Things can change quickly in a playoff race. The Oilers entered the weekend two points out of a playoff spot. Today they are six back because the surging St.Louis Blues swept a home-and-home against the Nashville Predators over the weekend, while the Edmonton Oilers were blitzed by the San Jose Sharks. Now, with two weeks until the NHL trade deadline, the Oilers are six points out of a playoff spot and their outlook to make the postseason is bleak.
A three-game road trip this week against the Penguins, Hurricanes and Islanders will all but decide their playoff fate. Their chances are slim — some people would say they are none — so it is clear interim GM, Keith Gretzky, and the rest of the management team will have discussions on whom to trade away.
Alex Chiasson is an obvious candidate. He is a pending UFA with only a $650,000 cap hit. Teams could acquire him and he’d barely impact their cap. He would fetch a second round pick I’m sure, but is trading him the best decision?
The Oilers have a clear lack of productive wingers. Chiasson has 17-10-27 in 46 games. He’s had an excellent season. Yes, he has slowed down recently, but he is still significantly more productive than any of the other full-time wingers on the roster.
Can the Oilers afford to trade him away for a draft pick, who likely won’t help this team for at least four years, probably five?
Prior to this season Chiasson averaged 12 goals and 26 points/year. Not eye-popping numbers, but he is a proven bottom-six NHL forward. Last I checked the Oilers aren’t blessed with an abundance of wingers who can guarantee to score 12 goals a year.
I would strongly consider re-signing Chiasson. Of course they can’t overpay him, but if he’d sign a two-year deal in the range of $1.25million/year I’d strongly consider it. Chiasson can kill penalties, he can help on the PP and he isn’t a liability defensively. He is a sexy signing, but successful teams have veterans who give a consistent effort every game, who leave no questions as to what they bring. Chiasson does that and the Oilers don’t have enough depth forwards who do.
There is the theory you can trade him for a pick and then re-sign him in the summer. True, but he might love his new team, have some playoff success and decide it is better to stick with his new team. There is no guarantee he would come back to Edmonton. It depends how much you value having a consistent, proven bottom six winger.
Some will argue Jesse Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto can play in the top-six next year. You sure about that? I’d argue the past few seasons have proven that if you go into the year “hoping” players can play in your top-six, you will most likely be disappointed.
Chiasson will be sought after. He won a Stanley Cup last year. He has playoff experience and GMs and head coaches love that. He also has decent hands. A complementary depth forward, with the potential to get hot and score 5-7 goals in the playoffs is very attractive. But shouldn’t the Oilers consider keeping him? Because if they ever want to make the playoffs consistently they need to find more consistent players. Chiasson isn’t a regular top-six forward, but he can fill in for a short time, and most importantly he is a proven, regular bottom six forward.
Edmonton needs some of those next season, and when I look up and down the roster I don’t see many better options from within.
THIS AND THAT…
—Ken Hitchcock voiced his displeasure publicly after Saturday’s disappointing 5-2 loss to the Sharks. But make no mistake, Hitchcock has been challenging his players behind closed doors and on the bench for a month. Him going public illustrates to me his level of frustration. No doubt the Oilers weren’t sharp on Saturday. Their passing in the first period was atrocious, and their effort and decision making on some of the Sharks goals was far from good enough. Hitchcock has been telling them this for a month. He and many players have had verbal disagreements. Hitchcock doesn’t mind if a player yells back at him. He doesn’t hold it against them. He believes in challenging his players and being demanding, but for the past six weeks that approach hasn’t yielded great results. The reality is this roster isn’t good enough to compete most nights with the top teams. They can compete and defeat the average teams, but there simply isn’t enough talent on the Oilers for them to defeat the good teams regularly. And when they don’t work smart or work hard they have no chance against those teams. That’s what happened on Saturday.
No question the players deserved to be chastised for their play. Many of their mistakes weren’t from a lack of talent, but a lack of commitment. Hitchcock is trying to instill more commitment from the team, which makes sense, but I’m not sure his in-your-face and ultra-demanding style is working. It is a fine line. A coach has to be demanding, but he also has to build up and maintain their confidence. It is very difficult to do when the team is losing as often as Edmonton has the past six weeks. But saying the coaches care more will probably do more harm than good.
—-Kevin Labanc is a great example of not needing to rush a player. He scored a hat-trick against the Oilers on Saturday, and now has 36 points in 56 games. He will finish his third NHL season around 50 points. He had 40 points last year. Labanc is a late birthday. He was drafted in the sixth round in 2014. The next year at 19 he produced 31-76-107 in 68 games with Barrie in the OHL. Despite producing 100 points, the San Jose Sharks didn’t rush him to the AHL, instead they returned him to junior for his 20-year-old season. Labanc scored 39-88-127 in 65 games that year. I often hear people say or write, “A player won’t learn anything with another year in junior. They need to be challenged.” I’m very skeptical of that line of thinking.
It completely overlooks the most important aspect of the game: confidence. Labanc lit up the OHL at 20, and when he turned pro the next season. He played 19 games in the AHL, scored 19 points, and was recalled by the Sharks. Would he have maintained the same confidence had he played in the AHL at 20? We won’t know for sure, but is it worth the risk? The Sharks have made it a trend to send 20 year olds back to junior for another season. They won’t all become Labanc, but considering the Sharks have the second most wins in the NHL since 2003 and are a perennial contender, if I was the Edmonton Oilers I might look at how the Sharks develop their players. They’ve done a very good job of developing later round picks.
— Labanc was a sixth rounder in 2014, Joakim Ryan was a seventh rounder in 2012, Dylan Demelo a sixth rounder in 2011, Tommy Wingels and Jason Demers were sixth and seventh round pick respectively in 2008, Nick Bonino and Justin Braun were 6th and seventh rounders in 2007 and Joe Pavelski was a seventh rounder in 2003. All those picks came under the watch of GM Doug Wilson and then scouting director and now assistant GM, Tim Burke. When you have that many late round picks, and ones who have become very good to great NHL players it isn’t a fluke.
— The one ray of hope in another disappointing season for the Oilers, is the play of their AHL affiliate Bakersfield Condors. The Condors have on 12 consecutive games and sit in first place in the Pacific Division, one point ahead of San Jose, who has four games in hand. Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, Kailer Yamamoto, Cameron Hebig, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, William Lagesson and Shane Starrett are the young players who could make an impact in Edmonton in the future. Benson will be an NHL player. I’m not sure how much of a scorer he will be, but he is a very smart player, hard worker and he and Jones would be my locks as to players who will play many games in the NHL. I’d say Benson is a lock to be a very good third line player with potential to play higher in the lineup. Jones is for sure a third pairing defender, who could emerge as a very good second liner. Starrett has had a breakout season in goal. He turns 25 in June and is entering the age where many goalies start to look more comfortable. We’ve seen an influx in younger goalies to the NHL this season, and Starrett could compete for a backup job next season. Yamamoto is very smart. He’ll be an NHLer, but the organization needs to be patient with him. He needs to gain strength, and right now he needs to rediscover his offensive mojo.
I spoke to head coach Jay Woodcroft last week about Yamamoto. “The big thing for Kailer is to find some offensive confidence. He’s been showing up in chances, but we want him to develop more of a killer instinct around the blue paint. He is an elite penalty killer down here and he gets lots of PP time as well,” he said. Yamamoto has 5-5-10 in 17 AHL games this season and 1-1-2 in 17 NHL games. The Oilers should not have him as a guarantee on their roster next year when they are making lineup charts over the summer. He needs to rip up the AHL and regain his offensive flair before he gets to the NHL, and if that means starting next season in the AHL then do it. Young offensive players will tell you when they’re ready, mainly by ripping up the AHL.
— Andrej Sekera played 20 and 21 minutes in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday for Bakersfield. He moved much better than he did coming off his ACL injury last year. He isn’t wearing a knee brace and he told me that makes a huge difference. He has more range of motion and can skate much better. There was some rust in his game like handling the puck, which is understandable considering he’s only played 38 games since May of 2017. It was a solid weekend in the AHL for him.
Recently by Jason Gregor:
- Showcasing Talbot?
- GDB 54.0: Defence First
- The UnAmazing Race
- Kane lighting it up despite little offensive help
- Hitchcock Is About Wins Now: Not Development
- Polite Reminder: Minor Hockey is about Fun
- Yamomoto and Puljujarvi in the lineup isn’t ideal for their development