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Depth on wing not the major concern

This is the most disappointing season in Edmonton Oilers history, which is saying a lot considering their recent lack of success. If you have another candidate for the title, let me know.

The Oilers are in 27th place and guaranteed another bottom-ten finish, but after last year’s 103-point season there is no reason the team should be this bad. If you felt they’d take a step back and battle for the Wildcard, I can see the reasoning in that argument, but falling back to the basement of the NHL standings is unacceptable.

This has been an awful season, but the focus should remain on the biggest areas of concern, and lately, I find much of the discussion surrounding what is wrong with the Oilers is missing the mark.

I keep reading and hearing about wingers, and the Oilers need for better ones. Yes, it would be great if they had a few more experienced ones, and I’ll avoid beating the dead horse that is prior trades, but the truth is right now a scoring winger isn’t even in the top-five priorities the Oilers need to become competitive.

The Oilers are tied for 10th in 5×5 goals. They have 130 5×5 goals in 66 games (1.97 goals/game). Last year the Oilers were tied for eighth in 5×5 goals for with 166 in 82 games (2.0 goals/game). They are basically scoring at the same rate despite Milan Lucic not scoring for 29 games, Oscar Klefbom going 33 without a goal and losing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was their leading goal scorer when he was injured on January 13th, for 18 games. The Oilers have 109 5×5 goals from their top-nine forward goal scorers (McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH have 52), while the Pittsburgh Penguins have 102 5×5 goals from their top-nine forward goals scorers (Malkin, Kessel and Crosby have 56 goals).

The Oilers are very competitive scoring goals at 5×5, and it definitely wouldn’t hurt to improve their wing position, but right now it isn’t the main reason they are losing. I’d like to see Todd McLellan move Nugent-Hopkins to the wing, and run Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl as their top-two centres. The move can happen now, or next season, but when it does, it still isn’t in my top-five areas of need.

MAJOR WEAKNESSES

Oct 4, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Ottawa Senators forward Mike Hoffman (68) celebrates a second period goal against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers team defence at 5×5 and their special teams have derailed their season, and we haven’t seen much improvement in any area. The powerplay started well, going 21.4% in their first 20 games, but since then it’s been a mess. The PK was terrible for the final 68 games last season, 78%, and got even worst this season. They stumbled out of the gate, allowing seven PP goals in the first five games (7 on 22 kills) and have remained under 75% the entire season.

The PK has improved lately, going 84.2% in their last 14 games (32 of 38) and they’ve scored two shorthanded goals. It is a small sample, but at least they are finally showing some progress and players like Jujhar Khaira, Ryan Strome and Leon Draisaitl are getting more PK time lately, and looking more comfortable. But when your PK has been 76.1% over the past 134 games and worst in the NHL, it is a major area of concern.

The PP is going the opposite direction. It was great last season, started well through 20 games (21.4%), but it has crashed into the ditch since. In their past 46 games, the PP is 10.8% (12 of 111) and since January 1st it is only 9.8% (6 of 61). The Oilers PP has McDavid and Draisaitl on it, and they are first and seventh in EV points respectively, yet the PP inexplicably shoots blanks.

I understand they have an abnormally low SH% on the PP, but I don’t buy it is just bad luck. Are their shots producing rebounds? Are the consistently forcing the penalty killers out of position? I’m not seeing that and the lack of success backs it up. The Oilers don’t attack the net consistently (more on their shots later).

PP SHOTS… TRY SOME

Feb 3, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan reacts during the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Edmonton Oilers 2-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

In their last 14 games, McDavid has one PP point. Same with Draisaitl. Strome has one point, as does Nugent-Hopkins (only two games) and Jesse Puljujarvi. The PP minutes in those 14 games are: McDavid (35:45), Draisaitl (34:46), Oscar Klefbom (33:14), Strome (29:45), Lucic (28:38) Darnell Nurse (8:10), Puljujarvi (7:57), Caggiula (7:48), Cammalleri (6:58), Khaira (5:41), Slepyshev (3:35), Aberg (3:08, four games), Sekera (3:03, seven games), Nugent-Hopkins (2:49, two games), Ethan Bear (2:31, three games) and Matt Benning (1:05).

In those 14 games, Klefbom has ten shots, Draisaitl has seven, McDavid has five, Cammalleri, Nurse, Lucic, Puljujarvi have three, Caggiula and Strome have two while Aberg, Sekera, Bear and RNH have one. Strome is the only right shot on the first PP unit and he has one shot on goal. I’d say it is fairly predictable where the shots are coming from. Now, Draisaitl does have ten missed shots, and he’s had some good looks where he has missed on his one timer, but scoring on a few of those wouldn’t make things all better.

The first unit PP has scored one goal in the past 14 games. One. Would it hurt to consider two right shots on the first unit? At this point, why not try Benning or Bear as a second right shot option up high, or even Puljujarvi, Slepyshev or Aberg up front? The Oilers have used four left shots virtually all season on the first unit and it hasn’t had success. I realize they had success last year with four lefties, but that was a long time ago. The PP has eroded all season and it isn’t improving.

It needs to be fixed in the offseason. The coaching strategy must be re-evaluated, as should the personnel.

And of course the 5×5 team defence is a concern. Last season they allowed 140 goals at 5×5, ninth fewest in the NHL, but this year they are 27th. They’ve already allowed 141. Cam Talbot hasn’t been as sharp, but the defensive zone breakdowns have been more noticeable this year. The Oilers have reverted back to being a trainwreck in their own end — too many errant passes, too many wrong reads, and turning the puck over too often.

Their 5×5 defensive woes need more than just a few paragraphs to outline their struggles, but their D-zone play and special teams should be the main areas the Oilers need to improve.

It is fair to wonder about depth on the wings, but in another lost season, winger depth and production don’t crack my top-five areas of concerns.

**Again, this doesn’t mean their wingers don’t need to be improved.***

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  • russ99a

    Maybe we would have been better at team defense and the PK if we didn’t throw much of it away chasing Nuge’s offense. He showed in the playoffs and the World Cup that he can be a weapon against the toughs. Never had heard of a coach telling a player to focus on offense, usually it’s the other way around.

  • Big Nuggets

    Would anyone trade our first round pick as the center piece to get Trouba of Faulk? Obviously not if its a 1st overall, but if we are out of the top 5 or top 10?

  • Petrolero

    I’ve been waiting for this article for months. The love for Eberle and Hall has made so many forget about the biggest weaknesses on the team. If the coaching had the PP and PK under control, Talbot hadn’t imploded, and Chiarelli had brought in a competent replacement for Sekera and a better D-man than Russel this team would be fighting for a playoff spot right now. We complained for a Decade about the terrible goaltending, the lack of center depth, the black hole on defense and the crappy coaching and now all I hear lately is “yeah we need wingers, Hall and Eberle would look great right now”. How quickly people forget.

  • TartanArmy

    Hey, im no scout, but was looking at Rasmus Dahlin’s numbers. 39gp, 6g, 11a, 17pts, 18pims. What’s the deal with this kid? I know numbers don’t tell the whole story, but seems underwhelming to me. I know he’s playing with men in the SEL, but if you’re being scouted as “the real deal” and “the franchise defenseman”, then I want to see better numbers. Despite being in juniors, Evan Bouchard seems more intriguing. Just my opinion…

  • Connor McFly

    I agree wingers is not the major concern. Management and coaching are a major concern though. The reason the team sucks is because of the people making decisions affecting how the team drafts, develops and acquires players. Once that is dealt with then you deal with who fits where and who can’t cut it. You have got the cart before the horse IMO.

  • MrBung

    The team has too many holes and little for value and assets left to fix them in a meaningful way. This will be a bottom 10 team for the foreseeable future. Their defence is brutal.

  • BingBong

    I definitely agree that depth on the wings isn’t a major concern. Do we need to get more production from the wings? Of course. But with McDavid and Draisaitl centering the top 2 lines we shouldn’t need all-stars on their wings to get decent production.

    For me the biggest problem by far – and one that leaks into the PK/PP and goaltending issues – has been the defense.

    Let’s face it: we were lucky last year when it came to the defense on this team. And this year, with the exception of Nurse, everybody got worse (or injured).
    No Sekera, and he was our #1 last year. Klefbom has been horrible, he was our #2. Larsson has regressed this year from last year. Russell is a 3rd pairing guy at best, and Benning, Autivu and Co. are AHL’ers. Only Nurse has taken a step forward, and he’s looked tired lately because of the increase in his ice time.

    I realize Talbot hasn’t been as good as we’d like him to be, but realistically with our defense he stands no chance. He has to start guessing where the play is going, this leads to cheating on the pass, then bad goals start going in and he losses confidence. It’s a slippery slope. Same thing happened to Dubnyk when he was here. The weak defense doesn’t allow a goalie to be consistently good.

    The horrendous PP and PK can partially be blamed on the defense as well. We have no point man on the PP, nobody who can make quick passes. Sekera used to be that guy last year – he made quick decisions, and was a good passer, and despite his lack of a shot our PP succeeded. This year we have nobody to replace him. Klefbom seems unable to do the job.

    And when you have a defense that can’t box guys out in front, make quick decisions with the puck, or stop cross-ice passes, then the PK will suffer as well. And it has.

    Honestly I think the wingers will start scoring more when we have a few defensemen capable of making quick and accurate outlet passes. As of right now, we have nobody who can do that from the back-end, aside from Nurse who more often than not just skates it out.
    I guess Bear looked good when making a pass, but when a call-up with zero NHL experience makes better passes than the rest of the D, you know you’re in trouble.

    Rant over.

  • GK1980

    Correction…McDavid is great scoring goals 5v5. Oilers need secondary scoring and a good winger will help with that. With that being said they need one good 1-2 D to push all D down, this would make the biggest impact on the club in my opinion. Lately the PP shoots more and this causes Chaos in the zone. Passing the puck around makes it easy for the PK’ers. They just need to stay in position. Shooting causes rebounds and makes the PK’ers move.

  • Soontobejetsfan

    The real issue is we traded Hall and we still have the glaring hole on defense. We should have been able to secure a stud #1 defenseman in the Hall deal.
    PK Subban was on the table, the fact that Pistol Pete couldn’t somehow land him is inexcusable, and now he may well sacrifice Nuge to get another 3-4 defenseman.

  • Harry2

    Can anyone tell when the last time a team was dead last in pp and pk for the season? What a joke. That along with Talbot sh**ing the bed are the reasons we are where we are.

    I predict everyone but MacLellan on the coaching staff will be fired the second the season ends.

  • “Now, Draisaitl does have ten missed shots, and he’s had some good looks where he has missed on his one timer, but scoring on a few of those wouldn’t make things all better.”

    Since scoring on 3 of those (a fair interpretation of “a few”?) would have put their PP at 20% instead of 8% over that 14 game stretch I’d say it would have gone a long way towards making things better.

  • Ben918

    I am sorry but I completely disagree. Oilers absolutely need a top LW. Lucic can’t do it, his best days are behind him and he is looking like a fit on the third line at best. Their is hope in terms of Yamamoto but to throw him into the top line doesn’t help anyone. That is a lot of pressure. There is a chance they could draft a solid LW with their first pick but then we are talking about a rebuild when there are answers out there.

    E. Kane is most likely going to try the UFA market unless he gets a huge offer. He is a gifted young winger with a huge offensive upside. He plays a physical game and has the speed the Oilers are lacking.

    Van Riemsdyk is not being shopped according to TSN despite the fact that there have been no talks with his camp about extending his contract. The 28 year old has size, speed and he can score. An amazing option to play with McDavid or Draisaitl.

    James Niel is reported as wanting to stay in Vegas but all is quite from the Knights in terms of offers to resign the 30 year old LW. He is a big guy with huge talent. He will be getting a pay raise but the cap is rumored to be increasing to 80 mil this year which means the Oilers have room to add two pricey UFAs.

    There are a ton of great options with UFA’s but I also want to point out that Arizona is hearing offers for Domi. He started the year with an injury and his role has been reduced drastically. I am not sure what the value is for him but he is worth the gamble if the asking price is not too much.

    Oilers need a winger. Right now they are looking at Puljarvii who is not playing amazing hockey. I said long before the draft that the Oil should pass on him and go for Tkachuk. They have Yamamoto who is ready to play for the Oilers but he still can’t be the only option on the left side. They have Benson but he is at best a third line winger at this point. They really only have Nuge/Draisaitl to fill one RW spot. Not adding a top winger will be a huge mistake.

  • Arfguy

    I will continue to ask why they keep playing Lucic on the top power play unit, when it makes more sense to try using Puljujarvi. You’ve got experience in McDavid, Draisaitl, along with Klefbom or Sekera on defence. Give Puljuarvi a chance on the top PP unit. Seriously! Why TF are they continuously using Lucic on the top PP?!?!

    Hell, at this point, I’ll take second unit of RNH, Khaira, Aberg and Bear/Nurse. Lucic should be used as little as possible unless most of the play is being planned to be played in the neutral zone.