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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – When will the Oilers make a call to Bakersfield?

What have we here? A brand new mailbag that’s hot and ready just in time for another week in the salt mines. I hope that all of you had a wonderful weekend as we all rested up for what will be an action-packed week rammed with (hopefully) more wins and more McMagic. As always, I’ve sent your questions out to the writers and waited for all of their worldly wisdom to be able to share it with you. Looking ahead, I still need questions for next week, so if there is something Oilers related (or not) that you want to ask, feel free to hit me up by email or on Twitter. Enjoy.

Oct 22, 2019; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal (12) celebrates his goal with defenseman Brad Hunt (77) and teammates during the first period against the Edmonton Oilers at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

1) Blake asks – The Oilers are going through their first bit of adversity of the season and I’m wondering if you think it’s better to get these things out of the way earlier in the season or if it matters at all, provided that the team comes through on the other side?

Robin Brownlee:

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I’m guessing you wrote this question after the losses to Winnipeg and Minnesota. There are ebbs and flows to every season. For me, what’s more important than when the skids happen is that you don’t let them spiral over an extended time. Given the changes to the roster and that Adam Larsson is out, we’re going to see blips here and there. Like you mentioned, it’s how — and how quickly — the team comes out the other side.

Jason Gregor:

I think they will face adversity all season. They aren’t a dominant team yet, so we will likely see numerous situations where we see what they are made of and how they can avoid long losing streaks.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

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It really depends on what you’d consider adversity. They’ve been winning games despite not getting any scoring from their bottom six, but I wouldn’t say that’s adversity. Losing Adam Larsson in the first game of the year was adversity and they’ve passed that test. Still, though, I don’t think they’ve been through a tremendous amount of adversity but regardless of whether or not you’ve faced any hardships, racking up wins early in the year is nothing but positive.

Cam Lewis:

Yes and no. The struggles the team is going through right now, namely depth scoring, is important in the analysis of the club. If these players can’t provide depth offence, Ken Holland will have to go and address the issue. The sooner you know your roster flaws the better. That said, the Oilers also badly need to capitalize on their easy early schedule to bank points in the standings before things get difficult later on.

Christian Pagnani:

Absolutely. Encounter some challenges now so they can deal with them and (hopefully) build on it and get better as a team.

Chris the Former Intern:

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I was thinking the exact same thing today. It sucks they’re running into troubles, but the Lightning showed a perfect example in playoffs last year of what it’s like to not face any adversity throughout the season.

Baggedmilk:

I think it’s good for the team to have to battle through challenges regardless of what time of year it comes at. What made those two shutout losses more palatable was the fact that the team came roaring out to a 5-0 start, cushioning them from the odd tough game or two.

2) Geoff asks – Now that Ken Holland is in charge, we’re all assuming it will take longer for prospects to be recalled to the NHL but is there anyone currently in Bakersfield that might deserve a look with the big club?

Robin Brownlee:

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Sure there is, like Kailer Yamamoto for starters, but deserving a call-up is only one aspect of the process. Holland would rather keep players in the minors and have them dominate there rather than call them up as a “reward” unless there is a clear and absolute need for what they bring because the roster in place is obviously lacking.

Jason Gregor:

None today, but if the depth scoring continues to be non-existent then Holland might have to alter from his plan. I spoke with him last week and he would still like to stick to the plan. He wants to bring the young players up when they are bursting with confidence and can be solid contributors.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I would wait. I understand that Yamamoto or Benson might be able to spark the bottom six, but I want to see them continue building up confidence in the AHL. In a perfect world, when you call up a prospect, it’s for good. I don’t want to have either one of the two players I mentioned on some sort of call-up/send down ‘yo-yo’. It also helps that they’re winning right now. If they lose three in a row and continue to not get depth scoring, then I would maybe consider it. But not now.

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Cam Lewis:

I think it’ll be difficult to keep Kailer Yamamoto down for long. He’s looked good in the AHL and the team badly needs a boost. I would be surprised if he was in the AHL come January. Also, it’s sink or swim time with Caleb Jones soon, I figure. There isn’t as pressing a need on the blueline, though, so that’s a trickier situation.

Christian Pagnani:

I still think it’s pretty much time to see if Cooper Marody is an NHL player. Caleb Jones, too. Maybe Kailer Yamamoto but he didn’t play enough last year.

Chris the Former Intern:

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I’ve always had my eye on Yamamoto. I’m happy we’re letting him simmer in the AHL right now but I wouldn’t mind if he got a few games in the NHL this season.

Baggedmilk:

I do wonder how long Holland and Tippett will let this go before calling someone up to give that bottom six a different look. I know Holland is known for letting his prospects marinate in the minors, but at some point, you know what I’m saying…

Sep 24, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Riley Sheahan (23) protects the puck from Arizona Coyotes forward Vinnie Hinostroza (13) during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

3) Barry asks – Despite the lack of secondary scoring right now, I feel like the bottom six are still playing better than what we saw from last year’s group. Would everyone agree or disagree? Which bottom six forward deserves better scoring stats than what they’ve currently posted?

Robin Brownlee:

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Agree. Going into Sunday against Florida, Patrick Russell led bottom six forwards with 13 shots. He’s a guy who needs to bury one every 10-12 games.

Jason Gregor:

I really haven’t seen one player who is creating a lot, but not finishing. Even Nugent-Hopkins isn’t producing much at 5×5. With only 97, 29, 44 and 18 scoring at 5×5, I can’t see one player I would say deserves better stats.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I wouldn’t say they ‘deserve’ better scoring stats, but I agree that they’ve been a little bit better. I don’t think it’s a very big improvement but they aren’t getting caved at even strength and a lot of the bottom six guys are really helping out on the penalty kill. There are some positives, but they need to start doing a lot more.

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Cam Lewis:

They’re definitely better defensively than in the past. At the very least, these players can thrive in a shut down role and kill penalties. Still, you need to get offence from up and down the offence. If you aren’t scoring, the best you can do is break even, and to do that, you have to be absolutely flawless defensively. That doesn’t leave much room for error. Good teams have bottom six players out-score their opponents.

Christian Pagnani:

I disagree. This bottom six is arguably just as bad, if not worse, than last year’s group. The biggest criticism of the Oilers’ early success is it’s coming from 1.5 forward lines. No one you can consider a bottom-six forward has a five-on-five goal so far this year (Florida game pending). I think a hot start has masked that issue, but it’s a big deal when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can’t play nearly 25 minutes a night every night.

Chris the Former Intern:

I’m pretty satisfied with the bottom six besides the lack of scoring. They are doing a solid job at eating up offensive minutes and play strong in the defensive zone for the most part. As long as their +/- doesn’t get too lopsided I’m happy.

Baggedmilk:

I think the bottom six has done everything you’d want from them except scoring goals. Is that fair? Almost fair? If I have to pick one, I mostly like the way Riley Sheahan has played so far and I’d like to see him get one.

4) Dale asks – By my eye, Jujhar Khaira doesn’t look like the same player as he was a couple of years ago. What do you think he’s missing in his game right now and do you think he can get it back?

Robin Brownlee:

I’m not seeing consistency in imposing his will physically. When he bangs and gets involved he is better. It comes and goes with him right now. If he doesn’t start showing it soon he’s looking at a seat in the press box or a demotion. He’s capable of better — we’ve seen it.

Jason Gregor:

He doesn’t seem to have any confidence handling the puck. His puck handling skills have been minimal this year. He is doing things well away from the puck, but once he has it he has generated very little.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

He needs to get back a level of intensity. It all starts with his feet. When he starts skating hard, he gets offensive chances and he begins to play a more physical game. Not that he’s ane excellent skater but I want to see Jujhar start to move his feet more. Good things will start to come when he does that.

Cam Lewis:

I really have no idea. We haven’t seen the same player since 2017-18 when he had his breakout season.

Christian Pagnani:

I thought Khaira was okay last year. He didn’t score enough. You have to score more than three goals in 60 games. But he scored 11 in 69 games the season prior. He’s had success in the NHL, but with 0 points on the season, you have to wonder how long his spot is secure.

Chris the Former Intern:

Not exactly sure. I think he’s still playing the physical game he usually does, but we’re just not seeing the offence from him when he first joined us. Maybe we saw a little beginner’s luck with some heightened adrenaline running through him during that year.

Baggedmilk:

I think Jujhar needs to get in a scrap or something to get himself going. Remember a couple of years ago when he scored 11 goals and how he was fighting people and looking like a warlord while he was at it? I’d love to see him get back to that.

5) Brad asks – The media landscape has changed in the last decade with the decline of print journalism and the rise of online journalism. From a fan perspective, I’ve noticed in the last few years that there’s an increasing tendency for journalists and personalities to pander to their audiences. It bugs me when it’s on the TV or radio broadcasts. I enjoy how guys like Gregor and Nielsen help the local fans celebrate the positives while maintaining their credibility and offering us a balanced perspective. As a fan who bleeds orange and blue, I am amazed at how they do it.

One thing I like about the Oilersnation contributors is that you have a good mix of writers from the old school to the new. I’m interested to hear their thoughts on the challenges of covering a professional sports team in the evolving media landscape of 2019/2020?

Robin Brownlee:

Unless you are writing a column or an item clearly marked as an opinion piece, let the facts speak for themselves. I’ve always believed playing it down the middle and calling it as you see it is the best way to go about your business. If the team can do no right in your eyes, if you’re negative no matter what, it wears thin. If you constantly pander to the team, if they can do no wrong, you’re a fartcatcher and a fanboy. In both cases, you have zero credibility with readers and team personnel. I’ve seen guys on both ends of the spectrum come and go over the years.

In a lot of cases these days, “covering” the team requires nothing more than a laptop and an internet connection because those writing about the team are seldom if ever around the team so there are no checks and balances in place in terms of having to deal directly with the people you are writing about. It’s especially important to self-regulate then. Gregor is around the team a lot and he gets his questions answered because he doesn’t show up with an agenda even though he’s in the opinion business rather than being a garden variety reporter. He rips them when it’s warranted and points out the positive when that’s called for. Simple as that.

Jason Gregor:

I started covering the Oilers in 2001, and you are correct things have changed — mainly the Internet and social media. It has allowed me other opportunities to cover the team. I enjoying writing as you can dig deeper into stories than you can sometimes in an on-air interview. The challenge is ensuring I maximize my time. Social media is a great tool, but often it isn’t productive time, so I’ve spent less time on it than I did a few years ago.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

The biggest challenge is getting people to read/download/subscribe to your content in a market that flooded. There are so many good bloggers/writers covering this team that it can be hard to create original content that is going to be read. I’m also very lucky that the guys at Oilersnation took me in and really let me try out a bunch of new ideas. Beyond grateful for the opportunities they give me and when people will say that media is dying and no one cares/supports it, I point to what the people who run The Nation Network have been doing.

Cam Lewis:

I think one of the biggest difficulties is divisiveness. You said above that you like the new and old school approach but you’re certainly the exception rather than the rule. It’s hard to produce content that caters to an entire audience because some people just want casual banter about day to day stuff, some want deep dive analysis, some want to keep things upbeat and positive, and some want criticisms. I think the best thing you can do as a writer is to find your niche and talk about the things you’re good at talking about and your audience will find you. Nobody can please everybody but thankfully we have a wealth of voices here. I can’t think of a team-based website with the depth and variety of voices this site has.

Christian Pagnani:

It’s brought a lot of new voices that have previously been unheard, which I think is great. You mentioned pandering to audiences, which I think is true. Sometimes the loudest and dumbest comments get the brightest spotlight. I’m just a guy who likes talking about hockey and finding new ways to see what makes a team good or bad. With Twitter, there’s a lot of people who use it as a tool to ‘dunk’ on more mainstream media to get noticed. I try not to do that. If there’s a truly bad opinion I don’t see the point in giving it more attention. Otherwise, I’d say the digital aspect of media and most media members are fairly open and engaging with others, which is a positive of an evolving media landscape. It’s easy to see the negative but I love being able to connect and talk about sports in the same circles as Gregor, Nielson, Lewis, Brownlee, and Yaremchuk. Not getting wrapped up in the negativity that’s so often present. But that also doesn’t mean not challenging certain beliefs and ideas in sports. There’s a fine line and I’d like to think I provide some insight without trolling or catering to the worst parts of social media.

Chris the Former Intern:

Everybody’s competing for page views and clicks now so the online industry is heading towards more clickbaity titles and weaker content inside the article. I think one thing Oilersnation does well is build up trust with their readers over the years, so you don’t need a clickbaity headline to get readers. When you click on an article from a specific writer, you know exactly the type of content you’ll be getting.

Baggedmilk:

The thing that I like about sports coverage in 2019 is that anyone with good ideas or an interesting angle can gain some attention and I believe that moves the coverage forward. I remember when the fancy stats folks coming along about a decade or so ago, testing theories and the game down in a way that had never been done before, and now a bunch of those dudes are working for NHL teams. That’s bananas and awesome and everything in between. I like to cover the team as a fan and nothing more, never pretending to be anything other than that. I’m biased, I love the Oilers, and I still buy tickets. I mean, as a dumbass that calls himself Baggedmilk professionally how could I not be grateful for platforms like this one?

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