No matter how smart you are, a tangled cord can take forever. The Edmonton Oilers tangled that cord in about 2006 and it is now beyond a mess. Peter Chiarelli spoke to Bob McKenzie in the summer (I wrote two items, here and here) and I thought today—possibly on the verge of a trade—we could review some of the quotes and read the progress. Is that cord straightening out?
ON A HEAVY GAME AND HITTING
- Chiarelli: “Even when I was in Boston it wasn’t about putting fighters in the lineup, it was about your team approach, your team toughness, your collective mentality. And that can apply to us, also. Having said that, there are teams in our conference and our division that play a certain style. You don’t have to fight fire with fire, but you have to be able to push back.”
Peter Chiarelli pickups Eric Gryba (45, 0-4-4), Griffin Reinhart (13, 0-1-1) and Zack Kassian (5, 1-1-2) have added to the size and toughness, but Todd McLellan helped himself to the farm team riches, too. Darnell Nurse (41, 2-6-8), Leon Draisaitl (40, 12-25-37), Iiro Pakarinen (39, 4-3-7) and Jujhar Khaira (12, 0-2-2) all added some size and or rugged play to the lineup. Edmonton caught a break with Leon Draisaitl, who gives the team a completely different look on the skill lines. Early days, but the Kassian trade looks like extra bases, too.
ABOUT MOVING THE SKILL OFF A SPECIFIC LINE
- Chiarelli: “Yeah, we’ve talked about stretching it to the third line, we’ve got some interesting matchups. Connor and Taylor had something going on later in the summer at one of those summer camps, so there’s certain things you remember when you’re putting these lines together. Yakupov is a guy who can move up and down depending on how things are doing.”
Todd McLellan likes his muckers, and doesn’t really spend his 4line for much of the game. So, one of the issues we have when trying to puzzle these pieces into the jigsaw of the future is where to put Nail, or Pouliot, or whomever. I can say Hall—Leon—Purcell, Pouliot—McDavid—Yakupov, Kassian—Nuge—Eberle, and you can say ‘yes!’— but it doesn’t do one damn bit of good if the coach doesn’t see the value.
LEON AND DARNELL MAKING THE BIG TEAM
- Chiarelli: “We have to see how they do. They are two fine prospects, with size and skill you just don’t find anywhere. I still really believe size matters in this league. We’ll see. We’re going to try Leon on the wing and we’re going to try him, he protects the puck so well, we’ll try him at both (wing and center). Darnell is so strong, he defends so well. He’s an energetic player, we have to teach him you don’t have to do six things, if you do three very well, you can do the other three later. He’s got some stuff to learn but there’s a lot to like there.”
As it turned out, they sent both men down but they have played most of the schedule in the NHL. Interestingly, Draisaitl has been able to maintain a high level of play, while Darnell Nurse has faded—partly (at least) due to his monster minutes (21:05 a night). At this point in the season, Nurse probably needs to play third pairing and far fewer minutes if he is to remain an Oiler for the rest of the year.
WILD CARD PLAYER
- Chiarelli: “The one player I might characterize as a wild card player is (Anton) Slepyshev. I saw him a bit his draft year and he scored 15 goals in the KHL last year. He’s 218 pounds. He’s a big strong kid who can play both sides, terrific shot. You saw last night, there were some periods where he was getting used to the smaller ice surface. He’s 6.01 and a half, 218 can shoot the puck and can skate so you do the math.”
Slepyshev had a helluva pre-season, and has played in 11 NHL games so far this season. He got hurt in Bakersfield, and with Bogdan Yakimov jumping to the KHL one wonders if the other Russian will stay the course. He showed flashes and looks like a good bet—the Oilers may have room for him depending on how the summer goes.
ON THE DEFENSE
- Peter Chiarelli: “I can tell you I expect (Sekera) to be in our top four, Klefbom will be in our top four, Justin Schultz will be, I would hope he would be in our top four. Nikita Nikitin, who had a disappointing season last year, who was brought in to play in the top four. We’ve got some guys we acquired, Griffin Reinhart who I believe is a terrific player. I think he needs a little time to get up and running before I can anoint him in the top four. We have Eric Gryba who I think is a real strong shutdown D, we can probably shuttle him up at certain points. We’ve got three legitimate, we don’t have a workhorse right now.”
As it turned out, they had ‘two legitimate’ in Sekera and Klefbom, and Oscar played in only 30 games. The Oilers two-year bet on Nikita Nikitin is a complete swing and a miss, and Justin Schultz at this point appears to be have correctly labeled by management—and that is a fairly new development. Remember last spring when MacT named Schultz as one of the men he was comfortable moving forward with? Not so with the new management.
ON JUSTIN SCHULTZ
- Peter Chiarelli on Justin Schultz: “He’s a player that I don’t have really strong knowledge of. Saw him in college. Saw him in the lockout in the American League. Saw him in bits and pieces with Edmonton, maybe a little more this past year, whether it’s video or otherwise. He’s got a lot of assets, like puck skills, passing, skating. He’s been labelled sometimes as a rover and that’s more negative than positive in my mind, but the fact that he’s up the ice with the forwards is a good thing. That’s something that we would preach here. It’s about defending, about being the proper position and if you’re not strong enough to defend, let’s talk about positional defending, stick defending. He has to get better at that.”
I think Chiarelli and McLellan probably have a good view of Schultz now, and it is telling that the club grabbed Adam Clendening from the waiver wire yesterday. I don’t know the teams who might value Schultz, but a good guess would be a strong defensive team that isn’t getting much from their blue line in terms of offense.
THIS MUCH SADNESS IS TOO MUCH SORROW
- Corsi For 5×5 %: 49.0 (No.19) compared to 48.1 (No. 24) last season.
- GF per 60 5×5: 2.00 (No. 17) compared to 1.93 (No. 26) last season.
- GA per 60 5×5: 2.56 (No. 29) compared to 2.91 (No. 30) last season.
- Shots-for per 60 5×5: 28.0 (No. 18) compared to 27.2 (No. 26) last season.
- Shots-against per 60 5×5: 29.9 (No. 25) compared to 29.6 (No. 21) last season.
- Shooting percentage 5×5: 7.12 (No. 17) compared to 7.10 (No. 26) last season.
- Save percentage 5×5: .9143 (No. 29) compared to .9019 (No. 30) last season.
This is all even-strength information, I like to look at it because it is the big part of the game. Improvement in the offensive areas, and—despite climbing only one spot overall—a nice spike in even-strength save percentage year over year.
DONNER, PARTY OF 46, YEAR OVER YEAR
- Oilers in October 2014: 4-5-1
- Oilers in October 2015: 4-8-0
- Oilers in November 2014: 2-9-3
- Oilers in November 2015: 4-7-2
- Oilers in December 2014: 2-8-4
- Oilers in December 2015: 7-6-1
- Oilers in January 2015: 5-7-1
- Oilers in January 2016: 4-5-2
- Oilers after 50 in 2014-15: 13-28-9, 35 points (-51 GD)
- Oilers after 50 in 2015-16: 19-26-5, 43 points (-27 GD)
Just one month in the four have been .500, and the galling thing is that January could have been better with a little better attention to detail in Florida. McDavid, Davidson and (hopefully) Klefbom coming back should help, and if the Oilers give larger minutes to men like Sekera and Davidson and less playing time to Darnell Nurse and Justin Schultz, maybe they can have another .500 month. There are 32 games left, could they produce 32 points? That would mean 75 points for the season and represent a significant season-over-season improvement—especially when factoring in all of the injuries.
If Edm looking to move D Schultz to East playoff-type team, I'd say Pitts, TBay, Bruins, Ottawa possibles. Lightning need rightie.
— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) January 28, 2016
Justin Schultz trade rumors are sure to heat up, and I do think GMs will see him as a guy who is probably in a bad situation. Matty’s list is a good starting point, I would point out that Ottawa (Erik Karlsson 50, 11-41-52 !!!!), Pittsburgh (Kris Letang 38, 6-27-33) and Tampa Bay (Anton Stralman 49, 6-18-24) have quality RH puck movers, meaning Schultz could play a secondary role.
Boston may make sense for a feature role, although Colin Miller (36, 3-12-15) seems to be doing okay as an NHL rookie. Would Justin Schultz look better playing alongside Zdeno Chara or Dennis Seidenberg? Yes. Yes, he would.
What would Boston need to give? Peter Chiarelli would know their system and also know he wasn’t going to receive an A prospect in return (no chance Schultz fetches an actual NHL player imo). Here is a list of possibles:
- C Alexander Khokhlachev—Former second-round pick under Chiarelli regime cannot catch on with the Bruins. He is 32, 12-23-35 in the AHL this season (he is 22) and 5.11, 184. A fine playmaking center, he does not fit a need for Edmonton but certainly has enough skill to have value.
- D Joe Morrow—I think the Bruins probably like him plenty, as he is 23, stands 6.01, is 204 and has a decent range of skills. He can skate, move the puck and has a hammer from the point. Chiarelli traded for him once, perhaps he will do it again.
YOU ALWAYS HATED JUSTIN SCHULTZ!!!
When he arrived, and in the early days (OKC and here), you could see the promise of Justin Schultz. With the puck on his stick, elite talent around him and strong defensive support (Martin Marincin was his Barons partner) Schultz was free to wheel as a fourth forward, or rover.
The problem for Schultz is that he never got better, he gained one year’s experience four times, instead of four year’s experience. Years ago, I asked John Short about Tom Poti, who was being booed unmercifully by Edmonton fans at the time.
John said Poti’s problem came from always being the best player on the ice, at every level. When you are the best player on the ice, and don’t have the puck, you go over and get it. Easy days. With Poti (and I think Schultz), the lower levels did not offer much in the way of resistance, so the first time he had to figure out defense was the NHL.
That is an impossible scenario. When Schultz was paired with Nick Schultz as a rookie, his possession number at 5×5 (44 percent) trailed the veteran when NS played without. The next year, he was 42.7 in possession with Andrew Ference, who didn’t do well with or without Schultz. In year three, Dallas Eakins unlocked him by placing rookie Oscar Klefbom alongside and giving the pair major offensive opportunities—and in 2014-15 Schultz hit 50.1 percent Corsi for 5×5.
This season, with Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan planning to use him top 4D (as per above), he is 48.2 percent with (mostly) rookie Darnell Nurse.
I don’t hate Justin Schultz, but do dislike the number of at-bats given and time invested in him. The problem is you develop a past, and in the time Justin Schultz has been an Oiler, a lot of defensmen and a few coaches and managers have been sent away.
We will see, but it looks like the new management took 50 games to conclude there is no key available to unlock Justin Schultz as an effective NHL defensemen. About a month ago, I received an email arguing that the Oilers needed to be patient, that Schultz hasn’t reached 300 NHL games yet, and that he would flourish elsewhere.
My counter? Justin Schultz will turn 26 in the summer, remains a flawed player and we are STILL talking about finding a partner to help him. I would think that, at 26, it might be time to begin delivering help to the 20-year-old rookie on the other side of the ice—not vice versa.
I hope Justin Schultz has a long and productive career in Boston, but am prepared to argue vigorously that we have seen enough to know we all need a second opinion.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
A busy and fun show today, TSN1260 beginning at 10 this morning. Scheduled to appear:
- Scott Cullen, TSN. Trade deadline, All-Stars who don’t show up, OH Canada in the standings.
- Rob Soria, Vavel USA. There is some rocking tennis going on!
- Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst. Top Prospects Game tonight, who should we be watching?
- Frank Seravalli, TSN. With the cap flat and internal budgets everywhere, how many bargains could we see at the deadline (and this summer) on the trade market?
10-1260 text, @Lowetide twitter. Soon!