Three Preseason Questions: Nurse, Coaching, and Rookies on the Back End

With the boys back in town (THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN!) and training camp just around the corner, there are still a few questions rolling around in my brain box in regards to what’s happening with the Oilers and how things are going to shake out by the time the puck drops on October 6th.

At this point in the offseason, I will fully admit that I’m in total Kool-Aid mode. It’s that time of the summer when optimism is flowing, the excitement is building, and a fresh season is almost set to be taken out of its packaging. For hockey fans, this is the time of the year where possibilities seem endless and that’s a refreshing change from where we ended the year. Personally, as a lifelong Oilers fans, this is always one of my favourite times of year because we haven’t had our dreams crushed by a three-game losing streak or whatever stupid point in time that we’ll surely argue about in the coming months. Even so, there are still a few questions that come to mind with this year’s team, and it’ll be interesting to see how things play out in the coming days, weeks, and months.

1) When you gonna sign, Darryl?

One of the most obviously pressing bits of housekeeping that still needs to get done before the season starts is a new contract for Darnell Nurse. As we heard on Wednesday, Nurse won’t report to training camp, though he is already in Edmonton, until a new contract is signed and that’s not overly surprising given that the guy wouldn’t jeopardize his health without his name appearing on the dotted line. With that in mind, Nurse has already said he’s optimistic that a deal will get done before the season starts, but we’re getting into crunch time here and I’d like to see this get cleared up ASAP so that he doesn’t miss any time.

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While all indications (read: guesses) point to a two-year bridge deal or something in that general neighbourhood, nothing is locked in yet and training camp is only a few days away so it is a reason for concern, albeit minor concern. Adding even more pressure to the situation is the fact that Andrej Sekera is out indefinitely, so starting the year without Nurse locked in just can’t happen. What will be interesting is seeing who blinks first. Do the Oilers give Nurse more dollars or less term than they had hoped just to get things done before main camp starts? Does Nurse have to bring his price down? While those questions will surely get answers in the coming days, the Sekera wrinkle gives Nurse’s camp a little bit more leverage than they otherwise would have had and it will be interesting to see how the Oilers handle it.

2) How will the new coaches make their mark?

Jan 9, 2018; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Back in August, Glen Gulutzan talked about the Oilers changing up their style of play a little bit for the upcoming season, and I can’t wait to find out exactly what that means. In that interview, Gulutzan specifically mentioned that what happens at 5-on-5 will be getting an upgrade and I’m super excited to figure out what aspects of their game plan will get the tweaks. Gulutzan says he wants to “speed up our pace of play” by changing up the “transition, forecheck, and the way we defend” and I’m looking forward to seeing what gets implemented and how that works out. Personally, and obviously I’m just guessing here, I think that one of the bigger things they’ll look to do is getting guys to better support each other, specifically in the defensive zone. Short passes instead of the cross-ice guesses, ya know?

I don’t know how many times I yelled at my TV last season because of a cross-ice pass to nobody, but nothing will slow your progress down quite like an interception down Broadway. As for the special teams, your guess is as good as mine as to what changes because both PK and PP were absolute disasters at times, and I’m thinking any new game plan will likely be an upgrade for each. Overhaul or not, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the new coaching staff puts their stamp on this team and how a fresh perspective can help turn things around. With Viveiros being a power play guy and Trent Yawney taking over the PK, the specials teams could see some big changes this season, and on the bright side, there’s plenty of opportunity there for improvement.

3) Bear or Bouchard?

Mar 18, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan (24) skates with the puck as Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ethan Bear (74) defends during the second period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With Andrej Sekera on the shelf for the foreseeable future with a torn Achilles, I can’t help but feel like the plan is to have a rookie taking some of those at-bats whether they’re ready or not. Sure, the team brought in Jakub Jerabek on a one-year deal, Jason Garrison on a PTO and has Kevin Gravel looking for a chance to show what he can do, but I don’t necessarily see any of those guys being the top-four solutions that this team needs right now, though I’d love to be wrong. But don’t get it twisted, I’m not saying that Ethan Bear or Evan Bouchard would necessarily be better options to fill that slot, but I can’t help but feel like the team is going to roll the dice with one of those two guys anyway. Last year, Matt Benning was the guy that was thrown into the deep end before he was ready, and I think we’re going to see version 2.0 of this same plan in 2018-19.

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Obviously, Bear got his first taste of NHL action at the end of last season, and while it was great to see him up and scoring his first NHL goal, he had some mixed results which isn’t at all uncommon for a young player. If the plan is to have Bear starting the season with the Oilers, then we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that he’s going to struggle at times and make some costly mistakes — that’s part of the package for a rookie defenceman. Evan Bouchard hasn’t played a lick of professional hockey yet and we don’t know if he’s ready yet (or not ready for that matter), but that doesn’t mean that he won’t start the season with the Oilers if Bear doesn’t clearly outplay him at training camp. Seeing as both of those guys are offensive-minded, right-handed defenders and the Oilers don’t have anyone with similar skillsets ahead of them on the depth chart, it almost seems like a safe bet to assume that one of the two will make the opening night roster whether that’s right or wrong.

So what do you guys think? Do you have answers for my questions? Are you as confused as I am? What are questions still left unanswered in your minds? Let me know in the comments section.

  • Abagofpucks

    Bear makes the team ahead of Bouchard the jump from the OHL to the NHL for a dman is to great.
    Not a slam against evan but Bear is ahead of him in NHL development sorry.
    And look out for Jujhar i predict he takes another step and solidifies a spot as a regular in the top 9 book it.

    • Rich

      Neither of them should be in the NHL. It is NOT a development league especially when both the GM and the head coach jobs are on the line. The better move would be to pick one up off of the waiver wire right before the season starts when good players are waived.

  • Oilers2017

    Training camp opens and we have LOTS of competition for spots…Here’s hoping several players take this opportunity and run with it! That’s some damn fine Kool-aid BM!

    • Hemmercules

      It can’t be more than 5. As bad as the roster looks at times. I have my expectations nice and low, ready for the season to start. I personally think Calgary is going to totally roll the Oilers this year. I hope Im wrong but its hard to imagine the same roster being leaps and bounds better unless they play McD 30 minutes a night and he never gets injured. If Nurse misses a significant amount of time on a holdout they are in even worse shape. Capped out and a couple injuries away from an AHL defence is a scary place to be.

        • Freddie the fog

          You never know. I’m thinking their is a pretty motivated group playing this year. Everyone is saying how awful they are going to be. You’ll recall that really fired the Vegas players up last year. They set out from the get go to prove people wrong. Now pass the kool-Aid

  • Corbs

    If Bear makes the team, we should be prepared to finish in last place. He is terrible. As for Koskinen, who cares? He is a BACKUP! If Talbot gets hurt, the season is screwed. If Talbot sucks, the season is screwed. The backup will play 15 games maximum. Not enough impact as long as he isn’t as bad as LB was.

    • bradleypi

      Lol. Ethan bear was bleeding goals against last year when he was with the oil. -11 in 15 games I believe? I agree he is terrible. Oilersnation loves him because he’s native tho. And on the flopside, they hate Matt Benning who, in his 2nd year improved his points total over year 1 and was a plus player. Such a dysfunctional fan base. Especially on this site.

      • Jaxon

        In Bear’s defense, he was -10 in 4 rough games, which is par for a green rookie, so he was around -1 in the other 11 games, which on a team as bad as Edmonton was last year is actually okay. That said, I agree that he shouldn’t be anywhere near 2RD, but should be getting protected 3RD minutes with Russell as his LHD partner *if* he makes the team at all and outplays Bouchard and the left-handers (Jarabek, Gravel, Lagesson, Lowe, Stanton, Jones, Samorukov). As far as the 2RHD spot goes, I actually don’t mind Benning (his fancies and points production were pretty damn good), but a Cup contender needs an upgrade there (maybe Benning makes another leap forward this season).

        TOP 4:
        Klefbom / Larsson
        Nurse / Benning

        Bottom Pair:
        Russell / Bear, Bouchard
        Jarabek, Gravel, Lagesson, Lowe, Stanton, Jones, Samorukov / Russell

        7th D, Press Box, or even 8th D Options:
        Jarabek, Gravel, Lowe, Stanton

        I think the most likely scenario may be Jarabek / Russell especially at game #10 once Bouchard “has to be” sent down.

      • Jaxon

        I’m fairly certain that while Bear has some fans rooting for him as a representative of First Nations or Indigenous Peoples, there is probably just as many or more discriminating against him for being First Nations/Indigenous People.

        His play since being drafted stands on its own merits. He has exceeded expectations every year. Increased his production both WHL seasons and won WHL D of the year and went deep in the playoffs in his last WHL season and followed that with a good rookie AHL season where he got called up to the NHL for 18 games as a 20-year-old! I think most fans should love him without knowing his background. What’s not to love?!

        PS “native” is recognized as a derogatory term by many, so its use is not advisable if you don’t want to be perceived as being biased. I’m not saying you are or are not, but the perception can be there if you use that term.

        PPS He played 18 games, not 15, so he was -11 in 18 games. He was -10 in a tough 4 of those, so -1 in the other 14 games.

      • Jaxon

        PPPS Also, a lot of the blame for his minus rating and difficulties defending lays at the feet of the coaching staff and management. They had injuries so had to bring in a green 20-year-old and played him on the 2nd pairing with 16.24 5v5 minutes/game. No wonder he got caved a few games. But for 14 games he was only -1 playing 2nd pair minutes. That’s pretty damn good.

      • Jaxon

        “Bear has been improving with each passing contest since his call-up on Mar. 1 — he has two helpers in his last two games and continues to improve on his plus-minus. “A lot of young players come in early with energy and excitement and perform really well and it tends to fall off,” said McLellan. “He hasn’t shown signs of that. We’re going to play against our rival in Calgary, and we’ll see how he responds in that game.” The young blueliner has also seen his minutes increase with each passing game (17:37 on average).” https://www.cbssports.com/fantasy/hockey/news/oilers-ethan-bear-continues-to-improve/

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Just about every NHL exec says the league is getting younger and younger so it wouldn’t surprise me if Bear makes the team to start. Fans say “if Bear makes the team, it’s over before it starts” blah blah blah. Maybe he’s ready for a nhl gig but it better be as a bottom pair dman, don’t Jultz the kid. Bear as the #6 dman isn’t the worse thing in the world, then Gravel or Jerabek can slot in when needed.

    It is a make or break year for PC and TMac and I would prefer a top 4 dman to magically appear but I’d rather not see RNH, or Drai disappear for a top 4 dman.

    Just sign Nurse already, damn it!

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Said this earlier, Chia should have done Nurse’s contract befor he did Strome, Cagguila, Benning and Koskinen, a lot of over payments in the aforementioned four, money that could have been used to get Nurse done, not saying Chia had to open the vault but Chia backed himself in the corner overpaying the four and now he doesnt have much to work with to sign Nurse, and Nurse needs to get done with Sekera out.

    Brouchard or Bear, I will say Bear gets the nod. Both need some time to season in the AHL, Bear showed his potential but he needs to work on some thing in his end, but I liked what I saw while he was here, it’s nice to see there is the potential for a good defenseman if the Oil need a call up.

    The new coaching trio have their work cut out for them because the PP PK and zone defence were horrible last year and it cost us a lot of games. I still cant fathom why Schwartz is still the goalie coach, Schwarts had a nice career at the U of A but the Oilers plucked him from working with the Oil kings as their Goalie coach, and he was their permanent choice not intern after they fired Chabot. Sorry Scwartz should have went too or back to the Oil Kings, how many times last year did Talbot get beat because he was down to early, everyone knows to go high on Talbot, there were more goals like that going in then the first year Talbot was here, and it went on and on and on like that last year and no one seemed to work with Talbot on the issue.. like it was ignored. What’s the point of the goalie coach working with the Goalies if he doesn’t tell them your getting beat too often like that. If it was once in a while, okay that happens, but for as much as Talbot got dinged like that last year and they do nothing about it. TRhey need a proven NHL goaltending coach, Schwartz doesnt have the resume or the experience to know the need to adapt to issue quickly.

    As for the new coaches coming in I hope they are able to adjust thing from what they were last year because the Oil’s if it doesn’t work keep trying didn’t work at all last year and the failure to change it or the personal or just go back to the basics and the reluctance to do even that was astoundingly bad. Whether that was TM’s system or Woddcroft’s’ or Johnson. who knows but man there was no effort to change anything that wasn’t working. The oilers can not wait till the end of the season again to want to change things up, It isn’t too hard to see what other teams were doing to have success on their PK PP and in their zone. One of the things that drove me nuts was the constant take the puck skate behind the net and wait for well what seemed like an eternity. It just allowed the other team to set up and then grab the puck in the neutral zone or on the break in, and the Oil would get beat…. and this was happening over and over again. I get it if your trying to get a line change in or a breather, but employing the same strategy when it isn’t working is just futile, but yet no will to change it when it wasn’t working.

    Hopefully the new trio will be able to adjust things on the fly and not wait till the end of the season when it is too late

    • Kneedroptalbot

      An excellent post Mr Eakins Hair. I think both Bouchard and Bear still have quite a bit of work to do before they are ready.
      Good views and solutions.

  • Pikester

    I’m not looking forward to this season & getting tired of the traveling gong show known as the Oilers. I keep hearing about how important & pivotal this season is for the Oilers but Chiarelli has done little of consequence to dramatically improve the team to back up statements. Extremely unproven & suspect goal tending, a defensive depth chart that will surely rank in the bottom ten in the NHL,

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      The biggest problem I see is much like last season Chia is relying on “hope” that players will step up, last season hope didnt work out to well. This year is much like last, no real improvements that make you go wow, that improves things! Nurse not signed, overpayment to players on contracts when there was no one kicking the oilers door to say got have that guy ( strome, Cagguila, Benning and Koskinen ). Now the Oil are handcuffed and have no movement to go except for Sekera’s salary once he goes on LTIR.

      I would love to see the Oil do better in 2018 2019, but there is too many question marks going into the season. I dont see us even getting close to the playoffs much like last year unfortunately. Kassian was invisable last year and who knows if he is going to re-appear or be invisable like last year, which sucks because he did great that first year he was here. Lucic needs to prove he can still play the game, he was here last year but couldnt get a goal despite the effort, he cant afford to be invisible this year if he wants to stay or go, no one is going to take his contract and cap hit if he cant get anything done. Lots of holes, not much to fill them with. I hope to be wrong but this season may be like last and that could be tough to watch

      • Kneedroptalbot

        September and October are always exciting for hockey fans….Oilers do a great job of selling Hope.
        I agree with you, not any significant changes to the roster. Sure Hope it works out.

  • Pikester

    Not to mention hiring a coach who got the boot for getting little out of an arguably deeper, more veteran squad to the south. McDavid is awesome but last time I checked he doesn’t play goal & cant play 60 minutes a night. Come on Oil, get your $#*% together!!

    • OriginalPouzar

      What about hiring two of the most sough-after coaches out there – one an offensive innovator and the other known for developing many young d-men in to plus players in the league?

      What about the fact that the goalie is one season removed from Vezina trophy votes and the numbers show last year was the clear outlier?

      One can look for the negative as well as the positive. The choice is each posters’.

  • OilCan2

    The glass of Kool Aid is half full. Connor is 100% Drai is 100% Nuge is 100% Our first pair D is 100% Looch has something to prove and at 80% of his career average he’s a stud. Talbot KNOWS its put up or shut up. Nurse can sign for a few dollars less or sit. I think he may be a bit of a distraction because Katz likes him but honestly sit on your butt with no pay cheque and be prepared to take a bus out of town as soon as a trade happens. Bouchard IS IN. First he WILL earn it and second the OHL rule sucks so Bear will be in CA unless Nurse holds his breath.

  • Jaxon

    I read somewhere that the 2 sides on the Nurse negotiations have settled on a 2-year deal but are about $1M apart on the price. I’m guessing the Nurse camp is looking for a 2 year $4.167M deal, which I think is what he should be asking for. He was Edmonton’s best D last year, top 6 in 5v5 TOI in the NHL, top 21 in 5v5 points in the NHL. Only 23 years old, big, skates like the wind. A team leader who can be downright nasty when needed. Pay the man.

    • Redbird62

      There is either a problem with your source, or Nurse’s agent has a problem with math. Considering that the Oilers only have $3.978 million left in cap space, there is no point in asking for something the Oilers can’t give. And Nurse had the best season of any Oiler defense last year in large part because Sekera, Klefbom and Larsson were injured and/or played hurt plus Larsson had his father’s death. And Larsson was the Oilers best defenseman over the last 1/3 of the season once he was healthy. I like Nurse and he has great potential to be even better than what he has done so far, but the Oilers can’t give him a bridge deal that pays him as much as or more than Klefbom and Larrson who both had better seasons in 2016-17 than Nurse did last season. If the deal was long term, you could argue that Nurse gets more due to inflation and long term contracts pay for potential, like when Klefbom and Larsson signed their long term deals. Bridge deals are still prove what you can be and you will then get paid handsomely.