Tuesday, September 02, 2008

 

Starting Point

It's September, so I suppose I can start thinking about how the NHL season is going to go. As I wrote before last season, pretty much everyone uses the same basic method for team predictions:
  1. Take last year's results
  2. Make adjustments for things that happened last season that seem unlikely to repeat
  3. Make adjustments for roster additions, deletions, young guys getting better, and old guys getting worse
That said, (2) is typically glossed over relative to (3). You see a bit of accounting for it, but not too much: Washington was a lot better after they changed coaches/found Jesus/whatever; Chicago would have been better if Havlat had been healthy; not even in his dreams will Ty Conklin ever put up another .923SV%; etc.

However, there are certain things that, while they may prove to be repeatable/predictable to some extent, have not been shown so far as being repeatable or predictable. Including:
As I say, a few years down the road, the large sample of results may show some patterns; they just haven't yet. Very good and very bad teams should play OT less often, I'd think. Teams who play a tighter game with fewer goals scored and allowed should play OT more often. There are surely goalies who are better at the shootout than others; likewise skaters.

But even insofar as these patterns are detected, I feel safe in saying that the implications will be marginal, rather than massive. For example, Bobby Holik and Rod Brind'Amour have shown over many, many years that they are excellent faceoff men; two of the best in the league. Their success rate is about 58%. Once we have enough seasons in the books, it seems reasonable to me that the excellent shootout goalies win at about the same rate. Or to come at it from the other angle, I think it's nearly unimaginable that we'll ever be talking about a goalie who reliably wins 70%, 75%, 80% of their shootouts.

All this, of course, is by way of leading into a table. Here is the actual NW Division standings from last season, and below that, the adjusted standings had each team been in an average number of OT/SO games (18) and won them an average number of times (50%).


The point here is not to retroactively announce that the Oilers had a crappy 2007/2008 season; it's to crystallize how far they have to go if they can't rely on playing a league-leading 25 3-point games (which they probably can't) and winning a league-leading 76% of them (which they probably can't). That is a 20-point difference between Calgary and Edmonton.

Maybe the Oilers young guys will all continue to improve, rather than running in place or backsliding; maybe they'll stay relatively healthy all season; maybe Kipper will be as bad or worse this season; maybe Phaneuf and Boyd won't improve at all; maybe Todd Bertuzzi will be a cancer on the entire Flames squad and organization. These are all things to be discussed, at length no doubt, over the next 4-5 weeks. But 20 points is a big gap to make up, and yes, I'll say it: it ain't gonna happen.

Comments:

I concur. As much as everyone thinks the Oil have improved and the Flames haven't (or possibly regressed), that is a big gap to make up, and I'd be surprised if it happened in 1 year.
 


Alex Tanguay and Erik Cole are both going to help a ton ;)
 


Reasonable points. Allow me to offer some reasons I'm not too terribly worried about it.

1. I believe Garon is legitimately a good shootout goalie. Given the ridiculous number of shootouts he faced, the sample size is large enough to suggest he's at least better than average, plus some of the right-handed left-handed shootout numbers MC put up a while back lend some theoretical logic to it.

2. The Oilers large volume of shootout/OT games, at least by memory, seems to be a product of a complete inability to protect a one-goal lead at the end of the third. If we grant that the Oilers are a better team this year than last year, then the tendency is to expect the OT games to go down, but the real wins to come largely out of that pool, either because the team is capable of adding another goal or two, or protecting the lead (or not seeing what happens when you send the kids out for that own-zone faceoff with 30 seconds left, as I distinctly recall leading to at least one OT game last season). This leads me to believe that the increase in regulation time outcomes will slide at least a little to the good, rather than a little to the bad as you've done here.

Clearly, the concerns are legitimate, and the difference between the two teams at the end of last season was certainly greater than the points column indicated. Despite that, I don't think just calling things a coin flip and seeing what things would look like if they were even paints an accurate picture either.
 


Pfffff.
 


The Oilers large volume of shootout/OT games, at least by memory, seems to be a product of a complete inability to protect a one-goal lead at the end of the third.

Gotta be careful with the memory. I recall Stoll scoring two of his very few goals in the last two minutes of the 3rd to tie it up with Florida.

Pfffff

Careful to pace yourself, buddy -- you don't want to come back too fast.
 


Ironically, you covered #2 at the expense of #3. You forgot to mention the gaping hole that Alex Tanguay leaves in the Flames' lineup. Even considering his off-year (used in an ill-suited role in which he was unhappy), that's gonna knock a few points off the Flames' final standing unless Curtis Glencross and Rene Bourque can take up the slack, which seems somehow unlikely. You also forget to note all the additions the Oilers make, and while I don't reasonably expect you to account for them all (you're a blogger for The Enemy, after all), you have to admit that at least on paper, this is a better team than last year's, particularly if healthy. The question is whether it was enough. You clearly don't, but I do, though I guess we're both biased.

Gotta be careful with the memory. I recall Stoll scoring two of his very few goals in the last two minutes of the 3rd to tie it up with Florida.

Perfectly true. Since Vic or Tyler already has all the game summaries in some spreadsheet somewhere, I'm curious how many of those games saw the Oilers tie the score and how many saw them give up the tying goal, and how many times either event happened in the last five of the third.

I don't think just calling things a coin flip and seeing what things would look like if they were even paints an accurate picture either.

I agree. It seems a bit disingenuous to say "we don't know what the effect is," then assume it doesn't exist as a way of accounting for it. There is an effect, even if the sample size makes it hard to quantify and/or predict. Furthermore, you can't simply divorce the teams' seasons from their shootout results. If the Oilers and Flames were both average shootout teams, playing an average number of shootouts with average results, their seasons would have played out differently, beyond the simple shuffling of numbers. It affects streaks, slumps, late-game coaching decisions, and maybe even roster moves. Do the Oilers make that late-season run of RWs if they don't have dozen SOWs in the bank by February? I'm gonna say no.
 


2. The Oilers large volume of shootout/OT games, at least by memory, seems to be a product of a complete inability to protect a one-goal lead at the end of the third.

Good memory. Last season the Oilers played in 25 OT games, winning 19 (76%). Of those 25 OT games, they blew the lead 15 times (60%), with one of the OT games coming at the end of a 0-0 tie with Vancouver.

In the last 10 seconds of the third, the Oilers had 3 blown leads, and no comebacks to their credit.

So yes, the Oilers were a bit lucky in OT, but they were a bit unlucky to have some of those games go to OT.

So, if you adjust the number of OT games down from 25 to 18, they'd only lose about 36% of 7 points = 2.5. If you assume they are an above average OT/SO team (say 60% instead of 76%), they'd lose another 2.9 points.

Add it up, and the Oilers got 6 extra points due to luck in OT/SO, not 11. All of sudden a quarter of your 20 point lead is gone, and we haven't even explored the possibility that the Kipper is indeed garbage in the SO or that Cammallerri is vastly inferior to Tanguay at even strength.

Nervous yet Matt?
 


Wait, I missed the part where the Flames were even average to begin with when it comes to extra time?

Last season the Flames had a career year in OT/SO winning 37.5% of the time. That certainly beats winning only 33% of the time in 06/07 and an astonishingly bad 27% of the time in 05/06.

And really you're just fooling yourself with the whole 20 point gap thing. Both teams start the season at 0. Don't be surprised when you find your team beneath us in the standings come April.
 


Increase the number of GP by Garon and decrease the number of GP by Roloson and you have your twenty pts. The coaching staff wasn't about to turncoat on Roli last year after a couple of good games by Garon. This year we go into the season with him as our number 1 guy. If his stats stay close to last year the differential is already made up. Granted Kipper has been melting since he left San Jose so i guess you can never tell.
 


Lots of good stuff, by which of course I mean straw-grasping and wishful thinking.

Oilers finished 21st last season in "Win% when Leading after 2", which is right about where you'd expect them to be based on the Standings. There are years of data showing that being unable to defend a lead (as well a losing close games) goes hand in hand with being BAD, not unlucky.

As for Garon playing more being worth an additional 20 points -- HAHAHAHAHA. You guys should be hoping that he maintains as an above average goalie, and be satisfied if he does. Or maybe he'll win 75% of his shootouts AND stop letting in those crap goals from sharp angles!
 



Pfffff

Careful to pace yourself, buddy -- you don't want to come back too fast.


Agreed. Nothing worse than spraining something trying to dunk during the warmup for a preseason game.
 


Oilers finished 21st last season in "Win% when Leading after 2", which is right about where you'd expect them to be based on the Standings. There are years of data showing that being unable to defend a lead (as well a losing close games) goes hand in hand with being BAD, not unlucky.

Well, I for one, didn't suggest otherwise. If anything, I suggested that would be an area of improvement to watch for. If they're 21st again next season, well yeah, they're fucked. I don't think they'll be 21st again next year.
 


And you still haven't addressed most of the roster moves by the two teams in this analysis; I assume that's destined for a future post?
 


Posts, plural, shurely.
 


The Oilers are plainly not going to be able to count on all of those shoot-out points, but I am not sure that the Flames can expect to do any better, either. After 3 years of shoot-outs, the sample size is not that small anymore and we have seen, over three years, that some teams are consistently good in shoot-outs (Dallas, Edmonton) and some teams are consistently bad (Calgary, sadly). I expect the Flames will continue to be a below average shoot-out team and leave points on the table they shouldn't and the Oilers will be better than average and collect some points they maybe shouldn't.

The unlikelihood of the Oilers playing in (and winning) so many shoot-out games does give the Flames a double benefit ... since most of their games were against the NW conference, the Oilers gave the Canucks, Avalanche and Wild a bunch of cheap third points they won't get this year.

Go Flames.
 


some teams are consistently good in shoot-outs (Dallas, Edmonton)

IIRC, the Oilers were only good in the SO last year which was due to the goaltending. I guess I'm more comfortable betting on them to be good again if it's goaltending that made them good at first, but still, it's not like everyone on the team was good at it.
 


So is that what makes Flames fans feel better about themselves? Trying in some inane way to put their team up by twenty points before the season even starts? Let's try to factor in anything that knocks the Oilers down but not bring up how the flames are down. Let's not mention that the chance the Flames pull off another 6 game road sweep is some time between now and never. Let's not mention that your second most productive player over the last two plus seasons is gone in Huselius. Let's not mention that 1/3 of Glencross' goals came against Kipprusoff this year so how do you expect him to match last years numbers without facing Kipper even once. Finally, let's not mention that for two years running the flames have backed into the playoffs on points gained in ot/so losses. Edmonton may not win 75% of their extra time games this year and 50% should be a fair assesment but giving Calgary a 50% when they have proven they are abysmal after 60 minutes for the past few years is padding the stats where you want them padded. I mean a 2-2-2 record on the same road trip this year that they swept last year already eats up a third of their points cushion they have on Edmonton.

One last point..how a can you list a team like Calgary who has transgressed for the last three years, consistently, to all of a sudden jump in points in the standing down two of their previous top four scorers over the past couple of seasons.

That is what is so messed about stats. They allow a more in depth look at the game but they also allow anyone to skew the facts in such a way that it somehow supports their lame point of view.

I guess we just need to get you to look at the whole league with your little calculator as by this the Oilers might as well give up now because there is now way they can improve upon last season with a better lineup while the flames are destined to improve with a lesser lineup. lmao.

Let's go Oilers!!!
 


Matt, my point wasn't that the Oilers were unlucky to blow those leads. There was nothing surprising about their inability to hold a lead, given all the youth, injuries to players who were often relied on for these things, and all sorts of adventures in defence. My point was just that evening out the numbers doesn't account for how the numbers ended up that way.

I guess, more than anything else, I question the value of projecting the numbers this way, regardless of the conclusions. There just seem to be too many confounding factors. I have no problem with the idea that Edmonton is very unlikely to end up with that many OT games and SO wins again, it just doesn't seem to make much sense to me to just zero out any repeatable effects that might be there.
 


Haha. Yeah, nice post. That's like telling the Detroit Red Wings they're not as good as everyone thinks because they have a really good winning percentage when leading after 3 periods.
A win is a win. Period. Deal with it.
 


I love this stuff, I really do.

I really think that Matt knows his beloved shames are in a dogfight to make the playoffs this year, and like a good coach is trying to deflect the attention to someone else.


I guess it comes down to this.

The Oilers are in the middle of a rebuild and anything more than just making the dance is a bonus.

Where as the shames are nearing the end of jarmoe's peak years, and have jack to show for it. If they dont make any noise soon it will be all for not.

The Oil have a few years on their side, shames not so much.
 


As to Oilers games that they went to OT/SO where they blew leads with less than three minutes remaining:

@COL: Sakic scores with 6 seconds left. (Although Gagner had scored with just under three minutes to go to give the Oilers the lead.) Avs win the SO.

@CBJ: Fritsche scores with one second left. EDM wins in OT.

vs CBJ: Tarnstrom scores with under three minutes to play. EDM wins in SO.

vs. NYR: Drury ties it with seven seconds left and the Oilers win the SO.

vs. VAN: Ohlund scores with 1:22 left and the Oilers win the SO.

@ DET: Zetterberg scores with 2:40 left and the Oilers win the SO.

@ LA: Nagy scores with 1:28 left and the Oilers win the SO.

vs. SJ: Thornton scores a PP goal with 11 seconds left and the Oilers win the SO.

As Fenwick noted, there were some going the other way too. These ones stand out:

vs DET: Pisani scores on the PP with 29 seconds to go after DET took the lead with 2:16 to go. (Pisani has had some ridiculous goals against DET to force OT. Anyone else remember the SH goal on HNIC to send a game to OT? It was the game where Chelios scored after catching his hand in his sweater taking the shot.)

@FLA: Stoll scores a pair in the final 1:23 and the Oilers win the SO.

@ ANA: Cogliano scores a shorty with 1:27 remaining and the Oilers win the SO.

I'd be willing to bet that the two least likely comebacks were actually the Oilers comebacks against ANA and FLA.

So that's 8 late blown leads against 3 late comebacks to force OT. 5 points although, as I said above, as long as we're talking bad luck, let's talk about the Oilers comebacks too. Now, I tend to think that the reason that the Oilers allowed so many late goals is because they weren't particularly good at preventing goals. To be perfectly honest, I don't see the goals scored more than 1:30 before the end of the game as being particularly noteworthy because teams aren't into their end of game defence yet, in terms of who's out there. The bench might be a little shorter but virtually every coach in the league will see at least three of his lines touch the ice in the last three minutes.

All said, I tend to agree with Matt. Maybe we should really be thinking of it as 17 points or 15 points but it's still a hell of a long road that the Oilers have to travel to equal the Flames.

Maybe I just hate the Oilers too.
 


Iginla figures to be an excellent player (if not a Hart nominee) for quite a while, and I suppose I might as well point out that right now, he's a buttload better than anyone wearing an oil drop. And in case no one but Tyler has noticed, all of the shit contracts on the books are done at the end of this season (pending a bounceback season from 34).

Guess what? Long-term rebuilds fail a lot more often than they succeed. Edmonton has a long way to go, and there's no guarantee whatsoever that they'll make it even partway there.

The list of NW Division teams who have made the playoffs every season since the lockout is (count it) one name long; for any fan of one of the other four to scoff at that team is rather amusing.

Are the Oilers going to exceed 77 points this year, OT/SO gods or not? Almost definitely. But as I thought I made abundantly clear in the original post, there is "improving", and there is getting into a playoff spot, and there is a lot of ground between those two things.
 


.....Or you could just say that if the Oilers stay as heathly this year as the shames did last year.

And the Shames hit the injury bug this year like the Oil did last year, that 20* points is made up in a real hurry with out any of the SO & OT talk.

Lets just say its all candy and nuts, if's and buts for now. And we try and pretend that with a fancy pie chart we are going to predict what the 2 teams will do is absured.

Nobody had the Habs 1st in the east this time last year. And if I remember correctly, the Shames at this time last year were looked upon as Cup contenders *snicker, snicker* and we all know now what that looked like.
 


Thanks for doing the legwork MC. I agree that the last 1:30 or so is the really relevant stuff. Knock out the two PPs too, call it 5-2. Matt wiped out 7 OT games normalizing things, so if we split them off the same way, the Oilers would be at 16 points shy. Give them a little credit for being legitimately good at the shootout, say 11-7 or so and that's 14. Knock the Flames down one shootout win because they're historically bad at it and say lucky 13.

Now, does doing that mean anything? Hell no. It's a pretty arbitrary exercise. I also don't disagree that there was a significant distance between these teams last year, which I suppose is the real point. I just don't really think rolling back all the shootout points is a great way of illustrating it, although I suppose it's more interesting than just posting the GF-GA numbers for the two last year.
 


I love this stuff, I really do.

I really think that Matt knows his beloved shames are in a dogfight to make the playoffs this year, and like a good coach is trying to deflect the attention to someone else.


The Oilers are in the middle of a rebuild and anything more than just making the dance is a bonus.

Reggie, talk about lowered expectations. Rebuilding from what, exactly? I think to rebuild, a team has to be good, then get old and round out of picks, and then start over. The oilers, aside from fortuitous run to the finals, haven't been particularly good for quite a long time.
 


tuco, not quite sure what your getting at.

All I was saying is after CFP and deciding to let Smyth go, the oilers decided to go young and take the mistakes that go with a youth movement. Which inturn will lead to lower expectations for the short term.

As a shames fan you should be well aware of lowered expectations and be prepared to live with them for a while. With sutter and his drafting record, there is no help coming up in cowtown.

The cupboard is bare.
 


Maybe I just hate the Oilers too.

Ditto, because I agree with much in this post.
 


Maybe I just hate the Oilers too.

Well, no. This looks at last year and makes one specific change in a vacuum. The Oilers might have 13 or 15 or 20 points (whatever) to make up on the Flames if the two teams took their April 2008 lineups into October, and if both those teams were "average shootout teams," but they aren't, on either count. Plus, as stated before, there's still everything else to consider before we start spouting magic numbers and shit like that.

We're drawing conclusions from an admittedly incomplete, and in my view flawed, analysis here. So the Oilers weren't that good last season. So they made a lot of hay from the shootout that they probably won't make this year. So what? We already fucking knew that. We worked this out back when it was actually happening, for Christ's sake. I'm not interested in the '08 Oilers and Flames; I'm interested in the '09 Oilers and Flames, and this isn't really telling me anything new about them.

The list of NW Division teams who have made the playoffs every season since the lockout is (count it) one name long; for any fan of one of the other four to scoff at that team is rather amusing.

Is it really? Again, look at your roster moves. Also, the Flames have sunk lower in the standings each season since the lockout (though, oddly enough, their GD was better in '07, when they barely made it, than in '06, when they won the division), as the depth has been weakened each successive year. You're hardly in a position to gloat here.
 


Now, I tend to think that the reason that the Oilers allowed so many late goals is because they weren't particularly good at preventing goals.

The Oilers were good enough last year to at least put them selves in position to blow leads.

Gaining extra points by winning in OT/SO after holding a late 3rd period lead is a whole different ball game then getting a whole bunch of Bettman points for losing in OT/SO after scoring on a hail mary with the goalie pulled.

My point was that if the Oilers end up playing less OT games next year, its likely because they blow fewer leads, which reduces OT/SO wins, but not at the expense of points in the standings.
 


Yeah Rick, if they play in 7 fewer OT games next year, I'm sure you can count on them being, like, 6-1 in them. OILERZZZ!!111!1!

Unfortunately, they actually won't be any further ahead, pointswise. 6-1 = 5-0-2. A few less singles for assorted opponents, that's it.
 


Unfortunately, they actually won't be any further ahead, pointswise. 6-1 = 5-0-2. A few less singles for assorted opponents, that's it.

In a roundabout way, it actually does put them a bit further ahead, simply by virtue of potential playoff-spot rivals having fewer points, but now I'm just being nitpicky.
 


The list of NW Division teams who have made the playoffs every season since the lockout is (count it) one name long

How long is the least of NW teams that have lost in the first round every season since the lockout?
 


Oh trust me, the Oilers were awful for stretches last season, but if you want to do some of the most beloved form of lying, stats crunching, crunch on this. The Oilers went something like 15-6-1 in the last quarter of the season. As the most recent sample from the team, it obviously must be even more accurate than the "what if" from the original post.

Now, take that 15-6-1 team, take away the error prone Stoll, Pitkanen and Greene, and add Souray, Moreau, Horcoff, Cole and Visnovsky, and you've got a team that should win at least three more games per 22 game stretch. Mathematically speaking, and due to the inarguable weight of statistics, the Oilers will have a record along the lines of 70-9-3 on their way to a 143 point season.

Boy, thank goodness we can rely on statistics for an accurate prediction of things to come!

Or we could just look at their respective line-ups, and realize that Edmonton has better forwards and defence than anyone else in the division, and goaltending that's actually trending towards better numbers, not worse.

And while I'm at it, Calgary is not going to make the playoffs. Columbus will sneak in before Calgary, with its weak goaltending and its lack of depth, gets in. Poorly built team. Anyone who's in Calgary should be readying their torches and pitchforks, because Sutter knows how to coach, but he sure doesn't know how to manage.
 


Now, take that 15-6-1 team, take away the error prone Stoll, Pitkanen and Greene, and add Souray, Moreau, Horcoff, Cole and Visnovsky, and you've got a team that should win at least three more games per 22 game stretch. Mathematically speaking, and due to the inarguable weight of statistics, the Oilers will have a record along the lines of 70-9-3 on their way to a 143 point season.

Hey, I'm all for calling people out on faulty methodology, but replying with more faulty methodology, even sarcastically, is just silly. That final 22-game stretch is no more indicative of what the 2009 Oilers will look like than the previous 60. Both tell us certain things about the team's level of ability, but I would be extremely careful in pointing to one or the other as The Real Oilers, particularly in extrapolating trends onto this season.
 


Yeah Rick, if they play in 7 fewer OT games next year, I'm sure you can count on them being, like, 6-1 in them. OILERZZZ!!111!1!

In the magical 'games that would have gone to OT last year that didn't this year', I would have predicted either 5-2 or 4-3. I also would have used fewer 1's and more !'s.

Hey, I'm all for calling people out on faulty methodology, but replying with more faulty methodology, even sarcastically, is just silly.

Sarcasm is never silly.
 


Sarcasm is never silly.

I guess what I meant to say is that it's easy to confuse for genuine silly, which is all that seems to get noticed in this thread.
 


WOOOOOOO GO SHARKS
 


Here is a list of all of the Flames players who were above zero at EV +/- during time when they WEREN'T playing with Iginla:

Tanguay +4
Nolan +3
Nilsson +1

That's it.

Methinks the Flames are an Iginla injury away from needing Kipper to be godlike, just to make the playoffs.

The Flames did have a goal differential of +2 last season, which is certainly better than the Oilers -16. But not 20 points better, even though I suspect the NHL has the shootout winners lumped in that total.

I also agree with Rick that the Oilers did sit back too much with the lead last season, starting far too early in the game with that cautious 'play to the score' mentality. And they weren't good at it.
 


Iginla figures to be an excellent player (if not a Hart nominee) for quite a while, and I suppose I might as well point out that right now, he's a buttload better than anyone wearing an oil drop. And in case no one but Tyler has noticed, all of the shit contracts on the books are done at the end of this season (pending a bounceback season from 34).

Two points:

1) Iginla is a hell of a player and head-and-shoulders above anyone else in the Northwest, with Luongo probably the next-best thing.

2) Sutter's still the GM, so the crap contracts will keep a-coming. And Kipper's far from a sure thing at this point.
 


Here is a list of all of the Flames players who were above zero at EV +/- during time when they WEREN'T playing with Iginla:

Tanguay +4
Nolan +3
Nilsson +1

That's it.


Vic you spoilsport.

Damn it. None of those guys are going to be Flames next year. At least we have Andre Roy I guess.
 


I also agree with Rick that the Oilers did sit back too much with the lead last season, starting far too early in the game with that cautious 'play to the score' mentality. And they weren't good at it.

This bugged the everloving shit out of me. It didn't seem to happen too often during the last quarter of the season; I'm not sure if that was a permanent change in coaching philosophy based on the talent available, or a temporary one based on the situation (i.e. "We're in 14th place anyway, so fuck it, let the kids have some fun.") Or if it even was coaching philosophy and not just players playing scared; playing not to lose is the surest way to do precisely that.
 


Doogie, my point still stands that if you take some stats, and mix it in with a whole bunch of assumptions, you can pretty much twist the predictions any way you want.

If you take all of the factors into account, here's what I come up with:

Factors that work in the Oilers favor:

1. They are a young team team that will, on the whole, likely improve upon their performance from the past season.

2. They have added impact players at both forward and defence.

3. There's depth at both forward and defence; they've got seven players in the mix for top six forwards, and two players on the outside looking in, Schremp and Brule, who have top six potential. On defence, it's not a stretch to imagine that between Chorney, Peckham and Wild, somebody will be prepared to step in and contribute in a depth role in case of injuries.

4. Ales Hemsky. Yes, he gets his own spot. He's that good, IMO, and he's ready to show it. Looked brilliant when he had a productive Penner and Horcoff on his line, something that we can expect more regularly.

5. A much improved powerplay. Last year, the Oilers were in the bottom third in powerplay numbers, though they were better in the latter half of the season. This year, there's simply a lot of weapons. Between Hemsky, Visnovsky, Souray, Gilbert, Gagner, Nilsson, Gagner, Penner, Cole and Grebeshkov, you've got two pretty dangerous looking units, and that still leaves out Cogliano or Pisani, both of whom are decent substitute options.

6. A much weaker division. For all the people that keep chanting that Calgary went "sideways", they may have gotten worse than anybody else. They gave up an important depth scorer in Huselius and got nothing, they dumped Tanguay and got Cammaleri, which treads water, and they added Bertuzzi. Pathetic. Vancouver isn't going to get Sundin, and their line-up looks like a shuffled version of the one they had last year. In other words, not good enough. Minnesota with less scoring... great. I think they're back to being the team they were in 2005-2006. Colorado is my pick to surprise, though; goaltending almost never works out the way you expect it to, and they only need Budaj, Raycroft or someone traded to them in order to challenge for the division. A weaker crop of opponents means more wins for the Oilers.

Things working against them:

1. They can't possibly win as many games in the shootouts as they did last year. Maybe they can win the same proportion, because they do have the goaltending and skill to do it, but no way a team that's going to play as much barn-burner hockey as this one is going to see a huge number of games go to SO. How many games will make it out of overtime? They won't get as many free points due to the shootout, but then again, they will get some, and as a silver lining, it also means fewer freebie points handed out to divisional and conference opponents.

2. Lack of veteran presence. There's no veteran center, no classic top pairing shutdown defender, and just a general lack of veterans throughout. It's going to cost them points here and there. One has to wonders if Pisani, Moreau, Staios, Souray and Strudwick will be enough to cover their entire team.

I can see this team not winning the division (if they lose, it will be to Colorado though, not to Calgary), but I can't see them missing the playoffs.
 


Agree with the last post except Calgary sucks.
 


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