RUNNING UP THAT HILL

I’m on record as saying the Edmonton Oilers will make the playoffs this season. Reading the other blogs, I think there’s a sense this won’t be the season for Edmonton to break on through to the other side and the second season. The sense, from what I can tell, is that Craig MacTavish didn’t do enough with the roster this summer. I think it’s worth examining what the major moves of summer are, what impact they may have, and the kind of team we’ll be seeing this fall in Edmonton.

For me, the place to start this summer is the coaching staff. If we can agree that Ralph Krueger’s group was outmanned (Krueger stated that there was asbolutely a need for another coach, that was the reason for interviewing Dallas Eakins) in the coaching room, then Eakins and Acton may be a stronger group than Krueger with the two assistants. I’m not going too far out on this limb, there’s just no way to know if the current coaching staff is going to find traction in their problem solving this fall and winter. Krueger had a fine PP and PK, but the even strength performance killed his chances. If Eakins and Acton (with Buchberger and Smith) can adapt, then we should see marked improvement at even strength this season. The shot differential will give us clues, ugly numbers arrived early and often one year ago.

The next stop is the defense. I believe the Oilers improved depth in this area, married to adding a real veteran in Andrew Ference, and the subtraction of a clearly underperforming Ryan Whitney (I sincerely hope he gets his game back) should mean better results. A more button down blue–armed with better passers overall than a year ago–should mean the puck is moving in a good direction more quickly this season. Many, many times this past season the Oilers had defensive sorties that lasted forever, and with each tick of the clock the chances of a penalty or goal against increased for Edmonton. If this blueline can retrieve the puck, make a skilled headman pass or carry it to safety, or just calm the waters until the forecheck fades, the better days are ahead. The Oilers have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off in their own zone since MacT left, hopefully that stops now. And if Justin Schultz needs to sit a few games, then so be it.

Finally, I have said (and believe) we’re going to see the heart of this cluster emerge in a big way this season. Taylor Hall going super nova, Nuge healthy and Yakupov riffing like a wild man are going to be tough to defend, and even though the Oilers are going to have some tough left coast trips, I’ll bet there will be long nights in Oakland south, Hollywood and Gretzkytown for the home teams too. Schultz the younger can do a tremendous amount to help if he can add defensive consistency to an already impressive offensive game.

  • MacT: “I’ve been consistent in what I’ve said about the value of depth. It’s been on full display in the Stanley Cup playoffs. You need those big goals. Even the year we went to the Stanley Cup finals we had great depth. We had lots of guys who could contribute offensively. And last year we really didn’t. We had a lot of one- and two- and zero-goal scorers. The best you could hope for was that they were a non-negative factor.”

Depth. If you have it, depth seems easy, like crawling into bed or twisting off a beer cap. If you don’t have it, every wince and every body check could mean you’re closer to having a truly unbalanced roster. Craig MacTavish did NOT deliver depth in all areas, but I’m happy with the blue and think the goaltending has a better chance of holding up with the two tall trees currently on the roster.

The wings have shed Petrell and added (possibly) Jesse Joensuu and Ryan Hamilton. The C’s are down one Horcoff, but Boyd Gordon should help and maybe Lander figures it out. I’m not convinced they’re good enough or deep enough in all areas, but you can see the plan here and finally there’s depth on the blueline.

Dallas Eakins figuring out the evens, Taylor Hall pushing the river, and centermen Nuge, Gagner and Gordon. That’s your ticket to the second season. We wait.

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29 Responses to "RUNNING UP THAT HILL"

  1. Gerta Rauss says:

    The sense, from what I can tell, is that Craig MacTavish didn’t do enough with the roster this summer.

    I’m in this camp as well,however, I’m hopeful he isn’t done yet.

    A versatile forward that can play 3LW and C(a Prospal type) and this roster looks much more balanced.

    I know a lot of people were hoping for the home run on D(offer sheet or big bold trade for OEL) but I think MacT realized with the Coburn discussions that the cost was just too high, and went with the D by committee approach.

    1 more forward via UFA and I’ll be a happy guy.

    Now, I’m going to crack a beer, because summer isn’t over yet.

    *edit-I’m going to dig up the Hounds of Love and The Doors as well-both are on vinyl but I’ll figure something out.

  2. lance says:

    If the Oilers can roll three lines all year, never find a forward on the IR, Gordon is a functional replacement for Horc, the new D find immediate chemistry, Nuge is back early, Eakins proves able to immediately function at an NHL level, and Dubnyk again plays like a top 10 goaler, then the second season should be more than approachable, right?

  3. spoiler says:

    Climbin up on Hall’s bury Hill
    I could see the playoff light
    Oil were blowin, Time stood still…
    Eakins flew out of the night

    He was sumthin to observe…
    Skates in close, I heard a voice
    Standin stretchin every nerve
    Had to listen had no choice

    I could not believe the information
    I had to trust imagination
    My heart goin Boom Boom Boom
    “Son” he said, “Grab your gear, I’ve come to take you home.”

    God I hope so.

  4. fifthcartel says:

    Management not wanting Rajala to occupy a contract spot gives me some hope that they intend to use that to plug a hole via free agency or trade.

  5. BlacqueJacque says:

    I get the feeling that Phoenix was off-limits as far as offer sheets go, particularly during the period of NHL control.

    The team has a hard enough time surviving without losing guys like OEL for nothing but possibilities.

  6. Gerta Rauss says:

    fifthcartel,

    Yeah, and it’s not like they are shopping for a Malkin or Thornton or Seabrook-just a versatile F that can play a little C is all I’m asking for.

    They’ve got the cap space and the roster spot(s)-there is no reason NOT to sign a player.

  7. sliderule says:

    The oilers have a better roster but it comes down to coaching.

    RK and the two stooges were a clusterfuck as an NHL staff.

    So now we have rookie Eakins and Acton with the two stooges.

    Did anyone listen to Stauffer when he interviewed Smith.There are coaches for midget teams that know more about systems than this guy.He was supposed to be the best of the two stooges.

    If Eakins and Acton can put in proper systems all by themselves we will be better .Maybe even playoff better.

    If they can’t overcome having two stooges on the staff welcome to more draft previews.

  8. hags9k says:

    I’ll say the playoffs hinge on 3 people more than the rest.

    1. Nuge
    2. Eakins
    3. Dubnyk

    We will be there. GOILERS

  9. 106 and 106 says:

    I didn’t know Krueger was on the Canadian Olympic Coaching Squad – just saw an interview with him in Calgary on TSN talking about… well…. systems (ack!). Good to see he didn’t quit the game. Would be a great assistant for any team, i think.

  10. Radman says:

    Rome not built in one summer. Stiill, signicant changes on the plus side of the ledger. Coaching, maturing kids up front, D depth, ideally more reliable backup goalie. To me can’t underestimate the culture change provided by moving along unhappy, unhealthy, undermotivated vets. New captain , new coach, and maybe a different vibe around the team brings hope.

    Achilles heel as has been said many places is lack of depth up the middle, likely to be more exposed by injury. Puck possession team, might be starting without the puck too often.

    Maybe a bumpy start given new system, which gives way to forward momentum is my guess. Playoff cusp, maybe just sneaking in this year ?

  11. 106 and 106 says:

    Radman,

    Puck Possession plays a part, but the 2nd line (see Dallow’s latest Big Oilers Data Set) actually fared way WORSE after winning an offensive zone faceoff.

    Blip in the numbers… or not the most accurate indicator of success?

  12. Rebilled says:

    106 and 106,

    He was just recently added, and as per Sportsnet

    ‘Babcock wanted Krueger to tell the Canadian coaches and players how European teams played Canada.’

    Is the answer Europeany?

    As for Ryan Whitney LT, unless he buys new legs, his game elevation will be limited to the EA variety.

  13. Dead Cat Bounce says:

    Whether or not the Oilers make the playoffs may well depend on the PP and depending on a PP is fraught with peril.

    The Oilers PP was very strong early in the season, first in the NHL for quite a while, but flagged badly in the last half of the season, finishing only 00.1 ahead of the Freaking Flames ®

    If Hopkins is not 100% to start the season, things could go south pretty quickly.

  14. Koho says:

    hags9k,

    I would add Belov and Hemsky to that list.

    If 83 can be a true threat on the third line and stay healthy, every other forward will benefit greatly.

    Belov is a roll of the dice for sure. if he shows up and kills it though, then all of a sudden I like our chances.

  15. delooper says:

    Radman: I built Rome from nothing in 2 hours in SimCity.

  16. Lowetide says:

    My kids used to be Sim City nuts. I watched an entire person disappear (I think flies ate him) on that thing. My son kept the sim running until his guy just went away. Weird.

  17. Gret99zky says:

    I’m in the won’t make the playoffs camp again this year. Not enough depth yet.

    This team simply cannot overcome injuries to key players/positions in the line-up. The answer is always bring up inexperience from the farm and cross fingers.

    I’m totally okay with being wrong though.

    I’m still gonna cheer my ass off and read this blog everyday.

    Here’s to a brand new season.

  18. striatic says:

    Gerta Rauss: A versatile forward that can play 3LW and C(a Prospal type) and this roster looks much more balanced.

    Ryan Smyth *does* give you 20 games worth of that ; ]

    seriously, they need a Prospal type to provide the remaining 62.

    between the two of them i think you can build an excellent 3LW season.

  19. striatic says:

    regarding playoffs, it’s all about Belov and Klefbom and Ference.

    if Klefbom turns out to be a Brodin or if Belov turns out to be a Hejda, then they’ve got a shot. if Ference proves he wasn’t a tag-along in Boston, then they’ve got a shot.

    if all are busts, i don’t think the current defense is sufficient to carry the Oilers through.

    Smid/Petry might be a passable top pairing, so long as they aren’t counted on to play ridiculous minutes each night, which means that defensive depth is more important for the Oilers than it might be for other teams.

    we focus a lot on the forward corps, but for the most part, give or take the 3rd line winger, we know what these players have to offer.

    the real unknown is the defense. K-Bomb, Bells and Grebs. three huge unknowns. we can’t confidently predict playoffs until we’ve seen some of these guys play against NHL opposition, even if it is just pre-season games.

  20. Bank Shot says:

    It’s funny that Mactavish talked about having too many guys that would only give you 2 or 1 or 0 goals and then brought back Smyth, Jones, Brown, and Lander. He brought in Boyd Gordon who has a career high 8 goals in a season. He brought in Joensu who has 6 goals as his career (only) season.

    Besides bumping Hemsky to the third line, MacT didn’t add any scoring to the bottom six at all. And realistically, Hemsky’s production last year wasn’t any better then Paajarvi’s. Not at evens.

    Why isn’t MacT taking a shot at guys like Cleary or Raymond? Those guys couldn’t be worse then what The Oilers have.

  21. cc says:

    Can’t wait for the Eberle post. Shocked I’m not hearing anything about him related to this post. Should be the next captain, and would be no surprise to see Ebs as the only Oiler on team Canada.

  22. Bank Shot says:

    It’s funny that Mactavish talked about having too many guys that would only give you 2 or 1 or 0 goals and then brought back Smyth, Jones, Brown, and Lander. He brought in Boyd Gordon who has a career high 8 goals in a season. He brought in Joensu who has 6 goals as his career (only) season.

    Besides bumping Hemsky to the third line, MacT didn’t add any scoring to the bottom six at all. And realistically, Hemsky’s production last year wasn’t any better then Paajarvi’s. Not at evens.

    Why isn’t MacT taking a shot at guys like Cleary or Raymond? Those guys couldn’t be worse then what The Oilers have.

    It looks like the Oilers added some depth on the blueline in Ference. I’m not willing to call the rest of the additions depth until they prove that they are any better then Corey Potter. It’s easy to stock up on end of the roster depth. Every team can have that in spades. The tough part is acquiring top 9 forwards, and top 4 Dman and I don’t believe that Mactavish made huge strides in that area. He made some baby steps, but the Oilers aren’t baby steps away from the playoffs.

  23. Andropod says:

    1) Hey LT, San Jose is west, across the bay from Oakland. By all means call them Silicon Valley, or South Bay, but South Oakland would be something like Fremont or Milpitas.

    2) I hoped when Ralphie joined Tom that he would be the one to lead us to the promised land. It’s now a given that while he was top shelf with European players on European Ice, we all know how that translated into NHL. As such he could be a valuable asset for his input to the Canadian Olympic team on the nuances of big ice play, however he will still be talking about a system developed around Europeans as opposed to Canadians.

    3) My son sent a Sim swimming in a pool then removed the ladder. The Sim just swam round and round the pool and eventually also disappeared.

  24. Lowetide says:

    Andropod: Huh. I’m very confused about that area of California. As a kid, I never understood why the Seals sucked (the book out a few years ago explained it all) but if they’d played in SF one suspects the Seals would still be there today.

  25. Hammers says:

    Said it before . We need Dubie to have a great year not a good year . I think to much is being put on or said about a 4th line center . The 4th line will only get 5 minutes maybe 6 per game plus any PK time if good enough for that job . What we really need is a 3rd line LW who is tough , hits and can get 10 goals .The top 3 lines had better be fit as Eakins will run them . My question is if Joensuu is good enough ( Doug Weight thinks he is ) and untill we see him we won’t know . As for our current cap space it will be needed at the trade deadline if we are close . McT may do something but if he does someone needs to go . N.Schultz . If it falls in place we could make the playoffs .

  26. Hammers says:

    Bank Shot:
    It’s funny that Mactavish talked about having too many guys that would only give you 2 or 1 or 0 goals and then brought back Smyth, Jones, Brown, and Lander. He brought in Boyd Gordon who has a career high 8 goals in a season. He brought in Joensu who has 6 goals as his career (only) season.

    Besides bumping Hemsky to the third line, MacT didn’t add any scoring to the bottom six at all. And realistically, Hemsky’s production last year wasn’t any better then Paajarvi’s. Not at evens.

    Why isn’t MacT taking a shot at guys like Cleary or Raymond? Those guys couldn’t be worse then what The Oilers have.

    Don’t be surprised if Hemsky plays 2nd line minutes untill his traded . I won’t .

  27. Reg Dunlop says:

    The last decade has seen the godless flames dominate the oil, partly because of a better roster and partly because their players have better ‘BOA’ focus. I think the Sutter hatred of the oil had something to do with this. If the oil are to make the post season they will have to +/- sweep the series with Calgary, and you KNOW that all of the comparisons of Calgary rebuild vs Edmonton rebuild will have the flames fired up each BOA game. If we fall just short of the playoffs I think we can attribute it to lost BOA points (which should be like free spaces on the bingo card).

  28. Магия¹º says:

    Andropod: 1) Hey LT, San Jose is west, across the bay from Oakland. By all means call them Silicon Valley, or South Bay, but South Oakland would be something like Fremont or Milpitas.

    Huh? San Jose is at the bottom of the Bay. It’s actually south and east of both San Fransico and Oakland. Silicon Valley tech is on the west side of the Bay from San Jose to Palo Alto etc.

  29. Lowetide says:

    Магия¹º: Huh? San Jose is at the bottom of the Bay. It’s actually south and east of both San Fransico and Oakland. Silicon Valley tech is on the west side of the Bay from San Jose to Palo Alto etc.

    That’s what it looked like on the map!

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