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Photo Credit: Dave Sandford

Is this the Plan?

Back in March, Oilers Entertainment Group Executive Officer and Vice-Chairman Bob Nicholson hopped on Hockey Night in Canada to discuss the Oilers’ disappointing season with Sportnet’s David Amber, Cassie Campbell, and Doug MacLean. Nicholson wasn’t happy with the season, and talked about evaluating, high expectations, and patience.

Twitter blew up. Oilers fans heard it all before during a decade of other hopeless seasons, but Nicholson emphasis on The Plan stuck out.

Nicholson’s interview preached patience and continuity. He said, “the fans will buy-in if they can understand the plan once we make those changes,” which sounded like a big deal. He’s one of the more influential voices in the Oilers organization and he’s on national television trying to tame an angry fan base. When someone that high up keeps referencing a plan, I listen. This is a team with the best player in the league. He’s only 21 and he’s already churning out MVP-caliber seasons like it’s nothing. You need some sort of plan with that player on your roster. But is this it?

The Oilers have followed Nicholson’s words that night. They made changes to the coaching staff, switching out all the assistants, kept Peter Chiarelli on as general manager despite numerous questionable trades and signings, and signed a few depth players. The key players on the roster are the same.

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The biggest improvement will come internally, whether that’s players rebounding from poor campaigns or young players asserting themselves at the NHL level. Cam Talbot’s 2017-18 season is clearly the outlier of his career. Fatigue could be a factor, but he hasn’t posted a season close to the .908 save percentage before last season, so he should be much closer to the .917 and .919 seasons he’s had as the Oilers’ starter. Jesse Puljujarvi is at an age where other European players have broken out as a top-six scorer. Kailer Yamamoto made the team last year and the Oilers are notoriously thin as his position.

This summer the Oilers added Tobias Rieder, Kyle Brodziak, Kevin Gravel, Mikko Koskinen, Jakub Jerabek, as well as Scottie Upshall and Jason Garrison on professional try-out contracts. Those additions don’t inspire the same confidence Nicholson had on that March night against the Rangers. With Andrej Sekera injured again, they’re relying on the same defence. Oscar Klefbom needs to return to form after shoulder surgery and Darnell Nurse has to sustain his play as a top-four defenceman all season.

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Is it enough?

The Plan is another bet on the Oilers being more like the 2016-17 Oilers than the 2017-18 Oilers and a combination of goaltending and special teams improving them in 2018-19. There’s merit to it, too. Talbot should be better than he was last season and whatever they were doing on the penalty kill should be exorcised by opening night. A player usually surprises and becomes a useful player, like Jujhar Khaira in 2017 and Matt Benning in 2016.

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Seven forwards dressed in that game seven against Anaheim in 2017 aren’t on the team anymore, including Jordan Eberle and Patrick Maroon. The defence is largely the same. Sekera was injured in game five and wouldn’t play again until December of next season.

The Oilers are relying on youth and a few depth moves to get them back in the playoffs. It lacks a sense of urgency when you wield a generational talent at the top of your roster, and doesn’t feel like enough was done for the second summer in a row.


      • Ben918

        They are not improved at all. We have arguably the worst blue line in the league and we are out functional players like Maroon who played top line minutes. The team being iced this year is worse on paper than the team last year and it continues to get worse every year since Chiarelli took over. Our scouting has been good and there is hope in the form of prospects that might be ready as early as next year but all of them are a few years from playing any significant amount of ice time.

          • When your top 4 scoring defensemen are ranked 69th, 92nd, 93rd, and 94th in league defensive scoring, that’s not a recipe for success, especially when a couple right-shot guys they traded are ranked before them (Petry and Schultz).

            5th in goals against per game
            5th in total goals against
            7th last in penalty kill percentage (albeit the 2nd half of the season they improved)

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    Honestly I don’t mind this and here’s why.

    OUR CORE IS YOUNG! McDavid, Draisitl, Nurse, Klefbom, Larsson, Bouchard, Puljujarvi, Yamamoto, are all young guys who will only get better with time. Anytime I see someone throwing out ludicrous suggestions about trades makes me shake my head, because in each of those scenarios, they’re trading away a piece of our core.

    Yes last season was disappointing, yes they’re hoping for internal growth, but what organization isn’t? I feel like there is a steady balance of veterans and youngsters on this roster, and that works to the benefit of our core. Eventually the other guys will move on, but for now, I’m happy with the way things are.

    I like what Chiarelli has done here, but even I’ll admit he’s on the hit seat. And kudos to him for not making a knee-jerk move. He could’ve easily traded a core player + the 10th pick for a player that can play right now. But he didn’t. He waited and was rewarded with Bouchard, a guy who will be that offensive defencemen we need. He could’ve done nothing for free agency, but instead brings in a few guys who will absolutely improve the PK, and bolster our lineup. And he could’ve done nothing after learning of Sekera’s injury, but what does he do? Signs 2 defencemen, one of which in on a PTO.

    All I’m saying is that it seems like Peter and Co. realized they can’t do what they did last season and are doing everything they can to fix those mistakes whilst keeping our core intact.

    • The way I see it is if we make the playoffs then Chiapete proves us all wrong and we enjoy great success. If we blow this year we fire him and bring in a competant GM and enjoy success with that.

    • Alexitoff

      Plan what plan. Chiarelli has re-shuffled the deck chairs. Just watch, they will gift ice time to veteran players who are struggling, lack real secondary scoring, and keep playing the backdrop goaltender. Ground Hog Day 2018.

      • Johnny Utah

        I mean, yeah, fair enough for this offseason. No major blunders, signed some complimentary pieces at good value or on short term deals, was patient at the draft.

        That said, Chiarelli handcuffed himself with prior moves, and the cap mess he created (which is ridiculous for a non-playoff team). Like saying an addict is getting clean simply because he doesn’t have enough cash for his next fix.

        Brutal GM whose errors have been masked somewhat by drafting McD. If we make the playoffs it’s because of him, and nothing to do with Chia.

    • reidgm

      Maybe I’m pessimistic but we’ve been done this path before. 2013-14, we had Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner, Schultz and Klefbom projected as the core. All under 25. The future was bright. And we had just drafted Yakapov , another first overall. And look what happened with that group.

    • MrBung

      How many “cores” have there been over the years? Problem is that lots if fans are in another phase of loser denial. This team is just not that good. McDavid is gone in two seasons.

  • Coilers

    Exactly Chia is the worst and the Oilers are garbage.
    The plan. Sign a bunch of useless UFA’s(Sekera,Lucic,Russel), get ride of all fast skating wingers(Hall, Eberle, Pouloit)and then rely on PTO(Upshall, Garrison)and cheap UFA’s that no other team wants(Gravel, Brodziack, Reider) overpay for a backup KHL goalie that couldn’t crack the NHL.
    What a garbage team. Stupid Oilersnation readers always making excuses why the team can’t win.
    Watch the Oilers watch a winner, yeah the other team is the winner.

  • lee

    The second Peter C signed McDavid and Dria the die was set and the Oilers had used all their available cap space.
    For everyone moaning about the wingers again look at the cap, from now on the Oilers have to move out money to bring anyone in.
    Add to that the no move deals Peter signed which now gets you RNH, Klefbom, Nurse or Dri as the only potential players that you can trade that will bring back quality players.
    So unless you are considering trading one of these players its time to stop moaning and hope the kids do much better than last season.

    Would like to know what the plan is ?

  • Serious Gord

    The Plan? It is like The Audit?

    If the plan is to stay the course – stick with the core group – how does one explain the wholesale change out of the assistant coaching staff? If the plan is to address the needs on the wing, on RHD, goalie backup and depth it’s either a pretty poor plan or it’s incomplete.

    No, I don’t think there is a plan. This team is about as directionless as it gets.

  • OilCan2

    I trust the plan. Let the best player in the world lead. Patience got us Bouchard who I think makes the roster and does a decent job on PP2 & RD3. Internal solutions abound; the young players are poised to improve and a gaggle of vets should be able to patch some gaps. Changes behind the bench are significant and should impact the PP and grooming young defenders.We also avoided costly UFAs and pulling the trigger on a high profile trade which would guarantee losing a good player and getting ? in return.

  • Spydyr

    Last summer many of us screamed and yelled that Chia had to do something to replace Sekera. Chia did not, This summer he said he learned his lesson. Now Sekera is lost again for an extended period. What does Chia do? Brings in a couple washed up at best third pairing defencemen. Please tell me something more is going to happen on September 1when Sekera cap can be written off or at least before the season stats. The “Oilers Braintrust” can not possible go into the season with the defence as it is, can they?

    • Hemmercules

      Haha. Easier said than done. What is chia going to do now? Free agents are gone. Trading any players of substance creates a hole somewhere else. No one is just going to hand a good dman to the oilers for nothing. That sekera injury was a dagger at a really bad time. Waiver pickup is the Only option left that doesn’t involve trading good draft picks or Nuge, JP or Klef.

        • Spydyr

          You do understand in a trade you have to give up something to get something?

          Some tough questions to ask are. After missing the playoff for decades and receiving high draft picks each season why are there so many holes to fill on the team. Why is the team ham-stringed when one defenceman goes down? Where is the depth? What is this plan they speak of?

          That is right the Katz era has been a $hit show.

          • Hemmercules

            Of course I understand that. Why do you always have to talk to people like you are the smartest guy in the room and everyone else is an idiot??

            With the current NHL players they have, losing one creates a big hole to fill another. I just think its a bad time to make a trade unless its picks and prospects going out and even then its thinning the team out again. This team isnt a contender this year, I think thats fairly obvious, so why make a knee jerk trade right before camp?

          • Hemmercules

            Obviously if there a trade out there that brings in a top 4 dman and costs you JP and a high draft pick or something like that then you do it. I dont think there is trade out there right now that actually improves the team a whole lot without taking a major gamble or creating a major hole on the roster. None of the wingers are really worth much to another team, they likely dont want to trade one of the top 3 centres and the defence is thin as it is. That leave prospects, picks and maybe goalies to trade. Something can still happen but the way it stands I think they are going the patient route this year and hoping Reggies career is over so they can direct that money elsewhere next summer or make a trade closer to the deadline.

          • Spydyr

            What is the use of a trade closer to the deadline if they are out of the playoffs by Halloween again? Going into yet another season with a glaring weakness and not addressing it is how you miss the playoffs decade after decade.

          • Spydyr

            “What is Chia going to do now?” Excuse. “Easier said than done.”Excuse. Then saying they cant make a trade because they will have to give up something. Excuse.

          • Hemmercules

            You only read what you want hear. Not making excuse for the team, just pointing out that the options are very limited at the moment. I stated that if there is a trade out there that helps the team then do it, but you didn’t read that part because out doesn’t fit your agenda. I would rather them keep Nuge than trade him away for a 3rd pairing dman. The team just doesn’t have the NHL assets right now to trade one away. As I said, if they can package something that doesn’t hurt the team then do it but don’t make a knee jerk trade and create more holes.

          • 2-4-6 Pack

            To Spydyr: So food for thought… Chia get fired, you are hired as the new gm. What options do you have to improve the team? The past is the past, and options moving forward are the same who ever is in charge.

          • Spydyr

            First thing refuse the job unless the entire old boys club is gone. Second since there is no salary cap on scouts I would spend Katz’s money and hire the best scouts from other teams based on their drafting records. Then I would hire coaches throughout the organization from top to bottom that are all on the same page and that is develop NHL talent. No more playing veterans over kids in the minors. Then I would acquire as many draft picks as possible and never trade the ones the team has. Then draft and develop from within. Building a team from goaltending to defence to centres to wingers.

            The thing is this should have been done decades ago. Now they have Connor and the time to win is now. So they are in the old Oiler trap of mortgaging the future to win now and keep their jobs.

          • 2-4-6 Pack

            I agree with you. But we both know those draft and develop ships have sailed. So what would you do with this group of players? I’m afraid Chia will lose a hockey trade and I’m also afraid we don’t have any real strengths to deal from. So I don’t think Hermmercules has a bunch of excused but he might be right. Chia did create this problem with bad trades and bad contracts, but how do we add to this group and not not weaken the current lineup or the one we see in the next few years? I’m not being pissy, its just an open conversation. The injury to Sekera came at a bad time and the fact that the Oilers will need to save some cap for when he returns also limits their options.

    • OriginalPouzar

      Sekera’s cap hit cannot be “written off”.

      September 1 is a meaningless date.

      The LTIR rules are very complicated and the ability to over the cap is dependent on when the player is placed on LTIR (off season vs. during season) and how close the team is to the cap at that point.

      Putting him on LTIR prior to the season starts (to get some LTIR cushion relief for day 1 of the season) would lead to much less cap space than putting him on LTIR on day 1 of the season.

      If you want an explanation on how it works, please let me know.

        • OriginalPouzar

          Yup, given his post, he clearly doesn’t understand the way it work (nor did I up and till recently – its very complicated). Before I wasted my time with a detailed explanation, I thought I’d ask if he was interested.

          Again, looking to see if you are adult enough to actually express what your issue is with me as opposed to just following me around the internet to try and deride me. I look forward to your thoughts.

          • Reg Dunlop

            If you think I ‘follow you’ anywhere you are as delusional as you are pretentious. As soon as the season starts and there is real Oiler news to discuss I will go back to skipping over your dross.

  • Frustrated Fan in Calgary

    Oilers had no choice but to stick with what they had and add a few lower cost hopefuls. Series of poor trades and signings had them boxed in a corner. When I heard about THE PLAN I could not imagine what it consisted of, because they were locked up against the cap for at least the next 2 years, and had some poor contracts that would be really tough to trade. Sad state of affairs. Lots of good work and good luck will be needed to get out of this situation and onto better footing.

  • GK1980

    I’ve spent some cash to watch the team in Sweden and I better see a change. I knew this is how the year would go. This team overall got 103 pts. A short two years ago. I’m betting on another 100+ season. The team has the parts they just need to put it together. Anyone else heading to Gothenburg?

  • Ted

    Well Talbot couldn’t be any worse than last year …. Could he?
    …. Alot of players know they could be better, let us hope they find there way, let us hope that this hockey towm returns to being a hockey town sooner than later!! BOOM

  • Danoilerfanincalgary

    Having NHL depth is important and the Oilers did what they could within their budget, I have no problem with any of the PTO’s or FA’s Chia signed. Any growth will have to come from within and I think these young men are hungry and motivated compared to last season when they were believing their own press clippings.
    I feel for the troll on this site the deep seeded hatred can’t be healthy.

  • Hockeytalkguy

    “It doesn’t look like enough was done.” Yea no kidding, but in all honesty what could Chia do. He gave out large sums of money to very average hockey players. I would have dusted him for that stupidity alone. I have absolutely no confidence in his bargaining & bartering abilities.

    • Intercourse the Penguins

      Chiarrelli must have had something to do with the resurgence of Boston after he left. Did he leave a core of a team that he is not getting credit for?

    • MrBung

      People keeping it real. Oilers made playoffs once in the last 12 season’s I believe. The worst team in NA pro sports over more than a decade. Yeah fans are pissed

  • LordVallko

    mortgage the future already, geez, sign Karlson, give up picks (that you suck at anyway) as many as they want, give them the new bouch kid and a minor guy like k lowes kid, haha, done.

  • Ben918

    The blog started good with the reiteration of Bob Nicholson being one of the large voices in the organization and arguably the reason Chiarelli is allowed to continue as GM. Both need to go and they need to go now before our 21 year old all star sits through more “rebuilding” years (I throw that in quotes as they traded almost everyone decent they acquired while rebuilding since the playoff run in 2007, only Nuge left).

    I see no reason to think the Oilers will do better this season on the backs of a sub par blue line and the hope that inexperienced players like Pulj, Yammamoto, Rattie… will some how come in and turn the team around. Right now the Oilers have some solid bottom 6 forwards and 3 top 6 forwards. Very functional lines 3 and 4 but no one to play with Draisaitl on line 2 and no one to play wing with Nuge and McDavid.

    Nicholson and Chiarelli need to go. This blog suggests that Oilers fans were upset when Nicholson preached patience and then ends by suggesting we keep on doing that.

  • SRELIOFAN

    Wow. If the comment section is this negative now before the season even starts, I don’t want to think what it will be like if the Oilers s**t the bed in the first quarter of the season. Hockey gods help us.

  • TKB2677

    For the record, I am not a Chia lover. I think he has made some bad decisions but I try to do is not overreact. I wasn’t happy with how last season went. As an Oilers fans, it was a kick to the nuts. I firmly believe that the issues last season should be shared equally by the GM, coaches and players. The GM made bets on guys, especially younger guys that flat out didn’t work. He expected some guys to take a step, they didn’t. That’s a bad read on his part. I don’t think the coaches, especially the assistants who were in charge of the special teams did a good job. Their PP and PK were at the bottom of the league, the PK setting records for being bad. They couldn’t figure out who the correct players were to use and a system that worked for who they had. When you have McDavid, your PP shouldn’t be deadlast. SO again, they weren’t figuring out how to properly use them. The players. There might be 2 or 3 guys that had a decent year, the rest had below average years, some career worst seasons. Even if the GM and coaches were perfect, you won’t win if almost your whole team plays like crap. There are a hell of a lot of guys on the Oilers who flat out better have taken a LONG look in the mirror this offseason.

    As I read through the comments below, I see a lot of people scoffing at “the plan” then complaining about not doing enough player wise, some even complaining they changed out the coaches. So last year, we were all pissed off. We all felt the roster wasn’t good enough BUT there was many of the fans who said that they can’t trade Nuge, Klefbom, JP, Yamo, the first, etc. The sentiment being, they need to keep all those guys because it was a bad year and they will bounce back or their value is too low because of the bad year. So my question is, how do you improve the roster without trading anyone remotely decent? What GM is going to give you a decent player and only wants any teams worst players or scraps?

    When it comes to free agency. It doesn’t matter who is the team, UFA’s ALWAYS get way too much money and too much term. I thought this years free agency class was terrible. Everyone thought Neal would be a good fit but the Oilers didn’t have cap space. In my opinion, while Neal has had good years, signing a going to be 31 yr old in 4 days to a 5 yr, 5.75 mill contract is completely stupid and would have been a mistake by the Oilers.

    So in my opinion, because SO many players had brutal years all at once and the huge majority of these guys are really young or barely entering their prime, trading guys away would have been foolish by the GM. The chances that most of these guys will have much better season is very likely so you would have immediately regretted any trade.

    Yes the Oilers have some cap issues but at the same time, even if they had more cap space, the free agent class was so poor, it would have been a waste and a mistake to go after anyone.

      • TKB2677

        I am not a Chia fan but I am also a rational person. What I don’t get is Oilers fans want/think changes to the roster are needed, yet don’t want to trade anyone. I see fans screaming for changes but then in the next sentence, list off all the guys they can’t trade. So something has to give. No team is going to give any team good players for scraps. The whole notion of not trading players when their value is low I find is a complete load of crap. Except in the odd very rare occasion, the only reason a team wants to get rid of a guy is when they aren’t performing. When they aren’t performing, their value goes down. It’s extremely rare you see a team have a player shoot the lights out in a career year and the team rush to trade him to get “max value”. If that happened, fans would freak out.

  • Kepler62c

    Hmm I disagree, I think they did do enough. PP and PK improving is basically a given at this point — new coaches, motivated players, near-bottom of the league PP and historically bad PK seem to be solid bets for at least average PK and PP next season (potential for better but they shouldn’t bank on that).

    Talbot rebounding is also a solid bet. His numbers have been referenced enough times and back up the plan here by management, namely, count on Talbot being a slightly above average #1.

    They’ve added some nice depth options at forward and D, and like you said, there are a number of players they are counting on bouncing back. Last year they counted on Caggiula, Slepy, and Strome turning into top 6 players… this year they are counting on players with a track record to either continue that or rebound to previous levels, i.e. McDavid, Nuge, Drai, Larsson, Nurse, and (to an extent) Strome to continue performing well in their roles and Klefbom, Lucic, Benning, Russell, and Kassian to bounce back either a lot or a little to previous levels (depending on the player). These are established players, not guys with no track record like Caggiula and Slepy.

    My question for you is: What would enough look like? If the answer is Justin Faulk, I’d agree that could be done, but GM’s can’t just add and not subtract very often.

    • IRONman

      Look. The nhl went to younger speeder players. Pc built a heavy team. Bizzare thing is oilers beat Vegas and can’t make playoffs. Coaching issues, consistently not playing with heart as a team. McDavid, Leon, Nuge any decent GM can build around. I just do not see the team making the play with the Roster now.

  • CMG30

    Enough was not done.

    Having said that I expect improvement this season for no other reason that both Talbot and special teams should be league average at minimum. But that’s not saying much. McDavid’s ELC has now expired and we have seen other franchises able to turn things around in 2-3 years when astute management is able to leverage key pieces into a solid team. This franchise has been gifted the best hockey player on the planet and somehow managed to turn his Art Ross season into missing the playoffs by a wide margin. How is this possible? Simple, complacency, arrogance and a deep lack of understanding about the kinds of players it takes to win in todays NHL.

    If this team doesn’t at least match the preformace of the 2016/17 edition and make it to the 2nd round then Chirelli should be fired on the spot. In fact, if this team is behind the 8 ball again come December, Chirelli should be flushed.