Ten Points: Oilers on the up-swing

Jonathan Willis
August 03 2012 11:42AM

Looking at the Oilers’ year-over-year improvements from 2010-11, the various predictions for Jordan Eberle’s point totals, the benefits of another season in Sweden for Oscar Klefbom (should that happen) and the proper ways to use and defend against offer sheets.

1. The Oilers improvements at even-strength. In 2010-11, the Edmonton Oilers scored 132 even-strength goals. In 2011-12, they scored 142. They also slashed goals-against, going from 174 in 2010-11 to 162 in 2011-12. Put it all together, and the team’s goal differential at evens went from minus-42 to minus-18. That’s an incredible improvement, and the single-biggest reason for optimism about next year’s team. It’s also a number I’ll be digging into in the days ahead, to see where the improvement came from – a big chunk of it is undoubtedly the Hall/Eberle/Nugent-Hopkins trio, but I’d be surprised if that’s the only difference.

2. The Oilers improvements on the power play. For all the attention the power play got last year, it really didn’t drive the Oilers’ goal differential improvement. In 2010-11 the unit was plus-42; in 2011-12 it finished the year plus-47. How is that possible, given that the unit jumped from 27th in the league to third in the league in total percentage? Two reasons: first, there were fewer penalties called in 2011-12, meaning that the Oilers got 42 fewer power play opportunities year-over-year, and second the team allowed seven short-handed goals after allowing only two the season before. The fact that the Oilers’ improvement didn’t rely on the power play is actually a good thing, though – because there’s strong reason to believe that the unit will be worse next year.

3. The Oilers improvement on the penalty kill. This is the area, other than even-strength, where the Oilers made huge strides. After going +8/-74 in 2010-11, the Oilers’ kill went +4/-51 in 2011-12 – leading to an improvement of 19 goals. Some of that was because they were short-handed 25 fewer times (mostly due to the drop in calls – the Oilers were still one of the least disciplined teams in the league, finishing with the fifth-highest number of penalty kills in the NHL in 2011-12), but the big improvement was a 5.4% jump in penalty-killing efficiency, leading to 5 less goals for every 100 times short-handed. With new veterans like Eric Belanger and Ryan Smyth back on the unit next year, as well as with Nikolai Khabibulin relegated to the backup role, there’s no reason this can’t continue.

4. The “gap” in Jordan Eberle predictions. For all of the debate over Jordan Eberle in the past few days, the actual gap in terms of predicted offense between the optimists and pessimists is pretty minute. Robin Brownlee has Eberle slated for 67 points, David Staples figures 68 and at the other end of the scale Tyler Dellow’s most recent piece has it looking like Eberle will pick up 60 points. If I had to pick a number it would probably be 62 – as I like Tyler’s method but have some quibbles that push the total a tiny bit higher (Note: Lowetide’s “Reasonable Expectations” piece had Eberle pegged for 55 points, but as he’s taken pains to explain it wasn’t a prediction so much as it was a line in the sand). Now, maybe that eight point gap between the high and low ends of those predictions means we should launch holy war, but somehow I doubt it.

5. Oscar Klefbom in Sweden. At this point it isn’t 100% clear where Oscar Klefbom is going to play in the fall, but the smart money seems to be on another year in Farjestads, where he’ll play a feature role. As interesting as it would be to see him in North America this year, I think this is a good thing overall. Klefbom just turned 19 – there’s no harm in letting him continue to develop at home for another year, rather than throwing him to the wolves in the NHL (which, given the Oilers' track record developing highly-touted prospects, would almost certainly happen). The Oilers did that with Smid (who was older but clearly could have used a little more minor-league seasoning) and it didn’t speed up his development any. Two other benefits: Klefbom will likely get more offensive minutes this year in Sweden, and his entry-level deal will slide, meaning that instead of his contract expiring in 2015, it will expire in 2016 instead.

6. Selling players as a group in Colorado. An idea that has been floated more than a few times is that the Oilers should try and sell their young players on the virtues of keeping the band together. It’s what Pierre Lacroix did in Colorado after winning the Stanley Cup in 2001 – he brought all the key UFA pieces together (Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Rob Blake) as well as Peter Forsberg into the Avalanche dressing room, which he’d had left in the same shape as it was when they’d won it all, and basically told the entire group what he’d be offering each individual. There was a lot of hardware between that trio – Roy had won the Conn Smythe, Sakic the Hart Trophy, and Blake was only a few years removed from winning the Norris. All three signed, for lots of money but less than they could have got on the open market, but it didn’t happen right away – it took a few weeks before terms were agreed on with all parties.

7. What I like about hockey. I occasionally get asked to expand upon what I like about hockey, since I approach it in such a dry, bookish fashion. I don’t usually spend much time on it, because it isn’t interesting: I like the same things about hockey that everybody else does. I got into the game back in 1993’s Western Conference finals between L.A. and Toronto. My mom, as a Gretzky diehard, was cheering for the Kings while my dad preferred the Leafs; given that I was seven it’s probably not surprising that I picked the Kings because Kelly Hrudey had an awesome red bandana. I’m a fan-boy at heart – I lived and breathed the 2006 Run, and have never lost the soft spot I had for all the guys involved. First on that list, by the way, was Steve Staios – who blocked a shot with his face and then got trapped on the ice, trying to hold off the opposition while clearly in a daze until the Oilers finally cleared the zone. But as a writer, it doesn’t matter: when analyzing and projecting, personal attachment to players and teams gets in the way of clearheaded analysis. I know some fans prefer a rose-coloured glasses look, but it bothers me to read them and I try not to write them.

8. Page-view sluts. It’s been suggested, more than a few times, that some guys write articles specifically to get page-views. In a way, that’s true – this is my job, and the only reason the sites I write for can pay me is because people are reading what I’m writing. So, I do things to maximize page-views – I try to write on things people are interested in, promote articles via social media, and link back to older pieces. But I also write honestly: I don’t exaggerate my opinion to get hits, and I’m not one of those anonymous frauds that make up trade rumours. There’s good money to be made in both fields, as Eklund and HockeyyInsiderr and a bunch of others are showing (and if you do it long enough the best end up with a form of credibility, as Eklund’s cameo on Sportsnet and press pass demonstrate) – because some people just like to be entertained and others are gullible – but I couldn’t do that sort of thing without losing respect for myself. Everybody has their own line, mine’s honesty.

9. The offer sheet. I thought Philadelphia’s offer sheet to Shea Weber was a brilliant play on their part – even though it didn’t work out in the end – but I’d have been aghast had the Oilers tried it. Why? Because in the last five years the Flyers have five playoff appearances; the Oilers have none. It’s a weapon that works best when wielded by a team that’s already highly successful, and a weapon that the Oilers might be able to use once they’ve hit their peak. Right now, though, there’s a pretty decent chance that Edmonton misses the playoffs next year, and it’s far from an impossibility that they end up with another lottery pick.

10. Signing key RFA’s early. One of the bonuses to getting contract extensions worked out with key pieces early on is that it limits the ability of other teams to hamstring via offer sheet. It’s something the Oilers will be vulnerable to in the coming years if they aren’t careful; Hall and Eberle have expiring contracts in 2013 (at the same time that Ladislav Smid turns UFA), and then the trio of Nugent-Hopkins, Petry and Justin Schultz all expire in 2014 (the same time Nick Schultz turns UFA). Getting extensions done early will keep teams from trying to poach.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#51 Aron
August 03 2012, 06:55PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

I predict Eberle will blow a shoulder and play with it injured just long enough to weaken it for life and he will never again break 45 points.

Dude shut up.

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#52 DonDon
August 03 2012, 07:40PM
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Jonathon

Do you not agree that statistics are interesting while points count in the win column?

By interesting, I believe statistics can provide valuable insight into hockey performances and are markers. To disregard statistics is folly. The sport that makes the best use of stats is baseball, next is football. These are start and stop sports, while hockey flows.

As to Oilers on the up-swing, going into training camp the roster isn't much different from last season's final roster. Where is the up-tick? Other than Yakupov and Schultz, both promising rookies, there isn't any apparent improvement. We can expect the young guns will be better while the vets' performances will continue to slide (one year older, slower, prone to injury). ST hasn't been able to make a trade that would improve the roster's makeup and some of the vets will take slots away from promising prospects. Unless there is a major shakeup in the roster, the Oilers promise to be another lottery team. Maybe that is the strategy going forward.

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#53 Don W
August 04 2012, 12:09AM
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Imagine if the Sabres didn't match the Vanek offer. that would have sucked.

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#54 sizedoesmatter
August 04 2012, 05:42AM
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I do look forward to your articles,and with the stats you seem to be able to put things in perspective.I do believe when you compare our top six to the rest in the western conferance it would be unlikely to be a lottery team players like Taylor Hall would get p**sed off.look for the Oilers to challenge for the playoffs.the core is getting more mature and the vets have to contribute more.

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#55 K_Mart
August 04 2012, 07:06AM
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While I'm not expecting a playoff birth this season, my biased views on the oilers' offensive potential have reached a new low (or high, depending on how you look at it). Having the first overall pick in my hockey pool has completely screwed me since we are now doing a snake draft and the last pick gets 2 in a row. I took RNH FIST overall for fear of all the Oilers' big guns going in the first thirty picks. I realize that it is likely RNH will only get 50-60 pts but having a top Oiler in my hockey pool just makes the whole season that much more exciting.

After 6 seasons, my patience has run out. I need the oilers to become outliers this season and make the playoffs. I know it is a long shot but unlike most leafs fans, I don't think I have it in me to go 3000 days without a playoff birth. Thankfully the players sound like they expect to make the playoffs as well. Even though the odds are very slim, I'm glad they are able to set aside reason and play with the mindset required to win a cup. I'd like to think that their goal is to win the cup. That's why they are playing. You play to win. So why tell ppl you are hoping to have meaningful games in March. How about , "We are hoping to have meaningful games in may".

I'm not betting the farm that they finish better than 12th but that doesn't mean THEY should expect the same. Id like to hear an Oiler just say "The plan/goal is to win every game and bring the cup home to Edmonton. That will be my goal every year until I retire. That is why I play.". Obviously it can be dangerous to look too far ahead and the prep going on right now is for training camp, but I'm sure you get what I'm saying.

Let's see if this team is Gangster Enough this year. If RNH gets run from behind, Id like both Hall and Ebs to go gangster on the culprit. Screw ethics and a fair fight, if Hordi and Pecks are on the bench then just let Beauchemin know that he will have four fists flying at him. Maybe we will even get a bench brawl. I think Hall's ankle injury was a fluke and don't consider his previous fight to be a good reason not to defend his teammates. I'm fired up(as Gregor would say) and I've decided to check reason at the door. If our stars get run this year without risk of real punishment, I will lose some hope for this team in the future.

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#56 K_Mart
August 04 2012, 07:17AM
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DonDon wrote:

Jonathon

Do you not agree that statistics are interesting while points count in the win column?

By interesting, I believe statistics can provide valuable insight into hockey performances and are markers. To disregard statistics is folly. The sport that makes the best use of stats is baseball, next is football. These are start and stop sports, while hockey flows.

As to Oilers on the up-swing, going into training camp the roster isn't much different from last season's final roster. Where is the up-tick? Other than Yakupov and Schultz, both promising rookies, there isn't any apparent improvement. We can expect the young guns will be better while the vets' performances will continue to slide (one year older, slower, prone to injury). ST hasn't been able to make a trade that would improve the roster's makeup and some of the vets will take slots away from promising prospects. Unless there is a major shakeup in the roster, the Oilers promise to be another lottery team. Maybe that is the strategy going forward.

Id argue that the Gilbert trade will help us more than you are aware. Gilbert's inability on the breakout was getting worse every year so to remove him and bring in N.Schultz should result in a few more wins alone.

Our PP should still be 10th or better and I hope gags and Nuge improve enough on the draw so that we don't always see Belanger and horcs out there. Dubnyk playing 55+ games is also a fairly big change as well. There's no guarantee that will happen, but id lime to think the odds are in Dubbys favor. Also, it is a contract year for Khabbi... take a look at his stats for his last 3 contract years. I get that it shouldn't matter, but for some players it just does.

Whitney will be a much better player than he was last year as well. I also wouldn't expect another dreadful year from Hemmer.

With Schultz, Schultz, and Yakupov added. We are 5 wins better minimum.

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#57 TigerUnderGlass
August 04 2012, 12:07PM
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Aron wrote:

Dude shut up.

It just keeps getting better.

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#58 OutDoorRink
August 04 2012, 03:54PM
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Everyone can agree that it's going to take some astute moves by management to steer the ship in the next few years, but the Oilers are in a position of strength with all of the skill and depth that we've aquired. Heck, Nail hasn't even played a game for us yet.

Our D can only get better.

Time to find out if Dubey is a No.1 goalie.

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#59 Wäx Män Riley
August 04 2012, 04:31PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

It just keeps getting better.

YOU'RE OUT OF YOUR ELEMENT, DONNIE!!

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#60 Locksmithluke
August 05 2012, 10:43AM
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Eastern Oil wrote:

JW, if you're a page-view slut (and I say this with tongue-in-cheek and with all due respect) what does that make my thrice daily checks on Oilers Nation in the hopes of a new article?

Being an Oilers fan from southwestern Ontario I have to say that your articles (along with others from the great sites) are a breath of fresh, non-Leaf tainted, air. Well written and supported, keep up the great work.

Well spoken... My sentiments exactly, coming from an Oil fanatic "fanboy" it's nice to read these articles, and bring me back to earth! Cheers!

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