Handcuffed?

Todd Nelson6

Todd Nelson’s in a really awkward spot. He’s an interim head coach, with no job security past the next few months, and he’s trying to make changes on the fly with an underachieving roster and no training camp to set things up.

One thing that might help him is reliable reinforcements from Oklahoma City, but at this point it seems either that there aren’t any or that general manager Craig MacTavish wants him to make do with the players currently in the majors.

Forwards

Gazdic, Luke

The current group of forwards looks something like this:

  • Taylor Hall – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jordan Eberle
  • Benoit Pouliot – Derek Roy – Nail Yakupov
  • Matt Hendricks – Boyd Gordon – Rob Klinkhammer
  • Matt Fraser – Anton Lander – Teddy Purcell
  • Luke Gazdic

The Oilers are only carrying 22 healthy players at the moment (Tyler Pitlick is on injured reserve), so there’s absolutely no reason that Nelson needs to be stuck with his current group of 13 forward, but here we are.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that the coach has a problem with any member of his starting 12. He wants to scratch Purcell for a game because he’s unhappy with the effort, he doesn’t think Fraser is an everyday NHL player or someone is playing through injury and he’d like to give that someone a game off to recharge. In any of those cases, Nelson’s only option is Gazdic, a pure enforcer who has taken two bad minor penalties in his last three games and has no offensive or defensive game worth speaking of.

There’s no reason it has to be that way. Between Iiro Pakarinen, Curtis Hamilton, Ryan Hamilton and Steve Pinizzotto down in the minors there are a few different options available to the Oilers. Carrying a guy like Pakarinen (6’1”, 215 pounds and with a range of abilities) would create a day-to-day internal competition for a spot in the lineup that the presence of Gazdic simply doesn’t.

Either the Oilers really don’t believe that any of the guys down on the farm can help (which is interesting, given that Oklahoma City is first in the AHL as of this writing) or the team is so invested in the current starting 12 that they don’t see the need for internal competition. Neither is particularly encouraging.

Defence

86-Nikitin-3

It’s a similar story on defence:

  • Oscar Klefbom – Justin Schultz
  • Andrew Ference – Jeff Petry
  • Nikita Nikitin – Mark Fayne
  • Keith Aulie

Since Dallas Eakins was fired over a month ago, No. 7 defenceman Keith Aulie has had all of eight shifts in the NHL. He dressed for one game in place of Nikitin and took a match penalty at the end of the first period; he hasn’t been seen since.

And so we see the Oilers sticking pretty firmly with the same group of six. On the left side is one veteran third-pairing option, one raw rookie and Nikitin. On the right side is a pending free agent who is almost certainly trade bait, a veteran bottom-four option and Schultz. By my count there are exactly two guys in that group of six who should feel pretty comfortable that they’re going to be in the lineup every single night; instead, all six do.

It’s pretty interesting given that the team does have some minor-league options, notably Martin Marincin. Marincin had a pretty bumpy ride earlier this season, but he certainly hasn’t been worse than Nikitin this year. If he were recalled, it would give the coach the option of reuniting him with Petry, which was an awfully good defence tandem in 2013-14, and then sticking Ference with Fayne on a veteran minutes tandem. As Nikitin can play either side, that would also allow the coach the flexibility to sit anyone he liked for a game.

We end up in a similar place as we did with the forwards: either there’s absolutely nobody on the first-place Barons who can help, which is a damning indictment of what is supposed to be the Oilers’ strongest prospect position, or the team is so invested in the current starting 12 that they don’t see the need for internal competition.

All of this is moot at the moment, with the Oilers and the rest of the NHL enjoying the All-Star break. It’s just a little odd to see the coach of the best team in the AHL take the job behind the bench of one of the worst teams in the majors and then see him given no real latitude to play anyone other than the same motley crew of 18. With the exception of Lander’s recall, a move forced by the departure of Leon Draisaitl, Nelson hasn’t brought up a single one of the players he’s had such success with in the AHL.

Maybe that’s Nelson’s call; perhaps the options are all guys like Brad Hunt who excel in the minors but struggle to survive in the NHL. On the other hand, perhaps he’s being handcuffed by an organization committed to the guys currently in Edmonton.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how much movement there is the rest of the way.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • CMG30

    At the prospect game MacT said you need size and Skill.

    LW C. Hamilton (23) 6’2″ 212lb
    C Yakimov (20) 6’5″ 232lb
    RW Pakarinen (23) 6’1″ 215lb

    When they play as a line are .9 EVG/gm

  • Derzie

    The Trailer Park Boys parallel is genius. Every season starts with hope and ends with jail. Howson must be Donald (the new spiritual guy). The Nikitin idea came to him when he was high on mushrooms.

    Julian (Nelson), Lahey (Lowe) & Randy (MacT). Bubbles (Hall). Steve Rogers (Principe). Sunnyvale (Northlands). Cyrus (Katz). Can’t peg Philadelphia Collins (Stauffer?).

  • Derzie

    I disagree JW. The oilers are just starting to get results win wise and coming together as a group. The barons are tops in the Ahl. Why would you want to tinker or change either roster? Nelson has personal experience of what it’s like to lose a player on the farm to call up so unless it’s an absolute emergency why would he pull that trigger? It’s like telling the oilers we are done fir the year so we are playing guys on the farm cuz we don’t care about winning right now. Why send that message? And why mess with either roster when both are on the upswing? I think after the trade deadline would be a better time fir call ups.

  • 15w40

    All of the arguments back and forth just go to illustrate one point…….

    They don’t really have any viable options do they.

    After 4 to 5 years of drafting at or near the top of the heap, other than their picks in the top 10, they really have nothing tangible or of substance to show for it.

    This following some preceding years with other picks that were also top 10.

    Currently one of the 1st overalls is on the precipice of being labelled a bust.

    The big free agent signing they got was Jultz and so far that has turned out about as good as the rest of their drafting.

    Nikitin has been a disappointment, Ference would be considered to have maybe met expectations but pretty easy to argue otherwise.

    Hendricks has panned out as has Gordon – the jury is out on Purcell and Pouliot as free agents and Lander is on his last kick at the can as a prospect.

    5 Coach’s on the turnstile and the road is littered with players that were either ruined or reclaimed elsewhere (Cogliano, Gagner, Brodziak, Dubnyk).

    Hall or Eberle may never live to see a winning season as part of this organization. The one defenseman they have developed in Petry is set to walk for nothing or a bag of magic beans.

    This really all points to one area: Management/Scouting/Development – okay I guess that’s 3.

    Say what you will about the Oilers braintrust. They have been successful at the business of hockey because of its locale. They have been indisputably huge failures at the actual product of hockey.

    Put this team along with its history in just about half of the league’s other markets and I submit there is real potential that this organization would have folded and been either moved to a different location or parted out in a dispersal draft.

    The one draft that is worth “tanking” for is likely out of reach for them because inspite of all of their issues, they just really have too much talent to be the worst and due to their business of assembling a hockey team they have minimized the return on all of the previous years of suffering and will likely finish about 26th this year.

    Wash – rinse – repeat.

  • camdog

    Oiler reporters and fans seem to focus on the 3rd and 4th line players or the OKC AHL players.

    Come on …….Gazdig, Hendricks, Marincin, Aulie, Klinkhammer , Frazer, and all the other that were hired as 3 and 4 line players and all the OKC players will not make a sufficient difference.

    The pressure and focus has to the on RNH, Hall, Eberle, Shultz, Scrivens, Yak, Pouliot, Ference, etc to perform.

    Where is all their SKILL that we heard so much about. They can’t even score on the PP. I thinks the core players are vastly overrated.

    • BubbaZanetti

      I believe there has been “focus” on the play of players Schultz, Scrivens, Yakupov and Ference.
      RNH is going to All Star game albeit as a token selection, but I feel he has been consistently the best player. Minus the occasional bone headed penalty, I believe Pouliot has been ok.
      That leaves two players….but I’m not going there, Hall & Eberle are not going anywhere, they are the best players and the team will live or die with them. And like the saying goes, “if you can’t beat them, join them”. So hope the break serves them well, they come back rested and ready to turn things around and next year will be a different story…..right ?

  • BubbaZanetti

    “Either the Oilers really don’t believe that any of the guys down on the farm can help (which is interesting, given that Oklahoma City is first in the AHL as of this writing) or the team is so invested in the current starting 12 that they don’t see the need for internal competition….”

    Or….management doesn’t want them to win any more meaningless games. At this point drafting as high as possible is the only thing that matters. We missed out on Monahan 2 years ago because of one meaningless win in the last game of the season vs Van. Nothing against Nurse but Monahan is already an effective NHL C.

  • billythebullet

    It is not the best idea to bring up someone for the sake of look see. Better wait until injury, an roster player played heir way out of a spot, or the farm hand really lighting it up to earn the call.

    All the perceived favoritism Eakins displayed by playing ex-marlies applies to Nelson and the baron.

  • billythebullet

    100% on board with bringing up farm hands. Oilers are not in danger of making the playoffs, they are in danger of losing the draft lotto. Tanking aside, I could care less about scratching player x or y, but as JW suggests some of these farm hands are closing in on 25 and losing credibility as prospects. Lets give these guys a cameo in the big show and see if there is any point in wasting contracts on them next season. MM should never have been sent to the ahl in the first place imo, and definitely can’t be worse then niki or jultz. Goalies have been wicked bad lets give Bachman a string of games too.

  • Rdubb

    I couldn’t agree with this article more, & i mean that 100%!!!
    So MM struggled a little bit at the start of the season, big deal! He was by far Edmontons best D man the 2nd half of last season and should have been given every chance to work through his problems @ camp and through the first few games of the season, freaking ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous…
    And then there is this carrying of Gazdig instead of Pinzziotto of Iro, who by everything i saw in his one game or everything i have read should be up on the Oilers roster right now, especially given their current status. This is a PERFECT time to see what Iro can bring night in and night out in the NHL, so why not give him every opportunity to shine?
    And now i am going to have Nail fans jumping on me for this, but, if they actually stopped and thought a minute, i know they’d agree with what i am about to say; Yak has been given every opportunity to succeed on the Oilers. Gregor did a thing and ended up finding out that Yak played more minutes last year with Nudge and Gagner than any one else, now was that given every chance, especially since they were Edmonton’s two best C’s? Even this year, other than shooting in the tie breaker, he has been given every chance. His zone starts have been almost entirely offensive, he has very little D-zone starts, and even given those kind of starts he still struggles. He tends to give the puck up a ton, he tends to throw his mates offside more than anyone else i’ve ever seen as instead of passing them the puck or dumping it in, he’ll try and skate along the blue line on the rush putting everyone offside on a continual basis. Not to mention that he tends, wrong word there, he ALWAYS seems to try and do everything on his own like he did in junior, and he isn’t fast enough, doesn’t have the foot speed, and i don’t think that he has the hockey IQ to do that in the NHL. He is a poor passer, he cannot receive a pass and he doesn’t back check often enough…all that being said, Nail’s best games i’ve seen him play are when he becomes physical, taking the body when ever he can, when he uses his line mates and passes the puck, and it seems that when he does those two things he tends to back check far harder in those games. Now, can coach Nelson get him to do this on a consistent basis or should Edmonton do everything in their power and trade him?
    If Edmonton was to send Yak down to OKC and someone was to pick him up on waivers or on re-entry waivers, would the Oilers receive any sort of compensation for him? Does anyone really know the answer to that? Or would Edmonton just end up losing the player?
    If the Oilers would end up losing him for nothing, maybe they should really look at getting a deal done for him or cross their fingers that someone signs him to an offer sheet this summer…would that not be the best possible outcome for everyone involved?