• The 2005-06 Oilers: Not A Fluke

    by Tyler Dellow • May 21, 2013 • Hockey • 18 Comments

    Change of pace today. I’m a big fan of the Marek v. Wyshynski podcast but those guys have, occasionally, discussed the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers with something less than the reverence I believe to be appropriate. Indeed, the f word has been used: fluke.

    It always bugs me when people call that team a fluke because it seems to be tossed out by people who are kind of vaguely aware that the Oilers didn’t make the 2004 playoffs and keenly aware of the running joke that’s been Edmonton since 2006 and just sort of mash it all together and come up with “fluke.”

    What they miss when they call the 05-06 Oilers a fluke is just how good the 2003-04 Oilers were, even without making the playoffs. Truthfully, the Oilers were unfortunate to miss the playoffs in 2003-04. They finished ninth, with 89 points (back before the days when hockey games were a points orgy) and a +13 goal difference. Nashville, at -1, finished eighth. St. Louis, also at 91 points, finished with a -7 goal difference and got the seven seed.

    Moreover, the NW division was a bear in 2003-04. Minnesota finished fifth, with 83 points. Vancouver and Colorado both had more than 100 points and Calgary went to the finals. Tough division. The NW went a combined 46-31-17-6 against the Central that year. While St. Louis and Nashville were beating up on Columbus (62 points) and Chicago (59), Edmonton got to play Minnesota (83 points) and Calgary (94), not to mention Colorado and Vancouver. RIght away, you can make a pretty solid argument that the difference in schedule, with six games against in-division teams and four against conference opponents, probably let Nashville and/or St. Louis slip past the Oilers.

    Another thing about those 2003-04 Oilers: they had horrific goaltending. Their goaltending was so bad that it prompted the first ever analytically correct cartoon strip about goaltending. Courtesy of old friend Mike Winters:

    A little piece of history, right there. Your less bleeding edge cartoonists would have had a punchline about his GAA or wins. (By the way, Mike’s still doing Oilers cartoons at his fine Cartoon Machine site.

    They ended up 22nd in the NHL in save percentage, which is bad but doesn’t really tell the whole story. They were bailed out a little bit by Tommy Salo having some injures (Salo posted an .896 in 44 games with the Oilers) and not starting as much as he otherwise might have. If they’d had even league average goaltending, which I’m eyeballing at about .908, you can slice 8 more goals off their goals against, which turns them into a +21 team and probably sticks another four points on their total.

    Goalies are part of the team and all that but, if someone was going to hand me the keys to a hockey team tomorrow and I was given a choice between two teams, both of which were basically the same age wise and went +13 the previous season but one did it with .900 goaltending and one did it with .930 goaltending, I’d take the .900 one. It’s easier to fix one problem than a bunch of problems and a team with .900 goaltending and the same goal difference as a team with .930 goaltending has fewer problems. They have one localized problem that can be resolved by punching the terrible goalie in the back of the head and getting one who isn’t terrible.

    That Oiler team was famously (at least in the circles I talk hockey in) good at 5v5. They outscored their opposition 148-121 at 5v5 which is awfully good. We don’t have a lot of the data we have now but when fiddling around on NHL.com last night, I realized that I could get the shot data and remove PPSF and PKSA from it, which gives me a reasonably good measure of how good the Oilers were at outshooting 5v5 – it’s still got shots taken by the shorthanded team in it, but those are relatively infrequent.

    As the table (at left) shows, the Oilers score pretty well by this metric. Kind of unsurprising to see eventual Conference champions Calgary and Tampa Bay well up the charts. Also kind of intriguing to see Carolina up the chart, even in front of the Oilers. I’m rather biased but I thought that the Oilers had a better team that Carolina in 2005-06. Seeing this though, one wonders whether there was a base of a good team in Carolina that, quite simply, nobody noticed. If it can happen in Edmonton, an actual hockey city that people pay attention to, surely it can happen in Carolina, where Jim Rutherford could be running some sort of monstrous Staal breeding project and nobody would notice even when Carolina iced a team consisting entirely of 20 Staals. “Huh,” they’d say when they looked over Carolina’s roster sheet, “Carolina has a team now?”

    I digress – my point is this: that 2003-04 Oilers team was a really, really good ES team, something that’s gone unnoticed. They were not, however, without their blemishes. Obviously, if they went +13 overall and +27 at ES, things did not go so well somewhere else. What’s that you say? The Oilers have historically been a terrible PP team? Astute. In fact, Edmonton scored the second fewest PP goals in the league in 2003-04 (44), with only one team behind them: Carolina, with 41. Carolina had a team? Apparently.

    The average NHL team was putting up 57.2 PP goals in 2003-04, so that PP futility represented a pretty substantial hole, relative to the rest of the league. Again though, that’s a pretty discrete problem. If you’re in a position to, say, add one of the best defencemen in the league to play on the PP and have a callow 20 year old youth spend 2004-05 somewhere behind the Iron Curtain getting stronger before blossoming in 2005-06, that might be something that really helps your team make a big jump on the PP.

    What about the PK? Again, it wasn’t an area of strength for the Oilers. The average team gave up 57.2 shorthanded goals; the Oilers gave up 66 shorthanded goals. They were shorthanded about the league average number of times 349 vs. 347.6. NHL.com has, in the past year or so, posted shot data for shorthanded situations going that far back and Edmonton was actually reasonably average at keeping shots against down when they were shorthanded. They allowed 42.3 S/60, which put them 13th in the NHL. The best team in the NHL was Tampa, who allowed 37.6 S/60 while shorthanded, while Washington was worst at 53.0.

    (Aside: it’s kind of spooky how Carolina, (again: apparently a team that existed) was so similar to the Oilers. They allowed 66 shorthanded goals as well and weren’t terrible at preventing shots.)

    If the Oilers didn’t allow a ton of shots on the PK and didn’t take a ton of penalties, why were they so bad at penalty killing? Well, they had an .839 save percentage on the PK, which is just abysmal. Tommy Salo gave the Oilers some really good goaltending from about 1999-2002 but man, did Edmonton ever pay the price for that in 2002-03, when Salo let a crappy Stars team off the hook in the playoffs and 2003-04, before they finally wised up and dumped him in Colorado, who apparently felt like lighting some money (Salo made $3.9MM) and a prospect (Tom Gilbert) on fire.

    In 2005-06, with one of the best defencemen of his generation on the Oilers, they allowed the fewest shots/60 on the PK by a wide margin: 35.9 S/60. Second was Chicago, at 39.4 S/60. They were average at preventing shots in 2003-04 and then then added Chris Pronger and things got really good.

    Looking back at this 2003-04 Oilers team, I’m kind of reminded of the 2010-11 Boston Bruins, minus Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas. Not in terms of how they played – the Oilers weren’t a brawling team like the Bruins – but in terms of how the team was constructed, with players being found in unusual places and a team that was built without acquiring a star player at the top of the draft. The Oilers didn’t get their Zdeno Chara for another year and, unfortunately, had already had Tim Thomas and let him go after 15 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 1998-99. Thomas spent the 2003-04 season in Providence, where he posted a .941 save percentage.

    So were the 2005-06 Oilers a fluke? Well, they were in the sense that they hadn’t enjoyed success like that before and haven’t made the playoffs since. I can’t argue with that. What I will argue, until I’m blue in the face, is that Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish had built a very solid no-name team by 2003-04 (truthfully, the 2002-03 Oilers were pretty good too and I suspect that they were a team that was trending up as the year went along) that was really well positioned to do something big if they added a goaltender and a superstar.

    They were able to get those pieces, but only for two glorious months. Then Matt Greene was slow and Marc-Andre Bergeron was negligent and the Cup was lost and the night sky in Edmonton glowed with the light from Chris Pronger’s burning furniture and it all went to hell. It was many things and it ended poorly and it still hasn’t come good again but it wasn’t a fluke.

    Email Tyler Dellow at mc79hockey@gmail.com

    About Tyler Dellow

    18 Responses to The 2005-06 Oilers: Not A Fluke

    1. Triumph
      May 21, 2013 at

      That Carolina team was extraordinarily bad at shooting the puck. It’s not like that performance was limited to one season – they had two seasons of colossally terrible shooting. They shot 7.2% in 2003-04 as a team, and 7.1% in 2002-03. The 1998 Tampa Bay Lightning are the only team to fall that far. Then they got two traditionally good shooters (Whitney and Stillman) and everything seemed to change in 05-06. Having watched the Devils outshoot the opposition by a large amount in 2 of the last 3 seasons and fail to make the playoffs, I wonder if there can sometimes be more value than people think in getting players who aren’t great territorially but who are good shooting % types, if you’ve already got the guys who drive play. I have to imagine this was the thought behind Pittsburgh getting Jarome Iginla even if it put Tyler Kennedy on the 4th line.

    2. May 21, 2013 at

      Their success was a fluke in the sense that the salary cap was set artificially low coming out of the lockout and the high salaried teams were not able to ice the types of rosters they previously, and subsequently, were able to. I sort of think Carolina’s Cup win that year should have an asterisk attached to it.

      • Tyler Dellow
        May 21, 2013 at

        Well, in that sense, every Stanley Cup since 2006 has been a fluke. I’m pretty sure that the salary cap has made it harder and harder to be really good too – I don’t think that it’s gotten any easier. The Sens and Wings were really good in 2006 and kind of had to be dismantled.

        • May 21, 2013 at

          No, because after 05/06 the salary cap was actually linked to revenues, which was not the case for that first post-lockout season. The 05/06 salary cap was essentially a random Bettman-generated number and was significantly lower than it has been since. Obviously that CBA made it harder to create really, really good teams, but from 06/07 to 11/12, there was a meaningful linkage between revenues and salaries, which led to the good (rich) teams spending to the cap, which led to those teams spending way more than the bad (poor) teams, which lead to the Cup finalists of those seasons all being at the very least pretty good teams. Those 06-12 conditions weren’t exactly present that lone year of Oilers non-ignnominy due to the fake cap number mandated by the league; consequently, two basically shitty teams played in the final. (And, yes, I realize that the Oil team that went to the playoffs actually was a decent team, but that’s in no small part due to some important trade deadline acquisitions, acquisitions that, I would argue, would have been much more difficult to make in a post 05/06 season where 1) player salaries weren’t artificially reduced and 2) other teams wouldn’t have been as restricted cap-wise in picking up those or other good players). And replacement level goaltending would have likely seen them out in the first round. I’m not picking on Edmonton – it’s an even bigger joke that Carolina made it out of the first round with Williams’ enucleation of Koivu going uncalled and Therrien’s resulting and totally justified meltdown and the resulting and totally unjustified bench minor. 05/06 was basically a silly little season that satisfied the owners’ greed and stands as a weird little outlying piece connecting two different versions of the NHL.

        • Hillary
          May 31, 2013 at

          This is a bit nieve. A councilor told me how Mandel tried to bully him to vote his way. He uses the City Manager and ctornol of the distribution of funds to get his way. Vote my way or PROJECT-X in your ward may find itself delayed or cancelled due to funding’. Mandel has many ways to get his way. Be assured, Mandel uses every dirty political trick to get his way.

      • Triumph
        May 21, 2013 at

        This certainly had something to do with it, but you certainly don’t see teams like the 2002 Red Wings anymore, so I think Tyler’s right on this one – the top 9 scorers on that 02 Wings team will end up in the Hall of Fame, plus the goalie, and almost all of them were over 30. We don’t see that anymore – right now we don’t see it because there was a large lull in hockey talent between draft years 1995 and 2002 – but we’re not likely to ever see it again, because of all the super long-term contracts being signed.

        • May 21, 2013 at

          Obviously the 04 CBA prevented the creation of really great teams i.e., teams with players whose combined salaries would exceed certain prescribed figures. You don’t need to go nearly as far as the 02 Wings to make that point; there were several, several other “great” teams from that era that we won’t see again. What am I saying is this: the 05/06 season contained restrictions and had unique features with respect to team building that were obviously markedly different from the seasons before it, but were also notably different from the seasons that followed it. That makes it an outlier of sorts, and the results contained therein sort of flukey.

          • Lidia
            May 31, 2013 at

            According to the articles I read the prnovice is not going to fund the $100 Million shortfall. I also find it highly unlikely that there will be an increase in MSI funding this year. Therefore, the city will have to redirect funding from other projects to the arena from next years funding. It will be seriously disappointing if this council votes in favour of using that funding for the arena.

          • emxtss
            June 1, 2013 at

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    3. May 21, 2013 at

      League average goaltending in 2003-04 was actually 0.911 SV%, so the improvement would have been larger still.

      • Sebastian
        May 31, 2013 at

        We Edmontonians won’t allow Katz to get a dime of OUR MONEY.Nichols and Katz think they run this city. They don’t. We do. I thought Nichols lenraed that with his airport fiasco.Nichols credibility dropped to zil after his airport silliness. After this its in the negatives.

      • mhzdyhgrpna
        June 1, 2013 at

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    4. Pingback: Spectors Hockey | NHL Postseason Blog Beat – May 22, 2013.

    5. commonfan14
      May 22, 2013 at

      Agreed on all of this.

      It’s still probably worth noting, however, that the Oilers somehow faced Manny Legace against Detroit, Vesa Toskala against San Jose, and noted playoff headcase Ilya Bryzgalov against the Ducks. Maybe not THE softest group of goalies a team has ever had to beat to get to the Cup final, but probably in the top-5.

      Plus all four of the top seeds in the West somehow lost that year, which helped clear the path a bit.

      Some crazy stuff definitely happened.

      • dawgbone
        May 22, 2013 at

        Granted, but Legace was actually pretty damn good that year and was part of the reason Detroit finished 1st in the West. Toskala wasn’t great (was better than Nabokov) and Bryzgalov had a .944 sv% in the playoffs (after posting a .911 in the regular season).

        In hindsight you can say it wasn’t a strong group, but 2 of the 3 had really strong seasons while the 3rd was basically league average that year.

        • MattM
          May 23, 2013 at

          Yeah, the years since have changed the perception, but certainly at the time both Toskala and especially Bryzgalov were considered pretty high level starters. The Preds beat up on an absolutely abysmal Central that year to get the 4 seed, and depending what you think of Calgary’s team that year, I think you can make a pretty decent argument the Oilers actually played the best 3 teams in the west on their way through.

          • Muammert
            June 1, 2013 at

            I sure hope you honestly do not beevile that the mayor cast the 10 votes that were for, do you? The mayor has just as many votes as Sloan, Iverson or Diotte each have which is one!

          • enicmqp
            June 1, 2013 at

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