It’s been a pretty busy off-season with a lot going on in almost every facet of the Oilers organization. And with that comes a staggering amount of speculation on coaching, defense and goaltending. It really seems like everything and anything is possible, thanks in large part to Connor McDavid. All the speculation and analysis can be overwhelming, but it’s a key part of being a fan. And now that the team has a well qualified management group, I think there’s a lot more brainstorming among fans and media members.
Coaching and Leading
I really expect big things with Todd McLellan behind the bench. The roster still has to be flushed out, no question. But having a legitimate coach with NHL experience is going to do wonders for this club going forward. I really didn’t mind the hiring of Dallas Eakins. I thought he would bring some new ideas and tactics. But we knew there would be a learning curve as he adjusted to a new team and the gring of the NHL. The club had to surround him with coaches that knew the Oilers roster and experienced people like Craig Ramsay to provide guidance. That’s all good. It’s just with McLellan, not only is he experienced, but he can have a positive impact on the coaches that surround him., rather than the other way around.
In an interview last year, Mike Babcock talked about how he selected assistant coaches (like McLellan) and how he developed new ideas using their input. To me, that was a sign of a franchise’s maturity: a club that has a coaching staff so good that they can work on new ideas on a regular basis. When you’re new to the league and organization, you’re often getting guidance rather than really leading the charge. This isn’t to say that a rookie coach is a bad idea. You just have to have a strong franchise with managers that know what they’re doing.
Goalies and Information Overload
I’m pretty sure I can now put together a case for and against every single goalie option out there. There’s been an absolute flood of discussion around the goaltending situation. It’s overwhelming at times to parse through the data and trends to zero in on a goalie, but it’s definitely increased my own understanding of the evaluation metrics.
There is some information overload happening, but it’s encouraging to see a larger, more intellectual discussion about goalies. Thanks to the data sets available through War on Ice and Hockey Abstract, we can get past the high priced UFA goalies and look for some hidden gems that haven’t had an opportunity. What’s also become apparent is the wide range of value people put on goalies. Some would give up high picks for a goalie, while others like me, would rather spend pennies on them. I’m sure the range of opinion on goalie value is just as diverse in NHL head offices.
Whoever the Oilers acquire, it’ll be interesting to look back at some of the pieces written this summer to validate some of our predictions.
Quick note on Justin Schultz. Without a doubt, he has struggled mightily as a defenceman. The club absolutely rushed him into the NHL, boasted about his offensive potential and then handed him a ridiculous contract. In my opinion, there’s still a player there, but one who may have to leave Edmonton to have success.
The coaching staff did their best to put him in a position to succeed, handing him way too much ice time and offensive zone starts. Two reasons why they had to do that: the team trailed way too often at even-strength and secondly, he was seen as the only option. If the Oilers really wanted to utilize Schultz properly, they would’ve surrounded him with experienced players, including a top pairing. And they would’ve had enough strength throughout the rest of the lineup that would limit how often they were trailing. In my opinion, he wasn’t ready for the NHL and was not put in any position to succeed. That’s the fault of the player and the management team. The contract however, is on management.
It’d be great if he could bounce back, but it’s hard to tell at this point. He was in over his head and it’s shown in his performance and stats. But if the Oilers can solidify their top pairing and move Schultz further down the depth chart, the young defenceman might have a productive career as more of a 2nd/3rd pairing, powerplay specialist.