Thoughts on the Oilers: Current roster, offseason moves and the upcoming season

larssonLooking forward to getting the regular season started. The Oilers made a lot of significant changes with trading away Hall and Yakupov, and brought in some new assets like Larsson and Lucic that will hopefully right the ship of this bottom-feeder franchise.

The other good news is that it looks like Klefbom has recovered from his staph infection from last season, and that McDavid might actually be faster than last season. If these two can stay healthy, and if Talbot can start and finish the season strong, the club will make progress. My guess is that the Oilers land around the 80-85 point mark, and will finish somewhere between 10th and 12th in the Western Conference. And make no mistake, if the Oilers do take a step forward, it’ll be because of superstar performances from McDavid, Klefbom and Talbot. Lucic and Larsson are good additions, I think both can contribute next season, but the club has too many weaknesses to be a competitive team.

I’ve harped on this before, but the goaltending tandem could’ve been better, as I don’t think Gustavsson is an NHL goalie. There were better options available, yet the Oilers paid a million to a guy who wasn’t exactly in high demand. Talbot has been a fine acquisition, but twice now he’s struggled once taking over a starting position (once in New York, and last season with Edmonton). The Oilers are banking on Talbot starting well and starting often.

The defence is better than last season, but there are still too many question marks for my liking. I may not have liked the trade to acquire him, but I am looking forward to seeing Larsson paired with Klefbom in a top four role that can play in all situations. Sekera will probably be his steady self, but the rest of the defence core I’m a little unsure about. Fayne I’m a fan of, and he played well with Sekera last season, and really should be paired with him agais, but the Oilers don’t seem to want him around. Davidson was great last season in a depth role, and that’s where I’m hoping the Oilers continue to play him this coming season. There really is no reason the Oilers should be eager to push him up the chart. If injuries happen, sure. But why not play him at his established playing level? I’m also a fan of Nurse, but I’d prefer to see him spend a full season in Bakersfield and get him lots of ice time there in different situations. The team admitted that they had to rush his development last season because of all of the injuries (and their weak depth on defence), so I don’t understand what their excuse is this year. Russell is another average to below-average defenceman that doesn’t really push the needle, but he does bring experience. More on him in a second.

As for the forwards, the team has plenty of skill and a range of ability. McDavid is really the only driver among the group who has the ability to carry a line on his own. Lucic, Eberle, RNH, Pouliot are all established forward, and we know what we can expect from this group. I’d love to see Draisaitl take a step forward (as a center) this coming season. He’s up for a contract, so there should not be any sort of sheltering. The team should know what they have in him before signing him long-term or opting to bridge him. There’s a little more uncertainty among the rest of the forwards. In my mind, Caggiula and Puljujärvi should be in Bakersfield for at least 30 games so that they can adjust to the professional game and for the Oilers to get a better read on what they have. The scouts have obviously seen what these two can bring, but there’s no way they can be certain of it until they see them in a setting and system that the Oilers are familiar with. I never understand the hesitation in sending guys away to develop. Chiarelli was fine doing that in Boston with guys like Pastrňák, but appears to be embracing the Oilers way.

The Oilers should be focused on establishing a window, a 5-7 year period, where they can compete for the Stanley Cup. Winning the cup requires a lot of luck, so if they can be in the hunt for an extended period, I would consider that a success. Chiarelli really only built a two year window in Boston, something a lot of teams can do, and was fortunate to have elite goaltending and a hall-of-famer defenceman to build around. Hopefully he does better than that in Edmonton.

Here’s what I learned about the Oilers this summer: the current management group aren’t going to be outside the box thinkers, which is extremely disappointing. And I’m not just referring to utilizing analytics to contribute to their decision making. I’m talking about exploiting inefficiencies, finding value contracts, controlling assets, leveraging their strengths, that sort of stuff. The things that teams like Florida and Carolina are doing, or trying to do. The Oilers can easily use their resources (outside of the cap) to get a step on their competition, but it appears they’re going to do what’s tried and true. I was hoping that the acquisition of Maroon (and that sweet value contract) was a sign of things to come, but it appears at this point to be an anomaly.

Because of the controversial moves this summer (Hall vs Larsson, etc), and really the divisive nature of social media, we’re going to see a lot more of this type of trolling. And lets make one thing clear: the “analytics” don’t say anything, (it’s a process to find meaningful patterns and correlations in data), but the individuals who interpret and analyze the data will have a voice. If you have an issue with someone’s analysis, go after that individual rather than clumping everyone together; it pushes a specific topic along and adds more to the overall discussion. Believe it or not, there is plenty of debate among those within the analytics community, so it doesn’t make sense to group everyone together.

I’m also finding the growing support of Russell to be suspiciously quick. I’d be all for adding someone with 500+ NHL games, but only if it meant prospects like Nurse and Reinhart would be both pushed down to the AHL. Russell is a below average defenceman (doesn’t push a team’s offence, doesn’t suppress shots and chances against), who can play in your bottom four with limited, often sheltered, minutes. So all of the hype of him being anything above average is nonsense. And if you’re going to talk about his micro-stats (i.e., puck retrieval counts, preventing zone entries), (1) demonstrate it’s repeatability, (2) demonstrate it’s correlation to shots and goals (or things that are important to winning games), and (3) make your data available so it can be reviewed. I’ve seen enough of this player’s on-ice ability and his underlying number to have formed an opinion on him. If he can play better than his previous performances, I’ll be thrilled.

Recommended links:

Will Kris Russell Help? – Beer League Heroes

A Few Words – OilersNation

What Could Have Been vs What Might Be – Copper & Blue

Puljujarvi Gifted a Spot? – OilersNation

Mission Accomplished – Black Dog Hates Skunks

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Oilers: Current roster, offseason moves and the upcoming season

  1. If this team doesn’t finish with 15 more points then last year it should be classified as a failure. The team would have registered 5-6 more wins if they would have stayed healthy. With all the new hand picked additions there should be no excuses.

  2. With respect to Russel and his micro stats, I believe all of it stems back to an Elliot Freidman 30 thoughts piece that commented on it.

    Would love to see the data however. Something Garret Hohl mentioned on twitter was that the goal should be to break out efficiently not necessarily often.

    Maybe the reason Russel has good zone exit numbers is because he alows opposing teams to gain the blue line so easy or is bad at keeping the puck in the offensive zone, so he has so many opportunities to break out. If this is the case then that would reconcile the micro stats with the poor possession numbers.

    None of that theory is statistically backed however, just a thought

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