On January 20th, right before puck-drop on the Oilers’ 2013 season, I wrote a posted that included 10 quick and totally unrelated predictions. I’ll go through these with a mid-ish season update to see how they’re faring:
1. “Devan Dubnyk will post a 0.920 overall save percentage. He ended with a 0.914 last year, but had a very weak SV% on the penalty kill at 0.854. Only 5 goalies playing 40 games or more had a worse PK SV%, and Dubnyk had a history of better results in that situation. If he can raise that this year, it’ll set him up well to go for the 0.920 overall milestone.”
Handed the de jure starting goaltending reigns for this season, Dunbyk is working on a career best SV% of 0.918 so far. He’s had stretches above the magical 0.920 mark, but has seemed to be below it for most of the year. The league average SV% so far this season is a shade under 0.910, so I’d say Dubnyk is having a really strong year (all things considered). It’s looking like this will be his third straight year above league average SV%, which is a very impressive feat.
Prediction plausible? Yes
2. “The Oilers will flirt with posting more shots for at even strength than shot against. Last year they posted 26.9 shots for per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 play (28th in the league), while allowing 30.2 shots against per 60 minutes (23rd in the league). That’s a gap of 3.3 shots per 60 mins. I’d think that they’ll allow one less shot per 60 and gain 2 shots for per 60 mins, and narrow the gap considerably.”
So far this year, the Oilers’ shot attempt different is the most troublesome evidence that the team is treading water (at best). Compare the 2013 ratio of 27.4 shots for per 60 mins vs 32.2 shots against against the one seen from last year mentioned above: slightly more shots for, but two more shots against per game. It’s tough to put your finger on why this is the case with a young (and largely constant) team getting one more year of experience — nagging injuries, serious degradation by the veteran players, a new coaching system, a misjudgment on how much sheltering they needed at this point in their development, whatever. This boat is still stuck in Hades trying to find a way out.
Prediction plausible? Hell no.
3. “Ryan Whitney will post a points per game (PPG) mark that is closer to his 2011-12 career low (0.39) than his 2010-11 career high (0.77). This means that his PPG will be less than 0.58. Over a 48 game season, he’d have to score less than 28 points to achieve this. I believe that he is not anywhere close to the defenceman he was when he posted that career high. He was relied on in all situations that year — the realities of his injury have already demoted him to the 2nd PP, and his TOI will be reduced greatly from that 2010-11 season.”
It’s not like I needed to be Nostradamus to pull this one out of the bag — after a couple of foot surgeries and ligament problems Whitney is more machine than man these days. But many were hoping that the long break during the lockout would help this player’s recovery back into the impact defenceman he was a couple of years ago. So far, he’s got 10 points in 23 games, good for a 0.43 point per game average, and just barely above his career low set last year. The points are one thing, but his overall play is another — too many times he’s getting personally beat during battles and to open spots on the ice. His points are being aided by decent work on the power-play. Without that crutch, he would be waiver wire fodder.
Prediction plausible? Yes
4. Sam Ganger will finally score at a level that would have provided him a 50 point season over an 82 game schedule. This will require him to score 30 points this season over the 48 game schedule. I think the Gagner/Yak/Hemsky line will face some pretty interesting competition considering the kid line will get matched against tough competition, and Krueger will use the Horcoff line against tough competition. This could leave some cherry minutes for Gagner and the gang.
It seems like I’ve set the bar pretty low — Gagner has an outside chance to post 50 points this season. Right now he’s got 28 points in 30 games, good for a 0.93 PPG average. Over an 82-game schedule, this would translate in about 76 points (oh hey, that’s what Jordan Eberle had last season ;)). His possession numbers are actually doing quite poor, but the percentages are in his favour this year — his 15.4% personal shooting percentage is 5% higher than his career average, while the Oilers are scoring on 9.24% of their ES shots when he’s on the ice (compared to 5.78% for RNH). A lot of people in the oilogosphere called for Gagner to get signed to a long/cheap deal after last season. Instead, the Oilers opted to kick the can down the road. It may cost them San Gagner’s services as early as next season for cap reasons.
Prediction plausible? 2 points in 18 games is almost a mortal lock.
5. “Justin Schultz will see the 4th highest total average time on ice for Oiler defencemen playing at least 35 games this season. I’m guessing this kid doesn’t get a sniff on the penalty kill and will see 2nd pairing minutes at even strength. Smid, Petry, and Nick Schultz will see more, and Ryan Whitney will see a touch less.”
Well, it would have been hard for me to have been more wrong about this one. Justin Schultz is seeing the most overall ice-time of any Oiler player, period — he’s getting 22:07 minutes per game. He’s getting the 2nd most even strength minutes after Jeff Petry, by far the most PP minutes, and he’s even sneaking into 0.9 4 on 5 shorthanded minutes per game. He’s cooled off the last couple of weeks, but most of that was due to an ill-conceived marriage with Ryan Whitney. His game is not well-rounded enough to be considered a top-pairing defenceman at this point in his career. Hopefully he picks up the timing a bit better and becomes more assertive in moving the puck out of his own end, but his offensive instincts are superlative.
Prediction plausible? No
6. “The Oilers will add another defenceman during the season, either because of injuries or because of needed depth for a push to make the playoffs. I think there is an outside chance that the Oilers make a run at someone like PK Subban using a blue chip player, such as Yakupov. There simply is no depth in the farm right now, and Tuebert/Peckham will not be effective NHL-level players.”
To the chagrin of Oilers fans everywhere, nothing has been done on this front. A lot of lip service has been paid to picking the best overall player in the draft, with one of the main considerations being that you can translate that organizational depth in certain positions to address shortcomings elsewhere. I think the Oilers over-estimated what kind of impact Justin Schultz would have on the team this season. Did they expect him to waltz in and become Scott Niedermeyer overnight? There’s no other reason why you’d enter the season with such shallow talent on the blue line. The team needs to get serious about targeting a blue chip blueliner using one of their large assets. Think: Eberle for Ekman-Larsson two years ago, or something similar. This is obviously easy to say and hard to accomplish, but that’s where a GM makes his salary. I just can’t see this being addressed before the trade deadline.
Prediction plausible? Not likely
7. “The Oilers will lose more shootouts than they win. As much as I hate shootouts, it’s a reality in the modern NHL. Eberle and Hemsky are top flight shootout participants, but I think Hall and RNH aren’t quite comfortable with the format yet, while Gagner finally recovered a bit last season after a disasterous run. Dubnyk had a good season last year with a 0.741 SV%, but I think breakaways are the least effective part of his game, as he’s naturally less athletic than other starting goaltenders in the league.”
So far this season the Oilers are 2-3 in shootouts, with Khabi being 1-0, while Dubnyk is 1-3. Dunbyk has allowed 6 shootout goals on 11 attempts, a SV% of 0.455 — only two goalies playing more than 1 shootout have a worse SV%: Ilya Bryzgalov and Robin Lehner. Dubnyk seems to play breakaways much better during game play, as he seems to become prone to both dekes and shots during the shootout. It’s like he’s taking a guess on what the player will do before it happens as if he’s tending a soccer net. For a man his size, he needs to seem much larger in his net to start forcing the play — too often his holes and weaknesses are much too apparent. Let the shooter come to you, don’t bite on the first move, and look more like a tiger wearing a goalie suit a la Ed Belfour.
Prediction plausible? Yes.
8. “Darcy Hordichuk will draw in for less than 20 contests this year. I think Krueger is paying some lip service to management by talking about Hordichuk’s toughness being a necessary component of success. The way he composed his lineups last year when given the opportunity during Renney’s medical absence suggest that he’s smart enough to field the most competitive lineup, regardless of fist circumference.”
My favourite thing this year has been the Oilers’ realization as a franchise that you can’t keep doubling down on certain kinds of mistakes. The failed goon archetype is going the way of the Dodo, with both Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager hitting the waivers on the way to Oklahoma City. They’re giving Mike Brown a twirl right now, but he only seems marginally better than Eager. That’s a debate for another day — I’m just happy Hordichuk got into only 4 games. I still think that signing was the most inexplicable of all last summer. Why is there any case to sign him for anything above league minimum? He’s your extra forward at best and has exactly zero leverage in salary negotiations. Offer him a two-way deal at league minimum — what’s the worst he can do, walk away? 27 other goons toiling in the semi-pro leagues would gladly take his spot. Instead, the Oilers spent $291,666 per Corsi event while he was on the ice this season. Wouldn’t burning that money in a pile provide more utility than signing Hordichuk to a one-way deal?
Prediction plausible? It’s a lock.
9. “The Oilers will finish ahead of the Calgary Flames for the first time since 2002-03. I believe that they could be in a fight for 2nd in the division and 8th in the conference.”
As of this writing, the Oilers are one point ahead of the flames with 18 games left to play. Our 10-year sub-provincial nightmare is almost over. The Flames seem to be entering rebuild mode with a probable Iginla trade. One would hope they aren’t able to outperform a team that’s spent most of the last 7 years rebuilding. As for positioning, the Oilers are currently 3rd in the division and 13th in the conference. They need a wing and a prayer to reach the milestones above.
Prediction plausible? The prediction was really around the Flames thing, which is plausible
10. “Two Oilers will finish in the top 20 scorers in the NHL this season, something that hasn’t happened since Messier and Kurri finished 2nd and 19th in 1989-90, respectively. Weight and Guerin would have qualified in 2000-01 (8th and 13th), but Guerin was traded mid-season. So it has been 23 years since the Oilers had two of the top 20 scorers in the league. That’s a long drought of concurrent top-level talent, and one that I believe will end this year.”
I purposely didn’t state who I think would have a shot to fulfill this prediction, as you could make a case for one of 6 players on the Oilers having a legitimate shot at reaching this level. Through the major to mild disappointments this season (RNH for the former, Hemsky/Eberle the latter), Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall have separated themselves from the pack in terms of consistency of point production. Now, they’re not in the top 20 NHL scorers as of now, but they are tied for 28th and 38th respectively. Gagner is 2 points out of 20th, while Hall is 4 points out of 20th. Weirder things have happened.
Prediction plausible? Still a legit possibility