My Dad used to tune cars on Sundays. He would work in the sawmill six days a week (when I was little, they tracked back to five days and Saturday mornings, because the unions were coming to the lower mainland) and on the seventh day he would go to the Kingdom Hall, come home, put on his work clothes, and tune engines. He was pretty damned good for an amateur, he could find the sweet spot in the timing (it is actually a thing, the pistons fire in perfect rhythm and the timing rhymes) and my Auntie Stella, or cousin Dale, or Mr. Gunther or Mr. McIntosh would go home with a happy car. They didn’t pay him, not often, but always brought something. Most Sunday afternoons I remember up on Thornhill included ‘start it up’ and ‘shut it off’ time and time and time and time again.
Peter Chiarelli is trying to find top dead center. However, he is also trying to build a winning organization, with (in some cases) a threadbare depth chart on his white board. I think this organization has some areas of strength and weakness, and will be in the playoff chase far longer than some of us anticipated. Is that success, for you? Would you have driven home happy on one of those Sundays, with the car tuned as it is now? Top dead center is elusive, the Oilers are miles away. The truth is out there.
MACHINE HEAD, YEAR OVER YEAR
- Oilers in October 2015: 4-8-0, goal differential -7
- Oilers in October 2016: 7-2-0, goal differential +10
- Oilers in November 2015: 4-7-2, goal differential -6
- Oilers in November 2016: 5-8-2 goal differential -3
- Oilers in December 2015: 7-6-1, goal differential -9
- Oilers in December 2016: 3-2-3, goal differential E
- Oilers after 32, 2015: 14-16-2, goal differential -11
- Oilers after 32, 2016: 15-12-5, goal differential +7
I mentioned yesterday on the Lowdown that the Oilers would have a hard time against the Blue Jackets, a team that has all kinds of quality and goodness. The Oilers are now eight games into the month of December, and have nine points in the month. We agreed (15 points in 15 games) on that kind of pace, so, despite last night’s frustrations, things are not so bad we have to start talking about the draft.
Last I checked, Edmonton remains in a tie (35 points) for the Pacific Division lead, but the team is now miles ahead of rest of the division in games invested. The 7-2-0 October has been followed by 23 games that delivered only 21 points (8-10-5) and we are here. I like plenty of things about this Oilers team, and am encouraged on all kinds of levels. Today, instead of running through the numbers from G32, I want to talk about things we may see between now and April. If you want to know what happened last night, my guess is flu. Oilers had a fine first period, and were not good at all in the final two. They had days off between, so should have been much sharper despite the brutal last month. These things happen. Marathon, not a sprint. We’re on to Tampa Bay. Now, for something completely different. I want to talk about some things.
- Peter Chiarelli: “He’s shown that he can play at this level. I’ve seen improvement from the start of the year. I think he’s squeezing his stick a little bit. He’s had chances to score. I think the fact he’s in position to score is a good thing.”
I want you to know that Jesse Puljujarvi is a wonderful young player—but I am not sure the Oilers drafted a high end offensive winger. Hell, I don’t even know if he is a winger, you would like to see that kind of two-way game at center if you are blue-skying the future.
How best to break in this player to the NHL? I like the kid line idea that was tried for a short time a little while ago. You get (say) Caggiula and Pitlick alongside Puljujarvi and let them roll. I expect the young Finn will eventually head down to the minors at some point, but a run with the kid line is a good idea. I was concerned early in the season about finding his offense, but am fairly certain he would flourish in the AHL. I remain curious about what his outer marker is as an NHL player. 25 goals? 50 points? Will he ever have a season of 30-30-60? I cannot see any of that from here.
Photo by Mark Williams, all rights reserved
I think it is time to bring up Laurent Brossoit. I understand the idea of having veterans in important spots on the roster, but as of today, Jonas Gustavsson has played 14 percent of Edmonton’s total minutes so far this year. I bet you general managers and coaches agree on all kinds of things, but the coach is the one whose ass is grass if things don’t work out. For me, it is fairly clear Todd McLellan believes in Cam Talbot (who remains above average as an NHL goalie this season). It is also increasingly clear, based on usage, the backup may not be in a good place. I think we see Brossoit in January, that is my guess.
MCDAVID AND POULIOT
Late in last night’s game, Connor McDavid took a whirl with Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle. It was interesting, because 14 is actually very productive with 97, has been ever since the world began. All numbers below 2015+:
- McDavid with Eberle: Corsi for 5×5 (52.7) and 5×5/60 (2.50)
- McDavid w/o Eberle: Corsi for 5×5 (53.0) and 5×5/60 (2.91)
- Eberle with McDavid: Corsi for 5×5 (52.7) and 5×5/60 (2.30)
- Eberle w/o McDavid: Corsi for 5×5 (51.0) and 5×5/60 (1.34)
However, McDavid is better away, or more productive. You can see why it might benefit the Oilers to have their No. 1 RW on a line with McDavid, but there are reasons to keep him away. Edmonton badly needs the Nuge line to roll, and 14 is easily the best available for that role. What to do? Well, I think Leon Draisaitl is a fascinating option:
- McDavid with Draisaitl: Corsi for 5×5 (58.2) and 5×5/60 (2.10)
- McDavid w/o Draisaitl: Corsi for 5×5 (52.4) and 5×5/60 (2.85)
- Draisaitl with McDavid: Corsi for 5×5 (58.2) and 5×5/60 (1.40)
- Draisaitl w/o McDavid: Corsi for 5×5 (51.4) and 5×5/60 (2.13)
McDavid is better away, or more productive. The truth is, the two men haven’t played that much together in their 1+ season as teammates. Leon’s away numbers include Hall time. While I am at it, allow me to run the Lucic numbers:
- McDavid with Lucic: Corsi for 5×5 (55.5) and 5×5/60 (2.84)
- McDavid w/o Lucic: Corsi for 5×5 (53.9) and 5×5/60 (3.10)
- Lucic with McDavid: Corsi for 5×5 (55.5) and 5×5/60 (1.51)
- Lucic w/0 McDavid: Corsi for 5×5 (52.1) and 5×5/60 (0.96)
McDavid is better away, or more productive. It will not happen, but you know who performs well with Connor McDavid? Benoit Pouliot:
- McDavid with Pouliot: Corsi for 5×5 (53.4) and 5×5/60 (3.22)
- McDavid w/o Pouliot: Corsi for 5×5 (52.7) and 5×5/60 (2.64)
- Pouliot with McDavid: Corsi for 5×5 (53.4) and 5×5/60 (2.82)
- Pouliot w/o McDavid: Corsi for 5×5 (49.6) and 5×5/60 (1.32)
McDavid is better with Pouliot than without. Among these three wingers, the only man who McDavid plays better with than without is Benoit Pouliot. Huh. I fully expect a pile of ‘why do you love Benoit Pouliot?’ dms and emails, but I care not who helps, only that they do. Benoit Pouliot helps, based on 300 5×5 minutes over 1+ season. Something to think about.
THE CASE FOR THE DEFENSE
- Peter Chiarelli about Kris Russell: “Great stick, great defender, good leader in the room. At some point, we’ll sit down and talk about an extension.”
I believe Mark Fayne is a better NHL defenseman than Kris Russell. I doubt anyone reading this agrees with me, and I am certain Todd McLellan would vehemently disagree. Why? Different views on what a defenseman should be doing. Mark Fayne is a good possession defender, Kris Russell has had considerable wobble—not because he can’t play, but because of how much and when he plays.
We have discussed this before, but Russell’s speed is what McLellan and Chiarelli like most. They feel he stands the forward up at the blue line and has the ability to scoot back and at least tie for possession—something Mark Fayne is decidedly poor at in today’s fleet NHL.
If the Oilers sign Russell before the expansion draft, you and I will talk for many moons about what this does to the expansion list, but my guess is that Peter Chiarelli already has it on the whiteboard:
- Protected List: Goal Cam Talbot; Defense Andrej Sekera, Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom, Kris Russell; Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl; Left Wing Milan Lucic; Right Wing Jordan Eberle.
- Exempt List: Connor McDavid, Darnell Nurse, Drake Caggiula, Matt Benning, Jesse Puljujarvi, Anton Slepyshev, Nick Ellis, Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones.
- Available List: Laurent Brossoit, Brandon Davidson, Mark Fayne, Griffin Reinhart, Dillon Simpson, David Musil, Jordan Oesterle, Benoit Pouliot, Patrick Maroon, Mark Letestu, Zack Kassian, Anton Lander, Jujhar Khaira, Tyler Pitlick, Iiro Pakarinen, Bogdan Yakimov, Mitchell Moroz, Taylor Beck.
I have spoken to some hockey people, and from what can be gathered, Brandon Davidson is the most likely selection, with the rest of the group pulled back. I have been told that Benoit Pouliot and Griffin Reinhart might be intriguing and I have a suspicion that someone like Mark Fayne, Jujhar Khaira or Tyler Pitlick might fill a roster need for Las Vegas. Remember, the Golden Seals are going to stock an NHL and AHL team, so there will be some variety in their shopping. We wait.
STATE OF THE UNION
- Peter Chiarelli: “I’m happy where we’re at. I knew we had a good schedule to start and now we’ve had a tough one. We’ve settled to where we should be. I’ve seen improvement in every category and that makes me happy, whether it’s the statistical stuff or what meets my eye test.”
The Oilers are improved, the goal differential is better, the team has 35 points after 32 games (30 a year ago) and is on pace for 90 points. I had them at 82 for the year, so have to concede the team is running ahead. I suggested in early summer—actually the morning of the Hall deal—an approach that would bring balance to the defense:
- Lowetide: As you may know (if you have been reading this blog all spring), Jason Demers is my choice to address the defense this summer. Why? Two reasons. First, he is easily the best RHD available in free agency, and he can effectively replace Jeff Petry (I believe). Second, and this is important, Peter Chiarelli must take what the market gives him. Get Demers, and if a Boychuk/Leddy opportunity makes itself known later, then make that move, too. The idea that making over this defense is a quick fix has always been folly. It is going to take some time, but that doesn’t mean the Oilers should hesitate in free agency. No sir. Get Demers, wait for the right opportunity (while also waiting for your current assets to rise) and try like hell to grow your own. Source
Peter Chiarelli felt that—instead of signing Demers and waiting for the Leddy—adding Adam Larsson was the right play. I am certain he did it with the knowledge that Todd McLellan was on board. The team didn’t make a second trade, but did add Kris Russell and a dandy college man in Matt Benning.
The one working theory that held water for the playoffs? McDavid winning the scoring championship and Cam Talbot playing above average in net. Both are statistically true, this morning. If you are mad about last night’s loss, that’s fine. If you are mad about where the Oilers sit currently, my question is why? Did we not talk about lack of balance? I am sure we did.
Peter Chiarelli will add pieces this summer, and it is beginning to look like the first free-agent piece is Kris Russell. So, it stands to reason that Edmonton is done or close to it on defense (Klefbom—Larsson; Sekera—Russell; Nurse—Benning) at this time. If you are looking for a righty bomb for the power play? I think it might be a forward. If balance is coming to Edmonton, it will come via development of names like Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning. Brandon Davidson is probably not on that list should the Oilers sign Kris Russell before the expansion draft. Pretty sure.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
A fun and potentially crazy show this morning, beginning at 10 on TSN1260. Scheduled to appear:
- Bruce McCurdy, Cult of Hockey. It is cloudy and the Oilers lost last night, so McCurdy will be in fine form. I will ask him about last night, McDavid recently, Talbot last night, and the sun, moon and stars.
- Guy Flaming, Pipeline Show. WJ roster close to set, and some great action going on in our own back yard that will impact the draft.
- Derek Taylor, TSN. CFL news bubbling up from Montreal, plus some recent free-agent signings.
- Antony Bent, Soccer Insider. The accent demon hits the airwaves the day after the Everton result, and we will talk today action.
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter.