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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Benning or Nurse

Oh hey there, friendly mailbag readers. Can you believe that we’re only 100 days away from the season already? *sigh* It’s once again your cue to stop doing anything productive and learn something from your pals at the Nation (mostly me*) in this here mailbag. As always, I need questions for next week so email me your question to baggedmilk@oilersnation.com or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk and I’ll get it into the rotation as soon as I can. With that, I present another edition of the Mailbag. Enjoy.

*probably not me.

Apr 22, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) controls the puck ahead of San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (8) during the second period in game six of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

1) Dylan asks – Much has been made about the Oilers being weak in the faceoff circle. My question is what do you think the centremen need to do to improve in that area? Thanks in advance. 

Jason Gregor:

Work on it. “When they decide it is an area of their game that needs to improve, they will focus on it,” Mark Letestu told me when I asked him. It comes down to practice, watching film on opponents and putting more of an emphasis on it. Drai and McDavid are young. I can understand why they focused on other aspects of their game to train, since there are only so many hours in a day, but six years in and now improvement for RNH is the concern. McDavid and Draisaitl will improve as they gain more experience as well. But in any game a player can struggle in the dot and still win. Malkin was 15% in game six and Crosby was 21%. It didn’t matter. They won.

Lowetide:

I’m no expert so won’t venture beyond what I have read in regard to this matter. “Man strength” is often referenced, and that makes sense, as a player like Connor McDavid will very likely be much better at 24 than he is today. There is also “strong side” and “weak side” faceoffs, so an easy way to fix this quickly is to have a RHC and LHC on each line. Suspect Peter Chiarelli may have that as a goal.

Robin Brownlee:

Repetition and experience, which go hand in hand. Work at the skill. No secret here.

Matt Henderson:

Having been one of the NHL’s top faceoffs centermen myself, I can speak from experience when I say that the only way to get better is to train in a remote Russian farmland. Chase around the chickens. Carry large logs on your shoulders. Do some light jogging. That kind of thing.

Or get older and stronger and actually focus on that skill.

Chris the Intern:

Honestly, our bottom six centermen were all around 50% this season. The only guys I would be concerned about is Connor, Nuge, and maybe Leon. I would be patient with Leon and Connor as they just need time to get bigger, stronger, and more experienced. Their time will come. As far as Nuge, who has six years of NHL experience already? Your guess is as good as mine… move him to a wing? (jokes)

Cam Lewis: Players get better at this as they get older and stronger. It’s pretty uncommon you see a teen in the NHL outmuscle a grown ass man. Edmonton has a bunch of kids as their top three centres, so they aren’t going to excel in that part of the game. That said, there’s quite a bit of evidence that suggests it’s more about what your team does after the draw than the actual face-off itself that’s important.

Baggedmilk:

I think a big part of it comes from experience and a willingness to put the work in. I remember early in Crosby’s career when he said he wanted to work on faceoffs and then he came back the next year much better in the dot because of how hard he worked at it. I think the Oilers need to practice the skills more and maybe bring in some outside help. Invest in your assets, man. Unless, of course, you’re of the growing number of people that are showing that faceoffs aren’t all that important.

2) Lucas asks – Andrej Sekera will be out of the lineup for a couple months at the start of the season and it made me think about who would fill in from the third pairing. In your opinion, who is further along in their development – Matt Benning or Darnell Nurse? Why?

Jason Gregor:

Benning won’t fill in for Sekera, since he plays RD and Sekera is a LD. It likely will be Nurse unless they sign a vet. Nurse and Benning have different strengths to their game. Nurse’s injury was bad timing. I felt he was just getting in a good groove. Ideally, I’d have them in my third pairing, so they can continue to grow and develop, but today I think Nurse is slightly ahead, due to more games played, but the gap isn’t very big.

Lowetide:

I will give the nod to Benning, who seems to be more consistent (something that young defenders force a coach to deal with during development).Benning is about one year older and that is always a factor, and of course, both men are still developing as NHL players. Wonderful to be able to talk about such talented players as opposed to youngsters best described as long shots.

Robin Brownlee:

Do we know the other half of second pairing yet? Easier answered when know what happens with Kris Russell and who, if anybody, is added to the mix.
Matt Henderson:
I hope that it’s Nurse who has to fill in for Sekera because the team went out and grabbed an upgraded 2RHD that forces Benning to stay on the third pairing. That way when Sekera returns the team will have improved on last year and the Nurse/Benning pair gets to do their thing with the least amount of pressure.
If the plan is to resign Russell and pray that this time he’s good, then the team needs Benning to babysit him on the second pair.

Chris the Intern:

This is a closer argument than I was expecting once I thought about it a little more. Darnell Nurse has more NHL experience, but Matt Benning has more professional experience if you include his college days. If I’m McLellan, I give them both a chance on the second pairing and see who excels more. I don’t think one of them out-performed the other SO MUCH in a way that they deserve the spot.

Cam Lewis: It’s hard to speculate because we have no idea who’s going to be on the roster to fill certain roles. I would rather see Benning jump into a bigger role than Nurse, because the former plays a significantly smarter and more responsible game, but Benning, being a right-handed defenceman, is irrelevant in the context of replacing Sekera. I imagine Kris Russell will be signed and will slot in as the No. 2 left-handed defenceman because the free agent market is thin and he’s already a familiar face.

Baggedmilk:

Let me start this off by saying I love Darryl. Nurse is an absolute beauty, but I think he should still be on the third pairing. There are times when he still gets himself caught out of position and having him moved higher in the roster than is warranted could leave him exposed. Benning doesn’t seem to make the same kind of mistakes, and would be better suited for that pairing.

3) Brenden asks – The 1984/85 Oilers were voted as the greatest team of all-time at NHL.com and I’m wondering if you agree? If so, why? If not, who would be your pick as the greatest team of all time Oilers or otherwise?

Jason Gregor:

I’d argue the 1987 team was better because it added Kent Nilsson and Reijo Ruotsalainen to an already loaded lineup. The 1977 Montreal Canadiens went 60-8-12 and won the Cup. They were dominant. I’d pick either of those teams.

Lowetide:

I would probably go with the 1987 crew. They are the one I think of whenever the question comes up. It’s really different shades of brilliant, to be honest, but I would pick 1987. If you review that roster, the talent is so overwhelming.

Robin Brownlee:

I have to go with the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. They lost eight games, had 132 points and won the Cup, going 12-2 in the playoffs. Never liked the Habs as a fan back then, but credit where it’s due.

Matt Henderson:

My memories of that team are a little fuzzy, as I was still two months away from my second birthday when that season concluded. Honestly, the greatest ever team thing doesn’t interest me at all because the Oilers own the game. Their team was so stacked in the 80’s that nobody compares.

Chris the Intern:

Yeah, it’s pretty hard to disagree with that team. Granted I wasn’t even a twinkle in my father’s eye yet, bu they sure sound good!

Cam Lewis: The 2015 post-trade deadline Blue Jays. If Brett Cecil didn’t get hurt, they would have gone all the way.

Baggedmilk:

I’m too young to remember the glory days so I have to go with what I remember. I remember the 2002 Red Wings that won the Cup and thinking about how that team raised the bar. I mean, just look at the roster. Yzerman, Fedorov, Shanahan, Hull, Lidstrom, Hasek, Chelios… so good.

4) Stephen asks – What are your thoughts on the NHL not wanting to review or change offside reviews in the offseason?

Jason Gregor:

The NHL is the same league that felt teams deserved compensation if a coach or GM they fired was hired by another team and saved the team who fired him money. It doesn’t surprise me. Many of their decisions suggest they don’t have a willingness to admit when they made a mistake. It will likely take another year before they change it, just like it did with the coach/GM compensation.

Lowetide:

I have no idea what they’re doing and fear the NHL has the same problem.

Robin Brownlee:

Stubborn. Out of touch with what fans want.

Matt Henderson:

I think that making that call in the middle of the Cup playoffs is almost impossible because it’s an admission that the rule is broken. These decisions should be made in the summer when nobody has to save face. The offside challenge is a ridiculous rule.

Chris the Intern:

It’s absolutely disgusting and I hate it. Why do we need to wait until 2022 until Bettman’s gone. Can’t we just fire him? WHO DO I TALK TO ABOUT THIS.

Cam Lewis: There are so many things about the league that need fixing, but the fact that this obviously flawed, buzzkill, PR disaster of a rule is still allowed life makes it impossible to expect improvement elsewhere.

Baggedmilk:

*bends over, farts loudly* That’s about it.

5) Jeff asks – Which team or teams do you think are the most vulnerable in the expansion draft and why?

Jason Gregor:

Today is much different than June 17th, but I would say Minnesota, Anaheim and Pittsburgh because they stand to lose a quality defender or goalie. I expect them to make a trade before June 17th so the player they lose is not as valuable as who they stand to lose today.

Lowetide:

Las Vegas for sure. Their owner thinks they’re going to be good and that won’t happen. I do think that Anaheim is in a very difficult spot with their plethora of defensemen and we should look for a trade (which may have happened by the time you read this).

Robin Brownlee:

Anaheim and Minnesota are near the top for me. Bieksa’s NMC is the problem in Anaheim. With the Wild, it’s the number of good defencemen they have.

Matt Henderson:

Expansion is interesting. I think most teams are OK and can accept losing the caliber of player they’re going to lose. There are teams that need to make tougher decisions though. Anaheim has to make a move, I think, in order to not be taken advantage of. Chicago is desperate to make a move to help be cap compliant. These teams are having their hands forced by the expansion process. Columbus has some weird hitches too. It’s tough to gauge because in some cases if a player waves their NMC then it eases pressure on the teams. So in many ways it’s up to the players how painful they make this on their clubs.

Chris the Intern:

I think that’s tough to answer right now because I have a feeling we’ll see a few trades happening before the draft. I think NYR is in trouble with all their forward depth. I’m very curious to find out who they leave unprotected. The Penguins also don’t have a choice but to make a move on one of their goalies. If they opt not to trade any of them, whoever’s left unprotected is going to Vegas hands down.

Cam Lewis: Anybody who’s good is in a bad spot, and anybody who’s young is in a good spot. Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Minnesota, San Jose, and so on are going to lose a good player. Toronto, Arizona, Carolina, and so on are going to fly through unscathed. It’s unfortunate, but I would rather Vegas be immediately somewhat decent than not.

Baggedmilk:

I’m looking at teams like Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Nashville… They can only protect so many guys and I think there will be some interesting deals coming up to try and minimize the damage.

  • camdog

    Nurse was the worst positional d-man out of all the d-man that suited up for the Oilers last season. He can make up for it because his raw abilities exceed that of every other d-man on the team. If he can learn to play the game he’s going to be one of the top d-man in the league, if not he’s nothing more than a third pairing d-man. Too put Nurse in a position to succeed this season he needs to start the year on the Oilers third pairing. Relying on him to play over what he has shown is nothing more than continuing on with the Justin Schultz developmental model.

  • camdog

    I wish the NHL rules committee would look to the NFL in respect to they now handle the fumble. The entire argument that the ref lost site of the puck so the play is dead is an archaic form of game management in the replay era. Any continuation of the play that results in a goal should be a goal. The NFL figured it out in respect to the fumble, the NHL should be able to figure it out around the net.

    • FISTO Siltanen

      I see where you are going with this but why wouldn’t teams just play through whistles and ignore the refs until a goal happens or the refs wrestle some control of the game?

  • OriginalPouzar

    Wait, you mean Nurse isn’t fully developed after two years of pro? This player that is still exempt from the expansion draft isn’t a legit top 4 d-man yet?

    Time to give up on him I guess.

    These comments are clearly coming from non-Oiler fans or, if they are actual Oiler fans, those that don’t understand the development of professional hockey players and, in particular d-man.

    • RJ

      Draft +1 – CHL
      Draft +2 – CHL
      Draft +3 – AHL
      Draft +4 – AHL

      Draft +4 before they see regular NHL icetime. Helps with development. Helps with contracts since no one is earning big RFA contracts.

      This is what they should have done for Nurse, and what they’re likely to do with Bear and Jones (if they aren’t traded).

      But Edmonton is the home of the sink or swim philosophy.

  • OriginalPouzar

    With respect to the Benning/Nurse conversation, both had ups and downs last year which was to be expected given their ages (and Benning being a first year pro).

    Both are developing right on course.

    In a perfect world, they would be our third pairing to start the year next year, however, at this point, we are down our entire 2nd pairing.

    I’m going to assume that Russell is either re-signed or, hopefully, an upgrade is acquired (hello David Savard).

    Depending on who that 2nd pairing d-man is, rightie or leftie, will determine which of Benning or Nurse is essentially gifted a 2nd pairing spot out of camp.

    I’d rather them earn their way up the lineup with their play, however, Sekera will be out and that is reality. We cannot really replace him externally as I doubt we can find a suitable replacement on a one-year deal and we simply cannot acquire a long-term contract to fill a shot-term gap.

  • Ready to Win

    If the Oilers are bringing back Russell and one of Nurse or Benning will be on second pair with him then the obvious choice is Benning because that would allow Russell to be on his natural side.

  • godot10

    Maybe both Nurse and Benning move up…
    Nurse with Larsson,
    Klefbom and Benning,
    Russell and/or Russell replacement and/or Reinhart and/or Gryba and/or Fayne

  • RJ

    I’m not old enough to have watched them play, but just from looking at the stats, the 1976-77 Canadiens had to be the best. 132 points. 33-1-6 home record (only one loss!!). 9 Hall of Famers.

    But the stat that blew my mind? They outscored their opponents 205-75 in Montreal. +130 at home.

  • Spartacus

    Baggedmilk… Your greatest team of all time is the Detroit Red Wings.

    Your greatest OT goal of all time is scored by Yzerman.

    Tell me again how you’re an Oilers fan.

  • Deep Purple

    Wild GM said i’d rather lose a player than make a bad trade. Bet a lot of teams are thinking the same way. Hopefully the TV scribes aren’t twiddling their fingers too much.