Halfway There: What We Don’t Know

What

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
club’s head.

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?

mangames

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?

McDavid jacket

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
40?

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?

Tut

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
matter.

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:

Klefbom Schultz

Sekera Fayne

Nurse Gryba

Davidson

Reinhart

Hunt

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
Edmonton.

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.

  • I really feel that this team ( when healthy) can compete with any team in the NHL.

    Yes we need a top pairing defenceman ( like OEL) that can play in all situations. I beleive we already have one of those in training, but the addition of a Shatenkirk like players would be a welcome addition.

    What we really need is an exorcist ……..no team has had more bad luck than the Oilers.

    I suspect when CM comes back, Hall will get hurt!

  • S cottV

    Seems like the Oilers have had a high incidence of lost players due to injury over the past several years.

    If so – it may partly be representative of their tendency to select smaller less durable players.

    The other thing that is probably contributing is the tendency to want to play up tempo, rush style, 2 1 2 forecheck hockey.

    I know from my own experience, that when you balance 2 1 2 and 1 2 2 forechecking – it reduced the average speed of games, saved energy and reduced injuries.

    If you have your forecheckers in good position – great, lay on a strong 2 1 2. Many times – however, your forecheckers are not all in good position – np, lay back and go 1 2 2. Certain game situations dictate the wise use of more 1 2 2 as well.

    I would bet that the teams that most often slow down tempo, are the teams that over time – have the fewest lost player time – due to injury

    These teams tend to win more games – as well.

      • T.J.F.M.

        I think he could play for a few teams as a 4th line depth centre who can win key faceoffs and play on the PK. Given that he costs around ~1m, he’s pretty affordable for the skills that he brings. If he could score more, he’d be a third-line centre and cost a lot more.

        • T.J.F.M.

          Only on the Oilers would be still be getting PP time.

          And gifting a roster spot to a player cause he can win face-offs is essentially the same thing as keeping a goon on your roster to fight five times a year.

          Those days are gone. Every single roster spot is valuable to a team now.

          Lander wont be back. He will likely head back to Europe. He was worthy of his contract in the summer, but this year he has been brutal in the role that he was expected to play. Letestu is a solid 4th line centre, and he can win face-offs also.

          • TKB2677

            I agree with you on the Lander/PP comment.

            None of Drai, Nuge or McDavid has a FO% above 50%. Drai is the best, McDavid is the worst, and Nuge is poor, but not as bad as McDavid. They’re all bad. If they want to control the puck, they need Lander (2 points), Letestu (12 points) or Hendricks (7 points) out there to win a faceoff. None of them are great offensively.

            In a league that values puck possession, winning faceoffs and controlling the puck is a lot more important than five fights a year. The analogy to goons isn’t accurate. There is still a place for a PK/FO specialist. Lander had played 43/44 games this year, so it’s obvious to me that there is a place for him.

            As for Lander not being in the NHL, he is signed for one more year (2016/17). Maybe they buy him out, and he is free to play in Europe. Maybe they loan him to a team in Europe like they did with Joensuu and Laurikainen. Maybe they bury him in the AHL for a season. It’s also possible they keep him on the roster to play a fourth-line role, or play as the 13th forward. There are always injuries, and he could play a fill-in role.

            Im not a Lander fan, btw. I just notice that faceoffs are important, and it is the only logical reason why Lander wasn’t sent to Bakersfield instead of bringing up to fill the role.

        • Spydyr

          But he can’t.

          You could say that about any player. If only he could score more he could be……as Mac-T said Reasoner is Sakic without the wrist shot….too f-ing funny.

          • Spydyr

            I’m not a Lander fan, and I responded in more detail just above this one.

            Lander didn’t score under Eakins, scored under Nelson and doesn’t score under McLellan. He is not an elite scorer, but then that’s most of the team.

  • 916oiler

    Our luck this season has been the equivalent of someone slipping on a crack and knocking over a mirror underneath a ladder to avoid the black cat that ran in front of them during a full moon on Friday the 13th.

    I mean how in the &*^% does Klefbom go and get a serious %^&*#@ infection in his leg after being out with a broken finger while Yak is out 20+ games because he was tackled by a linesman during a faceoff??? No Ebs to start the season, and of course we lose McDavid for months.

    Why can’t we have nice things!?

    *throws papers in the air, walks out of the room*

  • 2Oilers4

    The majority of NHL goals are scored from high danger areas.

    This year’s team is getting more high danger scoring chances, which is good. Having this year’s Drai has been a boon, and adding McDavid will only help.

    But this year’s team is still giving up the same number of high danger scoring chances as they did under Eakins. They still have a negative differential.

    The defence hasn’t improved. We can talk all we want about Klefbom getting injured, but they were an Eakins-level defence before, and they’ve just gotten worse.

    Add a defenceman? Probably the way to go. They’ve only needed an elite defenceman or two since Pronger left. Maybe they could look at fixing that. And for the opinion that defenders don’t get traded, Hamilton and Jones. Hamonic and Shattenkirk on the block.

  • Mahi

    Boy I’m sure glad that our best, most intelligent, ultimate team player, incredibly gifted with hockey sense Taylor Hall didn’t take a selfish Ozone penalty during 3 vs 3 OT last night. Oh wait a minute, that was him……you wouldn’t know it however from listening to TSN1260 this morning where it was all the penalty killers fault. They weren’t great to be sure but the fact of the matter is that if we don’t take dumb selfish penalties we won’t have to worry about getting scored on during the PK. Who Knew!!!!:)

  • Rickk

    The last few games tell us we don’t need more size, speed or skill to win our share of games. Opposition teams are pinned in their zones… giving up dangerous changes… but we lose because ‘Oilers’

    I have sympathy for the coach .. every game is 30 seconds away from disaster..

    We need players that have not had their confidence destroyed by years of incompetent management and coaching. How else can you explain the bone headed end to last nights game. 8 seconds – just eat the puck… arrrrrghh

    I would rather have a confident team that over achieves than this underachieving pile of ……

  • harborman

    Just saw that 20 year old Ziyat Paygin made the KHL all star team. For a 2015 7th round pick, maybe we get lucky and he turns into a real solid D man for us. We can always hope.

  • 2Oilers4

    With the injury to Hamonic, it will truly show his worth. If the Islanders can get by fine without him, they might take picks or prospects, but if they start sinking and realize how badly they need him, his asking price will go through the roof.

    • 2Oilers4

      The asking price is already through the roof, which is why he is still an Islander, even with Hamonic asking for a trade.

      When Kesler got traded, he only wanted to go to Anaheim. When Luongo asked to be traded, he only wanted to go to Florida. The Hamonic trade isn’t the same. He isn’t threatening to hold out, and he isn’t demanding to be traded to Edmonton specifically. They’re not going to get Hamonic for pennies on the dollar (which is the picks and prospects scenario).