Anyone else starting to wonder if a vengeful God has been punishing Edmonton for all of the toplessness, nudity, vandalism, public drunkeness, stabbings and general debauchery of the 2006 playoff run? I don’t know what else it could be.
If you actually go and read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham kept bargaining God down. God was all “I’m gonna destroy the place unless you can find 50 righteous men”. Abraham – who would have been useful in the Oilers front office during the summer of 2006 – kept working away at him and got him down to ten – if Abraham could find ten righteous men, God wouldn’t destroy the place. God sent his
scouts angels, found only one righteous man – Lot – and burned the place to the ground.
The Oilers are slightly better off than the population of Sodom and Gomorrah, although they’re well short of ten. They’ve had about two, maybe three, if you’re a soft marker who includes Penner, righteous men this year. Horcoff and Hemsky deserve extra credit because they’ve done it against tough minutes. That’s not the way it works on the other lousy 5 on 5 teams, most of whom are completely devoid of righteous men – they’ve got some guys at the bottom end of the roster who look good in comparison, but that’s about it. Unfortunately, it’s just not enough and I have a bad feeling that the Oilers are going to get absolutely destroyed for the rest of the year.
Allow me to illustrate my point here. There are six really bad 5 on 5 teams this year: LA, Edmonton, Tampa Bay, the Islanders, Atlanta and Columbus. By and large, the only forwards on those teams who are in the black are the guys playing the soft minutes. I’ve gone through Desjardins site and grabbed the data for all of the forwards who have played 20 games. I don’t really trust Desjardins quality of competition number beyond ordering guys within their team, so I’ve ranked each guy from toughest forward minutes to softest forward minutes on his team. Of the 79 forwards who’ve played at least 20 games on my six awful ES teams, only 20 of them are in the black. I’ve tossed up a chart with their numbers here.
The chart is kind of small – you can find a larger version here – but the point should be obvious. The only guys in the black on the lousy teams playing minutes that fall amongst the top six on their team in terms of quality of opposition (under the QC heading in my chart) are Horcoff, Hemsky, Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Everyone else who’s managed to hold their head above water has done it against bottom end competition. If you want to see the full spreadsheet of this stuff, go take a look here.
The implications of this should be obvious, and maybe they’re so obvious as not to need mention but the loss of those four guys is, or would be, a deathblow to their respective teams. It goes back to the one of last season’s hot topics in Chris Pronger’s absence – the ripple effect. The ripple is a lot deeper when you’re talking about one of the only bloody guys on the team who’s in the black and he’s doing it against the other team’s best. It also speaks to something less obvious though; the Oilers and Lightning are kind of similar in that they’re both getting buried by the bottom ends of their roster. If there’s a saving grace for Kevin Lowe, given the awful mess that he’s made of the roster, I’d rather have his problems in terms of building a team that can compete at ES – top line can handle the tough minutes and they’re signed for reasonable dough – than the problems that some of the other bad teams have, with nobody on hand to handle the big minutes.
A complete side note: Rick Nash has to be knocking on the door of a monster season, the sort of season that a difference maker puts up. He looks like he’s getting the short end of the stick in both shooting percentage and save percentage when he’s on the ice this year.
Incidentally, if you take a look at the spreadsheet, take a look at the quality of competition rankings of Gagner, Reasoner and Stoll. Reasoner’s played the toughest minutes of the Oiler forwards with Horcoff and Stoll on his heels. I can understand that there’s an argument being put forward that Gagner should get the big push here but you’d have to think that his offensive numbers would go down against tougher competition and his defensive numbers – which are atrocious – would get worse. He buried Horcoff and Hemsky during his brief tour of duty with them earlier; I can understand why the coaches don’t want to put him with Hemsky and Penner in Horcoff’s absence. MacT got absolutely trashed today on the radio for his decision to put Reasoner into the cleanup spot; as I see it, he’s realistically looking at a choice between Stoll and Reasoner. I don’t know that Stoll has played well enough this year that I’d crucify the coaches for their decision – it’s like a choice between hemlock and arsenic.
With all of that said, this season is over. The last time that the Oilers made the playoffs with one forward of note was 1979-80. Ales Hemsky isn’t Wayne Gretzky and there are nine more teams and no more playoff spots. It’s unfortunate that Anaheim is going to have a lottery pick this year but that is what it is. The Oilers should devote the rest of the season to developing those who can be developed, trading those who make too much money for too little contribution and figuring out who’s part of the team next year. Now would also be the team to start figuring out where the bargains are for next summer; hopefully next year’s Oilers team has a few more guys who can take care of themselves on the ice, which would certainly be a huge first step in muting the impact of injuries such as Horcoff’s.