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There’s a skilled and younger alternative to improving Edmonton’s depth, but will Dave Tippett and Ken Holland give it a chance?

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Photo credit:twitter.com/Condors
NHL_Sid
10 months ago
“All you’ve got to do is look at the goal differential at five-on-five for the real legit teams. That’s the analytics that I look at,” responded Ken Holland, when asked about his use of analytics this prior off-season (via The Athletic). Hopefully, he’s stayed true to that statement for this season.
After all, the team without McDavid, Draisaitl, and RNH is at an all-time low in terms of 5v5 goal differential, worse than they were under Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan (!).
It would be a massive understatement to say Edmonton’s bottom-six has struggled. It’s an issue that’s been a significant factor for their mediocre 9-12-2 record in the past 23 games.
Seven different forward line combinations (without one of McDavid, Draisaitl, or RNH on them) have been given an opportunity of at least 20 minutes together this season, per EvolvingHockey. However, most of these lines are simply the rotation of a nearly identical cast of players. Six of these combinations include the exact same six players.
I like referring to the quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” In this case, Edmonton has repeatedly experimented with the exact same players for the majority of the season.
Of course, there should be little doubt that the players Dave Tippett has been given to work with, just aren’t good enough. I’m unsure of how many coaches around the league could transform this bottom-six into a net positive in terms of goal share, if any at all. 
With that in mind, Tippett’s deployment is also a significant concern, as he consistently gives players with mediocre goal and scoring chance results an abundance of opportunities. 
He’s made it worse than it already looks on paper. I mentioned this in a previous article, but every single depth forward that comes to Edmonton sees a massively concerning decline in both goal and expected goal share. Most of Edmonton’s depth players were nothing exceptional in previous seasons, but their game diminishes when playing in Edmonton. 
How could the Oilers fix this problem at the moment, you may ask? I have several suggestions.
*All stats via Natural Stat Trick and all prospect-related info via Elite Prospects and Pick224 unless stated otherwise

Devin Shore and Kyle Turris should not be regulars in the lineup

There should be little reason as to why Shore and Turris are consistently given opportunities in the lineup.
Here’s a visual displaying where Shore and Turris rank among the league statistically. 
Obviously, my expectations aren’t for them to place top ten in each category, that’s far from my point. Their roles are to be bottom-six players, and I definitely don’t expect them to be world-beaters.
However, it’s a simple fact that they’ve been liabilities at 5v5, and are major reasons as to why Edmonton’s depth is so poor. Both Shore and Turris just don’t excel in many facets of the game at the NHL level, and a team that wishes to excel at 5v5 just can’t consistently give players like them constant opportunities. Turris did have a decent game against New York, but it isn’t enough to justify his play for the entire season.
Neither score goals nor produce points at the level of the average bottom-six player. They’re poor at generating scoring chances and struggle to defend chances coming the opposite direction. Shore has a lengthy track record of being a massive liability in terms of goal share on all the teams he’s played on throughout his career. Meanwhile, Turris has massively declined from the top-six center he once was in Ottawa several years ago.
Sure, Turris has two shootout goals this year, and Shore can kill penalties. But are these limited skillsets really worth justifying their role in the lineup? Especially when you consider how much they worsen the team at 5v5, the game state in which a team spends roughly ~50 minutes per game at? 
There’s an easy solution to improving at 5v5 for Edmonton, a team that ranks 23rd in the league in 5v5 goal share.
Stop playing players that struggle at 5v5. It’s a very simple concept, yet seems exceedingly difficult for this team to grasp.

Why not give a Cooper Marody a chance in the NHL and continue to increase Tyler Benson’s role?

Personally, I think it’s long past the time for Marody to be in Edmonton’s lineup.
Pick224, an excellent site for prospect stats, hasn’t updated their website for the 21-22 season thus far, but here’s how Marody looked the prior season.
Marody has been nothing short of dominant. With him on-ice, the Condors out-scored the opposition 39/21 at even-strength, as he was third in the AHL in on-ice goals for at EV (Tyler Benson was 1st). In addition, Marody ranked atop the entire AHL in both even-strength and total goals. 
His superb play seems to have persisted this year, as Marody has produced 9 goals and 19 points in 21 games with the Condors so far. Combining the past two seasons, Marody has 30 goals and 57 points in 65 games.
It’s an exceedingly limited sample size, so take it with a grain of salt, but Marody did post a 66.9% expected goal share and a 66.7% high danger chance share in the six games he played in 18-19. This season, he was recalled to the NHL subsequent to several Oilers being placed in COVID protocol, but just played five minutes.
It’s hard to ask much more out of Marody at this point. He’s been phenomenal in Bakersfield and even picked up an assist in his mere five minutes of playing time, and this isn’t enough to warrant even a 2nd NHL game this season? What more does he need to do to at least earn an NHL roster spot, especially considering how Edmonton has tried practically every other alternative in the bottom-six?
As for Tyler Benson, he’s also performed well with the Condors. Last season, he was a prominent playmaker, as he ranked 2nd in the league in primary assists at even-strength. His EV Points/GP also placed in the 99th percentile, similar to Marody.
In comparison to Marody, Benson has been given more NHL opportunities, but it still isn’t much. 
Thus far, Benson has been pretty low-event. He wasn’t generating much offence previously, but did have a beautiful setup on McLeod’s goal against New York. He’s also been (marginally) above-average defensively, as the Oilers allow chances against a lower rate with Benson on-ice.
However, for the remainder of the season prior, it’s difficult to state he’s performed well, but it’s also hard to ignore that his deployment clearly wasn’t benefitting him. His second most common linemate has been Kyle Turris, and the game against New York was just his 2nd game all season in which he played over 10 5v5 minutes. 
He thrived when placed in an offensively-inclined role in Bakersfield alongside skilled players like McLeod and Marody. At this point, why not give the “kid line” an opportunity together in the NHL as Edmonton’s third line?

What’s a simple, smart, and cost-effective way Edmonton could improve their depth in future seasons?

There’s one other thing that I feel that the Oilers should be doing next off-season (or, for that matter, the team should have been doing every season).
Signing players that posted excellent underlying numbers in sheltered roles, and giving them a higher opportunity in the lineup.
To be more specific, Edmonton should search for free agents that can drive scoring chances for and prevent chances against at high rates. Sign them to a cheap one/two-year deal and/or sign them to a professional try-out, and let them play alongside superior teammates.
If the player struggles when deployed further up in the lineup, no harm no foul. After all, this player wouldn’t be a significant cap liability, and the team could always deploy them in the sheltered role they did thrive in. That player would most likely be an upgrade over players such as Shore and Turris. Even the possibility of placing them on waivers is open.
It’s a very low-risk, high-reward bet. However, there’s always the possibility that this player will succeed, and a prime example of this? 
Carter Verhaeghe and the Florida Panthers.
In 2019-20, Verhaeghe posted an expected goal share of 55.2%, and a scoring chance share of 57.4%. However, he accomplished this while averaging a mere 8:55 minutes per game at even-strength. It was evident that he was quite sheltered.
In the subsequent off-season, Bill Zito signed Verhaeghe to a two-year deal of $1M. He was given an opportunity with Florida’s top players such Barkov and Huberdeau, and he’s been phenomenal. Verhaeghe has 64 points in 70 games, alongside a 65.8 GF% and a 59.3 xGF% in his tenure with Florida thus far.
I believe that Edmonton would largely benefit if they began doing this, and perhaps, they could even find some hidden gems. 

Conclusion

I firmly believe that to improve moving forward, the Oilers have to stop shying away from giving their younger and skilled talents higher chances. Deploying the “kid line” in place of Shore and Turris would be a great first step, alongside giving Dylan Holloway an NHL opportunity this season when he’s fully healthy.
I understand the hesitation by some for deploying three young, inexperienced NHL players on a line together, but Edmonton doesn’t have many superior alternatives on their current roster.
In addition, Benson’s primary strength is his passing abilities, and it could largely benefit him in the NHL if he plays with a strong shooter. How about the guy who led the AHL in goals the prior season, a guy with who Benson already has plentiful experience with? It isn’t as if Marody has much competition in terms of other strong finishers in the bottom-six, with the exception of McLeod (who would also be on that suggested line).
Of course, this is just my personal suggestion.
Barring injuries, the odds of this realistically occurring under the current coaching staff and management are probably near zero. It’s exceedingly evident that Tippett and Holland desire a more veteran-based team, and they definitely don’t seem to place much value on a younger and more skilled bottom-six. Tippett, more specifically, seems more preoccupied with players with the ability to kill penalties rather than deploying a bottom-six that’s actually strong at 5v5. To add salt in the wound, Edmonton’s PK still hasn’t been that exceptional this year, as they rank near the middle of the league (14th in PK%).
The simple and near-undeniable fact is that Holland and Tippett’s current mindset just isn’t working.
If you took away the top scorers on every team and compared their goal differential, Edmonton would be near dead last. Last season, only the Chicago Blackhawks had an inferior goal share (27.2%) than the GF% of Edmonton’s current bottom-six (30.4%). The team’s 94 point pace with elite talents like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl shouldn’t be anywhere near acceptable.
It’s one of several reasons as to why I believe the best path forward for the Oilers is to find both a new GM and a new coach.
They need to find management and coaching that are willing to adapt and grant more opportunities to younger players, and it goes beyond just the topic of recalling Marody. They must put an end to consistently acquiring and giving poor 5v5 players countless opportunities for the sake of limited skillsets such as penalty-killing.
This is Year Seven of Connor McDavid, and Year Eight of Leon Draisaitl. The time for “patience” should have come to an end quite a long time ago, and the time to win and adapt is now. I just don’t feel this will occur under the current regime.
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