Monday Musings: Home ice advantage

The Oilers haven’t enjoyed home ice advantage in the first round of a playoff series since 1990. They did have home ice advantage in the third round of the 1991 playoffs, but lost to the Minnesota North Stars in five games, after winning the first two rounds starting on the road in Calgary and Los Angeles.

Edmonton won first round series in 1991, 1992, 1997 and 1998, all without home ice advantage. Then they faced Dallas in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003 in the first round, losing all four.

In 2006 they went to the Cup Finals and started all four series on the road.

The Oilers haven’t opened the playoffs with home ice advantage in 27 seasons, but that could change this year.

Edmonton and the Anaheim Ducks are in a battle for second place, and first place isn’t out of reach. The focus in Oilersnation should be on home ice advantage, not worrying if the Oilers will miss the playoffs. Stop worrying. They are making the playoffs.

Since they last opened the postseason with home ice advantage in 1990, the Oilers are 9-9 in the postseason. They’ve made the playoffs nine times, reaching the second round five times, the Conference Final three times and made one Cup Finals appearance. Despite not having home ice advantage, the Oilers have fared quite well.

However, they would love nothing more than to reward their loyal fans by opening up the 2017 playoffs on home ice.

And it is very realistic.

Pacific      GP  W   L    OT    PTS ROW    GF GA 

San Jose  60  35  18     7       77    33      166 144
Edmonton 59  32  19     8       72    28      171 152
Anaheim   60  31  19    10      72    29      154 151

The Oilers and Ducks are tied for second with 72 points, but the Oilers have a game in hand. If they win it, they are two up on the Ducks, and only three back of first place San Jose. The Oilers are +19 in GF/GA ratio, while the Ducks are +3. Edmonton is no longer the weakling of the Pacific Division, and their goals, as well as Oilersnation’s, should be different heading into the final quarter of the season.

The team’s goal was to make the playoffs. And while they haven’t officially clinched, they are ten points ahead of Calgary and 12 ahead of Los Angeles in the Pacific. Their focus should be on the road ahead, not the rear view mirror.

The Oilers have five games remaining on this road trip, but they’ve been excellent all season away from Edmonton. Only the Rangers (19), Wild and Hawks (18) have more road wins than the Oilers’ 17, and only Minnesota, with 41, has more road points than Edmonton’s 39.

The remaining five games will not be easy. Tampa Bay tomorrow night is the only non-playoff team. The Panthers have finally woken up and are playing better, but Edmonton has eight more points than Florida and Nashville and five more than St.Louis. Only Washington has more points among their remaining opponents on the trip.

It is very realistic the Oilers could go 3-2 on this trip, then enjoy three days off before beginning their March schedule which features 11 of 13 games at home. Of those 13 games in March, only two opponents, Pittsburgh and San Jose, currently have more points than the Oilers.

The Oilers will make the playoffs and end their 11-year drought  (don’t suggest I’m jinxing it. I picked them at the start of the season to make it). The bigger surprise is they have a realistic opportunity to reward you loyal fans with home ice advantage in the opening round for the first time in 27 years.

That is the focus for the remaining 23 games, not just a playoff berth.

QUICK HITS

Ali

  • Todd McLellan will have some difficult decisions to make over the final 23 games. Darnell Nurse was paired with Brandon Davidson (right side) this morning, and looks poised to return to the lineup for the first time since December 1st. It won’t be tomorrow or Wednesday, but his return along with Kris Russell, who said he is hoping he is ready tomorrow, gives the Oilers eight NHL defenceman.

    We will have some legitimate debates on who should play and who will be a healthy scratch. Despite a small, vocal group still loathing Russell, (which perplexes me) the coaches like him and feel Andrej Sekera plays better with Russell.

    Come playoff time, I see Klefbom, Larsson, Sekera and Russell as locks to play. I think Nurse will be the #3 LD, which leaves Benning, Davidson and Gryba to battle for the third RD spot. They play different styles and have different strengths. Gryba has the most experience and is the most physical. If they play the Ducks I could see him dressing a few times. Benning has had an excellent season and is the best puck mover of the three. Davidson played arguably his best game of the season versus Chicago on Saturday, and he needed to, because prior to that I thought he had been just okay. Davidson is steady, but doesn’t have an obvious calling card (physical, offensive, mean, dominant skater).

    If all eight are healthy, who do you think would dress in game one of a first round series versus the Ducks?

  • While the Oilers finally have depth on defence. Jordan Oesterle, Mark Fayne and Griffin Reinhart could play in the third pair if a rash of injuries occurred. However, their forward depth, especially in the system, is an issue.

    Which is why I’m stunned by those suggesting the Oilers should protect Davidson and expose Jordan Eberle in the expansion draft. It is a knee-jerk statement lacking in clarity.

    Yes, Eberle is having an off-year and he has a cap hit of $6 million. However, he is still third on the Oilers in scoring with 35 points and his tied for 101st with Marian Hossa ($5.275m), Sean Monahan ($6.375m) and Johnny Gaudreau ($6.75m). He is one point behind Matt Duchene ($6m) and Henrik Sedin ($7m) and he’s within four points of Corey Perry ($8.625m), Logan Couture ($6m), David Krejci ($7.25m), Alex Steen ($5.8m), Joe Thornton ($6.75), Ryan O’Reilly ($7.5m) and Jonathan Toews ($10.5m).

    Eberle has struggled to score, but he’s improved his play away from the puck. His backcheck on Marian Hossa, which led to the Lucic game winner in Chicago, is a recent example. Yes, he isn’t physical, but he’s become much more defensively aware.

    If you want to trade him, fine, but any suggestion of losing him for nothing in the expansion draft is asinine. It would be horrible asset management.

    And the other harsh reality is the Oilers don’t have many potential scorers coming. After Jesse Puljujarvi, who is there? Tyler Benson will be in junior next year, but first he needs to stay healthy and I’m not sold he has the skill to be a top-end scorer in the NHL. That isn’t a knock on him, because being an elite scorer, which Eberle has proven for the past five seasons, is very difficult. I see Benson as a hard working, reliable winger who might score 20, but I don’t see him as a regular 25+ goal scorer. Benson also shoots left and will not be a RW.

    After Puljujarvi, I don’t see any scorers in the AHL. Lander rips up the AHL, but he’s a fourth line guy in the NHL. Even on the current roster there isn’t much offensive right-shot potential. Tyler Pitlick had an excellent 31-game stint, but is he a top-six RW? Iiro Pakarinen is a good soldier, but not a top-six forward. Drake Caggiula has some skill, but he shoots left. The reality is the Oilers have virtually no depth right-shot offensive wingers, and even less who project to be scorers at the NHL level.

    Eberle is having a down year, but he’s far from finished. Sorry to be harsh, but the truth is any suggestion of exposing him in the expansion draft should be laughed at. It makes no sense and with so much defensive depth in the organization, finally, the decision to protect seven forwards looks like an easy one for Peter Chiarelli.

  • Last week Peter Chiarelli said this about his back up goalie situation: “I still have faith in LB. I’ve spoke to the coaches and he’s going to get a chance.” The Oilers plays tomorrow in Tampa Bay and Wednesday in Florida. Brossoit will start one. Tampa is the lower of the two, but I would go with Talbot tomorrow because I think he gives you the best chance to defeat a weaker opponent. Get the two points, then go with Brossoit, who should be hungry to play well. McLellan used this strategy the last time he played Brossoit. He used Talbot versus Nashville and then Brossoit versus Calgary. I’d play Talbot tomorrow. Who would you start?
  • I suspect Brossoit’s performance will impact Chiarelli’s decision to acquire a backup before the trade deadline. If he plays well, Chiarelli is likely not as aggressive, but if Brossoit struggles I could see Chiarelli adding a veteran. Based on conversations I’ve had, I believe Chiarelli is looking to add a veteran goalie, regardless of how Brossoit plays, but he does like Brossoit and if he has another solid outing like he did versus Calgary, it would give Chiarelli a little more leverage when negotiating a deal for a veteran, rental goalie at the deadline.
  • I have chatted with a few scouts and to some people covering the Flyers, and it sounds like Ron Hextall is open to dealing one of his goalies at the deadline. Of course open to the idea and actually doing it are very different. Michal Neuvirth is having a bad year. He has a .890SV%, but that is well below his career numbers. The past few seasons he had a .924, .914, .920 and .910. Even with his struggles this year his career average is .912sv%. His is a UFA at the end of the season and has a $1.625 million cap hit. 
  • The hold up on the above thought is the Flyers are two points out of the playoffs and Neuvirth has started six of the last seven games. Steve Mason might be a more realistic target, and if he was available the Flyers would likely eat half of his $4.1 million cap hit. 
  • Happy Family Day. I hope you enjoy some quality time with them. If you need a sports fix I will be on TSN 1260 today from 2-6 p.m. discussing the Oilers, their defence depth and more. Kevin Woodley will join me at 3 p.m. to discuss the best goalie rental options. Rishaug will be on at 2:20, and we will go to Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Sacramento and discuss some other noteworthy topics.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • FISTO Siltanen

    I agree with you about Eberle, Jason.

    It’s funny how so many fans piss and moan about mismanagement during the last 10 years but many are quick to make rash decisions today because they don’t like a certain player anymore.

    My guess is Eberle is here till at least the end of this year and maybe next. The Oilers can work around his contract till then. After next season I see him gone unless he signs a team friendly extension.

  • Action Jackson

    Unlikely all of our defencemen remain healthy, but it is an interesting problem in the short term. If everyone stays healthy it seems like a waste to sit one of Nurse, Benning, or Davidson. The most popular idea would be to play these three and make Russell sit, but that is not going to happen. I would be tempted to keep Benning and Davidson in the line-up and sit Nurse. Could even try Nurse on the third line next to Nuge in place of Caggiula. I like all three of those guys, so it is tough to make anyone sit.

  • WhoreableGuy

    “The focus in Oilersnation should be on home ice advantage, not worrying if the Oilers will miss the playoffs. Stop worrying. They are making the playoffs.”

    The past 10 years of seeing anything and everything going wrong with this franchise does this to us Oiler fans.

    It’s been 10 long and tough years so I still won’t celebrate until the Oilers officially clinch a playoff spot. This is what I have become.

    • Canoe Ride 27.1

      I hear you man.

      Personally, I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that this is a vastly different team than we have iced in a while.

      When RNH becomes your 3rd line center, your goalie is number 3 in league wins, and we welcome a physical battle any night, something major has changed.

      I’m looking to win the division at this point.

  • bazmagoo

    I think the reason people are having the somewhat knee jerk reaction to protect Davidson instead of Eberle is two fold:

    1) Our defence has been so crummy for 7 years we are in shock at the turnaround this season.

    2) We feel the McDavid effect will bring bargain free agent wingers to the team in the off season.

    You are right @Gregor though, Eberle is having a down year and could very well return to previous form.

  • KevCantDance

    I’ve noticed on twitter a lot of Oiler fans cheer when the Kings or Preds lose. To me, those teams are too far back to factor into us. In fact, they’re our friends. Jets too. Whatever it takes to keep the Flames out. Unless we can win the division and get the Flames in the first round. We’d take them in 5.

  • OriginalPouzar

    The Oilers have like a 99.8% chance of making the playoffs – four teams need to pass us and a few of them are 10-12 points back.

    Sure, we could have an epic collapse but I’m feeling very comfortable about our position.

    Absolutely agree on Eberle – he’s had a poor offensive season but is absolutely our top offensive right winger when Drai is at center and our team is best when we can roll McDavid and Drai on separate lines.

    I was previously loathe to lose Davidson in expansion, however, given the depth we’ve accumulated that can admirably play a 3rd pairing role, its no longer a big deal. I’m not so sure Vegas doesn’t take Reinhart either. We all love Davidson but he’s not that known of a commodity and he’s got one point and an injury history – Vegas may stay away.

  • nrXic

    I look forward to the day where the Flames or the Stars are competent teams that can make the playoffs and re-ignite the past rivalries that were common place back in the day.

    Both teams look to have a decent amount of up and coming talent, so hopefully that day is soon.

    It’s about time that the “Battle of Alberta” becomes a battle again, and not like what we saw this year with the Oilers sweeping the Flames in the season series with little effort.

    😀

    • Keepyourstickontheice

      As in Mark Stone of the Ottawa Senators? Who are currently in playoff contention with a young scoring forward who is an RFA next year? I agree he’d be awesome to have, but;

      a)Why would they trade him? This would be like the Oilers trading Draisaitl.

      b) What do you think the cost to acquire such a player is?

      I apologize if this was a proposal to acquire Michael Stone, the Calgary Flame defenseman that has 9 pts in 45 games, did not think this was likely, or what the Oilers need desperately.

    • I am Batman

      This Stone guy that the Shames got, do we care?

      Is he any good? I always get confused between the two stones, the one in Ott and the one in PHX (now CGY)?

      Which one is the REALLY good one?

    • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

      Maybe PC has got something better in mind?

      I think PC is going to make a big trade here soon to be honest.

      Two names high on the TSN trade list keep coming up, where’s there’s smoke there’s fire.

      • hags437

        As soon as I saw this trade I was waiting for some to start belly aching about PC not getting this guy. Good grief people..if you believe a third pairing defensman is the hole we need to fill, go back to bed. Oilers don’t need this guy. Pete will pull the trigger on a 3C or capable winger who can score a few. I’d love to get Eaves or Hanzal. Michael Stone is exactly what the Oilers don’t need right now

  • wilco

    It’s fantastic to be even having a conversation about how and where to fit Nurse back into the lineup. A year or two ago he would have had to be rushed back, inserted too high in the order and (likely) cratered. Is this what depth and sound player management looks like?

  • OriginalPouzar

    The Oilers have 8 actual NHL d-man on the roster plus Fayne and Osterle in the minors.

    The Oilers do not need a d-man right now – the only reason for the Oilers to acquire Stone is because he is a right shot and that’s not reason enough.

    I would rather save our third round pick in connection with an actual need – a 3C that can win faceoffs or perhaps some RW depth. Alternatively, I’d rather use the 3rd round pick to draft a player.

    Stone isn’t that good – I’m not sure he’d even play every day considering the 8 d-men we currently have.

    If there is anything we currently have, its depth for the 3rd pairing.

  • Petrolero

    The flames trading for stone is like trying to patch the leaking dam with a piece of bubble gum. Stone is a 3rd pair at best and not offensive. Not at all what the Oilers need. Not what Calgary needs either but who cares about them.

  • Spydyr

    The way to move Eberle to Vegas is this:

    1)Pick a player you like that is available in the expansion draft.

    2)Trade Eberle for said player and Vegas agrees to take a lesser player like Pouliot or Fayne.

    3) Spend the caps savings on a replacement for Eberle say Oshie.

    You keep Davidson, get a player you like and have millions to spend on a free agent. Not to mention losing two soft players.

    • FISTO Siltanen

      I don’t know if I can be 100% on board with everything you just wrote (seems bitter about Eberle again) but this is the type of creative game plan Chiarelli needs to implement at the expansion draft.

      I may not do it exactly like this but I’d try for something along these lines.

  • Oil4Brains

    This seems like a crazy idea but maybe they should try Nurse as a winger. My only concern is it may screw up his development.

    I hate to see him out of the line-up over Benning, Davidson or Gryba.

    He is a fast, big, mean OSB and would be a handful on the forecheck. It worked for Mcsorley, Byfuglien, & Burns.

  • OriginalPouzar

    1) There is no player in free agency that will replace Eberle’s offence for less than what he is making now. Professional athletes do have peaks and valleys, up seasons and down seasons. There is no reason not to think that Eberle will not return to a 0.75 PPG player next season.

    2) I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of a hockey idea that makes less sense than playing Nurse at the wing. He is a developing d-man with a nice ceiling – playing him at wing would be effing up the development of, perhaps, our top all tools d-man (in a few years).

    There is nothing about Nurse’s game that would lead me to believe he would be a more successful winger than d-man.

    • Spydyr

      There is no reason not to think that Eberle will return to a 0.75 PPG player next season.

      He has been declining since his 34 goal year in 2011-12. The season before he signed his big pay day.

      • Stallions #35

        Why do we always blame the players? Did Oilers management not offer him the big payday when they could have offered a bridge contract?

        I am with Gregor when he said no professional athletes want to fail, but such is life… sometimes you hit your target sometimes you don’t.

        So blaming Eberle on gettng paid after his 34 goal year? Let’s see you not take the next raise your boss offers you.

    • Spydyr

      There is no reason not to think that Eberle will return to a 0.75 PPG player next season.

      He has been declining since his 34 goal year in 2011-12. The season before he signed his big pay day.

    • btrain

      Agreed on your 1st point. As Gregor showed, Eberle may be having a down year but when you take an impartial look, there are several players making more than him around the same point totals or less currently. He will bounce back and the goat chasers will quietly move on to the next guy.

      On the second point I am not as convinced. As it stands the Oilers lack depth on the wing and Nurse could potentially fill a void if he shows he can play the position and his skill set suggest he would be a great fit. If he is not, then experiment over after a brief try. But they have the horses on D to allow for the experiment to be considered and we have a coach who has done this before with some guy named Brent Burns.

      I think playing the wing would allow Nurse to tap into his offensive instincts and he can then carry this confidence and new perspective back to the point when he eventually returns. I am reminded of the outdoor game this year when he came out of the penalty box and buried a McDavid feed on a 2 on 1 (https://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=_9s4xa92NN4). Why not give him that opportunity more often and see what he can do with it. See Joey Laleggia in Bakersfield as an AHL example of what could happen.

  • OilCan2

    Ebs is a keeper. Just read that paragraph comparing other RWs. Read it again. OK fine. I can see him being clutch in the playoffs.

    About the D,….. mix and match at the bottom half. We WILL need all of them throughout the playoff run. You can take that to the bank.

    RW could be improved by a trade for a prospect or a college signing.

    I trust LB. Give him the rotation suggested where Talbot grabs us the next two points then get the kid a game. I would like to see LB get hot and run off several games in a row. A well rested Talbot is our ticket to winning the first round.

  • Justino

    Everyone is out for Eberle but people should start accepting he’s gonna be around next year. When doing trades you trade from an area of strength and we have no depth at RW, Nuge will be gone this summer for more Defense help. Just watch though, come playoff time Eberle will be Mr.Clutch.

    • TrumpeterSwan

      What kind of Defensive help do you figure we need right now? It would be great to have a booming shot from the point but I wouldn’t trade the farm for that now. Benning has worked out as has Larsson and Russell and we still have Davidson, osterle, Gryba. With Reinhart, Bear and Jones on the way. Defense is a strength compared to most teams now. (look at flames, Canucks) think out top four is not too bad with Klefbom, Larsson, Sekera and Russell.

      I would like to see another high end right wing and a backup goalie that is more reliable before more defence.

      • Justino

        I agree a lot of our defensive depth is starting to work out for us but I’m still not sold on Russell being our answer for the 2nd pair RD. If we want to come back hard next year and compete for the cup we need a very solid D Corp. All else fails then maybe we sell Nuge at the draft for a 1st round + and deepen our prospect pool. Either way one of Nuge or Eberle are gonna have to go this summer

  • 99CupsofCoffey

    @Jason Gregor

    “Yes, Eberle is having an off-year and he has a cap hit of $6 million. However, he is still third on the Oilers in scoring with 35 points and his tied for 101st with Marian Hossa ($5.275m), Sean Monahan ($6.375m) and Johnny Gaudreau ($6.75m). He is one point behind Matt Duchene ($6m) and Henrik Sedin ($7m) and he’s within four points of Corey Perry ($8.625m), Logan Couture ($6m), David Krejci ($7.25m), Alex Steen ($5.8m), Joe Thornton ($6.75), Ryan O’Reilly ($7.5m) and Jonathan Toews ($10.5m).”

    Woah, woah, woah there Gregor! Keep logic out of these here forums!!!