Yesterday, Peter Chiarelli gave his year-end state of the union and while Lowetide recapped things beautifully there were a few quotes that I wanted to dig into a little bit more regarding some of the items that we’ve all been arguing about. Specifically, I was interested in seeing what Swag Daddy‘s response would be in regards to the $6 million men (Nuge and Eberle), the expansion draft, and where he sees Leon playing next year.
One of the first questions Chiarelli was asked was in regards to the team’s poor faceoff win percentage. The lack of success on the dot drew some major attention throughout the year and I was interested in finding out where he stood. Teach us the ways of the faceoff, Chia God…
“(Faceoffs) will improve with the guys getting stronger. That will improve with the guys working on it because we were pretty specific about it in the exit meetings with those centremen.”
So… we will improve eventually – got it. There have been plenty of articles written about how faceoffs aren’t actually that important in terms wins and losses, but many still believe that wins on the dot are vital in terms of gaining possession at key moments of the game.
While Chiarelli didn’t speak at length about faceoffs, he did mention that it is an area where the Oilers desperately need to improve. Unprompted, Chiarelli then brought up Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“In the exit meeting, I’m sitting there with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and he’s getting big, he’s getting strong. He’s 6’1 and he’s almost 200 pounds. That will come. He knows that will have to come in his repertoire. That will come. I can see him becoming a man.”
Firstly, MAN NUGE SWOON! 😍 Second, it seemed like Chiarelli spoke out about Nuge because he knew the question was coming. His answer makes me believe that they’re not giving up on this kid yet, but also that RNH needs to take it upon himself to get better. I guess he must have read the letter to Nugey that I wrote last week.
“Part of that falls on us. We have to be on top of these guys to make sure they practice it and part of it falls on them.”
Personally, I’d like to see the Oilers hire some kind of skills coach that can help the players work on their areas of deficiency. With Edmonton being as bad as they’ve been over the past decade, it’s reasonable to believe that they spent a lot of time (under McLellan) working on systems and not as much on their individual skills.
Now that the systems are more firmly in place, I’d like to see the Oilers focus more on the individuals within the group.
I don’t think it’s news to say that Jordan Eberle has become villain number one around here, but that’s not how Peter Chiarelli described the player.
“He was our third leading scorer – he gets a lot of touches. I like his cycle game in his own way. He creates space in his own way because he’s quick and he’s smart.”
It’s true that Eberle still eclipsed 50 points in a down year, but the problem for many isn’t so much what he does with the puck, but rather what he does without it.
“I know there are some board work issues that he’s been better at. I know there have been some flashes in his game that I really like from a power perspective. That’s not something you usually associate with Ebs. I saw something in his game that I haven’t seen but he didn’t do it consistently.”
I have to admit that I was confused by this one. You’re going to have to elaborate, Petey.
“He’s a very skilled player and I know there were some things from his game that were under the spotlight in a negative fashion, but he’s a guy who’s in the playoffs for the first time. He was our third leading scorer. We have to be careful with how we evaluate him.”
Hmm… That didn’t really do it for me either. I’m trying to read between the lines but I’m drawing a blank. Anybody have anything? Chiarelli’s wheel of blame may not have landed on Eberle, but his answers aren’t likely to ease the worries of the fanbase.
ON EBERLE/RNH’S LACK OF PLAYOFF SUCCESS
When asked about Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins’ lack of success in the playoffs, Chiarelli defended his boys with a little bit of creative tap dancing.
“It is their first time in the playoffs and it’s a different animal. We saw some people thrive, we saw others muddle along, we saw guys struggle. We have to be careful how we evaluate.”
Dance, Pete, dance!
“I know there’s been a lot, during the course of the playoffs, written about those two and I think unfairly but I understand the position everyone is taking because they’re not producing.”
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that guys are underperforming but I do think the venom spewed can be a bit much at times. That said, these guys are paid to perform at a higher level than what they provided and that needs to change if the Oilers have hopes of continuing their improvement next year.
“Over the years I’ve seen people get into the playoffs and, like “holy cow” this is something completely different and they figure it out. Going forward they’re meaningful contributors. I saw it on a number of occasions in Boston.”
The more I look at the Oilers cap situation and the more I over-analyze Chiarelli’s words I actually think that both players have a reasonable chance of coming back next season. Yes, Leon needs a new deal and so does Connor, but the big cap problems really start for the 2018-19 season which gives him some time to play with things a little bit more. Chiarelli is in no rush to trade either guy before next season, and I wonder if he’ll let them both return for a last chance curtain call before deciding to move on.
ON DRAISAITL AND THE ROSTER
One of the biggest questions of the summer will be whether or not Chiarelli decides to move Leon back to his natural centre position or if he plans on keeping him with Connor for the foreseeable future.
“From 30,000 feet – roster wise – we built this team to take it out of the division. You saw two relatively heavy teams that we played against and we played with a certain heaviness. In that definition of heaviness, I put in faceoffs because that’s about strength. We have to improve in that.”
Yeah, okay, we get that faceoffs are important but what about Leon?
“We saw (Leon) without Connor and we saw him with Connor. I still don’t have the answer. My instinct knows where he should be at some point but I can’t tell you that he’ll be at that spot to start. We need to figure that out.”
This quote is basically like, “sometimes I like coffee with sugar and sometimes I like it without.” Not much clarity here.
If you look at Todd McLellan’s history in San Jose, he often used four centremen in his top six and that will likely play into Chiarelli’s decisions going forward. It’s always easier to put a centreman on the wing than it is to put a winger at centre, and, no doubt, Chiarelli is aware of that.
“I want to give our coach the ability to flip-flop because it changes the tempo of the game and can change the nature of the game. Unfortunately, that means pushing Nuge to a lower third line. I’m not saying it’s unfair to Nuge because he’s a team guy, and that’s one thing he stressed in his exit meetings, but in the ideal world, it would be nice to have set centres and a big centre like Leon as your centre and not your wing.”
Agreed. But that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t give Nuge a look on the wing kind of like what McLellan did with Joe Pavelski. I bet he would be a hell of a winger, frankly. What else?
“This is about versatility, and as far as team building it means getting a guy that can play the wing and play centre.”
Not to mention injuries. Heaven forbid the Oilers decide to move Nuge and then get hit with a run of injuries that forces them to play guys out of position. We’ve seen that movie around here and the plot sucks.
“Nothing has really changed in our approach to building this team… We’re still going to be patient.”
My grandma used to tell me that patience is a virtue but the Oilers have worn out my ability to wait and see, so it will be interesting to see what Chiarelli actually does in relation to what he says.
ON THE EXPANSION DRAFT
Lastly, I wanted to see where Chiarelli’s head is at in regards to the expansion draft. We haven’t seen one of these in a while and the idea of losing a player can seem terrifying, depending on who we’re talking about.
“Everyone has issues in the sense that they’re going to lose somebody.”
Yeah, thanks. We already know that. What is going to happen to the Oilers?
“Everyone knows who is most vulnerable and we’re in the middle of the pack.”
I’m just thankful that the Oilers have some key guys (MCDAVID!) that are ineligible for the expansion draft and that fact makes this easier to take. But that still doesn’t answer the question of who could be gone come October.
“We’re going to lose a player that we’d prefer to keep… The guys that we might lose, there’s a little more meaning to them for me based on our success that we had.”
AHHHHHHHH! Alright, let’s think this through. Who could Chiarelli be talking about? Power play wizard, Mark Letestu? That would be bad news. Edmonton’s favourite son, Zack Kassian? Ohhhh lawd – please no. What about Griffin Reinhart? LOL it would be hilarious in a sad sad way, right?
Regardless of what’s going to happen with the roster, or in the expansion draft, I can honestly say that I feel better about it knowing that Chiarelli is at the steering wheel as opposed to the clowns that ran the show before him. The problem is that Chiarelli chooses his words much more carefully than his predecessors and that misdirection often leaves us guessing. As Lowetide always says, we wait…