The Edmonton Oilers lost another game last night, this time 4-1 to the Ottawa Senators. Coach Todd McLellan did not enjoy the performance, and let fire with some righteous verbal in the post-game avail. If we made a list of coaches who lost their employment and part of their reputation while drawing a cheque from Edmonton since 2012, you would run out of fingers and need to start in on the toes.
FANNY BE TENDER, 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: 3-7-1
- Oilers after 61 in 2014-15: 17-34-10, 44 points (-66 GD)
- Oilers after 61 in 2015-16: 22-33-6, 50 points (-36 GD)
Todd McLellan was extremely frustrated (some quotes below, but the entire post-game is golden), but today I want to take a quick trip into the past—in order to inform the future. We are over 60 games into the NHL season and I think we can reach a major conclusion: Todd McLellan is going to play the style he prefers, and by next season we should see a team that represents his style. The Oilers, as they are currently compiled, are not an ideal McLellan team—and he hasn’t altered his ‘place and chase’ style—to suit this team’s skills—as much as we might have hoped in year one. I think this means an airlift of role players prepared to place and chase, forecheck, cover and battle—at the cost of skill.
What would that look like? Last summer, long before the season, I spoke to Derek from the fantastic blog Fear the Fin. He was very informative about style of play—and I think the quote is even more important now that we have seen McLellan as coach for 60 games:
- On McLellan and his forwards/style: “He plays a bit of a conservative system in the neutral zone, there’s a lot of dump and chase hockey but it works unlike your average dump and chase team—because they play a very aggressive forecheck. It’s the two-on-two offensive forecheck the Kings and the Blues have had a lot of success with. The defenseman on the strong side will pinch to keep the puck in the zone and the extra forward (high forward) will cycle back to cover him on the point.”
I think we (and McLellan) have reached the point where it is fairly obvious that some of his current players are unable to adapt. McLellan’s comments last night came out of frustration, but if he and Peter Chiarelli are on the same page, that frustration will find its way to the players soon, in the way of new addresses. I think we are going to see several players who fit the style described above added in the next several months. Along with the heavy comments from Chiarelli, the die is cast.
If I may pause a moment longer, a lot of McLellan’s frustration could have been predicted based on the quotes from last spring:
- 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.” Source
It’s been years we’ve been here. How many coaches will it take? How many GMs are going to sentence their head coach to this? If you are an NHL coach, and your GM is thinking about trading for Justin Schultz, what does that tell you about how your GM feels about you?
The line above that I have underlined should read like this: His skill set is normally associated with a lot of assets, like puck skills, passing, skating. Despite being a player who has skills similar to successful puck movers, his lack of attention to detail and incredible lack of urgency often mean inertia in the most important moments of a game.
The lingering memory of the Justin Schultz era—for me—is the list of successful coaches he brought to their knees. In a way, it is damned impressive. In another, it is galling to the highest power. They sent Jeff Petry away, you know, partly because of their belief in Justin Schultz. In life, there are hits, and there are misses. Several days travel after ‘misses’ comes the guy who decided to flush Petry and retain Schultz. The mind literally boggles.
"The spirit of the team isn't where it needs to be… It's got to get better, or we've got to make huge, huge changes." McLellan cont'd
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) February 24, 2016
This is the thinking of a coach about to go on the road, where he knows his 23 will be wearing their collective ass for a hat.
DEFENSE, LAST NIGHT
- Nurse—Fayne did well in possession, I thought Nurse showed both his mobility (took off several times and headed north) while also proving he needs to pass the puck more on those sorties, and allowing the puck to do the work. Fantastic talent, needs some time, and I do not believe he should be used on the penalty kill. Fayne needed to clear the puck away on the second goal (on the PK, it has to be cleared there), but he was solid overall.
- Sekera—Schultz were not effective. Schultz was -3, but the play that pissed off all the grey hairs, blue hairs and other hairs, was the third goal. It was a typical 19 play, the puck required a little more effort to get, and the two-on-one could have been avoided if he had recognized the situation sooner. Sekera, for my money the best defenseman on the team, was unable to handle the volume forecheck with 19 as partner.
- McLellan on Schultz: “He had a pretty disappointing night as an individual, and it affected the team.”
- Davidson—Oesterle looked quite good to my eye. Davidson was splendid on the goal, all kinds of smarts on the Eberle tally, and he managed the puck very well overall. I noticed the two rookies talking a lot together, good to see communication. Oesterle had a tough break on the third goal, sent a pass that was just past Schultz and it ended up in the back of the net. Damnable goal, that one.
- TODD MCLELLAN: “We’ll see what happens over the next six or seven days. Maybe there are some guys waiting for that. It’s got to get better or we need to make huge, huge changes.”
The fans are booing Schultz now, his confidence is low. We are in full death rattle in regard to Schultz’s time as an Oiler, best to send him away—today. I hate watching home players get traded, and from Coffey to Poti to now, it is always the skilled defensemen. We love our offense in this city, but Oilers fans in my section (thanks to WG for the tickets, best seats in the damned house) were more impressed by Jason Smith last night. That’s Oilers fans in a nutshell, right there.
INDIVIDUAL HIGH-DANGER SCORING CHANCES
- Three: Connor McDavid, Benoit Pouliot
- Two: Jordan Eberle
- One: Teddy Purcell, Andrej Sekera, Iiro Pakarinen, Nail Yakupov, Leon Draisaitl
CENTERS, LAST NIGHT
- Connor McDavid and his trio had a good run to my eye, watching this young man skate is a pure joy. The puck was bouncing (ice is terrible, just ghastly) but he hammered opponents during the game. Unlucky to have just the one point in my opinion.
- Mark Letestu has this play custom made for him on the power play, and it is a beauty. High slot, defenseman sends him a strong pass, and he tips it. Dangerous damn play, but he appears unable to cash it.
- Leon Draisaitl is probably going back to the wing when Nuge gets back, the big man is having a tough time as the season wears down. He has not been himself since the road trip, suspect there are some slight injuries that have him down. That burst is gone, hope it returns in fall.
- Matt Hendricks needs to go back to the wing. Oilers are making a lot of unforced errors, this is one. Anton Lander needs to draw back in.
WINGERS, LAST NIGHT
- Pouliot—Eberle had strong evenings to my eye, especially Pouliot who would have scored but the damn puck bounced (bad, bad ice) just as he was about to make his move. As it was, he got a dangerous chance on the play. Eberle scored the goal, was exposed in coverage but was dandy with the puck on his stick. That is Eberle the player in a sentence.
- Hall—Purcell were not as effective as they were the other night, the line needs a makeover. I think the right play is to replace Leon, but the step down from the German to Letestu is a lulu.
- Yakupov—Kassian tried mightily, but could not impact the game. I would love to see a Derek Roy airlift for the final 20 games, these two could be something if they had more skill at pivot.
- Korpikoski—Pakarinen are all lost in the supermarket, they can no longer shop happily. Bring on the empty horses.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
In the short term, the Oilers pulling the chute (they did it on the road trip, but it came home to roost) is an annual item, with only Todd McLellan’s being new making this an issue. I am glad he spoke up, because the Peter Chiarelli avail earlier in the day seemed too calm for the season that was just lost. Among the quotes last night was a kid who was 19 saying it might be better to go on the road, and that is the main issue as far as I am concerned.
One of the major problems with this organization has been constant change. I do not think Todd McLellan has performed perfectly this season, but do believe he is vitally important to the process we can safely call crawling from the wreckage. I doubt we will agree on all of the names heading out, nor those heading in (lots of chatter that two defensemen are needed this summer, but the Oilers haven’t had four men on the blue you can count on opening night since 2006).
Heading out will be names like Justin Schultz, Teddy Purcell, maybe Matt Hendricks. Coming in? We wait, but the general idea is Hamonics and Boyles and Lucicis. If not those exact names, then similar in style and intent.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
A fluid show, beginning with Bruce McCurdy at the Cult of Hockey and Sean Bissell, Campus Director of Hockey Operations for Donnan Hockey. Hour two will have one guest to talk Oilers and one to talk Habs, waiting to confirm. Stay tuned! 10-1260 text, @Lowetide twitter.