Looking back at my 5 things

On March 4th, with 17 games left in the season, I wrote a piece titled “5 Things to Watch”The team was out of the playoff race and we had reached the point of the season where whether the Oilers won or lost was rather irrelevant and I wanted to have some reason to intently watch the final stretch of the season.

I kept some notes and here is my recap of those five things and if the Oilers have any reason to look back on the final 20 games of the season and feel good about themselves.

5 – Leon’s race for 50

This really was a fun way to end the season. When I wrote this piece, Draisaitl had 40 goals with 17 games to go and it was far from a slam dunk that he would reach 50. His hat-trick against the LA Kings was a massive turning point in his race to be the second player this season to hit the half-century mark.

He ended the season with a pair of goals against the Sharks in the final home game and then fired home number 50 on the final game of the season in Calgary. For a brief moment, it looked like he was going to be able to catch Alex Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard Award. The hashtag #L50N was being fired around like crazy and Oilers fans were genuinely excited about something right up until the final game of the season. It was great to see.

4 – Mikko Koskinen, is he a number one?

Nov 20, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) tries to stop the puck against San Jose Sharks right wing Timo Meier (28) during the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

After watching his final 15 starts, I can firmly say that Mikko Koskinen is not a true number one goaltender at the NHL level. If there was any sort of optimism in my brain, he killed it with his play over the final month. I think he can play like a starting goalie for extended periods of time throughout the course of a regular season, but I do not think the Oilers should be banking on getting 50-60 good starts from him next season.

In those last 15 starts, he posted a record of 7-6-2 which isn’t exactly terrible, but he did not inspire any confidence with his play in those games. He got pulled three times and in four other games he gave up at least four goals. He only had a save percentage higher than 0.900 in eight starts. For me, a legitimate starting goalie who’s going to make $4.5 million should have a 0.900 or better save percentage in more than 53% of his starts.

I wrote more about Koskinen and whether or not the organization should be counting on some form of improvement from the big Finn HERE

Part of it can be attributed to the fact that Koskinen was simply worn out, but we also saw teams really start to attack him up high. He gave up a ridiculous amount of goals over his shoulders or on his glove side. That needs to be fixed and it became more apparent after watching the final stretch of games.

3 – A look at a healthy blueline

For the first time in what feels like over two seasons, we got to see the Oilers with all of their defensemen healthy. It was nice to see and even though I liked what Andrej Sekera brought, the Oilers actually got worse when it comes to preventing chances at even strength, which was disappointing to see.

During the regular season, here are some numbers I pulled from when the Oilers were at even strength and where they ranked amongst NHL teams:

Shots Against/60 Scoring Chances Against/60 Fenwick Against/60 Goals Against/60
31.15 (16th) 27.1 (21st) 42.78 (16th) 2.87 (22nd)

Over the course of their final 17 games, here is how the Oilers faired in those same metrics and how they stacked up to the rest of the league in that time span:

Shots Against/60 Scoring Chances Against/60 Fenwick Against/60 Goals Against/60
31.70 (19th) 29.22 (26th) 42.86 (14th) 3.01 (23rd)

They got worse at preventing chances at even strength and it showed in the goals against column. Granted, Mikko Koskinen was not very sharp, but the group in front of him didn’t make life very easy.

Watching the final 17 games just cemented that the Oilers still need to upgrade their second pairing. Larsson struggled down the stretch, so did Klefbom, but I would be willing to bank of them bouncing back for the most part next season. I don’t think Russell-Nurse is a good enough second pairing and I think that needs to be upgraded if they want to see legitimate improvement next season.

2 – Which bottom six players will earn jobs?

Mar 11, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Zack Kassian (44) celebrates a first period goal by defensemen Matt Benning (83) against the New York Rangers at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers bottom six situation for next year is pretty crowded. Milan Lucic, Zack Kassian, Colby Cave, Sam Gagner, Kyle Brodziak, Cooper Marody, and Josh Currie all saw time in the bottom six this season and are all under contract for next season. Mix in free agents Alex Chiasson and Jujhar Khaira who I believe will be resigned and you suddenly have nine players who will be competing for essentially seven spots on the team (bottom six and extra forward).

Zack Kassian (8 points in final 17 games) and Alex Chiasson (9 points in final 17 games) both showed well enough at the end of the season that I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them get a look in the top six when training camp begins next September.

Milan Lucic was not good down the stretch and neither was Kyle Brodziak, but it looks like those two will have spots on the team next year. Their contracts sort of dictate that more than their play does. I really liked what Josh Currie brought to the team, he has the speed and skill to potentially be an NHLer next season, but I will admit he was less effective later in his stint with the Oilers this year.

I really liked what Sam Gagner brought to the table. His versatility and skill is needed in the Oilers’ bottom six. I’m just not sure if he’s worth his $3 million price tag and it’s very easy to buy him out and save some money. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next GM bought him out.

Colby Cave makes league minimum and did enough to warrant being at least the teams 13th forward. I think you can make a case that he is more impactful than Kyle Brodziak just based on the fact he skates better. Jujhar Khaira was hurt and never really found a consistent groove this season. I still like his size and raw ability. I hope the Oilers find a way to bring him back. Cooper Marody needs to work on his skating, but I think the organization is high on him and might push him into a full-time NHL role next season.

That’s my quick notes version of how I think the bottom six situation is shaping up. I will also be writing more in-depth on this in the coming week.

1 – Just Watch Bakersfield

Bakersfield Condors forward Josh Currie

There have been a small handful of positive stories from an Oilers season that has been filled with negativity. The play of the Bakersfield Condors and the success of a handful of young players is one of the reasons to be optimistic about the future of the organization.

On the back end, Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones have continued their development and are starting to look like they’ll be NHL defenseman at some point in the next 18 months.

Up front, Tyler Benson will likely finish his rookie season just shy of a point per game with 14 goals and 49 assists in 65 games. Cooper Marody had 60 points in 55 games during his first full season of professional hockey. Does each player have their own individual warts? For sure. But am I more confident in their ability to be full-time NHLers by the end of next season than I was back in September? Absolutely.

  • Spydyr

    Benson and Marody should help the bottom six. Hey, they can’t be worse than Rieder. Bouchard has been an absolute beast and leads the entire OHL in playoff scoring. He may need a some time in the AHL but he will be here sooner rather than later.

    The team will be better next season.

      • Garnett

        Please God no. Have Bouchard in the AHL all season long. Maybe just maybe, lets try getting out of own way with this one and get it right this time. Nothing like seeing young players year after year join the club too early and struggle. I’d even argue that the worse off your team is, the longer you should wait to have that player join the club. Better clubs have the tools to better insulate young players. Nothing worse than seeing young players with potential join the Oilers in the middle of a crap season and lose evey ounce of swagger they had building up. Someone want to remind me the what definition of insanity is again…

        • Redbird62

          Zach Werenski and Mikhail Zergachev were drafted 8th and 9th in their respective draft years. Both made the jump to the NHL after just one extra season as 19 years olds and both did exceedingly well. If Bouchard is ready, he is ready. Hopefully whoever is charged with making that decision in the fall makes it for the right reasons.

  • Danger Pay

    The biggest question mark for me is Jesse? How much will he resign for? Will they finally put him in AHL for an entire season? Does he even want to be here? How bad are his hips?

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Leons dash for 50 was fun to watch even more so because it went down to the wire, but he seemed determined to get there, I didnt think he would I thought he would only get to 45 but he got 50, impressive to say the least.

    If I am the Oilers, I talk with Koskinen agent, and get Koskinen a little rest and then get him working with a proven NHL goalie coach , work on his going down to early and staying down to long, to stop making himself so small in his crouch, his glove hand and tracking the puck/ And I am also looking for a goalie who can do no less than 30 games, I think Koskinen was out of gas and not used to that many games

    -Milan Lucic, Zack Kassian, Colby Cave, Sam Gagner, Kyle Brodziak, Cooper Marody, and Josh Currie – Lucic isnt going anywhere unless the new GM finds a sucker -er- Another GM who needs to fill a cap minimum or this Lucic might be good on a team, otherwise he is here next year, buying him out does us nothing, the new GM would have to work a deal out with Lucic and his agent to get us frer from his contract and it wouldnt be free by a long shot. Gange I like, but not at 3 mil a season….i’d try to find a trade or buy him out. I didnt really love the Brodziak move because I thought he was past his prime, I dont think he is worth bringing back..I let him go. Cave we keep, he’s cheap but he wins draws, makes plays and isnt afraid to go into the dirty areas for a puck or take a hit to make a play. Currie I like, I think he could fill a spot of one of the aformentioned players the guys has something to prove, so I think he will play his heart out, just need to feed him more minutes then 6 and give him some guys to work with. I like Kassian, but I didnt like that he dissapeared for a season and a half and then wanted out….so which Kassian are we going to get next year can he show up all season? That is what worries me, when he is on he is on but when he isnt…well. We all saw what Marody has the potential to do, can he do it in the exhibition and pre season and translate that to a full time job, time will tell.

    Hope the condors do well in the playoffs, it will be interesting to watch how they do, and man Bouchard is ripping it up in the OHL… imagine what he could do in the AHL.. we know he fared well here, but he is still going to need some time…but I thought Bear was close…but Bouchard may have a step on him with Bear’s slower season due to injury

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Bouchard, as great as he has played in the OHL, will need to learn how not to be out of position so much.
      He will drive whoever is coaching next year crazy with his positional play… You cannot get away with being defensively out of position at the NHL level, no matter how much offense you bring to the table. Some AHL time will be needed, from what we have seen so far, both at camp, WJrs. & OHL this season. I don’t care how many points he gets, if he can’t defend & limit shots on Koskinen… Geeez, I sound like Ken Hitchcock…

    • Danger Pay

      Defintly better than a buyout, plus mite be able to trade Gagner for a pick at the deadline. Pouliot was a serviceable NHL player and could have played out his contract, instead we’re paying him $1.3 to play for another team.

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        I am sure if they can find a trade they will, but the Oilers need to free up some cash. I have always liked Gange, butI dont see the Oilers willing to shell 3m a year to keep him if we are going to be in cap hell, there is some contracts we just arent going to be able to get rid of, and they will need to free some space up they can only have so mnay contracts on the books, we already got caught in that situation this season

  • rnj

    Gagner is worth it even at $3M. He produced around 0.4 PPG which means he would crack Tampa’s roster in terms of value. People saying he can’t produce at this level consistently but he has, I’m not sure where this narrative is coming from. That he isn’t good enough or is too expensive to be an Oiler is bananas.

    Cave from a points perspective doesn’t bring enough even at league minimum salary. Brodziak doesn’t bring enough either. Move them both.

    Khaira in his limited appearances gave exactly what you want from a third liner at around 0.33 PPG. Great value.

    Russell/Larsson/Puljujarvi are all pieces that could bring improvement in a trade. There’s great talent on the board at #8 this year though and the only way our pick should be moved is for a proven 1D with term.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Gagne’s point production with the Oilers was just an adrenaline rush and won’t be sustained.
      We have to remember that he was loaned to another teams farm system before he came back here.
      Bringing him back here was a knee-jerk desperation move, that worked out and was a great story… But no one should read anything into it contract-wise… He is past-prime & should be contracted as such.

  • Redbird62

    I am not sure a call can yet be made one way or the other on Koskinen as an starter though the Oilers certainly did. He will definitely need more consistency to be considered a reliable starter. It was his first full season in the NHL, behind an inconsistent team in its own end, and he played way more than anyone expected including himself. A summer of getting to look back on what went right and what went wrong and some time to work on the latter could lead to some improvement. Maybe a new goaltending coach? If the defense in front can allow less complete open look shots, which they seem to be one of the worst at allowing, combined with some tweaks to his positioning, maybe he can go from being a below average starter, to an average or above average starter. He definitely had peaks and valleys through the season, but overall his .906 save percent was only .04 percentage points below the league average though that is bottom quartile for league starters.

    No question the Oilers 2nd goalie is ideally a reliable veteran and we can hope for something that mirrors the past season of Mrazek/McElhinney (You only get to Greiss/Lehner territory if the team in front transforms it’s style of play ala the Islanders). BTW 3 of those 4 are UFA’s though if they make it to July 1, all 3 will probably be looking for more than the Oilers could fit within their cap. Mrazek, McElhinney and Lehner made a combined $3.85 million this past season.

  • puckle-head

    Brodziak will probably be buried in the minors. Gagner I’m not so sure about. He’s definitely overpaid, but he scored at a 15g pace this year and the oilers are hiring for secondary scoring. I see this as being a bullet they’d be willing to bite, unless they have a trade or superior free agent lined up and buying Gagner out is the only way to create cap space.

  • What the

    Reality is Kleffbom and Larson are not our #1/2. Maybe 2/3. We need a true offensive defenceman to lead our PP. Klefbom is not that.

    Nurse had more points in a supporting role than Klefbom ever has. He’s not a #1 either. I’d trade Klefbom and Sekera for a true #1 D.

  • DannyGallivan

    We have some talent coming up but not there yet. One more year of seasoning for most and they will begin to have an impact.

    Forwards: Deadwood (contracts up) are Reider, Rattie, Petrovic, Gravel, Stolarz. Re-sign Khaira, Chaisson, Pulj. Top 6 – McJ, Drai, RNH, Gagner, ? #1, ?#2. Bottom 6 – Cave, Luc, Kass, Chais, Brodziak, Khaira, Condors Callup. Brod is cheap but ineffective (as opposed to Luc who is pricey and ineffective). Send to minors if you have a better replacement. NEED: one or two top 6 wingers (Chais comes up if only 1).

    Defense: Gone Petrovic, Gravel. 6 D unchanged. They got us there in 2016/17 and should be better now than then i.e. Benning, Klef, Nurse are all better. Would love a puck moving D but then, so does everyone else. With better top 6 we should improve our possession. Love to upgrade one D but need the scoring more.

    Goalie: Pray for Kosky to be better. Need seasoned backup – inexpensive so likely long in the tooth. Terrible signing.