The Edmonton Oilers are in their final week of prep for the 2016-17 season. The changes of summer have the team more balanced but less dynamic—and most observers believe the moves will result in a team that falls short of the playoffs. What should we expect? I think the goal differential will be improved a lot—the Oilers went from -85GD in 2014-15 to -42GD a season season—but there are some clear issues for this team as the train prepares to leave the station. Those final 42 goals can be lopped off, but the team needs better special teams than we have seen, better headman passing than we have seen and much better goaltending than we have seen.
Edmonton in recent pre-seasons has run the gamut. Before the disastrous 2013-14 season, the team spent the final hours in Texas getting their collective asses kicked in what was described by onlookers as an embarrassment. I did not see the game, but the comments section was a riotous one that brings a chuckle these years later.
Bottom line? If you are coming into this season looking for the playoffs, maybe wait a year. There is no balance post coming your way because:
- Management stopped working on the defense while things were still a half bubble off plumb.
- The goalie choice this summer is a head scratcher.
- There is still no Pisani for the checking line.
THE NO. 1 LINE
- I projected the Milan Lucic—Connor McDavid—Jordan Eberle line to score 82 goals this coming season, a giant leap from the 61 these three men delivered in 2015-16. Why? McDavid missed 37 games, Eberle missed 13 and it seems reasonable there will be a spike.
- A lot of the increase in those numbers should come from the power play—realistic considering McDavid hit 6.68/60 at the 5×4 last season.
- I can say this all depends on McDavid staying healthy, but you know that anyway. Is 82 goals a reasonable line in the sand for this line if everyone remains healthy?
THE NO. 1 PAIRING
- Last year, Edmonton’s top pairing (mostly) was Andrej Sekera—Mark Fayne (small, polite applause with murmuring as the bass line).
- At 5×5/60, Fayne (44.9 percent) and Sekera (43.0 percent) were well below par in goals-for percentage.
- The new top pairing is probably Oscar Klefbom—Adam Larsson and one hopes the numbers will be better for that crew, and for Sekera—Fayne should they play together on the second pairing.
- Do you believe the Swedes represent a stronger pairing? Can they push the number closer to 50 percent?
90 minutes from an anniversary: Oil traded Messier (and Jeff Beukeboom) for Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice, Louie DeBrusk (David Shaw). 1991.
— Lowetide (@Lowetide) October 4, 2016
I remember that trade like it was yesterday. The season was just starting, Oilers losing 9-2 to the Flames with names like Vincent Damphousse, Troy Mallette and Peter Ing replacing Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr and Adam Graves. I punched a hole in the wall of our house and my wife called me an idiot (deserved) when the Messier trade went public. ‘It’s about winning’ said Messier. Yes.
THE NO. 2 LINE
- Training camp has (so far) not provided a RW for Pouliot—Nuge although there are many candidates. Eventually Jesse Puljujarvi will claim the job, but it will be very difficult to use the big Finn on this line from the start of the year. Kris Versteeg is a viable option, Nail Yakupov is not (based on his past with the Nuge) and Leon Draisaitl is a player who did have success with Nuge a year ago.
- If we use Leon as the RW, my RE projects the line to score 52 goals this coming season. The trio posted 45 goals last season, but missed a total of 62 games. As is the case across the roster, one should be able to count on better health for the group. 52 goals reasonable?
I think Leon at center makes the most sense, and we have established JP is going to be the 2R sooner than later. That said, there does seem to be a train of thought in Oilers camp that the right spot for LD this fall is on the second line.
Edmonton does have one option that solves the issues, aside from Kris Versteeg—and that is playing Nail with McDavid, Eberle with Nuge. This is not an option that has been explored by the organization this fall, and that is a tell. If you project Leon into a 2R role opening night, it follows that Maroon—Caggiula—Versteeg is a probably 3line with Hendricks—Letestu—Kassian on the 4line. Nail is the outsider, again. Injuries could change things, but that is how it looks at this time.
- Darren Dreger: “Pete Chiarelli tried to move Nail Yakupov leading up to the trade deadline. And I’m sure that he kicked a few tires at the draft in trying to move him again. There just isn’t – and hasn’t been to date, anyway – a market for him.” Source
I maintain the Oilers do not have enough offense to throw this player away, but the counter is eight goals in 60 games one year ago. He has scored 16 goals per 82 NHL games, and Kris Versteeg scored 15 in 77 last season—while playing a more reliable game. For me, the solution remains Nail with McDavid, and—if the organization has decided that is not an option—the right move is to lend him to the KHL and see if a deal can be made with expansion Las Vegas next offseason. If Edmonton has Jordan Eberle, Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kris Versteeg and Zack Kassian ahead of Nail on the RW depth chart—then why keep him on the 23-man roster? I understand the idea of injury, but how many spots do the Oilers believe Nail can fill?
I have asked previously about Anton Slepyshev as a roster option as it relates to Yakupov, and honestly believe it warrants conversation. Nail Yakupov is a one-dimensional player, but that dimension is a very valuable. I see this as being down to two choices:
- Play Nail with McDavid
- Move him along
At some point the value is less an issue than the distraction of sitting your former no. 1 overall pick in the pressbox. The Oilers have handled No. 1 overall picks like a renewable resource and in the NHL it can be if you play your cards right (the NHL should change the draft). At some point the Oilers have to turn north, and despite some unusual decisions this summer I assume the team wants to win some hockey games this fall.
If Todd McLellan cannot find a spot for Nail, then the right thing to do is find the player a new home—even if it means a loan to the KHL. It is time. Make it so. Let this young man get on with the rest of his life. It is the right thing to do.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, TSN 1260. Scheduled to appear:
- Jonathan Willis, Oilers Nation. Nail with McDavid, trade him, or is there another course of action?
- Simon Boisvert, Hockey Insider. Looking for players in the Oilers system with a range of skills. How many are there?
- Scott Cullen, TSN. Teenagers invading the NHL and one of them could be the next Calder winner. Also, Jays in the wild card game, need the bullpen and bats to deliver this October.
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!