8, 2013 at

          Ha ha, yeah, I remember both those things. Ah, cut him some slack on the block and the WoW comment (which was at least funny) – he’s just a guy, you know? And he’s got enough problems right now with his life falling apart, and hearing from the drunken “fuck you Whitney! You suck!” fans, without dealing with snarky stats guys too. Plus you come across as much more of a dick on Twitter than you do here. It’s the nature of 140-character interaction: things have to be stripped down to soundbites, so nuance gets lost. It’s why I don’t tweet much (that and, uh, I’m extremely verbose by nature, or so I’ve been told).

          • Shane
            February 8, 2013 at

            No Pete. It’s not only Tyler. Whitney is hyper thin-skinned on Twitter. He blocks scores of people at the blink of an eye. It’s well known.

            • Pete
              February 8, 2013 at

              Fair enough. I guess I should have stated it differently – it’s not just Dellow, although he comes across much better when he has room to stretch out. “ONE comes across as more of a dick on twitter, because of the limits of 140 characters, blah blah”. (Including Whitney, probably). And frankly, if I was semi-famous and had people giving me the gears on twitter regularly, I’d block them too. Why not? Like said, he’s just some guy, really. And all the “fuck you you suk I hope you get killd” morons online might make one rather thin-skinned, even about more articulate and rational criticism.

              I could go on with a bunch of pontificating about Twitter (and the web in general) feeding a one-liner-happy, hit and run sniping, short attention span culture, and all that good shit, but I’ve derailed this comment thread more than enough, and it was a really good blog post: Tyler, you’re on a good run of late. Very enjoyable. Over and out.

      • beingbobbyorr
        February 13, 2013 at

        My heart doesn’t bleed too much for guys making millions of dollars per year, . . . .

        If we’re going to rag on the MSM for their faults (and I’m on-side for that), we need to be disciplined in our blogging-from-moms-basement missives and peer-review each other to eliminate our own biases & errors of logic. In this case, how much money the subject (Whitney) makes is irrelevant. Both Warren Buffet and the hobo on the corner deserve to be treated honestly, especially when our speech has the potential to reflect on their character.

        I think we should be hateful toward the MSM if/when they grandstand or curry favor by being the GM’s lickspittle. But, maybe a greater degree of contempt should be directed toward ourselves, the public, for tolerating this for 30+ years.

    3. Derek
      February 8, 2013 at

      Fantastic post, Tyler. These are the things we’ve all been seeing for two seasons and you’ve captured nearly all of his issues. One you didn’t capture was his play in the offensive zone. To compensate for his mobility problems, he cheats to the play side and when the puck quickly reverses, he’s toast.

      Great capture of the twitter back and forth – I was working on the screenshots last night for a post tonight. Now I don’t have to.

      Really good stuff.

    4. Pingback: Spectors Hockey | NHL Blog Beat – Saturday, February 9, 2013.

    5. Mike
      February 10, 2013 at

      If the problem is mobility, would it not make sense to pair him with whichever defenceman can most easily skate miles every night? On this team, that’s probably Schultz the Younger.

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