Peter Chiarelli elected to be patient with his burgeoning defence corps this summer, instead of making a major move.
He re-signed Kris Russell, much to the vexation of many, and wants to see how his group can develop.
The injury to Andrej Sekera causes some concern, but it will also create an opportunity for Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning.
When you look at the Oilers numbers, it is understandable why Chiarelli opted for continuity.
The Oilers had a strong 2016/2017 season.
They finished with 103 points, tied for seventh most with Montreal.
They had the 10th most regulation wins with 43
They were eighth in goals against at 207
They were eighth in goals for with 243
They were ninth in shots against/game at 29.5
They were eighth in shots for/game at 31.1
They won more games than they lost, they scored more goals and allowed fewer shots than the opposition.
Some teams win despite many underlying flaws. The Oilers weren’t that team.
Let’s look at their 5×5 numbers.
They outscored teams 166-140, a massive improvement from their 2015/2016 season when they were outscored 170-134. In one season they went from being -36 in GF/GA to +26, a 62 goal swing in one year.
The Oilers had the sixth best 5×5 GF/GA in the NHL.
Washington was +66
Minnesota was +36.
Columbus and Pittsburgh +35.
Chicago was +28.
The rest of the west playoff teams were:
San Jose, Anaheim and St.Louis +17.
Calgary was -4.
I’ve seen some point to the Oilers 5×5 CF% (Corsi For) as a concern. The Oilers finished 18th at 49.9%. They had 3643 CF and 3656 CA.
However, digging a bit deeper you find some other numbers.
They Oilers were ninth in 5×5 FF% (Fenwick For, which only counts shots on goal and missed shots, not blocked shots) at 50.9%. They were 2725 FF and 2628 FA.
They were also ninth in 5×5 SF% (Shots For) at 51%. They had 1991 SF and 1914 SA.
Their season numbers looked like.
Shots For: 1991
Shots against 1914
Missed shots for: 734
Missed shots against: 714
Blocked shots for: 909
Blocked shots against: 1028
**It is gross to see how many blocked shots there are in today’s NHL, but that’s another story.**
The Oilers blueline was very good at blocking shots. I can’t stand how much of a focus shot blocking has become, but there is no denying there is a skill set involved. Getting in the shooting lane at the exact moment helps, as does the willingness to do it regularly and the Oilers D corps was very adept at blocking shots.
Russell led the NHL with 213 blocks. Sekera was 10th with 166, Adam Larsson was 17th with 160 and Oscar Klefbom was 30th with 146.
Ottawa had three in the top-30: Erik Karlsson was second with 201, Cody Ceci 18th with 159 and Dion Phaneuf was 23rd with 156.
Seven other teams: CAR, CHI, LAK, NYI, NYR, PHI and SJ each had two.
When you eliminate blocked shots, for and against, the Oilers were top-10 in Fenwick and SF/SA %.
We can debate if blocking shots should be viewed as a positive or a negative. I can see it being both depending on the situation, but if your top-four defenders are good at getting in the shooting lanes and eliminating scoring chances, I’d argue it has value.
Prior to last season, Larsson (274), Klefbom (107), Nurse (71) and Benning (0) had played a total of 452 games.
Entering this season they are now at 719 NHL games and they have 50 playoff games. Nurse and Larsson played 13 while Klefbom and Benning played 12 each.
Klefbom and Larsson made huge strides last season. Klefbom was finally healthy and he and Larsson were a formidable pair.
Nurse played well before being injured, and his final 19 games coincided with a playoff push. He struggled a bit to find his rhythm, which was expected.
Benning also played great early on. He fatigued in the middle part of the season, combined with returning from a concussion, but he had very good numbers for a rookie defender.
Russell and Sekera faced about the same competition as Klefbom/Larsson, and were surprisingly solid from the start considering Russell didn’t sign until a week before the regular season began.
Sekera’s injury likely means Russell will play his natural left side with Benning, while Nurse will play with Eric Gryba. Head coach Todd McLellan said, “In an ideal world they will play together,” referring to Klefbom and Larsson.
They will miss Sekera, who is out most likely until late November at the earliest, but Nurse, Benning and Klefbom still have lots of room to grow and develop.
Larsson would like to get a step quicker, and the coaches want Russell to use his skating more as well as make a few more plays.
This group, which had a solid 2016/2017 season, has room to grow, and I understand why Chiarelli wanted most of his improvement to come internally.
- I think most would have preferred Russell’s contract to be shorter. I believe the structure of the contract — the fourth year worth $2.5 million with a $1 million signing bonus on July 1st and 15 teams to trade him to — makes him a very moveable asset after July 1st. His new team would only pay him $1.5 million, but count $4 million against the cap. Even trading him prior to July 1st would be possible with a $4 mill cap hit, but only $2.5 million owing in actual dollars.
- I didn’t see any better UFA options to sign who could play both left and right defence. With Sekera out they needed a LD to start the season, and when he returns Russell can slide over to the right side. We can debate the length of his contract, but I didn’t see many better choices on July 1st.
- I think there is more to Russell’s game, but of course he needs to show it. He knows he needs to make more plays and not be so passive with the puck, and I think he has the ability to do it. I don’t expect a massive increase in points, but the coaches encouraging him to be more assertive should help him move the puck better. He told me he will be working on that aspect of his game this summer. We’ll see if it pays off in October.
- I could see a scenario where both Benning and Nurse sign two-year extensions, and those deals would expire after Russell’s third season. Unless Benning or Nurse have huge seasons, I see them coming in around $1.9 million to $2.3 million/season. Let’s say they both come in at $2.2 million. The Oilers top-six D will total $22.2 million.
- Nashville’s top-six this season will total $23.95 million. Calgary’s top-six totals $25.12 million. San Jose is $24.8 million. The Oilers blue line was very solid, but not spectacular, last season, and if the young players continue to develop, then the Oilers blueline production/salary ratio will be very competitive.
- Tickets are still available for the first ever Oilersnation Open golf tournament! The tournament is filling up quickly and you’re going to want to be a part of it! Not to mention, a portion of all sales will be donated directly to the Gregor Foundation.
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