Sunday, January 11, 2009

Yee of little faith in young players

Ever since he was taken with the 25th overall pick in the 2004 NHL entry draft by the Edmonton Oilers, Robbie Shremp has been the subject of much speculation and a seemingly unending thirst from Oilers fans wanting to see him at all costs because of the monstrous offensive numbers he put up playing for the London Nights of the Ontario Hockey League(145 points to lead the OHL in the 2005-06 season ). He was the brightest pure offensive prospect the Oilers had since Ales Hemsky coming out of Hull Quebec and the man who would become the first bonafied #1 centre the Oilers had possessed since Doug Weight was dealt to the St.Louis Blues(no Mike Comrie was not, and most certainly is not, a #1 centre). His skating wasn't(and by all accounts still isn't) all-world class like Andrew Cogliano or Pavel Bure in his prime but then again his footspeed has improved greatly and it's not like Wayne Gretzky was the world's greatest skater(I'm not comparing Shremp to Gretzky). His defense isn't stellar but then again alot of top notch nhl offensive players aren't that great in their own end. And is he that physical? No but he's not wired to be. Craig MacTavish publicaly ripped the poor kid the other day( for the "negatives" in his game. The Edmonton Oilers have tried in vain to turn this kid into a defensively responsable 3rd-4th line player because that's what they do to young players. They jerk them around and put them in positions to fail because it seems like they feel that once a young player is broken they can rebuild them into the checking defensive forward they want all their players to be.

Examples of young players who have failed in the Oilers system because of their lack of patience and caring for their own drafted kids and young players in general are numerous and span back to the Glenn Sather era. The two big examples from the Sather era would be Miroslav Satan and Ray Whitney. Satan put up some decent offensive numbers in Edmonton and looked like he was ready to bust out when Sather shipped him to Buffalo for two players who never played in the NHL. Sather felt that Satan wasn't good enough in his own end or worked hard enough in there. Satan's work ethic seemed fine as he posted 224 goals in Buffalo between 1997-2004 including a 41 goal season. Ray Whitney was the Edmonton Oilers stick boy as a child and grew up around the franchise as his father had worked for them and came to the Oilers after a few years in San Jose and Europe. What a story it would have been had Whitney made the team but alas Sather felt he was too small to make much of an impact so he dealt Whitney to Florida. All Whitney has done since is put up 548 points in 10 seasons since leaving Edmonton and was part of the Carolina Hurricanes squad that defeated the Oilers in the Stanley Cup final. Another example you could throw in would be Jason Arnott, a very talented young player in Edmonton who was run out of town by the fans but was given little support by the franchise. He's since won a Stanley Cup in New Jersey as their #1 centre and is currently the captain of the Nashville Predators.

And now the debacle known as the Kevin Lowe era. Not only was his drafting a joke(a blog for another day along with the rest of the massive laundry list of KLowe blunders) but the fact that every quality offensive prospect they've had has at some point or another been broken by Craig MacTavish and his coaching staff so they'll start thinking more about defense then scoring goals is evident. Ales Hemsky received fourth line duty when he first joined the Oilers. Sam Gagner was moved to the wing even though he's a natural centre and had tons of success there as a rookie and that experiment proceded to completely bomb. No one really knows why MacT did this or what went through his brain (besides not much). Robert Nilsson(very comparable to Shremp) has been placed on the fourth line for various reasons and at various times. Tom Gilbert, in a polar opposite direction, was given way too much money and way too much responsibility way too fast. The jury is still out on the rebuilding project that is Gilbert Brule although I'm not sure putting an offensive prospect on a line with Zach Stortini and Kyle Brodziak is really the best way to bring out his potential. Now I can hear the arguments of "What about all the success the young players had last year?". Well apparently there's an answer. During an interview on the Team 1260 it was put out there that former assistant coach Rob Daum was the one who worked with the young players on the Oilers last season while MacT pretty much left that to him. True to Oilers character they replaced Daum behind the bench this past offseason with MacTavish version 2.0 aka. Kelly Buchberger and the play of the young players has plummeted. Sophmore Jinx or brutal coaching? Or both?

It's obvious that the Oilers don't know how to handle young players and their main problem is that they seem to think that putting a young player in a position to fail is better then a position to suceed. The young skill players they've had have either had defence drilled into in the minors or forced to play with pluggers on the third and fourth line. You take a look at all the other long-term succesful organizations around the league and when they have a young player with alot of offensive upside they usually put him in a position to succed. San Jose put Devin Setoguchi on a line with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, Montreal put Max Pacioretty on a line with Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec, Philadelphia brings up Claude Giroux and he goes on Jeff Carter's line, and finally when Bruce Boudreau took over the Washington Capitals one of the first things he did was put Nicklas Backstrom on a line with Alex Ovechkin and his career sky-rocketed after that and now he plays well with or without Ovie. Young players need to be put into a position to suceed to get their confidence up and the rest will come with time.

The Oilers impatience has cost them with young players for years and will continue to do so until Craig MacTavish and his coaching staff get the axe and Kevin Lowe completely steps away from the organization. Until that day however, MacTavish continue running the team like any player that doesn't drop down to block a shot with their face isn't really that valuable. The Toby Peterson's of the world will continue to man the point on the Oilers second wave of the PP, The Marty Reasoner's(MacTavish undoubtedly cries himself to sleep at night now that Marty has left him for Atlanta where he centre's Ilya Kovalchuk. Boy their coach sounds just like MacT!) will be their #1 go to guy as Shaun Horcoff's injury replacement and the Rob Shremp's will continue to get 4 minutes of ice time on the fourth line with no real chance to succeed.


  1. I think you're being alittle hard on MacT. He's been given a sow's ear to work with for many years (the one exception being the run for the cup 05/06). He's also hampered by the Oiler culture. This includes players expected to take a discount for being an Oiler(that's really worked out) and an old boy system that has resulted in promoting mediocrity rather than inovation.

  2. I'll give you all your points there. It's true that KLowe has done a brutal job giving MacT a great team to work with minus Pronger, but he treats the kids like crap. He publically ripped a kid who wasn't even on the team for crying out loud.

  3. I'm going to have to disagree with you on this on Match. MacTavish must take a lot of the blame for the horrid situation the Oilers find themselves in. When the team's powerplay has been one of the worst in the league for the past six or seven seasons, the buck has to stop with someone. I agree that Lowe has had a lot to do with the team's downfall. Some examples of his incompetence could be the Penner, Gilbert, Pisani and Roloson (and maybe even Horcoff) contracts. I find it amazing that teams like the Vancouver Canucks can be so successful spending so little money on their players, yet the Oilers continue to struggle even when we're right near the maximum salary cap. I agree that it is sometimes the players fault for not producing, but after eight seasons of mediocrity I think it's time we let MacTavish and Lowe ride off into the sunset. It's been proven over the last eight seasons that the old boys club just isn't the answer, and no matter how much we the fans love these men for what they've done for our team in the past it's time we demand their resignations because after all, there is no "I" in "Team".

  4. "#1 centre the Oilers had possessed since Doug Weight was dealt to the St.Louis Blues(no Mike Comrie was not, and most certainly is not, a #1 centre)."

    I agree. I dont even know who that Mike Comrie guy is!(anymore. )Probably some lousy AHL player hah

    I've always been a fan of Mac-T though. I think the Oilers roster this year is lacking just a little bit.. we need a few more above average players who know how to get results

  5. Yeah, I'd agree with that Souray22. We are lacking in some places. I'd still love a true shutdown defenseman, a good strong power forward and don't even get me started on a #1 goalie. Thing is, we're so close to the cap limit right now that I just don't see anything happening in the next little while. Looks like it might be another long summer unless these guys can find a way of playing together.

  6. Alas, I must conclude that MacT is incapable of taking a team much beyond 500, and I agree that treatment of younger players is a big reason for that. His new public "tough guy" approach eg Shremp following Penner public rippings are neither professional nor effective.
    When things go poorly in business, effective leaders look to make positive change, not criticize the existing personnel. MacT's view of positive change is to have the guys try harder, which is not enough. We need new strategies on and off the ice, not old oiler ideas that worked 20-25 years ago. Let's make a coaching change and at the very least we can then say we made an honest effort to improve, instead of doing nothing.

  7. Would MacT still be the head coach if the Oilers didn't luck out going to the Stanley Cup finals a few years back?

    How about the move to trade picks to New Jersey a few years back because Edmonton didn't need another small centre. Does Pouliot have as many NHL games as Parise has goals? Brilliant move. Next.