ONE-TRICK PONY

Robin Brownlee
November 26 2013 07:23PM

I'm not sure where the Edmonton Oilers would rank if we rated NHL teams one through 30 based on the offensive skill and prowess of their of top-six forwards, but I'm confident they'd sit higher than 30th or 29th or 24th, which is where they've finished in the standings these past three seasons.

While the Oilers stack up pretty well – on paper if not in actual on-ice production -- in top-six flash and dash with the ability to send Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner out the gate, they are so lacking in other dimensions you get what we have here as they head for Nashville with a 7-16-2 record.

If opponents match Edmonton's level of offensive skill on the top two lines – and there are several teams that can – the Oilers are screwed because if they can't coax teams into a track meet or a no-hitter, they don’t have another way to get the job done, to win games.

The Oilers aren't big enough or gritty enough to win games that turn into a physical battle. They aren't mentally tough enough to prevail in a test of wills. They aren't remotely close to defensively sound enough to lock things down in tight games. They lack gamesmanship. They don't have a goaltender who can consistently outperform the guy in the crease at the other end of the rink.

It's been said countless times. We've seen it play out time after time the past three seasons, including last night in a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The mix is wrong. Plenty of reasonably skilled and undersized forwards, not much else to bring to the table. This is not stop-the-presses stuff for fans, media or GM Craig MacTavish. All this we know.

THIS JUST IN . . .

Knowing what's lacking, obviously, is one thing. Doing something about it, changing the mix of personnel and adding different dimensions to the meat of the roster, not the fringes, is quite another because MacTavish hasn't managed to pull it off so far with an eighth straight year out of the playoffs on the horizon.

Until MacTavish does that, until coach Dallas Eakins has a different roster of players from which to assemble his line-up, anything he does right now is, to borrow a threadbare cliché, akin to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. This team, as assembled, isn't going to compete for the playoffs. Not this season. Not next season. It's not going to happen.

Again, this is not a revelation. That, I suspect, is what frustrates Oiler fans most. Does MacTavish need more time to change the make-up of this team? Sure he does. He's been on the job as GM for months, not years. Fact or not, that's a tough sell for fans who've been faithfully buying tickets for decades. They've been more than patient.

That isn't MacTavish's fault, but it most certainly is his problem. Changing the make-up of this team, assembling the right mix, is either going to take a lot more time or the kind of "bold moves" MacT talked about when he took the job. That, in the end, is going to mean taking a player or two from that talented group of forwards and turning it into the necessary pieces.

Time, I'd suggest, is not on MacTavish's side. That leaves bold. My sense is that, while nobody wants to part with one of thoroughbreds up front, they've seen enough of the same damn thing for years on end to have the stomach for it if the return is right. Until that happens, this one-trick pony of a team isn’t going anywhere, except in circles. It's a carousel of false hope.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#102 Pucker
November 27 2013, 01:52PM
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I don't know whose fault it is - the most frustrating thing I see when watching one of their games is the amount of time spent in the Defensive Zone vs Offensive Zone.

I think they're getting the puck out better this season but it's still coming right back in.

A couple high end defencemen would change the balance a little but if they can't keep possession in the attacking zone, there are going to be some tired and frustrated players by the end of the game.

Thus, we don't have a very desirable market free agents; thus, we're back in that Catch-22.

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#103 Pucker
November 27 2013, 01:57PM
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Another frustration is the Oiler's lose if a team pressures them.

They looked good against Florida and Columbus because they were allowed time to handle the puck.

Calgary, I'm not sure. Might have been just a difference in talent there.

Chicago was on them like a dirty shirt, which created bad passes/turnovers. I think the body checking has very little to do with it. It's just pressure.

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#104 Pucker
November 27 2013, 01:57PM
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Another frustration is the Oiler's lose if a team pressures them.

They looked good against Florida and Columbus because they were allowed time to handle the puck.

Calgary, I'm not sure. Might have been just a difference in talent there.

Chicago was on them like a dirty shirt, which created bad passes/turnovers. I think the body checking has very little to do with it. It's just pressure.

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#105 Pucker
November 27 2013, 01:59PM
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Sorry for double-posting.

I click the button, Wait a minute. Nothing happens - so I click again and

Presto!

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#106 hockeycrazed
November 27 2013, 02:03PM
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@Larry

Hey, I couldn't agree more, man, I am a fan since 79, been a season tickets holder since 81, been thinking of giving them up though, it's just so frustrating to watch the team you loved and supported to be run by people who cared about everything else but the hockey part of it, they aren't drafting a lot of elite players as they had when Barry Fraser was here, and when they did, they would develop them and trade them away for money. They might call this An NHL franchise, But, it sure feels like it's an AHL affiliate, responsible for training young players, and when they are ready, they would be sent away..... If there ever was ' hockey player trafficking' this fits the billing perfectly!

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#107 sikandar
November 27 2013, 02:10PM
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Brownlee, as you've mentioned, nothing you've said here is new (and with no disrespect, nor is it really worth repeating for the tenth time).

I'm wondering, with your years of experience, what do you think the delay has been from MacT's side? A lack of trading partners due to positioning? A recognition by other GMs that we're dealing from a position of weakness? And if you were running the team, who do you think is the piece that moves to get us that rounded winning team (or do you think it's multiple moves?).

An article with the above insight would be a welcome contribution rather than a rehash of a problem we've known about for what's been a very long time.

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#108 Team Hall
November 27 2013, 02:44PM
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I think that if we have to move one of the superkids, I would trade Gags first.

He is small, he gets pushed off the puck, he is not as offensively gifted as the others, and he has a replacement in waiting (Arco).

Gags for Errhoff?

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#109 Oier Al
November 27 2013, 03:07PM
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I think this is great write up on the Oiler situation.

I think MacT tried to make more moves this summer but could no or perhaps was told that there are untouchable beyond the Fab Five....

I mean Hemsky and Gagner should have been moved ,they are not difference makers on this team .I honestly think these are Lowes boys and that why GAGner gets extended, and Lowe showered $10 million on Hemsky two years ago... no team wants him and his contract.

The fact is that if you had a great improvment on the 3 and 4 lines, Defense , goal tending , your top six still play the same game,,, and they are top minute crunchers .. what you see is what you get.... their game will remain the same... and thats not good.

I have no problem moving Eberle, but it would be A CRIME .. to trade him while retaining Hemsky and Gagner.

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#110 Drowning in Oil
November 27 2013, 03:09PM
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I dont really think people grasp how far ahead of Buffalo we really are. Do you people not realize we are 5 points ahead of them. What the hell are people bitching about. That is 2 regulation wins and a overtime loss. We are on the right track.

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#111 paulie
November 27 2013, 03:22PM
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Oier Al wrote:

I think this is great write up on the Oiler situation.

I think MacT tried to make more moves this summer but could no or perhaps was told that there are untouchable beyond the Fab Five....

I mean Hemsky and Gagner should have been moved ,they are not difference makers on this team .I honestly think these are Lowes boys and that why GAGner gets extended, and Lowe showered $10 million on Hemsky two years ago... no team wants him and his contract.

The fact is that if you had a great improvment on the 3 and 4 lines, Defense , goal tending , your top six still play the same game,,, and they are top minute crunchers .. what you see is what you get.... their game will remain the same... and thats not good.

I have no problem moving Eberle, but it would be A CRIME .. to trade him while retaining Hemsky and Gagner.

To me it is the same article just rehashed over and over. Lets say MacT was told not to trade any of the Fab Five, what does that speak of him. It would certainly speak to the ineptitude of this organization and why MacT really got the job. Of course it is speculation, but nothing would surprise me with this organization.

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#112 Rama Lama
November 27 2013, 03:27PM
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I think that most fans are resigned to the fact that until the Oilers land a big tough puck moving defensemen with a positive track record, nothing will change.

The real problem is is there one of those defensemen available? I suggest not......and even if there was, we would have to give up two or three top end assets to get him. All this means we would now have a stud defensemen and now be short in other positions. The net gain would be neutral and now the fans would be just as pissed off.

There is no trade solution so the only logical solution would be to get a UFA and overpay, .......and then hope that your drafting provided exactly what you need.

We can only hope Darnell Nurse is the next coming of Chris Pronger!!

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#113 A-Mc
November 27 2013, 04:17PM
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Pucker wrote:

Another frustration is the Oiler's lose if a team pressures them.

They looked good against Florida and Columbus because they were allowed time to handle the puck.

Calgary, I'm not sure. Might have been just a difference in talent there.

Chicago was on them like a dirty shirt, which created bad passes/turnovers. I think the body checking has very little to do with it. It's just pressure.

You make a good point. As soon as the Oilers are pressured, they start doing no-look chips off the boards just to clear the zone. A Significant amount of the time, it results in a turn over with the puck coming right back in.

Instead of taking that extra split second to look at where they are tossing the puck, they blindly turn it over repeatedly.

Although - being able to maintain possession when someone is on your Can, has a lot to do with size and strength. If you're out muscled, your best bet IS to bail it before you're pressured.. SO size does play a role to some degree.

I would definitely say that the no-look chip outs are a bad habit that the Oil need to work on.

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#114 S cottV
November 27 2013, 04:29PM
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Rama Lama wrote:

I think that most fans are resigned to the fact that until the Oilers land a big tough puck moving defensemen with a positive track record, nothing will change.

The real problem is is there one of those defensemen available? I suggest not......and even if there was, we would have to give up two or three top end assets to get him. All this means we would now have a stud defensemen and now be short in other positions. The net gain would be neutral and now the fans would be just as pissed off.

There is no trade solution so the only logical solution would be to get a UFA and overpay, .......and then hope that your drafting provided exactly what you need.

We can only hope Darnell Nurse is the next coming of Chris Pronger!!

I've said it before and got trashed but if somehow Phaneuf and the Leafs dont fully connect and there is some way to get him to take a little less to play at home for a run at the cup - maybe something to look at? I know there may be apparent baggage but what other established top pairing d man is around that wouldnt mind living in Edmonton - and would fight for a deep seeded home cause? Falls under MacT's take a risk program - for sure. But - if you coach some of the giveaways and bad hits, out of his game and maybe a little of the wrong attitude (has a lot of the right attitude) - he is a legit home grown stud d man. Problem is - he's playing too good right now and the Leafs may pay most of the price being asked to keep him.

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#115 oildrops
November 27 2013, 04:31PM
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The problem is the coaching staff, problem solved. it's also more complex then that.

or

It could be the goalies fault for not stopping the pucks from going in the net? I think that sounds better.

or

maybe we have to stop watching the puck and start forcing turnovers and make teams play our game.

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#116 S cottV
November 27 2013, 04:42PM
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S cottV wrote:

I've said it before and got trashed but if somehow Phaneuf and the Leafs dont fully connect and there is some way to get him to take a little less to play at home for a run at the cup - maybe something to look at? I know there may be apparent baggage but what other established top pairing d man is around that wouldnt mind living in Edmonton - and would fight for a deep seeded home cause? Falls under MacT's take a risk program - for sure. But - if you coach some of the giveaways and bad hits, out of his game and maybe a little of the wrong attitude (has a lot of the right attitude) - he is a legit home grown stud d man. Problem is - he's playing too good right now and the Leafs may pay most of the price being asked to keep him.

Here is an excerpt from a Toronto newspaper reporting on the Phaneuf contract negotiations "No question, he is Toronto’s best defenceman, someone who is used on the power play, penalty kill and to shut down the other teams’ top lines. In that role, he has the Leafs’ best possession numbers, with Phaneuf on the ice for more shots for than shots against." Geez - wouldnt that be a few attributes we could use in an Oiler uniform?

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#117 Puck_In_Throat
November 27 2013, 04:52PM
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Here is the crux of why the Oilers suck and Detroit pwns:

Edmonton rushes young players to the NHL, and Detroit does not.

Every young player, not matter how skilled, plays at least a year in the AHL in Detroit's system or in Europe.

Datsyuk and Zetterberg joined the Wings as 23 and 22 year olds, respectively.

Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, Detroit's top two prospects, have played in the AHL for 2 and 3 years respectively, putting up nearly a point a game.

In those years, young players learn how to play 2 way hockey, without the pressure of requiring wins "today". They are then brought up to the NHL and expected to play 2 way hockey.

By comparison, none of Eberle, Hall, Nuge, Yak, Gagner, Hemsky or J. Schultz has, with the exception of the lockout, played in the AHL.

You all saw what those guys did in the AHL for 40 games. If they all had 150 AHL games, they would have learned a LOT more than in getting pounded for 150 NHL games.

BTW, Nyquist is Gagner's age, and Tatar is a year younger. Their NHL salaries: $950,000 and $630,000, respectively. You could ice both players for less than half the cost of playing J. Schultz.

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#118 Rama Lama
November 27 2013, 05:08PM
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S cottV wrote:

Here is an excerpt from a Toronto newspaper reporting on the Phaneuf contract negotiations "No question, he is Toronto’s best defenceman, someone who is used on the power play, penalty kill and to shut down the other teams’ top lines. In that role, he has the Leafs’ best possession numbers, with Phaneuf on the ice for more shots for than shots against." Geez - wouldnt that be a few attributes we could use in an Oiler uniform?

He would look good in an Oilers uniform........but I suspect he will want to go to LA where his girlfriend wants to be?

I was thinking more along the lines of a Gardiner/ Schenn to help in a second pairing. No chance TO lets him walk IMHO.

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#119 Copper
November 27 2013, 05:50PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Robin, so, stats only count when they support your argument ? 60% of Oilers games have been on the road so far. Not homer stats. Again, biggest holes are bottom 6. Oilers at missing 5 of them. Top pair Dman is what most NHL teams would like too.

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#120 Cru Jones
November 27 2013, 05:59PM
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@Puck_In_Throat

I hear this argument a lot and I have to disagree. It's impossible to gauge how the Wings, who aren't all that great right now themselves, would behave with the sort of picks the Oilers have had because they've never had them. If you think the Wings would be keeping players like Yakupov, RNH and Hall in the minors, I think you're mistaken. The guys that the Wings have seasoned in the minors are the same sort of picks that Edmonton is doing the same thing with, ie: Lander, Hartikainen, Gernat, etc.

I'm not arguing that Edmonton's high picks wouldn't have possibly benefited from time in the minors, I just don't think it's realistic to point to the way another franchise handles picks in the 20-100 range, and say that's how it should be done for guys drafted in the top 5. If you look at Edmonton's players drafted in similar spots (Petry, Pitlick, Lander), Edmonton is arguably doing the same thing as the Wings.

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#121 Rod from Viking
November 27 2013, 06:02PM
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S cottV wrote:

Agreed - he competes but is not at a top 2 lines level, Gordon more upside in the 3rd rotation and Arcobello is not really a 4th line centreman kind of guy. He probably deserves to play on demonstrated merit but where?

There is no reason Arcobella can't be a fourth line center, put one of the Ryans on his left side and I think he would do just fine, he wins face-offs, cycles the puck well and is an excellent penalty killer. The fourth lines job is to create energy,keep the puck in the other teams end so you don't get scored on and of course give the other lines a rest.

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#122 camdog
November 27 2013, 07:06PM
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Rama Lama wrote:

I think that most fans are resigned to the fact that until the Oilers land a big tough puck moving defensemen with a positive track record, nothing will change.

The real problem is is there one of those defensemen available? I suggest not......and even if there was, we would have to give up two or three top end assets to get him. All this means we would now have a stud defensemen and now be short in other positions. The net gain would be neutral and now the fans would be just as pissed off.

There is no trade solution so the only logical solution would be to get a UFA and overpay, .......and then hope that your drafting provided exactly what you need.

We can only hope Darnell Nurse is the next coming of Chris Pronger!!

Problem with Pronger is he didn't really excel until his 3rd season in the league. Even if Nurse turned into a Pronger that means another couple of years of well - this.

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#123 madjam
November 27 2013, 07:08PM
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Mact. problem number one along with the person who hired him to be GM . His vision and results have lead to where we are today - going even further backwards . Howson not the answer either . You have waited close to 8 years for this club assembly to perform , yet when you get a new Gm that takes you further backwards you say to give him more time ? Does not make any sense to me .

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#124 madjam
November 27 2013, 07:26PM
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Cru Jones wrote:

I hear this argument a lot and I have to disagree. It's impossible to gauge how the Wings, who aren't all that great right now themselves, would behave with the sort of picks the Oilers have had because they've never had them. If you think the Wings would be keeping players like Yakupov, RNH and Hall in the minors, I think you're mistaken. The guys that the Wings have seasoned in the minors are the same sort of picks that Edmonton is doing the same thing with, ie: Lander, Hartikainen, Gernat, etc.

I'm not arguing that Edmonton's high picks wouldn't have possibly benefited from time in the minors, I just don't think it's realistic to point to the way another franchise handles picks in the 20-100 range, and say that's how it should be done for guys drafted in the top 5. If you look at Edmonton's players drafted in similar spots (Petry, Pitlick, Lander), Edmonton is arguably doing the same thing as the Wings.

Almost all our youth played close to half season in minors due to lock out , Eberle even longer . Yakupov is only one that didn't . So why does everyone say they should have started in minors when they already had ? Canned excuse for some I guess , but ignorant of their time there .

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#125 Harlie
November 27 2013, 07:37PM
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Pucker wrote:

Sorry for double-posting.

I click the button, Wait a minute. Nothing happens - so I click again and

Presto!

The definition on how to overflow a toilet everybody.

Flush once.

Post Comment once. Simple.

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#127 John Kirsch
November 27 2013, 08:03PM
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Our top players could learn from watching Toews and Kane "compete"; those are hockey players who play at the highest level night in and night out, both top (1-3) picks respectively.

Toews in IMO is the modern version of Messier, world class skill combined with world class leadership and Kane's offensive skills are on a level near Gretzky, Lemieux and Crosby. They play (and their teammates) with an intensity not exhibited by this current group (top picks 1-2) Oilers.

Again it all comes back to talent analysis by Oilers management (GM, coach, scouts, advisers etc...)as to the right "mix" of talent to be successful. Very good offensively gifted talent is what we have, but bad chemistry as well, and that translates into mediocrity. I would take a Backes, Brown type of player in a heartbeat over a Hopkins or Yak.

Eventually Edmonton will get it right!

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#128 Dangilitis
November 27 2013, 10:16PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Why dig yourself deeper?

You listed three stats. You flat-out fudged one of them -- about fighting majors -- and gave two others that are, at best, debatable in terms of supporting your argument.

The best part is you're arguing like I'm blaming the top six forwards for the Oilers problems when, in fact, I'm saying the exact opposite -- the top six is a position of depth and can or should be used to address other shortcomings that are the problem.

Why trade a strength of the team for players that could have been had in a great buyers UFA market last off-season for free? Boyes, Raymond, Grabovski, Gilbert, Hainsey, the list goes on. Khudobin instead of Labarbera and maybe its a different season.

That is why MacT failed. How could he not see the train wreck? Now media like you are going to force his hand to do something rash and stupid, and its his own fault.

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#129 crobar
November 27 2013, 10:34PM
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looks like the edmonton version of playoff action will be from dec.26 to jan.5...... followed by a 6 month debate on the draft. it's unreal that the buffoons in the capital city lick up the propaganda like candy floss!hey, at least they are making money.....

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#130 Quicksilver ballet
November 28 2013, 04:50AM
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What we're watching here in Edmonton, has all the earmarks/issues of a should be AHL team. Glaring holes in key positions throughout this line up at unmistakable NHL ticket prices.

Can't see the Oilers ever being competitive again. Oilers were a cap team in October, even with this many holes at key positions on their roster. With overpays rampant throughout this current line up, only thing that would help, would be if Bettman allowed a 10 million northern (B market) living allowance dollars to compensate for this disadvantage. Or, get a much stronger management group in here, but we know this will never happen with all of Katz's buddies running things here.

Not a lot of room for optimism it appears...

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#131 Saytalk
November 28 2013, 05:59AM
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Philadelphia is interested in Eberle and they have a few players that would improve the Oilers' mix. MacT should be talking to them.

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#132 Oil Blood
November 28 2013, 10:59AM
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@Oier Al

EDIT: You're done here, smart guy. Slip around the IP block 100 times if you want. Anything you post from another IP that gets in will be removed. Instead of making even a faint attempt to follow guidelines, you've decided to be an internet tough guy and run your mouth. Easy to do anonymously, right?

I'm still here. You're done. That's that.

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