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The Good, Bad & Ugly – Oilers 17-18 Edition

With another season now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to take a look back at the good, the bad and the ugly from the Oilers 17-18 campaign.

THE GOOD

McDavid Does it Again

Connor McDavid was absolutely brilliant in leading the Oilers to the post-season last year. He was even better this season despite the fact the team didn’t have the horses to get the job done.

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McDavid finished the season with 41 goals and 67 assists surpassing last year’s totals and setting the stage for even a bigger jump next year. The captain managed to lead the league in scoring despite being very sick for close to a month. He’s going to be better than we all expected, which is scary.

Keep Nuge Forever

If Peter Chiarelli was having thoughts about trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins they have to be gone now. If the reason to consider trading Nugent-Hopkins was to find a scoring winger for McDavid then the problem has been solved. After seeing what this duo can bring to the table it’s not crazy to think that Nuge could finish with 35 goals and 75-80 points next season. You no longer have to worry about him being traded…I think.

Jujhar Arrives

The continued development of Jujhar Khaira is important for the Oilers on a number of different levels. For starters, he’s a rarity in the fact he’s a player drafted outside of the first round that has actually turned out to be an NHL player. Second of all, he’s versatile. I’d bet he starts next season as the fourth line centre but he has the ability to play on the wing higher up in the lineup. Thirdly, could he be what you were hoping to see out of Lucic? We watched Khaira get a brief look with Draisaitl at the end of the season it left me wondering if he could be a 20-goal winger that stands up for his teammates.

THE BAD

Mar 25, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot (33) reacts to a goal from the Anaheim Ducks during the third period at Rogers Place. Ducks won the game 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

The Quick Hook

Cam Talbot started this season with a shutout, so where did it all go wrong? In the next game, McLellan pulled Talbot less than a minute into the second period with his team trailing the Canucks 3-1. I hated the decision at the time and months later nothing has changed. You have a goaltender who was brilliant for you last season, had a shutout in the season opener and you yank him because you are down 3-1 early in the second period of the second game of the season. I wonder how much Talbot’s early season mindset was rattled by that one decision from his Head Coach?

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The Blueline

Andrej Sekera wasn’t available for the first half of the season, Oscar Klefbom was playing with 22 bone fragments floating around in his shoulder and Adam Larsson struggled prior to dealing with the tragic loss of his father. When three of your top four defencemen aren’t available or are failing to meet expectations you are doomed from the start. Also, Kris Russell scored on his own team for a game-winner against Toronto.

What’s the Deal with Puljujarvi?

You know I had to work a Puljujarvi mention into this piece. Two years into his pro career there are too many question marks around Jesse Puljujarvi. The player looked like he was playing on pins and needles over the final couple of months of the season and part of that is on the player, part of that is on the organization and the coaching staff. Why did it take more than a year to get this kid an English teacher

With the season essentially over, why was he still not put into the shooter spot on the second PP unit in an effort to build his confidence? Does Connor McDavid dislike playing with him? For Gregor, does he need to shorten his stick? Prior to the draft, his hockey IQ was graded at 5 out 5 — has he lost that? It just seems like we have a lot of questions about Puljujarvi and I’m starting to wonder if we’ll ever know the answers.

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Quick side story on Puljujarvi. My co-host on the Nielson Show is Lt. Eric, one of his friends posted a video on Facebook with Jesse Puljujarvi in his truck. Apparently, the guy was in his vehicle outside of Rogers Place this weekend and saw Puljujarvi walking across the street carrying his Oilers bag and a bunch of sticks. He waved to Puljujarvi and the big Finn walked over to the vehicle, opened the passenger door and asked for a ride home. Classic.

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THE UGLY

Milan Lucic:

Lucic’s season was about as ugly as it comes for any NHL player let alone one making $6,000,000. Lucic’s production in the second half of the season not only dropped off, it completely disappeared.

To make matters worse, he was continually put in positions to succeed but wasn’t able to capitalize. I do expect a bounce back season in 18-19 but that doesn’t mean this year wasn’t as ugly as they come.

Cap Space Under Performs

The Oilers wrapped up free agency last summer with some cap space. The Oilers started this season with some cap space. The Oilers struggled early in a season they were projected by some to be Cup contenders with cap space. The Oilers season completely went down the toilet with cap space. The Oilers just wrapped up the final year of Connor McDavid’s entry-level deal with cap space. $8,149,018 of cap space to be exact. (Should note that cap space is prior to bonuses being calculated in)

Special Teams

There was a point in the season where I remember saying nothing can be as bad as the Oilers penalty kill, turns out I was wrong. The power-play ended up being an even bigger disappointment.

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When your specials struggle as mightily as the Oilers did this season it’s impossible to place blame on one area of the team. The coaching will need to be better and more willing to adjust, Cam Talbot will need to more consistent between the pipes on the PK and the players on the PP will likely need to play with some urgency. 

In Summary

It looks to be an easy fix heading into next season.

Spend to the cap. Lucic bounces back. Puljujarvi develops into a much-needed winger for Draisaitl. Special teams don’t suck. Keep the blue line healthy. Don’t pull your number one goaltender in the second game of the season. Like I said, it looks easy.

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  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    I saw this comment on McLellan’s year end presser

    “think of it this way….we were 11 wins less this year than the season before…EASILY…we lost 11 games due to poor calls…poor reffing…1 goal games……..as much as you don’t want excuses…we are much closer than the season shows. We never got ahead of our bad start…things that can be fixed going into next year. We also played a lot of great games this year!!!”

    This guy is on to something. Maybe things aren’t as bad as they look. Sure special teams need to be better (PK absolutely improved down the stretch), and Talbot needs to bounce back (he had a great second half), and we seem to have the forward lines looking alright. Just rest, reset and come back better next year. Plus, remember the last time some of our team participated in the IIHF tournament?

    • GK1980

      The Oilers are not a bad team, it’s just how they handles parts of a game. They need to learn how to handle opposition pressure. How many time did the oilers score and the other team scored immediately after? Oilers need to have a good defensive minded third line/ energy line that you put out when the game starts to tilt the other way.

    • Petrolero

      The problem is this is 3-2 league. One goal games are going to be the norm not the exception. There is little margin for error. What McClellan said makes things sound like a few bounces their way would fix the season. The truth is it takes a lot to work and good decisions to win those one goal games and get those good bounces.

  • A-Mc

    As silly as this may sound. I’m OK with no playoffs this year. I’m still trying to catch up financially from the insanity of last years playoff run.

    I’ll be ready with a stash of cash for next season though =D

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Nuge turning into Connor’s winger, plus Strome showing he can play centre are, I think, the best things to happen to the Oilers since last spring. We gain the top 6 winger Connor needed to let Drai run the 2nd line and we didn’t have to give up assets (or Nuge himself) for it, and Strome moving to centre means we’re not paying Nuge $6 million a year to drag around some middling wingers for 15 minutes a night. A few “holes” up front appear to have filled themselves.

    I’m liking Rattie on the McNuge line, he plays a simple game that seems to click well with Connor. Straight lines, get open/go to the net hard, get your stick ready. Plus his wrist shot is really, really good. His performance after he was moved onto Connor’s line gave me Maroon vibes, I’m hoping 93-97-8 is the top line out of the gate next year.

  • Hemmercules

    Seems like the Oilers are probably counting on a bunch of bounce backs. Pretty big gamble but what can they do really? Do you ditch a bunch of guys based on this bad season? Obviously they need to add a face or two but if everyone gets their flu shots and they don’t get hammered with injuries they will be a decent team again.

    Chiarelli wont be doing his job if he doesn’t at least try to improve a few areas but I think this season was a bit of an anomaly as was last season. They probably weren’t as good as they showed last season and they definitely aren’t as bad as they showed this season. Keep Nuge, Keep Klef, find another dman and a top 6 winger. Don’t sign any stupid contracts or massively overpay any free agents.

    JP is a total wild card. Maybe he elevates like Drai did?? We can only hope.

    Talbot is also a wild card but one they will gamble on I have no doubt. I’m not so sure he can rebound to previous levels but I don’t see Chia goalie shopping too hard this summer unless they maybe lose Monty and find another guy to backup Cam. Chad Johnson ripped Buffalo for their bad season so he wont be back. Is he better than Monty??

    • Serious Gord

      With 40.5 million on the books for six players – Lucic, Russell, Mcd, Drai, RNH and Sekera – fully half of the cap next season, Chia has no room to add proven talent.

      He instead is going to have to hang is hopes that ALL of the players who performed poorly this season return to their career-best levels AND that he can find some bargain-basement talent to fill the holes that far outperform expectations/their past performance.

      Ain’t gonna happen.

      I will predict here and now that the oil will be at best a bubble playoff team and likely (60-40 chance) will miss the playoffs yet again.

      • Hemmercules

        Never said it would be easy and I pretty much said exactly what you did in the fist two lines of my comment. They will have to count on bounce back seasons from a bunch of guys, thats the reality. Why keep crying about it??

        An article on here a couple months ago suggested they probably have around 5 mil to play with after the RFA’s are signed and such. That doesn’t include any trades, buyouts and its also assuming the cap is around 80. They can add a guy and make a trade, thats two new players right there so its not like they are totally screwed for making any moves at all.

        I think I’m just tired of feeling bad about this team. Roster moves are completely out of our control. Changing teams is not an option for me. Hope for best and stay cautiously optimistic.

        • crabman

          @Hemmercules, Depending on how much the RFAs cost them bringing back this exact team will cost between $73.5-$74M next year. That’s a bridge deal for Nurse in the $3-$3.5M range and Strome $2.5-$3M range, both reasonable contracts, qualifying the rest, Pouliot’s buy out and $1M bonus cushion for Puljujarvi. That leaves $6M+ to improve the team. That is for 21 players. Of course any player you replace you have that players salary, or potential salary to add to cap space to sign or trade for new players, ie replacing Slepyshev would make his $1.1M, his qualifying salary, available for his replacement meaning there would be $7.1-$7.6M available for an upgrade.
          With McDavid’s new contract kicking in it does make it harder to add new players but we aren’t up against the cap yet.
          I will go on the record right now and say with a new coaching staff next year, or at least new assistants running special teams, this is a playoff next year. They aren’t cup contenders yet but they have all the pieces to make the playoffs with just a couple additions.

  • Serious Gord

    Only three ‘uglys’? Could be triple that # or more…

    Here’s one potential one going forward to partner with the possible Ugly 2018-19 season of Lucic:

    Kris Russell turns 31 in a month. Any readers think he will play better next year than he did this season? Much more likely that his abilities will decline.

    That means we will have a third-pairing d man we are paying $4 million/yr for THE NEXT 3 years. Assuming that Lucic falls to the third line -which he did for the last few games – that means the oil will have $10 million/yr in almost dead money for THE NEXT THREE YEARS. That is 1/8th or 12.5% of next year’s cap.

    How does Chia even get out of bed in the morning?

    • Hemmercules

      Russel didn’t decline this year from last year so what makes you think in a few months he will be that much worse? His offence actually went up this year and he probably got forced into more tougher situations with all the team injuries and hiatuses. Not saying he will get better but you get what you get with Russel and I cant really see him declining much if at all.

      You also have no idea where Lucic will play next year or if he will rebound. I think its a little pre-mature to start calling them both “dead money”. We wont really know until around November.

      Both guys are going to be Oilers next season. Im rooting for both of them to have good seasons.

    • Rob...

      Russell is on a bad contract, but he’s consistent (1M overpay). You know he’ll give the puck away a lot, and he’ll block the shot that comes afterwards. I’d rather Russell’s deal on the books than Seabrook’s.

      • Rock11

        Sure but having neither contract on the books is not only the best option but one that required Chiarelli to do absolutely nothing. Frankly its not even the money, its the term, and for reasons passing understanding a *&%%*% NMC.

    • crabman

      I’ve said this in another post but I’ll say it again here. The potential of having a $9.5M bottom pair in Sekera and Russell next year sucks. But the Oilers have a potential top3 making a combined $11.5M. The fact that Klefbom and Larsson are at good cap hits and a potential Nurse bridge contract eases the pain a bit on the overpaid veterans further down the lineup. If 1 of Russell or Sekera play in the top 2 pairs the cost doesn’t look that bad actually.
      The term left on these contracts stuck but after next year both Sekera and Russell only have a MNTC and 1 should be able to be moved out.

      As far as Russell coming back worse than this year, maybe. I doubt he is better but he has been consistent the past 2 years and he lived up to his contract this year.

  • CMG30

    Lets be frank here, standing pat is not an option. Every team deals with adversity and sitting back hoping for that one magical season where nobody gets injured and everybody plays above expectations and the refs look the other way on every infraction is not a winning formula.

    Winning teams need depth to both push players who want to keep their jobs and provide cover when things do go wrong. Despite spending a decade in the basement this team continues to rush prospects to the show then sour on them and discard them (below cost!) before they’ve had a chance to reach their potential. We have a GM who hordes cap space like it’s coming out of his own pocket and throws good money and term after players who are years past their best before date. Having said that, we do need solid veteran (over 25) players filling most of our key positions (Unless your name is McDavid, Draisitle or RNH) since we should not be using the NHL as a teaching tool. Look at what Vegas has been able to accomplish with hard working unspectacular yet motivated crew. Instead, the learning curve on our rushed rookies keeps costs us games, it’s what the AHL is for. It should be exceedingly rare that a draft pick is playing in the NHL for at least 3 years after the draft and almost unheard of that they step right into the show.

    • Hemmercules

      Vegas will be really interesting next season. The majority of their forward group had career seasons. Can they do that again?? I’m not so sure. They also have a ton of UFA and RFA players. Some guys are getting raises and others are leaving.

      • LAKID

        Vegas also though has a Good management group and a pretty good coaching staff. Edmonton however will be an interesting team in the days and weeks to follow. I wonder why Chia has not come out with his year end review yet? Is there one comming from him or someone else?

    • Rob...

      You didn’t mention Draisaitl. How many players in the first year of their big contract struggle mentally as they try to contribute at the expected level? Despite the pressures, Draisaitl still managed nearly a .9 PPG, think Gaudreau last year vs. this year; I expect Leon to have a banner year next year.

  • Alberta Ice

    Since we’ve gone through the Good, Bad, and Ugly of this regular season, all that’s left to say of this season is — Go Jets — or Maple Leafs (Canada’s great hopes — which is about as Good, Bad, and Ugly as it gets).

    • Rock11

      I know some Jets fans. They are insufferable. Have been since the team came back. Did you know that Evander Kane is better than Taylor Hall. That’s what they used to tell me anyway. Plus any Oilernation poster who cheers for the Leafs needs to get the hell out and to never, ever come back.

      • 24% body fat

        dont forget that marner is better tjan mcdavid. one guy actually said marner is better and is just learning to dominate games. well he had half the points mcdavid did and twice the pp points. so i dont know what his definition of dominate is. 97 doesnt dominate games he dominates leagues.

      • Alberta Ice

        Yep, that’s the UGLY. Stuck to root for the two surviving Canada teams. Lesser of two evils compared with the California teams. (Ducks again? That’s worse than ugly.)

  • OilersBro

    I honestly think this year was the perfect storm of everything that couldve went wrong going wrong. Connor got sick for a month. Klefbom and Sekera who are 2 top 3 defencemen were playing injured all year. Todd couldn’t match up with the home ice advantage. The powerplay sucked after a successful season. The penalty kill sucked after a successful season. Nothing against Strome but Chiarelli downgraded talent by trading for him. If Talbot posted the same save % as last year we would be in playoffs. We lost Nuge for 2 months when we needed him most. Talbot got injured at couldn’t play 73 games again. We hit the most amount of posts in the league. We had the least amount of powerplays in the league (by far). Guys who showed promise last year regressed after being given top line opportunities (benning, klefbom, cags). And Lucic played his worst season ever.
    So who does the blame fall on (besides the refs for the lack of penalties drawn)? I say the management, the coaches, and the players all collectively failed to meet expectations.

  • Redbird62

    I think not having Darnell Nurse’s performance this season as a “Good” is an oversight. He improved year over year in almost every measure, and did so playing more minutes and probably against tougher competition, both because of injuries to others, and because he earned it. There were still rough patches and room for continued improvement, but he is still just turned 23 with only 197 NHL games under his belt.
    I also think the fairly obvious problem Larsson was having with his back in December needs to mentioned as contributing to his performance struggles.

  • cmandev77

    1. We need a GM that the other GM’s know they won’t fleece in any trade offers.
    2. We need special teams coaches who can improve our special teams to at least a middle of the pack team.
    3. We need to improve our face-off ability as a team.
    I don’t see the team changing too much because of some questionable contracts. This is pretty much the group we will be starting the season with next season.

  • bwar

    The cap space is kind of hilarious to me.This was the year to really optimize the cap space and try to make a run for the playoffs. What did we actually do? Downgraded a few players and let the season slip away. Going to need to wait a few cap increases now before we can really flesh out this team for a deep run and on top of that we will have new players demanding more money each season eating up that extra cap space. Remember that time Chiarelli murdered the cap in Boston? Well he’s doing it here as well, the major difference is we didn’t get a cup first.

  • TKB2677

    What I struggle with is assessing how bad is the team because of the goaltending. The GM made some mistakes, the coaches didn’t do that great in some areas, the roster has some holes but if all of those weren’t an issue, I don’t know if the Oilers would have made the playoffs anyway strictly because Talbot was lousy for over half the season. As a team you can’t win with crap goaltending from your starter. Do they need a back up that can take a few starts away from Talbot so he is around 60 starts? YES but even if they had a better back up, it’s pretty rare to have a back up that can take over the starters job for as much as the Oilers needed this year.

    I am not trying to come off as apologizing for the management because I think they screwed some things up but having Taylor Hall here doesn’t help when Talbot was crap until February. You don’t have to look any farther than the Islanders. The Islanders were 8th in goals scored but were 17 pts out of the playoffs because their goaltending sucked and they had 2 guys who should have been decent.

    • crabman

      good point. that’s what is so hard about dissecting a hockey team. It is the ultimate team sport. Would Talbot have played so poorly with a better team in front of him. A fully healthy D making better reads defensively and better breakout passes. If the forwards did a better job coming back and supporting the D. If there was a better option as a backup not just this year but also last to give Talbot some more rest.
      A better assistant coach running the D and the pk. How much of Talbot’s issue was loss of confidence because of his and the teams poor play on that awful pk. Talbot played much better down the stretch after the team.made adjustments to the pk personnel and formation.
      When so many factors play into a team game it is so hard to narrow down the precise thing that went wrong and more often than not it is a combination of things. Like Chiarelli said “death by a thousand cuts”

    • Big Nuggets

      Lot’s of people here bent on making Talbot the goat. Virtually every elite goalie has had at least one bad season. It’s tough position to be consistent in. We’ve seen Talbot play well before so there is a chance he will play well again in the future. What those odds are is debatable but I think it’s a decent bet. He denied it but the kids are likely a factor, exact same senario happened to Dubnyk before he had a career year with Minny, because we hastily gave up on him. Also contract years often bring out the best in players. Not to mention the difficulty in finding another #1 goalie.

      Regardless of these arguements, all signs from management point to Talbot as the starter next season. I don’t see any value in fostering resentment for a player that will be back next year no matter what you post on an Oilers blog comment section.

  • ed from edmonton

    Hmm you missed the biggest good of the year, i.e. Darnell Nurse. The emergence of a top pair dman cannot be overlooked, but some how Fusty missed it. I also don’t get all the angst about a 19 year old who played regular minutes in the NHL.

    • Serious Gord

      Nurse was almost invisible the last half of the season. 9 points in the last 43 games. The jury is still out on whether he is capable of being a top 4 d man.

  • Big Nuggets

    I would keep it simple this off season. Sign Brodziak or someone like him who is reliable as a d-zone center and PKer. Try to sign a scoring winger if its possible to do with out giving out a dumb long term contract. If Kovalchuk will sign an affordable one year deal then go for it. With smarter coaching and a fresh start that alone should give a nice boost to both the PK and PP. The league has to call more Power Plays for us next year otherwise it becomes conspiracy territory. Other than that try to find some hidden gems for defense and forward depth. Hartnell had a really good season for $800 000 , Riley Nash did well, though may expect a raise, for defense the options are slimmer, just don’t give out anything long term until we can get rid of the Russell or Sekera contracts. Even if it is just adding a Johnny Oduya for one year, because even though he is old and pretty washed up ,he will still probably outplay Benning and we don’t want to be forced to play Bear in the NHL because of no foresight.