Tracking Ladi I

Early days, but check out these numbers from Behind the Net:

GA ON/60
1.53 Ladislav Smid (3 GP)
1.55 Jason Strudwick (7)
1.72 Steve Staios (5)
1.91 Lubomir Visnovsky (7)
1.98 Sheldon Souray (6)
2.64 Denis Grebeshkov (7)
2.68 Tom Gilbert (7)

+0.43 Smid
+0.21 Strudwick
+0.12 Visnovsky
+0.08 Staios
+0.06 Souray
+0.05 Gilbert
+0.00 Grebeshkov

-0.24 Souray
-0.10 Smid
-0.10 Grebeshkov
+0.02 Staios
+0.16 Visnovsky
+0.20 Gilbert
+0.37 Strudwick

... with the last listed in inverse order so that the "right" guys with the toughest assignments are at the top of the list. In about 40 minutes total TOI, Smid ranks first, first and second, which certainly supports my unscientific observation that he played damn well in those games.

Tonight Ladi draws in if Strudwick is unable to go. To me it's a no-brainer, give Struds a chance to rest and recover, he's never going to play 82 games anyway. Smid plays a similar stay-at-home game, he's not banged up and surely he's chomping at the bit to play. Based on his early returns, there's no reason to hesitate getting Ladi right back in the line-up.

Swing and a miss

Here's been the schedule over recent and coming evenings:

Wednesday: World Series Game 1, Oilers at Hawks, Bruce busy.

Thursday: World Series Game 2, Oilers at Colorado, Bruce busy.

Friday: World Series travel day, Oilers travel day, Bruce night off with bugger-all to do.

Saturday: World Series Game 3, Oilers at Vancouver, Bruce busy.

Sunday: World Series Game 4, Bruce busy.

Monday: World Series Game 5, Bruins at Oilers, Bruce busy.

Tuesday: World series travel day (or over), Oilers travel day, Bruce night off with bugger-all to do.

I guess the "good" news is I didn't have to watch the Oilers getting smoked by three, three times in a row. But it's aggravating to put it mildly. I've seen about three innings of the Series so far, and might catch the first inning again tonight; it's by far the least Series action I've seen since first watching the Dodgers sweep the Yankees back in 1963. I'm a National League guy but am hopeful the Rays can pull one off tonight and extend the Series; I might actually get to watch Game 6. Then of course on Thursday (World Series Game 7 if necessary, Oilers at Nashville), I'm busy.



A milestone for a personal favourite

The featured photo at the centre of this montage shows Zack Stortini in the act of scoring his first NHL goal, against Roberto Luongo of tonight's opponent Vancouver Canucks (celebration at lower right). Tonight Stortini will achieve a second career milestone against this hated divisional rival when he plays his one hundredth NHL game.

That is one hundred more games than we Oiler fans had any right to expect when the Oilers drafted this guy deep into the third round of the 2003 Entry Draft. Yet today Zack Stortini and Alexandre Picard become the first two players of the 33 picked in that round to reach the 100-game plateau.

Stortini had some positive vibes when he was picked. Hockey's Future noted the following: "Captain of the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL for the past two seasons. Named two years in a row as the team's Academic Player of the Year... Pledged to lead Sudbury to the postseason in 2003-04 and delivered, then guaranteed a win in round one and scored the game winning OT goal to complete that objective too." Hmmm, smart kid, leadership skills (two year captains are rare in junior), and by example too.

He also had size (6'4, 220 lbs.) and youth on his side. He barely qualified for the age cut-off; of the 105 players from that Entry Draft to play at least 1 NHL game to date, Zack is the youngest. To put it into an Oiler perspective, he's four months younger than fellow 2003 draftees Marc Pouliot and J.-F. Jacques, eight months younger than Robert Nilsson, a year younger than Ryan Potulny, 16 months younger than Kyle Brodziak, more than two full years younger than Mathieu Roy.

He also had a skating stride that might have been the most awkward seen in these parts since Wayne van Dorp briefly cast anchor. Never one to shy away from hard work, Zack has undertaken powerskating instruction under the watchful eye of Liane Davis and has gradually improved, summer by summer, winter by winter. He's still an awkward, below average skater, but he is gradually gaining speed and agility and now wins his share of races to shoot-ins. If he arrives second, that's not always a bad thing either.

Stortini made his debut with the Oilers as a very raw rookie in 2006-07. The highlight was a great game against the hated Canucks . That Zack likes to get in the faces of the Canucks can be seen in the pic at upper right; he has a personal high 6 fights against various members of the Canucks.

Thanks in part to a late-season injury bug, Stortini finished that 2006-07 season with 29 NHL GP before joining the Hamilton Bulldogs in the post-season and becoming the only non-Hab property to contribute to that Calder Cup championship club (see pic on upper left).

Zack continued to overachieve in 2007-08. After shuttling between the fourth line, the pressbox, and Springfield in the first part of the season, another injury bug together with his usual inspired play saw Zack play all but one game in the sceond half of the season, leading the team during that span with an impressive +10 rating (+19/-9). After limited minutes in a difficult first half, he responded to a well-defined role, contributing 8-12 minutes a night of solid 5v5 grinding. His defensive contribution was extraordinary, as he trailed just his linemate Curtis Glencross for the best GA ON/60 rating. Adopting a dual role as the team's primary agitator and its enforcer, Zack finished 2nd on the team with 99 hits despite being 20th in total ice time. He also finished second behind just Ales Hemsky in drawing penalties per unit ice time. Further, he led the club by a wide margin with 201 PiM including 23 fights, many of which were against true heavyweights like Derek Boogaard, George Parros, David Koci, Colton Orr, Darcy Hordichuk, Eric Godard, Raitis Ivanans, and Andrew Peters (pictured at lower left). A willing but awkward dance partner, Stortini's game (and mouth) is probably better suited to the agitator's role, but he will stand in there for his teammmates and against Anybody. Anybody who takes liberties with Ales Hemsky, be they Martin Lapointe, Robyn Regehr, or Derek Boogaard, could expect a visit or two from Zack Stortini.

In 2008-09 Oilers have finally acquired a true heavyweight in 6'6, 265 lb. Steve MacIntyre to relieve Stortini of that part of his job description. Zack has had some early struggles with greatly reduced ice time which has seen him stapled to the bench or press box. He seems to need regular, if limited, ice to be his most effective. While the team's toughness is maximized with both big fellas in the line-up, that represents new challenges to MacT. For Stortini's line to be effective, he has to be the least skilled player on it. That's no knock on Zack, but he's got to look after his own job and count on his linemates to be able to do likewise. He and Brodziak/Pouliot are nowhere near good enough to carry an anchor around with them, leaving MacT few options but to staple 1,2, or all 3 guys to the bench. A 3-pack of Zack, SMac and Brodziak would pack some whack but lack at the back and attack jack. :)

But while MacIntyre is a true enforcer in the "nuclear deterrent" sense, Stortini is far more versatile; he provides physical presence in 5v5 play than guys like Hemsky and Nilsson can provide in a month of double shifts. The fights spring out of that physical style, but I'm more interested in hits and grinding the boards and getting in the goalie's face and distracting the other team and drawing penalties. That's hockey, all of it is hockey, and it's every bit as integral to a good team as tallying up scoring chances, however you may define them. To have a good safe player who does all those things for 8 or 10 minutes a night is a huge asset. Especially one who just turned 23 and has done nothing but improve since the day he was drafted.


Projecting goalie performance

The road to the NHL is an arduous one, and all but the supremely gifted must spend time honing their craft in lower professional leagues. This is particularly true of goaltenders. The developing goalie of most interest for Oiler fans is currently Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers (pictured), who played his first NHL game on Friday night, beating the Flames 4-3 right in the Saddledome.

Towards the end of yet another lengthy thread over at
Lowetide, the discussion turned to NHL projections of goalies based on minor league performance. My No.1 fan Slipper posted a number of examples of goalies who had performed at a high level in the AHL before making the link. He concluded:

I really think some where in the range of .920 by the age of 23 seems like it could be the line … that deadline where a goaltender either gets it or not

I decided that rather than “typing guys in randomly over at hockey-reference.com” I would do a little more thorough study. Looking over a current list of NHL goaltenders I found about three dozen who had played at least 100 games in one of the high minor leagues (AHL and/or IHL). I might have missed one or two but I think I got most of them. I listed their career GP and Sv% in their primary minor league, their Sv% and age in their final minor league season of 20+ GP, and then their GP and Sv% in the NHL. It’s an interesting list:

(Note: Two guys played over 100 games in each high minor league so both lines are listed; a third, Kevin Weekes, clearly made a career leap in a briefer stop in the "I" which it would be disingenuous not to mention. Otherwise I made no attempt to blend in the occasional few extra games in the "other" league)

Goalie ********** Minor GP, Sv% (Last, Age)
/ NHL GP, Sv%

Craig Anderson ** AHL: 146, .914 (.919, 25)
/ 79, .904
J.-S. Aubin ***** AHL: 129, .907 (.899, 28)
/ 218, .900
Alex Auld ******* AHL: 150, .909 (.909, 24)
/ 141, .904
Martin Biron **** AHL: 103, .921 (.930, 21)
/ 381, .910
Ilya Bryzgalov ** AHL: 199, .913 (.902, 24)
/ 129, .914
Peter Budaj ***** AHL: 133, .917 (.919, 22)
/ 130, .901
Ty Conklin ****** AHL: 117, .914 (.914, 26)
/ 110, .909
Mark Denis ****** AHL: 131, .908 (.910, 30)
/ 348, .902
Jeff Deslauriers* AHL: 132, .906 (.912, 23)
/ 1, .897
Wade Dubielewicz* AHL: 164, .920 (.922, 29)
/ 37, .920
Dan Ellis ******* AHL: 140, .904 (.894, 26)
/ 51, .918
Manny Fernandez * IHL: 246, .909 (.916, 24)
/ 299, .912
Mathieu Garon *** AHL: 246, .915 (.927, 27)
/ 188, .906
J.-S. Giguere *** AHL: 134, .905 (.917, 23)
/ 416, .915
Josh Harding **** AHL: 118, .924 (.920, 22)
/ 39, .916
Johan Holmqvist * AHL: 193, .905 (.908, 25)
/ 99, .890
Brent Johnson *** AHL: 160, .903 (.911, 22)
/ 229, .902
Jason LaBarbera * AHL: 247, .928 (.933, 27)
/ 84, .902
Patrick Lalime ** IHL: 175, .899 (.900, 24)
/ 399, .905
Pascal Leclaire * AHL: 101, .909 (.915, 21)
/ 117, .910
Manny Legace **** AHL: 119, .906 (.897, 23)
***************** IHL: 116, .912 (.913, 26)
/ 312, .914
Michael Leighton* AHL: 266, .917 (.931, 26)
/ 52, .901
Chris Mason ***** IHL: 124, .910 (.917, 25)
***************** AHL: 146, .914 (.921, 26)
/ 136, .912
Ryan Miller ***** AHL: 172, .922 (.922, 24)
/ 208, .908
Antero Niittymaki AHL: 147, .918 (.924, 24)
/ 132, .899
Andrew Raycroft * AHL: 122, .911 (.917, 22)
/ 201, .900
Dwayne Roloson ** AHL: 179, .911 (.929, 31)
/ 399, .909
Curtis Sanford ** AHL: 156, .914 (.901, 25)
/ 91, .900
Mike Smith ****** AHL: 127, .914 (.917, 23)
/ 60, .908
Jose Theodore *** AHL: 110, .912 (.917, 22)
/ 447, .914
Mikael Tellqvist* AHL: 146, .914 (.921, 25)
/ 92, .895
Tim Thomas ****** AHL: 119, .922 (.923, 31)
/ 168, .914
Hannu Toivonen ** AHL: 128, .920 (.909, 22)
/ 61, .890
Vesa Toskala **** AHL: 156, .909 (.903, 25)
/ 185, .910
Marty Turco ***** IHL: 114, .918 (.916, 24)
/ 388, .912
Steve Valiquette* AHL: 197, .916 (.909, 29)
/ 27, .918
Kevin Weekes **** AHL: 111, .885 (.895, 21)
***************** IHL: 045, .919 (.919, 23)
/ 332, .902

First things first: there's no Brodeurs, Luongos or Lundqvists to be found here. Those guys were correctly fast-tracked to the bigs. No diPietros or Fleurys either. A couple of near misses like Lehtonen (98 GP), Kiprusoff (87 GP) and Vokoun (78 GP) were omitted. Meanwhile, a guy like Olaf Kolzig played his 139 AHL games before they kept Sv% stats in that league. It follows that some of the career minor league Sv% for the older guys may be incomplete.

Now I don't know the current formula for projecting NHL performance for goaltenders -- and I'm not about to pay "Rotowire" to see an archived copy of Behind the Net's valuable research to this end, whazzup with that? -- but surely the expectation would be for a goalie's Sv% to drop. So it is with (only) about 70-80% of all cases. Turns out there's a couple guys who have posted better numbers in the NHL than they did in the minors (Ellis, Fernandez, Giguere, Lalime, Legace); although in the majority of those cases the guy was around his now-established NHL level in his last season in the minors. Ellis is the exception that came right off the board; his .924 that led the NHL last year was .013 better than his best minor league season. Wanna bet on a repeat?

There's quite a few more who are pretty much level (+/- .002, including Bryzgalov, Johnson, Leclaire, Mason, Roloson, Theodore, Toskala, Valiquette so far). So that's fully a third of the entire list whose Sv% stats stayed about level or better, at least relative to their career rate. In about half of these cases the guy had a great last year in the minors. In summary, 11 of the 37 goalies have a better or equal career Sv% at the NHL than in the minors, and 8 maintain a higher average than their last season at the minor pro level.

As for the magic markers: only 12 of 37 recorded a Sv% of .920 or better their last year of 20+ GP in the minors. Another 10 were in the .915-.919 range. So while .920 is certainly nice, it's not necessary. On the other side, fully 12 of the 37 had a sub-career-rate Sv% their last year in the minors.

Final minor season Sv%
.890-.894 = 1
.895-.899 = 1
.900-.904 = 4
.905-.909 = 4
.910-.914 = 5
.915-.919 = 10
.920-.924 = 7
.925-.929 = 2
.930-.934 = 3

As for the age of "getting it", a lot of these guys were still buried in the AHL well beyond 23, with many of them gradually improving to somewhere near the .920 level (Anderson, Dubielewicz, Garon, Leighton, Mason, Raycroft, Roloson, Tellqvist, Thomas) before “earning” their chance at whatever age. At the NHL level this group has had varying degrees of success, although it’s fair to say none of them can be considered among the top tier of goalies in the league. Thomas was on the outer boundary of the top ten goalies since the lockout in this blog’s first look at the state of goaltending in the NHL, while Roloson likely* achieved similar status just before the lockout. (*I haven’t done the actual study, but with Sv% of .927 and .933 in 2002-04, Roli was rolling.) Averaging out the entire list, they played their last "full" minor league season at age 25. Just 12 of the 37 (including, speculatively, Deslauriers) were essentially done with the minors by age 23. Only two goalies on the entire list -- Marty Biron and Josh Harding -- met the double standard :) of their last minor league season by 23 with a Sv% of .920; another seven achieved .915 by that age and then graduated, so maybe that's a more achievable "line in the sand". But it's still faster than most.

Final minor season age
21 = 2
22 = 6
23 = 4
24 = 7
25 = 5
26 = 5
27 = 2
28 = 1
29 = 2
30 = 1
31 = 2

Looking across the board it's hard to find a common thread. For every general rule there's a solid minority of exceptions. For every Marty Biron, Jose Theodore or Josh Harding who dominated the minors at an early age, there's a Dan Ellis, Manny Legace or Chris Mason who took years to "get it". Oiler fans will note that both Dwayne Roloson and Matthieu Garon fit the "late bloomer" description, as indeed do former Oiler prospects Tim Thomas, Steve Valiquette and Ty Conklin.

As for the youngster currently challenging the veteran Oilers, JDD's AHL Sv% of .912 in 2007-08 is slightly below the mean graduating level; but bear in mind that at 23 he would be among the younger 100+ GP guys to successfully make the jump. Considering this, it would neither surprise nor disappoint greatly if he remains one year away. It would, however, be disappointing to lose him on waivers at this point; his improvement from .888 to .897 to .908 to .912 has been steady, especially considering some of the chaos in the Oilers farm "system"; if he spends another year raising that into the .915-.920 range that would be just fine.

It is incumbent on me to point out that such studies are rife with ambiguities. For one thing, this one is incomplete in that it excludes the guys who didn't need 100 games apprenticing in the minors, most of them top line goaltenders. For another, Sv% may be the best available measurement of goalies, but it's far from perfect. Much depends on team play. Some of these guys may have parachuted into a cushy situation at the NHL level (e.g. Legace, Turco, Mason, Ellis), while others were thrown to the wolves (LaBarbera, Niittymaki, Tellqvist); similarly some no doubt came from great defensive minor league clubs and some from not-so-great (I didn't pursue this, but the goalie's own W-L record would be a strong clue). One might expect such transitions to trigger a similar effect as what happened to Mike Smith last year when he got traded from Dallas (.906) to Tampa (.893), but that in itself is a topic for further research, and for another day. For now I'll throw this information out there and let you draw your own conclusions, which I certainly welcome in the comments section.


Anniversaries III: The Man in Black

Not all memorable occasions are happy ones. They tend to run the gamut of emotions, something reflected admirably in our iconic national sport.

Some occasions can run that gamut all on their own. Such was the case twenty years ago yesterday when The Great One made his first appearance at Northlands Coliseum in the guise of The Enemy. By the fluke of the schedule there had been no Indianapolis-at-Edmonton game in October, 1978 (thirty years ago this month, in the scant days before the First Gretzky Sale). A decade later, The Kid cum Great One had played over 500 games in the Coliseum wearing the home whites of the Oilers or, occasionally, Team Canada, but never once in opposition silks.

It was an almost surreal event, and as a result (?) my memories of the details of the game itself are rather more shadowy than usual. I remember more the richly complex overtones of resonant emotions. It was a visual confirmation of the Worst possible news, namely the Second Gretzky Sale that had gone down ten weeks earlier. An annual rumour involving the Rangers had become a harsh reality involving, of all teams, the Kings. Since the last time I had spotted Wayne in the flesh, receiving the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy and beginning the tradition of the team photograph, I had seen -- all on TV -- the wedding to the Hollywood actress, the tears at Molson House when "I promised Mess I wouldn't do this", the happier donning of a (thankully, renovated) Kings jersey hours later, his first game in his new home in which he scored on his first shift and set up three later goals in a laugher over the Wings. I was laughing too ... when I wasn't crying. My loyalties were now divided more than at any time since the WHA Oilers and the NHL Leafs vied for my support. I had been and remained (and remain) a huge Gretzky fan. Having seen virtually every one of those 500+ home games I am convinced he is the closest thing I have personally witnessed to pure genius, in any walk of life.

So I looked forward to October 19, 1988, as the first in a suddenly dwindling supply of remaining opportunities to witness this genius in the flesh. I felt compelled to the rink early, went down to the Kings end in plenty of time to witness the pregame skate, and was astonished to find the whole lower sections full, everybody standing, everybody gawking, everybody seemingly silent and expectant as if the high priest was about to enter. The cheer when the Great One emerged was the loudest I had heard in a pregame warmup since unlikely hero Andy Moog led the 1981 Oilers out of the tunnel with an equally unlikely 2-0 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens. Every eye in the house followed Gretzky as he circled around, obviously a little uncomfortable in his erstwhile home, looking very out-of-place in black. For a few minutes Gretzky hunched by the boards just on the Kings side of centre, and a few Oilers -- Messier, Kurri, Fuhr -- "happened" to take turns doing the same.

The game started at a frenetic pace, several minutes without a stoppage with spectacular end-to-end action. The crowd oohed and ahhed with the intensity of a Stanley Cup game or one of that era's "exhibition games" against Russians. After a number of near misses/great stops at both ends, Glenn Anderson -- ever one to rise to the occasion -- scored a beauty to open the scoring, and give the Oiler faithful a chance to express who they were really cheering for. The roar shook the building.

The Oilers new captain, Mark Messier, was never one to shrink from an occasion, and he dominated the game with (IIRC) 2 goals and 2 assists, leading the Oil to an entertaining 8-6 victory. He also landed a relatively gentle but no less meaningful body check that bounced the Great One on his great ass.

Gretzky himself had what I considered a below-average (for him!) performance, nonetheless garnering 2 assists, a magic trick I had seen him perform many times before. No doubt having his old linemates Jari and Esa on the line defending against him was a difficult new challenge for Wayne, but my impression was that his own rich blend of emotions on that occasion left him feeling relatively ambivalent towards that particular game. I certainly felt that way.

During the first intermission I was briefly interviewed by a roving reporter from the Edmonton Journal (could have been Staples for all I know) who was polling fans for their impressions. My take: "Have you ever experienced one of those unsettling dreams, the ones that are correct in almost every detail, but somehow something is not quite right?"

After its explosive start, the game on the ice became secondary to The Game, the one that had changed forever with the stateside departure of the van Gogh of hockey. On this night at least he was Dali, his apparition as surreal as a soft watch. I felt a deep sense of personal loss, even as I valued tonight's game featuring Gretzky as a visitor. For fans almost anywhere else, I realized, that was as good as it ever got. We still had four home games a year against the Kings, and the two teams were to meet in the playoffs for the next four years running until the Oilers roster became unrecognizable. And I knew I would always have my memories of his remarkable contributions to one of hockey's great dynasties, memories which I (mostly) cherish to this day.

For me it took a full year to let go, a remarkable year that included Edmonton hosting the 1989 All-Star game with Gretzky naturally the captain of the home Western Conference team and almost as naturally copping MVP honours; the Kings eliminating the Oilers in the playoffs with Wayne himself scoring two goals in Game 7; the unveiling of the statue before a partisan Coliseum crowd in the summer of '89; and the 1851 game that October detailed
here. All were bittersweet, perhaps none more so than that unreal night twenty years ago when hockey's greatest hero returned wearing a black hat.


Anniversaries II: Saddledome

This didn't really fit thematically with the Gretzky/Messier post, but today, October 15, also marks the 25th anniversary of the Olympic Saddledome in our sister city of Calgary. Three years after blowing into Alberta on the hot winds of success up in Edmonton, the Flames were finally emerging from the bandbox known as the Calgary Corral and truly joining the major leagues. (The Corral had a capacity of just 7243, and dedicated fans paid full season prices for the right to go to half the games in a unique, shared-seating arrangement for those three years while the Saddledome was imagined, financed and built.)

Anyway, come the night and who better to line up opposite the Flames than their provincial rivals, the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers had had by far the better of the Flames up until then, including an overwhelming Oilfire in the 1983 Smythe Final. The Oilers set a still-standing record of goals scored in a five-game playoff series with 35, including demolitions of 10-2 in the Corral and 9-1 in the Coliseum. Somehow, the Flames snuck out the intervening Game 4, 6-5, in the last NHL game played in the old Corral.

The Oilers would not make that mistake again on October 15, 1983. Jari Kurri (pictured) struck in the first period for the first-ever goal in the Saddledome (using stick D, also pictured :), on a pass from Wayne Gretzky (pictured elsewhere :). The Oilers went on to win the first ever game in the bow-legged building, 4-3.

Winning the Grand Opener at the Saddledome was an early step of a memorable season, the fifth game of a seven-game season-opening winning streak that remains a club record. Those 1983-84 Oilers would go on to win the league by 15 points, then beat the Flames again in the Smythe Final in a stern, seven-game test. The Oilers' overwhelming victory under the shadow of disaster in Game 7 would be the springboard to their first Stanley Cup.

I've always thought those Saddledome Flames did a little better job battle-testing the Boys on the Bus than the Corral Flames ever had, for whatever reason. The Oilers became a better team as a result.

Congratulations to hockey fans in our sister city on the 25th anniversary of your showpiece stadium. That your silver anniversary should include reminders of such legendary hockey names as Jari Kurri, Wayne Gretzky, and the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers delivering the historic moments is a true feather in your cap.

Best of luck to the Calgary Flames this upcoming season.

Anniversaries I: A special time

As the Oilers celebrate their 30th anniversary (sic) season, this is as good a year as any to reflect on our local franchise's storied past. Hey, it's not like we old geezers need much of a reason to remember the Good Old Days (TM). Especially an old geezer with a new blog.

This week marks a number of important anniversaries in the Oilers NHL history, several of which involve the two gentlemen pictured above. The two are irrevocably linked, from their start in the World Hockey Association (that’s a Cincinnati Stingers uni in the upper left pic) to the glory days scoring, breaking records, and winning together in Edmonton (clockwise from upper right :) to winding down their careers in Manhatten to their current status as the top two scorers in the history of the NHL. WHA prehistory notwithstanding, those points starting counting for keeps in October of 1979.

October 13 : It was my best birthday present ever. I had followed the NHL closely since the age of 7, but circumstance had precluded my ever attending a single NHL game, so what was a first for my adopted home of Edmonton was a first for me as well. Any doubts that the NHL was Really Here were instantly dispelled at the familiar sight of the elegant red-and-white unis of the visitors. The Detroit Red Wings were a fitting opponent whose own storied history had been intertwined with Edmonton's, as the Edmonton Flyers of the Western Hockey League had been a feeder team of the Red Wings for many years. In the year of my birth, both Red Wings and Flyers had won the "double", champions of both regular season and playoffs in their respective leagues. That Flyers' squad featured the likes of Glenn Hall, Al Arbour, Norm Ullman, Johnny Bucyk and Bronco Horvath, perhaps the greatest team to grace the River City. Until now.

But the new hometown heroes were no longer a farm team in a lower tier, they had entered the League as equals and ended the night with a 3-3 tie to prove it. Goals by personal favourite B.J.MacDonald staked Oilers to 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but the Red Wings rallied late and were poised to send the crowd home disappointed. Lightning struck late in the third, when the Oilers' 18-year-old rookie Mark Messier made a centring pass which glanced off the skate of a Wings defender and past the helpless goalie, giving the Oilers a well-deserved split in the points. It was the first goal of Messier's NHL career, and already one more than I had expected from the loosey-goosey youngster at the start of training camp.

October 14: After waiting 24 years for my first NHL game, I only needed wait 24 hours for my second, when the Oilers faced a new geographic rival, the Vancouver Canucks. The emotions and pageantry of opening night had worn off to some extent, but dammit even the Canucks were an NHL team and it was never too early to start laying the beat on them. In a wide-open, sloppy affair the Canucks took a 4-3 lead into the late stages, but this time the Oilers' "other" 18-year-old rookie, the ballyhooed Wayne Gretzky, emerged as the hero, scoring on a backhand from the edge of the crease with the goalie pulled to knot the count at 4-4. It was Gretzky's own first NHL goal, one day later but seven days younger than Messier. The official time of the goal was one of those spooky coincidences of foreshadowing: 18:51.

October 15: Flash forward 10 years and a day, to October 15, 1989, nineteen years ago today. In an impossibly-short period Gretzky had overtaken the mountainous career scoring totals that had taken the fabulous Gordie Howe 26 seasons to compile. As karma had it, the Great One – now a member of the Los Angeles Kings – was scheduled to visit his old stomping grounds early in the new season, just as he was poised to shatter Howe’s mark. Mister Hockey himself was in the building to witness history.

In the first period Gretzky tied the record with an unremarkable second assist on a powerplay goal, but he remained stuck on 1850 for the rest of the game. As time wound down with the Oilers leading by one, the loyalties of this fan never felt so divided. I wanted the Oilers to win, as always, but dammit, I wanted to see that of all records. I had personally witnessed close to a thousand of those points; I wanted to see the big one.

It unfolded like déjà vu, with Gretzky emerging as the Ultimate Hero, scoring on a backhand from the edge of the crease with goalie pulled to knot the count at 4-4. Many/most in the crowd rose from our seats in the manner of champagne corks, putting the event in its proper perspective as an Historic Moment ahead of the outcome of an early regular season game. It was only fitting that it truly be a Big Goal.

The game was stopped right there on the knife edge, tied in the last minute of the third period. A red carpet unrolled at centre ice for an official ceremony which included Mister Hockey himself. Representing the Oilers was their captain, Mark Messier, a great player in his own right who would go on to win the Hart Trophy and the Stanley Cup that eventful season. But nobody in the building would have guessed that the centre ice ceremony involved what would become the top Three scorers in NHL history. The durable Messier ultimately eased past Howe in the final year of his own colossal 25-year career, and to this day is the only NHLer within 1000 points of Wayne Gretzky.

Remarkable to think that both scored their first NHL goal on consecutive nights in my first two live NHL games. That each was the biggest goal of the respective games was the cherry on top … those goals meant a lot at the time, and they still do today. The Impossible Dream was off to an amazing start.


Game On ... for real, finally

On the ninth day of the NHL season, and the fourth day since pucks started dropping for keeps in rinks all over North America, tonight the Oilers become the 30th and last NHL team to play a real game. Happily for old-timers like me, they've broken out the traditional blue-and-orange uniforms for the occasion of opening their 30th anniversary (sic) season.

With the belated start the Oilers are already 8 points back in pursuit of the President's Trophy. That it's Glen Sather's Rangers that are leading the way is all the reassurance we need that the season is indeed very young. But it's about goddam time the season actually got underway for all of its participants.

No doubt these rest days would have come in a lot handier at other points in a season in which the schedule maker has done us zero favours. A nice enforced rest to start the season, followed by what seems like a two-month road trip, including most egregiously of all, an Oilers-at-Rangers game scheduled DURING Glenn Anderson's HHoF induction. The marketing whizzes at the NHL office have their heads lodged so firmly up their arses they'll need a crowbar to get them out. But that's a rant for another day (consider the foregoing a down payment :).

Tonight, alas, I get to watch just the first period before heading off to work. The PVR is in good working order, programmed and ready to go, but a time-delayed broadcast is another degree of separation on an occasion when every red-blooded Oilers' fan wants to be in the building, cheering on the start of another new season. Those of you lucky enough to have a ticket, enjoy yourselves! I've seen my share of home openers ... more on this tomorrow.

Surprises of training camp:

1. "SMacIntyre" coming out of nowhere to make the 23-man roster. I guess if you replaced SMac's name with "little-known enforcer" it's not that surprising. In the two years since Big Georges left town the Oilers' "team tough" mantra has failed. The team hasn't exactly been pushed around, but they have suffered more than their share of injuries, some of which (Moreau's and Souray's shoulder injuries) were sustained in the name of team toughness and some of which were caused by other teams "enforcers" (Jody Shelley, Derek Boogaard) who weren't otherwise occupied. I'm not saying it's right, but I can understand why the organization was looking for a hired fist.

2. Strudwick leapfrogging Smid in the depth chart and dressing for the opener. Props to Lowetide for calling this one pretty much the day Strudwick was signed. I too like Strudwick, and have since he played for in Vancouver -- at this point in his career he's the ideal seventh defenceman; tough, experienced, reliable. But I'm disappointed that Smid's play in camp didn't inspire confidence; I was, and am, hoping for a big leap forward in Ladi's play in 2008-09. This is not a promising start.

3. Pisani still playing centre. By placing three veterans on the third line and three youngsters on the fourth, MacT has clearly stratified the lines. This will likely play out in TOI, where it will be relatively easy to shorten the bench in close games. I like the four-line strategy myself, but I also like winning, so I'll have to trust Coach MacTavish to maximize his roster to that end.

Non-surprises of training camp:

1. The demotion of Rob Schremp. Robbie's game is suited a Top 6 position, and with Penner already waiting in line there's just no room. Too bad, really, but 2007-08 was his window, and a whole bunch of kids -- Nilsson, Cogliano, Gagner, Brodziak, arguably Penner -- sailed right past him.

2. The demotion of Gilbert Brule. The youngster showed quite a bit, but after two years of playing just 10 minutes a game in Columbus he needs more ice time than he would see in a 12/13 role here in Edmonton. Hopefully he'll see closer to 20 minutes in all situations in Springfield, and earn his recall in due course. This formula worked pretty well for Pouliot last season.

3. The inability of Marc Pouliot (pictured) to seize the 3C role. Props to the kid for making the team out of the gate, but I agree with most on the 'sphere that a straight switch of Pouliot for Moreau would balance those two lines while allowing everybody to play his natural position. Unfortunately it seems Poo still hasn't fully won MacT's trust.

All that said, the MacBlender could come out early and all that hand-wringing come to naught. However they line up, they'll be wearing the blue and orange (yippee!), so it's GOILERS!


Who's the best backstop in the biz?

About once a year -– usually the week of my “keeper league” hockey pool -- I pick up a copy of the Hockey News. This former staple in my life has almost entirely been replaced by the Internet.

But my draft is tomorrow, so yesterday I leafed through a friend’s copy of THN. Besides a cover story on the Oilers, the current issue has a couple of features on goaltending, a favourite subject of this former batshit-crazy goalie. Or should that read this still-batshit-crazy former goalie. Either way, you’ve been warned.

Speaking of batshit-crazy, THN columnist Ryan Kennedy came up with a new ranking system he called the
“Goaltender Confidence Index”. The formula he concocted, “based on save percentage, goals-against average, save percentage on the penalty-kill, percentage of games in which the goalie was pulled, percentage of games giving up five goals or more, winning percentage and shutout percentage” ranked Montreal’s unproven pair of Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak the best goaltending duo in the NHL. Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Meanwhile, Nashville’s duo of Dan Ellis and Nobody ranked 6th, ahead of viable tandems like NYR’s Henrik Lundqvist and Steve Valiquette (8th) and Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding (9th). Vancouver’s own “one-man duo” Roberto Luongo ranked 13th, far behind Ellis. Say what?

Elsewhere in that same issue of THN, however, there was a section called “Inside the Numbers”, where they presented (without analysis, thankfully) stats for a variety of categories over the three years since the lockout. This is a useful time frame, long enough for trends to develop and for the cream to rise to the top.

For goaltenders they listed the top 25 in five different categories: Wins, Shutouts, Total Saves, Save Percentage and Goals Against Average. Not a bad basket of stats, IMO, maybe a little top heavy in counting stats (3) vs. those based in percentages (2), but recognizing both quantity and quality. Whereas Kennedy’s formula consisted of percentages only, and some pretty contrived ones at that. Its inability to factor in volume of work is its undoing in my opinion.

Anyway, seeing those five columns of stats I wondered if they might be useful to rank the NHL’s best goalies since the lockout. 16 goalies made the top 25 in all five categories, so I simply awarded them points for their position on each list, and sorted to the lowest aggregate. (My method was very similar to Kennedy's, a total coincidence since I hadn't read his column yet when I did this little study.) A very crude method to say the least, but crude can be good. I didn’t even bother with half points for ties; e.g. the three guys tied for 5th in Sv% all got 5 points, a slight benefit to them but so what? Presenting results with more significant digits than the method supports is a pet peeve of mine, a common error which I prefer to avoid.

As I anticipated, the cream rose to the top. Here’s the list (a perfect score is 5):

Rank. Goaltender **** W SO Sv Sv% GAA Total
1. Martin Brodeur *** 1. 1. 2. 4. 3. = 11
2. Miikka Kiprusoff * 2. 2. 3. 8. 8. = 23
3. Henrik Lundqvist * 6. 3. 8. 5. 2. = 24
4. Roberto Luongo *** 3. 5. 1. 5. 13 = 27
5. Tomas Vokoun ***** 8. 7. 6. 3. 15 = 38
6. J.-S. Giguere **** 7. 11 12 5. 4. = 39
7. Marty Turco ****** 4. 9. 11 22 5. = 51
8. Manny Legace ***** 10 3. 19 14 7. = 53
9. Cristobal Huet *** 19 7. 22 2. 10 = 60
10.Ryan Miller ****** 5. 21 6. 17 17 = 66
11.Rick DiPietro **** 9. 16 4. 19 24 = 72
12.Evgeni Nabokov *** 10 14 17 24 9. = 74
13.Tim Thomas ******* 17 20 9. 10 22 = 78
14.Martin Gerber **** 12 21 18 18 20 = 89
15.Vesa Toskala ***** 13 16 23 24 14 = 90
16.Martin Biron ***** 19 21 21 14 22 = 97

Now as first-order approximations go, that looks like a pretty damn good list to me. No surprise to see Martin Brodeur at the top, of course; hockey’s version of Albert Pujols records excellent-to-outstanding numbers across the statistical spectrum year after year after year. In this particular study -- in which reputation counts for nothing, results everything -- Marty’s not living on past glories, only accomplishments since the lockout are even considered. Brodeur is the only guy to rank in the top 5 in each category; otherwise only Kipper and Lundqvist managed to crack the top 10 across the board, while only Luongo made top 5 in as many as 4 of the 5 categories.

Of course it’s naïve to consider each of these categories to be of equal value. All of them measure team success as well as individual success in different mixtures. (There is much more to be said about team effects on goalie performance than I can discuss in this post, but suffice to say they are substantial. But for now I’m just letting the raw numbers speak for themselves.)

Surely, though, Sv% is a better rating of a goalie’s true performance than, say, shutouts. So I decided to do a weighted average, scoring the stats themselves in order of significance. My first system was 5-4-3-2-1 for Sv%, GAA, Wins, SO, and Saves, respectively. Where the original system was weighted 60/40 for counting stats, this weighted system flipped it to 60/40 in favour of percentage-based stats. In other words, quality first, then quantity.

For all that I now valued one stat five times as much as another, the results didn’t change a whole lot. Here’s the Top 10 (a perfect score is 15):

1. Brodeur 39
2. Lundqvist 65
3. Kiprusoff 85
4. Luongo 97
5. Giguere 106
6. Vokoun 118
7. Huet 143
8. Legace 153
9. Turco 171
10.Miller 216

Lundqvist, a three-time Vezina “finalist” in his first three years in the league, slips comfortably into second ahead of Kipper but still far behind the guy who actually won the last two Vezina Trophies (and 4 of the last 5). Giguere squeezes into 5th ahead of Vokoun. Huet, who has a tremendous save percentage, moves up two spots while Turco (whose specialty is getting the puck moving in the other direction) slides down.

There are those who argue that the only truly individual goalie stat is Sv%. I don’t agree -- it too depends on team play -- but perhaps the goalie has more control over that one column than any of the others. So I reassessed the weights to 10-4-3-2-1, thus giving Sv% a 50% impact on the total score, and percentages in general a 70/30 preference. And still, the results didn’t change much. Here again is the Top 10 (a perfect score is 20):

1. Brodeur 59
2. Lundqvist 90
3. Luongo 122
4. Kiprusoff 125
5. Giguere 131
6. Vokoun 133
7. Huet 153
8. Legace 223
9. Turco 281
10.Thomas 288

Luongo scrapes into the top three ahead of Kipper, while Thomas noses ahead of Miller for 10th. Huet, 2nd in the NHL is Sv% in 2005-08, remains in 7th but is more readily grouped with the guys above him on the list than below. And above them all Marty Brodeur is home and cooled out as the top statistical goalie in the game.

You might have noticed in the first table that none of the listed guys finished first in either Sv% or GAA. The mystery man is Niklas Backstrom, who led the league 2005-08 in both categories, at .923 and 2.17 respcetively. Those totals were achieved over just two years, as Backstrom came to the NHL in 2006. Thus he is deficient in counting stats. I calculated a third, pro-rated season for Backstrom, which of course maintained his excellent percentages while theoretically bumping him into 7th in shutouts and 12th in Wins. But he remained completely out of the top 25 in Saves, so still didn’t meet my intial criteria. Backstrom’s a good goalie, but to consider him the best in the league over the past three years based on fewer than 100 GP and fewer than 2500 saves would be a stretch.

As for the Oilers, while Roloson, Garon and even Conklin appeared on some of the Top 25 lists, they didn't play enough, or well enough, over the full three years to qualify among the elite.

Enough about goalies, already! It's time to get my nose back into my McKeen's to prepare for tomorrow.



Hi from the Wet Coast. I've been travelling for a few days so the blog has been quiet.

I have, however, been pondering the matter of comparables that was discussed in the comments of the (second) Smid post. Popularized if not introduced by Bill James, the method is particularly useful in baseball where players are measured across a wide range of statistical categories.

Here's a simple example: Who is the best hitter in baseball?

To answer such a question I like to look right across the spectrum of offensive stats and spot those who contribute across the board without apparent weakness. As a Cards fan it's natural for me to start with the guy pictured above, Albert Pujols.

Albert had an exceptional 2008 season, even by his own exceptionally high standards. While playing his usual glittering defence (1st in the majors at his position in both range factor and zone rating, tied for 1st in the NL in fielding percentage), Albert brought a mighty big stick to home plate for the eighth consecutive season. He finished among the offensive leaders in virtually every significant (positive) category and in a class all his own in my favourite stat, OPS. I like to group the important stats into logical clusters:

524 AB (49th NL / 91st MLB) 1.J Reyes 688
187 H (3rd / 7th) 1.I.Suzuki/D.Pedroia 213
81 XB (2nd / 3rd) 1.R.Braun 83
37 HR (4th / 4th) 1.R.Howard 48

49th in AB, 3rd in hits. Albert is always a little ways down the AB list because so many of his plate appearances end in walks. In 2008 Pujols had a stint on the 15-day DL which depressed all of his raw numbers totals by close to 10%.

100 R (14th / 27th) 1.H.Ramirez 125
116 RBI (4th / 9th) 1.R.Howard 146

Run production numbers always depend on the other hitters in the line-up, and players on high-scoring teams are favoured. It's no mean feat to make the 100 + 100 standard; just 13 major leaguers did so in 2008. Among them, just the also-injured Alex Rodriguez did so in fewer ABs (510) than Albert.

104 BB (2nd / 3rd) 1.A.Dunn 122
54 K (116th / 243rd) 1.M.Reynolds 204

That last category is nothing short of scary. Of the 14 players in baseball who drew over 90 walks in 2008, the other 13 all had over 90 strikeouts as well, averaging 129 K's among them. Albert's 54 was at barely 40% of the norm. Considering the number of pitches he takes and how hard he swings, that's astonishing.

.357 AVG. (2nd / 2nd) 1. C.Jones .364
.462 OBP (2nd / 2nd) 1. C. Jones .470
.653 SLG (1st / 1st) 2. M.Ramirez .601
1.114 OPS (1st / 1st) 2. C.Jones 1.044

Percentage stats iron out the differentials in GP, AB etc. which may have been impacted by injury. The playing field thus levelled, Albert's performance is revealed as across-the-board spectacular.

Comparing on a player-by-player basis, there are a few individuals whose performance is equal or even better than Albert's among the various clusters of stats presented above. How did they compare across the board?

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
A.Pujols 524 187 81 37 | 100 116 | 104 054 |
.357 .462 .653 1.114
C. Jones 439 160 47 22 | 082 075 | 090 061 |
.364 .470 .574 1.044

Chipper won the batting title -- thanks in part to his protecting the lead by sitting in the dugout down the stretch, the gutless puke -- and posted some pretty nice percentages and a decent BB:K ratio. But his power and run production fell far short.

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
A.Pujols 524 187 81 37 | 100 116 | 104 054 |
.357 .462 .653 1.114
R.Howard 610 153 78 48 | 105 146 | 081 199 |
.251 .339 .543 0.881

Howard is an MVP favourite for his great production numbers in the middle of a potent Philllie lineup. But he was over 100 points shy of Albert in batting average, and even more than that in both OBP and SLG. As for those 199 strikeouts, say no more.

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
A.Pujols 524 187 81 37 | 100 116 | 104 054 |
.357 .462 .653 1.114

ARod**** 510 154 68 35 | 104 103 | 065 117 |
.302 .392 .573 0.965

Like Albert, ARod missed a little time and still managed to post yet another .300-30-100-100 season. But in 2008 it was really no contest between these two greats of our time.

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
A.Pujols 524 187 81 37 | 100 116 | 104 054 |
.357 .462 .653 1.114
MRamirez 552 183 74 37 | 102 121 | 087 124 |
.332 .430 .601 1.031

Now here's a decent comparison. Manny posted his numbers across two leagues, closing with a flourish in L.A. His percentages are a little shy of Albert's across the board, but at least they're in the neighbourhood, while the production numbers of the two are very similar. Again there is a huge differential in BB:K ratio, but no comparison is perfect.

Turning to career production, it's tough to compare guys at different stages of their careers. One possible method is to use the handy 162 Game Avg line courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. Assuming full health, what's a typical season for these guys?

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
A.Pujols 599 200 89 42 | 124 128 | 091 066 |
.334 .425 .624 1.049
MRamirez 586 184 81 41 | 111 133 | 093 128 |
.314 .411 .593 1.004

Once again Manny is a good comparison, although as was the case in 2008 he falls a little short in all percentage categories. Production numbers are fairly similar, although Manny has generally played on a high-powered line-up, and unlike Albert has benefitted from playing in a hitter's park for much of his career.

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
A.Pujols 599 200 89 42 | 124 128 | 091 066 |
.334 .425 .624 1.049
ARod**** 624 191 80 44 | 127 127 | 078 130 |
.306 .389 .578 0.967

Many consider ARod the best player in baseball, but again we see Albert with a nice edge in batting average that is larger still in both OBP and SLG. Production numbers are very similar indeed. Of course ARod has been doing it for longer, so Albert has to prove he can keep doing it, but all the arrows do seem to be pointed in that direction. He puts up big numbers across the spectrum with Brodeur-like consistency.

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
A.Pujols 599 200 89 42 | 124 128 | 091 066 |
.334 .425 .624 1.049
B. Bonds 534 159 78 41 | 121 108 | 139 083 |
.298 .444 .607 1.051

Finally an "active" (unretired) player who outperforms even Albert in the BB:K dept., and the walk machine has the on-base percentage to prove it. Albert has a significant edge in hits and batting average to balance the scales. Even with the four "superhuman" years 2001-04, in which Bonds posted the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 8th best OPS seasons in major league history, the two are a virtual saw-off in that significant category over the course of their careers. The comp isn't perfect, but I think it's fair to say that across the offensive spectrum Albert compares pretty darn well to the seven-time MVP.

So what about comparables in hockey? That's a whole 'nother essay, better saved for another day.


Well, that was Ugly

Had a chance to view last night's fiasco in person.

First of all, the good news. It's September (or at least it was last night), so even the most well-earned Zero points for a loss is matched by the zero points awarded the winner. The only numbers that matter are the ones that appear on the game tickets -- mine for Row 23 in the Oilers "offensive" zone indicated a rather mind-boggling $87.81. (Thanks again, Dave!)

Not sure how they come up with those numbers, but on the strength of performance I would say Calgary was worth the $87 and Oilers the 81¢. In terms of entertainment value the game as a whole came in much closer to the second figure.

Calgary quite simply wanted the puck more than Edmonton right from the get-go. They dominated the face-off circle (35 of 61; seemed like more), and pressured the puck all night. Oilers' defence looked tentative at best, a split second slow to the puck or making their decision to move it. This was manifest on the game opening (and winning) goal, when the $11 MM pairing of Visnovsky and Souray both had their clearing attempts deflected by aggressive Flame forecheckers, leading directly to an Ugly shot that found a hole in a leaky Dwayne Roloson.

In the second period the Oilers "defended" the zone right in front of us, and the puck stayed in front of us the whole damn period as Calgary dominated 18-5 on the shot clock while pumping three more goals past Roli. The line of Dustin Boyd, David Moss and Curtis “Egads!” Glencross was having a field day out there, dominating play with speed, aggressiveness and hustle. Moss scored twice, including the 2-0 goal which characterized this game. The Flames won another race/battle for the puck along the boards, Roy and Peckham didn’t switch effectively to take Boyd along the end boards, Cogliano and Nilsson didn’t communicate effectively as to which one would come back deep to cover Moss, and Roloson somehow allowed Boyd’s centring pass through a two foot hole between him and Peckham to squirt through his big goal stick and right to Moss who rapped it home. Two skating, thinking and executing Flames made five stationary, tentative and fumbling Oilers look Real bad. Errors all around.

On the third goal, Sheldon Souray seemed disinterested in covering Eric Nystrom, and Roli allowed yet another softie (his third by my count) right through him. Andre Roy and Wayne Primeau got the assists, probably Calgary’s two worst skaters but still better than the boys in blue on this night. It was ugly.

With the score 4-0 after Moss’s second (a pretty give and go with GlenX) the two Roys dropped the gloves, with Andre seemingly landing the better punches but Mathieu getting the last couple and the takedown at the end. But come the third period the Oiler side of the penalty box sat empty, as Matty did not return. Nothing said about it on the gameday threads or in today’s paper; I wonder what happened? Given blows to the head were involved, the “C” word suggests itself.

His bench down a man in the third, MacT decided to sit Theo Peckham as well, giving the youngster just 1:32 while running his top four guys out there for over 9 minutes apiece. Made absolutely no sense to me, especially on a night where Peckham was by far the most aggressive of the lot.

Calgary still had more jump in the third, getting the first 7 shots on goal and running the game count to 38-12 before the Oilers finally showed a little spark in the O-zone for a few minutes. Schremp and Visnovsky got the best opportunities but were foiled by Curtis McElhinney in his best moments of a slow night’s work.

In his postgame interview MacT was quick to call out his veterans, and rightly so. Here’s the very short list of hits landed by the Oilers last night: Brule 4, Peckham 3, Roy 1, Spurgeon 1. Calgary wasn’t crushing people either, but at least their list of hitters included names like Phaneuf (2), Sarich (2) and Iginla (1), whereas Oiler veterans were nowhere to be found in the physical play department. Their mental game wasn’t any sharper. Guys like Shawn Horcoff and Robert Nilsson did flat nothing all night, while Denis Grebeshkov had a snakebitten game with three penalties and a minus-one on a play where he broke his stick in the neutral zone. As a group the Oil had as many giveaways as shots (19 of each), “led” in the former category by a shaky Tom Gilbert with 4 GV.

Any silver linings under that black cloud involve some of the youngsters who actually played like they gave a shit. Including:

#1 Devan Dubnyk: Had a solid third, with some loud help from the iron. Big, square to the shooter, not much net to shoot at.

#49 Theo Peckham: This is one mean mofo. Plays rough and with an edge; now he just needs to file some of those rough edges. Springfield-bound.

#66 Tyler Spurgeon: A real gamer. I would have said that even before the late-game display of bravery/foolhardiness when he dropped in front of a pair of Ugly slapshots. He’s definitely one of those guys where the sum is far greater than the parts. If he can avoid the next concussion he could become a Rob DiMaio-style NHLer.

#67 Gilbert Brule: Pretty impressive combination of physical play and actual talent, a combination in rare enough supply on any team, especially this one. He’s right on the bubble for the 12th forward, and could be useful as a #13. If he does get sent out it’s probably because the organization decides it’s in his, and their, best interests to get him some serious playing time after languishing on the fourth line in Columbus the past two seasons. I don’t disagree with giving Pouliot the first crack at playing time, but I’d be shocked if we don’t see Brule in the line-up at the first wave of injuries or ineffective play.

#88 Rob Schremp: Buried on a scrub line most of the night, but got 3 minutes to show what he could do on the PP. Which on an 0-for-8 night when the Oilers PP unit kept getting outnumbered around the puck, wasn’t much. Unfortunately for Robbie, more skill along the periphery isn’t exactly what this club needs. Did make a couple of sweet passes, and got one great scoring chance where he made his move but couldn’t roof the puck.


Bottom line (since that's really what it's all about) for Oiler fans: $87.81 = about five bucks per shot on goal, ten bucks per hit, or infinity per goal. Standings be damned, at those prices shouldn't the team be providing some actual entertainment?