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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Six Negatives from the Oilers’ 5-6 Start

The Edmonton Oilers and their fans expected a better beginning to their season than what they currently have. After necessary wins against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, things are looking better for Connor McDavid and the Oilers. A few days ago we looked at a few positives, back when the Oilers were 3-6, so today focuses on what hasn’t gone well after a 5-6 start. This is not for the faint of heart.

Without McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins

The Oilers depth issues have been beaten to death, but for good reason. They get crushed without McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out there five-on-five. The Oilers have played 181 five-on-five minutes without those three and they have scored just two goals. They have allowed 15. Obviously, that isn’t sustainable but it’s also possible the Oilers are icing too many borderline NHL players in their bottom six and that will lead to a heavily tilted goals ratio for the opposition.

Dave Tippett needs to figure the bottom six out, most importantly the third line. Kyle Turris does not look like he’s having the bounce-back campaign most expected he could have in the third-line center spot. You cannot have your third and fourth lines get absolutely crushed every night five-on-five. Start with a competent third line.

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Goaltending, they are who we thought they were

Mikko Koskinen’s 2019-2020 performance is probably underrated by most, but going into 2021 with Koskinen and a 38-year-old Mike Smith was not the best idea. Koskinen looked best in 2018-19 and 2019-20 when he was not starting every night like he is this season.

Smith was not good enough last season and expecting him to improve, or even not decline as he gets closer to his forties, was a bad bet. Ken Holland signing Smith so early into free agency was a serious miscalculation by the veteran general manager. Smith has not even played a game this season, spending most of the time on the injured reserve. Holland put Anton Forsberg, who they anticipated being their third goaltender, on waivers instead of someone like Jujhar Khaira, @Alex Chiasson or William Lagesson, and Forsberg was promptly claimed by the Carolina Hurricanes and then the Winnipeg Jets. Holland claimed Troy Grosenick, an AHL journeyman with a couple of games for the San Jose Sharks six years ago. To say the goaltending situation has been bad would be an understatement.

Maybe Grosenick can be an adequate backup. Maybe Stuart Skinner is more NHL ready than people think, even after five goals against the lowly Senators. Maybe Smith returns from injury in top form as Koskinen’s backup. Koskinen’s .895 save percentage is probably unfair to judge. Koskinen’s started the most games in the NHL and behind an Oilers defence missing Oscar Klefbom for the season.

Goaltending was a big question mark heading into the season and it remains that way today.

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Kyle Turris

Rumours of Kyle Turris’ demise may have not been exaggerated at all. It is much easier to see why Nashville bought out the veteran centre and assumed a $2-million cap penalty for the next eight years. Turris has had a very rough start to his Oilers career. The Oilers have been outscored 11-3 and badly outshot with Turris out there five-on-five. Turris has three points on the season and should probably be reduced to a fourth-line role going forward.

Missing Oscar Klefbom

If anyone doubted Klefbom’s importance, look no further than the Oilers’ start to this shortened season. Klefbom’s absence is obvious. Neither Koekkoek nor Russell can replace Klefbom’s minutes. Adding Barrie was a solid move, but he is not the same sort of player as Klefbom even though they both can man a power play.

Caleb Jones is a promising, young player many hoped could take the next step and fill Klefbom’s role this season. After a rough start, it looks more plausible. Adam Larsson looks much better with Jones to his left after a very tough adjustment without Klefbom as his partner.

Zack Kassian

The worry with Kassian and his four-year extension is that when he is not with McDavid he’s a fourth-line player and $3.2 million is way too much money dedicated to a player of that calibre. The biggest issue is Kassian played most of his time beside McDavid, and Nugent-Hopkins, and still hasn’t produced. Kassian looks more like a drag on that line than a useful complementary player.

Kassian’s 3 points in 10 games, a 24-point pace over 82 games, just isn’t good enough considering the amount of time spent on the McDavid line. Kassian’s contract does not look good 10 games in.

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Colleague Zach Laing mused about a potential Kassian buyout after this season, which may seem ridiculous, but the penalty isn’t too bad. $1.6 million in year one and $1.8 million in year three, but otherwise either $622,222 or $922,222 in every other year of the six-year cap charge.

Yes, adding more dead cap onto the Oilers payroll is supremely unfortunate, especially in the prime of McDavid’s career. But you cannot pay a fourth-line player $3.2 million a season. Kassian’s been replaced with Jesse Puljujarvi on McDavid’s right wing, who looks like a different player after returning from his stint in Finland. Instead, Kassian’s found himself on the third line with Turris. In an extremely small sample size, Turris and Kassian look okay as a duo, but we’re talking less than 50 minutes total here.

Holland should seriously look at trades before considering a buyout but shouldn’t rule it out if a deal cannot be found.

Adam Larsson

Adam Larsson had some of the worst shot and goal numbers of the Oilers defence before Jones came back into the lineup. It’s not a good sign that a rookie is the stabilizing presence on that pairing, instead of the veteran defenceman, but here we are. Larsson’s game has serious limitations, and he doesn’t look the same without Klefbom as his left-side option.

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Larsson in the last year of his contract that pays him $4.16 million per season. With Bear’s emergence, Barrie here on a one-year deal, and Evan Bouchard waiting in the wings, Larsson is ripe for a trade. His cap hit is ideal to move for a goaltender or forward. Larsson’s the exact type of defenceman general managers overrate, too, and the Oilers can withstand losing his minutes. Larsson averages the same amount of five-on-five minutes as Russell, a player that has been healthy scratched multiple times already.