FINDING ANSWERS

chiarelli draft capture

Peter Chiarelli took on the job of fixing the Edmonton Oilers a few short months ago. He identified issues, made some moves and now we’re seeing the first blush of what Chiarelli’s Oilers will look like. How is it going?

  • Chiarelli: “Even when I was in Boston it wasn’t
    about putting fighters in the lineup, it was about your team approach,
    your team toughness, your collective mentality. And that can apply to
    us, also. Having said that, there are teams in our conference and our
    division that play a certain style. You don’t have to fight fire with
    fire, but you have to be able to push back.”

The addition of three new defenders (Andrej Sekera, Griffin Reinhart, Eric Gryba) went a long way to the push back. Sekera showed his ability to win battles in Vancouver, boxing Henrik Sedin and then taking the puck away—the bonus being he had the skill to play a significant role in the GWG. Reinhart and Gryba are both physical players and can impact the game by leaning on forwards, breaking up cycles and clearing the front of the net. Todd McLellan has been playing Gryba more and more early in the year.

  • Chiarelli: “I see a lot of promise at certain
    levels and certain areas. I see a lack of heaviness and am trying to
    think of ways to make that better.”

The idea of being heavier on the puck also shows in the new regime’s approach up front. When Jordan Eberle went down with injury, Todd McLellan auditioned Anton Slepyshev (big forward), Matt Hendricks (gritty forward) and Rob Klinkhammer (fast and furious) in the role. I don’t think those three men were at the top of many lists when Oilers fans discussed options for replacing Eberle.

  • Peter Chiarelli: “I can tell you I expect
    (Sekera) to be in our top four, Klefbom will be in our top four, Justin
    Schultz will be, I would hope he would be in our top four. Nikita
    Nikitin, who had a disappointing season last year, who was brought in to
    play in the top four. We’ve got some guys we acquired, Griffin Reinhart,
    who I believe is a terrific player. I think he needs a little time to
    get up and running before I can anoint him in the top four. We have Eric
    Gryba who I think is a real strong shutdown D, we can probably shuttle
    him up at certain points. We’ve got three legitimate, we don’t have a
    workhorse right now.”

So far, the top four D are Klefbom—Schultz and Sekera—Fayne, although Fayne’s TOI ranks behind the third pairing of Reinhart—Gryba. How can that be? Fayne is playing the tough minutes along with Sekera, so for me that means he’s part of the de facto top four defensemen—your mileage may vary.

  • Peter Chiarelli on Justin Schultz: “He’s a
    player that I don’t have really strong knowledge of. Saw him in college.
    Saw him in the lockout in the American League. Saw him in bits and
    pieces with Edmonton, maybe a little more this past year, whether it’s
    video or otherwise. He’s got a lot of assets, like puck skills, passing,
    skating. He’s been labelled sometimes as a rover and that’s more
    negative than positive in my mind, but the fact that he’s up the ice
    with the forwards is a good thing. That’s something that we would preach
    here. It’s about defending, about being the proper position and if
    you’re not strong enough to defend, let’s talk about positional
    defending, stick defending. He has to get better at that.”

Schultz has in fact improved his defensive play. The offense isn’t coming but the improved play away from the puck is regarded as universally encouraging in Oilers Nation, and rightly so.

Source here and here.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

We’re not close to the roster Peter Chiarelli will want to have by next fall, but he is trying out some players and working others into the everyday roster. I suspect we’re seeing the final games for the UFA’s and at least a few RFA’s, but men like Justin Schultz, Eric Gryba and Anders Nilsson are may be making a case for staying (based on usage).

A long way to go, but the picture is coming into view. Some of the bets made by Peter Chiarelli may be changed out quickly — he certainly did that in Boston. Expect the unexpected? Not quite. How about “expect the rational and explainable”? Seems a better fit.

  • A-Mc

    Justin and Yak have been the 2 biggest surprises for me. I thought both had 1 way tickets to bumville, but they are showing well thus far.

    At this point, if justin gets 10 points on the year but shows he is a solid D option, I think management and fans have to be happy with that.

    • Intermission

      Yeah I wouldn’t care if he had 0 points on the year. I just want him to play good D and I’ll be the first to admit I was calling for him to be gone but he’s playing well.

      • A-Mc

        Ya but Schultz is an offensive Dman. That’s why he makes what he makes. If he improves his Defence but doesn’t put up points then why do you have him? Go get another Gryba… He needs to remain an offensive threat while improving his defence.

        • A-Mc

          If he can show that he’s capable of playing solid defense, then that tells coaching and management that his game can be massaged into something that sits somewhere in the middle. If he continues to get points but is a complete liability on the ice, He’ll probably not get another contract with the Oilers.

      • A-Mc

        Seeing Schultz playing some improved defense is encouraging…
        But…
        He’s up for a new contract & if he wants to get even close to the money he’s getting now, he needs to contribute offensively.

        So, I’m still very skeptical that he can improve sufficiently. His improved play does however, increase his trade value immensely.

  • Johnnydapunk

    Oilers currently have the #1 PK in the league, and Schultz has been getting an awful lot of time there. Its still real early but very encouraging signs from the young man.

  • A-Mc

    I wonder if the team finds its way through a trade or a free agency add. It would be nice to find someone better to pair with Sekera. Maybe that’s Klefbom and Nurse takes his spot eventually.

    As for a heavier game up front, um, Draisaitl anyone? Beuller.

    • A-Mc

      This is all Heresay:

      But a coworker of mine says his friend works in the Oiler Organization (not sure what he does). Around the office they say that Nurse/Draisaitl were sent down because McLellan expects a rough season of learning and he doesn’t want the rookies coming up in that. Apparently he fully expects them to come up next season and stick.

      *shrug*

      If true, I suppose we wont be seeing Nurse or Drai unless injuries dictate otherwise. Its a bummer too because i really want to see Nurse up in the NHL.

      • CapeBretonOilers

        soooo far from the truth. Your co-worker is just talk talk talk talking to be heard !! You want your rookies to have a tough first year so they are prepared.

      • I love how ‘reliable’ people’s inside guy is. I also have a friend who has a ‘guy’. Like him and the fun rumors promoted on hockey buzz, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

        As for your report here. I’m good with hearing that. And before the season even began I was definitely beating the keep Nurse and Drai on the farm drum. It’s just been so long since the Oilers had the luxury of not needing to rush their prospects.

        But, knowing those two are down there really opens up some exciting possibilities and trade conjectures.

        So, as it stands it looks like McLellan would love a tough forechecker on the Hall Nuge Line to create space and retrieve pucks. Sadly, Eberle is not that. Second, his 6 mill cap hit, while worth the cost, is likely higher than Yak’s next contract, unless he continues to keep lighting it up like he has. Regardless, I just don’t see the team having room in the cap in a few years for all of Hall, Nuge, Ebs, Yak, McDavid, Draisaitl, Nurse, Klefbom, Sekera, Pouliot, and Talbot. So, someone’s gonna be the odd man out.

        If we take all that as true, and maybe we don’t, then I would be trading Eberle as he saves the team the most money, plays the position on the line most likely to be changed by coach and management, and also would net the team the highest return at the moment. Plus, with Draisaitl playing the RW so well in Pre Season, he basically could fill that specific role, likely even better than someone through free agency or trade not named Corey Perry.

        So really the question becomes, what can you get for Eberle? In my mind, the team gets a top line right shot D man. Maybe you’d need to sweeten the package, but I don’t think a trade for Brent Burns is out of the question.

        Hall / Nuge / Draisaitl

        Pouliot / McDavid / Yak

        Klefbom / Burns

        Nurse / Sekera

        Reinheart / Gryba

        Stanley Cup.

        • A-Mc

          Eberle is good for 60+ points a season and that is not easily made up. The problem i have with your assessment is that you’re assuming Leon can fill that hole, and so far we don’t know that to be true.

          Todd and Management don’t know what the team looks like with Eberle in the lineup because he was injured so soon. Before they bail him due to being able to survive without him, i bet they’d like to see what life is like WITH him. I dont see any major trades happening anytime soon.

          • BDH

            All good points.

            I don’t think I’m assuming Drai will fill Ebs 60 points. I’m assuming Drai will fill the role of forecheck puck retriever better than anyone they could go out and get by trade or free agency. And if not better then at least cheaper.

            And of course you are right, maybe that ends up not being the type of line McLellan wants. But with Ebs out of the line up and guys like Hendricks and Klink getting a shot on that line, it sure as heck seems like it.

            So I guess I’m saying IF that is the direction management and coaching wants to go, and if indeed they decide Eberle is the best trade asset for all the listed reasons, THEN I am salivating at what the return is and what the team will ultimately look like as a result.

            In the mean time I am pumped to see Eberle back in the line up.

  • justDOit

    The best thing about this period in Chiarelli’s tenure, is that he has a coach who can get the most of the players he has acquired so far, and goalies who can help when mistakes happen.

    This team will still suffer through some tough nights, and will still need to learn many things, but there has been real improvement so far. We don’t have to rely on smart hockey people to tell us the team is ‘visually better’.

    • BDH

      It’s amazing when you have people in management that understand the concept of asset management and are able to identify the correct weaknesses and recognize the right talent to bring in. I felt that the old management regime went hard after free agents and then simply crossed their fingers and hoped it would work out, entrusting rookie coaches to the task.

      Lordy, I still shudder when thinking how flubbed up it was to fire your head coach based on interviewing for another associate. One look at his body of work would reveal that “ache”ins did nothing close to giving the team and players the detail needed to succeed at the NHL level. From what I’ve seen, McL is giving his players all kinds of positive and negative feedback on the bench, a sign of a good coach who knows his players and wants them to improve.

      Not to kick a dead horse but I remember hearing an interview with Dallas last year where a top six player was injured and taken to the hospital after the game. The interview was two days later and he said he still hadn’t spoken to the player yet about the state of his injury. That does not indicate a coach who supposedly promised to know each and every one of his players.

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      I am just so happy to see someone drive the Net, Back-check and see a man in net with a Save % higher than the value of the Canadian dollar.

  • Johnnydapunk

    The biggest shockers for me has been Nilsson, he was traded for Liam Coughlin (which another ON poster pointed out) and has played better than anyone I’m sure has expected, whatever happens with him is a win. If he plays as well as he has, the Pil have a pretty good goaltender in their hands, if another team signs him, the Oil get compensation, it’s a win win here.

    The other shocker has been Talbot, I thought his numbers were inflated with the Rangers defence, but he has played unreal so far and both goalies have kept the Oil in every game. It’s a strange feeling that the Oil have 2 solid goalies at the same time, it’s kindof baffling really.

    There are other pieces that hopefully will be sorted out, I will be trashed to poop for suggesting this, but I would look at both Byfuglien and strangely Jagr for off season acquisitions. Buff because he can play both defence, wing and is that toughness that the Oil can use, he is also a UFA so maybe they will have some space to sign him. As for Jagr, it is for 3 reasons, one being that the fact he has played at a top level for 25 years means he knows how to keep in shape, both mentally and physically so if there would be one mentor for McDavid that would get him to really understand how to become one of the greatest ever, then Jagr is the one to teach him. Another point is Jagr knows how to play with a player who is at another level, as he played with Lemieux and it could be even more of a deadly combination. The last reason is just to see Jagr in an Oiler Jersey would just be amusing (almost happened in 2008 I think)

    On a side note, the JavaScript on the ON page I think is a bit wonky as lately it has been constantly crashing using Safari on an iPad. My guess is there is some little coding conflict that’s overloading devices, but it could just be me as well.

  • A-Mc

    With Anaheim sucking…. maybe they would be interested in unloading Maroon or Stewart….for a 1/2 cap price Purcell or Andrew Miller.

    A few more losses over there and some changes will be imminent…

    Stewart may hit waivers … so ixnay on the trade…

    Still seems like the Oilers are missing a big and tough forward… and a defenseman.

  • Intermission

    A competent defender or two, this team would be a playoff team. Instead of three unmitigated disasters on the back end being Jultz, TCAF, and Olympian, we just have Jultz with Ference on a leash. And Justin actually has made a massive improvements, to the point the glaring deficiencies in his game are not so apparent in the overall team defensive improvement. You can see the occasional mistakes, but its not ending up in the net at an alarming rate.

    Right now the defence can win battles. Even Schultz is on this NHL calibre penalty kill we got going on. The other improvement with Schultz’s game is the ability to pass the puck out of his zone a bit more. He is still not this puck mover everyone seems to think he is.

    I’d still like to see the replacement of Petry, cause we miss his ability to rush the puck up and push the pace. Watching Montreal makes me real angry right now. Everyone in the league is seeing that MacT was ribbed blind by MBerg.

    The best thing for me this year is Griffen Reinhardt. I was skeptical of the trade. He doesn’t look outta place and can defend like Sonnabiotch. The best part is that he looks a heck of alot better then Hamilton. The rumour outta Boston was Hamilton was not all that, and frankly I am liking what I see in Griffen to the point that these easy returns are making me happy we got the shaft on Dougie…

  • tileguy

    Also getting a lot of crashes on my Ipad using Safari

    Gryba and Yak have been my 2 biggest pleasant surprises followed closely by goaltending.

    I think our bottom six are going to keep the farm stocked for years to come.

    Biggest disappointment has been the hate by ON for Purcell.

    • justDOit

      This site wreaks havoc with Firefox on Win7 as well. I basically have to close the tab right after reading, before it crashes.

      I’ve heard other people say there’s another browser for iOS that works better, can’t remember the name unfortunately.

  • Nostrum Right

    Amazing what 3 wins will do to ON! All of a sudden we’re one or two players away from playoff hockey. I watched all three and we outplayed Calgary. Vancouver and Detroit, not so much. If we can get three wins for every 7 games plus 8 or 9 OTL’s this year with this crew, we’ll be lucky…realistic I think.

  • YFC Prez

    I know it wasn’t a trade. But the series of moves that resulted in Gryba in, Marincin out, greatly improved the blue line. He brings a physical element that’s been missing for a long time back there ( one that pillowy soft Marincin would never bring), and the fact that he can actually play defence half decently is a bonus.

    I also thought I would miss Gordon terribly, but once again even though not a trade, the series of moves to get letestu in, Gordon out, also improved the roster. He’s a magician on the PK.

    The more I see the plans coming together the more My Peter Chiarelli man crush grows.

    Talbot and Nilson are pure gold, I also still like the Reinhart acquisition. I don’t think he had a miss this off season. I was worried about Sekera but last game showed he can play.

    • #97TRAIN

      Ok, macT made some brutal decisions but he did bring in Perron, pouliot and Hendricks. Two of those guys are doing pretty good. He also got us mcdavid. For that I will be forever thankful.

  • #97TRAIN

    “The best part is that he looks a heck of alot better then Hamilton. The rumour outta Boston was Hamilton was not all that, and frankly I am liking what I see in Griffen”.
    ====
    1. Delighted GR has made a great start. I was worried the boo boys would turn on him.

    2. Not the first comment I have seen / heard that GR is better than an over rated Hamilton. If Hamilton is so over rated why did Chiarelli go for him?

    3. Agree that the cap will not allow us to keep all the young stars long term but for now Nuge / Ebs, McD / Yak; Hall / Lander would be three amazing scoring pairs.

    4. Great that we are nearly .500 after a very tough schedule. We only trashed Calgary, we were lucky in Vancouver, beat a weak Red Wings. Play offs? I would not take an even money bet.

  • BDH

    Thank goodness Lowetide isn’t the GM or we would have had Ramo in goal, Marincin and Nikitin on D because Reinhardt needed to be in the minors and Gryba can’t play, and Glencross playing in out top six.

    The thing I like best about Chirelli so far is he seems to be building a team, not just trying to plug holes.

  • BDH

    When we were losing it was “we miss Eberle” Now a few wins later and he’s back up for trade bait.

    He is a known quantity and we need him. Trades have a way of not working out the way you expect and swapping players to fill one hole often leaves another void. (my worry anyway)

    Obviously I would prefer to add to the team, not take away. Move extra D men out for picks, trade picks plus first round draft. Use upcoming cap space to acquire. Assess upcoming rookie talent. Don’t forget we need at least three solid talented lines (when everyone is healthy) to provide depth for when we are not.

    Drai and Nurse in AHL for a year I would consider non productive at some point. True impact players do not spend long in AHL and I like to consider these two as impact players.

    I’m for trying out Iiro on the Nuge wing and just stay the course for now. Add one Nurse and one Drai when opportunity presents. Wait for that D man. He’s coming, we just have to make sure its the right deal.

  • Intermission

    Liking all the posts with positive comments on Reinhart.

    I too think he has exceeded all expectations. The best part is he will be able to develop as Klefbom and Shultz should have been able to, on the 3rd pair playing easier and fewer minutes and slowly having that load increased as he is ready. (also how Ekblad was handled last season)

    Klefbom fortunately was not overwhelmed when given too much responsibility, but if Justin Shultz had been able to develop properly in a limited role from day one we might have seen this “new Justin” developing slowly instead of suddenly appearing because he finally figured it out.

    Reinhart has the raw skills to become an elite shut down guy – while he may never develop enough offence to be a true #1 he could anchor the second pair or complement a #1 for years on the Oilers.

    In 3 years the top four consists of Sekera, Klefbom, Reinhart, and Nurse. Mix and match when they know what they’ve got in each player.

    While I’m liking what I see with the new Jultz, I think he is a perfect pump and dump candidate right now. Especially with 24 minutes last night including 5 min on the PK. Only way I see them keeping him is if he accepts a salary in the 3.5 range and anchors an offensive 3rd pairing and sees lots of PP time. Which probably isn’t happening since his agent has that 24 min a night to barter with.

  • Spoils

    D is unique in that it is not about top4 or even top pairing. it is about the #1D. the guy who gets 30min per game and plays with a few different guys (if still primarily with one guy).

    How many true #1Ds are there in the NHL?

    10? Doughty, Keith, Hedman, OEL, PK, Weber…

    real hard to come by.

    Nobody has won a cup in the last 10 years without one. Except maybe Pitts. unless you lump Letang in the top tier.

    ZERO CUPS

  • #97TRAIN

    It has been refreshing to see Mac-L implementing an elite communication process,it has shown results already in that I am now seeing the entire Team making congruent supportive adjustments across the entire roster when a correction is required.Practices now carry impact and we see these impacts immediatly coming from every player the next game …this is a very good sign.

    It seems Mac-L and JW build elite pre-game plans and are very very pro-active in making accurate process and personell adjustments on a Team by Team basis.

    Good times ahead….the more we win the less we need to worry about PCs trigger-finger twitching.