Florida! God it’s beautiful, especially this time of year (usually). The Panthers are a young team on the rise and have some outstanding top end talent. The Oilers are not on the rise but also possess some of the best young talent in the game. How do the Oilers get to the place where January games matter?
GET GOOD PLAYERS, KEEP GOOD PLAYERS
The first thing for the Oilers to do is acquire players who are useful in the NHL to mentor the youngsters. Sometimes we focus on age (“Ference is too old!”) but some players can be effective deep into their 30’s. An example would be Brian Campbell, currently serving the mentor role for Aaron Ekblad on the Florida Panthers.
Actually, Ekblad’s progression compared to recent Oilers prospects on defense is an interesting item to follow. Here are the WOWY numbers (Corsi for 5×5 %) for the Florida rookie:
- Ekblad with Campbell: 54.8 (a wonderful possession number)
- Ekblad without Campbell: 41.2 (a poor possession number)
Imagine a world where Jeff Petry or Justin Schultz or Oscar Klefbom or Martin Marrincin or Darnell Nurse had that kind of support and cover as rookies. Music! Instead, Oilers rookies can look forward to mentoring from players who are simply unable to do the job. I’m not trashing the Oilers veteran blue, it’s simply a statement of fact.
Say what you want about Campbell’s excessive contract, those millions are being spent on a tremendous future in Aaron Ekblad. That’s good management.
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) January 17, 2015
These could be the final games for Jeff Petry as an Oiler, we’re six weeks away from the deadline and only a (very late) change of heart keeps the player in Edmonton. NHL Numbers tells us next year’s defense is going to be expensive and porous unless major moves are made:
- Niki Nikitin $4.5M next season before free agency
- Justin Schultz $3.675M this year and a big raise coming no matter contract length
- Mark Fayne $3.625M cap hit next season
- Andrew Ference $3.25M cap hit next season
- Oscar Klefbom, just over $1M on his cap hit
What will they do? I suspect we’ll see a major addition over the summer, a big time NHL defenseman purchased with assets acquired during the losing seasons. As Edmonton has no real area of strength since David Perron was dealt, I suspect it’ll be robbing Peter to pay Paul but this group needs help for sure.
What should they do? Sign Petry and trade Schultz, while also preparing the paperwork for a Nikitin buy out. They should also take a very long look at the thought process behind trading for Nikitin, handing him $4.5M times two and calling it a day when addressing defense. Incredible display of bad decision making.
IS THERE ANY GOOD NEWS?
You bet! The Oilers have so much young talent that any game could be splendid or better. I got to see them against Chicago a week ago and lordy that was the best game I’ve attended in years. Craig MacTavish HAS added some helping veterans since arriving in 2013 summer as GM but it simply isn’t enough to turn this crazy rig around.
WILL NEXT YEAR BE BETTER?
I don’t know. The Edmonton Oilers under Craig MacTavish have spent two summers making better bets than Steve Tambellini did but it still can’t get off the ground. MacT’s shorter contracts on men like Nikitin were meant to buy time but have backfired on him and now he’s facing a buyout possibility one year after signing the deal.
Will MacT pull the trigger on the buyout? Will the Oilers finally realize that pushing ALL roster youth into the NHL is a loser’s bet? Will they finally realize that true balance for a roster needs to happen opening night, and that “let’s see how this gells” is something other teams left behind 15 years ago? Will they take a long look at how they conduct business in regard to men like Jeff Petry?
I don’t have those answers. We wait.
These numbers are much better than the last 10 game run, miles fewer -8’s and -5’s. The offensive players are scoring (Hall, Eberle, Pouliot, Nuge, Roy) and this might be the best 10 game run for Ference since he got here. Even Anton Lander is showing signs.
On the downside, Nail le sigh and Niki Nikitin has not been good at all. During this 10-game stretch the goalies have made 262 saves on 291 shots (SP: .900). The team’s record in these 10 games: 3-5-2, but that Tampa Bay game should have been a win and everyone knows it.
Damnable damnable hockey Gods will not stop kicking the Oilers.
The projected lineups for tonight:
- Matt Fraser needs to show a little more on that 4line. Edmonton is in the ‘look-see’ mode now so Iiro Pakarinen or another prospect may take his job if he can’t produce a little more. Helluva shot, though.
- Nikitin’s struggles make me wonder just how badly Martin Marincin must be playing in OKC. Must be an absolute tire fire.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
The GA/GP gap is a monster and you can see when looking at the shots-against per game that Florida is getting miles better goaltending.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers come out strong and play Florida to an early draw. An offensive zone penalty by Edmonton opens the door and the surprisingly strong Panthers pounce. 4-1 Florida.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Jeff Petry is Edmonton’s best defenseman again.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers show glimpses of a better day despite the score, as they have for so very long.