Something to Believe in

Team-5

It has taken me a couple of weeks to get my thoughts in order about this Oilers season. 

Before the start of the season I knew this wasn’t a playoff team. I didn’t see why such a huge jump in points was expected.

40-Dubnyk-14

The start to the season was a mess. I was wrong about Devan Dubnyk. I fully expected him to make the last step forward to becoming a solid starter in the NHL. Instead he was very shaky. Some slack should be given to him. When Craig MacTavish came out publicly and questioned if the goaltending was strong enough he wasn’t doing Dubnyk any favors.

Dubnyk shouldn’t take all the blame for the poor start. The skaters were all a mess. Their confusion with another new system to understand was a big issue. They looked both unsure of themselves and frozen because they were thinking too much instead of reacting. Mix in a lack of competitiveness and you get the ugly start that you all saw.

I don’t think a start combining so many weak areas could be done again even if it was planned.

After the first twenty games the tide turned somewhat. The team started to play better. There is however a lot of work to do for MacT in this off season.

The Keepers

30-Scrivens-9

I will start with what I think are areas he doesn’t have to work on.

The goaltending duo of Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fast are locked in stone for next fall. This is an upgrade on what started last fall. These two have some NHL experience but until one of them grabs the starter’s role from the other, the issue of goaltending is still up in the air. Starting goalies are good for years not stretches. Look at the Anaheim Ducks. They have a lot of depth with goalies but are uncomfortable using any as a starter in these playoffs. Depth doesn’t equate to strength between the pipes. Time will tell in net for the Oilers.

Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. This three are at their best when playing together. It is a dangerous offensive line. It is three players learning to play a complete two way game. Back checking is an area I think these three can improve as well as puck management during critical moments of the game. There are clearly times to take risks and time to be more conservative. With their speed a chip or soft dump is a much smarter play then a turn over at the blue line.

57-Perron-10

David Perron is the type of player the Oilers need more of. I like bigger players but with an attitude like his size becomes an non-issue. His willingness to go to the front of the net and to get into opposing players faces is unique for the Oilers. He is a part of the solution for the Oilers second line. If the day comes when the Oilers are seriously competing for a Stanley Cup he is the third line right winger because of the depth of the squad.

Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Luke Gazdic are a great fourth line. I would prefer to have a Gazdic/Mike Brown duo to rotate in and out of that wing spot. Then during the game give Hall or Eberle or whichever player is buzzing extra ice there. I said it in an earlier entry that on a Cup winning team the Gordon line is a fourth line, not a third line. These guys will do the hard minutes on the penalty kill and can easily play north of ten minutes every night. This gives your top guys a chance to rest.

Jeff Petry

On the back end Jeff Petry, Andrew Ference and Justin Schultz all played a lot of minutes this year. Trust me, Petry in a NHL player. He is not a top pairing guy, very few are. Schultz improved on his timing in jumping into the play over the season. His area of weakness is still his lack of determination and urgency in his own zone. He is quite often in the right spot; he just doesn’t do enough when there. Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin were both bright spots. I am uncomfortable with the idea such a young group anchoring this group of Oilers forwards. In a perfect world only one starts the year with the team.

The Problems

89-Gagner-7

Now it is time for the question marks.

The combination of Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov on the second line did not work this year. They both like to have the puck and defensively it just was not good. This line needs to be adjusted. Perron is a winger, and then the other two spots are up for discussion. I am unsure if both Yakupov and Gagner are back next year. MacT would be selling at a low price with them both coming off weak season. But if the Oilers want to make a step forward a change here is needed.

The whole third line is up for grabs. With Ryan Smyth retiring, Ryan Jones moving on and Anton Lander not having securing a spot in the NHL there is a lot of work to do here. I have already said I think the Gordon line is a fourth line so MacT needs to get busy. The best example of a line I would feel comfortable with here is made up of three free agents. MacT would have to overpay for all three. I just want it to be clear the type of energy and type of player I would want on that third line.

  • Right Wing: Ryan Callahan, 29 – Solid leader, competitor, penalty killer and he produces points. 36 points in 65 games.
  • Left Wing: Lee Stempniak, 31 – Solid player with goal scoring ability, although on the down slide. 34 points in 73 games.
  • Center: Nikolai Kulemin, 27 – Solid two-way player. He competes and solidifies the third line with steady play. 20 points in 70 games.

The third line would be a veteran group of players. Dallas Eakins could count on this line to be solid all over the ice along with the duo of Gordon and Hendricks on the fourth line. There would be more than enough penalty killers amongst the bottom two lines; the Oilers would even have depth in that area! This line is probably a pipe dream but it is an example of what the team needs to find and bring in through trade, free agency or the draft.

The Oilers power play suffered this season. The Oilers need to bring in a PP coach that speaks the same language as the top players on the team. Adam Oates would be an example of such a guy.

Watching these NHL playoffs really should open Oilers fans eyes to the level of competitiveness the team needs to get to. There is no doubt that all the playoff teams go at each other harder when the Cup is on the line but as it is built today, the Oilers cannot get to that level or close to it.

I think too often I have used the work ‘character’ to describe an area of weakness for the Oilers. I have been thinking that isn’t fair. A better word I will be using now is desire. Do the Oilers have the desire to do anything needed to win not just a game but a shift? This includes blocking a shot, taking less ice time, playing a tighter defensive game, etc. You get the idea. Just watch any playoff game. Can you envision the Oilers as they are today getting to that level of desperation?

This group to find more desire and more players with desire need to be brought in. Then I will have something to believe in.

  • Bucknuck

    This article is different then the ones you read from a lot of hockey insiders out there. Strud’s has been there. He’s been in that room and knows players. If he says Yak should go, as long as we get something back, I would agree. BUT, I don’t care who you bring in upfront or who you have in net, until we solidify our back-end this team is going to struggle. Klefbom & Marincin are both young but could definitly use more seasoning in OKC. What D-men are out there that can help I don’t know but as you can see by these playoffs, defense and goaltending win Cups.

    • Bucknuck

      He said Yak may go not should go.

      Why would you sell low on a 1st overall pick without trying to help him? At least try the guy out with a decent 2 way centre and not gagner.

  • bwar

    After reading your assessment Struds, wow are we ever a long ways off from being competitive. Basically 8 forwards and 3 defensemen away from being competitive next season. That is a massive portion of the roster.

    I could see Pinizotto being the guy who can rotate in and out of the lineup with Gazdic.

    The defense isn’t getting fixed this season. There doesn’t appear to be any big name UFA’s that will be coming to Edmonton. I expect to see an absurdly young defensive grouping next season.

    The forwards are going to be a tough fix as well. I don’t see Gagner being part of any trade that see a reasonable return coming back to Edmonton. Also, I would be very disappointed to see Yakupov sent out of town for scraps. The trades just seem so far out of Edmonton’s favor that it seems unlikely we are going to head into next season with any meaningful improvement up front.

    Expect another season in the basement.

  • Bucknuck

    I don’t think the Oilers are in any position to win or break even in a trade involving Gagner. If TOR were to eat at least $1mil a year on Clarkson (bringing his cap to $4.25 mil over 6 years) to even up salaries would that trade be considered beneficial to the Oilers (all things considered)? He would an expensive third line winger or move up to the second if he improves.

  • Bucknuck

    I’m guessing that signing Arcobello he would be part of the 3rd line but that is only a guess.

    What I would do (if any of this were possible) is trade Gagner to Ottawa for Zack Smith, and try signing Winnik.

    Draft Sam Bennett and if he’s to play with the club you can shelter him a bit on the 3rd line seeing as how both Arcobello and Smith are natural C’s.

    3rd line would be Arcobello/Smith/Winnik

    That’s just my opinion of course but I think that’s a solid mix of skill and energy

  • Bucknuck

    Nice article. I certainly agree about Petry. I don’t like all the noise knocking him. Hopefully it’s just a noisy minority. He makes some bonehead plays but other times he makes good use of his vast tool kit. Hopefully he’ll make big strides working with more support next season.

    I think that’s a great idea having an old-people line with experience.

    We all know the D needs some upgrading. Unless this happens and the forwards start working better with the the D, the Goalies will be burned out by Thanksgiving.

    I saw glimmers of the 5 skaters working as a unit the last few games of the season. I hope the carry it forward and improve.

  • bwar

    For 2C I’d like to see them target one of Dubinsky, Anisimov, Smith from Nash, or Bailey. Bailey could be costly in terms of what NYI would want and I wonder how long it would be before fans here complain about his lack of offense.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    One UFA D’man I think would be a good role model/help for these kids in Stephane Robidas. That guy is way overdue for some success, and Ference could use some help with these kids back there.

    A two year deal might be enough to get his attention this off season.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      He just broke his leg in the same place, for the second time this year. He was on TV crying last night because he knows his career is over. Nobody is offering that leg a contract. But you know that, you’re just trolling.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Ah, you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. It may have been on the same leg, but it was a different fracture completely.

        Like nobody plays in the NHL at the age of 38….

        Weak sauce Smytty, be better.

    • Derian Hatcher

      Forget Robidas, I would target Matt Niskanen he he far superior to Robidas. Robidas is at the end of his career, good run but whatever. Niskanen is a stud and he is from the “region” lol. Btw, saw Ference on MSNBC and he was great as a guest commentator, I am sure that is the plan after he is done…

  • #ThereGoesTheOilers

    “I am unsure if both Yakupov and Gagner are back next year. MacT would be selling at a low price with them both coming off weak season. But if the Oilers want to make a step forward a change here is needed.”

    Just glancing over some of the comments on this. I don’t think it’s so much that a trade would be akin to ‘giving up’ on Yak. Rather, the going concern frequently voiced is that as the year progressed, Nail seemed to appear more and more discouraged and disengaged.

    The hooplaw earlier this year with Larionov and MacT didn’t help things either.

  • #ThereGoesTheOilers

    Good analysis from a players perspective.

    Some points of disagreement:

    Top lines shouldnt “dump the puck in” to avoid turnovers, not all players should play like you did Struds.

    Also, so these professional athletes made it all the way to the NHL without having any “desire” apparently? I think not.

    To win, you need good players. Not desire, not character, good players with a combined CF% over 50%.

    • Jason Strudwick

      I clearly wrote that there are times when players should dump it in or soft chip. Take a second look.

      I have played with guy who did not have desire. Trust me. It isn’t a must for a player to make it to the NHL.

      I totally disagree with your last statement. You just “need good players” in my opinion is way off base! “Not desire, not character” You lost me there. Good luck to your style of team. I will build mine my way.

  • Derian Hatcher

    Agree with your assessment that the third line should be the fourth line or better yet can’t we just kinda have two third lines. 3A and 3B.You can have Gordon and Hendricks and maybe Arco to help with the cap. Then pick up a 3A line. To me gazdic would be the 13th forward. I am wary of Callahan as he plays in the East and his point total may drop drastically in the West.. not to mention his size. These are things MacT needs to be aware of when getting players.

  • elGabester

    @ Jason strudwick

    I see that you speak highly of David perron so in your opinion would the oil be better off drafting leon draisaitl or Sam Bennett (who reminds me of perron with his style of play and determination to score) mind you I’ve only watched SB on YouTube. Or am I out to lunch

  • Derian Hatcher

    If at all possible I would overpay a serviceable 2C on a two year contract and put Arco at 3C with Gags on his wing. Oilers can then leave Bennett/Reinhart/Draisaitl to develop in Junior until capable of stepping directly into the 2C roll.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    “Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon and Luke Gazdic are a great fourth line.”

    Really?
    Are you sure?
    You’re positive?

    Well, according to Lowetide (http://lowetide.ca/blog/2014/04/re-13-14-boyd-gordon-hard-nose-the-highway.html), Boyd Gordon and Luke Gazdic played together at 5-on-5 for… are you ready for it… 14 minutes. The entire season. The entire frigging season.

    Hence, I’m not sure how you can say they “are a great fourth line”. Personally, I think Boyd Gordon is a fantastic bottom-pairing centerman and that plugs like Gazdic would just weigh him down.

  • Scoring goals and preventing goals wins games.

    Goals for:
    Even Goals

    Top 3 Fwd
    Hall 20; Perron 19; Eberle 20
    This total is around 5 EVG short of the best teams

    Fwd 4-6 best teams average 44 EVG
    RNH 13
    Gagner 9
    Yak 7
    15 EVG short of better teams

    Fwd 7-9 best teams average 29 EVG
    Gordon 6
    Smith 5
    Hendricks 4
    14 EVG short of best teams

    Hendricks and Gordon getting 10 EVG while having a 25% ZS. is an elite 4th line.

    Sam Gagner
    18-20 .12 EVG/gm
    21-22 .16 EVG/gm
    23-24 healthy gagner .20 EVG/gm
    i would hope gagner returns his .20 EVG pace.
    14-16 evg/season
    nice base for a #3 center

    Yak was 11 EVG in 12-13 top 40 FWD
    though it is clear Yak grew up with defensively responsible centres.
    Boghdan yakimov in youth
    Galchenyuk CHL
    Yak played 561 ev minutes
    he got 7 EVg in 119 minutes with Horc
    Yak got 3 EVG in 58 minutes with Hall.

    Hall-XXX-Yak
    Perron-RNH-Eberle
    XXX-Gagner-XXX
    Hendricks-Gordon-XXX
    Gazdic-XXX

    Since Jan it has been apparent we need to chase as many EVG defensively responsible forwards at Affordable Cap hit.
    these were the forwards i thought of then.

    Goc C/LW 11 EVG/season 1.7M last year.
    Kulemin RW in a 45%+ ZS is a 15 EVG/season
    I agree Jason
    Penner was a 16 EVG/season player with gagner 2.0M last year

  • Sevenseven

    How much Cana team retain in salary on one player is it 50%, if that’s the case I’m sure the leafs are wishing they could buyout clarkson but would trading clarkson to the oilers at half salary help them. I know clarkson had a tough year but at around 3 million to play on the 3rd line and be a front of the net guy would be good.

  • crabman

    There are some good points but some others I can’t get on board with. First I don’t see how putting Gordon and his 21 points and $3 million on the forth line and replacing him with Kulimen and his 20 points improves the 3rd line. Gordon wins his faceoffs, is a strong defensive player and takes all our d zone starts. giving him 4th line minutes is a misuse of him and his cap hit. and Callahan will get his $6 million somewhere and that is too much for our 3rd line.

    I like a line of Yakupov and Perron as they both have speed and the potential to be dynamic scorers but Yak needs a strong defensively minded 2way center. His best hockey last year was with Horcoff as his center. I’m all for getting help on the 3rd line and moving Hendricks down to the 4th where he could anchor a strong checking line.

    But the Oiler’s biggest need is a top 2 D man to eat up some tough minutes and let the rest of the group slip back a spot on the depth chart. If we are going to over pay in free agency this is where it needs to happen not on a 3rd line.