FOUR MINUTE WARNING

 

The Edmonton Oilers may not add to their current group of forwards for the coming season based on GM Craig MacTavish’s words in his latest interview. If true, the bottom 6F look slightly better in some areas and the same or worse in others. How will coach Dallas Eakins get around it? Increased minutes for his top 6F, reliance on the wisdom of the pro scouting department, a winger from his AHL team and perhaps a Baron or two when things get tight.

TIME ON ICE 2012-13

The Oilers under Ralph Krueger employed a 4line rotation that saw Nail Yakupov (12:04) and Eric Belanger (10:47) get about the same even strength time on ice. More stark, the Hall-Nuge-Eberle line played about 15.5 minutes at even strength, about 2 full minutes less than league leaders like Steven Stamkos and Ilya Kovalchuk. Edmonton could easily push their 1line (and their 2line) during games and rotate the bottom 6F’s less often. 

Why would they do that? Because in today’s NHL any game that can offer points in the standings is vital, and because the Oilers have a massive gap between their 1line and their third and fourth lines.

How would they do that? There are designated times during each game where a television timeout allows the coach to re-set his lines. Coach Ralph Krueger often passed on the opportunity, I think that’s one area where the new coach can have an immediate impact.

Other strategies to gain the edge? Offensive zone starts for the best available forwards and monster own zone faceoffs for Boyd Gordon (he’s used to it–and good at it!) feeds into an area of strength for the hockey club.

Anything else? The really curious item for me last season was the PP TOI for the top guns. Hall, Nuge and Ebs averaged just 3 minutes a night, while 23 NHL forwards averaged 3.5 minutes per night or more with the man advantage. 

There are 25 NHL players who averaged more than 20 minutes a night on ice a year ago, 35 two years ago. The Oiler leader this past season was Sam Gagner at 19:24, with Hall–the best player on the team–averaging only 18.5 minutes a night. Increasing that number by 90 seconds or two minutes for Hall’s line–with a similar increase for the 2line–should give Edmonton more firepower and make them less reliant on the bottom 6 forwards. 

If the Oilers can move some of those depth minutes to the front line of forwards, the results–shot differential, goals for and against–should head in a better direction. The keys are the Hall line, the Gagner line being much better than a year ago, and Boyd Gordon.

THE PRO SCOUTS

If the pro scouts (on both sides of the pond) got it right, Jesse Joensuu may end up being a hidden gem from the free agent frenzy. Signed to a 2-year contract with the Oilers, he’s a physical player with skill and some ability

THE HOCKEY NEWS ON JOENSSU

The Hockey News offers an excellent thumbnail sketch on all NHL players and prospects and is a good starting point. Joensuu is exactly the type of player Edmonton used to acquire during the Sather era–a 2nd round pick who struggled with an NHL team not known for succesful talent development– and hopefully Craig MacTavish inherited it from his old GM/coach.

EAKINS MEN

The Oilers acquired two of Eakins Marlies (Ryan Hamilton and Will Acton) and those two players along with some of the AHL Barons (Anton Lander, Mark Arcobello, Martin Marincin, Taylor Fedun along with recently signed Richard Bachman, Brad Hunt) provide some needed depth. The blueline is especially strong.

I think the Oilers will probably add some training camp invites or late summer ufa additions (guys like C’s Marty Reasoner, David Steckel, Jerred Smithson, along with wingers like Brandon Yip, Chuck Kobasew, Peter Mueller) depending on cost and availability. The club up front is pretty exposed currently if they lose someone to injury and MacT will want to cover up the holes as best as he can before September and training camp.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Photo Credit: -J. Nilsson Photography
Model: Daniela Marin

It has been less than a perfect summer so far, but the improvements in the roster are up the middle–G, D and C–along with added skill and experience in David Perron. A guess at opening night lineups might look like this (C-L-R):

  • Nuge-Hall-Eberle (Arcobello likely slotted in for injured Nuge)
  • Gagner-Perron-Yakupov
  • Gordon-Jones-Hemsky
  • Lander-Smyth-Jonessu
  • Smid-Petry
  • Ference-J Schultz
  • N Schultz-Belov/Larsen
  • Dubnyk/LaBarbera

Those top 2 lines need to play a larger portion of the game, that 3rd line has to be getting most of the available own zone starts, and the 4th line needs to be effective when called upon. The Oilers remain a rebuilding team in transition, but the summer moves have been reasonable and should improve the team next season.

If coach Eakins can grab 4 minutes in total time from the bottom 6 forwards and hand it to the top 6 forwards, the Oilers may be able to move up the standings enough to make the trade deadline meaningful.

A veteran left winger for that 3rd line wouldn’t go amiss either.