Edmonton Oilers: Prelude to 2015-16

Craig MacTavish15

There are a little under three weeks left in the Edmonton Oilers’ season, a 20-day span of time in which the team will play 10 games. With Edmonton seemingly settled firmly into 28th-place in the NHL, the club’s performance over these 10 games doesn’t matter much at all from a standings perspective.

That doesn’t mean these games are meaningless. Far from it, in fact; these might be the most meaningful games the Oilers have played all year.

Through some trick of fortune, virtually every player of any significance on the roster is healthy, and with one or two minor exceptions virtually all are expected to be back next season. That makes these final 10 games a fantastic chance for the Oilers to test-run a (largely) healthy roster and the coaching staff behind the bench. Fans have the luxury of being ambivalent about this 10-game stretch, but from a management perspective these games are the team’s last, best chance to assay its personnel and make final tweaks to its plans for this summer.

Importantly, this 10-game stretch comes entirely against Western Conference teams, with five coming against opponents currently in playoff position and five coming against teams outside the postseason. Of the latter five, two games are against the Los Angeles Kings, two against the Colorado Avalanche and one against the Dallas Stars; all three are solid teams that aren’t out of the postseason by much.

The Oilers have a chance here to measure what they have against a fair example of what they’ll face next year. It’s an opportunity.

Dramatis Personae

Todd Nelson6

The team needs to make a decision on interim head coach Todd Nelson. I don’t think Nelson has conclusively won the job, because the team’s record hasn’t been very good. I don’t think he has conclusively lost the job, either, because the list of players at his disposal hasn’t been very good either. At this point there are arguments for and against, and these last 10 games are an opportunity to see what he can do with the roster as currently constituted.

The forward group is missing a few players, but Iiro Pakarinen, Tyler Pitlick and Matt Fraser are all pretty generic end-of-roster types at this point in their respective careers; in the grand scheme of things their absence isn’t important. In Nelson’s shoes I’d rather have Pakarinen or Pitlick in place of rookie forward Andrew Miller, but the improvement there is virtually the definition of marginal. All of the forwards are either under contract or restricted free agents, with Derek Roy the lone exception but with the Oilers apparently leaning toward retaining him too.

4-Hall-17

With Taylor Hall getting a game under his belt on Saturday night, the question now is where he lines up. Does Nelson restore a supercharged No. 1 line, does he place Hall on the other side of Nail Yakupov as a reward for Yakupov’s fine work (colleague Jason Gregor made the argument for this a short time ago) or does Hall stay with Anton Lander in an attempt at three scoring lines?

My preference in Nelson’s position would be to split up the scoring, putting Hall on either the second or third line (and double-shifting him at times) and to leave Benoit Pouliot on the top unit, where he’s been pretty effective. For whatever reason, Oilers’ coaches have been reluctant to do that and my guess is that we’ll see Nelson conform to the usual approach of loading up the top unit, which would suggest the following regular units:

Left
Wing
Centre Right Wing
Taylor Hall Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Jordan Eberle
Teddy Purcell Derek Roy Nail Yakupov
Benoit Pouliot Anton Lander Andrew Miller
Matt Hendricks Boyd Gordon Rob Klinkhammer

There was a bit of mix-and-match on the defence against Philadelphia, but for the most part we saw three regular units. The general manager has repeatedly stated his approval for the marriage of Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz on one unit, and the team’s plan to run Nikita Nikitin and Mark Fayne as a shutdown tandem has seemingly remained stubbornly unchanged from training camp:

Left
Defence
Right Defence Goal
Oscar Klefbom Justin Schultz Ben Scrivens
Nikita Nikitin Mark Fayne Richard Bachman
Martin Marincin Andrew Ference

Judging from Craig MacTavish’s public statements, it is not inconceivable that for the most part the above players will return next season with only a few changes (goaltending being the most plausible one). The next 10 games will either reinforce or undermine that possibility.

Initial Assessment

Team-9

Seventy-two games into the season, I find MacTavish’s apparent faith in this roster disturbing. I don’t believe such faith is warranted in light of the results, even if we allow that goaltending has been a black hole all year.

In my view, the roster as currently assembled needs help in the following areas:

  • One top-six centre, pushing one of Roy/Lander to reserve duty.
  • One top-nine winger, allowing the Oilers to ice (when healthy) three effective offensive lines.
  • At least one top-pair defenceman, giving Fayne a reliable partner to lead the tough-minutes pairing and allowing him to play a complementary role on the tandem.
  • A starting goaltender.

It’s a long shopping list, and I’m probably being overly kind in suggesting the defence only needs one key building block added.

The next 10 games will go a long way toward establishing exactly what this team is and how much help needs to be brought in this summer.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • The Soup Fascist

    While the obvious problems in goal and on defense need to be fixed before we can contend for a playoff spot, I’m almost as concerned about forwards.

    Mainly, the sooner MacT realizes his ideal of having three scoring lines is a pipe dream, the better.

    The Hendricks – Gordon – Klinkhammer like has done well, but we need a true 3rd line to match up better against our opponents in the fight for 8th. Players that can handle tough defensive shifts and also chip in on the scoresheet, especially on the road where we can’t line match.

    Lander could possibly be the center of that group, but we could do better.

    We really don’t have wingers on the team that can full these spots, and not really in the system either,

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I happen to agree with JW for once, playing spoiler to a few teams in the final 10 games would be great to watch as a fan and staying competative with the top teams in the west would go a long way for the player’s confidence. I have given up all hope that we will pick 1 or 2 so it does not matter who we get in the draft….they will not make an immediate impact IMO.

  • Oiler Fan 16

    3 scoring lines is a pipe dream and not practical to expect ever. 2 solid centermen are needed to create 2 scoring lines and we don’t have 2. Will we ever? Not without a top 2 pick this year… I hope we get lucky in the draft lottery.

    Either way, with no defensemen to move the puck up the Oilers are destined to be a mediocre scoring team at best. They need a good break out strategy and some good personnel on the back end. The Oilers have neither of these things.

  • Take the need for a Top-2 D. Say we accept the Oilers only need one Doughty/Weber type that can instantly make the Oilers competitive, like Pronger did.

    I don’t see one available in free agency. So that leaves trades or drafting one. For the most part, teams won’t trade these kinds of players. The Oilers have no shot to get Weber or Doughty. Let’s say A next-tier D man is available. How much do the Oilers have to give up? Teams will seek a heavy premium; they aren’t going to just give elite players away (like the price for Schneider). Let’s say a team is in a cap crunch and will let a Top-2 D leave at a reasonable price. Most elite players have NTCs/NMCs. Will they come to Edmonton? I haven’t seen that yet, but I don’t talk to NHL GMs so I don’t know if there is one available. If there is, I would hope that MacT is not so dumb as to tip his hand that he really, really needs a Top-2 D, and cannot go into next season without one. All that will accomplish is to drive up the asking price.

    Or you could draft one and wait two or three years like they did for Klefbom and Nurse (and potentially Hanafin) and hope they develop into one.

    Then they could hope to win the lottery, draft McDavid, and they cross two items off the list.

    The whole point is that there are no quick fixes, but even if there were, I don’t think the current braintrust could pull it off.

  • I think maybe some of us are overlooking a few things…..all this “number one dman”, and “number one goalie” talk is a bit off the mark. Those guys are franchise players, we’d have to gut what we have to acquire them, then we’d need “first line scorers”. It takes time people….we have to hope that Klefbom, Nurse, Shultz, (yes i said it!), turn into legitimate top dmen without losing what we have, which is higher end offensive players. And the Dubnyk talk is laughable. …he was sh*t when he was good, never mind when he wasn’t. He had good save % i guess, but he let in goals that ECHL goalies don’t let in. Maybe he’s shaken that now, but at no time in his tenure as an Oiler did he ever exude the confidence that a team needs from their starter.

    • bazmagoo

      I disagree. One of the “high end” forwards (Hall, Eberle, or Nugent-Hopkins) should be shipped for a 1st pairing d-man immediately. Needs to happen if we want to going to make the playoffs next season.

    • Zarny

      Mmm…I think it’s you who are overlooking a few things. “Top-pairing” isn’t synonymous with “franchise”.

      Of the commonly listed “franchise” D OEL is probably the only one that even might be available. And yes the cost would be steep. It could be Eberle + 3rd/4th overall + another 1st or 2nd round pick but you wouldn’t have to gut the team. And it would be worth it.

      The more likely approach would be similar to Van defense during their Cup run. They didn’t have any “franchise” D. But they had four guys who were legit 2/3 D on pretty much any team in the league. Defense by committee with personnel better than Nikita Nikitin.

      It probably won’t win you the Stanley Cup, but it will get you in the playoffs.

      • freelancer

        Agree. I think it’s more realistic to hope that this team brings in a top 4 D through UFA and one more guy through trade that can log some heavier minutes but would be a 2/3 on a playoff team. As an example, they could sign Beauchemin from the Ducks, and trade for a guy like Kevin Klein from the Rangers. With a defence that consists of Giradi, McDonagh, Yandle, and Staal. We might be able to pry someone from them for the right price.

        Klein-Schultz
        Klef-Beauchemin
        Nikitin-Fayne
        Ference

        Splits up the Norris potential top pairing that is Klef-Schultz… but puts each guy with a more veteran player.

        • CaptainLander

          ” With a defense that consists of Girardi, McDonagh, Yandle, and Staal.”

          This makes me jealous.

          Girardi – Underrated and signed to and AHL contract with the NYR affiliate
          Staal – Drafted
          McDonaugh – Trade
          Yandle – Trade

          This is what competent scouting and management looks like.

          • freelancer

            Yup, even more so when you realize that any one of those players would almost surely become Edmonton’s top defenceman. Definitely puts into perspective how far away we still are. I see four types of teams that Edmonton should be trying to acquire defence from. Teams against the cap like Chicago who need cheaper options. Teams that have lots of depth on D who may be looking to bring in top end prospects or round out their offense like the Rangers. Teams that exit the playoffs early and disappoint, let’s say the Blues if they have another first round exit. Or teams that are bad like Carolina or Columbus.

            My point is there are definitely deals to be made. MacT needs to be able to analyse out teams needs and capitalize wherever he can.

  • I’d put a cool hundie on MacT sand bagging his intentions this summer. He got burned pretty bad with the whole “bold moves” thing and even the dimmest fan can see we need to start building a competitive team sooner than later.

    5-6 moves this summer is my line, 2 being major.

  • Rdubb

    Should MacT somehow be able to swing a deal for either a top 2 d-man or a top 4 d-man, then with the addition of Nurse next season (i’m assuming that he’ll make the team out of camp since he was darn close two yrs ago and pretty close again last spring, and with that extra yr of development, he should make the jump), that is without taking one of the younger d off of the roster, could MacT somehow deal Nikitan while retaining some salary, or, and this is more plausible, should the Oilers buy out this mistake? If this is the course they go with, what would it cost the Oilers in cap space for the next two seasons?
    I guess there is a 3rd option too, hide him in bakersfield???

    • MorningOwl

      After all these years of doing it wrong, you want the Oilers to move Nurse right from the Jr’s to the NHL???

      This isn’t surprising, as it has become known as the “Oilers way” of development – but I would suggest that fans and management seriously question whether the “Oiler way” needs to be ditched for more of a “Detroit way” of development. In fact, I know many fans here are tired of making this same mistake over and over – wrecking or stunting these kids’ development by rushing them.

      Yes, a few can make the jump from Jr’s to the toughest pro league in the world, but all benefit from the opportunity to grow and develop in the development league. Expecting nurse to come in and fill a critical role without being seriously sheltered is setting him up to fail, something that is common developmental practice lately with the “oiler way”.

  • Zarny

    Well, I certainly disagree these might be the most meaningful games the Oilers play all year.

    That would have been the 21 where they only won once. Or the 72 previous where they amassed an abysmal 53 pts. The remaining 10 are utterly meaningless. Win or lose they will have no effect on what happens next year.

    I agree with the shopping list. The team doesn’t necessarily need a high volume of new players, but the ones they need are top shelf.

    During his intro presser MacT commented he would have to take some semblance of risk. So far the only risk he has taken was icing a team that only had 2 NHL centers, no top-pairing D and no starting goalies. That needs to change and the answer isn’t waiting for picks and prospects.

    Of course all of that is after the fact that Katz should completely clean house after such a p*ss poor performance in year 5 of a rebuild.

  • AJ88

    It’s been training camp since November. Fans can’t take another losing season. Time to walk the talk.

    If they have another 20 game losing steak this fall ,does macT lose his job?

  • Dan 1919

    The unconsidered flaw in the plan of just sitting around waiting for Nurse and Klefbom to become Norris winners is the human factor. To suggest that gambling on Nurse, Klefbom, and Shultz(lol) is a viable option is just plain reckless.

    It would be 3-5years yet before Nurse and Klefbom start to positively influence games night after night. For those of you not counting, it’s already been a decade. Gambling on draft picks and waiting around is no longer an option.

    This thing WILL fall apart next year from either a team standpoint, or a management standpoint if MacT doesn’t take this summer seriously. He cannot try to outsmart the market again and go grab fat kids that were scratches in Columbus, and think he’ll make them a top 2 man here. He needs to get good NHL dmen, there’s no way around it. Another Nikitin or washed up 5/6 paring guy from Boston won’t cut it. It’s time to actually be a GM.

    Another flaw of waiting around and gambling on kids is that people underestimate how bad this team is right now. They’re one of the worst teams in the NHL. Nurse could win the Norris next year and the Oilers still wouldn’t be on the cusp of anything.

    As I said, they have no other option but to bring in real NHL men and build an NHL team. The plan of drafting three top picks then crossing their fingers and hoping to win a Stanley Cup has failed, move on and build a team like what all other quality GMs have done.

    • PEBOisONit

      Beauty post!! Can’t agree more.

      ‘The plan of drafting three top picks then crossing their fingers and hoping to win a Stanley Cup has failed, move on and build a team like what all other quality GMs have done.’

      love this line. I just don’t think Oilers’ management/ownership are there yet. they believe they are right.

  • CaptainLander

    The Oilers aren’t THAT far away. Just a few more tweaks…
    TRADE the PIT #1 + a 2nd and 3rd + Marincin to CHI for Seabrook and Bickell.

    SIGN Oduya and Niemi.

    Now you’ll have 4 solid lines…

    Pouliot-Nuge-Ebs, Hall-Roy-Yak, Bickell-Lander-Purcell, Hendricks-Gordon-Klink

    The defence starts to mature and take shape…

    Klefbom-Shultz
    (Ference)Nurse-Seabrook
    Oduya-Fayne

    Niemi

  • CaptainLander

    As much as a 2c would be nice I would not look at spending a whole lot to do it. Which is why Roy is likely the option unless McDavid find his way here. The Oil will need what cap space they have to attempt to attract and goalie and at least 1 d-man.

  • Regarding goaltending:

    The Oilers’ goaltending has been awful this year. But where would the team be if it hadn’t been?

    If the team received league-average goaltending, they’d still have around a -45 goal differential and be well out of the playoff picture.

    If the team received Carey Price-esque goaltending all season, they’d be roughly even on goal differential, and would still probably be outside the playoff picture.

    There are no quick fixes. It’s not just a matter of adding a solid goalie and a good defenceman. The Oilers with a good goalie and a good defensive pickup are still a team *way* outside the playoff picture (-30/-40 goal differential on the year). The Oilers are three or four good defencemen, five or six good forwards, and one good goalie away from icing a competitive team.

  • The Oilers will make the playoffs next season, we are so much better than those flames and jets, they are just having lucky seasons! Shultz will outscore Giordano next season — I mean cmon… that guy wasn’t even drafted, King LEON is a legit #2 threat next year, stop worrying about Petry and Perron — they STUNK and they questioned my authoratay, AND I am planning on bringing Eakins back so were alllllll goood in the city of champs.

  • Is it just me, or does it hurt your faith in management when in every single photo your GM looks absolutely stunned, like he’s in la la land?

    The fact is, his comments belie the fact that he lives in la la land. Faith in Nikitin and Ferrence, Jultz, even though there is no physical reason for it.

    Lack of faith in players who have proved themselves: Marincin, Petry.

    His player evaluation is extrememly biased.

  • Here’s my thoughts. I know many disagree but MacT is not stupid and Katz must care, at least a little.

    I think their plan has been to draft McDavid. As their plans usually go, that didn’t work out. It’s not easy being first (or last) when you have competition.

    I think canning Eakins and signing Roy were a result of caving to fans. I think the 50/50 was like $30,000 on Saturday. Other years it would have been close to $90,000 or more. So there is backlash.

    I also think part of the plan is that there is no urgency to make the playoffs while playing at Northlands. Maybe it’s bitterness towards Northlands, or maybe it was just ‘time given’ to allow MacT time to learn the job. Either way it’s just not a priority.

    Other than that, I can’t think of any reason why any hockey management would go into this season as the Oilers did and expect to go into next season with minimal changes.

    If MacT wanted to do better, he’d just have read up on OilersNation. There are a lot of weird comments but some pretty good ones do show up.