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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Is the defence or goaltending a bigger concern?

Welcome, friends, to another edition of the Monday Mailbag where we answer all of your Oilers related questions and give you a few minutes of time killing distraction from whatever you’ve got going on today. This week, we’re looking at Andreas Athanasiou still being up on the board, RNH’s spot in the lineup, dating advice and a whole lot more. As always, I need your questions to make this work. If you’ve got one, email it to me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk and I’ll get to you as soon as we can.

Feb 29, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Andreas Athanasiou (28) skates during warmup against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

1) Kai asks – I have a question regarding A. Athanasiou: Wouldn’t it be wise to make him an offer? As far as I know, he hasn’t signed anywhere and should be cheap(er) now that he had to notice, that teams aren’t exactly lining up to sign him. After all, we already gave up two second-rounders and he is just one (admittedly bad) season away from a 30-goals campaign.

Jason Gregor:

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Oilers have a lot of contracts. They have 16 forwards on one-way deals and Kailer Yamamoto, who is a lock to make the team, so 17 forwards on one-way deals. I think signing Kahun ensured they don’t sign AA at this point.

Robin Brownlee:

Even before looking at Edmonton’s salary cap situation, the fact nobody has signed Athanasiou should tell you all you need to know. Not interested.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

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Before signing Dominik Kahun, I would have said yes, they should make him an offer. But now, I don’t see room for him on the depth chart. Between Nugent-Hopkins, Ennis, Kahun, and Neal, they have enough left-wingers for this upcoming season. There’s just no room for Athanasiou.

Nation Dan:

The sunk cost fallacy is strong here. We have to start looking at the trade deadline and a few weeks after it, as a separate season and track record. If the pandemic hadn’t hit, AA would be an Edmonton Oiler right now for a lot more than what we paid his replacement(s) in Ennis and Kahun. We don’t need any more forwards. Now the key is some more NHL ready D depth, but I wouldn’t imagine much will happen on that front prior to “camp.”

Baggedmilk:

I was admittedly pretty strong the idea of finding a way to bring Athanasiou back, but after seeing what’s shaken out in free agency, I’m having a hard time arguing with the approach Uncle Ken took. Yes, it definitely sucks to have lost those two second-round picks, but it’s also clear that Athanasiou isn’t in high demand anywhere else either.

Nov 23, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ethan Bear (74) is pictured during warm ups before a game against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

2) Blake asks – What is the bigger question for next season in everyone’s mind: The Defence or the Goaltending? Why? I see a defensive group that will need multiple guys to maintain high levels of play or to take sizeable steps forward if they’re going to compete, and for that reason, I would suggest that the d-group is a bigger question mark than the goalies.

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Jason Gregor:

I don’t see why the D is such a concern. Klefbom is not a stalwart defender. He is good, but not great. Barrie is much better offensively, so while he might give up some more defensively, he will add more offensively. I think Jones/Barrie combo is better than Klefbom/Benning, mainly because Klefbom misses a decent chunk of the season every year, except 2017.

Robin Brownlee:

There’s no such thing as having too many defencemen or too much good goaltending, but I don’t see a need for a lot of concern on either front. I would have preferred a change behind Koskinen, but it didn’t come. Mike Smith’s fold job in the play-in against Chicago left a bad last impression, but I can see him handling the back-up job just fine — especially in a shortened season. I’d rather the Oilers didn’t have to get along without Oscar Klefbom, but the addition of Tyson Barrie takes the sting off that.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

That’s a tough question. Between the pipes, they’re the same as last season but that comes with a risk considering Mike Smith is another year older. Still, there’s a chance that Mikko Koskinen takes another step forward and the goaltending isn’t an issue. On the blueline, I like the fact that they brought in Tyson Barrie, but they still didn’t fully replace what Oscar Klefbom brings to the lineup. Still, there’s a chance that Darnell Nurse and Caleb Jones take steps forward and they find a way to survive. My answer to the question though is going to be goaltending. If the goaltending is bad, then there’s really nothing that the defence can do. If goals are going in from bad angles and from far out, the Oilers are screwed. If the defence is bad but the goaltending is bailing them out, then they might still find a way to be a playoff team.

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The addition of Dominik Kahun opens the possibility of uniting McNuge

Nation Dan:

I am not one to look at our goaltending and have much of a problem other than how much Mike Smith is making. For me, the D is going to be our biggest issue for the season. Klefbom gone, and Larsson banged up. Players who played a lot of minutes for their age (Bear and Jones) are going to be having more asked of them. There will also likely be more extending periods of having players out in the coming season, so you need a 7th/8th D man group that can play for you.

Baggedmilk:

For me, I think it’s the defence. That’s not to say that this defensive group is bad, but I do think multiple players will need to take steps forward this year if the Oilers are going to tighten things up in their own end and that’s a tall order at the best of times. With Klefbom out, everyone will be playing more minutes and that’s a challenge they’ll all have to rise up to.

Dec 27, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames forward Sean Monahan (23) defends Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

3) Stephanie asks – Even though it’s way too early to ask, where do you think Tippett will slot Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to start the year? Next to Draisaitl, McDavid, or centring a line of his own?

Jason Gregor:

No reason he centres his own line. It is unlikely there will be many, if any, preseason games. So the roster will start based on practices. I’d guess he starts RNH with Draisaitl, but I don’t see him locked in there. We could see it switch often depending on the games go.

Robin Brownlee:

It is too early to ask, but I’d prefer to see him with Draisaitl until there’s a good reason not to have him there.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think Kahun will start next to Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins will be next to Connor McDavid.

Nation Dan:

With the addition of Turris, the signal was clear to me that the Oilers don’t plan on having RNH in any other position than on a wing. The addition of Kahun also means more flexibility with the wingers. I believe Ennis/RNH/Kassian/Neal will be in the mix for McDavid’s wing.

Baggedmilk:

I think Nuge will start with McDavid even though I would prefer that he reunite NuDraMoto.

4) Ed asks – Ryan Strome just signed a $4.5M contract, the same cap hit as Jordan Eberle. It’s fair to say Strome while with the Oil never performed at the level that Eberle did. However, his time with the Rangers has been much better. Looking back, what happened to Strome with the Oil? As one scribe at the time pointed out, he had virtually no time playing RW with McD. Did McLellan just misuse him?

Jason Gregor:

Strome produced 59 points because he got to play C with Panarin. McLellan was livid when they traded him as Strome was his third line C. Strome was never going to produce big here because he wasn’t a better C option than 97, 29 or 93 and he wasn’t as comfortable as a winger. But he would have been a solid 3C. McLellan had him there in the 20 games to start the year, and while he only had one goal, his line was creating a lot and playing well. They would have started scoring. Strome is in a great spot in New York because they have a lot of skilled wingers, and with Kakko and Lafreniere in the mix with Panarin and Kreider, he will be in a good position to be a 50-point again. He just was never going to produce big points, but he would have been a solid 3C.

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Robin Brownlee:

Strome wasn’t brought in to play with McDavid. Chiarelli pulled the trigger on moving Strome way too quickly instead of letting him settle into the role he was brought in to play.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I absolutely think McLellan misused him. He should have gotten a longer look next to McDavid. Strome is producing in New York because he’s playing with really good players. The Oilers never gave him that luxury and his production suffered because of that.

Nation Dan:

I was never a Strome fan, but I do have to admire the fact that he has picked up his game in NY. I don’t think McClellan misused him as much as he just wasn’t given enough time to do something with the guy. Strome had 34 points in his first year in Edmonton. Chiarelli was so trigger happy to try and turn Eberle back into Eberle.

Baggedmilk:

Chiarelli also traded Strome at a time when he wasn’t playing with confidence, his shooting% had cratered, and took on a guy that doesn’t even play in the NHL anymore. Strome would have probably been fine here if he had been given more leash to work through his tough stretch, but we’ll never know because Pistol Pete was allowed another go at saving himself from drowning.

5) Tanner asks – I’m 23 years old and just moved in with my girlfriend at the start of November. How do I make sure I don’t screw this up?

Jason Gregor:

Be honest. Communicate and clean up after yourself. Also, make sure you keep some of your own stuff. If you don’t take a stand now, you will end up with nothing of yours.

Robin Brownlee:

I’d start by ignoring any advice you get from a hockey website. Aside from that, don’t leave the toilet seat up.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

Hey Tanner! I’m also 23 years old and just moved in with my girlfriend! My best advice: find one household chore that she doesn’t like, and commit yourself to always doing that one chore. For me: I almost exclusively do the laundry at our house because she once told me she hates folding laundry. You doing the one chore that she hates goes a long way and stands out more than doing the easy stuff.

Nation Dan:

I couldn’t convince anyone to date me until I was 25/26. So not sure I can help much with that age, but what I will say is always make sure to give yourself some space and her some space as well. Whether that’s just you taking a night to read a book, or something, just make sure it’s comfortable to have you coexist sometimes and not have to be “with” the person all the time.

Baggedmilk:

Bring her snacks and clean up after yourself. You’ve got this.

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