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.
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