The more I read opinions on the Edmonton Oilers, whether by fans in the comments section here or by a surprisingly large number of professional pundits who should know better, the more I’m convinced that it’s a good thing for Peter Chiarelli that this is his first year on the job.
Because it kind of looks like the continual losing has driven everybody else crazy.
One of the effects of this craziness has been calls in the comments here and from pundits around the league to blow things up. The Oilers, the thinking goes, have been bad for a long time and the players who made them bad are still sitting on the roster. It’s time for Chiarelli to move them out.
And that’s nutty.
“The same group of guys” shtick isn’t true. Anyone mad about 2009-10 needs to get over it, because the roster has been overhauled since then. Even if we narrow our focus to 2012-13 and beyond, at most the list of holdovers is six names long: Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Lander, Yakupov, and Schultz.
Now, is it intelligent to hang the blame on those six players?
- Lander only became a full-time NHL’er last year and is currently in the No. 4 position on Edmonton’s centre depth chart; blaming him for being promoted early by Tom Renney is bananas.
- Schultz has obviously been a big part of the problem, but blaming him for the state of the blue line when he was a rookie and sophomore is nuts. The Oilers never properly supported him and it’s hardly his fault he was asked to be a No. 1 defenceman almost out of the gate. Is there a case to trade him? Given his contract, sure. Just realize that a) he probably won’t bring much back and b) this isn’t going to magically fix the other problems with the Oilers’ defence.
- Yakupov has been part of the problem, to be sure. Because of that, his trade value is at an all-time low. This is a classic sell-low scenario, a real opportunity for Chiarelli to mess things up. Going “addition by subtraction” on Yakupov means not getting much in return and maybe being forced to hold your nose if he scores 25 goals a year or two from now. There’s no way to win a Yakupov trade; the only opportunity here is to squander a potential asset.
What about the other three players? In the past I and others argued for trading Eberle, because his 76-point season in 2011-12 had artificially inflated his value (his high water mark since has been 65 points, so as it turns out those assessments were correct) but that isn’t the situation any longer. And without that misconception about his value there simply isn’t any point.
Over the last three seasons, Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins have outperformed the team average in terms of on-ice scoring chances by about 5 percent per year. Without any of those players on the ice, Edmonton has typically been out-chanced by something in the range of 57-43. With those three on the ice, the numbers are more like 52-48; almost break-even on a historically bad NHL franchise.
Hall in particular gets mentioned as a trade candidate by people who I assume are really anxious to run Benoit Pouliot/Matt Hendricks in the Nos. 1 and 2 slots on the left wing depth chart. In addition to his on-ice chance numbers, Hall has scored 2.55 points/hour over the last three seasons at even-strength. The entire list of NHL regulars who have done better is five names long: Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Jamie Benn, Corey Perry and Tyler Seguin. Every other player in the game, whether it be Steven Stamkos or Evgeni Malkin or Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews or whoever has been less efficient at five-on-five point production than Hall has.
So yeah, trade that guy. I’m sure he can be replaced no problem internally.
Whenever people go looking for players to crucify, they make a fundamental mistake. They assume that the problem is that the Oilers have bad players. That isn’t the problem. The problem is that the Oilers don’t have enough good players.
Let’s use last year’s defence as an example.
First it’s important to note that a falling tide lowers all the boats. The NHL suddenly realized that Jeff Petry was a good defenceman after last year’s trade deadline because all of a sudden he wasn’t surrounded by mush (Petry, incidentally, would have been on that list of scapegoats we talked about earlier). Individuals look worse than they are because they aren’t supported by a quality system. Average or slightly below average players tend to look much worse on a bad team than they do on a good one, where their fellows help cover their mistakes.
So when the Oilers cast Nikita Nikitin/Mark Fayne as their shutdown pairing out of training camp, as they did last year, it’s not worth getting too angry with the players. The problem isn’t that Nikitin (who would be fine as a No. 6/7) and Fayne (a No. 5 in New Jersey who played in a specialized tough minutes role with Andy Greene at times) are terrible players; it’s that they’re being asked to do more than they are capable of. If that’s your third pairing, you’re probably fine. If it’s your tough minutes pairing, everyone is going to look bad.
The same lesson applies across the roster. There have been some bad contracts, and yes there are some legitimately poor players in the rotation, but for the most part the issue isn’t that the Oilers have a bunch of losers who need to be dumped pronto so much as it is that they have a bunch of fourth-line forwards and third-pairing D being asked to do more than they can.
Boiling it all down to one line, here’s what I’m saying: People have to stop looking for addition by subtraction. The real need in Edmonton is addition by addition.