• From the “Things that will look foolish in April” file

    by Tyler Dellow • September 29, 2011 • NHL • 29 Comments

    John MacKinnon:

    They will score, these young Edmonton Oilers. That seems obvious.

    Not only that, the gifted likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will swash, they will buckle, they’ll sizzle, they’ll dance, they’ll lift the Rexall Place faithful out of their seats early and often this season.

    These cats won’t just score, they’ll do it with flair.

    No, goals won’t be the problem with the Oilers. Sorting out which ones belong on the highlight reel may be a larger problem than identifying where the goals will come from.

    Oh, how I love these stories after a good pre-season or early season game. Brings back memories. I loved this gem from opening night last year:

    ‘m not going to throw a wet blanket on the Edmonton Oilers 4-0 waxing of the Calgary Flames because there’s plenty of wannabe deep-thinkers doing it already, cautioning, “It’s only one game” and “Ooh, don’t get carried away.” One game constitutes a “short sample size.” Derrrrr, the Oilers aren’t going to go 82-0?

    Khabibulin’s back might yet become a factor, but rust from his layoff obviously isn’t. His bad contract and all the “KhabbyBoozin” distractions aside, the man can stop pucks.

    It doesn’t look like he’ll need 10 or 15 games to re-find his game, and that’ll be critical in getting off to a decent start. Getting out of the gate didn’t do a damn thing for this team last season, but this is a different group. A little success early won’t hurt.

    They won’t always get goaltending like that from Khabibulin. Eberle won’t wow ‘em with highlight reel goals every night. MacIntyre won’t win every fight, at least not like he did against Ivanans.

    My sense, though, is this edition of the Oilers might be capable of putting together those aspects more often and sooner than long-suffering fans and over-cautious tall foreheads-in-training might have thought. That’s just what my old hockey writer’s gut tells me.

    Whoops. Turns out that those over-cautious tall foreheads-in-training might occasionally have the odd good idea.

    Those of us with long memories will remember the false dawn of 2006, when Joffrey Lupul came to town and everyone was giddy about how many goals the Oilers would score. Or the false dawn of 2008, when the Kid Line, Dustin Penner and a healthy Sheldon Souray were going to build on the late season run of 2007-08, fill the nets and lead the Oilers to the promised land. Vic Ferrari had a great line one of those years, I think it was 2006, about how the Oilers’ media were expecting a lot of 6-5 wins and would be shocked at mid-season with the number of 3-1 losses.

    As always, I find it curious that media guys toss stones at fans for having blinders on but then turn out stuff like this on the basis of one game. MPS didn’t play against Phoenix but Hall, Eberle and RNH combined for 10 shots, of which three went in. Over the course of a season, its going to be more like one going in out of every ten.

    As a group, Hall, Eberle and MPS were a hair above average at scoring goals at 5v5 last season. They scored 0.72 ESG/60; NHL fowards scored 0.70 ESG/60. RNH, if he sticks, will almost certainly be a drag on the goal average this year. They collectively shot 9.1% to a league average for forwards of 9.7%. That might be another couple of goals. The PP isn’t really worth mentioning – it didn’t score frequently last year and it’s been horrible forever. Young players do not traditionally excel there.

    I’m more than open to the possibility that, at some point, this quartet will score 5v5 goals at a rate that is markedly better than the rate at which Rob Schremp scored 5v5 goals last year but the actual coming of that day is awfully difficult to predict.

    The thing with young guys on the path to stardom is that it isn’t always entirely linear. Martin Luther King had a line about the arc of the arc of the moral universe being long but bending towards justice. While I think that that’s true, the movement towards justice tends to occur in massive leaps – in the 1860s, slavery comes to an end and then there isn’t a ton of progress for African Americans for quite some time. In the 1950s and 1960s, there’s a massive leap towards more social justice with Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act. You couldn’t necessarily predict these things a few years before they happened.

    Similarly, while you can expect that Hall et al. will score buckets of goals at some point, predicting when it will happen is a lot more difficult to do. Subjectively, it wouldn’t surprise me if Hall scored 35 this year; if I was to crank out some sort of objective projection, it’d probably be markedly lower. As a group, you’d probably expect these guys to score more than last year. If you had a sophisticated projection system, one that could generate probabilities of surpassing the projection and missing it, I’d expect the probability of significantly surpassing it to be much better than the probability of signficantly missing it.

    Nobody knows though. Predicting them to score so many goals that figuring out which ones go on the highlight reel is the problem rather than where they’re going to come from is nuts. The only thing you can really say with any certainty is that they should score more than last year and, at some point, will hopefully be elite scorers. It’s possible, but unlikely, that this will be the year in which that occurs.

    About Tyler Dellow

    29 Responses to From the “Things that will look foolish in April” file

    1. David Staples
      September 29, 2011 at

      I’ve heard from learned commentators that RNH reminds them of Wayne Gretzky.

      I doubt they could find a better curse for the kid even if they hated his guts, as opposed to admiring his skills so adamantly.

      Meanwhile, Sam Gagner is forgotten. . .

      • choppystride
        September 30, 2011 at

        As far as those Gretzky comps are concerned, I think pretty much all of them are soley of a qualitative nature, and I don’t think they are totally off-base.

        Gretzky derived a lot of his success from his skating ability, in particular his exceptional agility. The way that RNH is able to execute those lightning quick turns & pivots, all the while keeping the puck on a string and maintaining peripheral vision, that’s definitely very Gretzky-like. It is an extremely rare skillset and a complete bitch to defend. I think right now perhaps only Datsyuk & Kane possess this combo of eyes + hands + feet that work in such a well coordinated manner (I like that Ennis kid as well but then he’s a smurf…). And it would not surprise me to see RNH end up being a bigger & faster version of the same ilk when he physically matures.

        There was a web video of Colorado scouts discussing the top prospects just before the draft. When they discussed RNH, one of them mentioned something along the lines of (IIRC): “the mechanics of his movements is the best I’ve seen in many years”. After watching him play closely for several games now, I have to agree. The last teenaged prospect I can recall who came into the NHL with such fluidity and control was Patrick Kane. And by my eyes, RNH looks a tad quicker.

        The current consensus of RNH is that he’s one of the least desirable #1 picks in recent years. I do not agree with that assessment. I think one of the major factors holding him back is that, well, he’s a stringbean. If you compare him to other recent #1 picks, he has the most disadvantaged height-to-weight ratio coming in. With his relatively high center of gravity, he really has no business being as quick and agile as he is. Yet, he has not looked out of place against pro-level competition. Personally, I find that a bit astonishing. Barring an aversion to hard training & catastrophic injuries, when RNH’s weight catches up with his height (with the accompanying increase in strength)…watch out.

        • Doogie2K
          October 1, 2011 at

          Pro-level competition has a bit of an asterisk beside it. Preseason success is, if anything, a strong argument for allowing a certain class of player to move to the AHL instead of being forced to send them back to the CHL, because that’s the level of competition they’re playing more often than not. It’s easy to question having RNH in the NHL this year. I think you’d have far fewer questions if the option was there to develop him in the AHL.

          • Doogie2K
            October 1, 2011 at

            And before anyone says it, yes, preseason is a small sample, etc.

    2. David Staples
      September 29, 2011 at

      In all fairness, I should say I’ve made the Gretzky comparison in my own head. And then I’ve tried to edit my thoughts.

    3. John MacKinnon
      September 29, 2011 at

      You trivialize the history of slavery in the U.S. and the Civil Rights movement by riffing on Martin Luther King and Brown v. Board of Education to support an argument about shooting percentage in professional ice hockey.
      And you think my observation that Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins et al are gifted players who will entertain, score and make the highlight reels is going to look foolish?
      Wow.

      • Jay
        September 29, 2011 at

        Wow indeed John, that’s one of the more ridiculous reaches I’ve heard in a while. Yours that is, not Tyler’s. How about you address the actual premise of the post, rather than wildly scrambling for ways to discredit its authour?

        • Tyler Dellow
          September 29, 2011 at

          I don’t think I was trivializing history so much as making a point about a lack of linearity. If I’d said “The development of Hall et al. is about as morally important as the US civil rights movement” you might have something.

          In any event, carry on pretending that you’re offended by that rather than by someone pointing out how fanboyish the piece was.

          • JW
            September 29, 2011 at

            dellow 2 – Fanboy 0

      • Chris!
        September 29, 2011 at

        Ha! Weak.

      • The Rage
        September 29, 2011 at

        For a professional writer, John, your reading comprehension is surprisingly lacking. Tyler used a comparison to explain that development and progress is often not a steady process but rather prone to sudden bursts forward and occasional set backs. Not only do you fail to grasp that two examples can be compared without implying that they are morally equivalent, but you contextualize Tyler’s argument as one about shooting percentage when instead he is talking about development.

        Here’s a useful primer on comparisons and analogies by former The New Republic writer Jonathon Chait:
        http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/84931/attack-the-pod-people

      • running on empty
        September 30, 2011 at

        MacKinnon’s holier than thou civil rights rant is typical, if in doubt change the subject. What is also typical is the excited state of boosterism passing for sportswriting, where one day you’re singing the praises (even if its against second stringers from probably the worst team in the NHL) and the next you’re throwing some poor sod under the bus because your illusions proved to be nothing but. This is a depressing tendency in the oiler nation, so long sentenced to the gulag of bad teams, bad management, bad media. Hype, hype, hype, then the bitter taste of disappointment and the search for scapegoats. Souray, Penner, Garon, Sullivan, Grebeshkov, Cogliano, Cole, now Khabby and Gagner, the list is a long one of players who may have reached the end of what they could do for the team, but had to endure the insults of a pack of dogs howling for blood. Pity, it was once a great sports town.

    4. Mr DeBakey
      September 29, 2011 at

      Kid Lines, God luv ‘em.

      “Those of us with long memories….”

      Lets try that again:
      Those of us with tall foreheads will remember the false dawn of 2006…
      Or, perhaps:
      Those of us without brow ridges will remember the false dawn of 2006…

      “They won’t always get goaltending like that from Khabibulin”
      He nailed that one.

    5. Vic Ferrari
      September 29, 2011 at

      I’m actually more bullish than usual about the Oilers.

      They have a lot of good forwards, and few are cheaters for offense. Hall a bit, but he’s still a kid and he can finish, and Jones and Brule but they won’t play much. Have to credit the scouting staff and the player development. Hopefully Tambellini and Lowe can resist their powerful urge to acquire a couple of Lupul types.

      A lot is riding on Dubnyk. And the special teams will be an adventure again, I suspect. Admittedly the D is thin, but if the forwards come back and support they should get away with it at evens at least.

      Everyone seems to be forecasting the Oilers to finish 29th or 30th … but if the veterans, collectively, stay reasonably healthy (Hemsky, Horcoff, Whitney(eeps), Smyth, Gilbert, Gagner(eeps) and Belanger) they should be clear of lottery pick range at least. Bear in mind they play in the same division as MIN and COL.

      I’d be happy if they’re still legitimately in the playoff race in late winter. And I don’t think that’s too much to expect.

      • Coach Pb
        September 29, 2011 at

        Vic, if Whitney plays 60, I’ve got them in 12th. If he doesn’t, they’re 14th or 15th.

      • freeze
        September 29, 2011 at

        Forwards should be a decent group this year if the health holds. The D scares the hell out of me though. One more veteran D, at a minimum, would go along way to climbing this team out of the basement. Dubnyk will be helpful and hopefully he can show Khabby the door.

    6. Saj
      September 29, 2011 at

      Great article exposing the “guts” of what MSM is about.

      However, I don’t quite get how its relevant to compare the unpredictability of leaps of justice to player progression (more in keeping with your blog’s theme, I would expect a link to data showing leaps in highly-touted player production as they age, along with telling standard deviation data), but I understand your point about predictability.

    7. Coach Pb
      September 29, 2011 at

      So Stauffer sees Gretzky in 93 and MacKinnon sees 400 goals. Everything sounds great.

    8. beingbobbyorr
      September 29, 2011 at

      While I think that that’s true, the movement towards justice tends to occur in massive leaps – in the 1860s, slavery comes to an end and then there isn’t a ton of progress for African Americans for quite some time. In the 1950s and 1960s, there’s a massive leap towards more social justice with Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act.

      We tend to focus on the massive leaps because, well, they’re massive. Long-term changes fly under our collective radar, are less dramatic, and don’t make ‘good copy’ for the ink-stained wretches who record official history.

      I don’t have the figures in front of me, but I once saw a remarkable statistic showing how the percentage of blacks in America who were in the middle class experienced astonishing growth from 1910 to 1960 (then declined somewhat in the 60′s and 70′s as Great Society programs undermined the black family), but because that was (a) gradual, and (b) wasn’t obviously the result of government benevolence, it didn’t get mythologized.

      • October 13, 2011 at

        Yup, one of the best decades financially for the Black community was the 1940s, when the combination of World War II opening up factory work and the accumulated benefits of a couple decades of union activity helped develop that Black middle class.

        Also, to nitpick, Reconstruction was actually pretty positive until the Hayes-Tilden Compromise in 1877, when the Federal troops were pulled out of the South. A lot of Black politicians were elected, a lot of Black males were able to vote without being shot, hung, beaten, or arrested. That came later.

        Regardless, Tyler’s parallel isn’t totally off-point. Hell, if he’s off at all, it’s because he makes it seem like a plateau, which in the case of both the Black population and the Oilers’ history it’s more of a step backwards before later progression.

    9. September 29, 2011 at

      It’s about the hits Tyler. Selling the story with content the fans want to hear. I think lots of the goals scored by Hall and Eberle will be from incredible pass by the nuge. As well as Hall traveling at light speed down the wing ripping off lasers bar down or Eberle dangling a defenders mind like a washing machine when it spins ;)

    10. FastOil
      September 29, 2011 at

      Boosters boost. A new season, optimism unsullied by the reality of the roster. That’s no fun. Prettier goals, likely, more goals, not much without more than two proven able passing defensemen.

      After a few years of railing against management, I find myself not wanting them to crawl out of the basement this year. After all the suffering, it seems a waste to miss out in this deeper draft with really very little chance of seeing playoffs.

      Another mulligan, then shore up the backend and fourth line and anything else that can be improved and make the playoffs next year , and keep it rolling.

    11. Coach Pb
      September 29, 2011 at

      Also, I’d like to point out that based on his last few guarantees, Robin Brownlee is most likely the single-worst goaltending scout in the history of hockey.

    12. old old guy
      September 29, 2011 at

      Will the stars align? Will lightening strike again…We live in hope…I saw it once…but a second time…???
      And yes, the kids will develop in fits and starts….but will their inevitable slumps be year long. or monthlong, or week long…
      Eventually weakness will be exposed..
      To many iff’s….if so and so stays healthy, if whats his name has found something extra in his game, J if if if if if
      Id be ecstatic if they scored in bunchs…and even if they lose 7 to 6.
      to finish even close to a playoff spot would be incredible, to actually make it to the playoffs would be akin to walking on water…
      Just be better than the last two years……

    13. Shane Leavitt
      October 1, 2011 at

      Well, finish a game with 3 defenseman, when it was pitifully low talent already. No need to fear, ’11-12 is where Tambellini works his magic with savy wire pick-ups and cunning trades. (rolls eyes)

    14. Dennis
      October 1, 2011 at

      Hello, Vic.

      Can you send me the 2012 scoring chances link when you get it up and ready to go? I’m ready to dig in for another year.

      Personally, I think the team will be better as long as the vets stay healthy because it looks like the three kids are Real players so that will push everything along. And I think DD’s gonna be a good one. The only thing holding me back is the D and what kind of fuckery the Oilers will end up employing on the PK.

      BTW, Derek wins the one-liner award with his blast of Brownlee’s scouting abilities.

    15. The Other John
      October 1, 2011 at

      Sweet Jesus guys how can we be as bad as the last 2 years. Forgot, we were trying to be bad then. Now, we are trying won or at least we are until something bad happens andwe need an excuse for being 27th overall. Then we were trying to be bad as part of a bleeping plan. Story then will be about the cunning patience of Oiler management

      MacKinnon wants the Oilers to be good. So do I. Just think the crappy D is gonna factor into the scoring chances more than he thinks

    16. Vic Ferrari
      October 1, 2011 at

      Dennis,

      Thanks for the reminder. You’re a glutton fro punishment, brother. What is the name of the link you used last year?

    17. Vic Ferrari
      October 2, 2011 at

      Dennis

      I dropped a note at IOF re the scoring chance app.

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