The good news Oilersnation is the Oilers made it to April without being officially eliminated from the playoffs. The bad news is they’ve been unofficially out of it for a few weeks. If the Colorado Avalanche pick up a point tonight, or in any of their four games this week, the Oilers will be eliminated.
Edmonton’s effort against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday looked like a team fully aware the playoffs will once again occur in 16 cities not named Edmonton. During the broadcast of Saturday’s sluggish affair they showed a stat on the screen that caught my eye. It wasn’t surprising to anyone following along this season, but I wanted to dig a bit deeper into the Oilers top-three scorers, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, having 47.3% of the team’s point totals.
1. It isn’t a great look. The Oilers top trio has combined for 115-165-280, while the other skaters have totaled 106-205-311. That places them second all time, behind the 1999 Anaheim Ducks trio of Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya and Steve Rucchin. Those three totaled 109-161-270 ( 47.8%) while the rest of the Ducks lineup produced 106-188-294. The major difference is the Ducks made the playoffs, because they weren’t horrible defensively. They outscored the opposition 215-206. This season the Oilers have been outscored 258-221.
2. The 1989 Pittsburgh Penguins were led by Mario Lemieux, Rob Brown and Paul Coffey. They produced 164-263-427 (46.3% of team offence), while the rest of the Penguins scored 183-312-495. The Pens also made the playoffs and lost in seven games in the second round. The 1995 Philadelphia Flyers had the Legion of Doom line with Eric Lindros, John Leclair and Mikael Renberg. In the lockout shortened season they combined for 44.2% (80-96-176) of the Flyers total offence. They outscored the opposition 150-132. They lost in the third round to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils.
3. Those teams all had high-skilled players, similar to the Oilers, however, the major difference was they all made the playoffs when their big three were carrying the offence. And within four years they all appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Pens won the Cup in 1991 and 1992. The Flyers lost the Final in 1997, while the Ducks lost in 2003. The Ducks still had Kariya and Rucchin, the Flyers trio was still around and the Pens won with Coffey and Lemieux in 1991 before Coffey was traded in 1992. What changed was the management improved the depth of those teams, and that must be the main focus of the Oilers.
4. Edmonton biggest need isn’t a high-scoring winger to play in the top-six. Of course they would love one, but for me their biggest need should be improving the blueline, mainly a puck mover on the right side. That is priority number one, followed by a solid, veteran NHL backup goalie and then some complementary depth forwards. The Oilers have to improve not only their puck moving ability from the backend, but the team’s overall team defence. You can’t win giving up as many goals as the Oilers do.
5. What percentage would be good? I looked at Tampa Bay, Boston and Colorado, because they all have three players producing big-time points. Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos have combined for 120-185-305, which is 37.1% of the Lightning’s total points. Those three have 39% of the Tampa’s goals. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak have combined for 37.3% (253 points) of the Bruins 660 total points. Bergeron and Pastrnak have each missed 15 games, which makes their percentage even more impressive. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog have combined for 103-149-252 (39%) of the Avalanche’s 645 points.
6. If the Oilers trio produces similar numbers next season as they are this year, then for them to be around 39% of the Oilers offence, the rest of the team needs to contribute 114 more points than they did this season. That seems like a lot, but remember that is split between 15 positions. Much of the improvement could come from the bottom six. Sam Gagner has nine points in 21 games since returning to the Oilers. Could he produce 30 points in a full season next year? The biggest improvement could come from the third line centre position. Ryan Strome, despite playing well, only had two points in 18 games. He has 17 goals and 31 points in 59 games since being traded. Can they find a third line centre who can produce 35 points? If they do that is a major improvement.
7. Can Jesse Puljujarvi produce more than nine points in 46 games? I’d like to think so. Despite the Oilers delaying his development, I don’t think him scoring 27 points would be unrealistic. The Oilers have many holes, and the best solution I see is to find players who can chip in 10 goals and 25 points instead of focusing on one winger who can score 50 points.
8. Could Cooper Marody be the third line centre? Is Tyler Benson ready to contribute 25+ points? I understand many have trepidation to bring them to the NHL, but they weren’t rushed, they were actually developed properly thus far. If they are ready they will show it next season, and I suspect one of them will be on the roster, potentially both. The key is not expecting them to put up big numbers or assume they have to play top-six role right away. Many players start in bottom six and earn more icetime. I know that is a foreign concept for the Oilers, but it does work well in other organizations. If they are down the lineup, but adding skill in the bottom six the overall team is better. I’d rather give Benson a shot than settle for another veteran similar to Tobias Rieder. If you want to bring in a veteran like that to push for a job, great, but do not overpay him and for sure don’t sign him for more than one season. If he gets beat out by Benson, Marody or Joe Gambardella then that means you have more NHL depth.
9. San Jose lost last night so they and Vegas are locked into second and third place in the Pacific Division. The Sharks defeated the Golden Knight 4-3 in OT on Saturday in a very entertaining hockey game. That series should be highly entertaining. The forwards are even, San Jose has better defence, although Erik Karlsson’s availability is still up in the air. Vegas has the advantage in goal, if Marc-Andre Fleury is ready. He hasn’t played since March 15th, but Vegas is confident he will be back. Martin Jones has had an awful season, but can he just flip the switch and be good in the playoffs? Historically he’s been very good in the postseason, and if he finds that zone again then the Sharks are a legit contender. If he struggles they could be out in the first round.
10. We know Bob Nicholson would like to interview Vegas assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon for their vacant GM job, but Vegas has made it clear he won’t be doing interviews until after their season ends. McCrimmon is highly regarded in the hockey community. I’d be stunned if the Oilers hire a GM before interviewing McCrimmon, and I’m sure Nicholson is hoping Vegas has an early exit so he can speak with McCrimmon before late May or early June.
11. Mark Stone has 4-6-10 in 16 games for Vegas since being acquired from Ottawa. He had 62 points in 59 games with the Sens. Stone is averaging 2:40 less per game with Vegas. He has played 1:20 less at EV, one minute less on the PK and 20 second less on the PP. Players get used to playing a certain amount, and for some it takes time to adjust to fewer minutes.
12. Vegas has two pending UFA forwards the Oilers should look at this summer; Daniel Carr and Brandon Pirri. Carr only played six games with Vegas, before being sent to the AHL, where he has lit it up with 71 points in 52 games. Pirri has 11 goals in only 28 games for Vegas. He had 42 points in 29 AHL games. Carr will not re-sign in Vegas, because, for whatever reason Gerard Gallant didn’t give him much of a chance. Pirri has proven he can score in the NHL, despite never sticking very long with one team. Vegas is his fifth NHL team. If you are looking for a depth winger who can contribute offensively, he is your guy. The knock on him is his defensive play, but he doesn’t get outscored at 5×5. He’s an interesting case study of why teams won’t play him more.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 4/1/2019 – 9:00 am MT