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Game Notes: Playing out the Season and Trade Talk

When you are out of the playoff race players look for different things to motivate them. I don’t buy into the play-without-pressure theory and how it is easier to play games when there is nothing on the line.  Opposing players and coaches have said this for years, only because they don’t want to say the truth the morning of a game when asked about facing a bottom-feeder.

“They aren’t that good,” would be the truth, however, “they have no pressure and can relax,” is easier. Don’t buy into it.

Every player I’ve spoken with over the years admits playing out the string sucks. You try to be a professional and give your best, but like we saw in St.Louis on Tuesday, it is hard to manufacture emotion when you know the end is near.

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1. Players still have things to play for. Some are playing for their next contract, or a personal best season. Often they play for pride and trying to avoid falling further down the standings. Whatever the motivation is, it is still more difficult to muster the same energy as a team like the Blue Jackets who are battling for their playoff lives. The Blue Jackets would love nothing more than to get an early goal this evening, and plant doubt in the minds of the Oilers.

2. Columbus is one point ahead of Montreal. Both have nine games remaining. They play the Oilers tonight, then Vancouver before home games against the Islanders and the Canadiens. They finish with road games against Nashville, Buffalo, Ottawa, New York Rangers and a home game in the middle against Boston. Six of their remaining nine games are against teams out of the playoffs. The Habs have a much tougher schedule. They have home games against the Islanders, Sabres, Panthers, Lightning and Maple Leafs and road games in Carolina, Columbus, Winnipeg and Washington. If the Blue Jackets miss the playoffs they will have choked down the stretch. They have a much easier road than the Canadiens.

3. My co-host on TSN 1260 and former NHLer Jason Strudwick was on the Oilers when they played out the string in 2010 and 2011. It wasn’t fun. “In 2010 we had so many injuries,” he said. “I remember the first game after the trade deadline. We played in Chicago. Before the game they honoured those who played in the Olympics. They had Kane, Toews, Seabrook, Keith, Hossa. I watched those stars get recognition and we had five D-men to start the game and only Tom Gilbert and I were veterans. The rest were Theo Peckham, Taylor Chorney, Johan Motin and Dean Arsene showed up in the second period. I’m thinking we have no chance. Somehow at the end of the second period the score was 2-2, but Pat Quinn came in and said we needed to find another level. It was an odd stance from the coach (laughs).  We had no other level. We weren’t good enough. They took over in the third and won 5-2. Dubnyk stood on his head to keep it close.” The Oilers were outshot 47-14 that game.

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4. Strudwick continued to talk about it. “In 2011 we were out of the race in January. It was a long few months. You try your best, but we didn’t have a lot of skill, and when you toss in other teams were battling for a playoff spot it is hard to match that emotion. You talk about being professional and showing up, and you do. You prepare the same, but you also know where you are in the standings. You start every game ready, but if you get down early those teams can push you out of games. People might not want to hear it, but it’s true.”

4. I asked 400-goal scorer Ray Ferraro about playing out the string on a bad team. “I never really had too much trouble getting motivated to play,” said Ferraro. “The part I found hard was you sit there before the game and there is no tension. Everyone knows the season has nine games left. Heck in Atlanta we knew we had 40 games left.

“The one thing people might not realize is you get discouraged, and you might not be as sharp. But what you (players) miss is you are actually auditioning, not just for the team you are on, but for everybody else. The lineup of other teams to acquire players on teams who are the the bottom of the league is very small. It’s not like other general managers are saying ‘we got to get that guy, because he’s made such a difference on that team.’ The players who make the difference on the bad teams likely aren’t going anywhere.

“It is the other guys who are the interchangeable parts, and they should understand they are fighting for their position in the league. I think a lot of times you kind of lose the plot. You go game-to-game and you are looking ahead, like everybody else, to April to whenever the season is over and you are kind of happy to get there. But in reality this is a time you should be really digging in.”

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5. I also asked Ferraro about Strudwick’s thoughts on teams who are out of it late in the season not having the same fight or belief once something goes wrong.

“Struddy is 100% right. When I was playing on good teams we would often talk about all we have to do is break their spirit. Don’t let them hang around, because what they’ve effectively done is shorten the game. A 60-minute game becomes 40, becomes 30 or 20 and they collectively think, ‘why can’t we win tonight?’

“But if you get out early three nothing or three-to-one, like we saw with Edmonton and St.Louis, the tent is down. What did they (Oilers) have, five shots in the first 31 minutes? It doesn’t even matter what happens after that the tent was folded. It could have been for a number of reasons, but one of them, without being in that room, is you get discouraged, you lose your energy and it is impossible to compete like that,” said Ferraro.

6. The Oilers are in that mode now. Again. It sucks for the players. It is equally bad for fans. You aren’t oblivious to the situation and the fact it is the 12th time in 13 years only makes it worse. The Blue Jackets lost in Calgary on Tuesday and have a one point lead on Montreal for the final wildcard spot. They naturally will have more desperation in their game. The Oilers will have pride as their motivating factor, but even then, they are still not as good as the Blue Jackets. So a win would be an upset.

7. I will disagree with Tyler Yaremchuk on the Oilers biggest need being wingers. I agree they need them, but their biggest weakness is still in their own end. Not just the D-men, but overall as a team. If you can’t limit the goals against you won’t make the playoffs. The bottom ten teams in goals against will all miss the playoffs this season, but three teams currently in the bottom ten of goals scored are in a playoff spot — the New York Islanders, Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes. The Minnesota Wild are also in the bottom third offensively and one point out of a playoff spot. The Oilers have to improve their defensive play, and sadly they still have the same glaring weakness today as they’ve had for the past decade: they need to move the puck quicker. They don’t have a top-end blueliner. Dougie Hamilton, Seth Jones, Erik Karlsson, PK Subban and Shea Weber have all been traded in the past three years. It is difficult to acquire one, but it isn’t impossible. The next GM, and his management team, need to be capable of finding that trade.

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8. I look at the Carolina/Calgary trade from last summer as a template. Four solid players were traded. It has worked out for both teams. Dougie Hamilton is playing a lot for the Hurricanes while Michael Ferland is fourth in scoring despite missing 11 games. Meanwhile, Elias Lindholm is having a career year with the Flames and Noah Hanafin has been steady on the blueline. The Oilers need to upgrade their puck moving ability in their top-four. It is a must.

9. Ferraro chimed in about improving the blueline. “Of course everyone would like to have a top guy, but the problem becomes the cost and what is the vision for the team. Do the Oilers want to go down that path? Well, it depends on who it is. Depends on their age, their injury history, depends on their production. A healthy Oscar Klefbom changes things a lot. Darnell Nurse has taken a gigantic step forward this season. They have some young guys who are really intriguing on the backend. I wouldn’t say they have many of those up front. I would be hesitant to trade something up front for something on the back, so you get stuck a little bit.

“I’m sure the new GM’s overall plan includes a top defenceman and a couple of wingers. I think the chase for productive wingers… you might look at older guys on one year deals. Players who could get you 20 goals. I don’t know what his status is going to be, but I would look at Brett Connolly. A player who is just coming into the best years of his career. I’d look for players like that who might not be a knock-it-out of the park names, but are consistent. He scored 15 goals each of the previous two seasons and now 20 this season. He is a consistent producer.

10. Spitballing trade ideas can be fun. Just because you mention a player’s name doesn’t mean they are a bad player. The Carolina/Calgary trade involved four competent players. You can make hockey trades, and just because Peter Chiarelli lost many of them, because he downgraded in talent, doesn’t mean the new GM will automatically lose trades in a similar fashion. He can’t be scared to make a move because of previous missteps. For fun I asked Ferraro if the Oilers would look at a deal similar to the Flames/Hurricanes involving moving a forward and a D-man. A package with RNH and a defenceman where the return would be a puck moving defender and a winger.

“You could do really well moving Nugent-Hopkins,” said Ferraro. “I think he has a pretty high profile around general managers in how he can play a versatile role and different spots in the lineup. But I don’t want to make any deal if I’m going backwards on skill. They don’t have enough of it to be giving away any of it. If they are trading skill out, they need to get skill back. It might be different skill. It might look different or different positionally, but they can’t downgrade in skill.”

11. I got one final thought from Ferraro about the Oilers lack of puck-moving ability on the backend. It is the Oilers major weakness in my eyes.

“Skill, skill, skill. It is the way the game is now. If you don’t have it, you are behind and you can’t win,” he said. “I was in Nashville watching the way the Predators blueliners move the puck from the back to the front. It is no wonder they don’t give up very few goals. They are never in their end. Even when Toronto outshot them 11-2 in the second, they never looked like they were in trouble. You can’t pin them in. When you look at Edmonton’s defence — now, we are comparing them to one of the elite defensive groups in the league — but when you look at Edmonton’s defence and you see where they get pinned in. They just can’t move the puck quick enough.”

12. That last statement is exactly why I focus on getting a puck mover. Getting better wingers will help, but they won’t get to use their skill as much because the puck won’t be moving up to them quick enough. If the new GM doesn’t change his blueline this summer I don’t see how they will suddenly improve, especially on the right side. Adam Larsson and Kris Russell are not suddenly going to become puck movers. Even Nurse and Klefbom can improve in moving it quicker. Russel and Larsson are solid NHL defenceman, but they play very similar styles.

I’d argue the Oilers need two players who move the puck quicker in their top four. I also realize this is not an easy fix, but the new GM, and hopefully new pro scouts, need to get at least one puck moving defender. That is where they improve in skill, and that’s why I see potential for a package deal involving a D-man and forward going out, and a D-man and forward coming in.  Those are more difficult because it means more cap space is involved, but that shouldn’t stop the new GM from exhausting all options trying to find a deal to improve the puck moving ability on the Oilers backend.

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  • TKB2677

    I keep seeing “top pairing dman” as a need for the Oilers. Would I love a top pairing dman? Hell yeah I would but is it worth gutting your team to get him? What good is having 1 really good pair and 2 crap ones? That top pair and top guy can only play so much. Even if he can play 30 mins, great, you still have the other half of the game.

    So I wonder instead of blowing what little asset wad you have, would it not be better to upgrade your defense so you have 3 good pairs, instead of 1 elite and 2 crap? If you could get an upgrade on Russell to play the right side with Nurse so instead of struggling to get it out, you have a true right shot, puck moving guy that can skate a bit, that would be HUGE. If you could bring in a little more speed and puck moving to the 3rd pairing so while Sekera and Benning have been decent, they aren’t that fast and get skated around more than they should.

    So if you could get 3 decent pairs where you can all play somewhat similar minutes rather than playing the piss out 2 or 3 guys like they do now, is that not better?

    • TKB2677

      I think no one other than McDavid and Leon should be considered untouchable. I personally think that the guy that could move will be Klefbom. When you watch the team either in warm ups or the game, it’s McDavid, Leon and Nurse together. Nurse and Leon live together. So I think Nurse is part of that group and is the dman in the Oilers “big 3”.

      I like Klefbom a lot, I don’t want to get rid of him because he’s good but he’s signed long term to a cheap contract which would add value to him. Nurse will need a new deal after next season and no way he signs for what Klefbom makes. Plus for the Oilers, it’s basically a given that Klefbom will miss a month or 2 a year due to some injury. He just seems to be that guy.

      I hope and pray they don’t trade either Klefbom or NUrse, they need to add not subtract but I could see Klefbom being the guy that moves first.

  • Towers-of-dub

    what team out there is looking to get rid of its top pairing puck moving d-man for a bloated contract from the Oilers? You might need to wait until Chiarelli gets hired again.

    • TKB2677

      I agree with you and I have said the same thing. Media and fans keep saying the Oilers need to get a top pairing, right shot guy that does it all. As you said, who is this guy and what team is crazy enough to give him up? If there is that guy, what is the cost?

      As an example, the Sabres traded for Montour. He’s a young, right shooting, puck moving, good skating dman with some offense. But he’s suspect defensively. He’s not a top pairing guy but he would be the type that would help the Oilers. So I could seem them getting a buy like that but this idea of the Oilers trading for a ready made, top pairing guy is a pipe dream to me.

  • Truth

    It would be nice if Nurse and Klefbom were the “defensive” d-men on their respected pairs. They can both move the puck acceptably, but not enough to be considered offensive. A few years down the road I think they’d be happy with Klefbom – Bouchard, Nurse – “Offensive D,” Jones – Larsson. Issue being they need to ice a playoff lineup until they get to that point. Being that they don’t have much cap space or trade assets it’s going to be tough to be competitive by next season

  • OldOilerFan

    I don’t disagree with what is said. I’m just choked beyond belief that our only legitimate chance of a trade involves the Nuge. Love the Nuge. Let’s lose another #1 overall ….geez.

  • madjam

    Oilers keep trying to score their way out of the cellar of the league with forwards , neglecting the defence and goaltending where most of their clubs problems really/still are . They need two top defenceman , they are that weak overall now like it or not . Goaltending will improve naturally if the defence is built with right substances . Karlson or Doughty or both worth a shot ? Not as long as we hold onto Hopkins and or Draisaitl ? We lost the Hall -Larsson trade by my estimation but maybe another block buster might prove more helpful . Hard to imagine Oilers doing much better (stagnant) next season if they do not make a blockbuster trade or two .

  • tkfisher

    When Mac T was at the helm January 1st, 2015, he had Petry and Schultz on the right side. Both were better puck movers than anything the Oilers currently have. This team has been run by incompetent clowns for years and has gone backwards in so many ways it boggles the mind. To assemble the D core we currently have cost us a Hart Trophy winner. Insane.

  • Heschultzhescores

    I think our D will be fine in a few years with Bouchard and Jones as the current guys improve as well. The problems Chia created here can only be fixed slowly and by making no missteps. We need to build by the draft, we have no other choice. We are capped out! No more long term deals with NTC would be a great start. It’s gonna take a genius to straighten out what idiots made. Unfortunately Bob is still hiring guys. I shake my head, and roll my eyes that they think a proven loser is gonna somehow make an instant winner.

    • jesse says yep

      The Oilers already have the top tier players that could be got through the draft, taking this approach only wastes prime years for Drai Nuge and Connor. Any top dman is at least 2-3 years out, what forwards can we draft that would realistically push this team further in the next 2 years? Assuming no injuries and using the new AHL first philosophy, 2 years as well. And that is only until they are barely NHL ready at best and doesnt allow for another yearish of growth required to compete over a full NHL Schedule and into the playoffs.
      I would sacrifice a high draft pic this year to fill either the hole on the back end or a proven top 6 scorer, and hope my scouts could bring in the prospects needed from the 2nd and 3rd rounds.

    • Heschultzhescores

      Nuge is not overpaid. He is having a career year, and the NHL is Taylor made for his style now more than ever. I don’t see us winning any deal involving The Nuge. Skill, Class and Brains are exactly what we need more of.

    • camdog

      They once had a narrative that there was no way you could get all 3 of RnH, Leon or McDavid enough ice time? RnH is even in top 25 of ice time for forwards…

  • Natejax97

    I heard some trade scenarios on JG’s show yesterday and I get the logic…here is a doozy for your trash or cheers buttons…

    If the Oilers win the lottery:

    Edmonton – 1st overall pick (Jack Hughes), Evan Bouchard, and Sekera

    Ottawa – Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk

    Wing somewhat fixed, defense fixed, cap space fixed…Ottawa gets a franchise center (which we already have 2 of), a fantastic prospect, and only 2 years of 5.5 Sekera who can still play.

    Would you do it?

  • We are just not good enough. We need more than just a player or 2. We need a lot including an above average goalie. I know that he thinks he has a good glove hand but he doesnt. The management group just cares about money. They dont care about the fan or even the fan experience. We are the fourth highest paid team in the league and we arent anywhere close to good enough to compete. Bob nicholson the only bad water is in rogers place. Please retire.

  • bcoil

    The Nuge is such an important part of this team and any team wanting to be a legitimate contender so i can see why the pundits always bring up his name i trades .It is the easy choice and every GM in the league would love to have him but trading him just creates another hole..We have lots of young prospects and a high draft choice this year that we can afford to give up before you give away a Nuge who is a top centerman coming into his prime and on a realistic contract…You will need him to be a successful team .

  • ellebee

    If you get a GM & scouts that are up to the task and can be trusted to get the pieces we need at prices we can afford, once the trades are made & the dust settles we need a coach who makes lines based on what he sees and then trusts his intuition and leaves them be for while. Of course lines will need tweaking but I’m so tired of coaches blending lines on the fly in panic mode looking for magically appearing chemistry instead of letting chemistry develop. We have a huge problem with turnovers, but that is the result of not knowing where the guy you’re passing to is likely to be because you don’t know his game.
    And barring a miracle Lucic will be here next season. Lucic was a mistake. He makes top 6 money but he will never again be a top 6 player no matter who he’s on a line with. Forget his contract, admit it’s a mistake you have to live with and give him low minutes bottom 6 and move on.

    • Scouts that are not related and know what they are doing? This is an Oilers blog, reality does not count. We have 2 scouts , 1 is Wayne’s brother the other is Mark’s brother, too busy running his brothers resort in the Bahamas to do any actual scouting.

  • jesse says yep

    What sort of player does Russel and Puljujarvi get the Oilers? If that can get a better Dman than I do it and even through in a mid-later draft pick. Then use what little cap room they have filling in the wings with hopefully better players then Reider and Lucic.
    ?????? – McDavid – Kassian
    Chiasson – Drai – ?????
    Khaira – Nuge – Gagner
    Looch – Cave – Currie or who ever wins the spot
    Assuming that they dont buyout/trade

    Klefbom – Larson
    Nurse – ??????
    Sekera – Benning/Bouchard?Persson

    • jesse says yep

      Wow, that poorly edited……..

      What sort of player does Russel and Puljujarvi get the Oilers?
      If they can get an offensive Dman to replace Russel than I do it and even through in a mid-later draft pick. Then use what little cap room they have filling in the wings with hopefully better players then Reider and Lucic.
      ?????? – McDavid – Kassian
      Chiasson – Drai – ?????
      Khaira – Nuge – Gagner
      Looch – Cave – Currie or who ever wins the spot
      Assuming that they don’t buyout/trade Lucic

      Klefbom – Larson
      Nurse – ??????
      Sekera – Benning/Bouchard?Persson

        • jesse says yep

          If they are upgrading Reider and JP with some actual scoring, then they are better. If they upgrade Russel with someone who can make a quick pass and produce from the point, Nurse will be able to really excel and continue a solid line of development. Nurse hasn’t quite hit his ceiling IMO. Next year we will see what we are going to get from Darnell for the next 6-8 years.
          More scoring up front and a year of a healthy slightly upgraded d corp and this team is mid 90s in points next year.

        • jesse says yep

          Meh, Gagner is a pretty good 3rd liner. He got buried in Van due to a youth movement. Looch is already paid so…… As for the other players, Cave and Currie are holding their own and if Bouchard beats out Benning for a spot next year then so be it. I don’t think he will but who knows. I would prefer to upgrade Benning as well but that might need to wait another year for Bouchard to be ready.

  • Derzie

    Curse on you tsn for hoarding Ferarro in a “regional” role. He is the best colour guy in the biz and should be calling national games. Boooo. We all need to hear Ray as much as possible. Great perspective and tells it like it is.

    • Randaman

      That’s why Sportsnet or the NHL don’t want Ray. He’s far too critical and doesn’t promote the poor quality of hockey that they are selling these days. He also calls out referee’s too often for their union.

  • Total Points

    The Oilers may not be able to trade for the assets that they need. I totally agree that the next greatest thing the Oilers need is to move the puck from the defense to the forwards quicker. When I look back at the year the Oilers made the playoffs that is what as happening.

    The Oilers should not try and trade for someone like that but develop. We will probably have to wait a few years. This mess is not a easy fix so we all need to get over it and support what we have once the existing management is gone.