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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    • 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.

      • 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 .

      • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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….

  • Spoils

    Hall-McDavid-Yakupov
    ???-Nuge-Eberle
    ???-Draisaitl-Pouliot
    ???-???-???

    Nurse-???
    Klefbom-Petry
    ???-Schultz

    2015 2nd pick (goalie)
    ???

    Let’s dream about a few things

    – we finish 4th last but win the draft and pick McDavid.
    -Yak and Schultz and others develop the way we want them to (and we keep Petry)

    This team looks pretty formidable once the youngest is 23.

    That is 5 years from now when Petry is 32.

    THAT IS 5 YEARS FROM NOW.

    • 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.

    • pkam

      I am not too concern about his waiver exemption period. Do we really care of losing a player to waiver who can’t compete for a job in the worst NHL defense?

      Are you looking for a trade so bring him up to showcase him before he reaches the waiver exemption?

  • 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.

  • 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

  • CMG30

    I’d like to see Pakarinen, LB, and Marincin.

    Marincin needs NHL experience. Play him or trade him. At worst he is better then Ference Schultz, Nikitin, and Allie.

    LB, just needs a cup of coffee. He is the best of the goalie suspects. This is the Oilers biggest weakness other then center.

    The Finn has size, some grit, and seems to never turn up a shot. I think he replaces Fraser who is to slow, andGadzic is an AHL player.

  • 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?).

  • 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?

  • vetinari

    Frankly, some Barons reinforcements could bring a winning attitude to the organization, some internal competition for roster positions and some sense of what’s in the pipeline for internal options come June/July. Plus, these players and the new coach already have experience with each other. Also, there is no way that these guys could possibly move this franchise too far out of the McDavid sweepstakes given that 2/3 of the season is over.

    Assuming that Nelson could do some short term moves– demote or shop Gazdic and Aulie, and bring up Marincin and Pakarinen for a stint.