Monday, March 28, 2016

Yak smak or Nail in the coffin?

 #Oilers #OilersNation

The word got out through Russian media that the 2012 #1 draft pick, Nail Yakupov, wants a trade out of Edmonton.  It's no surprise as he whined about it a couple years ago that he wants to play.  What NHL player wouldn't want to play?

Oilers forward nail yakupov

I'm not going to look at his goals per season under different coaches.  Let's look at how well he plays with and without players.

Go over to and look at his WOWY and Spider graphs over the past four seasons.

One thing I noticed was in looking at the Overviews each season and the common trend in the 2nd and 3rd graphs that the more ice time he got, the better he eventually got defensively.

If his ice time was down, he tried to do more offensively and thus took more risks, was out of position, and more shots and goals against. 

This attitude landed him with the worst plus-minus in the league one season.

The other thing I noticed was in the WOWY (with or without you stat) that Yakupov he plays well with highly-skilled players, but is unable to lift players up that are less-skilled than he is.

Essentially, he doesn't make the players around him better, but he will compliment a skilled player quite well. 

Players' coaches Ralph Krueger and Todd Nelson knew this and played him on the second line accordingly with guys like Gagner, Perron, Hemsky, and even Derek Roy, and Yak played to his potential because of it, and fans loved him for it.  Who can forget that winning goal against the Kings and his Super Celly!

As much as Dallas Eakins was a supposed defense-first coach, because Yak wasn't touted as a two-way player, he got less ice time and fell out of favour, even being benched a couple times.  This is when the Russian winger got annoyed and announced it publicly.   Well that certainly won't put you in favour.

Enter McDavid.  I thought Eberle was going to be paired with McDavid.
But then Eberle got injured before the season started.
Then Yakupov's dream came true and he gets paired with McDavid.
Then everyone was seeing that this was going to be the pair that carried the team forward.
Then McDavid got injured.
Then Yak got a freak injury from a linesman
Then Hall and Draisaitl became the new top pair.
Then Eberle came back.
Then McDavid came back got paired with Eberle and Yak got bumped to the 3rd line.
Then some magic happened.
Then McDavid's and Eberle's linemate Pouliot got injured.
Then Yak sometimes saw ice time with that pair.  But not much happened.
Then Yak got bumped from the power play entirely.

It was like watching your ex make out with your competition.

What is clear is that McDavid made a SIGNIFICANT impact on Yakupov's play.  So much so that Yakupov started playing a better two-way game even without McDavid.  It was like he was learning on the fly from McDavid's example or something.  Pouliot was a little better without Yakupov, though.

That said, my point isn't really that Yakupov got better, it's that even a young McDavid can take a bad player and make him better.

And I think now, Yakupov is seeing that the Oilers forward lines will have a grinder, a two-way centreman, and a skilled winger, and as long as Eberle is in the lineup, Yakupov will play second-fiddle right winger on the third line.

But here's where I think Yak made a huge mistake.  Massive rumours are flying around that Eberle will be traded for a top-d man in the off-season.  What a prime opportunity for Yak to slot in to McDavid's right side at a much cheaper price.

The worst part of all this is how the Oilers squandered a #1 draft pick and will either get in return at best a 2nd round draft pick, or a bottom six winger.

That said, as much as Yak wants a trade, it's not up to him.  Like Jonathan Drouin in Tampa Bay, Oilers management will hopefully pull the trigger when the deal is right.

Even then, Yak boasted that 8 teams were interested, including Carolina and New Jersey, but "something went wrong".

My guess on that, and many others have guessed already, is that the deals weren't right and Chiarelli laughed at the return offers.

Teams that have a good two-way 2nd line centreman looking for a right half-wall powerplay sniper, should look to Yakupov.

So if Eberle gets traded, I think Chiarelli says to Yak, "Ok, Nail, you're going to slot back in with McDavid."

Otherwise, look for Yakupov to be traded in a package deal for a mid-right defensemen with a quality defensive prospect like Oesterle, or for a bottom six forward or centreman along with a Letestu, Korpikoski or Hendricks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What's the answer for the Oilers?

 Pundits, journalists, bloggers, and people on the street have all wondered what is it with the Oilers and being unable to crawl out of the basement of the NHL and after 10 years of missing the playoffs.

Management?  Lowe, Tambellini, MacTavish, and now Chiarelli.
Coaching?  MacTavish, Quinn, Renney, Krueger, Eakins, and now McLellan.
Assistant Coaches?  blah blah blah
Systems?  Swarm!
Players?  Forwards?  Goalies?  Defense?   Joey Moss?  Heck no, it ain't Joey Moss.

It's scouting.  It has to be.  It is.

Jordan Oesterle fends off former Oiler now Duck, Andrew Cogliano
Image courtesy of the Edmonton Oilers

When you look at all the great players of today that the Oilers had a chance to draft but missed them-- thinking their guy was better, you HAVE to make the conclusion that bad scouting and drafting has been the bane of the Oilers organization.

Doan, Perry, Getzlaf, the list goes on.

And look no further than the defense.  The Oilers have consistently had one of the worst defenses in the league.  Lowe and Tambellini really didn't do anything here at all.  And when they even trade for a guy like Sheldon Souray, he is treated with such disdain that Souray gets sour (hi, Gene!).

On the defense as it is now, there are some very decent up and coming players, but it is still very inexperienced.  At least there was some not bad scouting done to draft guys like Klefbom, Nurse (easy one), Davidson, and Oesterle.

Can you imagine how bad the Oilers would be (yes, it could be worse) if they didn't pick up Sekera?

And the coaches aren't the only ones teaching young guys how to play.  The veterans are too.  And when they don't have enough vets to do so, there's a gap.  You need that live on-ice communication and coaching.  "Nurse, go there and take that guy ... I got the backside."

Most of us have maintained that the Oilers are two defensemen away from a properly balanced team.  And that would mean right-handed guys.

Even if they picked up Travis Hamonic from the Islanders for let's say Eberle and Oesterle, there's still another 40 minutes of ice time that needs to go to another guy.  If not, are you happy with?

Sekera - Fayne
Klefbom - Gryba
Davidson - Clendening

Sekera isn't even really a top pairing guy, but he sure is trying damn hard to play like one.  Nurse still has a lot of positioning work and needs to score more.

One thing is certain to me.  One or two of the left-side defensemen have to be traded in a package deal with a top winger or bottom centre for a top right-side defensemen.  And that can be any one of Klefbom, Nurse, Davidson, Reinhart, or Oesterle.

Or trade the top draft pick for the defensemen you need now.  But I'm not willing to bet that Arizona takes home boy Auston Matthews for Oliver Eckman-Larsson.

Either way, a top pair right-shot defensemen needs to happen more than anything else.

And that's the answer.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Patrick "Big Rig" Maroon and my run-in with Kevin Lowe

 #Oilers  You've all seen the goal the last time the Oilers played the Blue Jackets. You know, the one where he dekes through 3 players to then deke another 47 times around the goalie before putting it in?  Yeah, that one.  We'll be seeing that one every year every month for the rest of our lives.

Let's not forget that Taylor Hall's goal last night was one of the great plays of the year.  How far can that guy get his stick out?  Unbelievable reach, speed, and focus. Well, except for that moment right after when he crashed into the boards at 100mph, giving us the suspenseful willies a la McDavid the last time they played the dirty ugly Philadelphia Flyers.  But Hall took a moment, our eyes stayed unblinking thinking "Oh no. Not again!" and he smiled, and fist pumped his team mates.

Oilers Patrick Maroon handles two Flyers. Photo courtesy of the Edmonton Journal

That 6'3" 230lbs beast of a guy Patrick "Big Rig" Maroon made a huge impact on the last game, especially when he played a "Larry, Mo, and Curly" on a couple Flyers players.  Wakka wakka!  And it was a joy to watch him score a dirty in front of the net goal.  The Oilers desperately needed a guy like that since Ryan Smyth was in his prime.  But wow, can Maroon dance with the puck too.  Almost got a wrap around there!  And now he's on a line with Hall and Draisaitl.  Look out!

Everyone is looking at his number #19 and having those split-second woozie moments thinking it's Schultz.  But alas, no!  This guy is much bigger and stronger.  And um, better puck handler than the old #19?  Am I right, fellas?

While listening to the Neilson and Fraser show on TSN1260 radio this morning, they said just that.  Where the old #19 would make you cringe when he touched the puck, where now, "it's kinda orgasmic".  Well, I wouldn't go that far, but it did give me a chuckle.

So here's a story that happened last night you will hopefully enjoy...

I was watching the game at Lux downtown sitting at the side bar tables. While my eyes were glued to the TV, I was noticing how huge and effective Maroon was playing. So I said to my friends at the table out loud over the music playing, "Wow, Chiarelli has been an AMAZING GM!" ... and right when I said that... get this...

none other than Kevin Lowe walked by, heard me and looked at me.

I feel that our years of frustration were lifted off our shoulders in one swift perfectly timed comment.

Let's remember, the Oilers this season with 15 games left have now tied the amount of points they had at the end of last season.  If they played like they did against the Isles and Flyers, the best they can do is probably 22nd place.

And that should get the league's attention that the Oilers are back!

If not, I'm sure Patrick Maroon will remind them.

And McDavid.  Can't forget about him.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

McDavid vs. Eichel? Stop it.

. #Oilers Yes, we saw McMagic again last night.  But shouldn't the score have been more of a blowout for the Oilers?

Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel on 2015 draft day.
Image courtesy of Yahoo Sports.
Yes, Lander didn't get off the ice in a millisecond so that Sekera's challenged goal was called back for offside.  But maybe the game wouldn't have gone to overtime to see McDavid's winning goal.  Ah yes, those Hockey Gods.  They work in mysterious ways, don't they?

That said, the Oilers had lots of chances throughout the contest.  Robin Lehner, that crazy Viking of a Swede was excellent in goal for the Sabres, but still, why weren't there more goals?  The Sabres are not a good team, yet.  Neither are the Oilers, but when you take off the Oilers-focused blinders, you watch Buffalo on the ice and just think "Yikes, they look inexperienced and disorganized."  Well, like the Oilers, the Sabres are a very young inexperienced team.

So if the Oilers think riding the coat tails of Hakuna McDavid, who is the lion's share of scoring now (pun totally intended), is going to get them far, as players, they need to rethink that.

What I liked about last night's coaching was in O/T, coach McLellan kept McDavid out on the ice when Sabres coach Dan Bylsma called a timeout.  Well, now McDavid is rested.  And it worked.

And what we like about GM Peter Chiarelli is he realizes coat tails aren't enough.  He knows the Oilers are going to need more goals in the slot and Smytty-style garbage goals in front.  Which is why he's emphaSIZING size in players.  

Although the Yak-McDavid-Eberle line had a wonderful full minute of 5v5 offensive zone time, unless you have a guy or two in front creating havoc and screening, no amount of fancy cross-ice and drop passes outside the slot are going to accomplish much against even average goaltending.

Which is why you'll likely see when Nuge comes back, three scoring lines with a pair of high skill guys and a size guy with some skill.  Enter Maroon, who in Anaheim, played on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

skill + skill/size + size/skill

size/skill + skill + skill

size/skill + skill + skill

skill + skill + size

size + skill + size

Although that's one player too many to fit on the roster, the recent pickups create necessary competition for positions--something the Oilers haven't seen in a long time.  Contracts going into next season include Korpikoski, Lander, Gazdic, and Letestu--all below average players.

McDavid vs. Eichel?

Now, on to the McDavid vs. Eichel rivalry.  Stop it.  There isn't one.  There never was one.  No one ever said Eichel was better than McDavid.  And if they did, they're an idiot.  Jack Eichel is already a good pro hockey player and he showed it last night, offensively and defensively.  In case you didn't see him totally prevent Taylor Hall from scoring in front of the net, then you need to watch games more closely.  In O/T he almost beat Andrej Sekera on the right side.  He had other good chances too. I feel for the kid.  He's sick and tired of it.  He just wants to play on a team and win. And I'm pretty sure Connor McDavid doesn't give a shit about it either.  I mean, they're about to play on the same World Cup team together.  They'll only play against each other twice a year.  They're in completely different conferences and the odds of them meeting in the Stanley Cup final are astronomical.  This isn't Ovi vs. Syd.  That had some rivalry there being in the same division, but hockey players don't compete against each other individually.  It's a team game.  So stop it and move on.