Longtime Oiler fave Joffrey Lupul explained his difficulties playing for Craig MacTavish to NHL.com:
“He was the type of coach that had a couple guys he was really comfortable with and he played them 23, 24 minutes a game,” Lupul said. “The other guys had to scrap it out for the bottom 12 minutes. I never really got into that comfort zone with him. He never really trusted me as far as John Stevens does, as far as penalty killing and four-on-four play and last minutes of periods. It gives you a lot of confidence when you come in and a coach shows that much confidence in you.”
There are really two complaints here: first, that MacT runs a top heavy bench and second that young Lups wasn’t getting the opportunities to build his confidence by killing penalties, playing four on four and playing in the last minute of the period. I have to admit that I was a bit stunned by the comment about the top heavy bench – I’ve always thought that liking a deep bench was something of a MacT trademark, never more noticeable than the Oilers run in 2005-06 when they, you know, beat Lupul’s Ducks in five. The numbers, I think, bear this out.
Here’s what I did: I have an Excel spreadsheet with all of the event summaries from last year, which includes the time that each player played. I tagged each guy game by game as getting the 1st to 12th most minutes on his team amongst forwards. I then compiled the averages for each team for the forward with the most, second most etc. ice time. While I’ve presented the information for each spot in the lineup, I’ve also tabulated 1-3 as first line, 4-6 as second line, 7-9 as third line and 10-12 as fourth line. In my view, this largely confirms what I thought about how MacT runs his bench, at least for last year:
So the grouping of Oilers forwards that played the least, relative to the corresponding forward groups on other teams was players number 1-3. This would be exactly the opposite of what Lupul said. In all honesty, I don’t know how you can play for MacT for a year and be surprised this – I’ve always just noticed it from the TV. Lups got top nine minutes in 73 of the 81 games that he played (despite being a highly paid constant reminder that the Pronger deal was oh so bad). He played more than 12 minutes in 73 games, more than 13 minutes in 67 games, more than 14 minutes in 56 games, more than 15 minutes in 49 games and more than 16 minutes in 37 games. He got a large push in the first half of the season, averaging 16.34 minutes in ice time (with little in the way of numbers killing, onerous penalty killing duties) scoring 12 goals and adding 5 assists in that time. The guy got a reasonable push, particularly at the start of the year – this included time when the Oilers needed a goal, as his 5 ENG against attest to – and just didn’t get it done. Pointing at the coach and poor mouthing him about ice time, particularly when that complaint appears to have no basis in fact seems like awfully poor form to me – the guy just did not get it done in Edmonton. You can advance the argument that he should have had more of a shot if you want but it’s hard to argue that he deserved it. In Lupul’s defence (I think that you can put those words in that order and have it be grammatically correct) it looks like Anaheim may be an even more egalitarian – the Ducks of the past two years shared the ice time pretty well, although my vague recollection is that 2005-06 was more top heavy, with Lupul in the group getting the minutes.
As for his other complaints – killing penalties, playing four on four and playing in the last minute of the period – I’d like to know who exactly he thinks that he should have been playing in front of. Until the Smyth trade signalled the Oilers descent into the abyss, I can’t see how the guy has any sort of an argument to be on the ice in the last minute of the period unless Smyth, Horcoff and Hemsky and Pisani, Stoll and Torres were unavailable. At least for the first part of the year, Lupul was getting long looks when it was a late situation in which the Oilers needed a goal – what did he want, more defensive minutes? Who does he think that he should have been playing ahead of?
Four on four? Easiest way for me to take a peak at this is by looking at the Oilers OT and SO games:
November 7, 2006 v. MTL – Played about 1:30 in a SO loss
November 18, 2006 v. DET – Played about 2:00 in a SO loss
November 28, 2006 v. ANA – Played about 1:00 in an OT game that ended at 2:19
January 4, 2007 v. DAL – Played about 2:00 in an SO loss
January 5, 2007 v. VAN – Played 0:00 in an OT loss that ended at 1:24
January 8, 2007 v. LA – Played 0:00 in an OT win that ended at 1:14 (Dan F. Hejda!)
February 15, 2007 v. BUF – Played 0:00 in an OT loss that ended at 1:02 (Thanks again, pizza lady who made me miss the Horcoff goal)
February 20, 2007 v. OTT – Played 0:00 in a SO loss
February 23, 2007 v. DET – Got injured and missed most of the game
March 17, 2007 v. STL – Healthy scratch? Not on the shift chart
March 23, 2007 v. COL – Played 1:30 of OT after tying game at 18:13 of third period; Colorado subsequently misses playoffs by two points and Flames make it.
Looking over the whole thing, I see one game in which there wasn’t a quick end to the game and Lupul didn’t get any 4 on 4 time. In keeping with his time on the Oilers, Lupul got a big push early on. For whatever reason, the coach grew disenchanted with him.
Finally the penalties. This is pretty simple again – who does he think he should have been playing in front of? What’s the argument here in his favour? By the way, it bears mention that for all the talk about Lupul killing penalties, he’s the seventh choice in Philly amongst forwards in PK TOI/G and he’s got the worst PKGA/60 on the Flyers, who have the 21st ranked PK in the league. The Oilers, who suck, are somehow struggling along in his absence at 9th on the PK. They can’t score a goal to save their lives but they couldn’t with Lupul sucking down minutes either.
One more fun quote from the piece:
Last year I got too worried about the score sheet,” Lupul said. “Everyone was talking about goals and goals and goals, and I said I had to get some points. For me, I don’t think I’m a top-end offensive guy, I’m more of a hard-working, physical player.”
Unbelievable. I swear to god this guy was pulling up on the forecheck last year to avoid being the first to the puck and being forced to take a hit. Now he’s a physical player?
It’s funny but Lupul’s newfound focus on being Ethan Moreau seems to have coincided with skyrocketing shooting percentages when he’s on the ice. The Flyers are over 20% with him on the PP – the best team in the NHL was at about 15% last year – and at 13.4% at ES – the best team in the NHL last year was at 11.4%. I don’t have his shooting percentages handy, although I suspect that they’re high – that bastard Desjardins doesn’t seem to track this stuff.
In any event, I’m still nowhere sold on this guy, although I’ll acknowledge that he’s the kind of guy who just irritates me when I read his quotes. His commentary on MacT’s coaching seems almost entirely specious to me and his underlying numbers this year in Philly all scream fluke. The Flyers have been sliding since November 17 – 6-8-4 in their last 18 and the numbers still don’t say that they’re a good team. My money is on them to miss the playoffs and Lupul to end up in the red. I don’t think that you can win with him filling any kind of a significant role on your team at this stage in his career. Time will tell if he can get off the Anson Carter career path or not but I have serious doubts.
*Tip of the cap to PunjabiOil for pointing this story out.