Out of the Blue

by Lowetide
Photo by Mark Williams

The Edmonton Oilers LH depth chart without Oscar Klefbom is a little rickety and Klefbom won’t be back for many a day. It opens up some opportunity behind Darnell Nurse, but who among Caleb Jones, Kris Russell, William Lagesson and Philip Broberg will emerge? What do the Oilers have here? Specifically, who can coach Dave Tippett run against the other team’s best?


I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here is our recent work.


The blue, against elites five on five with McDavid and without McDavid. Some interesting results courtesy Puck IQ. All of the numbers below are 2019-20 and all are against elites. All of the smart math people tell me you need 200 minutes to make things go, so there’s a sample size alert on many of these items.


Nurse often gets criticism for loading up when on the ice with the captain, but last season things were far more calm for Nurse when he was away from 97. McDavid was strong away from Nurse (in 150 minutes, 52.80 DFF%, 6.42 DFF%RC and 2.36 GA-60). These numbers against elites are more than good enough to make Nurse a top 4D option on the left side on 2020-21.


It’s a damn shame we’re entering late 20’s and injury territory for Larsson. As you can see, he can be a very effective defender when with or without McDavid. A fine player when healthy. Sample size alert.


Bear played over 200 minutes with and 200 without McDavid, so we get a good view of this rookie. Lots of theories about why the possession and goals-against numbers with 97 had some wobble, I think part of it comes from the captain being a fast break champion. Often his sorties end up in the net, or a whistle, but there are lots of examples where the puck ends up going the other way. I think that’s part of these numbers. I’m comfortable with Bear anywhere on the depth chart, with the caveat being young defensemen don’t develop in a straight line.


Small samples both here, but Russell’s GA-60 shines like a diamond. I’m not sure coach Dave Tippett sees Russell as a top-4D option but we’ll probably see him playing there from time to time during the year. Many Oilers fans are down (and I mean down) on Russell, but it’s wise never to turn down a chance to have a veteran blue on the roster. His possession numbers without McDavid are comical but his GA-60 is good. Russell always has these wonky stats, he’s the human counter-trey.


This is what Edmonton needs to replace and it has to be Caleb Jones based on what I’ve filtered through my brain. Klefbom had some issues in the series against the ‘Hawks and he isn’t the players we saw in 2016-17. Hell, we may never see him again. That said, there’s a lot to like about these numbers, specifically his time on ice versus elites and with McDavid.


I wish we had more minutes here, but the absence of alternatives clears the mind. It’ll come down to Nurse and Russell/Jones for the top 4-D, suspect Jones and his speed plus passing wins the day. That 2015 draft was a damn Godsend is what it is.


Tyson Barrie will be on the right side on one of the pairings, and there’s a temptation to put him with McDavid. Those outlet passes to a streaking 97 will be a powerful weapon for Edmonton in 2020-21. Here we see Barrie was effective with Matthews and poor without him versus elites.

So, with Barrie part of the McDavid five at even strength, who do you pair him with? Caleb Jones is young and fast and can also pass. Darnell Nurse is used to playing with McDavid in the discipline. Kris Russell can defend.

Who would you choose? Or is there another shoe to drop?


At 10 this morning, we hit the ground running and report on all manner of sporting news, TSN1260. At 10:20, Paul Sir from Basketball Alberta will guide us through NBA free agency with a closer look at the Raptors activities. At 10:40, Ian McLaren from Locked on Bruins will discuss the Jake DeBrusk contract and where Zdeno Chara’s future lies. At 11, Ian Herbers, head coach of the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey program, will drop in to talk about the big games this weekend against Canada’s World Juniors. The games are this Saturday and Sunday in Red Deer at 6 p.m. MST. Both games will be on TSN and we’ll talk about preparation in what is an unusual season. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!


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Barrie was redundant in Toronto with Reilly there already. It’s like San Jose getting Karlsson when they already had Burns. He will do well on a team without a pp qb


I thought Bouchard would get the push but with the addition of a hungry Barrie he’s the man in fact he’s the first D we’ve had with hands and creatively since I could break 80 most every round.

Scungilli Slushy

Hockey is a team sport. Barrie will perform well with the right group on the ice.

Connor and Leon, like all above normal players will learn that you have to manage the GF/GA to win in the end.

Holland has given them the support as best as could be expected.

I am hopeful, as always, every off season, that a turn on the corner is taken.

To again have high talent on the roster, and developing throughout the org, is for me wonderful.

Whether they get it remains, and is up to Tipp in the end.

He is not short on NHL players as it was for so many coaches.


I’ve said this before, but to me the best of a bad situation (Klefbom’s potential season long absence) is to pair Nurse and Barrie and give them the lion’s share of minutes playing with the top-6.

Keep the Jones-Larsson pairing together and see if they can replicate their top-4 success from late in the year last season.

And see what we have in Bear by pairing him with KRusty at 5v5. If Ethan can drive that pairing there is the potential to have one first pairing and two good second pairings. That would allow the coaching staffs to divvy up the ice time at evens a bit more evenly and reduce fatigue from leaning on a couple usual suspects for 25+ minutes a game.

Of course, I’d prefer #4 relegated to PB duties coming in for slumps/injuries and second games of back to backs. Lagesson is ready, it’s about time we see what he’s got but as we know, Tipp/Playfair prefer veterans.

Fuge Udvar

I agree. I don’t think they brought Barrie in to play with Russell.

Let’s see if Bear can be the feature D on a pairing and bring his game consistently night after night.


100% summarizes my thinking. Well put.

Elgin R

LT’s numbers show that the Oilers have a bunch of 2nd pairing Dmen, with Nurse at the top of the heap (1st pairing #s). Not a problem as Vegas has succeeded for years with this approach (no true #1 Dman). Tippet can use 3 ‘good-to-very good’ pairings and therefore manage everyone’s TOI to the Oiler’s advantage.

Assuming 4xPP and 4xPK minutes per game, leaves 52-minutes of 5v5.
Nurse – Bear: 20 x 5v5 with limited PP and PK minutes
Jones – Larsson: 16 x 5v5 with no PP and 2 – 3 x PK minutes
KRusty – Barrie: 16 x 5v5 with 2 x PK (KRusty) and 2 – 3 x PP (Barrie)
Lagesson (LD) / Bouchard (RD) first injury or time-management callups.

As with any year, significant injuries would devastate this group. Hoping for the best and a solid #1 finish in the Canadian division.

Harpers Hair

Shea Theodore is a #1D.


According to you so is Quinn Hughes and Vancouver had to shelter him in the playoffs.

Harpers Hair

Hughes just turned 21.

Theodore is 25.

Nurse will turn 26 shortly.

You wouldn’t find any GM that would trade Hughes or Theodore for Nurse.

Vegas, of course, also just added Pietrangelo who is superior to Nurse.

buck yoakam

did an oiler player pee in your sandbox at some point ? you can be so tiresome…Go to the anybody but the oilers blogs and lavish in your teams success…I am thinking that you resemble a door knob…


Just the knob part😂


That’s not quite how I’d ideally pair up the defence but I agree with your concept of spreading out the ice time.

Having said that, I wouldn’t be upset in the least if Playfair rolled out the pairings and minutes just as you’ve suggested.

Unique opportunity this year to roll three pairings with ~20 min/game each.

Last edited 8 months ago by BornInAGretzkyJersey

Nurse and Bear both played apx 2 min/G on the PK and Jones not at all.

If Klefbom’s 2.5 min/G on the PK are indeed lost, I don’t see Bear and Nurse going for important PK guys to very limited.

I see Bear/Nurse and Russell/Larsson as the primary PK guys. None of them will see PP time (except nominal second until time) – that will be Barrie. Jones likely very limited special teams as he takes on increased 5 on 5 minutes.

Frankly, I can see three pairings with similar 5 on 5 ice times.


IMO I would play the forward lines very different this year, to adjust for the loss of Klefbom and the shorter season.

at home – last change
first line is Nuge-Drisaital-Yamamoto
second line is – Kahun-McDavid-Kassian
third line – Neal-Turris-Puljajarvi
fourth line Nygard-Haas-Archibald

on the road – first change
first line – Nuge-McDavid-Chiasson
second line -Nygard-Drisaital-Yamamoto
Jones- Barrie
third line Kahun-Turris-Puljarjarvi
fourth line JJK-Haas-Kassian


Ennis in the PB?


My goodness, the almost across the board increase in GA/60 for with McDavid is a startling factoid. I think this provides more fodder for Tippett’s decision to try and give McDavid some “2-way acumen” on his wing – not saying Nuge was the “right guy” but someone was/is needed.

We have discussed: Caleb Jones’, and his ability to play legit top 4 minutes as 5 on 5 is a key to the season. Rusty can defend but concurently kills offence which is far from ideal in top 4 minutes playing with the top 6 forwards. He’s the “Gaetan Haas of the defence”.

Harpers Hair

Two positive tests at Team Canada selection camp in Red Deer.


Harpers Hair

Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) Tweeted:
All of this happening with the back drop of rapidly rising cases in Alberta, and news coming later today from the Premier that could involve further restrictive measures being put in place. The next few days will determine a lot on what Canada’s camp looks like moving forward.



Not totally unexpected – I’m not sure exactly what the protocols are during the camp in Red Deer but they aren’t in a “secured bubble” like they will be when they get to Edmonton and are prepping for the tournament.

Here is hoping that they get a handle on this quickly and everyone starts to understand that, while they aren’t in a secure bubble, they need to be extra vigilant right now and limit their contact with others to try and ensure that everyone is Covid free and healthy when they head to Edmonton to the secure zone.

Just like the NHL players needed to be in Phase two of the Return to Play when they were getting ready to head to Edmonton and Toronto in the secure bubbles.


Keeping young men away from young ladies! Good luck with that!


I read that type of response with respect to the NHL players….. they were able to get in the bubbles Covid-free.


A slight difference is a number of the pros were married and would have pressured those that weren’t. There is also the matter of large dollars not to mention families to protect.


Sure, of course, these players are anticipating living out what is likely a life-long dream for many of them with only 1 or 2 shots in their lives. Not to mention, the ability to showcase themselves for scouts, etc.

I anticipate these kids are just as motivated for the World Juniors as the NHL players were for the return to play.


Out of The Blue, one of my favourite songs by The Band. The first time Robbie Robertson took the lead vocal, if I’m not mistaken


“Out of the Blue” is also one of my favourite songs by Roxy Music. Brilliant violin solo by Eddie Jobson at the end.


We often talk about offensive defensemen in terms of “breakout passes” to McDavid. I think that misses the mark. Where the Oilers really struggle in comparison to teams with elite offensive defensemen are on those extended artistic cycling shifts where everyone is in constant motion. Think Hughes or Girard. McDavid and Draisaitl might be two of the VERY best in the NHL at this. 2-3 quick passes and motion and now the cycle is engaged.

However…we know how this usually ends. The puck works over to the left defense and Nurse floats one into the goalie’s glove. At this one facet of hockey he might be bottom 5 in the NHL. Russell is terrible too.

I believe this to one of Barrie’s biggest strengths. He might not be the transporter Nurse is and he may not be the headman passer Bouchard seems to be be he should be excellent at interchanging with 97 and 29 to extend shifts in the offensive zone. But this type of system takes 5 not 4. A guy like Kassian you can work around as he can tie up a defenseman net front. But eventually the left defenseman will be the only outlet and he needs to be able to make a play besides that floater.

Based on this I’d consider Jones with Barrie and a skilled forward line.

cowboy bill

I kind of feel Tippet will keep Nurse & Bear together they seem to know what to expect from each other . If Nurse is slotted beside Barrie his sole focus will definitely need to be on defense and that could be problematic . Jones with Barrie potentially might be good , they are both puck movers , there will be occasion for this pairing . Then there’s Russell & Larsson , the defense first throw back type defenders that every team needs , there certainly will be occasion for this pair . But on a regular basis , it would be advantageous to play a pure puck mover along side a pure defender . Therefore Jones with Larsson is a good lefty- righty combo and so is Russell & Barrie . I’ve said before there is no clear cut first pair or third pair , there’s just three equally solid pairs . This is good . And then there’s Lagesson & Bouchard chomping at the bit . This is good too .

Last edited 8 months ago by cowboy bill

I agree that Tip and Playfair will likely start Nurse and Bear together and give them quite the leash. They played apx 80% of their time together in the play-in despite Nurse struggling big time with defensive decision making and Bear being somewhat up and down. Coaches didn’t move away from the pairing.

May I ask why Nurse focusing on defence would be a bad thing? To me, the one additional step that could take Nurse’s game to the next level is his defensive decision making and increasing his ability to identify the danger opponent and to decrease his penchant for going walk-about and leaving the danger area to puck chase.

The Jones/Larsson pairing has solid success in 150 minutes last season – while their 65% goal share outpaced their expected, it did happen and I think the pairing could be explored.

Brantford Boy

I would vote for Kris Russell being paired with Barrie… perhaps those numbers would balance a little better. If Barrie is to play rogue defense we’ll want someone back in the safety position protecting the back end. Russell doesn’t do much offensively so being defensively aware of Barrie’s style “should” help the cause.

I’d like to see Nurse paired with him, but not against elites. Sadly, my comment above goes out the window as Nurse often plays the puck up the ice himself and we just can’t have two defenseman deep in the attacking zone.

Lagesson could be the answer but that will depend on Russell’s play.

In short, I can’t see them going away from pairings involving:
Defenseman with speed/passing skill slotted with veteran with defensive awareness…


KRusty doesn’t defend so much as give up the blueline or take away the ice level shot option on his side in front of the crease. I see him doing better with a guy like Bear who can move the puck smartly (like Barrie) but may have some wobble in year #2.

Nurse does better when he doesn’t force offensive plays. If he’s defaulting to Barrie to make the passes (similar to playing with Bear last year) then he’s in a position to best utilize his skills. Barrie has success throughout most of his career playing ~30% against elites, no reason to believe it would change all the sudden. Barrie also doesn’t seem to get much credit for his history of success at 5v5 — he’s more than just a PP player.

Otherwise I agree with you about Lagesson and the player types likely to make up the pairings. It just makes sense to have a young player paired with a vet and also have a strong skater/passer/offensive option paired with a Rickibox defender.


In addition to four Knights testing positive, from accounts, a “significant number” of CBJ players have tested positive.


Northeastern has paused its Winter Athletics until Dec 18 – damn, was looking forward to watching Kesselring this weekend. Oh well.

Hopefully Denver and Savoie can get going as scheduled on Dec 2.

so polar

That “Barrie w/o Matthews” row is a damn waking nightmare. Here’s hoping it’s mostly goaltending because if his PDO was >950, yikes.


PDO was 966, with a .869 on ice SV%.

The ‘against’ and % underlying numbers weren’t good either but goaltending/bad luck definitely made them look worse.


You could be correct but in my opinion the argument is very much like the chicken and the egg. Goal tending numbers improve with better D. The luck factor only holds for small sample sizes.


Could be, but this IS a small sample size – just 156 minutes.

In 156 minutes without Matthews, Barrie had a .869 on ice SV%.
In 150 minutes with Matthews he had a .920 on ice SV%.
That doesn’t seem to suggest Barrie was driving poor goalie results, I don’t think.

Does it look like Barrie has affected goalie performance through his career? I have no idea, so let’s look.

Team 5v5 SV% and Barrie’s on ice SV% each full season of his career.
Year Team Barrie
13-14 .930 .936
14-15 .926 .916
15-16 .928 .930
16-17 .907 .905
17-18 .932 .926
18-19 .923 .921
19-20 .912 .910

Barrie’s on ice SV% is a tiny bit less than his team (.002 per year) but I very highly doubt there’s anything meaningful there. The Barrie without Matthews number sure looks like luck to me.


It would be interesting to see what the on-ice shooting percentage is with Barrie on and off the ice….


OK, now for a fun one. It doesn’t look like Barrie is hurting his goalie’s performance while he’s on the ice, but what about his team’s shooting?

Team 5v5 SH% and Barrie’s on ice SH% for his career.
Year Team Barrie
13-14 8.40 9.22
14-15 8.72 11.27
15-16 7.79 8.73
16-17 6.29 6.74
17-18 8.26 9.23
18-19 7.62 7.73
19-20 8.57 8.31

6 straight years the Avs had a higher shooting% with Barrie on the ice than overall. Last year with the Leafs, the worst of his career, was the first time SH% wasn’t better with him on than off.

His teams have averaged almost a full 1% higher shooting% (0.80) with him on then overall (on vs off would presumably show a larger gap).

The effect has been less (or not there) the last 2 years, but that’s damned impressive nonetheless. That looks like something that is (or was) real. Huh.


Ignore my post above – you already did it.

Thank you very much – very informative.


I’d be interested to see the splits before and after the coaching change to suss out those numbers a bit better.


Yup, the “after Nov 20” numbers are key and relevant – one of the best 5 on 5 producers in the league after that point.

There is also a solid history of 2nd paring TOI (apx 28%-32% of TOI vs. elites) with positive results.


Good call, as defence is a team responsibility and coaching systems play a big part. Thoughts of the Eakins swarm come to mind as one epic fail.