At some point, we are going to have to leave our curmudgeonly comfort zone and admit this team—with Connor McDavid in the lineup—is capable of bringing real joy to the north country. For two nights this week, Edmonton shone bright and its citizens were genuinely happy. We are not yet to the point where we can say ‘these are the good old days’ but last night in Ottawa, the Oilers steamrolled the Senators. Ottawa’s response? Closed door, players-only meeting. Maybe that’s how we will know this team has arrived: Beat the home team 7-2, no closed door meeting afterward. I could get used to this, again.
HAVEN’T GOT TIME FOR THE PAIN, 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 in February 2015: 5-6-1
- Oilers in February 2016: 2-0-0
- Oilers after 52 in 2014-15: 14-29-9, 37 points (-53 GD)
- Oilers after 52 in 2015-16: 21-26-5, 47 points (-18 GD)
The Oilers are back to 10 points above last year’s team, and are 15 points behind last season’s total of 62. The 2014-15 Edmonton team won 24 games, so this year’s model is just three wins behind the 82-game total of one year ago. Finally, the goal differential is now getting very interesting. I haven’t done an ounce of research into this, but the season-over-season progress is probably going to be incredible. Here are the last 11 seasons for Edmonton in goal differential (via NHL.com):
- 2005-06: +5
- 2006-07: -53
- 2007-08: -16
- 2008-09: -14
- 2009-10: -70
- 2010-11: -76
- 2011-12: -27
- 2012-13: -9 (lockout year)
- 2013-14: -67
- 2014-15: -85
- 2015-16: -18
It has been such a long road, easy to forget that the one team in the black had real goaltending issues and would have posted a much stronger number with Roloson from opening night. The numbers beginning in 2009-10 are staggering, just insane. And 2006-07? They lost Pronger, Spacek and a bunch of other veteran defensemen, and have never recovered. Crazy.
Darnell Nurse got into a fight and his parents were LOVING every second of it https://t.co/kV7f7ggAC4
— Barstool Sports (@barstooltweets) February 5, 2016
DEFENSE, LAST NIGHT
- Nurse—Schultz performed well, one of the best games in possession for both men in recent times. It is interesting to see how each pairing did against the Hoffman-Z-Ryan line, I will list each defender against Ryan. Nurse (8-1, 3:32) and Schultz (5-1, 2:16) were outstanding. Schultz delivered an effective hit and Nurse got into a pretty good fight that Dad Richard Nurse found pretty exciting.
- Davidson—Gryba also had a strong night, Davidson is such a smart player. He is outstanding at getting the puck to a calm place, passed himself the puck by rapping it on the boards, and another time he faked a pass as the checkers faded, and then re-set the play. Subtle, smart. He is a terrific player, my vote for ‘guy who should play big minutes like Sekera and Klefbom next year’ goes to him, along with Hamonic or same. Eric Gryba fought 10 times, was physical and helped win puck battles, he is not effective with the puck on his stick but he will have a role here next season if they don’t trade him at the deadline. Against Bobby Ryan: Davidson (4-3, 3:16), Gryba (3-3, 2:28).
- Sekera—Fayne got boxed about the face and hands all night by the Hoffman-Z-Ryan line. Sekera (4-12, 8:55 against Ryan) and Fayne (2-12, 8:12, also Ryan) also had a helluva time against the Stone-Pageau-Smith line (Sekera was 4-15, 6:03 and Fayne 4-15, 5:24 against Stone) in what appeared to be a human sacrifice in order to get clean air for the other pairs. How long can McLellan do that? No idea. The pair were out there mostly with the Leon line (9:01) and less with McDavid (5:51). Caved.
- Nurse had the only Individual high-danger scoring chance among defenders, thought for sure he would score.
- I would have loved that fight long ago, but the problem in life is this: Once you know, you know, and if you google ‘Reg Fleming’s brain‘ you will know. I want Darnell Nurse to live to be 100, with every brain cell God gave him. It is my sincere hope we see an end to fighting in my lifetime.
CENTERS, LAST NIGHT
- Connor McDavid is going to be so famous in the coming years the mind boggles. Defensemen already fear him, that poor bastard Wideman took a penalty for basically nothing after surviving a sortie, caught the two for a little shove that represented a futile attempt at intimidation. 97 will end careers, that is a fact. He is at 1.13 points-per-game in the NHL at 19. Pleases the eye, shocks the mind, Connor McDavid.
- Leon Draisaitl played the Nuge minutes last night, that was some tough sledding. Leon went 9:21 against Erik Karlsson, no forward played more (Sekera—Fayne were gifted just a little more time against the brilliant 65). He also took a physical beating, but damned if he didn’t grab two points including a terrific goal. Love this guy, it doesn’t hurt that he looked a lot like Frank Mahovlich on his goal.
- Matt Hendricks and his line skated miles and worked hard, McLellan uses them like a favorite mitt you know you can trust to play catch with the crazy neighbor.
- Mark Letestu and his line didn’t win the Corsi battle but I thought they were mostly effective. Solid puck management, best examples that I recall involve the wingers but their center won some key faceoffs.
WINGERS, LAST NIGHT
- Hall—Purcell had the tough assignment and I thought they were deadly effective. Hall has matured as a player, not every play is life and death and sending it deep is now a solid result. Purcell does 10 smart things a period now, I wish I hadn’t been down on him last year (maybe he was doing good things and I wasn’t looking). I ran a post two nights ago fishing for folks who (like me) would like to sign him, didn’t get enough for a quorum but I’m a stubborn kind of fellow, got my mind made up about Ed.
- Pouliot—Eberle won the lottery, I am happy for both but have two things I would like to say here. I feel the Oilers might be vulnerable to selling low on Pouliot for sins real and imagined, and hope they keep him. He is an effective player with and without the puck and—like Purcell—is an actual NHL player. As for Eberle, I don’t think he will hit 30 goals but 25 this year seems reasonable.
- Korpikoski—Pakarinen were 5-7 away from Stone, but I think the Oilers should consider finding a buyer for Korpikoski at the deadline. Pakarinen might be a player, like him a lot.
- Kassian—Yakupov were solid to my eye, lots of good little plays. Kassian is a real bull, he just pushes and pushes and drives deeper into the zone. Thank God the boards curve or he would be in the parking lot half the night. Yakupov skated miles and got pucks deep, chased and battled. One of the small good plays he made was right at the end of the game, got the puck to center, shoveled it to open ice, drifted it in and then chased. I don’t know if he will emerge as a scorer here or in another NHL city, but he is a game rooster and his Corsi for 5×5 percentage year over year (46.3 to 52.0) is exceptional. Well done, Nail Yakupov.
We have talked in the past about this, I suspect where there is smoke there is fire and someone is either making up a pile of stuff or there has been chatter around the Nuge. Dave Poulin mentioned the Arizona Coyotes, and that gives us a bit of a lead on what Peter Chiarelli might be looking for in return. I would suggest four names of interest:
- C Martin Hanzal, $3.5M who is UFA 2017. He is 28, and is 38gp, 6-18-24, 49.7 CorsiFor 5×5 percentage.
- L Anthony DuClair $894,000 who is RFA 2017. He is 20, and is 50gp, 14-12-26, 51.6 CorsiFor 5×5 percentage.
- F Henrik Samuelsson, currently in the AHL but a former Edmonton Oil King.
- C Dylan Strome, No. 3 overall selection in 2015. He is having a massive OHL season, former teammate of Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters.
We have discussed this at length, I would not trade the Nuge, or entertain the idea of it, until 2018 summer. Why? Inexperienced centers will cost you, and the Oilers finally have strength at the position. That said, I know these lists come from somewhere and many media have suggested Nuge (and Eberle) are at least somewhat in play. I do not think it’ll be Arizona, but do believe Chiarelli would be looking for one of two player-types in trade:
- A stud top-pairing defenseman. Hamonic would not meet my threshold for dealing RNH, no idea if Chiarelli would bite on that deal (Islanders need another center like Kanye needs more Cardassians).
- A power winger with offense and attitude. I do think this player-type is high on the list, and there are not many.
And of course it goes without saying that sending Nuge away means an immediate addition at center to replace his minutes. I don’t think placing Leon against the top defensemen night in, night out this early in his career is the way to go. Maybe they will trade Nuge in order to create the cap space needed to sign Dustin Byfuglien.
CAN THE OILERS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS
The math giggles, then says no. The Oilers are eight points back of Anaheim for third place in the Pacific and have played three more games. The Ducks are on a five game winning streak and look ready for a strong finish to the year. If Edmonton finishes the season with 82 points, that is a strong finish (they need to post 35 in the final 30 games). The playoffs? It would take a perfect storm.
Does that mean you should stop cheering? Hell no! The great thing about sports is that teams do go on impossible runs and carry their fans to wonderful heights. The Ottawa Senators did it just one year ago. Cheer like hell, I will be right down to the end of the season. Don’t you let the naysayers talk you out of it either, it is no sin to smile. You will read this and the comments section will fill with miles and miles of reasons why it will not happen. It ain’t over until it’s over. Math will have the final say, but until then keep on trucking. How long can the Oilers keep this thing going? It looks like a wild ride to April, hang on!
- Bob McKenzie: “But certainly I think the Oilers would like to move him, and I think there are teams talking to Edmonton about him. But whether the fit is there remains to be seen.” Source
Lots of chatter online about the return, I cannot see a second-round pick being the price tag. My guess is that the Oilers get a pick that starts with 100 and consider themselves lucky. Schultz is a wonderful skater and there may be a team out there who can unlock him. I am satisfied that the Oilers gave him his chance, but will also admit he came to the organization in a time of extreme addlement. I hope he enjoys his career, wherever he lands.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, plenty to talk about and I welcome your input. TSN1260, scheduled to appear:
- Steve Lansky, Big Mouth Sports. McDavid, Hockey Day in Canada, Super Bowl.
- Travis Yost, TSN. The Oilers and the Senators, Super Bowl, McDavid.
- Jeff Hauser, Radio Hauser. Can the Broncos win this thing?
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Friday!!! McDavid! Lordy.