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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?

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)

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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  • TruthHurts98

    I think he needs to be replaced. San Jose has been far better with much less without him. Even Connor made reference to the fact he always has different line mates and it’s difficult to create chemistry. The fact that he refuses to play JP in the top 6 is also baffling to me. The special teams are atrocious, the team isn’t prepared from the start either most nights. The last 3 games sum up the season: disappointing.

      • 50-39

        I bet you would have thought Vegas was a glorified AHL team at the start of the year. See what a difference coaching makes. There are some good pedigree players on the Oil, what would a coach like Gallant be able to get out of this group?

        Only a few occasions this year has the team played with the confidence and control they did last year, I suspect coaching played a role in that.

        • oilerjed

          I think you underestimating A) the quality of the players Vegas picked up B) the motivation that came from being a group of Misfit toys C) That the majority of the players on Vegas were veterans who were able to put a new system in place quickly.
          gallant is a good coach obviously but isn’t the biggest reason for Vegas’s surprising season.

          • 50-39

            By new systems, you mean coaching. Everyone underestimated the quality of the group as a whole, unless you have proof somewhere of people picking them to be near the top of the league all year long. The vegas GM certainly didn’t pick his team to be here – his original play was selling those experienced players at the deadline. Sure some took motivation from being a cast off, but in the end they are all playing to win and advance their careers, like most every other player in the league.

            I believe Gallant is the biggest reason vegas is doing as well as they are. He got those players to come together as a team and believe in themselves. Excellent job.

            TM has been a great coach over his career – he wasn’t this year. I think he will probably start next year with the oil as well. I’m ok with that, but it should be a short leash.

    • OilersGM

      I’ve said it for a while now that McClellan is not a great coach, he doesn’t have what it takes to take a team to the next level. He gets out-coached all the time. I was so perplexed as to why he took Puljujarvi off of McDavid’s line earlier in the season whe he was having so much success. At one point Puljujarvi was on par with Tkachuk for goals and the coach decided to change things for some idiotic reason. Also McClellan gives players extra ice time in the top 6 or on the PP that don’t deserve it, even my 7 year old kid knows that’s wrong and brings this up during games.
      I would get rid off him and the GM and bring in a GM that picks his own coach or wait and see if coach Q shakes loose.

  • 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.

  • TruthHurts98

    And another glaring example is the Anaheim game. He’s constantly outcoached when the pressure is turned up and can’t get the proper lines on the ice to match other teams on home ice nonetheless. I don’t think he’s a horrible coach, but he’s not that good either. Not sure he stays in the NHL that long either, he can’t seem to adapt to the faster NHL. If an article is done up on the GM it’ll be even more transparent how this franchise expects all shortcomings to be covered up by Connor’s on ice brilliance. But it takes a team and coaching/management system that knows what they are doing. I hope we get that someday!

  • ScottV

    I’ve long been critical of the way McL over blends the forwards.

    It’s more than just finding chemistry from an offensive standpoint. Line mates who have time to synergize / strategize with each other, will work things through to become effective both ways.

    It’s probably more the flip side of the game that suffers from over blending lines. McL wonders why there are so many GA’s? Well – It’s not just the goaltenders and d men. It’s forwards who get thrown into a line combination and they know that they better make something happen offensively in a hurry or god knows what line or press box I’ll be sitting in next.

    Short term – make something happen in a hurry? That’s a recipe for mistakes and given it up in the wrong net.

    Another issue with it – is morale. Just like many of us who have to work with others to get things done effectively. High turnover and being forced to start all over with others is just as frustrating for hockey players as it is for anyone else.

    Its just one of several issues, where McL is shooting himself in the foot with [email protected] strategy and chaotic roll the dice unreliable play. Good coaches find a way to get weighted dice into the game.

  • Koof

    I think Todd is a good coach with a good message, but horrible at adapting to the new NHL. If you watch games at whenever Oilers have last change Todd usually get beaten matchup wise which blows my mind. He is so concerned about the lines but fails to deploy them in appropriate times. Look at how well San Jose did and is doing after his departure. Sure load up your lines with centers ,, but keep the lines together at least. Don’t move significant pieces around every 3 games.

    And what is driving me nuts most of all, and something that I thought about last night watching the horrid pp, why are they not even trying to fix it anymore????? These are the garbage games that u should be trying to figure out a system to employ next year but instead u give up and run out lines it’s embarrassing for an NHL team. And even worse is u have everybody set up on their Roper sides so there isn’t. Single 1 time option available, which is why the Oilers look more dangerous on the pk than the pp.

    I was never one for firing another coach bit honestly it seems like the coaches have given up before the end of the season. Lots of the successful teams this year have coaches that day behind the old school guy, or are younger on their coaching path. I think they should consider finding someone with experience with younger players and feared more towards today’s NHL. I would be doing everything I could to at the very least try and hire kris knoblauch/ whoever to be new a coach and fix pp/pk and if Todd stumbles out of the gate again it’s chop chop time and give Connor his coach that he loved and won championships with, who works with young player i.e pool party, drai, yams, bear, Benson, stafin and soon to be top 10 pick (hopefully walhstrom). Look at Colorado , Boston, la, Pitts, Florida.. all doing well with new voices.

    And for those who say “Look at Toronto with Babcock, he’s old school and they are winning.” Well Babovk hold so much power over a players career that his team’s listenand follow everything he says because they know one bad comment from him and not playing under him is career death. (Also I hate him and the leafs so this sucks even more admitting how much of a superior coach he is)

  • DerpSolo

    Forget the McBlender. Honestly I don’t care who Connor plays with, he does well anyway. The thing that I’m worried about is the porous pk and pp. I feel that’s a huge, if not the main reason oilers aren’t making the ploffs the year

  • Kr55

    if we can find a way to get Pavelski, Marleau, Couture, Vlasic, Burns and/Dan Boyle all in their primes, we should be good enough to get to the playoffs consistently and choke as McLellan is outcoached every series. Gotta hold onto that dream as long as TMac and his band of BFF’s are coaching this team.

  • Spydyr

    Hands on owner hiring old heroes/buddies,poor GM, too many no movement contracts, overpay for Drai by a couple million and a starting goalie that is at the bottom of stats for the entire NHL. Pig headed coach that has produced horrendous PK and penalty kill.

    That is only a few of the issues the Oilers have.

  • The Future Never Comes

    That room needs a new voice and a coach that gets the most of his players for every 9 out of 10 games. Todd looks confused and out of answers most nights. He is nothing but a salesman in conferences but doesn’t walk his talk.

  • Laughed wing

    This coach has no plan and less of a concept of what chemistry means than any other coach in the league. The model of head coach bringing his team of assisting coaches doesn’t hold water with me. We aren’t allowed to hear from them and are left to wonder about their skill sets. Yes men. And who ever is goalie coach should leave now. Our six footers learn to play on their knees and that allows teams to shoot high and score or move the puck across the ice where a push off from your knees becomes hopelessly weak.

    • TruthHurts98

      Every goalie plays that butterfly style, does Lundquist, Quick and Rinne suck because of it??? I’m a goalie too and if I don’t have a good game the whole team suffers. Talbot needs a backup to challenge him and allow him more games off. Relying on one goalie is foolish. That’s on the GM in my opinion too.

      • Kneedroptalbot

        Not every goalie comes way out of his crease and falls to his knees prior to a shot leaving the stick.
        Even Johnathan Quick stays near his crease a lot more than he used to.
        He changed his style as he became older.

  • EzraElliott

    For me, McLellan’s glaring mistakes this season is not just the McBlending in 5v5, but the utter lack of rearrangement on the PP. We are producing well in 5v5, and Todd juggles the line constantly throughout the year, while we are producing nothing on the PP, and he refuses to switch things up for the first several months of the season. It seems that Todd’s philosophy may be that “if it’s broke, don’t fix it; if it isn’t broke, fix it.”

  • ellebee

    McLellan uses playing with McDavid as some odd form of reward and punishement. Throughout the season wingers that have a good game appear in McDavid’s line next game.. have a bad shift or 2 on that line and back you go down to 3rd or 4th.

      • The Future Never Comes

        He believes in rewarding players? So force feeding Lucic on the top line when it clearly didn’t gel for 20 games just to get him out of a 29 game goal funk at the expense of other chemistry is rewarding players? Cagiulla in the top six almost all season, when at times he looks like an ahl player is rewarding players? I could keep going but to much time.

        • corky

          True. I guess a coach works with what he is given. And like coaches before him, he gave too much rope to certain players and not enough to others. Cough, Toby Peterson, cough.

      • Kr55

        I wonder if he is aware of the double standard everyone could plainly see with his handling of Lucic and Letestu who preformed horribly at even strength (and PK for Letestu) and were gifted top PP time for the first 50 games of the season.

  • DannyGallivan

    It was apparent the Oil were out of it pretty early on. A big part of that was the PK and PP, the lines of which have been pretty consistent – the problem there is coaching not lines.

    Chia pet shipped out some pretty good forwards over the past few years in Maroon, Hall and Ebs. The have been replaced by young, relatively inexperienced/new to the team players like Cagguila, Kaira, Pakarinen, Puljujarvi, Rattie, Slepyshev, Strome and, most recently Aberg and on D Auvitu, Benning and Bear. These players are young and new to the team. When Cemmellari is gone they will be close to the youngest, most inexperienced teams in the league. Lots of new faces. Like a rebuild within a rebuild.

    It takes time to fit the pieces together and given that the games have no meaning, I would rather have a blender to try to settle the lines now than next year. Even the experienced players like Lucic – I am not sure where he fits anymore.

  • madjam

    Going into season GM unable to procure a decent RD to aid forwards and defence . Todd realized it early and rode his asset McDavid . Draisaitl never advanced and most of rest of squad fell below expectations . Only Nurse , Hopkins and maybe Khaira showed signs of improvement beyond McDavid . The blender was caused by poor job of GM to address the defence and Talbot poorly adjusting to being a father of a young twins . Talbot hopefully will readjust his game for next season as twins should be less taxing . I’d give a pass on McLellan this year , due to the poor job GM did in assembling a defective lineup void of a decent defence . Seeing all the problems Oilers were faced with , I still feel McDavid should win the Hart , as he basically carried entire team game in and out .