A WORK IN PROGRESS

ChiarelliRebuild

There was a meme circulating Wednesday as the free agency season opened that Pete Chiarelli has already done more to re-shape the Edmonton Oilers in five days than the previous regimes had in the previous five years. There’s some truth to that in terms of quality, if not quantity.

After trading Boyd Gordon for Lauri Korpikoski on Tuesday, Chiarelli upped his game by snagging sought-after defenseman Andrej Sekera with a six-year deal worth $33 million and centre Mark Letestu to fill the hole left by the workmanlike Gordon.

That tidy bit of business came on the heels of landing goaltender Cam Talbot and defensemen Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba in trades at the Entry Draft after Chiarelli called Connor McDavid’s name with the first overall pick. All that player personnel enters the fold after the hiring of head coach Todd McLellan, who brought in assistants Jay Woodcroft and Jim Johnson.

All of which prompted Edmonton Sun columnist Terry Jones to write one of the most optimistic pieces I can remember about the Oilers in his assessment of Chiarelli’s work to this point. You can read that in its entirety here

Jones was a touch too hopeful in my estimation but my point here is not to rip him for that because, quite frankly, the Piss-and-Moan about Everything Club has had the floor (with good reason) far too long in this town. From where I sit, optimism is a nice change-up from cynicism.

NOT THERE YET

AreWeThereYet

I would, however, like to offer my take on two excerpts from what Jones wrote, starting with his eyeball-grabbing first paragraph: “As of right now, today, for the first time in a long time, the Edmonton Oilers are a complete National Hockey League team instead of pieces and parts of a team.”

With seven new players in the equation, pieces and parts of a team are exactly what Chiarelli has assembled. There’s some upgraded pieces in that group, McDavid, Talbot and Sekera being the key guys, but we don’t know how they’ll perform individually or how they’ll fit together.

My best guess is the top six forwards will be Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, McDavid and Nail Yakupov. Does McLellan run Hall with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle and play Pouliot with McDavid and Yakupov? While Yakupov made some strides under Todd Nelson, I’m not convinced he’s ready for a steady top-six diet of ice time.

In the bottom six, the left wingers are Korpikoski and Matt Hendricks. The centres are Anton Lander and Letestu and the right wingers are Teddy Purcell and Rob Klinkhammer. Where does Leon Draisaitl fit? I’m not a Purcell guy. I think the Oilers will miss Gordon on the dot. If McLellan wants three line that can score, I’m not sure Korpikoski fits into that.

Then, there’s the blue line. Sekera is a very good addition without question because he’ll help insulate Oscar Klefbom. Will Sekera play in a first pairing with Mark Fayne? Perhaps Klefbom slips into second-pairing minutes with Justin Schultz, leaving Reinhart, Gryba, Nikita Nikitin and Andrew Ference to sort out the third pair and who gets a press box seat. Best bet for the third pairing looks to be Reinhart and Gryba. Might Darnell Nurse be ready?

Again, there’s some pieces to work with, but a lot has to fall the right way for this collection to be significantly better than the group the Oilers had before Jeff Petry was shipped away last season. A “complete” group? Not now. Not until Reinhart builds on the eight NHL games on his resume. Not until we see a minute-munching first pairing emerge. Lots of maybe here.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

Idontknow

Jones: “How much better are players like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Leon Draisaitl and the top-drafted young stars going to be, surrounded by a much more complete team with a chance to win every night and not be deflated by bad goals early?”

Good question. We don’t have the answer. Fans are rightfully pumped about the acquisition of McDavid. He’ll provide McLellan with a one-two punch with RNH down the middle. There is no negative in that. The question is who plays the wings on the first two lines?

Might everybody Jones mentioned benefit from the addition of McDavid? You’d think so, but we don’t know. Like I said earlier, the biggest question for me is Yakupov. It would be terrific if he’s a fit for McDavid. If he’s not, the other RW options are . . ? I’ll take Draisaitl over Purcell all day long in the top-nine.

To borrow from Jones, “how much better?” After sounding a bit like a wet blanket, I don’t think there’s much question the Oilers look better on paper up front with McDavid, on the back end with Sekera and in goal with Talbot. If all the cards fall their way, this team could be a lot better under McLellan. The reality is, though, it seldom goes that way.

There is reason for optimism – McDavid alone is a kick in the ass — and thank goodness for that after nine straight years out of the playoffs, but a complete team? Let’s awhile before making that pronouncement.

THE OTHER SHOE

Shoe

What a lot of people are waiting for now is for Chiarelli to offload some salary from the back end – that’s a buzz Bob Stauffer of 630-CHED started with a mention of that as a possible scenario on his show Tuesday, which he followed up on via Twitter Wednesday. Everybody is on it now.


Chiarelli got in the UFA game with Sekera without the move Stauffer telegraphed, but if you look at the players vying for the final pairing – Reinhart, Gryba, Nikitin, Ference and Nurse — and the combined salary of that group, there’s a pretty good chance that shoe will drop.

It will surely involve a miracle and Nikitin with the Oilers retaining some salary or taking some back in a trade. We can only hope it’s soon.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • A good balanced article Robin.

    I agree and would add how much can we really give Chia et al this much credit when a draft lottery ball is really what started this. Some good deals here that are helpful but not sure this is a “complete team” . . .it’s an “imporoved team” but no one is saying it’s a “playoff capable team” either.

    I think the Reinhart project (love the player but dont like the deal) will be the very first thing we will grade in Novemeber report card. The pedigree of the that player is good Mclellan should be to coach him but 8 games is very far away from the 150 NHL games we need for dman to be impactful.

    I am hoping Nurse is ready and that we ship out Nitkinin as well.

  • I would switch percell and yak in your line-up,just because percell is a veteran and would help macd more.Not perfect but he is holding driasatl spot in the top 6 next year,and yak has to get some more experience.Schultz and nikitin are fighting for 2nd pairing d-man spot with klefbom,but really just holding that spot for nurse,and scrivens bounces back or is gone next year.nurse ,draisatl and reinhart come in next year.

  • Gerald R. Ford

    Cautiously optimistic, but less cautious and more optimistic with every day. A better coaching staff has more and better options from which to sculpt a competitive team that will play the game the right way. The only unknown, and what the team’s success is ultimately going to hinge upon, is, how good is Cam Talbot, really? As bad as they were last year, they were in a lot of games until bad goaltending crushed their spirits.

    Can’t have that happen again.

  • fran huckzky

    I agree that Peter has done a good job so far but without the draft picks that McT accumulated some of the moves wouldn’t have been possible/ Also obtaining McDavid canonly be attributed to luck. Lets wait til xmas before planning the parade.

  • Kevwan

    For once it looks like fans can be optimistic…though still far too many questions for me to feel comfortable and confident…

    1. No proven goaltender…been through two of the best backups already…is Talbot different than Fasth and Scrivens?

    2. Still lack a #1 D Man. Depth in bottom pairing has potential…but will it develop?

    Should be interesting…still think we miss the playoffs…but only by a hair…

  • Butters

    The content of this (and many other) article(s) from Robin’s perspective aren’t the issue. The fact that he’s basing an article on a journalist’s article is. Write it yourself, fine. Going TMZ is another thing. There are journalistic standards and there are blogging standards. Robin sees my holding him to higher standards, the ones he used to abide by when employed in a journalistic position, as an attack rather than seeing the simple challenge that I’m giving him: get back to those standards. I used to absolutely love those standards in your writing but you’ve slipped from them. If I didn’t still highly value Robin as a writer I wouldn’t challenge him to getting back to higher standards. Don’t base your writing on another person’s writing – it’s unfair and unprofessional.

    • Deported to Ottawa

      Since when aren’t articles written in response to articles penned by others?

      These apparent higher standards you claim to be holding him to are non existent except in your world.

      There’s is nothing wrong with the integrity and professionalism in the article or displayed by the author.

      Sorry but I find it laughable you believe you’re holding someone to a higher standard. Who are you and who cares?

  • Leaking5w-30

    If the leafs are still looking to offload Dion Phaneuf does anyone think they would take some combiniation of Ference + Shultz + picks.

    If they are commited to this rebuild maybe youth and a charater guy would get it done.

  • CMG30

    I noticed reading the Jones article that he seems to endorse the idea of trading Scrivens because he sucked last year. I’m a little bit hesitant to endorse the idea of flushing a player at all costs who had a prior bad campaign simply because he had a bad campaign.

    Let me explain:

    A number of players fit this catagory but lets consider Scrivens. He was terrible last year. No question. He was 2nd worst in the league ahead of only Fasth. As a result, he’s no longer the starter and rightly so. The Oil need a consistent starter and in all honesty someone who stands a good chance of standing on his head game in and game out. They made a great bet with Talbot.

    Now this drops Scrivens back to a backup position(-a position where he’s been proven to excel in the past.) Looking back at his season, it would seem that everything that could go wrong did for Scrivens last year. But the likelihood of it happening again while in the backup role is low. Consequently, the likelihood of him bouncing back is very real and it would benefit the Oilers to move him when his value is not at rock bottom. Maintaining him as a backup is fairly low risk, proposition with some good upside and I hate to see the Oil continue their tradition of buy high and sell low

    Now, the caveat to this is I’m not against trading under preforming players, but it has to be for the right reasons. If, for example, the Oil needed clear cap room for an immediate upgrade elsewhere and that resulted in Scrivens out the door, well I’m all aboard that train. But this idea that come up time to time of flushing a player ‘to send a message’ to all the other potential underpreformers out there strikes me as more mob justice than actual effective management.

    • ubermiguel

      I noticed that too; Jones has a serious hate on for Scrivens. And all evidence points to him being at least a very good back up.

      The real work is still on the blueline. Sekera has never played top pairing minutes, I’m not sure how he’ll respond. We still need that guy that will play 25+ minutes a night in all situations. Hopefully that’s Nurse in a couple of years, or (and these are longer shots) Reinhart or Klefbom.

      And I think people are under estimating McLellan’s impact. Calgary has proven what a good coach can do with a bunch of sub-par NHL players. Imagine what the Oilers could be if everyone played up to their potential every game!

  • Bandwagon jumper

    I don’t see the rush to dump Nikita via a buyout. At this current time, we seem to have some cap room. Now if Chia needs to free up some cap room for another acquisition, my comments are mute.

    I know he is, at best a 6-7 d-man, and yes, we have 9 d-men now.
    But two things come to mind. If the kids out play him and he rides the pine in the press box, who cares. If we need to send him to the minors, who cares. If he is that bad, the chances of him being picked up on waivers is slim.
    But as we all know, injuries happen, so having a warm body in the organization who can fill a 6-7 role isn’t a bad idea. I personally am not convinced in the other D-men talent at the AHL level.

    And maybe, just maybe, he comes into camp in better shape and we see some improvement in his game.

  • 916oiler

    Brownlee – completely agree with you. If you compare what we have now to the roster last season the only clear, impact, upgrade is McDavid. And yes, that does bump the team up a notch.

    However, how much better is Sekera than Petry? I don’t think he’s so much better that he will bump us up 2-3 spots in the standings like McDavid. Other than that swap, we have essentially the same group on the back-end.

    How good will Reinhart be? Who knows. Talbot? I absolutely love the guy, was campaigning for him the whole time, and lost it when we got him for such a good price…but we still don’t know how he’s going to play for the Oilers as he hasn’t played a single game yet.

    Plus, the team has to learn yet another new system. As happy as I am we get to learn McClellan’s system, there’s still going to be a period of adjustment where the players aren’t quite comfortable.

    Basically, let’s give the team some leash this year. I’m excited, and faith has been renewed, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Hopefully we can challenge for a playoff spot, but we’ll see. The following year, the first year in the new arena, is playoffs or bust.

  • Bandwagon jumper

    And regarding Scrivens…

    Do you think it is a coincidence that the bottom two goalies in the NHL played for the Oilers? I think not.

    I am not saying Scrivens is a future Price, but it should be obvious to anyone who watches the Oilers, that the defence was to blame for the quality of chances against our goalies. Even Carey Price wouldn’t have been able to help the Oilers in any significant way with the “swarm” defence or whatever the latest Eakins scheme was.

    I will reserve judgement on Scrivens as I see an improvement in our D corps. Last thing we need is another Dubnyk-debacle. (Trade Scrivens to a team with some defense and find out he actually is a pretty good goalie.)

    • Joy S. Lee

      One thing will tip me off as to whether Scrivens is still capable of being an NHL goalie, and it will happen or not in the early going – he will either keep mishandling shots with his glove hand and leave pucks sitting five feet in front of him, or he’ll snag them with his glove almost every time. To me, how he handles that single aspect of his game will determine whether I have any hope left for the guy. Defense or no defense – and I REALLY like the person Scrivens is – but no one can win games in the NHL leaving pucks lying in front of them all of the time.

  • oilbaron

    I’m neutral on the roster moves so far. I still see a lot of unknowns.

    Talbot could be great or he could be a disaster as a starter. I’m not sure about Reinhart. Sekera will be a horrible contract of MacTavish-ian proportions. The Gordon trade was a downgrade.

    Yakupov is still terrible.

    Still, a change of management is a positive. Mcdavid will be fun to watch.

    We’ll just have to wait and see.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    I’m excited about the Oilers future too. But this team isn’t anywhere near playoff calibre yet.

    I remember for the past 3 years straight calming ON readers about how a young kid getting drafted isn’t addressing the gaping holes on the blue line. Talbot helps in net but has never been a true starter. What happens when he has a rough patch??

    The blue line is still full of bottom pairing guys rather than #1/2. Sekera is a solid 3-4 guy that is over paid. We still need a stud. Nurse will be that but not for another 3-4 years.
    There is still a lot of work to go efore we make the playoffs. Watching this top 6 forward group will be hellufun though!!

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Several weeks before the draft there was discussion about landing/trading for Spurgeon from the Wild. For some reasons this talk has all but totally dried up. Why?

    I always considered him to be a legitimate option who would bring reliability and skill to our blue line.

    Thoughts people?

  • WTF2

    The time is past due that MacTavish and Howson were relieved of their duties and disappeared. To see their ugly mugs sitting beside PC at the draft made for a down day in what was otherwise a time to celebrate.

    These clowns can’t contribute anything to the team as it now stands. They have done enough damage, it is time for them to go home. To keep them employed is doing dick-all and only delays the transition of the entire organization.

  • Anton CP

    I wanna be excited about all of these transactions and staff hirings but come on. This is the Oilers after all, something is bound to go sideways sometimes this season. We won the draft and the offseason…. period! We got the best player to come out of the woodwork in the past ten years maybe even twenty. The Oilers are close but in my mind they need a couple more guys who can be player coach types out there. We need a guy like that for the defense so he can teach the guys how to be pros. I like Sekera and he does bring top four wuality here but I’d still like to have a seen it all type guy back there.

  • Johnnydapunk

    I realise that maybe there is a bit of media training and perhaps a bit of good management, but McDavid has been saying a lot of right things and I think when he was drafted and the excitement he expressed in body language, the words of being excited to wear Oiler colours and the comment about being an Oiler for life is surprising but really good to hear, what that may do in a small way is make the Oilers now a place that players may want to play and it wouldn’t take stupid money to get them here. There are still some players out there who could fill in some roles once everything shakes out a bit.

    I would like a player like Joel Ward but not sure where he could fit on the right side, unless they could get him on the cheap maybe as 3 mill for a third liner/sometime 2nd liner is a bit dear.

    Maybe my expectations are low, but I just want to have playoff hopes past November and be excited for the season and not be excited for the off season when the team can “rebuild” again.

  • fran huckzky

    Be exited you have reason to be oilers are taking great shape and it’s still far from over. You get the feeling there’s a big deal yet to happen PC has done a great job in the short time he’s been employed by oilers you can tell he’s going to make a big move for #1 D man just has to unload dead weight on back end and numbers will be there for a burns or a Keith ect. Can not wait to see meaningful hockey after first fourth games. Cheers to other fans our future looks pretty great

  • Randaman

    The Oilers are horrible, wait til McDavid starts losing 50+ games a year and all the classless fans once again start throwing their jersey’s on the ice and booing all the players as they walk to their dressing room.

    He’ll get sick of that in no time.

    The 3rd Oilers rebuild of the last 10 years won’t go any better than the last two attempts

    • Randaman

      Mama’s don’t let your babies grow up to be Flame fans…they never stay home and they’re always alone and they have only one cup…twang twang twang Mama’s…LOL!! Let the games begin! Go Oil

        • jonnyquixote

          Congratulations! Yankee doodle went to town riding on a pony stuck a feather in his ass and Babcock is phony! Hows that! Better! HAHAHAHAHA!! Go Oil!

        • Oilers-Entourage

          That’s funny the Wings spent more years rebuilding then the Oilers, heck it took them 20+ years of rebuilding to get where they are. from the late 60’s to the mid 90’s the wings were nothing but a rebuild.

  • Butters

    ATTN ALL OILERS FANS! First of all thank you to the positive people who choose to ere on the side of optimism, because let’s be honest it has been a tough decade. We were brought to the brink of the pinnacle; only to be reminded that the home of NASCAR “shudder was better than us in that 7 game series. What followed has been a poor team, with a great deal of hope behind it, and the subsequent heartbroken fanbase that I count myself part of. But I implore you, please let us quit with the spitting of vitriol. Those moments are in the past, and what stands before us is; a team unlikely to make the playoffs next year, but a team with tools going forward. This begs the question: is Griffen Reinhardt worth two picks in the top 35? time will tell. It seems ironic that a fanbase jilted by using draft picks to acquire raw talent with upside is different that simply using the picks to acquire it. I believe it is fair to say that we have suffered and put all kinds of hope in “the next draft” but that has led us further down the path of (mediocrity would be an improvement) futility. There is vision now, we have hockey people with proven records, and we have freakin’ McDavid!? I mean come on people, if we don’t make the playoffs, or PC deals a beloved asset who hasn’t helped us to anything but not winning I say rejoice!

    *my apologies to Mr. Brownlee who is a respected journalist for putting this drunken rant on the board below his article. Watching Rocky IV, enough said.

  • Oilers-Entourage

    The Coilers will be in the running for Austin Matthews next year, just like every other year, it’s what they do best every year…suck

    Enjoy the summer you delusional losers, it’ll be crickets on here by Dec 1st when your already out of the playoff hunt, same as every year.

  • 916oiler

    Hey ! Cut the crap trolls. Why don’t we all just look forward to oilers /flames matcheck ups this coming season. For the first time in years I think it’s gonna b ultra competitive. .with intensity ramped up. Should b a whole Lotta fun. Sportsmanship flames fans. You can do it!

  • Naterator

    Just wondering if you heard Mcdavids quote yesterday about wanting to wear Oilers silks for life?

    Far stretch from your proclamation he would be leaving after his ELC.

    Get Bent Flamer

  • YFC Prez

    Someone should avoid getting into a war of written words with a career journalist. It never ends well.

    Also make sure your comment is free of mistakes when making such a remark.