The Wishlist

If I bought everything my family wants or needs for Christmas, I’d be tapped out. If Edmonton Oilers’ coach Ken Hitchcock managed to get everything he wants and needs, GM Pete Chiarelli would be capped out. The problem is, Hitchcock’s boss is pretty much there already, so that’s simply not going to happen.

Sixteen games into his tenure behind the Oilers’ bench, Hitchcock pretty much laid out what his team is lacking in the wake of a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Rogers Place Saturday — shortcomings that only get magnified against a team as deep and as balanced as actual Stanley Cup contenders like the Lightning.

The Oilers have absolutely no scoring depth. Outside of captain Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and red-hot Alex Chiasson, who have combined for 64 goals, the Oilers don’t have enough scoring up front. The other 10 forwards on the roster have combined for 22 goals and, outside of Drake Caggiula, who has seven goals, nobody else has more than three.

Add that to a blueline group missing Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell, and there are some holes to fill. We’re 36 games into the season, and it’s a wonder that Hitchcock has squeezed a record of 9-5-2 out of the roster he’s got to work with in pushing the team to a mark of 18-15-3 going into the Christmas break. There’s a limit, though, to how much Hitchcock can coax from this bunch.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


Nov 27, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock watches a game against the Dallas Stars from the bench at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

“We’re just talking about that right now,” Hitchcock said when asked about his lack of scoring depth up front. “We’re leaning on people pretty heavy, and other people have to seize opportunities. You’re right. We’ve got to get more. That’s why I’m trying to do what I’m doing – trying to include more participants to try to get more people to try to help.

“Unless it changes, it’s looking a lot like, you know, we don’t have enough support for the major push up front with our group. We’ve got to find people that can give us that support because we’re going to end up running on fumes if we don’t . . . we’ve found some people who can help us, but we’re going to need more participants. More people helping us. Whether it’s here or in the AHL, whatever, we aren’t getting enough support players.” You can listen to Hitchcock’s entire post-game availability here.

Hitchcock singled out Jesse Puljujarvi, who played the first two periods Saturday alongside McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins, and Jujhar Khaira as players who have stepped up. After them, though, who else on the roster right now is there? Milan Lucic has one goal. Khaira, Ty Rattie, Zack Kassian and Ryan Spooner have two each. Kyle Brodziak and Puljujarvi have three each. Tobias Rieder and Valentin Zykov don’t have a goal. Anybody in Bakersfield who can make a significant difference here and now?

Puljujarvi started Saturday’s game by stealing a puck a puck and feeding it to Nugent-Hopkins, who got it to McDavid to put the Oilers ahead 1-0. His inability to handle a grenade of a pass from Darnell Nurse resulted in the 2-2 goal by Nikita Kucherov. Plays like that happen. The problem is that mistakes like that are daggers when you’re scrapping for every point like the Oilers are.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


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

Add the lack of depth up front to the injuries to Klefbom and Russell, and you get what we have here. The Oilers are leaning far too heavily on McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Chiasson to produce. They’re putting elevated minutes on Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson and they need productive, almost mistake-free hockey from still-developing players like Puljujarvi and Khaira, which simply isn’t a realistic expectation at this time.

While the Oilers are in the middle of the Western Conference playoff mix through 36 games, is it realistic to expect them to hang in there with so many non-producers on the third and fourth lines, Klefbom still a month or so away and players being forced into the line-up higher than they should be? I think not. When a coach as seasoned as Hitchcock says the team will be running on fumes if something doesn’t change, it’s probably a good idea to listen.

The problem is, while Chiarelli can’t be the only person on the planet who doesn’t know what the Oilers need, what Hitchcock’s wish-list is, he’s pretty much maxed-out his cap credit card already building the team we have now. Unless Lucic and several others wake up to new pairs of hands under the tree Tuesday, the GM will have to spend far more wisely in the New Year than he has in the past to give his coach any chance to stay in contention.

Merry Christmas.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • Lausbube

    Great article, the situation reminds of that saying…you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. And right now we have an abundance of sow’s ears. We don’t have any cap space and Chia can’t make a trade that he can win unless he trades one of the players that we really can’t/shouldn’t trade. Chia really painted himself into a very tight corner…

  • Leo Tard

    Sort of a sad place to be, but it’s where this team is….it would take a miracle trade/s in order to establish cap space. Stuck between a rock and a hard place….and the void is taking on water with not enough players to bail it out. I sincerely hope they don’t drown. All we can do is cheer them on. Merry Christmas. Go Oilers.

    • IRONman

      It will take 2 more season to repair the roster. Lucic has to go. New Nhl is speed. The refs break up fights b4 they start. Goons are gone. Finishing checks on a team like Tampa is pointless. Tampa moves the puck Soo fast why bother hitting. Finesse league now. I am grateful for 97,93,29, for they are all stars

      • BringitbacklikeSlats

        Finishing checks is…Pointless??
        Dude you have never played contact hockey in your life, am I right? Even Beer Leaguers like me that now play non contact hockey, but still absorb occasional incidental contact and engage in puck battles in the corners, immediately feel the physical toll.

        Sorry but you just have absolutely no idea what you’re speaking to.
        I’d argue that because the game is faster than ever, you need players that can not only skate but also punish oppents physically so that they’re less able to inflict damage to you on the scoreboard

        • IRONman

          Ask lindros and Clark how punishing the body works. Bye bye career. Fighting and hitting is being removed. Wake up. European style hockey now. Think about beer leaguer, if the puck is passed why hit the guy??? Lucic and Kassian are trying. Finesse league. Heavy hockey bye bye

      • BobbyCanuck

        You should have watched the Tampa vs Washington Eastern Conference Final last year, a lot of check finishing in that one by Washington, and take a wild guess who won the series.

        I agree with your 2 more seasons, I cannot see Chia being able to do anything, with the position which he put the Oilers in vis v vis the Salary Cap.

        This season’s death spiral will start in January, and continue to a lotto pick, sad but true, but that is what happens to teams without secondary scoring, depth, and a poor PP. Games get incrementally harder to win as the season goes on

  • Arfguy

    I hate to say it, based on some efforts put in by players I am about to mention, but maybe it’s time to sit players like Milan Lucic and Zack Kassian. They are not contributing offence to a team badly in need of some.

    It is time to give more chances to someone like Valentin Zykov. I don’t know how effective he will be, but he can’t be worse than what we have so far.

    • Arfguy

      Also…completely unrelated: I went to TSN.ca/NHL and the top story is how excited new call up Trevor Moore is to be playing in the NHL, taking precedence over the story of Erik Karlsson being suspended 2 games.

      I hate Toronto media!

  • McNuge

    I’ve always been a fan of Nurse in junior and how he has progressed at the NHL level. Bug something has changed since the hold out on a contract. Seems like he’s playing more for himself than the captain of the Soo. Not sure on particulars but with the hold out, being thrust into a top pairing role last year ;due to injury, more and more I see a person trying to play for a contract instead of for his team. I have a Nurse Jersey and quickly I’m becoming more a detractor. It maybe time to throw Darnell in as part of a deal to bring in a legit top 2 defenceman like petrangelo if it’s workable, before his stock plummets like his play has been indicative of likely happening.

    • Arfguy

      Not going to trash this, but I do not agree. I think Nurse is a keeper. Already he has done more offensively than Klefbom. I realize he’s made some mistakes in his play, but this is a man with high offensive potential. I want Nurse to remain an Oiler.

      • BobbyCanuck

        By holding out Nurse to me has proven that he is all about the paycheque, nothing wrong with that, I am also all about the paycheque.

        He will want max$$ after his bridge deal is over, and we cannot pay that

        • Arfguy

          Maybe…but you don’t deal him now. Especially when we don’t know where this team will be when the season ends. He’s on a 2-year deal…let’s see if the need arises the next year.

  • juno

    The depth issue goes back to the decision to hire Chia. We were in the DOD and Chia at the time was thought to be better than MacT and would help the Oilers. I understood the move and the move to hire TMac who is a good coach. Desperate times. 4 years later this organization still operates in the thought process of desperate times. We make decisions that a losing franchise makes, NM contracts, desperate free agent signings, desperate college signings and thoughtless quick trades. Hitchcock was the first deal they have made that suggests that is turning around. The problem when you bring in excellence such as Hitch all of the other areas that aren’t excellent such as; depth, drafting, asset management and trades. Maybe this was an accident in bringing in Hitch because a great coach can’t coach below average to wins. The owner and his puppet Nicholson may have to decide that it maybe time to surround Hitch with a great GM and great scouts which may help get us great players and in turn create wins. Sadly, right now Hitch is a diamond in field of sh%t.

  • ed from edmonton

    Reason for hope in the post Christmas season? Well if the Oil can stay in touch over the next 3/4 weeks when they see should have $14M of Dmen on the lineup, they may have a shot at the playoffs. One thing we have learned in the last 18 months is how important Sekera was to the 16/17 success. A D of Klef/Larsen, Nurse/Jones (yes Jones), Sekera (16/17 version)/Russel with Benning and Gravel as depth guys.
    Secondary secondary scoring is another issue. Maybe with improved D and Koskinnen continuing to give outstanding goal tending they might squeak into a playoff spot

    • juno

      I agree especially regarding Jones.

      As much as I agree about Bouchard getting sent down, there was always 2 questions I had about him; should he have stayed with the team because he was better than the other d-men? Was he better because we don’t have legitimate defencemen on our team?

  • ed from edmonton

    Brownlee I disagree on the pass to Poo Party being a grenade. I agree with Mat Kassian on the 1260 post game that put 90 per cent on Poo and 10 on Nurse

  • Jerri Kurli

    Throughout his career I’ve been a huge Lucic fan. I have defended him time after time, but I finally have to admit that he is a serious cancer on this team due to his contract. I don’t think there is a better fourth liner in the game right now than Looch, but he is just that……. a fourth line banger, with heart, some skill and lots of physical attribute. His cap hit is about 4-4.5 million over what it should be. We desperately need to trade Lucic and his toxic contract. It is crippling this team in so many ways.

  • The Puck

    When it comes to scoring, the Oilers don’t have a personnel problem so much as they have an attacking problem. As much as I respect Hitch and his approach to almost everything, the dump and chase system is not creating quality scoring opportunities. The best teams keep the puck when they get it and focus on setting up shots from the slot. Let’s look at the system, before we condemn the players.

    • BobbyCanuck

      The best team also have players that like shooting the puck, most of our players have shown a strong preference to pass, including the best player on the planet

  • Ratt McNuge

    Playoffs or not, fire Chiarelli. We shouldn’t have to hope and pray the Oilers can somehow squeak themselves into the playoffs when we have the best player in the game on the roster. Playoffs should be a given. Chiarelli mismanaged his assets. We had some great chips to bargain with (Hall, Eberle) but he squandered them both. If you can’t get a fair deal, keep the players. Hall’s 6 mill per would look a lot better on the Oilers than Lucic’s right now. Chiarelli was gifted a team with a generational talent and shot himself in the foot with it. The trouble is, any new Gm’s hands would be tied by what Chia has left us with, but I sure don’t want to see Chiarelli try and dig us out. Drai or Nuge are going to have to be dangled, I’m afraid, in order to plug some holes. Chia should not be allowed anywhere near a trade of this magnitude. Fire him. Now.

    • Arfguy

      I think with small deals and moves, Chiarelli has done well. The big stuff? He has failed miserably.

      You’re 100% right. McDavid should have been surrounded by much better calibre of players by now…not what we have. Chiarelli is entirely responsible and should lose his job.