Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Latest and so-so greatest

With some recent news, and out of sheer boredom, here's what's lining up:

RW Iiro Pakarinen (UFA) is heading to the KHL.  As he's likely not seeing a contract, in wanting to play more, not a bad move.  Speaking of KHL, former Oilers 4th liners Anton Lander and Rob Klinkhammer just won the KHL Championship and Lander was named MVP.   With Iiro the Hero gone, this opens the door for other AHLers like Tyler Benson to make their permanent marker ink them into the lineup.  Benson was pretty good when he was here and can see him sticking.

On assistant coaches, the Ducks let go of defensive assistant Trent Yawny.  Likely due to their playoff series loss to the Sharks, someone had to take the bullet.  Bob Stauffer strongly hinted that Yawny posted a pretty good PK record and would be a good fit with McLellan and that they know each other well.  Former Ottawa coach Paul MacLean, who also worked with McLellan in Detroit, then assisted with the Ducks is another option.

On goalie, it appears the Oilers are set to sign KHL goalie Koskinen to a $2.5m two year deal or something.

The Oilers I think is possible to see:

Nugent-Hopkins - McDavid - Vanek 
Lucic - Draisaitl - Puljujarvi
Aberg - Strome - Slepyshev
Caggiula - Khaira - Kassian
Benson - Rattie

Nurse - Larsson
Sekera - Faulk 
Russell - Benning
Auvitu

Talbot
Koskinen
Montoya

Thomas Vanek is a $2m right-shot forward UFA who with the Jackets, just got knocked out by the Caps in the first round.  He's a better option than Cammelleri.  He could slide in on the top line to bring some veteran presence.

Justin Faulk out of Carolina is one of very few potentially available right shot defensemen in a trade for Oscar Klefbom, 2019 4th round pick, and another prospect.  I highly doubt this trade happens as he's the only decent defensemen the Canes have next to Noah Hanifin.

The lineup overall though, unless Lucic, Sekera, and Talbot play way better, the bottom six and pairing are still kind of weak to be a Cup team.

Maybe the new coaches will improve the PK and PP, which was the real stinker in making a negative difference to the squad and the standings.

In the current playoff picture, I'm hoping the Jets go to the Final then lose to the Capitals, but it's looking like the Penguins are firing on all cylinders.  Again.  I still want the Oilers to be the next Canadian team to win the Cup.





Monday, April 9, 2018

Season-end player grades and season summary

Out of 10... by line:

Connor McDavid (10) -- 8 more glorious years
Art Ross scoring champ.  Miles ahead in scoring 5v5 in the league.  Without him, the Oilers are easily the worst team in the league.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (8) -- 3 more years
24 goals and a bounce-back season.  Found a groove next to McDavid.  Injury slowed him down and that's why it's not a 9/10.

Ty Rattie (7) -- RFA
Journeyman right-winger found chemistry next to McDavid where a lot of players haven't.  Will he return?  I think he does as a credible stop-gap to Yamamoto and Puljujarvi stepping in.

Milan Lucic (2) -- 5 long more years
Abysmal season.  One goal and 8 points after Christmas.  Had no gumption to his game save that fight against Tanner Glass at the end of the season.  He absolutely has to turn it around and work on his skating and shot this offseason.

Leon Draisaitl (7) -- 7 more years
Got over 70 points and was finally put on his own line to drive.  Showed signs of laziness in skating, but his work on the PK improved.  Nearly useless on the PP.

Pontus Aberg (5) -- 1 more year to RFA
From the Letestu trade, shows flashes of speed and skill.  Wasn't a big difference-maker. 

Drake Caggiula (5) -- RFA
Defensively not good enough.  Scored more at back of the season.  But he's been given every opportunity on every line in every situation.  I just don't see him here long term.

Ryan Strome (6) -- RFA
Once relegated to third line centre,t the pressure was off for him to replace Eberle's scoring. He showed that this is his best position to success.  Showed flashes of puck handling, but guy hit more posts than I can count.  Can be utilized better on the PP if he works on his shot more.

Jesse Puljujarvi (3) -- 1 more year to RFA
He seems lost at times.  It's too bad he was brought up so soon because Chiarelli couldn't find a veteran right winger--that and Strome was moved to centre because Draisaitl was often top right winger.  Not Jesse's fault per se.  He's still young and has a lot of time to develop.

Anton Slepyshev (4) -- RFA
After coming off a good playoff spark, this year was his chance to crack the top 9.  He didn't.  His shot production remains high and makes you wonder if he'd be a good fit on the 2nd PP unit.

Jujhar Khaira (7) -- 1 more year to RFA
At the first part of the season, many began to write him off.  He quickly turned around his game as a winger, then was able to easily slide in as the new fourth line centre after Letestu was traded, but his points production dropped.  It'll take a bit to get used to being a centre in the NHL, but he never has a problem dropping the mits to defend a teammate, which he likens to "family".  He's a keeper.  I always said he had the potential.

Zack Kassian (3) -- 2 more years to UFA
After slimming down and getting even fast, Kass still had lots of penalty minutes, but his scoring touch dropped and he wasn't the same.  Battled with slight injuries at times, many of us hoped he be on the 3rd line at least, but he never gained enough traction. 

Mike Cammelleri (4) -- UFA
He was an improvement over Jussi Jokinen, and provide some vet experience here and there, but with the Oilers not making the playoffs, there was no reason to play him over other younger players.

Iiro Pakarinen (3) -- RFA
Became effective on the penalty kill, but that's about it. 

DEFENSE:

Darnell Nurse (7) -- RFA
Went from the 3rd pair to 1st pair and became the Oilers best defensemen, but only 68th in league defensemen scoring.  Still prone to the odd coverage mistake, but was tasked with filling in for an ailing Klefbom and Sekera.  This certainly solidifies him as a 2nd pair guy as expected.

Adam Larsson (4) -- 3 more years to RFA
Didn't get the job done as well as last year.  His father's death took him aback. 

Oscar Klefbom (3) -- 4 years to UFA
Play dropped off due to playing injured. 

Kris Russell (6) -- 3 years to UFA
Stepped up a bit more than last year.  Shot blocking king.  Scored a bit more, but his underlying numbers still aren't up to par in defensive possession and coverage.

Andrej Sekera (2) -- 4 long years to UFA
Didn't even score a goal.  Never fully recovered from injury.

Matt Benning (4) -- RFA
Was expecting him to step up, but with the defensive injuries, had to play above his ability at a young age.  Did some remarkable hits and goals and was the best Oilers defensemen in point per game.

Yohann Auvitu (6) -- UFA
Impressive in the offensive zone, has a great attitude and work ethic.  Poor in defensive coverage.

Ethan Bear (5) -- 1 to RFA
Shows offensive promise but needs to work on defensive skating and coverage.

GOALIES:

Cam Talbot (3) -- 1 to UFA
The poor penalty kill killed his save percentage. Had some good games, but was pulled way too often and didn't make those two extra saves needed in a lot of games.

Al Montoya (4) -- 1 to UFA
Saved Talbot's butt on more than one occasion, but he's just not quite good enough of a backup to push Talbot to be better.

Laurent Brossoit (3) -- UFA
Had every opportunity to show he could stick as the backup and it didn't happen.  He's UFA, so it's tough to see if he returns.  I predicted Ellis would overtake LB and although that didn't happen, it's likely to happen July 1.

So about 1/3 of the players are above average.  That's simply not good enough to get an edge on other teams.

SUMMARY:

I believe the defense was hanging by a thread as it was and with two injuries to two key scoring d-men, the failure here trickled through the penalty kill, to goaltending, and in not getting the puck up enough to the forwards, and thus winger scoring was atrocious.  This killed the team confidence and after a terrible start, they never fully recovered as a team.  With that, the primary blame is on Chiarelli for not shoring up a better defense by making a deal.  He was certainly active in trying it.  That said, Johnson's stupid "L" PK formation and keeping Letestu on it was just stubborn.  Woodcroft's powerplay lineups and formations never clicked.  At least five on five, McLellan had them playing not terribly, but still, not good enough.

Changes I'd like to see:
  • Johnson and Woodcroft let go of their assistant coaching duties -- worst ever
  • Sign a top 6 right winger UFA veteran -- Vanek would be nice
  • Sign or trade for a top 4 right shot defenseman -- I wouldn't mind Karlsson for a short term solution, however unlikely that will happen
  • Chiarelli not using good players to make a trade, except for Klefbom because he's the only tradeable asset you can do to get a right shot defensemen the other way

Changes that won't happen:

  • Lucic moved 
  • Talbot traded
Free Agents:
  • Everyone gets signed except for Cammelleri
  • Nurse will get the same contract that Klefbom got
  • Benning will get two years at $1.5m each
  • Caggiula and Slepyshev will get two years at $1.275m each
  • Rattie and Pakarinen will get another year at $900k but Pak will get waived at some point and clear again
  • Strome will get extended 3 years at $2.75m each
Lineup to start 2018-19:

Nuge - McDavid - Rattie
Lucic - Draisaitl - Vanek
Aberg - Strome - Puljujarvi
Caggiula - Khaira - Kassian/Slepyshev
Pakarinen

Nurse - Larsson

Sekera - (traded for Klefbom and a forward)
Russel - Benning

Auvitu - Bear

Talbot
Montoya -- who'll get traded before December









Monday, March 12, 2018

Oilers improve a bit after trade deadline - Why?

The Oilers have been playing much better hockey after the trade deadline.  It took them a few games to adjust to the new units and lines, but they appear to be hitting some sort of stride.  They look a little faster.  Is it because Nuge is back?  That's a big part of it, yes.  But he was here when the Oilers weren't playing well. 

McLellan boggles my mind sometimes.  With Maroon traded for pucks, he goes BACK to using slumping boat anchor Lucic on McDavid's wing.  Well, for the zillionth time--it doesn't work.  So what to do?

Everyone called for Nuge to be moved to McDavid's left wing.  McLellan finally tried it versus the Wild and it worked.

Further, in the past six games, the Oilers have been on the penalty kill 13 times.  Only 1 goal!  That's a 93% PK.  Wait, what?  They must have been on the road as their road PK is much better than at home, right?  Nope.  Five out of six games were at home.

What's going on?  Seriously.  Is this really a "fire Johnson" thing?  Perhaps it's not.

David Staples over at the Journal - Cult of Hockey Blog was tweeting about one potential culprit and the improvement of another. 

Mark Letestu as the culprit and Cam Tablot as the improvement.

Since 4C Mark Letestu was traded at the deadline for a faster winger Pontus Aberg, coach McLellan has had to adjust the PK units.  Letestu was already off the top PP unit with Strome filling in.

There was also discussion that the PK unit had too many lefties which opened the passing lanes.  Perhaps that's why Letestu was kept on, as he's a righty.  But so are Kassian, Larsson, and Pakarinen, so I'm not really buying that one.

Before we examine those PK units, let's start by showing how the PK did with and without Letestu.



Well that doesn't look very good. 


That's better.

Hmmmm. 

Now what about Cam Talbot?  We need to look at his save percentage 5v5 versus on the PK.

Even Strength Save Percentage:
.916 before trade deadline (Feb 26, 2018)
.920 after trade deadline

Shorthanded (PK) Save Percentage:
.967 before trade deadline (Feb 26, 2018)
1.00 after trade deadline (!)

Yes, improved.  Hmmmm.  Now is the PK better because he's better, or is he better because the PK is better?

In doing some further digging, I found this very interesting article at Copper and Blue regarding the "L" PK formation.  A lot of teams use the box or diamond.  Oilers don't.  Good power play teams figured this out and made the cross-ice pass to the weak side leading to a goal.  Talbot's better play last year covered up this glaring weakness.

Look below at where Letestu would be on the PK in an "L" formation (in this case a backwards "L").  He's likely at the top or in the middle on the left half-wall ("55" on right side in diagram below).  If teams get the puck on the half-wall, sure they can't swing it around the outside against the "L", but if your defender on half-wall doesn't get there in time or backs off, that leaves the entire weak side open for a shot, or action down low. 


Leon Draisaitl isn't very good here either.  But then we have to ask, if the players can't adjust to the system, then either the system is bad or the player is bad.  If the coaches kept putting bad players on the PK, then that's just bad coaching.  But you have to ask if this "L" system is good at all when the Oilers have BY FAR THE WORST PENALTY KILL IN NHL HISTORY over the past year.  That can't be just the players, can it?

McLellan's stubbornness here and not employing the right lines until way after it was already a good idea certainly has made us armchair fans and media pundits cringe, but think of the players and losing their confidence in said system.  When they lose confidence in a system, they tend to not play as hard for it to work and it crumbles.  Think about Eakins' "Swarm" 5v5 defensive system.  Total disaster.  Players couldn't make it work.  They lose confidence in the system and then the coach.  Coach loses his mind.

Good coaches look at their talent and make the system fit that talent.  Amazing systems can take any good talent and make it work, but often, those systems are complex and require lots of practice.

In Letestu's case, last year on the power play, he was pretty darn good himself on the left wing weak side to take a one timer cross-ice pass from McDavid.  He even got a couple shortys on the PK.  He was also pretty good on the shoot out.  Something happened.  Age?  The league got faster?

So, as you watch the remaining games, take note of the Oilers penalty kill and watch for:

1.  Formation:  "L", Box, or Diamond?

2.  Who is the middle forward defending the left half wall?  Is he covering that guy well and preventing a cross-ice pass?

3.  How's Talbot doing?  Is he pushing hard enough across when the cross-ice pass is made?

If special teams is solved with these minor tweaks, then Talbot will be better, and the Oilers can be better.  Not great, but better.









Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Nugent-Hopkins for Duchene?

 #Oilers

My sources tell me that Matt Duchene paid a visit to Daryl Katz' house in Edmonton today.    My gut tells me it's a swap with the Oilers having to send Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and a 2019 draft pick due to Nuge's contract being longer.  Here is the tale of the tape.  Green highlighted cells indicate advantage over the other.

Relatively even players, except Duchene is nearly 50% better than Nuge on faceoffs and Duchene was on a terrible team last season (hence the -34 +/-), but overall, he appears to be a better value than Nuge is right now and you're not locked into Nuge's salary.  It also gives you time to find and wait for Puljujarvi to take McDavid's right wing so you can slot Draisaitl back to 2C and then look at trading Duchene.





Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Expansion Draft Mania

 #Oilers

We haven't had an expansion draft in a long time.  The Las Vegas Golden Knights can pick one player from each of the 30 teams.  Teams are allowed to protect either 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and 1 goalie, or 8 players and 1 goalie.  All 1st and 2nd year pros under contract and unsigned draftees are protected so players like McDavid, Nurse, Benning, Caggiula, Puljujarvi, Slepyshev are already protected and don't count toward the protection count.  This has left teams having to expose some vets for good or bad.  I'm not going to mention the mostly AHL players as I don't think Vegas will look at them. I'm not showing the current UFAs like Pitlick until the Oilers sign them, like they did with Pakarainen.

For the Oilers, they will protect 7-3-1:

Leon Draisaitl
Milan Lucic (no movement clause)
Patrick Maroon
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Jordan Eberle
Zack Kassian
Mark Letestu

Andrej Sekera (no movement clause)
Adam Larsson
Oscar Klefbom

Cam Talbot

Which exposes:

Benoit Pouliot - while this is who we want Vegas to take, at $4m, they won't

Jujhar Khaira - very real possibility Vegas snags him, as JJ can score, hit, take faceoffs, and I see him on the Oilers roster, essentially replacing Matt Hendricks

Iiro Pakarainen - being injured for most of the year, I doubt Vegas takes a gamble (see what I did there?)

Griffin Reinhart - surely he gets taken, as decent defensemen are rarer than bottom forwards, and Griff showed he can play

Mark Fayne - at over $3m in the AHL, not a chance Vegas take him

Laurent Brossoit - Vegas won't take him--not enough games under his belt, and I'm wondering if this was a reason he didn't play a lot, and Chiarelli actually thinks there's a real good goalie here.

This all essentially leaves the Oilers roster at:

Forwards: ~$43 million in cap with Leon taking $7m:

Patrick Maroon - Connor McDavid - Jesse Puljujarvi
Milan Lucic - Leon Draisaitl - Jordan Eberle
Drake Caggiula - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Anton Slepyshev
Benoit Pouliot - Mark Letestu - Zack Kassian
Jujhar Khaira - Iiro Pakarinen

Now the question marks are on Jesse Puljujarvi, if he makes the team, does he slot in with McDavid, which is the long-term plan obviously?  Does that then push Eberle out to make $6m in cap space room?  It's possible that even if Pool Party doesn't make the team this year, Chiarelli could sign Pitlick after the expansion draft and slot him in, but his injury is a big concern.  He could also look for a UFA like Justin Williams at a lower cost, still trade Ebs and move Anton, Zack, and Iiro up a line, although I would say, not ideal.  If Khaira gets snagged, then it's likely Pitlick gets signed.

Defense:  ~$20 million in cap:

Oscar Klefbom - Adam Larsson
Andrej Sekera (IR) - Kris Russell (UFA)
Darnell Nurse - Matt Benning
Eric Gryba (UFA)

Sekera will be out until December if all goes well with his torn ACL.  Kris Russell talks have begun but we're hearing over $4m over several years, but the Oilers don't have the cap room unless they move someone out.

The Oilers still need to find a true 2nd pair right handed puck mover at around $3m, and with Sekera injured, although it doesn't count toward the cap, Chiarelli can find a replacement rental at less than $5.5m, but what happens when Sekera returns?  My guess is the Oilers will sign Russell to a 2 year at $4m/yr then trade him when Sekera returns, but that's only if they find a true 2RHD, otherwise, they go over the cap, unless they trade Eberle.  Make sense?  Didn't think so.

Goalies:  ~$5 million in cap
Cam Talbot
Laurent Brossoit

And others like Mark Fayne bring the cap hit just under $73m, which gives the Oilers no real cap room as it stands.


These Benoit Pouliot (2 years left at $4m) and Mark Fayne (1 year left at $3.5m) contracts have really come to bite the Oilers in cap space. That's $7.5 million right there.  If somehow Chiarelli can buy out one of them, then maybe Eberle will stay on another year, but when McDavid's entry-level contract ends after next season, then you need a whole pile of cash to pay for his next big-ass contract.  And if you can't trade Pouliot at that time, you'll have to buy him out AND trade Eberle.

Then after that, you're still paying Nuge $6m to play 3rd line centre.  That's not economical either.

Essentially, MacTavish's tenure has left Chiarelli with a lot of work to do in the next while.  And I have full confidence Chiarelli will make it happen.

Let the mania begin.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hendricks the Hero

As you all know, during Oilers home games, two Canadian military personnel are honoured and "Hendricks' Heroes" is displayed on the screen which shows the player giving jerseys to those who serve.  It is always a proud moment for our city and even though the player is from the U.S., he still felt it necessary to do such a thing.

So if there is one player I will miss more than any that have departed the Oilers over the past 11 years besides Smytty (although he did return) it's Matt Hendricks.

When then-GM Craig MacTavish traded goalie Devan Dubnyk to Nashville for Matt Hendricks I thought, "Who is this guy?  I've never heard of him."

Then he started playing and he brought that toughness the team so desperately needed.  And by toughness, I mean sacrifice.  Never afraid to drop the gloves.



Never afraid to block a shot.  Never afraid to check a guy into his bench.  He was the sort of player you could not help but love.  And don't forget "The Paralyzer" shootout deke move he patented.  Or yes, the puck to the jewels he took even at a time when the team had no hope of making the playoffs.



Edmonton Journal stalwart Oilers guy Jim Matheson wrote a nice departing article about Hendo here.  Jim is correct when he says Hendricks will likely become a coach.  He's got that respect, locker room presence, and knowledge of the details of the game that will benefit the players that play for him.

The Oilers video at the beginning of the home game shows Hendricks holding his child at home and then training with a quick clip of him screaming at the camera.  It gives me chills.  It always will.  It shows he knows what it means to be a father and to sacrifice.

Courtesy Edmonton Oilers

Courtesy Edmonton Oilers

During the playoff run, when I saw video clips of Hendo in the Oilers locker, fully dressed in uniform and gear, going by each player and pumping them up, I wondered that this was a bit odd for a benched player to be doing this.  

But the iced players wanted him there.  It just goes to show what Mark Messier said a year ago is so very true.

"It's very simple. No individual can win a championship on his own. It's just that simple. You need a lot of support, you need a lot of people thinking the same way, all in alignment. You need the heart and the dedication and the character to make it happen.
"We realized that. When you win, the stage is big enough for everybody. You've got to make everybody feel that their contributions are just as important as the next guy's no matter whether it's 30 minutes a game or two minutes a game. Everybody's got to feel that they're important.
"If they don't bring their best every game, you have zero chance of winning there. We were able to convince everybody that came here that they were important and we needed them."
Mark Messier
at the Farewell to Rexall Place Ceremony

As he's a UFA on July 1 and unlikely he'll be resigned with the Oilers, we can only wish Matt Hendricks well on signing with another team.

He gave it all every game and when he arrived, he brought character to a team that didn't have any, And as fans, we should be grateful and thank him for his sacrifice and his time as an Oiler.

For me, he'll always be Hendricks the Hero.




Thursday, May 11, 2017

Oilers lost but they won hearts back

Young fans pressed up on the glass prior to the Oilers first playoff game.
Photo courtesy of myself.
Another game 7.  Another disappointing loss.  For those fans who weren't around in 2006, I say "another", because we had the same feeling.  We also had hope for the next season. And the next. And the next.

Now THAT was disappointing.  I'm sure you'll take a game 7 disappointing playoff loss over ten years of not even getting to have that feeling, 97 times out of 97.

While there have been thousands of us who have stuck with the team through thick and thin, through several complete roster, coaching, and management changes, with the hope and belief of a better tomorrow, and unconditional love, this season end and playoff run has:

1.  Instilled excitement and awe from new young fans (see photo).  Yes, Connor McDavid most certainly has a lot to do with that, but you must include Cam Talbot, Leon Draisaitl, Patrick Maroon, Milan Lucic, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, and Darnel Nurse, among others into that mix now. Several years ago, many kids couldn't really name any of Oilers, let alone bother to watch them, because their parents didn't either.  For you die hard parents who did watch them with your kids, you can't tell me your son(s) and/or daughter(s) didn't really have a favourite player--maybe Hall or Nuge, but not to the level of McDavidom.  When parents are excited, kids are excited, and then the parents are even more excited that their kids are excited.  It's a happy feedback loop.  It's contagious.  The kids are future season ticket holders.

2.  Woke up the crowd at the arena.  Holy wow was it quiet during the season.  It was being called Rogers Library.  Maybe we were just simply in tune with every nuance of the game and didn't like the distractions of cheering loudly.  That first playoff game was magical.  Every hit, every pass, every shot, blockshot, save had the crowd awing and ooing to noise levels comparable to some of the goals during the decade of darkness (DoD).  So loud.  So awesome.

3.  Brought people together.  I pretty much watch every game.  Even during the DoD, die hard friends or my dad and I would get together to watch.  But now everyone wants to watch.  Friends and family who didn't watch before love watching now.

4.  Made us hate the refs.  I won't go into detail, but man, something has to be done. Hello, team owners!

A few more points about feelings... aw.....

I have this feeling that as we analyzed players and games over the last ten years, that we were able to somehow, but not really, bring this team to a higher ability winning level so that new and returning fans can enjoy this "thing" called the Oilers for years to come.  You're welcome?

Maybe it was the false sense of pride we had during that time when Lowe and Co. made the team shittier and shittier, so that the hockey gods looked down upon how freaking dedicated we were, and granted us the Golden Ticket and the gift of Connor McDavid.  But I don't believe that anymore.  There has to be the components that bind the team together.  Mark Messier used to say that every single person on the team is important.  These Oilers have finally learned that again.

Throughout all of this, for all of us, and the players and staff, the most important thing is that the players:

5.  Won our hearts.

And for that, we can be grateful, and ever hopeful.

Always believe.

Never give up.

Let's GO Oilers!