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Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The McBlender

I think most people who watch the Oilers this season have been frustrated or confused by the amount of line juggling we’ve seen from Head Coach Todd McLellan.

There are a few ways to look at this. Is McLellan not giving his lines enough time to develop chemistry? Does he simply not have the talent needed to find a trio or two that can make a positive impact? Have injuries simply crushed any chance for consistency?

Let’s eliminate the injury theory right away. The Oilers aren’t even among the top twenty teams in man games lost so far this season. It’s not that.

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So is the McBlender a thing?

Chemistry Being Denied?

Here are the most commonly used lines in the NHL this season (prior to the games on Thursday night)

  1. Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland (704.92 Time On Ice)
  2. Marchessault – Karlsson – Smith (682.67 TOI)
  3. Lee – Tavares – Bailey (668.73 TOI)
  4. Landeskog – MacKinnon – Rantanen (658.12 TOI)
  5. Iafallo – Kopitar – Brown (639.73)

The most commonly used trio for the Oilers this season has been Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl; which got just over 289 minutes together prior to the Maroon trade.

The Oilers only have two other lines that have spent more than 100 minutes playing together this season.

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Lucic – McDavid – Puljujarvi (177.40 TOI)

Khaira – Draisiatl– Strome (104.80 TOI)

The line of Nuge-McDavid-Rattie will also hit this 100 TOI mark in the near future. Yes, that’s right the current McDavid line has only been together for seven games and they are closing in on being one of the most commonly used trios by McLellan this season, that seems crazy doesn’t it?

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The Oilers are one of two teams in the NHL this year that have had three or fewer line combinations spend at least 100 minutes of time together.

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The Colorado Avalanche only have two lines who have played over 100 minutes together, but it’s a completely different story for them because they have a clearly defined top six.

The MacKinnon line has played over 650 minutes together while the trio of Comeau-Soderberg-Nieto has played 565 minutes together.

Todd McLellan has used twenty different threesomes for at least 50 minutes this season.  Only the New York Rangers have used more combinations for that amount of time and you have to remember they completely dismantled their team prior to the deadline.

Production Not There?

Nov 18, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan watches his team take on the Dallas Stars during the third period at American Airlines Center. The Stars defeat the Oilers 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe Todd McLellan can’t find any lines that work so he is forced to keep rotating through options.

Let’s take a look at the top 30 goal-scoring lines in the NHL this season. The MacKinnon line we’ve talked about has been on the ice for 47 goals this season. Rounding out the top 30 is Panarin-Dubois-Anderson in Columbus with 16 goals.

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Of the top 30 scoring lines in the NHL this season, only two of them have a Goals For Percentage below 50. The Lee-Tavares-Bailey line in New York has scored 31 goals and allowed 34. Tkachuk-Frolik-Ferland down in Calgary has found the back of the net 22 times, but has been beaten on 25 occasions.

So let’s use Goals for Percentage to see how the Oilers rarely used trio’s compare.

There are five combinations for the Oilers this season that have played over 40 minutes together and have a GF% above 50%.

1. Lucic – McDavid – Puljujarvi (66.67 GF% – 177.40 TOI)

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2. Lucic – McDavid – Slepyshev (66.67 GF% – 42.12 TOI)

3. Nuge – McDavid – Rattie (64.70 GF% – 89.97 TOI)

4. Caggiula – Draisaitl – Aberg (62.50 GF% – 50.42 TOI)

5. Khaira – Draisaitl – Strome (55.56 GF% – 104.8 TOI)

The one thing you can take away from this is McDavid drives everything and no matter whom you have with him he’s very likely going to dominate. Surprise!

The case for McLellan here is that he simply couldn’t find any lines work without McDavid but once again how would you know when they didn’t really give them much time to gel.

CONCLUSION

So the eye test and the numbers line up on Todd McLellan. He is the only coach in the league to have 20 different trios with at least 50 minutes together this year while at the same time having just three lines to hit 100 minutes.

The question I want you to answer in the comments is this. Did the Oilers struggle this year because McLellan didn’t allow his lines time to find chemistry or did he simply not have the pieces to work with?

I understand this team needs more help on the wings, but I will never agree with a strategy of not allowing a line to have five or more games to actually develop some true chemistry.

I’m, once again, left frustrated by the lack of sample size we have to look at when analyzing these line combinations, which of course brings us back to the original issue.

Maybe next season the Oilers will use the first nine games of the year to develop chemistry among players who will be on the roster for the entire season as opposed to having a 19-year old just killing time before going back to junior. Maybe not.

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Recently by Dustin Nielson


  • VK63

    The disconcerting agenda (axe being ground) finds illustration in the usage of two players.
    Lucic
    Pool Party.

    One is demonized for every mistake and held accountable instantly.
    The other is a giant hulking mass of teflon.

    Accountability in coach Todd’s world is a moving bar… ergo, It does not exists, as accountability, by definition, is consistent application of organizational principles from a solid foundation.

    Its not just Todd. The entire organization is a mess of reactionary incompetence drifting in an ocean of their own noise.

    • oilerjed

      This is easy to explain IMO. In Lucic’s case, he had the worst year of his career and they are trying to play him out of it. In PP, he needs to learn how to play a consistent game and be responsible defensively. In the case of a veteran you have to be patient and hope they come out of it. With the young guy, as we have seen here for a decade, if you don’t make them play the right way from the start, they may never learn.

      • RJ

        The issue with your explanation is opportunity cost. PP is at the start of his career and needs opportunities and support because he will get better over time. Lucic is an aging power forward with over 800+ games played.

        Do you invest time in the young player with a bright future, or do you invest it in squeezing the last drops of talent from an old warhorse who’s due to meet the glue factory?

        • oilerjed

          PP is getting tons of support by the looks of it, Strome looks to be a great mentor for him and he is getting ample ice time for a player in his first hundred games. Guess the question is why you think that it is so important to have PP on the power play? When the fab 3 were here, or Yak for that matter, were you in favour of having them “gifted” PP time regardless of how the rest of their game looked? Manu were against the idea of giving them this primo playing time when they hadn’t shown that they had earned it.
          3I personally think that they are bringing Jesse along at a pace that he will succeed at. Give him another good off season of training and a good training camp and see how his play looks after the exhibition schedule. Im sure he will get lots of time to show that he belongs before next October. He will only be 20 by the time next season starts, what is the rush? To me he hasn’t shown anything exceptional that would suggest he gets an extra bump.

          • crabman

            @oilerjed, I agree with almost everything you said. I like the way Strome has looked with Puljujarvi. They are playing well and getting chances. They are developing chemistry and getting good zone time. Puljujarvi looks like he is getting comfortable and some consistency will be the best thing for him at this point in his career.
            That said I would like to see him “gifted” some time on the top pp and set up to just fire off onetimers. The pp has been really poor and could use a right hand shooter. Why not give the kid a look to close out a lost season? It won’t hurt his development and would give the pp a different look.

      • Kr55

        How much better would it have been for the team if McLellan would show the group that Lucic is being held to the same standard as everyone else. Rather than rearranging the entire team for 2 months to try to get him his fluke goal from 40ft out on a set unscreened goalie that he finally got. IMO, McLellan played this completely wrong. Not only did Lucic not get out of his funk and still looks like a bottom 6er, but he also showed guys like Pulju that there are 2 sets of rules on the team and he should remain confused of how he could ever break through the McLellan wall placed between them.

        • oilerjed

          I would disagree. Look at it from another standpoint. As a veteran player, would you want to know that your coach is going to stick by you and give you every oppourtunity to play out of a really bad stretch. That would go a long way with a coach keeping a teams trust. And there should be two sets of rules for a player playing his 80ish game and one playing his 800ish.
          If you have kids, don’t you have two sets of rules for the older ones and the younger ones? Same Same IMO

          • Kr55

            It’s a slippery slope though having the kid gloves on with vets that already got their massive payday. It’s really starting to look to me like Lucic needs a hard kick in the pants, and if he doesn’t like that, he should ask for a trade. He was dragging his butt around for a lot of his goalless drought. Lazy defensive play, passing the puck away to the first guy he saw (or just to where he thinks someone might be without looking) no matter how covered that guy was. He was playing awful hockey, but the gift minutes kept coming. Why should that player making 6M/year get his coach kicking everyone else aside just for him when he’s playing so poorly? I think that sends a bad message to the group. A confusing message as well. I don’t think I want players to know that just because they are a vet and highly paid they will get prime minutes no matter what they do, and I don’t want young guys to think that no matter what they do, they will always be kicked aside so a guy like Lucic playing like garbage can get the prime ice time.

  • elliotsmom

    I think we will have a very interesting off-season with changes coming from the top to the bottom. The exit interviews are going to be the tell if the players are honest with how they feel about the how they’ve been coached and managed. When Paul Coffey gets hired to help with the defence, I imagine he won’t be the only “boy on the bus” with Oiler responsibilities next season. General Disappointment definitely needs to be replaced as well as all coaching staff. We just need to be careful what/who we wish for. Lots of options on potential hires, but at the same time there could be a return of some ghosts of the past. Do we really want that?

  • oilerjed

    Let’s just be clear about how terrible a coach Todd McLellan is.
    GP782 W 423 L270 p% 0.598
    points per game. His teams finished top 3 in their division 7/9 seasons and finished in the top 2 – 6 times.
    Add to that making it 2 Conference finals. Second among coaches in wins since 2008 behind only Bruce Beaudreau and in the top 4 for W-L%.
    Only 2 season where his team didn’t make the playoffs. Forget that he coached this team to 102 points last season and into the second round (shoulda been the WCF).
    Please explain to me how one season where pretty much everyone on this team under performed equates to Todd McLellan being a bad coach. Frustration with the season aside, let’s please have some common sense

    • Threetimes

      I like Mclellan, Hes been the best coach the Oilers have had in a long time. Even this poor season surpasses the majority of previous seasons going back to the Mact era. Some things Ive seen this season make me think alot of on ice decisions are being made further up the ladder, likely up to Katz himself. Edmonton has good hockey people, fans and media should show a little faith in that.

    • Big Nuggets

      I don’t buy into the coach’s winning percentage as an indication of ability. MacLellan had a really good San Jose team to coach with a lot of good players. What is MacLellan’s winning percentage this season? That seems more relevent. Not saying he’s a bad coach but this season it looks like he has made numerous bad decisions.

    • Kr55

      SJ was a division winner before he got there. He rode the same 5-6 players his entire time in SJ that were already self sufficient elite vets, and got nothing from the rest of his lineup, which killed him every year in the playoffs. Good regular season coach on a stacked team, there are hundreds of guys that could be the same. But come playoff time, he was outcoached every time and wasted the primes of a lot of great players, whole got to the finals the next year, sadly, the best of them were on their last legs by then.

    • 1ncinawhile

      Oilerjed. Even though I CAN’T STAND THE MCBLENDER!!! You do have a good point… I don’t actually think he’s such a bad coach (although I don’t agree with his tactics all the time)… I mean heck… last year he was given thought for coach of the year award… but this year he is the pits?? Doesn’t make sense if you take a step back

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Every player on a team should have one skill/role that they excel at (regardless of the sport).
    Kassian and Lucic played regular minutes all season long (regular ice time)
    Did anyone see the benefit? Players or fans?

    • Kneedroptalbot

      They don’t score much , not great defensively, terrible on zone breakouts. Difficulty taking or giving a pass. In Lucic’s case always behind the play.

  • Dex Dexter

    Is this off topic to mention that Talbot kept us in games that we could have lost last season? Yes there is little consistency on the plan for example but 1 soft goal or 2 makes for a very difficult 60 minutes. Gord bless us next season with a winning recipe!!

  • Svart kaffe

    I don’t think chemistry between players are that much different from chemistry between any other coworkers. I like working with different people but not every 20 minutes.

  • omahalloyd

    I’m kind of tired of the coaching changes No doubt an awful year in every aspect of the team I think we all agree with this but this was the only coach to get us to the playoff in years I think he gets a free pass and one more year to see if he can fix this the other way has proven to be a disaster Just my opinion

    • braddos

      Agreed, I just think there is NO rational argument that can be made for keeping the special teams coaches. I don’t care how long their relationship with McLellan has been.

  • Rama Lama

    On opening night there was no affirmed roster…….it took TM 15 games into the season before we even knew who was staying and who was going.

    This is not a coach we could accuse of being prepared.

  • oilerjed

    Players that I have seen develop this year :
    Jujhar, Nuge, Darnell, Jesse (to a lessor degree) and Ryan Strome

    The players who took a step back :
    Lucic (who knows??), Klef (injury), Kassian (another ??), Drake, Benning and Talbot. Which of these players can we pin on bad coaching? Drake and Matt maybe. Kassian has looked pretty good at times but is not consistent for some reason. Talbot Seems to be a slow starter and this season really fell apart (along with the whole team) but has pulled it together for the most part.
    Anyone else have a different list?

  • Oiler Al

    Is there any hope for the likes of Slephy, Pakarinen, Puljularvi? Puli is green and young, but after almost 80 games he plays the same way. The other two havnt changed their game [all be it with limited ice]in two years [KHL calling] All these guys can skate like the wind ,can shoot but cant seem to finish. Seem afraid to go to the net, and just dump or shovel the puck ahead?I don’t get it.

  • revingev

    Ok, my .2 cents worth. There are several factors at play here. So because this article is about lines sticking together for chemistry let me comment on that first.
    1. McDavid line (spent too much time at the beginning of the year keeping Kailer up from Jr when they knew after 3-4 games he really wasn’t ready at an elite level yet. Then after signing Leon to a massive contract should either have left him as a second line centre or keep him as a 1st line RW. All they had to do was take time to experiment with LW and then fine Nuge line mates for second line. Eventually they have now switched Leon and Nuge and appears after a year of stubbornness to be actually working.That line appears to have found its place with long term search for cheap RW like Rattie or whoever to fill that 1st line) Fault? COACH
    2. Talbot (had no proven backup to push him or allow rest time or replacement if something happened. Talbot played like a superstar last year and the GM didn’t do anything then hope LB was ready to go.) Fault? GM
    3. Defence (Klefbom started weak, Benning fell back in his ability and confidence this year and has been inconsistant at the best. No replacement for Sekera being injured for first 20plus games and signing Russell who is a wonderful warrior and great shot blocker to an overpriced contract with more NMC contract that handcuffs the coach and GM) Fault? GM
    4. PP & PK (has been absolutely unacceptable. No idea how this even makes sense but deployment of personal has been frustrating at the best of times. As some mention Lucic on PP? If you watch, he is one of the worst at puck cycling when on the PP. He loses it 40% of the time as PP is a skilled game and he doesn’t play a strong enough net presence to be there for that part of the PP. No one set up for one-timers other then Leon. Don’t get me going on Latest on the PP after not succeeding after the first 10-15 games of the season. The PK? Ouch! They kept riding players who were not succeeding. The PK has really changed up so good news on that front but the PP should be one of the best in the league) Fault? COACH
    5. Salary Cap management (I think looking at the contracts being signed here in Edmonton with NMC are what will be handcuffing Edmonton moving forward.) Fault? GM
    6. Wingers ( Trade that loses people like Eberle with no replacement quaility RW player even though we had cap space this year) Fault? GM

    *NOTE: We had one of the best teams in the league with 5on5 hockey regardless of our special teams and all the other deployment mistakes. Look at McDavid numbers minus special teams points. He leads by a mile. That’s money in the bank.

    While coaching has made mistakes and definitely the PP now needs fixed (Stop being stubborn Todd!) it looks to me like Coaching is still not the biggest problem other then special teams, it’s off-ice decision and personal and how this team has been managed. That’s my fear. I believe if we changed GM’s (which they won’t) the new GM would give Todd 25-30 games in to see what he can do but unfortunately we await the next decision ol’ Pistol Pete will make with fear and anxiety that he doesn’t know how to win many deals. The only two deals in this city he can say he fared well was Talbot and Maroon & this year both those two were partially responsible.

    Anyway, so sorry this got longer then I anticipated…haha! Write only occasionally but read daily!
    BTW>…welcome Dustin, awesome to have you writing at OILERSNATION!

  • camdog

    Puljujarvi with Strome is where he belongs.Learning the game against weaker opposition players. The problem with the Finn’s deployment was the length of time it took the coach to figure it out. The problem is we had a veteran head coach with a professional scouting staff that took until after Christmas to realize what Strome was. Strome has been the same player he was on the Island yet in Edmonton he was mystery.

    Every year San Jose was favoured to win a cup under his tenure, every year they dissapointed. Goaltending hasn’t always been the best for Todd and most likely that will be the excuse he uses for losing. Reality is Todd gets out coached in more games than not.

  • toprightcorner

    Lack of experienced right wingers, that position alone makes it impossible to have a consistent trio. I would be interested to see the times played for pairs and I bet it would be a different story. Sleppy, JP, Caguilia, Rattie all played top 9 and top 6 RW and none have over 150 games in the NHL.