Edmonton Oilers fans are borderline intoxicated today, as new head coach Ken Hitchcock keeps saying provocative hockey things to a breathless bunch who are all dressed up with no place to go. Hitchcock is from here, so knows his audience well. Every day he says more things that spark the imagination and inspire fabulous daydreams. Honestly, it’s bad. This town, man. Pace yourself! Settle down! Control yourself! You’ve got the vapors! Monorail salesmen are booking passage to Edmonton as we speak! At 66 years old, Ken Hitchcock is suddenly Elvis, and Edmonton is all shook up.
The Athletic Edmonton is going to bring it all season long. Proud to be part of a lineup that is ready to cover the coming year. Outstanding coverage from a large group, including Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis, Lowetide, Minnia Feng and Pat McLean. If you haven’t subscribed yet, now’s your chance. Best available offer is here!
- New Lowetide: With not enough talent, and outside the playoffs, Todd McLellan’s Oilers career ends where it began.
- Jonathan Willis: The Edmonton Oilers get their 2018-19 quarter pole report cards.
- Black Dog Pat: It’s going to be a long winter.
- Pierre Lebrun: The chance to coach his hometown Oilers was an offer Ken Hitchcock couldn’t refuse.
- Jonathan Willis: Hiring Ken Hitchcock is Peter Chiarelli’s final chance to make his Oilers vision work.
- Eric Duhatschek: Ken Hitchcock will be motivated by move to Oilers, now what can he get out of flawed roster?
- Lowetide: Oilers No. 2 Prospect winter 2018: Kailer Yamamoto.
- Jonathan Willis: A list of which Oilers are likely to be traded.
- Tyler Dellow: Ryan Strome for Ryan Spooner looks like a change for change sake
- Lowetide: Oilers No. 1 Prospect winter 2018: Evan Bouchard.
HITCH, STOP IT!
At the beginning of this century, the Edmonton Oilers deployed a brilliant No. 4 line. The feature player, Georges Laraque, was so big and strong that taking the puck from him took most or all of an entire shift. During his Oilers career, Laraque averaged seven goals per 82 games and no one would ever mistake him for an offensive force. That said, he was extremely effective in ‘extended zone time’, a phrase that dropped in my lap yesterday in conversation with Sean Shapiro of The Athletic in regard to what Ken Hitchcock values. What will Hitchcock do and who among the Oilers will he value most?
It looks like (to me) Hitchcock is more interested in keeping the puck 200 feet from his net, ala Laraque in the early 2000’s. He’s using a football ‘time of possession’ to slow progress and control the game by limiting possible exposure. I mean, that’s the name of the game but Shapiro’s description offers a unique viewpoint on what the new Oilers’ coach is thinking.
ALL HAT, NO CATTLE?
Hitchcock has shown himself to be a helluva coach, so if he turns around Lucic, Kassian and others then we’ll build him a statue guaranteed. I think a watchful approach is a good idea, and it would be good to recognize there are a whole range of results before “oh my God he solved everything and bam! Stanley Cup” along the road from here.
WHO WILL HE VALUE?
Well this is hockey, so he’s going to value the guys who make a difference. Hitchcock is instilling confidence and a sense of team, but there are certain home truths about this roster. If you’re asking me, he’s going ride the following heavily: McDavid, Draisaitl, Nuge among forwards; Klefbom, Larsson, Nurse and Russell among blue; the hot hand among Talbot and Koskinen.
I don’t think that list varies from McLellan’s, these are the men you’ll want to go to war with every night. You’d like another, hell two more, but the nine men listed here are going to be the big reasons for success or failure.
WHERE ARE THE RISKS?
The second pairing (Nurse-Russell) could spring a leak, one hopes the coach can get them to play level. I think his ‘grumpy old men’ line is a risk wrapped around bravado and if it doesn’t work out suspect we’ll see Chiasson or Khaira move up and help Brodziak (who is going to be the key).
WHO HAS THE BIG CHANCE?
Drake Caggiula. McLellan set him there and he scored a huge goal in Hitchcock’s first win. Caggiula has had injury issues and will need to deliver consistently but he is on pace for 30+ goals this season.
WHAT DOES HE WANT NOW, TODAY?
Hitchcock needs someone to help Nuge drive possession and score enough to make that line a concern. The double shifting of 97 might be good for a few goals a month but this team badly needs to improve the McDavid ON/OFF number. Chiarelli is hoping someone will emerge from the NHL or AHL roster, at this point it’s more likely a trade.
WHO IS IN TROUBLE?
It’s too strong a word (trouble) but I would say there are players who may be too vanilla for a coach with strong opinions about what he wants to see. Ryan Spooner is fast but he isn’t big, he (like Caggiula) will have to forecheck effectively in order to make an impression. His road might be harder than Chiasson’s as an example.
Cooper Marody and Ty Rattie are in a tough spot, as the coach may want to make room for players he trusts (and are available), and the general manager may want to bring Jesse Puljujarvi back to the show.
Finally, Matt Benning. I’m a fan of this player, but Hitchcock is a stickler for execution and there’s some inconsistency in his game. He’s the one I worry about, from my list of players who imo can help this team get into the playoffs.
Puljujarvi’s size and speed make him a candidate, I’ll talk to Daniel Nugent-Bowman about his progress this morning on the Lowdown. After that, Brad Malone, Joe Gambardella and Caleb Jones might get a shot, with Ethan Bear trailing the group due to injury maladies. Tyler Benson is a player I could see getting a call but it’s so early in his pro career. If Patrick Russell doesn’t get into the lineup soon, he may get sent down.
STANDINGS AT U.S. THANKSGIVING
Elliotte Friedman did a story a few years back on teams in a playoff spot at U.S. Thanksgiving. It’s like 78 percent of those teams make the final playoff group, so that’s an important tell. Edmonton is on the outside, but how bad is it? As there are teams who have played more or less games, I’m going to list the Pacific in winning percentage via hockey-reference. I’m listing Pacific Division because it looks like both wild cards will go to the Central (as many expected). There is a three-way tie for the third and final spot, I am using RPT percentage (points percentage counting no points for an OT loss, and any shootout game as a tie):
- No. 1: Calgary 22, 13-8-1 (27 points) (.614 winning percentage) (.614 RPT%)
- No. 2: San Jose 22, 11-7-4 (26) (.591) (.545 RPT)
- No. 3: Edmonton 21, 10-10-1 (21) (.500) (.476 RPT)
- No. 3: Arizona 20, 9-9-2 (20) (.500) (.425 RPT)
- No. 3: Anaheim 23, 9-9-5 (23) (.500) (.391 RPT)
- No. 6: Vancouver 24, 10-12-2 (22) (.458) (.438 RPT)
- No. 7: Vegas 23, 10-12-1 (21) (.457) (.435 RPT)
- No. 8: Los Angeles 21, 7-13-1 (15) (.357) (.310 RPT)
Nothing is decided beyond the Kings are out of the playoff race. Calgary is absolutely hammering opponents and you have to allow for the possibility that they are the class of the group. San Jose should have enough firepower to run with the Flames. After that? Wide open. Edmonton is in it, don’t let anyone tell you different.
OILERS YEAR OVER YEAR STATS
The Oilers are an interesting team with a fascinating story to tell through 21 games. Here are some numbers, their NHL rank and in brackets the number at the same time one year ago (via naturalstattrick):
- Record: 10-10-1 (7-12-2)
- Corsi for 5-on-5: 50.3 (54.50)
- Fenwick for 5-on-5: 51.18 (54.32)
- Shots for 5-on-5: 50.93 (53.03)
- Goals for 5-on-5: 46.15 (42.50)
- Shooting percentage 5-on-5: 6.91 (5.89)
- Save percentage 5-on-5: .9163 (.910)
- PDO: 985 (969)
Hitchcock will like the Corsi (even though he has a different metric) and will recognize some elements of luck and lack of skill in the shooting percentage. The save percentage needs to be better, PDO has actually improved year over year. The two areas 5-on-5 I do think Hitchcock will improve? Save percentage and goals percentage. Not a guarantee, but that’s on his resume.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Hitchcock is a fine coach. He’s going to remind us of MacT I expect, line matching and making life difficult for opponents (grind, wearing them down, et cetera). If this team is going to get anywhere, they need to add a scorer, maybe a defenseman too. And the goalies have to be more consistent. Fascinating bet by Chiarelli, the Oilers are a more interesting team today. The question you need to ask: Are they any better?
Beauty set up at the Shaw this morning: pic.twitter.com/ehTKjCI5rh
— Dustin Nielson (@nielsonTSN1260) November 22, 2018
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, TSN1260, I’ll be live from the Shaw Conference Centre for Grey Cup 2018. We’ll have a great atmosphere, if you’re in the area please stop in. Scheduled to appear:
- Darrin Bauming, TSN1290 Winnipeg. Grey Cup preview, what the Stampeders can do on offense and defense against Ottawa.
- Daniel Nugent-Bowman, The Athletic. Daniel is in Bakersfield, so we’ll chat about Jesse Puljujarvi and other possible callups, plus get his view on the Hitchcock hiring.
- Frank Seravalli, TSN. What Hitchcock brings to the Oilers and last chance Texaco for Peter Chiarelli.
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter.