There’s not much doubt that GM Pete Chiarelli built more depth into the 2016-17 edition of the Edmonton Oilers than they’ve had in previous seasons. It’s just as obvious that depth wasn’t tested by injuries like it had been during a decade out of the playoffs. Not even close, especially at the top of the lineup.
That struck me a week ago as I was writing an item about the value of toughness in the lineup, a piece based on an interview Georges Laraque had done with Bob Stauffer on 630 CHED. Some people in the pro-toughness crowd, a group of which I’m a member, made a direct connection between having tough players like Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Zack Kassian and Darnell Nurse and having a healthier team. While I do see a connection, I don’t know if you can draw a straight line between the two. Lots of factors at work.
Players, it goes without saying, can get injured all kinds of ways regardless of how tough their team is or isn’t. It’s a physical game and a torn up knee or a separated shoulder isn’t always the result of opposing teams running around and taking liberties. Toughness in the lineup can mitigate how robust an opponent plays, but it has no effect in many other situations. I think of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins falling into the boards a few seasons ago. I think of a hand or a foot being broken by a shot. A player falling awkwardly on a clean hit. Nothing to do with toughness. You get my drift.
I’m not looking to revisit that debate. What struck me is how injuries and man-games lost to injury are such a wildcard, and a wildcard that can have a huge impact on a season. In that regard, the Oilers were remarkably lucky and healthy last season, leaving coach Todd McLellan with a lot more options than he would have had juggling a roster riddled by injuries. Yes, the Oilers of last season had more depth, but it wasn’t really put to the test.
THE TOP END
After missing 37 games with a broken clavicle during his rookie season, Connor McDavid played all 82 games this season. So did Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Lucic and Nugent-Hopkins. Maroon played 81 games. On the blueline, Oscar Klefbom played all 82 games, Andrej Sekera got into 80 and Adam Larsson played 79. I can’t think of another team that had a core group of players stay as injury free as the Oilers.
Having a healthy Klefbom, of course, was a key. Between injuries, infection and time in the minors, he’d played 30, 60 and 17 games (plus 48 with OKC) the previous three seasons. Given how physical a game he plays, I thought getting 79 games from Larsson was a bonus. The surprising guy in terms of health for me is Lucic. In his last four seasons, Lucic has played 82, 81, 81 and 80 games. He’s missed four games the last four seasons. You’d think Lucic would break a hand on somebody’s face along the way, but no.
It’s obviously too much to ask that the Oilers stay as healthy at the top of the roster next season as they did this season. We already know that won’t happen because Sekera will miss at least a couple of months to start the year after having knee surgery. The improved depth we talk about will get a test right away. No matter how tough a team is, no matter how well-conditioned the players on a given team are, the reality is injuries are a wildcard. In that context, the Oilers were dealt a pretty sweet hand in 2016-17.
THE WAY I SEE IT
- I’m not surprised we got a lot of positive feedback about Doug Weight’s spot at No. 10 in the Top 100 Oilers list we’ve been running. Not only was Weight the most talented forward the Oilers have had in the post-Stanley Cup era, he really did love playing here and he wasn’t shy about saying so, even after he was traded. Weight always had time for fans and he did a lot of good work behind the scenes here.
- Speaking of a lot of good work, equipment man Dwayne Mandrusiak celebrates his 1,000th game with the Eskimos against the B.C. Lions at Commonwealth Stadium next Friday. This is Mandrusiak’s 47th season. He’s continued to work since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2012. He is one of the best people in any league, any sport, you will ever meet. He’s at @DRockEsks on Twitter if you want to offer congratulations.
- There are nine more Oilers remaining on the Top 100 list. Two of them haven’t won a Stanley Cup here. Who are they (duh) and where do they sit in your top nine?