In the sister article to this one we talked about what we
knew about the Oilers after the first half of the season. Naturally, this is
the follow up about what we don’t know. These are the things hanging over the
When Peter Chiarelli took over the job as the General Manger
there were always going to be things he needed to see for himself. You can
watch as much video as humanly possible, but no doubt when you’re used to
seeing it all live and with total access that just isn’t going to be the same
thing. For a lot of players (and managers/scouts for that matter) this season
was going to be an audition.
One would hope that after 40+ games the new GM would have
seen enough to get a good read on his team, but there are more than a few
instances where that hasn’t been the case. There are also some bigger questions
hanging over the team’s head that only Chiarelli can answer. He might know
exactly which direction he wants to go but hasn’t had a chance to pull the
trigger on the changes he has in mind.
What Can This Roster Do When Healthy?
This is without question the biggest unknown for the team.
Tuesday’s game was the 44th of the year and the Oilers have had
their complete and ideal lineup play exactly 0 games together. Zero! The amount
of injuries is bad, but the fact that they have been to critical players makes
it all that much worse.
The graphic above is from ManGamesLost.com where they
calculate not just how many man-games have been lost to injury, but also what
kind of impact that has had on the club. Edmonton is not only the total leader
in games lost to injury, but also have the highest impact. WE’RE
NUMBER 1! WE’RE NUMBER 1!
Quite obviously we have no idea how good a healthy Oilers
team can be. Eberle started the season injured, then McDavid went down, Schultz
had a back injury for some time, Yakupov fell victim to a linesman’s UFC
takedown, Pouliot was injured for a while, and Klefbom is recovering from a Staph
infection. Those are just the impact players who have missed time and doesn’t even
cover my suspicion of Draisaitl contracting TB in Bakersfield.
On defense, the team lost the two most impactful rearguards
in their employ. One player was supposed to be their top offensive puck mover. Given
the way Schultz has played since then there’s a very real possibility that he
is still not 100%. He’s definitely an impact player for the Oilers, just not
positive impact. The other major player was Klefbom and we can make a
compelling argument that this D is lost without him.
As for the forwards, the Oilers are missing two first
overall picks, one of whom is a generational talent.
How Good Will McDavid Be?
The loss of McDavid gets its very own category. At the time
of his injury McDavid was already doing things that some of the NHL’s most
elite players cannot.
Connor McDavid took a couple of games where he felt his way
into the NHL, but he exploded after that. As Todd McLellan said, McDavid
allowed himself to be good. He had one point in his first four games, then 11 in his
next nine (and in the ninth he only played half the game). If this was
him after just a single month in the NHL then where would he have been after
Let’s look at Jack Eichel as a comparable high profile 18
year old entering the NHL. He had 10 points in his first 21 games. Eichel
followed that up with 17 points in his next 21 games.
If Connor McDavid was already Edmonton’s most dynamic player
at 13 games, then where would he be after 40 NHL games? That’s the tantalizing
question about this young man we are all wondering about right now. We were
robbed of the chance to know the answer to that in January 2016. If we’re lucky
we’ll know by the end of the year.
What kind of game-breaking talent does this kid have? It’s
been so long since he played a game that I’m starting to question what I saw
with my own eyes in October. Was he really that good? Was he really that fast?
I think he was…wasn’t he?
Did Anton Lander Open The Mummy’s Tomb?
I don’t really have a few paragraphs on this. I just want to
know if he had a hand in opening the tomb. Seriously, curses are no joking
Does The Farm System Have Anything Else To Give?
The Oilers are a team consisting of very high profile young
players. There are eight players on the roster that the franchise has drafted
in the first round. Those are just the ones they drafted themselves,
not the total number of first rounders. Additionally, they have
graduated Davidson, Lander, and Pakarinen to the big club.
The real question about the developmental system is who else
is coming? Do they have anyone on the farm who is going to become an NHL
player? I’m more hopeful now than I was at the beginning of the season because
Jujhar Khaira finally looks like a prospect, but the cupboards are pretty bare.
Edmonton’s young players have been fast-tracked to the NHL
for a long time now. While many have held this up as an example of how not to develop
players, most of the young men have been top 10 picks in the draft. Players with
that kind of pedigree rarely spend a lot of time in the NHL.
So it’s about the second wave of players. It’s about the
Mitch Morozs and Joey Laleggias of the Oiler farm system. Who among them is going
to contribute to the NHL club’s success? Is anyone left who can be a player in
the world’s greatest league? I don’t know.
How Will Chiarelli Address The Defense?
We know for certain the Oiler blueline is a problem. We don’t
know how Chiarelli is going to fix it.
The problems are multi-level for the franchise. There isn’t enough
high end skill in that 24-28 year old age range. There’s just nobody in the
prime of their career who can handle that top pairing duties. In addition to
this, the balance of left-shooters to right-shooters is all wrong.
All of the best current and up-and-coming defenders are
lefties. The depth chart looks something like:
The ratio is broken moving forward. Davidson has earned his
way to the big club and Reinhart wasn’t acquired to play in Bakersfield forever.
Meanwhile, Fayne has found himself in the AHL already this year, Schultz is
almost certainly gone before the next season starts, and Gryba is a UFA in the
summer. There goes at least 2/3 of the right side.
But if we can put aside the question of which side all these
rearguards will play on, the most pressing question has always been how the
team gets a true top pairing defenseman. The Oilers have found ways to find a
few over the years (Pronger, Souray, Lubo), but they’ve come up snake eyes
since the rebuild started.
Travis Hamonic’s name has been linked to the Oilers since
the season began. Tyson Barrie is a name that is floating around. Dustin Byfuglien
is a beastly UFA that could make sense if the money is found. There are
options, but each one has an acquisition cost.
The UFA route is intriguing because it only costs money, but
in a cap world that’s scary. We all know the Oilers need to keep a lot of money
earmarked for McDavid when his ELC is through. There is every possibility that
the best available UFAs on the market are going to price themselves out of
As for Hamonic, Barrie, or any other top RHD available via
trade, the cost is going to be assets. Can Chiarelli work some sort of Garth
Snow magic to get his men for pennies on the dollar? That’s wishful thinking, I
imagine. It’s much more likely that the Oilers have to part with one of Ryan
Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle this summer (or trade deadline).
My guess is that Chiarelli has a plan in place and it’s just
a matter of waiting for him to enact it.