Whitney was moving gingerly at the morning skate today and appeared to be favouring his right foot. Might it be as simple as him breaking in a new pair of skates? I don’t know, but I’ll be asking.
…after playing just under four minutes, Whitney left with an ankle injury.
He’s now gone with foot problems. According to Bob McKenzie on Twitter, it’ll be a while. Hopefully this isn’t long term or that Lubo trade will look like a really terrible one.
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Blackpool is just nine points back of Chelsea after today for the final Champions League spot, with two games in hand. Plus Chelsea still has to come to Bloomfield Road. Eighth in the standings. Not that I’m getting cocky – the soccer gods strike me as being far more vengeful and fickle than the hockey gods. Still though…
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I always use Christmas to download a bunch of music that appears on the year end “Best of” lists – there are only so many things a guy can obsessively pay attention to. I’m pretty sure that this is my favourite video of the year:
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On the penalty killing: a lot of people who I respect as hockey observers are making a lot of the Oilers’ inability to win faceoffs and linking it to their inability to kill penalties. As are people who I think are less insightful. I wrote about this a few years ago, during another bad patch on the penalty kill (I’m starting to build a back catalogue of analysis on things that don’t make you a shitty team, since the Oilers have kindly generated so many questions in that regard). Anyway, this was the key point
Over 391 faceoffs, there’s something like 45 lost own zone draws between a team at 49.5% and a team at 38ish% over the course of a season. That might be significant but I suspect when I really drill into things I’ll find that being an atrocious faceoff team on the PK will cost you, at the absolute top end, a win over the course of a season. I suspect that it’s probably more like half a win but we’ll see.
I’ve pulled together some numbers for this year to illustrate my point. These are the PK faceoff numbers for NHL teams. The Oilers are, as we all know, horrible, although the Rangers are even worse, just adrift at the bottom of the rankings. I’ve also put in the listings for PK rank and 5v4 S/60. As you can see, LA and Pittsburgh aren’t much better than the Oilers on the PK but are fourth and second respectively in penalty killing. Chicago wins a pile of faceoffs but is bleeding shots and has a terrible PK. Whenever I’ve looked at the evidence, I’ve been hardpressed to imagine any sort of a relationship between winning faceoffs and having a successful PK – it just looks like small potatoes to me.
A big part of the problem for the Oilers has been the trio of Andrew Cogliano, Colin Fraser and Dustin Penner taking faceoffs. They’d taken about 58% of the shorthanded faceoffs as of the time that I did this, with a 30.6% winning percentage, which is comically bad. None of these guys are going to be taking short handed faceoffs on the next Oilers’ team that is any good.
All signs would seem to indicate that Steve Tambellini has never been sold on Cogliano – he was willing to move him as part of the Dany Heatley trade and there were rumours last summer that Cogliano was available too. It’s no secret that Andrew Cogliano can’t win faceoffs and it’s a problem that will solve itself soon, one expects – maybe it’s easier to win faceoffs in the KHL. Dustin Penner isn’t a centre and, ideally, when the team’s a contender, it will have three actual centres – this too, will presumably be solved by the disposal of Cogliano, a healthy Horcoff, another useful centre and a fourth line guy. Colin Fraser does not look like much of a solution either, although his struggles seem awfully mysterious – he was 20-12 in the faceoff dot shorthanded last year, with respectable ES numbers too (48.2%). He went 44% on 292 SH faceoffs in 2008-09. This year he’s still decent at ES (46.0%) but 17-41 shorthanded.
On the topic of Colin Fraser…I got curious so I went and took a look. He’s got a curious path of penalty killing ice time for a 26 year old. His first full season in the NHL was in 2008-09, when he played 2:57 nightly in shorthanded time. Last year, he fell to 1:26 a night, which is a pretty startling drop for a 24 year old. It was a little more dramatic than that though – in the first 24 games, he was playing about 1:52 a night on the PK, in his last 46 games he played just 1:13 a night on the PK. Of course, when the playoffs started, he barely played, appearing in only three games and even then, for only 13 seconds a night.
While I’m generally supportive of the idea that you should always be scouring successful teams and looking for guys who can be acquired for not much and then put to use in a larger role – essentially value trading in hockey players – one wonders if Tambellini shouldn’t have been suspicious of the Hawks’ willingness to let Fraser go to the Oilers. As we’ve seen, Fraser’s salary demands weren’t exorbitant and he stands out amongst the guys who Chicago let leave after last season. The Great Chicago Cap Purge included Kris Versteeg ($3.083MM cap hit in 2010-11), Cam Barker ($3.083MM), Dustin Byfuglien ($3.000MM), John Madden ($1.000MM), Brent Sopel ($2.333MM) and Andrew Ladd ($2.35MM).
With Chicago needing to find players who could play the game cheaply (and with John Madden, one of their big PK guys, moving on), if they thought Fraser had the ability to play the game on the PK, one would think that they would have killed to keep him at $875K. The fact that they chose not to keep him, as well as his plummeting ice time on the PK suggests that they were pretty confident that he wasn’t a very good penalty killer. Which renders the Oilers’ decision to invest time and money in him somewhat curious – they don’t seem to have been vultures, feeding off the cap bloated carcass of a Stanley Cup champion as much as they’re some sort of animal that sees vultures eating a corpse that’s been rotting in the sun and ambles over to feed on it and then becomes violently ill because they aren’t suited to doing that. To stretch an analogy.
Ultimately, nobody beyond Tom Renney is going to be surprised when Edmonton misses the playoffs. From that perspective, the decision to invest time in trying to develop PK guys who don’t cost a lot makes a great deal of sense to the Oilers – if goals go in along the way, goals go in. The decision that Fraser and Cogliano were the guys on whom those resources should be expended is the more curious one. If it’s a development year and you’re going to be terrible, you want to be terrible with guys who have futures. I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that Cogliano doesn’t look like a world beater on the PK but the Hawks’ lack of interest in Fraser probably should have been a red flag with respect to him. It will be frustrating if, in a year or two, neither of these guys are here and this is still an area of concern for the Oilers – I question whether it was smart to bet on these guys rounding into the role.