Oilers: Emotional vs. Rational

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The most difficult part of every day life is knowing when to trust our emotional, impulsive side and when to rely on our rational thoughts. I’ve yet to master it, and likely never will, but with age I find I’m able to control my emotional side much more than when I was younger.

Being an NHL manager brings the same challenges, especially when it comes to evaluating players. With the NHL buyout period set to begin at 9 p.m. MST tonight, I’m sure many GMs will be having some interesting conversations with their inner voice.

The Oilers aren’t in a cap crunch and shouldn’t be for the next three seasons. They currently have 16 players (11 fwds, four D-men and a goalie) signed for a total of $51.2 million for next season. That doesn’t include Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid (when they draft him), and they likely will re-sign Justin Schultz, Martin Marincin and Tyler Pitlick.

They have a lot of cap space, and next summer they could have $14.3 million coming off the books between Teddy Purcell ($4.5 mill), Nikita Nikitin ($4.5 mill), Boyd Gordon ($3 mill) and Ben Scrivens ($2.3 mill).

The rational side of me suggests Chiarelli doesn’t need to free up money for this season. He can bite the bullet on one more season of Nikitin and Purcell, rather than have them on the books next season. I say that believing the Oilers will not be a playoff team this coming season. I fully expect them to improve drastically, but next summer or later this season Chiarelli can look to make a big splash. 

But the emotional side of me would buy out Nikitin tomorrow. I’d send a message that the organization does not want players who aren’t committed. He wasn’t in good enough shape last season. If players don’t commit in the off-season, they can’t succeed during games. Showing up in camp not in the best shape possible is inexcusable, unless a player is coming off an injury. The Oilers have accepted a losing mentality for far too long and it must change.

I believe buying out an overpaid, under-performing, non-committed veteran would be a good start to changing the culture of the team. I could easily convince myself the $1.5 million in dead cap space in 2016/2017 would be worth it.

That is my internal dilemma, and despite my willingness to want to buyout Nikitin, I’d rather keep him and send him to the minors, if his play warranted it, so in 2016/2017 I’d have all the cap space I wanted, because I believe the Oilers should be a playoff contender by then. The other option is Chiarelli might be able to trade him and retain salary, but that falls in the wishful thinking category for me.

CHIARELLI

I don’t have any say in what the Oilers will do, and during the brief conversations I’ve had with Chiarelli, I sense he is a rational
thinker. He will observe and evaluate, and I don’t see him making rash
decisions that might make the Oilers a playoff team in 2015/2016. That doesn’t mean
he won’t make moves, but if you are expecting him to re-vamp the entire
roster you’ll be disappointed.

When he took over the Bruins in the summer of 2006 he made a big splash. He signed UFAs Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard to long-term deals. He also signed three other free agents: Shean Donovan, Sheldon Brookbank and Nathan Dempsey.

Chiarelli inherited a 26th placed team, and despite adding Chara and Savard the Bruins only improved by two points, up to 76, in 2006/2007.

The one obvious similarity I see between Chiarelli’s first year in Boston and his first with the Oilers is the need to improve the defence. He added Chara, but during the season he acquired Dennis Wideman, Andrew Ference and Aaron Ward to the Bruins’ backend.

In 20007/2008, they were in the top-four. Chara played 26 minutes/game while Wideman played 25, Ference 22 and Ward 20. Mark Stuart became the 5th D-man, after spending a few years developing on the farm.

Everyone knows the Oilers have to improve the defence, but I don’t expect Chiarellli to act impulsively and try to do it all at once. I’m guessing he signs Schultz to a one-year deal to see if he can improve. He lets Nikitin’s contract run out. He signs Marincin short term, or moves him for a veteran D-man.

I believe the emotional side of fans, similar to myself, would like to see Chiarelli clean house instantly, but (with some sadness) I don’t see that happening. I believe he will want to improve his team, but the Oilers have many holes and he can’t fix them all in one summer.

He is going to want to see how the players react to an experienced head coach. Every player I’ve spoken with since the Oilers overhauled their management and coaching staff and won the lottery sounded vastly more upbeat than they did when the season ended. They have a renewed hope, and a new attitude could result in a more consistent effort from the players.

What would you do?

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  • Spoils

    PC has at least four very important things this off season.

    1 – Expect the team to make the play-off. This is the minimum expectation of every pro team…. The team needs the man in charge hold everyone accountable.

    2 – Sign Shultz for three years at $3.7M. What did we learn from Petry, lets not give away another RHD for nothing. If Petry is worth $5.5M then Shultz is worth $3.7M. If he scores 9 more points than 2015 you love the contract. If he doesn’t two more years in not the end of the world.

    3) Work a deal with the Rangers. Yandle and Talbot will help their cap and be the bullseye of our needs.

    4) Don’t sign anymore crappy free agents. In two years we will need the flexibilty and in all likelyhood attracted a higher grade of athelte.

  • Zarny

    The real question is ‘have the Oilers made it through the wilderness yet?’ Does the advent of CMD and the turnover in the front office mean that the oilers are going to be on fewer NTCs because if Chiarelli’s confident that that is the case then there’s no point in calling next season another development year. We as a fan base have had ‘patience’ beat into us for nearly a decade, but if we look down the road we can see that perhaps it doesn’t need to be that way. If Chiarelli can add the players that the last 2 GMs couldn’t then buy out Nikitin and Purcell and replace them with bodies that are going to be part of the long term solution as well as help this team make the playoffs in ’16. Patience is a virtue, sure, but there come a time to push and even take the odd risk. We’ve got some great pieces in Edmonton now and it’s not science fiction to suggest that we could have a great team next season if management has the will to try and make it happen.

  • This is what should or should have been done already.

    Frist Chiarelli and T-McL should go over video, get in touch with trusted contacts who know Nikitin and determine if this is a player they think they can use.

    If yes they should then get on plane and pay a visit to Nikitin at home.This would accomplish 2 things.
    1) They will show how different the new management is & they can proceed to tell him how important he is to the team. (might be BS but we’re trying to motivate and make an impression on him)
    2) They can get a personal sense of the player. Is he a good fit going forward.

    If they get positive feedback from the player then they would continue to explain what they had planned for the future. What a great opportunity he has in his contract year to be playing with a generational player, McDavid (bring some video highlights in case he hasn’t seen any). Tell him if he gives it his maximum effort he could be having a big pay day at the end of the season. (Yes I know he’s already had his big pay day.) Then I would offer him to hire a personal trainer, find the Russian Gary Roberts, to get him in the best possible shape possible for TC. I would also at the same time find the best sports Dr. in Russia to treat his back or whatever nagging injuries still persist. Monitor his progress on week/bi-weekly basis. If he is not making any effort then you buy him out immediately and forget about it.
    On other hand if things work out and he’s properly motivated you might end up with a half decent player for a season.

  • Spoils

    Come to think of it, Schultz makes the perfect trading piece for a cap strapped team (maybe increasing his trade value) whereby allowing that team to just let him walk and freeing up all of the salary they traded away and in the process gaining a roster spot.

  • Zarny

    If you want to wait for Schultz and Nikitin to get better you might be waiting a long time.The best way to upgrade your defence is to upgrade your worst one’s.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    Send Nikitin to army boot camp for the summer. If he shows up fat, bury him in the minors. That would be sending a message of culture change. Don’t buy him out. Why pay him to sit on the couch eating chips?

    • OilCanFan1

      I’d wait to see what happens in training camp – no sense on punishing him now for what he did last year if he did actually come in out of shape. If he isn’t prepared this year, for sure he starts in the minors to get in shape.

      It’s my opinion that he played a lot injured when he shouldn’t have been playing. He was most likely getting injured because he wasn’t in great shape but I’d be okay if he comes in prepared and tries to earn his next contract (as long as it isn’t with the Oilers).

  • Ready to Win

    For more years than I can count Oilers management has spent every off season saying and thinking and acting like the next year would be a write off. About the most ambitious they have ever been were a couple of years where they talked about “playing meaningful games” near the end of the season.

    If you don’t think that your boss having that attitude doesn’t effect the front line workers you are nuts.

    The Oilers have sucked for so long because every year is a not-this-year and so every year expectations get pushed back a little further.

    If you don’t think the Oilers can make the playoffs this year that is perfectly understandable, but Chiarelli didn’t build a winner in Boston by following the same philosophy that has infected the Oilers for so long. Chiarelli isn’t going to sell the farm to make things happen this year, but I would be absolutely shocked if any player playing as poorly as Nikitin did last year is allowed to dress for as many games as he did last year.

    He may not make as many changes as we’d like this summer, but that’s only because he’ll want to see some of these players with his own eyes first. As you yourself pointed out, he made huge changes in his first 12 months is Boston, its just that some of them came during the season.

    Whether the Oilers make the playoffs or not in 2016, I bet you anything they will be expected to try their best to make them. And I am sure Chiarelli will never come out MacT style and make a public statement declaring a year to be a “building year” or any other euphemism for sucking.

  • Anton CP

    The rational things to do, not force buying out anyone. Oilers are not in serious cap trouble for the next 2 seasons. Chiarelli needs time to evaluating the team first to understand how the roster actually like. Not expecting major moves during the off-season, most likely Oilers will only make moves after new year depend on positions they are in.

  • Joy S. Lee

    I’d do just what you’re suggesting Chiarelli will do, which is to largely stay the course and see what you’ve got with the new, incoming additions. Big change coming already. Add what you can without breaking the bank, get a goalie, turn over a rock to reveal a hidden gem or two and you’re laughing. In the year the new building opens, you have riches to spend, and you know exactly which holes require filling beyond those you’ve patched as best you can in the meantime. Remember also that each and every one of these young players have another year under their belts at that time. Together. And now, in the words of Dobey Gray or whatever his name is, you get to fill those clearly identified holes, lol. Could be the summer of ecstasy for Oilers’ fans; as if this one hasn’t already nearly climaxed as such. Ha ha, couldn’t help myself, sorry if it’s out of line.

  • Joy S. Lee

    Carrying on with where Nurse is tracking, I think he’s going to be a revelation from the back-end with McDavid and Hall up front, in terms of attacking opponents with speed. But he might bring even more value in the security blanket he puts over #97.

    Everyone’s been talking about adding a big, tough winger to protect the kid. That may not be necessary. Which is also why Draisaitl is the perfect fit for that role, but that’s another topic. Don’t worry, if anyone looks the wrong way at McDavid, the guy they’ll be answering to is Nurse. I don’t even have to question that, because that’s Darnell Nurse, and that’s just the way it’s going to be. And I don’t think it’ll take McLellan long to recognize it, either. Let’s face it, dust off #25, it’s going to be back in play.

    In fact, we may be looking at the finest trio of rookies to enter the league together in a long time, and who knows… maybe ever. McDavid, Nurse, Draisaitl. An Oiler has never won the Calder Trophy. Could three of them challenge for it in the same year? Gee, I hope so, that would be fun to watch, though I’ve got a hunch who might win it.

    And remember, this potential rookie trio would arrive as brand new additions to a team already with an excess of young talent. Even if this team does miss the playoffs, I have a feeling the brand of hockey and youthful exuberance we see might make up for it. And if we did make the playoffs, well…it could pay off just as well or better there, too. Did I just say, ‘playoffs’? This potion #97 seems to be powerful stuff, because I’m not just sayin’ it, I’m feelin’ it…

  • Darth Oiler

    I think someone would bite on a trade like

    NN + a 4th and the oilers keep 50% of the $$

    for a 7th round pick

    the team that gets him moves up 3 rounds in the draft and gets a 6/7 D for 2.25

    I could see a team needing to get to the floor doing that.