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Is Anybody Out There?

The power of music is amazing. Certain songs instantly bring a smile to your face, while others hit you right in the feels as you remember a loved one or a broken relationship. Whenever I hear Bust A Move by Young MC I’m instantly in a good mood, and when I hear any song by the great Elvis Presley it automatically sends me on a trip down memory lane with my late father. He introduced me to the King while we drove to and from my hockey when I was in Bantam and Midget. If you have a moment go listen to Suspicious Minds or In the Ghetto. Outstanding songs.

Songs connect us to certain moments in our life and regardless of what phase of our journey we are in today, those past chapters often flood our memories when a song from that time is played. It truly is remarkable.

What is also remarkable, but not in the same vein, is the lack of offence from the Edmonton Oilers depth players.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were humming K’Naan’s song “Is Anybody Out There?” while driving to the rink.

“I don’t wanna be left
In this war tonight
Am I alone in this fight?
Is anybody out there?”

Alex Chiasson has been in the trenches with the big-three, while Jujhar Khaira has shown up in December and Drake Caggiula produced in October and November before getting injured again, but other than that the depth scoring of the Oilers has been almost non existent.

Last night Chiasson-McDavid-Draisaitl were a trio and they’ve combined for 53 goals. The rest of the team, including D-men, have a total of 50 goals, and RNH has 13 of those. So take away the top-four goal scorers and the other 14 roster spots have combined for 37 goals. Eliminate Caggiula’s seven goals and the other 13 roster spots have combined for 30 goals in 37 games. Ouch.

It simply can’t continue if the Oilers want to stay in the playoff race.

Of course recent injuries to Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell have made it much for difficult on the blueline, but if you focus too much on that you are overlooking what has been a season-long issue: lack of scoring.

WHAT NOW?

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

Ken Hitchcock entered the scene on November 20th, and the Oilers looked refocused and energized going 8-2-1, but since then they are 1-4-1 and look like the same team that went 8-2-1 under Todd McLellan before going 1-6 and McLellan was fired. Some wanted to blame McLellan for the Oilers woes, but I felt that was unfair, and now Hitchcock is realizing that even when you find the positive in every situation the same issue is still there. This team doesn’t score enough, especially at 5×5.

McDavid is on pace for 63 points at 5×5, while Draisaitl is on pace for 55. They had 71 and 43 respectively last season. They combined for 114 last year and are on pace for 118 this season. They certainly aren’t the problem.

RNH has 16 points at 5×5 after scoring 26 in 62 games last season. He’s been solid again. Chiasson already had nine goals and 12 points and is on pace for 29 points. Excellent production from him as well.

But after that it is a major issue.

Milan Lucic doesn’t have a goal at 5×5 in 37 games. He has played the fouth most minutes (421) among Oilers forwards, but doesn’t have a goal. His inability to score is almost indescribable.  He had 26 points in his first 36 games last season, on pace to score 59 points for the fourth time in his career, but from December 27th, 2017 to today he has played 81 games and scored two goals. Many expected we would see a decrease in his offensive production in the final years of his contract, but he has fallen off a cliff offensively. I’ve never seen a player in mid season fall off the map like he did last season and then continue it this year.

I don’t think Hitchcock has any choice but to move him to the fourth line and hope he finds his offence. It isn’t just a lack of goals from Lucic. He only has 39 shots this year. You can’t score if you don’t get any pucks on goal. At this point I don’t think you can expect much offence from Lucic. If he scores four goals in the final 45 games that would be an improvement.

Here are the rest of the Oilers forward 5×5 TOI and production:

Zack Kassian      374         2-1-3
Kyle Brodziak     373         3-1-4
Drake Caggiula  347         5-2-7
Jujhar Khaira      324         2-9-11
Jesse Puljujarvi   297         3-2-5
Tobias Rieder     258         0-5-5
Ty Rattie            218          2-1-3
Ryan Spooner    152         2-1-3
Valentin Zykov    31          0-0-0

Lucic has four assists in 421 5×5 minutes. I feel for the player, but the harsh reality of the NHL is you need to produce to continue getting minutes. He should be on the fourth line to start tomorrow and he will need to earn his way back up the lineup. Hitchcock can’t keep waiting and hoping players start producing like they have in the past. I understood why McLellan and Hitchcock gave him the benefit of the doubt. He is a veteran and a five-time 50-point player. None of the other depth guys have that resume, but that is the past, and Hithcock has to focus on the now.

Let’s be clear: it isn’t just Lucic’s lack of production; many others need to do more. Rieder doesn’t have a goal and he only has points in four of the 24 games he’s played. In 83.3% of his games he isn’t adding anything offensively. That has to change.

Getting Khaira back will be a big boost, and I suspect none of us, including the coaches and management, at the start of the season felt that Khaira’s absence would be a drain on the offence. But give him credit — he has worked his way up the lineup and is producing. With eight points in December he is more than deserving of a spot on Nugent-Hopkins left side.

There has been some whispers the Oilers might recall Kailer Yamamoto. Okay, but that would only be out of desperation.

Yamamoto is 20 years young. He has just returned from an injury and has four points in four AHL games. He is starting to produce like he should in the AHL, but is it wise to recall him? Is that best for his development and is he ready and able to produce in the NHL right now? He definitely has NHL hockey sense. He is very smart, but he needs to add strength, which won’t happen quickly. I think he will help in the future, just like I believe Puljujarvi when he is 22 is going to be a better player than he is now, but rushing 20 year olds isn’t the best move in my eyes.

I will argue Drake Caggiula can produce just as well as Yamamoto today. So why not keep Yamamoto in the AHL and let him gain confidence and play big minutes on the top line?

The reality is Peter Chiarelli has compiled a group of wingers with little proven offence. Expecting the two 20 year olds to become the depth scoring is unfair to them. Right now they need Lucic and Rieder to wake up and hope that Khaira can continue his production and that Caggiula can stay healthy and rediscover the play he had in November prior to injury his hand during an unnecessary practice drill.

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  • The Off Ice

    How long until Connor wants out of this mess? Everyone has a breaking point. You can’t be elite and satisfied with this roster. I just hope the Oilers can surround Connor with enough support before appathy sets in.

      • Gaz

        I believe this is a very real concern, and it had better be on the minds of management.

        P&G – he could honor his contract with another org. He made a commitment to Edmonton, but if the Organization cannot pull it together, I would completely understand if he decided he needed to move on to a properly run group.

      • FlamesFanOtherCity

        He can do whatever he likes. If he wanted to be traded, they would do it.
        Any team would give up a ton. Some teams could even afford it and not end up like the Oilers of today. 1st round picks and a #1 D-man with years left on a decent deal. That would be the start of the offers. Combined with the lure of a tanking team until they built a proper team. That would be assuming the GM and scouting staff were all fired.

        • Afc Wimbledon

          Ironically this done would probably be the Oilers best bet, a full rebuild using McDavid to stock the shelves quickly, but they wont, nor do they have the GM to pull it off so another 1st round pick will be wasted, a generational talent squandered, McDavid will be the answer to a trivia question that will probably also involve Lindros

    • Jason Gregor

      Please name one top player who asked for a trade early in their career? (Lindros doesn’t count because he asked for trade before even playing in league.) They aren’t wired to quit. I don’t see him asking for one anytime soon.

      • Afc Wimbledon

        Name one NHL team that has blown this many Nos 1 picks, with no end to the futility in sight, the guy should have at least a chance to win a cup and the Oilers don’t offer that on any level, not now, not next year, not in 5 years unless magically 3 or 4 of their 2nd 3rd and 4th round picks in the next year or two turn into top level NHL players to provide a supporting cast in his best years (and one of them has to be a franchise level goalie and one has to be a league top five defenceman, oh and the defenceman has to be picked this year to have a hope of maturing in time)

        • Gaz

          Bang on. I genuinely don’t know the answer to this, but how many “top players” (however you’re defining them) have lived with this sort of bumbling amateur-hour?

          I agree McDavid doesn’t seem like the sort to throw in the towel, but if all signs point to continued ineptitude from the organization, why wouldn’t he decide it’s time to move on?

          Just because no superstar has ever asked to be moved early in their career doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future.

      • Serious Gord

        No one of mcdavids caliber or even near it has been in this circumstance in the cap era. So there are no precedents.

        And it is head in the sand to ignore the possibility of mcd wanting out.

  • Bringer_Of_Snow

    Best case scenario, this team will be legitimate cup contenders in 4-6 years. Chia has gutted this team of any depth at all. This team is absolutely useless after 97, 29 and 93.

  • ifiwasgm

    Chiarelli’s work is coming to haunt them again, and will haunt them for years to come.
    Even long after he and Nicolson are fired.
    Please just get it over with.

  • grumpyKoala

    Say what you want when your better players Nuge Connor an Leon finish the night combined minus 3 then do not expect the W. It is easy to spit your venom on the lesser player. As long as our first(s) line(s) came out with the short straw then don’t expect any berry. Others teams have theirs stars doing the heavy lift or they do not make the playoffs. Our stars players are playing mostely a run and gun game or dumping game. Dumping only work is you can retrieve the puck and establish zone control. Spit on the coach, spit on katz, spit on the 4th line. If Drai Connor and Nuge lines are not winning theirs matchups then from forget about it

    • IRONman

      The oilers do not have a defenceman in the top 30. What do people expect. The farm team just started getting real prospects after 2015. Drafting is just terrible, now K Gretzky does much better. 97 and 29 and Nuge bring it. Yzerman could do wonders with this team. Katz get Yzerman and build a decent team in 2 years time. Thank God for McDavid and he will not quite, not is his blood.

  • Total Points

    You would think that Connor will not put up with this much longer. At some point he will go to Katz and simpley tell Katz “it is your team and you do what ever you like with it, but if proper management is not installed I want out”.
    If I were McDavid that is what I would do. I would realize my career is much shorter that Katz’ career as the Owner

  • Gravis82

    Lucic was a horrible signing. Sure no one expected him to be this bad, but even if he was less bad there would be still no defending his contract. Saying that no one knew he would fall off a cliff like this is giving a pass to management. We all knew this was going to happen, it was just worse than everyone expected. I am tired of reading all of this “no one knew it wasnt going to work out” stuff. We knew it wasnt going to work out. Paying him that much for a string of 10-17 goal seasons would be a disaster to start with, lets not move the goal posts here too much. This contract shut our cup window. You simply cannot waste 6 million dollars and expect to compete. TB and TML have scored 40 more goals this year to date than the oilers. That is one 35 goal scorer, 1=one 25 goal scorer and better help throughout the lineup. Has larrson prevented 40 more goals this year than someone else would for 1/4 of the price that we could have added and not had to trade hall? I don’t think so.

    • Kool-Aid Man

      Charelli wouldn’t have signed Lucic to this contract if he knew for certain he was getting only getting 1-1/2 good seasons out of him. Let’s be honest here, with Lucic on the team, other teams haven’t roughed up our star players nearly as much as they did before he signed here. He still serves a purpose as a deterrent however, he is payed too much for that purpose. He isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, all we as fans can do now is hope he turns it around sooner than later (or at all).

      • Stallions #35

        Team toughness is better than Lucic… if we could put together a few guys who would not hesitate to go…like Kassian in the past, Khaira, Nurse… add one or two more of these guys, I think that would negate the Lucic argument.

  • ScottV

    Some how – some way, they have to get something out of Lucic and Kassian. I like Brodziak but where the type of c man should work, he’s just a little too light on skill to be able to make it work with Lucic / Kassian. These two need some tap ins to get going, that are manufactured by a c man who can draw attention and make a play. While you hate to mess with Khaira’s new found confidence, he may be the best option without making a trade. I agree with Hitch that this line needs more o zone possession. Real possession – that leads to real scoring chances, not just fake possession measured largely by lame @ss shots at net.

    If you could get some practiced puck protection, 5 man cycling, use of points from at least one big man line involving Lucic and Kassian – it would be a good thing that would at least keep the puck 200 feet from our net and at best lead to some reasonable secondary scoring. However it does need some practice because right now for big guys Kassian and in particular Lucic are not that good at puck protection and cycling. They get into the mode and in one way or another they seem to prematurely leak the puck away to the opposition.

      • Stallions #35

        Remember how TMac caused some friction betwwen himself and Management by sitting Bouchard, hence supposedly for forcing their hand to send him back…maybe he can do that with Lucic..lol..sit him long enough so they have no choice than to do something with him….DAMN that NMC…

  • Alfonso

    Gregs, you & I vehemently disagreed during a discussion here on whether Looch was done or not … I maintained then & now that he was & is a marginal NHL’r at best … you maintained he would likely have a bounce back season netting 45 or so points … are you ready yet to say this dude needs to, at a bare bones minimum, ride the pine for a few if not ride the pine long term?

  • Alfonso

    It’s like this Oiler team is cursed. They were so bad they got what all teams get when that happens, high draft picks but it is those same high draft picks that has bottle necked the most obvious problem on this team. The overpayment to a couple of players that can’t possibly carry this team more than the odd game here or there. Look how the Flames were built. Not a contract over 6.8 million per. Top five Oilers have 170 points & are paid near 31 million while the Flames top five guys are paid near 25 million & have put up some 210+ points although Chuckie will be needing a raise this summer …

    High draft picks come with good & bad it appears …

  • Heschultzhescores

    I’m glad you wrote this today. I was just thinking to find out just how little our non-core guys are contributing. It’s no real surprise with that lack of secondary scoring, that we are struggling. Embarrassing really.

  • Oiler Al

    Yes there are injuries and issues on the blue line..there are issues even in net, but lordy the scoring outside the obvious IS and HAS been the problem all season long![a coach got fired for it]
    Lucic-Puli-Kassian-Spoonner-Brodz-Khaira-Ratti-Rieder, that’s 8 players combined in total who scored 15 goals!Chiasson alone as 16 goals.
    But then again the skaters listed here, should not be skating above the 4 th line on an NHL team.Some should not be a on an NHL roster.

  • bwar

    The difference between the McLellan collapse and the Hitchcock losing streak is the injuries on defense. The club needs to find a way to win while Klefbom is out in order to stay in the hunt. The Oiler’s have had a few games that looked very winnable over the last four games and if a few bounces had gone differently we probably aren’t having this conversation right now.

  • MrBung

    This team is a mess. This is on ownership and management.

    They are not making the playoffs this season. Roster is not good enough.

    Chia is the worst GM in NHL.

  • Duke of OiL

    Not posting much lately as all things related to losing stretch now i commented on last yr!!!!!
    1 thing really stands out still,Dustin Schwartz!!!!!!!!
    What is going on here,is everyone blind cant take it much more…
    and Darrell Nurse cannot think fast enough and while a “good” # 5 on a decent team def not a first PP D,not close….

  • Stallions #35

    I agree… Yamamoto should have been left in the AHL, Heck Zykov could probably do what Yamamoto can if placed in the same spot on the line up here…

  • slats-west

    Forward need to produce but before you leave your own zone you need a pass from your own D and this teams D are all injured. Sekera, Russell and Klefbom change this teams future.