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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Will the refs be better in 2021-22?

It’s a Monday morning once again and that means we’re back with a brand new Mailbag to not only get your week started but to help you make sense of everything that’s happening with our beloved Edmonton Oilers! This week, we’re looking at the refs, the Oilers depth on defence, Tyler Benson, and more. If you’ve got got a question you’d like to ask, 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.

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

1) Yves asks – Since so many fans and pundits alike complained about the officiating this past season, do you expect to see any changes in how the game is called? Why or why not?

Jason Gregor:

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I do think we will see a crackdown on crosschecks. Remains to be seen if they will continue that in the playoffs though. I think that is the bigger issue.

Robin Brownlee:

Hopeful, mainly because new US TV deals might mean selling the game and broadening the fan base in the U.S. Not counting on it.

Cam Lewis:

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No, unfortunately not. Hockey is too set in its roots to see an overarching change to the way in which the game is reffed. We saw a bit of a change back after the full-season lockout and even that only lasted for a few seasons. There’s no way it’ll randomly change now.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

No. Fans and players complained but Gary Bettman seemed adamant at the Stanley Cup Finals that the NHL has the best officials in the world and that there aren’t any problems. While I agree that the NHL has the best referees in the world, and they are very good, there is also clearly a problem with how the NHL allows high-end offensive players to be suffocated by less skilled shutdown players. It’s a problem and they should address it, but they won’t.

Baggedmilk:

Lol. No. I don’t. The refs have been and will continue to be horrible in the NHL. Why they don’t feel the need to protect their stars is a mystery I don’t think will ever be solved.

Feb 20, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Zach Hyman (11) plays the puck against Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

2) Oilers fan in Van asks – How much do you think our improved forward group will ease the pressure on the defence or are they not quite there yet?

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Jason Gregor:

It should help quite a bit if they spend more time in the offensive zone, because that should lead to less time defending. I also think this group of D-men is better at moving the puck than last year’s group, so they will move puck out quicker and with more forwards capable of making plays Edmonton should spend less time in the D zone.

Robin Brownlee:

Don’t know. Let’s see how the new line-up translates from paper to the ice first. Looks improved. Let’s see if that’s so.

Cam Lewis:

This group’s offence will be stronger than it was last year, which will be a big plus. Edmonton had a good offence last season, finishing seventh in the league in goals, but the key will be having more depth and more play drivers, as pushing the puck up ice more often than not ultimately helps you on the defensive end. The forwards will need to be good because keeping the puck out of the net won’t be a strength, I can’t imagine.

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Tyler Yaremchuk:

I mean, the best offence is a good defence, right? I’m actually not terribly concerned about the Oilers blueline. I don’t think they’re as good as they were last season, but I still think they’ll be good enough to get the Oilers into the postseason. The Oilers group of defenseman won’t be so bad that it costs them a playoff spot, their goaltending might be though. The offence is far from a concern and I think you’d be smart to bet a lot of overs this season.

Baggedmilk:

I guess you’d hope that a better offensive group will be able to keep the puck in the opposing zone more often than not, but I don’t know that it will matter much if the defence gets caved in. I don’t think that will happen necessarily, but I am nervous about what this new group will be able to do.

Feb 16, 2020; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Josh Archibald (15) is congratulated by left wing Tyler Benson (49) after his second period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

3) Anna asks – Is this the year when Tyler Benson grabs a spot with the Oilers or is he reaching the end of the road with the organization as he enters his fifth post-draft season?

Jason Gregor:

He is in a battle with Shore and Perlini for the 4th line LW spot. Even if he doesn’t make it out of camp doesn’t mean he is done, but he would be waiver eligible so there is a chance a team with not as good NHL depth, like Arizona or Buffalo, might look at him.

Robin Brownlee:

He’ll get as good a shot as he’s going to get because he needs waivers to go to the minors now and could be claimed if sent down. I don’t know if Benson can play the style of game needed in the bottom six.

Cam Lewis:

Probably. He’s waiver eligible and I would assume he’ll get a look simply because the Oilers don’t want to lose a former high pick and top AHL producer to waivers. Whether he captures the chance and plays well is a totally different story. He might be one of those guys who can perform in the minors but not in the bigs. Regardless, it’s worth a 15-ish game look.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

That is a great question and I don’t really have an answer. If he worked on his skating and shows Dave Tippett that he can be trusted on the PK and in his own zone, then he will have a roster spot. That’s what it will come down to for Benson. If it doesn’t work out this season, then yes, he might be done in Edmonton.

Baggedmilk:

For his sake, I certainly hope so but I also don’t know whose job he’d be able to steal on that left side. After five years with the organization, I bet both Benson and the team would both love to see this relationship move forward.

Apr 15, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Cody Ceci (4) moves the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at PPG Paints Arena. Philadelphia won 2-1 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

4) Calvin asks – How satisfied are you with the Oilers depth on defence to handle any injuries that may occur be it on the left or right side?

Jason Gregor:

Depends on who it is. If it is Nurse, then that is a big issue since he played the most minutes in NHL last year. Left side does have way more depth with Russell, Koekoek, Lagesson, Broberg, and Samorukov (although he is out for six weeks). The right side has no other natural right-shot D-man behind Bouchard, Barrie and Ceci. That is a concern if any of them suffer a long-term injury. Short term you can move a LD over, but long term that is not ideal.

Robin Brownlee:

Can never have too much depth. Some promising prospects are waiting, but that’s not the same as proven, experienced depth.

Cam Lewis:

It would be interesting to see a young guy like Filip Berglund or Markus Niemelainen get a look in the event of an injury but that isn’t exactly ideal. I think the Oilers should bring in a veteran like Jason Demers on a PTO as a fall-back net. They’re pretty thin on the right side, and that’s assuming Evan Bouchard is ready to step into a full-time role. If he struggles, oof, that could get ugly.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

The right side is a concern for sure. That’s why I think they need to bring in a veteran defenseman on a PTO before training camp officially kicks off. If one of Bouchard, Ceci, or Barrie goes down then they’re in trouble. They are more set on the left side where they have both Slater Koekoek and Kris Russell competing for the third pairing spot and if they ran into a lot of injuries, they could take a chance on one of Dmitri Samorukov or Philip Broberg. I guess they could throw either Russell or Koekoek on their off sides as well, but I’d prefer that they brought in another veteran.

Baggedmilk:

I’m worried about the right side because a single injury will result in someone having to play on their off-wing. That’s not the worst thing in the world to have happen but it’s certainly not ideal.

Jan 6, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Alex Chiasson (39) scores on this shot against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

5) Ed asks – As of today, neither James Neal nor Alex Chiasson has been signed or offered a PTO. Is this the end of the line for these guys? I know some fans on this site were against buying out Neal and they claimed he is still an NHL player. ***Baggedmilk note: Question submitted before Neal signed PTO in St. Louis***

Jason Gregor:

Neal signed in St. Louis and I won’t be surprised if he signs a one-year deal. If he is healthy and recovered fully from COVID, he can still chip in. He isn’t worth $5.5m, but I believe he can still contribute. Chiasson came to Edmonton on a PTO a few seasons ago and turned that into three years, but he is three years older. If Buffalo and Arizona are looking for a veteran who is consistent and a solid person in the room I could see him getting a PTO on a team like that.

Robin Brownlee:

Neal signed a PTO with St. Louis Friday. I expect Chiasson will get a look as well, maybe with Pittsburgh.

Cam Lewis:

I’m more concerned about adding defencemen on a PTO. As I mentioned above, Jason Demers would be the ideal guy for me. Both Neal and Chiasson are NHL calibre, but the Oilers don’t have a need right now for wingers who can’t produce at even-strength who largely only produce on the power-play. Zach Hyman and Jesse Puljujarvi will fill those front-of-net roles.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

Both guys can still play, they just aren’t what they used to be. If a team is looking for a veteran who can play competent even-strength minutes and help out on their second powerplay unit, then both of these guys are good fits. The problem is that a lot of teams like giving those roles to younger players with more upside. Neal is going to St. Louis now and I would expect that Chiasson will get a PTO in the next few days as well. They’re still good players who can produce when put in the right spots and don’t need to play every night.

Baggedmilk:

I could see the Oilers bringing back Chiasson on a PTO since he seems to click with the boys on the powerplay but I don’t know how they’d be able to afford it.

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