I have not been as unreservedly positive about a move made by the Oilers as I am about the Benoit Pouliot signing for a long, long time. He is precisely the sort of player that the Oilers should be trying to acquire. Trolling around the internet, I’ve seen that some people are less than excited about this move. Given that, I figured I’d take a swing at defending it.
Rightly or wrongly (I think rightly), the die is cast for the Oilers in terms of the guys who are going to be at the top of the team. The Oilers have made significant commitments to Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I suspect that there’s going to be a significant commitment made to Nail Yakupov at some point because I think that they’re going to be able to figure out how to get him to produce. I would bet that he’s going to get the Hall/RNH/Eberle deal: $6MM.
If the Oilers have made smart bets, these contracts will permit them to spend more to bolster other areas of their lineup. In other words, they should be able to buy Cadillac players to play in other roles. Benoit Pouliot is, at the very least, a gold plated Cadillac third liner.
It took Pouliot a little longer than most top five draft picks to establish himself as a full-time NHLer. In his case, it wasn’t until he was 23 that he played in at least half an NHL season. He split time between Montreal and Minnesota that year, so we’ll look closely at his last four years, in which he’s played on a different team each year, to see what he’s done. I’m not usually a bullet point guy but there are four that I think are pretty critical in understanding what he’s done.
*39th amongst NHL F in Corsi%, 2010-14 (min. 2000 minutes)
*26th amongst NHL F in GF%, 2010-14 (min. 2000 minutes)
*35th amongst NHL F in PDO, 2010-14 (min. 2000 minutes)
*52nd amongst NHL F in 5v5 PTS/60, 2010-14 (min. 2000 minutes)
You can’t reasonably expect his PDO to stay as high as it is – he’s been the beneficiary of seasons in front of Carey Price, Tuuka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist – but other than that…wow. He’s played at least 120 minutes with 39 different players in that time; 34 of them have had a better Corsi% with Pouliot than they have when they were on the ice without him.
I’ve broken that list into two groups: forwards and defencemen. The results are just outstanding.
These aren’t star forwards or anything and yet, with the exception of Brian Rolston, everyone did better with Pouliot out there. 16 guys from four different teams and 15 did better with him.
Basically, outside of 2011-12 in Boston (a team loaded with top of the roster talent), that holds true for the defence as well. That’s hard to do from a third line spot – the “without you” for that defenceman will mostly consist of minutes spent with the first and second lines. To get better results than a comparison that involves two lines that the coach thinks are better than yours is not an easy thing to do. And yet, Pouliot’s done it repeatedly.
The reason that people aren’t out of their minds with excitement about this signing, as far as I can tell, is that he doesn’t have huge boxcar numbers. He had 36 points this year in 80 games. I think that worrying about this kind of misses the point. First of all, he’s never been anything special on the power play, although he looks to have been used as a net front guy from time to time. The Oilers don’t really need players who can play the power play. They’ve got lots of those.
Second, points aren’t the measure of a hockey player. Contributing to outscoring the opposition is. Sometimes point totals tell us something about whether a guy contributes a lot to outscoring the opposition, sometimes they don’t. This is particularly true as you get further down the lineup and PP time/ES TOI is reduced. The Oilers need guys who can put opposing players to the sword at 5v5. For the last four years, Pouliot’s been amongst the NHL’s elite at doing it.
It’s kind of funny, given the bad taste that the end of the Ethan Moreau years left in a lot of mouths, but I wonder if this isn’t kind of analogous to bringing in Moreau (and not just because they both have a taste for an offensive zone penalty). A first round pick who didn’t produce the offence that people expected but became a valuable top nine forward.
We don’t have possession numbers for the period of time in which Moreau was an effective hockey player in Edmonton but he went +14 from age 23 to 30 in Edmonton. I’m not a huge fan of +/- and Moreau would have benefited from being on the ice to defend leads (ENG) and penalty killing (shorthanded goals) but being in the black over that length of time, which would allow the PDO to even out, suggests he was a pretty good possession player. His body broke down and then he really got off the rails but he was a really useful Oiler for an extended period.
Pouliot strikes me as being from that vein, only a lot better – he’s an actual 5v5 offensive player (his 5v5 on-ice S% over the past four years is 8.8%, which is legitimately excellent and, if you look at who he’s played a lot with, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else who was pushing that). Given what he’s accomplished at 5v5, you sort of wonder what he could do with an expanded role at 5v5. The Oilers first line left wing spot is filled for the foreseeable future but Pouliot would certainly seem to be a candidate to take on more 5v5 minutes in a second line type role. There isn’t a huge difference in terms of quality of competition between second and third line but you might be able to find him a few more minutes there and get even more production from him.
Even if that doesn’t come off, this is exactly the sort of move that the Oilers should be making: paying free agent prices for the best top nine forwards and top four defencemen that they can buy. I wasn’t very impressed with the Nikita Nikitin move because I don’t think he’s a top four defenceman on a reasonably good team but this might be the smartest risk that the Oilers have ever taken in free agency. Pouliot’s been an elite third liner on a couple of very good teams. If he’s only that in Edmonton, the deal is a huge win. If he’s more, he’s better than a huge win, whatever that might be.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org