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Monday Musings

Good afternoon OilersNation. I’m back and refreshed from a wonderful vacation in Maui. Outside of a Ballistic Missile warning, which for a brief moment added a bit of stress, it was an incredible vacation. If you ever get a chance to go I highly recommend staying in Kihei. The beaches are fantastic, kid friendly, and you can go snorkelling and sea turtles and hundreds of different types of fish, as well as sea urchins and starfish.

I shut my phone off for 12 days and wasn’t on social media, save for one tweet (from my wife’s laptop) about the missile warning. Getting away from electronics is a must on any holiday and allows me to recharge. If you can, you should try it.

The time away also gets me fired up to come back to a job I love. Writing and talking about sports is a great occupation, and yesterday I spent some time catching up on the past few weeks.

Some random thoughts on the NHL, the Oilers and the rest of the sporting world.

1. The Oilers are in a stretch where they only play four games in 22 days. It is an oddity, no question, but if the Oilers want to believe they still have a chance at the post season, albeit a slim one, when the calendar turns to February they can’t use rust as an excuse. They defeated Vancouver and this week they play the Sabres and Flames, with both teams playing the previous nights in Calgary. They need to win both games this week, and they should. The Sabres are brutal and the Oilers have won six straight against Calgary, outscoring them 30-16. The one positive for the Oilers lack of games is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will only miss four games in the first three weeks on the IR.

2. Darnell Nurse continues to improve. His 18 EV points have him tied with PK Subban and Dougie Hamilton for 18th place among NHL D-men. Only Josh Manson, 21 points, has more EV points without playing on the PP. Nurse has forced his way onto the power play. The coaches had to reward him, and I’m curious to see how he does.

2. The optics of hiring Paul Coffey aren’t ideal, but just like practical and theoretical don’t always match, optics and results don’t either. I don’t care how it looks, I’ll evaluate how it works out. It’s about time the Oilers hired a skills coach who had elite-level NHL skills. There is a massive difference between being a head coach and a skills coach. I’ve read many questioning the hire because he has no NHL experience. Well, he does. He had a similar job with Phoenix a few years back. With no salary cap on coaching, I’ve wondered why more teams didn’t hire more skills coaches. If you have a goalie coach, why not an offensive coach or a skills coach? And, no offence to other skill coaches, but for me, a skills coach should be a former player with elite skill.

The Los Angeles Kings hired Pierre Turgeon as an offensive coach this past summer. He works on skills and specific situational drills. His emphasis is on creating plays in all areas of the ice. He had no previous NHL coaching experience, and I don’t think he needed a lot. The most important aspect of his job will be communicating what he sees players doing, or not doing, and communicating his experiences as a player and how he created things. The important thing for Turgeon was timing. His children were older now and he had more time to focus on coaching. He is committed and being back in the NHL has him very excited. He hasn’t been around the game since playing 17 games in 2006/2007. The Kings players I spoke with have really enjoyed his insight. He sees things most people don’t, and his focus has been on skills.

Coffey will have a similar role in Edmonton, but with the defencemen here and in Bakersfield. He is still coaching his 14-year-old son’s team so he won’t be in Edmonton every day, which is similar to speciality coaches. The Oilers blueline can improve moving the puck, and there is no doubt Coffey knows how to do that. I’ve questioned for the past 18 months why they didn’t have someone in this capacity already. The NHL has finally realized having skills coaches is a good thing. Many NHL players have changed their off-season training to ensure they spend more time on the ice with a skills coach working on drills to improve their puckhandling and shooting skills. Why NHL teams haven’t made this more of a priority in-season is perplexing. Hopefully, this is a sign the Oilers will finally put more emphasis on it. My question isn’t why they hired Coffey, it is why did they take this long to hire someone for this role?

2. Speaking of why it took so long, I read Mark Spector’s piece on Jesse Puljujarvi after the first three-point game of his NHL career on Saturday. Puljujarvi spoke to Finnish reporter Jouni Nieminen and Nieminen translated his quote to English for Spector. “I try to talk a lot to improve my English, and I heard they are getting me an English teacher. That is a good thing. I could really use one. I have been here almost two years now. It’s been hard. I hope I will learn,” said Puljujarvi.

It has been clear since September 2016 that Puljujarvi was struggling with the English language. I guarantee if I or most Nation readers had to move to Finland we’d struggle even more with Finnish, so I’m in no ways taking a shot at Puljujarvi. In fact, I sympathize with him on how difficult it must be to try to fit in a new country when you don’t speak the language. Why have the Oilers waited this long to set him up with an English teacher? It makes little sense. The organization said the reason they kept him on the roster for three months last year was to help get him comfortable in Canada, but they didn’t think of setting him up with an English teacher until now?

That is an oversight and when you talk about developing players, this illustrates how the organization still needs to improve on some aspects. His on-ice play would likely have improved as well, because he’d better understand what Todd McClellan and the coaches were telling him in practice. This isn’t about working harder. It is about helping a young man who is thousands of miles away from home in a new country and can’t communicate properly because he doesn’t understand the language.

Setting him up with an English teacher should have been one of the first things on the Oilers to-do list. Puljujarvi could have taken it upon himself this past summer to improve his English, but he was only 19 years old. Most 19-year-olds aren’t making the best decisions, and if I was the Oilers I would have had him with an English teacher in the off-season back home in Finland.

I truly hope they learn from their mistake and are ensuring 2017 draft pick Dmitri Samorukov, Ostap Safin and Kirill Maksimov can communicate comfortably in English. Samorukov and Maksimov are both playing in the OHL, so they will have a few years of living in Canada before turning pro, but any future draft picks who don’t speak English fluently should be set up with an English teacher sooner than later. There are many different aspects in helping players develop, and often many of them occur off the ice.

3. The Oilers need a winning streak like the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs have won nine in a row and are now hold down the second wildcard position. The Oilers likely need two long winning streaks, but they definitely will need one. Nine games ago no one expected the Avs to win nine consecutively, but they have and the Oilers need to as well.

4. I don’t expect the Oilers to throw in the towel. Why wouldn’t they keep trying to win? Losers give in and the Oilers, even though the odds are stacked against them, need to do everything to try and win. If I’m Peter Chiarelli I don’t contemplate trading away a player for picks until the final hours prior to the trade deadline. It is way too early to think about next year.

5. Vegas is in first place in the league. Their surprising story gets better by the day. They are 31-11-4. They don’t have any superstars, but they have four lines and they work extremely hard. They are riding a wave of confidence and emotion and I’m curious if they can maintain it next season, but right now they are impossible to overlook.

6. Vegas is 11-0 against the rest of the Pacific Division, but are 0-1-1 against the Oilers. The reason the Oilers still have hope is their record against the Pacific. They are 9-2 this season and 29-8-3 in their last 40 divisional games. Their slim playoff hopes remain open due to 18 of their remaining 35 games are within the division.

7. I respect the New England Patriots — it’s hard not to. They know how to win, but I’m cheering HARD for the Philadelphia Eagles. I’ve had enough of the Patriots.

8. He isn’t talked about a lot, but Jayden Halbgewachs of the Moose Jaw Warriors can score. He scored 50 goals last season and he already has 51 goals in 48 games this year. The diminutive 20-year-old (he is 5’8″ and 165 pounds) just signed as a free agent with the San Jose Sharks three weeks ago.  He has a nose for the net and isn’t afraid to shoot. He will need to get stronger to compete in the NHL, but there is no doubting his ability to score goals and he could be a steal free agent signing by the Sharks. It’s funny how much hype UFA 21-year-old NCAA players get, but very few talk about free agent 20-year-olds from the CHL.

9. Nathan MacKinnon has 9-10-19 in his last nine games for the streaking Avs. He is suddenly two point back of Nikita Kucherov for the scoring title. What a great run he is on.

10. The Oilers PP continues to flounder. The scary part watching the past three games on PVR was how little momentum the PP is generating, never mind scoring. The PP is in disarray and outside of helping the D-men I’d hope the coaching staff asks Coffey what he sees because what they are doing isn’t working. It is painfully predictable. They pass it around the perimeter, then push it down low and hope Lucic or Maroon can jam it home from the side of the net. There is very little creativity or confidence on the man advantage right now.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Natejax97

    I think a nine gamer would certainly perk up the misery around here…LOL. Go Oilers Go!! Win these next 2 and head into the All Star Break on a high.

    Wonder if Johnny and Connor will get side by side seats on the plane and who gets the aisle seat?

  • The Future Never Comes

    For myself, the most frustrating thing besides our position in the standings (lackluster performances) is the power-play. The unwillingness for change has been mind numbing and puzzling to say the least. Hearing again today that Letestu and Lucic are back on the PP1 is just obnoxious at this point. Lucic is stone hands mcgree and Letestu has lost his PP bite long ago. Why not just stack the first unit with 98 and Nuge- before he was injured, to score a few just to get the ball rolling. Hell, have that unit out for 1:30 each time as playing the PP is not really tiring anyways.

  • ubermiguel

    Puljujarvi is a massive organizational asset, the Oilers were fools to not do everything they could to help him succeed. They’ve had a reputation for mishandling prospects for a while, and stories like this do not help that reputation.

      • El Petrolero

        There is more, he has had a part-time English tutor here and in Bakersfield since he came to the organization. He is just now getting a full-time certified ESL teacher who speaks Finnish fluently. Terrible knee-jerk reporting from the pessimistic Oilers media read between the lines of a badly translated interview and forgot to do their fact checking and now everything has been blown out of proportion. Just watching Jesse’s interview from today compared to his draft makes it apparent that he’s made significant strides with the language. And these writers speculate why so many players struggle here. Just stop jumping to conclusions.

  • Disappointed

    Who hired Coffey? Katz? Who undercut Chiarelli’s authority? Yes this move may work out but my guess it causes dissension, and mistrust from Todd on up.

  • Natti_89

    Welcome back greggor! Big fan of your show on 1260 and your articles. Question – if the team implements a new strategy for both the PK and PP, realistically, how soon can we expect a change? Do these strategies take games, weeks or months? Still a chunk of hockey left and there’s still a chance for the boys

    • Jason Gregor

      There are only a few adjustments in a PP…You change personnel or tweak a system. If same people are watching video I’m not sure they will make major moves. Only positive is the PK is so bad, a small change should make it at least average…haha.

      • Natti_89

        Thanks for the clarification! I suppose the PK can’t really get worse. I thought I saw something last week how Vermette was available – great in the draw and a great PK and depth guy. I hope the oil can make a pitch

  • Odanada

    From nhl.com

    Duane Sutter: VP of Player Personnel
    Rick Carriere: Senior Director of Player Development
    Scott Howson: VP of Player Development
    Bob Green: Director of Player Personnel

    Yet NONE of these guys thought to get Puljujarvi an english teacher????
    SHEEEESH!

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    >> Outside of a Ballistic Missile warning, which for a brief moment added a bit of stress, it was an incredible vacation.

    In other words: “It was an incredible vacation outside of those few agonizing minutes when I believed my family and I were going to imminently die in a hail of thermonuclear fire and radiation. Good times!”

  • cmandev77

    Puljujarvi is a star in the making. His defence is improving A LOT as is his offence. (Khaira’s goal last game really shows this as Puljujarvi made an amazing play to steal the puck and then his pass was unbelievable.) I love the fact he is trying to learn english on his own, this shows a ton of maturity. We need to remember he is a very young 2nd year player. He will be 19 until the end of the season. The kid always has a smile on his face and his tongue in the wind. It is absolutely ridiculous that the Oilers have waited this long to get him and english teacher. Imagine how much better he would be if he understood what he was being told to do by the coaches and his teammates.

  • omahalloyd

    I don’t post often but cant help wonder since Maroon has been best with McD and best LW since Hall is gone why is he not a fixture on the #1 pp just asking

    • Jason Gregor

      You realize that was written before Coffey’s role was announced. The writer and Kypreos were incorrect on what role Coffey would have. He is a skills coach who won’t be in Edmonton full time. I’d hope the coaches ask him his thoughts on the PP, since it is freaking terrible, but this article was posted during Saturday night’s game and was speculative and turned out to be inaccurate. Seems you missed those key points. 🙂

  • OilersGM

    One way to get the PP better is for Connor to develop a one timer aka Kucherov. Teams know that McDavid doesn’t shoot one timers therefore the look to stop the pass.

  • RJ

    I think there should be a VP of Common Sense for the Oilers.

    1. Hiring additional coaching support doesn’t circumvent the cap, and it makes sense. Nashville has had a killer defence for a while. Having Hall of Famer Phil Housley working with the team was obviously beneficial. The biggest weakness for this Oiler D is their inability to execute a clean first pass for a controlled zone exit. Coffey could help with that.

    2. A clear development plan for Puljujarvi. I had thought it should be entirely logical to have him play in the AHL all of last season, and give him a language coach etc to help him adapt to a new language and culture. That should be standard. As much as you can, support these prospects to focus entirely on hockey.

    • fasteddy

      I don’t necessarily disagree with your points, but last game I watched for a period of time to see how many botched first passes out of the zone there were……in the 7 or 8 min I was watching I didn’t see one flagrant giveaway by either team under these parameters. I guess I’m saying this is a very common narrative, I’m just not certain it’s actually one that is severely lacking.

  • Still Hate the Flames

    An English tutor for Jesse is a good thing. A stats tutor for anyone who thinks the Oilers have any chance whatsoever of making the playoffs might be even better. The problem with the logic that “no one thought Colorado would go on a 10 game win streak, and now look at them” is that we’re not just hoping that the Oilers go on a couple of similar runs (which is a minuscule chance by itself) but simultaneously needing all other teams we’re chasing to simultaneously start (or continue) to tank. That’s probably why the websites that calculate probability of making the playoffs have us pegged at less than 1%. It’s great being a fan and having hope, but unfortunately it IS over for us for this year, hate to be the bearer of bad yet obvious news. Trash all you want, these are the facts.

  • camdog

    Adam Oates teaches skill in the off season for forwards independent of any organization. The question I’d have for the organisation is who’s helping the forwards out? If the organisation has bought into the idea of a skills coach well then that would suggest another hire is needed in the immediate future.

  • Gravis82

    Sure we can evaluate how Coffey will work out then pass judgment. But a better approach is to hire someone who’s prior body of work suggests that they are likely to be successful at coaching professional hockey players towards improvement in a coached characteristic.

    Sure, someone who has never done this before may also be successful, but why take that chance when you could have hired someone with better qualifications. Your stakeholders are wondering why you are not optimizing each decision here towards improving quality of your product and thus minimizing the probability of failure.

    Also, how do you evaluate the impact of a skills coach? How do you know what change is caused by the skills coach and not other factors occurring at the same time? I assume this is very difficult, thus it would be almost impossible to look at performance and determine that a poor job was done.

    Also…what are some very important aspects of todays game, and what skills are needed to be successful in those aspects? How much of these skills are decision making, awareness and quick thinking and how much of it is just raw motor skills and muscle memory (which could potentially be improved through the right practice)? What activities and practice are the most likely to lead to an improvement in these skills and how long would it take an average player to acquire these skills with what weekly time investment? Would the benefit of this time investment outweigh the benefit of this same investment in other things (like say, fitness or PK work)?

    Please ask the oilers this if you get a chance. You would think they would have thought through these questions before hiring a skills coach.

    • Mc🙏

      So what your saying is your employer that hired you with no previous experience ( even tho you showed promise and skill in the field you were being hired for ) should have given the job to someone with a track record, so as not to take that ‘chance’.

      On a side note, I don’t believe throughout all hockey ranks there is many coaches dedicated to “skills coaching” so where would such person be found with a proven track record? I am sure we could have hired a head coach from some AHL team or what not, but would that not be the same experience thatTM and his assistants already bring, and in that context would that not have been an even larger miss, trying to put a round peg in a square hole?

      • Gravis82

        Prior Skill at….coaching. Or even some evidence that you’ve been involved in the game in some way over the last 17 would have been nice.

        Players that are amazing, are not amazing because they have teachable skills, they have unteachable qualities that make them special. If you want to skills coach to help all players you have to know how to teach them skills that can actually be improved with more practice, how how to practice them, and know which ones To focus on. , You don’t need to be an all-star hall of fame guy to know what these are, but you do need to know how to teach and know the mechanics of the modern game. And you do need to have some sort of curriculum and coaching plan. So ya, skills at coaching at would be beneficial for a skills coach, as would be recent experience with professional hockey. Not sure how you can disagree with that.

        • Mc🙏

          I don’t, but again as stated in the article he was employed by the coyotes, and has been coaching AAA in T.O ( not exactly pro league ) but does coaching at any level help develop the coaching curriculum?

          • Gravis82

            If he was serious about wanting to be a skills coach start him in the ECHL then AHL and make some mistakes for a few years and figure out what works with players before moving to the NHL. Coaching and managing people is a totally different ballgame.