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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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  • Ryan14

    Or maybe the organization wants to maintain OKC’s position in the standings.

    Coming up to Edmonton will do those players no good. Keep them on a team where they are actually winning.

      • Ryan14

        Where is Pakarinen, Hamilton, or any other player in OKC going to benefit the most: in Edmonton or in OKC?

        The whole argument surrounding sending Draisaitl back to the WHL was that, although he is probably one of the best 4 centers in the Oilers organization, it is in his best interest to send him down and let him develop in a lower league, where he will get more ice time and playoff experience.

        What is the benefit of ignoring that train of thought and bringing up a player from OKC so that they can tape Eberle’s stick?

          • Iiro Pakarinen turns 24 in August. This isn’t some raw rookie; he’s pretty close to the best-before date for a prospect already.
          • Curtis Hamilton is 23 and life-or-death for another NHL contract. He has 187 AHL games under his belt even with all the injuries. If he can’t push for an NHL job at this point there’s no point in having him in the organization.

          These aren’t 19-year-olds; these are guys with a ton of pro experience getting awfully close to age 25. It’s a completely different kettle of fish to call up a seasoned minor-leaguer than it is to bring in a kid out of junior.

      • toprightcorner

        On one hand I agree, they are moving out of OKC so they don’t owe the fans anything.

        On the other had I disagree, keeping Martin Marincin, Iiro Pakarinen, Curtis Hamilton, Ryan Hamilton and Steve Pinizzotto on the farm in a winning atmosphere, pushing to win the division and a long run in the playoffs is much better then coming up to a losing atmosphere.

        I don’t believe any of the above are in a position where the Oilers need to make a decision to keep or cut bait this summer. I would keep them with a winning culture as long as possible.

      • 2004Z06

        I think the logic is that players can stay in OKC and experience the playoffs and all the benefits associated with playing in competitive/meaningful games or you can bring them up to the tire fire, losing culture that is the Oilers.

        Until the culture changes with the NHL club, do you want to expose the prospects to it?

        One could argue that injecting them could foster the culture change, but the body of historical evidence does not support it.

          • 2004Z06

            Why don’t we ask David Perron, Mark Arcobello, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff etc. what the culture is/was in the room? Mac T himself stated that some of these players needed to be moved due to an extended exposure to losing. Did moving them out change something? I haven’t seen it on the ice, have you? Still losing, still sticks being broken over cross bars, still jerseys on the ice, still empty seats, still a lack of sticking up for your team mate.

            Are you confident that this management group has their finger on the pulse of the room?

            I sure as hell don’t.

            As for the Draisatl comment, we all know why he was “exposed” to it. A simple lack of legitimate NHL centerman and an over valuing of an assets readiness to compete at the NHL level.

          • Hey Willis,
            Fans have heard a ton about the losing culture + possible attitude issues….which is likely some hearsay, but often where there’s smoke there’s fire.

            You say that Oilers mgt may not see the culture as an issue, but maybe Oilers mgt is missing the boat here….

            Why don’t you tell us what you really think about the culture? is it an issue? I can say from personal experience part of a losing team for several years in a row, despite changes, it certainly wears you down mentally, and can reach the point of indifference.

          • I agree 100% with your comment.

            This is a quote from Dreger: “Taylor Hall, at least again from a culture standpoint, more in the room not necessarily on the ice, hasn’t been what they’d hoped he would be.”

            I really would be interested to hear your take on the Oilers “culture”? is it an issue? You follow the team, how much of an issue is it?

          • Zarny

            Consider an alternative.

            That a plan centered around four 18-22 y/o forwards carrying a team whose best D would struggle to be 4th on most playoff teams, whose worst D and F would not make any other roster save Buf, with two backup G and no 2nd line C to the promised land was a failure and that the problem is that management has done a poor job and assembled a sh*tty hockey team.

            What would management say then?

          • OILSwell that ENDSwell

            Johnny! Can I call you Johnny!

            First you dis the need to develop our youth and now your claiming the management know what they are doing.

            Really?

      • oilerjed

        The point Ryan14 made is valid. If the Oilers want to change the “culture of losing” the best way to do that is to bring guys into it that have won something, even if it is at the AHL level, still a ton more then anything the Oilers have won in the last Decade. Do you feel giving them experience on the gong show that is the Oilers right now will help their development??
        I cant see anyway that bringing young guys up here to learn is beneficial until the team has thei sh!t together to the point where they don’t have to battle through complacency and poor practice habits from the “core” and vets on the team.

          • oilerjed

            apples and oranges dont ya think. Different management now and hopefully a different logic. Sure there were two trips to the third round in that time but there were also two one and dones. Maybe they see this year as a chance to make a good run in the playoffs. I know the level of competition is lower but the level of effort required to win the Calder is just as high as the NHL. This will give these guys more crucial playoff experience then what 80% of the Oilers have to date. This will also give the managment a much better perspective of what kind of drive these guys have who are looking for new contracts.Both of these are more important then 30+ games of experience losing in the NHl.

    • Ouroboros_Hydrocarbon

      It’s clear now Mactavish can’t evaluate defensemen. I mean, he brought back freakinGrebeshkov.

      Belov, NorriSchultz, Ferrence, The Nine Million Dollar Man Nikkitin.

      Mactavish isn’t the man to right the ship.

  • What I am hoping is going on here is; the Oilers are trying to be patient. Most of the options are new to the North Anerican game. Plus they are playing good hockey on a good team. Why bring them up to a crappy team. Let them stay and develop.

    The season is lost. The Oilers are playing .500 hockey. Let’s just ride it out until the season is over or there is an injury.

    I don’t get it. Why do people say the Oilers need to be patient and let their players develop and then in the next breath ask why aren’t they calling up players.

    • Because there’s a pretty dramatic difference between calling up a guy like Martin Marincin (22 years old, 196 professional games in North America) or even Iiro Pakarinen (only 41 N.A. pro games, but he turns 24 in August) and rushing Leon Draisaitl (18 years old, 0 N.A. pro games) straight to the NHL out of his draft year or Anton Lander (20 years old, 0 N.A. pro games) into the majors as an N.A. rookie.

      • Burnward

        How to be an Oiler Blogger 101:

        1. Write post about how they don’t let young guys develop.

        2. Write a post about how they won’t call any young guys up from the minors

        3. Watch comments pile up not even noticing the contradictory nature of blogs

        4. Count $$$$

      • nugeformayor

        Ok, so lets use the Detroit model for prospect development, because that seems to be what everyone talks about.
        Name First 35+ games in NHL Years in AHL
        Abdelkader 24 2
        Andersson 24 2.5
        Jurco 22 2
        Nyquist 25 2.5
        Sheahan 22 1.5
        Tatar 24 3

        This list consists of guys who played 3-4 years in college or over in Europe. Then came to North America and still put in the years in the AHL. How was Detroit able to be so patient? They had good teams and didn’t need these players. Edmonton is in a similar situation except they are a bad team and the season is over, but no need for their players.

        Using your two examples,

        Marincin is still 2 years younger than everyone, but one, on this list and it is widely considered that D take longer to develop.

        And the other has played 41 NA games which, compared to Detroit, is not good enough.

        Next….

        • nugeformayor

          It didn’t come out easy to read. First is player name, then their age when they played 35+ games, last number is years in AHL.

          Abdelkader 24 2
          Andersson 24 2.5
          Jurco 22 2
          Nyquist 25 2.5
          Sheahan 22 1.5
          Tatar 24 3

  • dougtheslug

    I am not sure this WTF moment is brought to you by Julian.

    Quite clearly it is Katz,Lowe, and MacT doing what they do best, that is, charging the fans major league prices to watch a team built to lose, so they can draft high, so they can dream of a day in the future when they can hoist the cup and show everybody how smart they are. And we all have seen how well that’s working for them.

    • Teddy Purcell is never going to be worried about his job, ever, if the competition is Luke Gazdic.

      It’s not personal. Gazdic isn’t good enough offensively or defensively for the NHL; his only role is as a pugilist and we’re in an era where pugilists are pretty much irrelevant (they’ve been irrelevant in Detroit for a decade, but I digress).

      A spot spent on Gazdic is a spot wasted. There’s no crime in pointing that out as long as the Oilers continue to do it.

      • camdog

        “A spot spent on Gazdic is a spot wasted. There’s no crime in pointing that out as long as the Oilers continue to do it.”

        The extra roster spot is irrelevant, has been for years. I don’t really know how having a different guy sitting in the press box during the games makes a difference one way of the other. Sure a lot better having Gadzic sitting up top then an actual prospect whom needs the ice time.

      • Tikkanese

        Teddy Purcell should be worried about his job.

        Teddy Purcell won’t be worried about his job with Pinnizotto or the Hamiltons as the 13th forward either. Suggesting so is quite humorous.

        • You can plausibly scratch Purcell after a bad game if you’re replacing him in the lineup with Pakarinen or one of the Hamiltons or even Pinizzotto.

          You can’t really do that if the alternative is Gazdic.

          I agree it’s not ideal, but it’s always nice to have a 13th forward the coach isn’t afraid to play, and all of those guys provide that in a way that any pure enforcer can’t.

      • Corsi Cowboy

        Completely agree… but between twitter and the Nation articles you’re going a little overboard. I think 2 or 3 articles explaining how Gazdic is not a good hockey player was enough to make your point.

      • pkam

        This Team doesn’t require a Luc Gazdic type player or any Enforcer for that matter reason being there isn’t enough intensity in ANY of the Oiler games this season or any of the past 4 or 5.Not dictated by the style of play in the NHL these days. Only by the lack of intensity, desperation or stand up for your fellow player ,Sit the fellas down and watch a Flyer/Penguin Rangers / Penguins Flyers anybody out East clash.Until that tide turns small size third and fourth liners can collect a pay cheque in Oiler silks .

    • bradleypi

      Agreed. What I don’t get about the Oilers is why not play gazdic and Aulie more? I would argue that the Oilers are probably the softest, easiest team in the league to play against. The playoffs are clearly out of reach, so who cares if someone takes a match penalty?? At least you would have someone out there to deter guys from taking liberties with the young uns. And then I wouldn’t have to read about how hall should be traded because he didn’t fight Backes…. or whoever starts bullying the kids….

  • Tikkanese

    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.

    Pakarinen may be 24 but it’s his first season in N.A. learning the N.A. game & ice. He’s way better off playing lots in OKC than being the extra forward here. He’s also been streaky down there. Let’s not rush any prospects but let’s rush what might be a gem in Pakarinen?!? Whatever happened to keeping prospects on the farm until they overripen?

    C. Hamilton is finally healthy. I don’t mind them giving him a look but has he actually shown enough to deserve a look? He’s going to push Purcell? Ha

    R. Hamilton… color me bored. He’s going to push Purcell? Ha

    Pinnizotto. He’s going to push Purcell? Haha. He’s an ok 13th forward option but let’s not get carried away.

    Pakarinen is the only one with potential to consistently push people out of the lineup in the bottom 9, but I’d rather they keep him in OKC for now.

    Oilers need more depth, period.

  • 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 ?