WAITING ON CONNOR

Connor McDavid’s broken collarbone sucks on so many levels, not the least of which being he was a helluva lot of fun to watch and he was going to be a much-needed distraction for fans during yet another year out of the playoffs for the Edmonton Oilers.

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For starters, McDavid was living up to the ridiculous hype heaped on him coming into the season sooner than even many optimists thought he might. He was creating a buzz, not just in Edmonton but around the NHL. I don’t think it’s overstatement to say McDavid was Edmonton’s best player when he was injured against Philadelphia Nov. 3.

Now, with the Oilers off to yet another miserable start at 5-10-0, facing a difficult stretch in the schedule and McDavid out until the end of January or thereabouts, the optimism in the air a month ago has turned sour and fans are settling in for yet another season of discontent.

The 2015-16 Oilers, based largely on the addition of McDavid, were supposed to be much better under new coach Todd McLellan and GM Peter Chiarelli. I thought so. You thought so. Now, as they take on the Anaheim Ducks tonight, the Oilers are off to an even worse start than they were last year at this time, when they were 6-8-1. Now what?

OPTIMISM ABOUNDED

KoolAid

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In a pre-season roundtable leading into the season Oct. 9, Oilersnation writers were asked, among other things, to give their predictions about how many points the Oilers would finish 2015-16 with. The whole item is here. We saw it as follows:

  • Lowetide 93
  • Jeanshorts 90
  • Henderson 90
  • Gregor 86
  • Willis 85
  • Baggedmilk 82
  • Brownlee 82

The top-end of the range of expected improvement in points was 31, while the bottom-end was 20. Suffice to say, we were all optimistic. We made the picks knowing Jordan Eberle was out, but not knowing McDavid would take a header into the boards. I expected the goaltending and blue line, while far from being proven or deep enough, to be at least marginally better. I felt the team would be in better hands under McLellan than it was under the thumb of Dallas Eakins. A points total in the 80s seemed reasonable.

Not now. With just 10 points and 67 games to play, even the low end of our predictions is out the window, as are yours. The Oilers will need 72 points in the games remaining just to get to 82. Without McDavid, and with the flaws still apparent with this roster, it isn’t happening. 

The point projection for the Oilers now? Is it 60, 65, 70? Your guess is as good as mine. How many games will McDavid miss? Is it a 10-week injury or a 14-week injury? Will Chiarelli get busy if the team doesn’t turn north? Will the goaltending – all over the place so far — get more consistent behind a defensive group still trying to find itself?

What, with McDavid in a sling instead of in the line-up and a sense of here-we-go-again creeping in, are reasonable expectations? Fans are nine seasons into the same old, same old. Chiarelli and McLellan, meanwhile, have been on the job mere months, not years. I’m far more interested in the answers to those questions than picking a new point total out of a hat.

EXPECTATIONS

Reality

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Even without McDavid, my sense is this team is better – in terms of player personnel, coaching, systems and buy-in by the players – despite the flaws and inconsistencies that remain, than it was a year ago, even if the results after 15 games don’t show it. Maybe I’m out to lunch. I don’t think so.

There’s peril in having four young defensemen on the roster, so rolling out Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Brandon Davidson and Griffin Reinhart comes with inherent problems. For me, Klefbom has had a tough start. He needs to settle in. I want to see more of the same from Reinhart – keep it simple, move the puck, take the body. Nurse? He’s a horse. He just needs time. That said, the kids need some help from Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne. They have to be way better.

Goaltending tandems can work, but I want to see Cam Talbot or Anders Nilsson grab the crease, and I’m sure Chiarelli feels the same. Talbot has had his moments, but he’s struggling right now with a streak of four straight games with a save-percentage under .900. He is .893 overall. Not good enough, even behind this blue line group. Nilsson has been better in his five appearances. He’s at .911. Somebody take the job.

McLellan hasn’t had a group of top-six forwards to work with that includes McDavid and Eberle. That’s not going to change until McDavid gets back. That’s a challenge. What I want to see in the meantime is for Nail Yakupov to regain the form he found alongside McDavid. It won’t be easy, but I’d hate to see him take a big step back after the strides he made beside No. 97. More of the same from Leon Draisaitl, please.

Checking off those boxes won’t put the Oilers in a playoff race or even get them to the most modest points totals we projected, but it will set up what remains of the season after McDavid returns and give us a better idea where this team is at than the first 15 games have. While that’s not nearly as much fun as watching McDavid wheel and deal, it’s where we’re at.

WHILE I’M AT IT

Megaphone

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  • Even with this 5-10-0 (.333) start, McLellan has a regular season career point percentage of .629 – he was .637 in seven seasons with San Jose. That’s fourth among active NHL coaches behind only Dan Bylsma, Bruce Boudreau and Dave Cameron.

  • I’d love to give Chiarelli a shot of truth serum and ask him about Craig MacTavish’s signings of Fayne, Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin. Fayne has a chance to rebound, but Nikitin and Ference are spent money.

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


  • 2Oilers4

    I keep hearing people say this team is better, I don’t know. Maybe they are, maybe they arnt. I’m so depressed I don’t even care anymore.

    I’m with Chiapete…. Let’s start talking about the World Cup

  • D

    I suspect if you were to acquire some truth serum and give it to PC, you could not print what he would say.

    I only want to know what Mac T and Howson do on a daily basis? I suspect two parts of nothing!

  • hagar

    Mcdavid should have been the cherry on the oilers improvement sunday, not the sole reason for it.

    There is no reason the team shouldn’t have been way better this year than last, even if they didn’t win the lottery.

    • I don’t see McDavid as the only reason this team is better. Still, results aren’t there. Let’s see what the count is after 82 games. I’m not passing judgment on this roster and a new GM and coach after 15 games.

      • hagar

        I am with you that things sure seem different in the games. It would be nice to have another look at this season so far if the oilers actually played the entire game every time.

        It might just be that close to happening… one collective team “aha” moment, and it could turn around.

        Still hasn’t though. Lol

        We wait……

      • tileguy

        That’s too optomistic/generous Robin, giving them 67 more games. The writing on the wall is getting clearer and clearer every game. If this core sh!ts the bed in the next 10 weeks this team is flawed, won’t you agree?

    • tileguy

      Yep, where would we be without McDavid?
      We complain about our luck, but really we used 5 years worth just getting McDavid.
      We don’t have a team if our success is based on one player. Heck, the Oilers won the cup without Gretzky……

      Back in the good old days….

  • D

    15 games in and I’m out. Just another typical oiler season.

    See you when McDavid comes back. (wonder what that kids thinking? Probably ‘how do I get out of this organization without looking like the bad guy’)

  • tileguy

    We are all sad, delusional Canadian hockey fans. To think that we all felt so optomistic on an 18 yr old to turn the fortunes around on a dysfunctional team built on too much of the same same was ludicrous. The building of this team is on the former regime and its owner who kept his childhood idols in charge. The proof will be in the next 10 weeks as our core players once again are in the spotlight to show improvement.

    My take on this is that a BOLD move has to be made sometime in the next 8 months. Rebuild 1:4 needs to be implemented not so much as a tearing down, but with a big trade.

    This season is lost.

  • tileguy

    Well in the point prediction thread I said 10-12 point improvement at most and the oiler zealots would be disappointed…

    The Oilers are still rushing their top prospects into the NHL lineup at the expense of long term development. Smart hockey people know that just because a kid looks good over 4 or 5 games, it doesn’t mean he is ready for permanent NHL duty.

    Nurse and Draisatl look good and are already better than many of the current Oiler roster players, but there are still things for them to work on and the AHL is the place for that. The cycle of rushing prospects into feature NHL positions has to stop.

    A little more marinating in the A will provide many years of benefits as the Oilers will finally have fully developed cornerstone players to lean on.

    • Good points. There is no downside to having prospects learn their craft in the minors. At the same time, fans expect improvement in the standings and patience is a tough sell around here after nine years of futility.

      If the Oilers had better organizational depth, they could leave the kids in the AHL and improve in the standings, but they don’t have that depth.

      • Jiff

        It’s easy to look back and point fingers at the coaches (and I was not a fan of Eakins), but a coach can only look bad with a less than mediocre group of players and an abysmal blue line. It’s been the problem forever here, and until the Management goes out and gets a couple (ie more than one) legit top 2 D we are screwed.
        Those who blame PC or TMac are out to lunch. It takes more than one offseason. But Peter will be trading one of Hall, Eberle. Guaranteed. I just don’t see us garnering the talent required in Free Agency and those two guys are the only moveable pieces on the roster good enough to get back something. Can’t trade Nuge… Need that one two punch at Center to stay. My guess is Hall. And rightly so… He’s a helluva player. I only hope we get a true deal done where the D coming back is as good as Hall is at wing.

    • 5 Cups

      Gotta disagree bro, with this season already lost (again) might as well treat the rest of this season as training camp (again). They have nothing to lose anymore. Well, the team will lose more but might as well get nurse and Drai accustomed to NHL opponents.

    • .

      Who else rushes their top prospects?

      Chicago with Kane or Toews?
      LA with Doughty?
      Colorado with McKinnon?
      Florida with Ekblad?
      Brooklyn with Taveres?
      Tampa with Stamkos?

      None of them played a game in the A’ but they seemed to do alright.

      Why wouldn’t Nurse, Drai, and the Oil’s 1st-overall picks do so as well?

  • socaldave

    Bottom six has been biggest disappointment so far , and injuries has plagued them as well . Lander simply not good enough and Letestue looks no better than Gordon was . In top six , Yak is still a huge project even with McDavid in lineup .

    • socaldave

      My biggest WTF has to be Lander. I don’t think he’s been asked to do anything different from last year, but he just looks lost out there. Frustrating to see that regression, for sure.

  • OILFANMEXICO

    This team is better, just not in the stats column. Most of our losses are one goal games. And to top it off against top 10 teams. So be proud Oiler fans, at least we didn’t have blowout games like last year(Improvement). Work with the positives because the negatives won’t help you other than to learn from. Or just pout….your choice;) I will be a fan even if they never win another cup.

  • socaldave

    It’s so frustrating – it’s like I was given this awesome gift I’d always wanted but never expected, then for some inexplicable reason it was taken away from me. Not forever, though, as it’s been promised back, so I know it’s not the end of the world; I’m not heartbroken, exactly, but man, am I ever f-ing salty about it.

  • ATL Oiler

    This just plan sucks at every level! We now have to rely on Chia who arguably made the worst trade in the last 10 years to make a move. If he trades anyone they will light it up else where … guaranteed! Re-re-re-build around McD, Drai, RNH, Nurse, Klef, Davidson and Talbot.

    Package the rest and hold your breath ON ….

  • ATL Oiler

    Once we ditch Lander and the rest of the 3rd and 4th liners this team will turn the corner and be unstoppable, the quicker PC pulls the trigger the better the playoffs are still in reach but needs to act ASAP.

  • Although our record doesn’t show it, we’re a much better team than last year. Up to this point, we haven’t been getting any bounces, we deserve better fate. Our team is buying in and it shows. We’re in every game except maybe 1 or 2, and that’s something we couldn’t say last year. Last year we’d be losing games 6-2 and outshot 40-20. Not this year. If we can hang around .500 and keep playing good hockey until mcdavid returns, we’ll make a serious push in the last half of the season and the bounces will start going our way. Keep the faith ON.

    Also, THANK YOU to past and present veterans fighting for our freedom every day. #lestweforget

  • ATL Oiler

    Maybe it is just the optimist in me, but I think the results are skewed as we have had a very tough schedule. If the team can avoid giving up, we can still see some of those initial predictions come to pass. For what it’s worth, Sports Club Stats (which takes strength of schedule into account) has the Oilers most likely point total at 82.

  • CMG30

    Don’t really know what all the doom and gloom is. Oil are off to the start I kind of expected, the difference is they’re playing with intensity this year.

    We knew the defense was going to be suspect this season and that was why we went out and got Talbot. So far, he hasn’t been able to hold the fort as expected. If he had, a number of those 1 goal games could have easily gone to overtime or turned into wins.

    I’m reserving my criticism till the end of November. If, by then, the Oil aren’t humming along near 500 then the time has come to start asking hard questions.

    • ATL Oiler

      I know this goes against my post above, but it is already the middle of November and we are nowhere near .500 – that isn’t going to change in 2.5 weeks.

  • CMG30

    Chiarelli is to blame for this year’s fiasco.
    He willfully did nothing this summer to fix the defense of the Oilers.
    We all know this.
    He did flush out the garbage. In fact, he recruited more garbage.
    He did not come to terms with how incredibly over-rated the core of the Oilers are. They never win. Losers to the core.
    But inaction is his core competency.
    All of this when a fan base suffers for a decade.
    The Oilers are in Arizona tomorrow. They need to leave some players there permanently and come back with OEL. Then, maybe this horror changes.
    Also, call up Boissoit, and release Talbot. We have all seen enough. The first Chicago goal on Sunday was the last straw. He can’t play the position at the NHL level.

    • Semi

      Mr verdad2.0,

      What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard.

      At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought.

      Everyone on this site is now dumber for having listened to it.

      I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    • Honestly difficult not to delete your comment. You don’t need to come here whistling a happy tune pretending everything is just wonderful, but spare us the mindless junk you spew with almost every post. It’s boring. It adds nothing.

    • 5 Cups

      Ok I get it, chia did nothing to improve the D this summer. What was he supposed to do? He had $6 odd million in nikitin and Ference. No team in the NHL wants them. They are the reason he couldn’t improve the D. Oilers only have so many roster spots and cash to dish out. His hands were tied this year but next summer will be a HUGE year for the oilers.

      I think be makes a huge pick up in the offseason. Pronger like. More cash and flexibility once many underperforming vets are off the books.

      Still not counting out playoffs this year. Anything can happen folks.

      • Semi

        Post 55: “with this season already lost (again) might as well treat the rest of this season as training camp (again)”

        Post 56: “Still not counting out playoffs this year. Anything can happen folks.”

        Huh?

  • Danglishish

    Jesus I sure hope the team doesn’t read blogs like this. Does anybody see the irony in us complaining that the team gives up too easy while we as a fanbase write them off after 15 games? I’m sure I will get a lot of trashes for this comment but I feel like this needs to be said.

    With respect to our record we have had at least 2 points stolen from us due to disallowed goals or bad calls. We do not play like a 5-10 team and I don’t think our record at this early stage is a reflection of our competitiveness in this league. We have been in almost every single game, often sunk by a single bad play or brain fart. Good coaching and/or roster changes will take care of that, but it doesn’t happen overnight. I am confident that as the year goes on we will be on the positive side of a lot of those close games and lucky bounces. It’s still very early.

    You can’t understate the impact that losing McDavid has on this team. If we assume he loses 30 games to the injury he will play almost half a season worth of games. When he returns he will be extremely motivated and have a fire in his belly. This kid is ridiculously competitive and wants to do well. I for one am still optimistic that with Hall playing the way he is, Drai proving himself to be a legitimate top six forward and nurse giving some much-needed skill on our blue line that we can keep a respectable record until mid-season. McDavid’s return will energize this team in the second half of the season and we will be an above .500 team through the last 40. We may not reach 80 points, but we sure as hell aren’t going to be where we were last year.

    On the other hand maybe the team just says what the rest of you are saying and packs it in. Could to blame them?

  • Craig1981

    82 POINTS, was your guess?!?!?! It doesn’t piss me off Brownlee is the most cynical and pessimistic writer on ON……it pisses me off he is typically right. grrrrr

  • Craig1981

    Lowe Mac Tambo and Howson are to blame for entire mess .We have 3 first overalls in this lineup, no way should we be in LAST place.The scouting was horrendous.
    Our third and fourth lines are like the lochness monster.Todd is a very good coach,he needs some grit to help him out.The D is atrocious in their own end.The end of November will tell us if it will be another miserable winter of watching hockey or not.
    Hey Kevin and Mac how is that shoeshine business?

  • Craig1981

    Excuses that bug me:

    Our schedule is too hard – This is the NHL, it’s suppose to be hard

    We havn’t got the bounces – we’ve got plenty of bounces, people only seem to remember the bad ones

    We’re not getting blown out like last year – last year we had a better record at this point. What are you talking about?

    Actually I’ll stop now, I’m just in a bad mood. This team frustrates the heck out of me. 10 years. It’s gonna be 10 years since I’ve seen the playoffs

    • Semi

      It’s funny how everyone compares our start this year with last years start.

      Based on playing the exact schedule as this year against our record against them last year, our record would be a wonderful 2-12-1 (only a 3-2 win over Washington and 3-0 win over Montreal and a 5-4 overtime loss to Vancouver). So based on record/schedule, we are doing better.

      Let’s look at goal differential based on the same schedule as above. Last year -29 (27GF & 56GA) and this year -8 (39GF & 47GA). Gee, we are showing better again.

      Regarding not getting blown out, the biggest goal differential so far this year has been 3 goals which happened once in 15 games compared to 7 times in the first 15 games last year.

      Finally, our record against top 10 teams is 2-7-0, against the middle 10 is 1-2-0, and the bottom 10 is 2-1-0.

      • 5 Cups

        Dress it any way you’d like. Visually better. Moral victories, bad puck luck..,. Dress it, undress it, turn it around, shuffle it, put it on a ribbon.
        We are 28th place in a league of 30 teams with not one, but 3 to 5 (ymmv) of the most skilled players in the world…..
        Where’s the improvement?
        Stop drinking the kool aid!

  • tileguy

    I’m okay with where they are right now. I’m not happy about it but I understand. The 9 years of suck is an embarrassment and a testament to why teams don’t blow themselves up and start over.

    I believe we finally got some good management. Some direction. The past 9 years isn’t going do a 180, or even a 145 in one season.

    At least this year I’m looking forward to watching a game (so far) and can realistically expect some entertainment. This is good and bad because I got a lot more done around the house last year.

  • Jiff

    I don’t see things getting better until our D situation is dealt with.

    We need to move a Nuge/Ebs/Yak/Hall – or some combo of the group – and bring a real Dman in.

    I love Nurse but I don’t like him being rushed out of the A. Maybe, just maybe I’d be happy with him staying if he had a REAL Dman to mentor him… Not the clowns we have him surrounded with now.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    With the plate and screws stabilizing his clavical, i suspect Connor will be bored out of his mind and start skating when the team returns from this road trip. I’m sure he’s almost pain free already and i suspect he’ll be back within 7-8 weeks max, of the original injury. I’m ready already to blow my brains out watching the suckiest bunch of sucks to ever suck without their 18 yr old leader. Can’t imagine he finds any comfort watching this cast of support type players only struggle on a nightly basis.

    • 5 Cups

      If the oilers don’t improve the record there is no way he is back in 7-8 weeks. My guess is they let things recover instead of risking anything. No reason to bring him back early.

      It sucks. We’re back to the same old oilers. I miss watching the kid, but do not rush it if it’s not needed.

    • Semi

      I’m thinking you’re bi-polar.

      Sometimes you makes comments that make me smile because they’re witty. Other times, you come across like Verdad2.0.

      Don’t change. They’re both amusing.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        No, close though. Me Tri-polar.

        Love em, hate em, or more recently indifferent towards them. The older i get, the less i feel they owe me.

        Kevin Lowe has mastered the art of killing a fan base softly.

  • BobbyCanuck

    I vote for patience, let’s see if the present line-up can string up a winning record with the remaining games in November, if we cannot, I would suggest:

    Send Nurse/Klefbomb/Davidson back to the minors. Bring them back up when McDavid is ready

    Play Nikki/Fayne/Ference (NFF)

    This way our future D gets to marinate in a less pressure situation, and NFF play lights out, because this is their last chance.

    Based on the rationale that this season is lost, and it is pointless ruining what little confidence our young D has.

    I still hold optimism that the current group is capable of turning it around, starting tonight!