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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Thoughts on Hitchcock hire and the Wideman trade?

It’s been another eventful week at the Nation and there is a lot to talk about. In this week’s mailbag, you asked the panel for thoughts on the Hitchcock hiring, Wideman trade, line combinations, and a whole lot more. If you have a question for next week, and I’m always looking for some, you can always email me or hit me up on Twitter. From there I will slot you in as quickly as possible. Until then, enjoy the free learning.

Nov 20, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock looks on from the bench before a game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

1) Heith asks – What were your first thoughts when you saw the news that Ken Hitchcock would be replacing Todd McLellan behind the bench?

Robin Brownlee:

I was surprised by the timing, that it would be done at the start of the road trip, and that it was Hitchcock. I thought Ken might finally be willing to ride off into the sunset and relax, but I should have known better. Almost unheard of to get a coach of this caliber on a short contract for the rest of the season but the circumstances fit for both sides.

Jason Gregor:

I didn’t think Hitchcock would be the replacement, but him only getting a one-year deal illustrates Chiarelli is on the hot seat. A new coach isn’t going to suddenly make the Oilers better, however, the same warts will still be there.

Matt Henderson:

“Thank God” then “Chia’s toast after this season.”

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I was shocked. I didn’t think Todd deserved to be fired yet and the timing was odd as well. I was thinking he could get the California road trip and then the organization would make a decision. The fact that they brought him all the way to San Jose and made the move on a game day was curious as well.

Christian Pagnani:

Had to triple check to see if it was a fake Darren Dreger Twitter account. Once I confirmed it wasn’t, I was very surprised it was Ken Hitchcock replacing Todd McLellan. I thought they might fire McLellan, but I don’t think anyone had Hitchcock replacing him.

Chris the Intern:

I was pretty shocked. He wasn’t even on my radar for replacement coaches. With that said I was a little confused with the decision because Hitch’s prime was a decade ago. BUT Hitch is a very decorated coach so I’m always willing to give him a shot.

Baggedmilk:

I was pretty surprised, to be honest. It wasn’t that Todd McLellan getting fired was all that surprising but having Ken Hitchcock come in as his replacement was completely out of the blue. Though, given his roots to the city and connection to the brass in place, maybe it shouldn’t have been.

Nov 20, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock yells in a game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

2) Erin asks – Since virtually no one had Ken Hitchcock on their radar to replace Todd McLellan, do you think he is the right fit for the Oilers?

Robin Brownlee:

Yes. There are no mixed messages with Hitchcock. He is relentless in his expectations, which can be a grind on players, but he brings proven structure and unquestionable results. He knows how to teach. This group needs what he brings.

Jason Gregor:

In the sense he is a new voice, and an experienced one, yes. But I think too much is made over who is the head coach. It isn’t like he is going to implement a major new system. He will likely connect with players in a different way and it might give some a boost. I was surprised how many felt McLellan was the one holding the Oilers back.

Matt Henderson:

He’s the right fit in the sense that he’s a quality short term option and nobody has to commit longer than April. The next GM can hire his own coach afterwards.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

Right now, I think he’s a good fit. If he comes in and helps the team get to the playoffs, then Peter Chiarelli’s job is safe and they can re-visit the coaching situation. If they miss the playoffs, then the organization can simply let go of Hitchcock, fire Chiarelli and start fresh in the summer. It’s a band-aid fix in my opinion, but I think it was a smart play.

Christian Pagnani:

Yeah. He’s a good short-term coach so the Oilers can reassess at the end of the season and likely change general managers too.

Chris the Intern:

I think time will tell. We have a younger group so I can’t see millennials responding well to an old man screaming at them. However, maybe the boys need a swift kick in the ass to get them going so it might work out for the best. Hitch also has a good record for making bad teams good again, so I’m totally willing to see where this goes.

Baggedmilk:

From what I’ve read and seen so far, Hitchcock could be the perfect fit for the short term. You ever see Pulp Fiction? Hiring Hitchcock reminds me of bringing in The Wolf. He’s the kind of coach that is very demanding with defined expectations, and maybe that’s exactly what they need right now. Frankly, I’m just happy they didn’t bump Gulutzan up to the HC spot and be done with it.

Nov 4, 2018; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Wideman (6) skates with the puck in the first period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

3) Levy asks – Peter Chiarelli has been active over the last week or so and I’m wondering what everyone is thinking about the Chris Wideman trade with Ottawa?

Robin Brownlee:

Depth move. Nothing more.

Jason Gregor:

Low risk and didn’t cost much. Is good offensively and average in his own zone, which doesn’t help the Oilers much, as they already struggle defensively. Gives them some depth on the right side.

Matt Henderson:

I like the Wideman deal overall. He was getting hammered by PDO but should recover, he’s cheap, and he cost almost nothing.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I like the move. It’s low-risk but he has a history of being a decent second powerplay option and he moves the puck well. Those are two things this team really needs right now. Worst case scenario is that this is a message to Matt Benning that his spot in the lineup isn’t set in stone and he needs to be better. Low risk, high reward moves have worked out for Chiarelli in the past, so I’m optimistic about this transaction.

Christian Pagnani:

I like Chris Wideman. I’m a big believer in acquiring and taking chances on skilled players and Wideman fits the bill. He can skate and move the puck, but hasn’t played a lot. None of the Oilers defencemen can move the puck well, even Peter Chiarelli agrees, and Wideman might help if he can play third-pairing minutes.

Chris the Intern:

I’m pretty happy with the move, especially for a 6th round pick. Chia’s always been good at making minor deals, it’s just the big ones he’s bad at. Wideman will provide some good competition for our bottom pairing defencemen.

Baggedmilk:

I don’t really know much about Wideman but his fancies are certainly interesting to me. This year, he’s getting dummied by PDO but he’s had a track record of being a very effective puck mover so far. Not to mention, Chiarelli only gave up a sixth round pick to get him so the cost to acquire him was very low so there’s very little risk here. I like it. We’ll see how it plays out.

Apr 7, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a first period goal by forward Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

4) Shaun asks – I’ve seen a few suggestions that Nuge and Leon should be tried on the 2nd line since Connor will produce with almost anyone. With 2 quick, straight line wingers to drive the net and knock pucks loose along the boards, I see that working well. Rattie/Caggiula/Spooner/Chiasson are all guys that could work (or have already). Nuge and Leon should be a threat together but I don’t recall them playing together previously which seems odd.

Do you think Hitchcock will try this combo if things aren’t working? Do you think he should?

Robin Brownlee:

The thing with Hitchcock is he believes his best players should be on the ice as much as possible. You’ll see different combinations because he will double-shift McDavid when he can — he’s already been doing that. I prefer RNH with McDavid, but I don’t know how Hitchcock feels about that over the long term.

Jason Gregor:

No I don’t think he will and I wouldn’t use it either. McDavid is great, but he still needs someone on his line who thinks the game like him and can complement him.

Matt Henderson:

Nope. Yes.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think Nuge and Leon could work really well together but I’m not sure how Connor McDavid would feel if they stuck him on a line without one of Nugent-Hopkins or Draisaitl. Things are going well right now with their current line combinations, so I don’t see why Hitchcock would change things up, but if they start to slip, I wouldn’t mind seeing 93 and 29 get a look together. If that does happen, I think Ryan Spooner and Ty Rattie would be good fits with McDavid. There’s chemistry between McDavid and Rattie and Spooner moves really well, he might work next to McDavid.

Christian Pagnani:

I’ve advocated that in another article. They haven’t played much together, but we know McDavid can score with just about anyone flanking him. Draisaitl and RNH haven’t had success with the remaining wingers on the team on the second line. Why not put them together away from McDavid? McDavid’s line isn’t the problem. It’s what they’re giving up when McDavid’s on the bench. I hope Hitchcock tries it. McDavid-Draisaitl will score, but will lines 2-4 stay afloat?

Chris the Intern:

Yeah, you’re right, I’m not sure why we’ve never really seen Nuge & Drai play together. However, if I’m Connor McDavid, I would be pissed if I had to play with Drake Caggiula and Ty Rattie all the time. The offence would still be good, but not as good as it would be if he plays with Drai or Nuge. It’s a good possibility that we see Hitch try that combo though.

Baggedmilk:

I would love to see Nuge and Draisaitl together. I’ve been tweeting about it and saying it on podcasts for a while now, but I’m not sure that it will happen unless Hitchcock can turn Jesse Puljujarvi into a top-six player that can work beside Connor McDavid.

EDMONTON, CAN – NOVEMBER 22: Left wing Ryan Smyth #94 of the Edmonton Oilers attempts to score against goalie Jose Theodore #60 of the Montreal Canadiens during the Molson Canadien Heritage Classic on November 22, 2003 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Canada. An NHL-record crowd of 57,167 braved temperatures hitting -20 Celsius at game time to watch the Canadiens edge the Oilers 4-3. Photo by Jeff Vinnick

5) James E. asks – I was at the Heritage Classic in 2003 and I was curious to know what memories the writers have of the event 15 years later?

Robin Brownlee:

Great spectacle. Long day. A lot of writing. Cold. My most enduring memory is of the great Red Fisher with that bottle of Chivas plunked down beside his laptop in a press box full of all the top writers from right across the country. We had a ton of fun that day. There was so much interest then, and it was so new, before the NHL turned outdoor games into the regularly occurring event they’ve become.

Jason Gregor:

It was a great day despite the cold. I was covering the game, but sat outside to get the full experience. I was lucky though, because I was able to go inside and warm up between the games. I remember how excited the players were to play. It was like they were kids again, playing outside, and they loved it. I think most fans connected to that feeling as well, and it is why the outdoor game has become such a big hit in every city that hosts it.

Matt Henderson:

I remember all the old Oilers trying to get 99 the puck constantly and the real team losing to Montreal while their goalie had a toque glued to his helmet.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I was six years old, so I don’t really remember. I watched the game on TV, but couldn’t tell you anything about what happened. I’m probably going to get roasted in the comments for this, but whatever.

Christian Pagnani:

I was 10 years old so I have no memory of it.

Chris the Intern:

I remember being 10 years old and just learning my fandom for the Oilers (maybe, I really can’t remember).

Baggedmilk:

I wish I had better memories than just watching it on TV but I don’t. I remember being frustrated by not being able to see the puck on TV, but also being super excited about the spectacle of it all.

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