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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

At Random: The Wildcard

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

May 7, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) looks to make a pass in front of Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson (36) during the first period in game six of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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?

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • nuge2drai

    Lucic will be better because Ebs is gone.

    Are there two opposite players in the Nhl than those two.

    One is small, soft, lazy, with no desire to go to the net or run a cycle game. The other is a beast who makes a living on the boards and in front of the net.

    Addition by subtraction… excited to see how Lucic does with lazy on his line.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    The injury scenario makes me a bit nervous. We were lucky last year, it’s bound to happen though…
    I think we need to “beef up the dam” a bit in net, defense & right wing. Just in case of the very possibility.
    It’s like Russian Roulette, it will happen but when? The Oilers aren’t ready for it…

    • NoBuBlackOPS

      I agree for the most part I would really like to see a more established back up but hopefully LB plays solid when called on. As far as RW goes and even just the FWDs in general I think PC has made moves that give the oil a lot more versatility and options to make effective FWD lines. On D it would be great if we could add a top 4 RHD to fill out the top 4. But after Reggie gets back we got decent depth to absorb a few injuries with gryba auvitu being your 7-8 depth guys. Not mention some younger pros with a few years of AHL experience if needed.

    • Ryan68

      Brossoit played fine when he got in. Should have played more. Every team faces injury and illness. The previous year the Oilers faced a ridiculous amount of man games lost. Maybe the universe was balancing out.

  • Homer

    Lucic is a Beast so no worries here and while I agree no straight line can be drawn between us having one of the toughest teams in the league and low injury rates, I like how it’s working out for us. As a member of hockey is real tough game guys like Lucic, Maroon, Kassien, Nurse and Gryba give the rest of the boys 20 lbs and 2 inches so money well spent.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Injuries are a huge worry/concern for me.

    I am concerned about the start of the season with Reggie out and hope the boys and can weather that stretch but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a poor start and a team that needs to play catch-up for the year.

    I’m generally a very optimistic Oiler fan but playoffs are not a lock this season – although I am fairly confident.

  • Ryan68

    If you watch Lucic play he picks his spots to play as big as he can. That’s smart. If he played like “Looch” all the time he’d be out 20 games a season.

  • There certainly is a lot of luck and randomness in pro sports in relation to injuries. Any cause and effect linkages are pretty tough to make, however, and having said that, didn’t the Oil run off a portion of the training staff at one point citing a run on injuries as justification?

  • Serious Gord

    Depending on how one looks at it the oil would have missed the playoffs last season if they had lost five to eight games.

    As robin notes, the oil had arguably the lowest injury record last season.

    Whether toughness was the cause is debatable. What is almost a certainty is that the oil will not be as lucky this season.

    • McRaj

      I’d agree but what about Esa? Maybe there will be a tie and its actually the top 101 oilers. I know originally Robin had said it was players who played for Edm prior to 2015 but McDavid made him change his mind. So curious to see how he puts 10 remaining players in the top 9.