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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Thoughts on Dave Tippett first year behind the bench?

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to a brand new edition of the Monday Mailbag which means that our writers have an opportunity for you to not only learn something but to also avoid your responsibilities for a few minutes. In this week’s Mailbag, we take a look at Dave Tippett’s first year behind the bench, Ken Holland’s trade deadline review, and a lot more. As always, I need questions for next week so if you have something you’d like to ask you can email me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter. Have a great week, everybody!

Mar 5, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Tyler Ennis (63) keeps the puck away from Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad (20) during the third period at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

1) Ed asks – Now that the season is over, how do you evaluate Ken Holland’s trade deadline moves? Andreas Athanasiou, Mike Green, and Tyler Ennis for two second-round picks, a 4th and a 5th?

Jason Gregor:

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Hard to evaluate because COVID changed everything. Of course it doesn’t look great now, but at the time of the trades, no one thought there would be a flat cap and a five-month break during the season. If Holland is able to re-sign Athanasiou at a lower salary it will a big boost. That was the plan to begin with, while  Green and Ennis were rentals, at least according to Holland at the time of the trades.

Robin Brownlee:

Not enough to show for them, but that’s largely because Athanasiou has done nothing to this point and Green and Ennis got injured at different points. I think we have to see how Athanasiou turns out before we can really judge, but he hasn’t done a lot for me outside of his obvious ability to skate.

Cam Lewis:

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I think they’re still quality moves when made in the context of the normal world, but they went a little sideways for reasons that Holland could obviously never expect. Nobody expected the cap would remain stagnant so it seemed it would be easy to keep AA and even Ennis around next year and, of course, nobody thought there would be a pandemic and a veteran like Green would opt out of the playoffs. Not being able to fit AA under the cap and letting him go would really sting, though. Holland needs to find a way to make that work.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I still think they are great moves. It’s easy to use hindsight and say that he should have stood pat at the deadline, but you can’t do that considering how the last few months have gone. At the time of those deals, the Oilers had a shot at winning the division and Ken Holland made three moves that improved the Oiler’s chances of doing that. I still think all three deals were very good and I’d like to see both Ennis and Athanasiou back next season.

Nation Dan:

It’s hard to give him a fair rating on those trades because in a “normal world” where a global pandemic didn’t shut down the season, they were the exact moves that we needed. Green opting out and now retiring is pretty hard to give a rating at all. Both AA and Ennis showed they were worthwhile moves to make. Just like every other deadline add in the past, they probably needed more time to gel with their new teams. Resign Ennis or AA and it becomes even better.

Baggedmilk:

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To be honest, I really liked his deadline day at the time and I still feel, more or less, the same. Injuries were the problem with the Mike Green trade, Ellis broke his leg in the playoffs which was a real bummer to say the least, and Athanasiou’s future remains unclear based on what he’ll likely need for a new contract. That all said, I think the approach was exactly what needed to be done and it’s unfortunate that things played out the way they did.

Apr 2, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Matt Benning (83) celebrates a goal by left wing Milan Lucic (left) in the first period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

2) Kara asks – Ken Holland will need to make some difficult decisions during the offseason when it comes to the money he spends and I’m wondering what everyone thinks will happen with RFAs like Athanasiou and Benning?

Jason Gregor:

I don’t expect either to be qualified at their current salaries. Athanasiou will be offered a lower contract. Probably closer to $2m/year. I’d guess Benning will be offered a deal in the range of $1.2m/year. I don’t think Athanasiou will get much more on the open market, and if he is looking for a bounce back season there is no team where he would have a chance to play with two centres as skilled as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. So his best chance to produce and get a raise after one year is in Edmonton. I’m not sure he or his agent will see it that way, so they might test free agency.

Benning is a right shot D, and teams are always looking for them. He is a solid third pairing defender. He isn’t flashy, but he’s steady and on a team that leaked goals year after year, Benning always found ways to be on the ice for more goals for than against. If I was him, I’d test free agency. He likely will get a bit higher contract, but he also could go to a team where he’d play more than 12 or 13 minutes.

Robin Brownlee:

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If Athanasiou wants to take a haircut, he gets a longer look. As it stands now, he’s overpriced. Benning is a handy guy to have around. I’d try to keep him, but might be easier said than done.

Cam Lewis:

Both are prime candidates to not be qualified and instead get offered two- or even three-year deals at lower cap hits. I think we’ll see this with quite a few RFAs around the league this off-season given the cap crunch. Hopefully both Benning and AA are back next season.

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Tyler Yaremchuk:

I would like to see them both back next season, but Holland might not be able to do that. If he wants to upgrade their third-line centre and their goaltending, then he’s going to have to move out some salary. While I like both Athanasiou and Benning and see the value that they bring to the team, if you can’t move out a pricey veteran like Russell or Neal, then you may have to ship out one of those RFAs.

Nation Dan:

The AA contract is a tricky one, especially with a stagnant cap like we will have going forward. I don’t know if we can even qualify him at this point. Benning is a good D man. He has spent a lot of time with Kris Russell and hasn’t suffered too much for it (and vice versa). That all said, our D needs to improve and I don’t know if a move up higher in the depth chart will shake some money loose to keep him around or may bring in an improvement?

Baggedmilk:

Personally, I think Benning gets trade this offseason not because I want him to but because the Oilers will need to pinch some pennies here with a tight cap. Ideally, I’d like to see Benning stay because he’s the kind of third-pairing defenceman that you can rely on provided that he’s not asked to do too much. As for Athanasiou, I’d like to see him get signed to a one or two-year deal at around $2.2-2.5 to see if he can rebound from a dreadful year. I’d hate to give up two second-round picks for the guy and let him walk away for nothing, but we’ll have to see how things play out.

Mar 3, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) during the game between the Stars and the Oilers at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

3) Blake asks – We know that Mikko Koskinen will be here next season but who will play alongside him is anyone’s guess. Based on the current cap situation the Oilers are facing, who do you see as a realistic option to be next season’s backup?

Jason Gregor:

There aren’t many available. Robin Lehner would be an ideal option, but he’s more of a starter so he’ll command more than Koskinen. Thomas Greiss and Anton Khudobin are the best UFA options who won’t command more than $3m/year and are good enough to start 35+ games. There are also trade options, like Matt Murray, but Pittsburgh is rumoured to be interested in lowering their payroll so if they trade Murray they will be looking at young cheap contracts or prospects. Edmonton doesn’t have an abundance of either.

Robin Brownlee:

I still like Cam Talbot, but he’s in a good position in Calgary and is probably going to get paid. I wonder how much of a workload the Oilers think Koskinen can handle. That’s going to dictate who they look at. I like Robin Lehner, but can they afford him?

Cam Lewis:

Robin Lehner is obviously the No. 1 option, but he might be too pricey. After that, Anton Khudobin from Dallas and Thomas Greiss from New York have been successful in 1A/1B tandems in the past and would be good fits. If those don’t work out, I would look at acquiring Antti Raanta from Arizona.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

A realistic option would be a UFA option like Thomas Greiss or Anton Khudobin but I would hope Ken Holland takes a look at the trade market to see if he can find a younger goalie who can be a more long-term solution with the team. Maybe Matt Murray in Pittsburgh or one of the young goalies out of Columbus. That would be the best-case scenario, but I’m not sure how realistic it is.

Nation Dan:

Tomas Greiss. That’s the name everyone is going to say. Matt Murray/Tristan Jarry would be a pipe dream.

Baggedmilk:

Elliotte Friedman mentioned Thomas Greiss as a possible option for the Oilers and I could see that working a stopgap. Ideally, they’d be able to make the money work to get a guy like Robin Lehner as a free agent or if we’re looking at a trade, maybe there’s a deal to be done with Pittsburgh or Columbus? Both of those teams have a couple of young, solid goaltenders so maybe they’d be willing to part with someone.

Dec 31, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett is seen out on the players bench talking with Referee Ian Walsh (29) as they played the New York Rangers during the second period at Rogers Place. Oilers won the game 7-5. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

4) Oilers fan in Van asks – He may not have gotten a Jack Adams nomination but I believe Dave Tippett did a fine job in his first season as head coach. How would everyone rate Tippett’s first year behind the bench for the Oilers?

Jason Gregor:

Overall I thought he did a good job. The Oilers were 5th in the conference and 2nd in the division, which could have meant home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. I thought he did a pretty good job of getting the most out of many of his players. I disagreed with his decision not to reunite the RNH-Draisailt-Yamamoto line after Tyler Ennis was injured. And I would have started Mike Smith in game four. Go with what go you to the dance, but overall I give him a solid B.

Robin Brownlee:

Very good, despite the misgivings by some about starting Mike Smith in the first game of the play-in against Chicago and not going back to the RNH-Draisaitl and Yamamoto line to start the series. He’s always had a pretty good read on his talent and how to put it together. He doesn’t panic if things don’t work immediately.

Cam Lewis:

I would give him an B+. He’s certainly a key part of Edmonton’s rebound, getting their special teams in order, having overall improved team defence, and finding line combinations outside of the McDavid/Draisaitl pair that work. I can’t think of much in the season to complain about, but Tippett’s decisions in the playoffs were frustrating. That’s what takes him down from an A or A- for me.

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Tyler Yaremchuk:

I thought he was great and a big reason why the Oilers had such a great regular season. He handled the goaltenders perfectly, always seemed to make positive lineup changes when the team needed a shakeup, and he and his staff greatly improved the special teams. I think that’s why it was so surprising to see the Oilers struggle in the playoffs. Tippett rarely made a poor decision in the regular season but seemed to make a handful in the series against Chicago.

Nation Dan:

I’d give him a solid B-. The minus is just his lack of desire to reunite the Yamugeon line in the final games of the playoffs and then his insistence that he doesn’t want to become a one-line team as the reasoning. He did well with the two-headed goalie monster. He and his team helped make Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones (to a lesser extent) pleasant surprises for us this year. All in all a good start.

Baggedmilk:

My biggest problem with Tippett is that he split up the hottest line in the NHL and didn’t reunite them until there were only seven minutes left in game four of the play-in round against Chicago. Honestly, that NuDraMoto line could have made a huge difference.

Mar 13, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The statue of Wayne Gretzky watches over an empty Rogers Place as the NHL suspends games because of the COVID-19 outbreak at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

5) Stephen asks – The NHL is supposed to start the 2020-21 season in December but I can’t understand how that’s going to work since there likely won’t be a vaccine ready by then and you can’t bubble the entire league. Right now the playoffs are going well in Edmonton and Toronto as hubs, a clear win for the league and players, but is anyone else concerned about the reality of starting a new season under the circumstances?

Jason Gregor:

MLB is playing with no fans and teams travelling. It hasn’t been great for Miami, Philadelphia and St.Louis, but most other teams have been able to play and avoid any serious spread. I think the NHL will look at something similar. I can’t see the PA agreeing to a season long bubble, but maybe they will for six weeks and then get a break and do another six-week stretch.

It is up in the air, but the owners and the PA are committed to playing, and even if it is delayed until January I believe they will play next season.

Robin Brownlee:

Yes, I am. I don’t see players willing to live in hubs under the conditions required now for six months. Can you start that way? I guess. But what’s plan B as time drags on? My sense is you’d have a lot of players opting out of a full season in a hub.

Cam Lewis:

The NHL, NFL, and NBA will have the luxury of watching MLB slam its head through the wall trying to make a non-bubble season work during the pandemic, so all of those leagues can learn from what worked and what didn’t. From watching baseball, what’s required is a very clear set of guidelines for the players about what they’re allowed to do and where they’re allowed to go in order to stop the virus from spreading into the locker rooms. I don’t know if it was confusion or a lack of buy-in from the part of the Marlins and Cardinals that resulted in their breakouts, but there are lessons to be learned here.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I’m not concerned because the NHL has shown us that they can figure this out, but it’s going to be interesting to see how they handle it. Can they set up four bubbles and start the regular season that way? Maybe they can have some rotation where teams go into a bubble for three weeks and then get ten days off to visit with their families before heading back to a bubble for another three weeks to play different teams. I’m not sure how it’s going to work, or what the best way to do it is, but I’m pretty confident the NHL will find a safe way to get it done.

Nation Dan:

I have been saying all along that the season is not going to happen in that time frame. I think we have to learn to accept that to a certain extent. We don’t know how this virus is going to react to a full fall/winter cycle in our world and frankly, the only way I could see it happening right now is if they did some type of bubble again. The logistics of that are just wild, though. You’d have to have maybe four bubble cities and then you’d have to see teams shifting around the bubbles as the schedule allowed, divisions likely moving around together somewhat. It’s just a logistical nightmare that seeing how long it took to get the playoffs off the ground in the safest way possible, makes me think it will be a long wait for the 2020-21 season.

Baggedmilk:

I’m absolutely concerned. Just because there’s a start date for December doesn’t mean that world events are going to cooperate and I really can’t see the entire league being happy about bubble life for an entire season. It’s a major problem/concern/whatever you want to call it.

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