Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lessons Learned from the 2003-2004 Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

The Edmonton Oilers highest scorer, Shawn Horcoff, is 47th in the league with 20 points (24 Games). Is it a problem that they don't have enough high end depth? Somewhat. In the sense a top scorers typically posts strong numbers on the PP, which in turn helps win hockey games. That being said, there are two examples in recent history that illustrate a club doesn't necessarily need a 80+ point player in order to win hockey games.

2003-2004 Edmonton Oilers


While they didn't qualify for the playoffs, which can mostly be attributed to the special teams, they won more hockey games than not. Despite the fact the PP (29th ranked in league) and PK (27th) were both among the bottom 5 in the league, the team ended up 7 games over .500, just 2 points out of 7th and 8th place in the Conference.

The key? Everybody contributing offensively while playing strong even-strength hockey. 14 players posted at least 20 points. The leading scorers were Ryan Smyth (59), Radek Dvorak (50), and Michael York (42). Only Ales Hemsky (-7), Eric Brewer (-6), Scott Fergueson (-5), Brad Isbister (-2) and Jason Chimera (-1) were on the wrong side of the ledger. On the good Side, Ulanov (+19), Dvorak & York (+18), Staios (+17), and Pisani (+14) among many others.

The team was 9th in GF (221), and 16th in GA (208)

The 2007-2008 team has only one thing in common with the 2003-2004 club - an inefficient powerplay (30th in league). While the PK is stronger (10th in league), EV play is a problem. 74 GA are a pitiful 29th in league rankings, most of them scored against at EV strength. Outscorers gone (or not playing this year due to injury) from the 2003-2004 club include Dvorak, Moreau, Pisani, Reasoner. The Oilers had a solid second line in Torres-York-Dvorak who simply put, took on the soft minutes and murdered opponents. Stoll isn't Mike York yet. And Dvorak never found his offensive touch again. On the back end, Staios was a better defenceman those days, as was Jason Smith. Cory Cross was effective as a bottom pairing, and seemed to have a career year. Igor Ulanov was a pleasant surprise, signed mid-season.

To be fair, that club was largely out of the playoff hunt until it's late surge in late February and March. They acquired Petr Nedved at the trade deadline who put up career-esque numbers clipping 15 points in 16 gaves. On the flip side, one can argue that a top scorer (i.e. One that posts results on the PP) like Nedved was proof enough that a top scorer is required to win hockey games, despite how good the team is on even-strength. The 2006-2007 Dallas Stars certainly seem to support that theory.

What we learned from the 2003-2004 club?

- Veteran hockey players are required to establish a strong 5-on-5 system

- Craig MacTavish is a good hockey coach, who currently can only do so much with the youngest team in the league that has 3 veteran hockey players (Souray, Pisani, Moreau) out with injuries much of the year.

- Perhaps the Oilers strong EV play made goaltenders Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkannen appear better than they actually were/are.

- If the Oilers had better goaltending from Tommy Salo (See Turco, Marty 2006-2007 Dallas Stars), the Oilers would have contended for the division

- PP and PK, like it or not, do matter. Perhaps even more so under the new NHL rules. That's why, when Ray "FUCKING" Whitney, who has over the course of his career demonstrated exceptional PP skills and results, publicly states he wants to play for the Oilers (and he went for only 1.5M), you don't pass up the opportunity. Carolina got a gem - one that certainly overperformed his contract and helped the Carolina Hurricanes win the 2006 Stanley Cup. Too bad, he could have been on our side.

- The West was certainly not as competitive as it is now. Going forward, you hope the NHL Western Conference doesn't imitate the NBA Western Conference of recent years

- The 2007-2008 Oilers squad lacks a 2nd line that can murder soft opponents, the way Torres-York-Dvorak did

- Future Oiler clubs, once the younger players gain experience, should attempt to imitate the 2003-2004 club's EV play, with more success on the PP. Perhaps Craig MacTavish is after all the right man to take them to the promised land.


Sean said...

Great post - I haven't critically reviewed your arguments, but they look solid. I feel like that team was more fun to watch too.

RiversQ said...

That 03/04 team was rock solid at ES. They had a damn good shooting percentage behind them too IIRC, but the fact remains...

They finished +27 at 5V5. Isbister was actually +1 at 5V5 too. Brewer had the toughest ice on the team according to Vic's numbers and posted a -14 at 5V5 according to my count.