Discussing the Oilers slow start on the CBC Edmonton News (TV) + Notes

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Joined Adrienne Pan on the CBC Edmonton news last night. We discussed the Oilers slow start, the potential line-up for Saturday night and the upcoming schedule. Clip starts around the 20:20 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2017, October 12).

Also happy to announce that I’ll be on every Thursday evening for the rest of the season. Really excited to continue working with the great crew at CBC.

Notes:

I think what’s made this 1-2 start even worse is the fact that the Oilers will have had four days off between their last game and their next game. That obviously puts more attention on the practice lines and soundbytes from the coaching staff. And it gives us more time to stew about the plays that led to goals against. Saturday can’t come soon enough.

Taking a step back and focusing less on the goal differential, the Oilers have so far posted a 54.58% adjusted Corsi For percentage at even-strength (Source: Natural Stat Trick). It wouldn’t be wise to start predicting future goal-scoring with this small of a dataset, but these are still encouraging results. At the end of the month, I’ll dig a little more to see where the team stands, what sort of line combinations are being used and how they’re doing in terms of goal and shot-share.

The roster is still in need of some upgrades, especially on defence. The team chose to use this year as another assessment year, which I think will cost them wins. I understand needing to know what you have and how your prospects are doing before pulling a trade. But I think there’s enough of a track record for guys like Nurse and Puljujaarvi to know what they are, what they can provide and what their ceiling could be. Really, if there’s an opportunity to upgrade, especially on defence, the Oilers have to consider moving out some of their younger prospects.

When it comes to the forwards, we know the Oilers need to shore up their secondary scoring. The key is obviously Draisaitl centering his own line, but I really don’t think he can do it without Maroon with him on the left. I dug into how they did together (without McDavid) last season, and how it compared to a Draisaitl-Lucic combo.

With Draisaitl as C TOI CF% GF% PDO
Maroon 144:18 50.6 54.5 101.8
Lucic 119:19 46.5 40.0 97.8

Moving Maroon, would mean that Lucic is back on the top line with McDavid, which didn’t get great results last year, but the shot-share was still pretty good. RNH would play with Jokinen, and Letestu would remain with Kassian.

Here’s the forward line combinations I would like to see the coaching staff try out at some point this season:

  • Lucic-McDavid-Guy
  • Maroon-Draisaitl-Guy
  • Jokinen-RNH-Guy
  • Khaira/Pakarinen-Letestu-Kassian

Should note that I don’t mean to disprespect players like Strome, Yamamoto or Slepyshev. They’re all capable players, but they’re interchangeable depending on who the competition is.

And I’m probably in the minority here, but I can’t understand what the point of having Chris Kelly on the roster is and why he’s on the team without a contract. I get having an experienced player around, and someone that can mentor the players. But why would you provide a service without a contract in place? The PA has to be questioning this, but who knows. I get the feeling that if the Oilers were on a winning streak heading into this four-day break, they would’ve announced his signing.

 

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Discussing the win against the Flames and McDavid’s performance on the CBC Edmonton News (TV)

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I joined Adrienne Pan earlier this evening to talk about the home opener, McDavid’s performance and the upcoming game against the Canucks. Clip is here and starts around the 9:30 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2017, October 5)

Should note that any stats I use when discussing games are typically from Natural Stat Trick. Just an incredible resource. Here’s the game report for last night’s win against the Flames.

Just a heads up that I’ll be on the newscast a little more often this upcoming season. Really excited to continue working with everyone at CBC Edmonton.

Tempering Expectations

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A lot of optimism around the Oilers heading into 2017/18 season, and for good reason. They’re coming off of a 103-point regular season, and were one win away from making it to the Western Conference finals. Anchored by Connor McDavid, Cam Talbot and Oscar Klefbom, the Oilers have on paper a good mix of skill and experience throughout the roster. The fact that they have one of the best players on the planet is really what pushes them into the contender discussion.

The success that they’re building on from last year was fully earned. They finished the year with a +36 goal differential, posted an even-strength (5v5) Corsi For percentage of 49.99%, and a Fenwick For% of 50.96% (9th in the league). They benefitted from a largely healthy roster, as their top six forwards, their three best defencemen and their starting goalie dressed for almost every single game.

Player GP   Player GP
McDavid 82 Klefbom 82
Draisaitl 82 Sekera 80
Eberle 82 Larsson 79
Lucic 82
Maroon 81 Talbot 73
Nugent-Hopkins 82

By and large, this was a good team.

But in my opinion, they’re still not legitimate contenders. And I’m perplexed that they’re being considered by some as the team to come out of the west, let alone potential Stanley Cup contenders.

A number of reasons I’ve tempered my expectations.

First off, not enough assurances were made to improve the team’s offence without McDavid on the ice. Two of the very few players who actually did well when it came to shot-share away from McDavid – Eberle and Pouliot – are out. I like the chances of Jokinen posting good shot-share numbers as he’s done well in the past, but we have to keep in mind his year-to-year points/60 are very similar to Pouliot’s.

Pouliot vs Jokinen

As for Strome, he’s a player that never posted good shot or goal numbers away from the top end players in New York, so my expectations remain low. Now if Draisaitl takes a step, and if Lucic bounces back from a dreadful year at 5v5, there’s a chance the Oilers have a good second line. I just don’t think McLellan will be able to refrain from having Draisaitl on McDavid’s wing often enough; it’s just far too tempting as a coach to have that explosive of an option. So I’m skeptical that Strome will get a lot of time on the top line, and he likely won’t be producing as well as Eberle has. That’s a problem.

The Oilers also retained the services of Russell, who can do a good job suppressing shots when the puck is in the Oilers zone. But he has very little offensive ability and the goals tend to dry up McDavid isn’t on the ice with him. Ideally, the Oilers would’ve added another piece to the blueline, someone that has better offensive instincts and an ability to generate scoring chances. Auvitu could potentially be that player, but we’ll have to wait and see how often he even gets into the lineup.

The other issue facing the Oilers is Sekera’s injury. I went into this deeper over at The Athletic Edmonton a few days ago, but long story shot: the Oilers are hoping that Nurse and Benning step into a larger role and I’m not sure that’s a wise bet.

The fact that the Oilers are relying heavily on internal growth is a little troubling. It’s the last year before McDavid’s contract kicks in, and they had the space to make moves and bring in more impactful players. I get that every team needs their younger players to eventually step into key roles, but I’m not sold on what the Oilers have up front. Caggiula, Slepyshev, Puljujaarvi, Strome all have potential and there’s things to like in each of their games. But none of them have really solidified their roles on this team for the upcoming season. If at least one of these players can generate offence, especially away from McDavid, I’ll have a little more confidence in the Oilers decision to go through another “growth year”.

So in summary, my reasons for lower expectations:

  1. Not enough assurance that the team will produce when McDavid isn’t on the ice.
  2. They’re missing Sekera for an indefinite amount of time, and will be relying on Benning and Nurse to fill in.
  3. Not enough offensive talent, and a heavy reliance on younger forwards like Slepyshev, Caggiula and Strome to take another step in their development.
  4.  Also, I think the Pacific division is going to be more competitive than people think. Arizona and Calgary just improved their defence. LA has a new coach and a healthy starting goalie. And San Jose still has enough talent to push for a playoff spot.

I genuinely hope I’m wrong, and that the issues I’ve raised are non-existent. I’d love to see the Oilers crush the league and win a championship. But because of the decisions that the Oilers management have made, I’m just not optimistic as others that it’s this year.

Below are a few high-level baselines that I think the Oilers will need to achieve in the first month to be in the contender discussion.

  • 5v5 Goals For% > 50% when McDavid is on the bench
  • 5v5 Corsi For% > 50% when McDavid is on the bench
  • 5v5 Team Corsi For% > 51%
  • Powerplay FF/60 > 75.00
  • Penaltykill FA/60 <70.00

Achieving these will not guarantee anything, but I think it would demonstrate that they are on the right track.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Potentially signing Chris Kelly and what it tells us about the Oilers

coppernblue.com.full.54273When the Oilers signed Chris Kelly to a professional tryout on September 9th, I figured it was mainly to meet the requirement of having at least eight veterans on the roster for exhibition games. It also wouldn’t hurt for the coaching staff to have an experienced player around the younger prospects through camp. And it would increase the competition for jobs on the third and fourth line.

Nothing confirmed yet, but after Brad Malone was demoted to the AHL earlier this week, and the fact that he’s still on the roster today, it’s starting to feel like the Oilers may sign Kelly to an NHL contract.

“He’s performed well. We have to see how these things turn out with Yamamoto and Jesse, and there’s a number of other variables. Chris has done well, he’s skating better than he did last year. He’s a great character, I’ve seen what he can do in and out of the room.” – GM Peter Chiarelli (Source: Oilers Now, 630 CHED)

Of course, signing Kelly wouldn’t be the end of the world. But it raises a few concerns around the Oilers and how they’re managing the roster.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

The Oilers are taking a big risk trying to replace Andrej Sekera from within

taThe Edmonton Oilers are heading into the 2017-18 season without one of their most important defencemen. Andrej Sekera could potentially be on injured reserved until January as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered in last spring’s playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks.

It’s a significant loss that wasn’t adequately addressed during the off-season.

The veteran ranked second among Oilers defencemen in total time on ice and ice time per game, playing a key role whether at even strength, on power play or on the penalty kill. He’s been relied upon since the day he arrived in Edmonton to regularly play against top competition.

One of Sekera’s best assets has been his ability to do a little bit of everything. He skates well and can move the puck out of his zone at a decent rate. Defensively, he’s extremely reliable, pressuring forwards and being in the right spots to not only clear the front of the net, but also to get the puck moving out of the zone and into transition to generate offence.

There really hasn’t been anything that he couldn’t do for the Oilers. Now the Oilers coaching staff has to figure out a plan to deal with Sekera’s absence.

Full article is at The Athletic Edmonton.

Discussing Oilers training camp and the potential lineup on the CBC Edmonton News (TV)

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I joined Adrienne Pan on the CBC Edmonton News on Thursday evening to discuss the Oilers preseason, and the lineup we may see on opening night next week. Clip is here and starts around the 8:30 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2017, September 28)

Couple notes:

  • I can’t emphasize enough how meaningless exhibition results are. The competition is always questionable. The veterans are playing at half-speed. And the bubble players look like the only ones trying. It’s great that the Oilers are 6-1, but you have to keep in mind that there is no correlation between preseason success and regular season success. (Source: Oilers Nerd Alert)
  • It’s been a lot of fun watching Yamamoto play. The points are great, but what I’ve been focused more on this preseason is how these younger players do away from the puck. Yamamoto has been better than I expected when it comes to forechecking and pressuring defencemen. The guy has great speed, but he’s often in a good spot to limit passing lanes.
  • I haven’t been impressed by Strome so far. His offensive game is fine, he’s pretty much the complementary type of player I was expecting. But it’s his defensive game that I’ve found concerning. He’s not overly fast or skilled, and from what I’ve seen he doesn’t often pose a challenge to opponents. Limited viewings for sure, but I’d definitely want to see a lot more from him, especially if he gets gifted top six minutes. Also – his game as a center the other night in Saskatoon wasn’t great. Definitely expected better, especially if Chiarelli views him as a center. For now, we should probably throw some cold water on those RNH trade rumors
  • The forward pairings have been pretty much what I expected back in July: Maroon/McDavid, Lucic/Drai, Jokinen/RNH and Letestu/Kassian. I think if Strome played better and if Yamamoto wasn’t as good as he’s been, Strome would’ve easily been on the top line and Puljujaarvi would’ve been with RNH. Slepyshev’s injury also complicates matters, and I think he would’ve been a nice fit with Leon. Caggiula is the other guy that hasn’t solidified a position, but I expect him to get plenty of ice time, potentially on Leon’s line.
  • If you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend listening to Bob McKenzie’s interviews with the general managers of the Canadian team. (Source: The TSN Hockey Bobcast)