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Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Help Wanted…

The Edmonton Oilers got a point that they wouldn’t have got on a lot of nights in recent seasons with Thursday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets. That’s a big positive, but it’s going to take more than having Ken Hitchcock behind the bench for them to get many more like that unless they get some help on the blueline.

The Oilers are on an 8-2-2 stretch with Hitchcock. They appear to be tighter and more cohesive than they’ve been in a long time, as they showed again by coming back from a 3-1 deficit to take a 4-3 lead against the Jets. All good. That said, I’m not convinced they can ride the positives of Hitch Hockey for however long Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell are out with injuries without doing something about their defence.

No matter what else they do right, I can’t see the Oilers sustaining the bump they’ve had by playing the wheels off Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson and hoping that some combination of Kevin Gravel, Chris Wideman, Jason Garrison and Matt Benning can get the job done behind them. The Jets absolutely swamped them in the final 20 minutes Thursday – shot attempts were 41-5 for the Jets — and the Philadelphia Flyers come calling at Rogers Place tonight.

With Klefbom and Russell out, everybody is playing elevated minutes. Nurse logged 31:04 and Larsson played 28:45 against the Jets. How long can they sustain that? The bigger problem from where I sit is having Gravel playing 20:38 and Benning on the ice for 18:05. That’s way above the career averages for both. They didn’t lean on Wideman (11:07) and Garrison (8:59) that much but the bottom line is this group isn’t good enough over a prolonged stretch of games. What to do?

THE DEEP END

The Oilers have already recalled 21-year-old Caleb Jones from Bakersfield and he’ll play against the Flyers tonight alongside Gravel. Jones is a great skater and has been terrific in the AHL, but how much can you reasonably expect him to add to the mix at this point? We’ll see soon enough. I imagine Hitchcock will protect Jones as much as he can, but there’s not a whole lot of cover behind Nurse and Larsson. Wideman is out tonight.

Making any moves beyond looking within, as in a trade or free agent pick-up, will depend how long Klefbom and Russell are out. Yes, Winnipeg has a terrific group of forwards and can make a lot of bluelines look ordinary, but what we saw late against the Jets was less-than-ordinary. It’s going to take a helluva lot of scoring or miraculous goaltending to make up for that. Possible? Sure. Likely with a month or more of what’s here now? No.

“We’re lucky we’ve got NHL players,” Hitchcock said. “But, when you have to play outside your comfort zone or outside your limits minutes-wise, that’s when things get troubling and that’s what happened tonight. We had people who played more minutes and in more situations than they’d played with. We had guys killing penalties who haven’t killed penalties all year. Those are adjustments we’re going to have to make moving forward.

“We’re going to be in this situation for a little while. We’ve just got to find ways. Our hope is that Caleb can come in in the next game or two and help us. We’ll see what he’s got and absorb some minutes, but we’ve got people right now that are going to have to learn to play outside their comfort zone and that’s going to be a challenge. There’s going to be times when everybody’s going to be disappointed.

“Slotting players, especially on the back end, allows you to maintain a certain competitive level, but when you get slotted too high up the ladder, you get tired and you get tired mistakes and pucks come back at you, which is what happened in the third.” Hitchcock’s entire post-game interview is here.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Getting nine out of 10 points in their last five games is nothing to sneeze at. The Oilers are right in the middle of the playoff mix in the Western Conference as they face the Flyers. The thing is, though, the Oilers put together a run under Todd McLellan before things went south. Having that happen again and undoing all the gains made since then because the blueline isn’t good enough as we move toward the halfway mark of the season looks like a possibility to me.

Maybe the Oilers get the best possible news about Klefbom and Russell. Maybe, in the short term, Mikko Koskinen and Cam Talbot can get the Oilers through this stretch. Maybe Nurse and Larsson can carry this much ice time. Maybe Gravel and Benning don’t look as overwhelmed as they did in Winnipeg. Maybe the Oilers can win games 5-4. Maybe not.

I’m not saying GM Peter Chiarelli needs to be kicking tires on Colton Parayko – although I must admit I’d like to know what that ask would be – but I’d rather not have a playoff push hinging on so many maybes. The way I see it, the Oilers need another proven D-man to get them to the New Year and beyond. That’s probably a conversation that Hitchcock and Chiarelli should have, assuming they haven’t done so already.

Previously by Robin Brownlee



  • Kepler62c

    While I’d love to add Parayko – how do we do that while staying cap compliant? I don’t see it without a big salary going the other way, and that just doesn’t seem feasible either. It can’t be a Dman – and the only forwards with big enough salaries are untouchables (to me) – McDavid, Drai, Nuge, Lucic (NMC).

        • Glencontrolurstik

          Parako, Muzzin, Pesce, Faulk?, Martinez, Boumiester, Ceci, Del Zotto, Petrovic, Manning, Edler?….
          These (were) all coming up UFA after this season. I’m not sure if any have re-signed or what.
          I’d be more inclined to talk to our scouts & see what they can come up with for a draft pick or something?
          I wouldn’t want to give an asset for a relief d-man. If we could maybe hire an unemployed vet for a couple of months? What’s Kevin Lowe up to? Oh ya, I forgot?

        • Joy S. Lee

          No screaming necessary, it’s probably 80-20 right now that his current trajectory will turn out better for Bouchard’s development. The bump in his confidence and ability to dominate against world’s best young tier at WJC alone could be irreplaceable in those terms. Getting crushed – at times, as all rookies will – by the world’s best can wait until next year. He’ll be better prepared in every way.

        • Chopwoodcarrywater

          I still stand by the choice to send him down. It’s not like when Chiarelli and management thought “we gotta keep him up, because 2 important guys on D are gonna get injured mid season). Injuries happen. He’s doing well right now, and will be tearing up the WJC.

      • BringitbacklikeSlats

        Good Article RB. For all those Kris Russel haters here and abroad, all of a sudden he doesn’t seem to be hurting us… until suddenly he’s not there.

        To you point on Parayko. I might argue that we do need him. If not to stay in the playoff picture through these injuries, then definitely to accomplish anything at all when they get there. I’m not saying he’s the only one or the best option but I am wondering how good a pairing him and Nurse would be when Darnell realizes full potential.
        This isn’t going to be popular but I wonder if they would take Klefbom and a 3rd rounder for him? We can afford to give him up as I don’t believe he’s going to ever be a legit offensive threat, and his decision making without the puck is highly suspect. We have enough left handed D that he’s the piece I’d absolutely be looking to move.

        • Joy S. Lee

          No knock on Russell, I realize he’s a good NHL defenseman, but the reason we’ll notice it is because we don’t have the depth… yet… to field a solid unit despite multiple injuries. Caleb Jones could surprise, though, and that may be the real kicker in all of this… if Jones can play even sheltered minutes at this level, then we do have some depth! We’ll soon find out, but I believe he can morph into a top 4 for sure, and a good one, at that. So, I’m not as panicked at this point as some others, lol.

    • Beer

      I got some “If’s” for ya; Benning(1.9), and if Sykera misses another 11 games(1/2 of 5.5). That leaves having to come up with another 850k in cap. Nothing to it. Just gotta click our heels 3 times. lol

  • Shane

    The defence didn’t look horrible last night. To my eyes it was the wingers not supporting them when it came to breakouts that caused all the chaos in the 3rd period. The defence would break up the play, but then they were forces to bounce it off the boards or flip it up the ice because the wingers were to far away to pass to.

  • Oil9744

    Parayko is gonna cost to much cause you know that they would want at least Nuge coming back and Edmonton is in no shape up front to do that. I think a middle pair Dman who could possibly slot in top line sometimes should be the target. Picks and prospects should be traded to help the blue line for sure. Someone like Pesce, Faulk, or Muzzin would be a huge help.

  • Prairiechicken

    Could we get Davidson back from Chicago for a late round pick? Nothing flashy but we know we’d get steady, ok minutes. If not him … a transaction like that would be ideal.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I don’t think he’d come back here after we played around wih his career like we did? Would you come back?
      We kept talking about Faulk a few months ago, as he seemed to be the “favour of the day?” Why not him? Did he re-new his contract with the Canes?

  • BringitbacklikeSlats

    Even with our blue line healthy, the team isn’t good enough to do anything if they make the playoffs. They’ll get bounced hard in the 1st or second rnd. Not that I’m saying they’ll even get there.
    Improve the Blueline now Chiarelli… it’s your last chance to do anything before …well let’s be honest. Before your time is up here.

    • Randomfan

      Oilers are not going to contend this year anyways. PC will only be allowed to make small moves just to make the playoffs. We are still couple of good wingers and a top D away from contending. The new GM next year (or if PC survives) will have to make those moves to be able to contend.

      • Stallions #35

        Bobby also went and announce that Pete is safe if the Oilers make the playoffs…WTF?? lol… wait, unless its that false sense of hope game these Execs play …then it would make sense.

  • Aquavid

    What about trading for Bouwmeester as a stop gap measure? He’s soon to be UFA and Hitch is familiar with him. Of course, St. Louis would have to retain salary to make it work. Talbot and a pick for Bouwmeester and Chad Johnson with retention to make the salary work.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Pumping Up the Tires? Hmmm
    Mikko Kostkinen 2.20 GAA (NHL 3rd best), 0.927 SV% (NHL 6th best)
    Cam Talbot 3.22 GAA (NHL 50th best), 0.894 SV% (NHL 50th best)
    * NHL.com (min 6 games played)

  • Abagofpucks

    Even tho we have the lead the team looks very sluggish and there timing seems way off. A lot of puck bobbling and reaching for pucks instead off skating to coral pucks.

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Chiarelli’s done such a bad job with the Oilers this year, too.

      Case in point, if they win tonight the difference between being in 1st place in the Pacific and where they they’d be with a win is the single game they dropped earlier in Calgary when they were up 2-0 had multiple blown breakaways and blew the lead.

      Clearly Chiarelli’s been the problem all along.

        • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          I’m not big on blame or looking backwards but clearly the roster isn’t the problem under the current operation of the team. They’re 8-1-1 in their last ten games, top in the Western Conf and 2nd over all.

          That’s not because of a roster fix, it’s because of a coaching fix. Everything but the 1st line has been tweaked to the point of success.

  • Dark Knight Returns

    Not to cause controversy but strictly statistically and mathematically speaking: if Talbot was un net…. we’d be 3-3 with 3 minutes to go on the game.
    #KossTime #TalbotDone

  • Chopwoodcarrywater

    I’d love to get Parayko. That would be a dream. However they’ll want Bouchard in return for sure. Bouchard has the potential to be better than him. Maybe if it was Paryako for Larsson, but I love Larsson too much. I was thinking more of a short term but also effective guy. Mike Gre- whoops he’s injured too.

    • BobbyCanuck

      Ok, so that would make it Hall for Paryako, would that be less enraging than Hall for Larsson, I for one thing Hall for Larsson was as good as we were going to get, and lets not start with that ‘most Gm’s did not know Hall was available’, because that line is utter BS

  • ed from edmonton

    There has been a lot of talk about the lack of wingers with the Oil. I have been more concerned about lack of D depth. We will find out if my concerns have been justified. I think we know guys like Garrison and Wideman should only be used sparingly. Gravel has probably been better than expected. The Oil need Jones (or maybe Bear/Lagesson) to be able to play solids minutes t get through this.