With training camp underway, the focus should be on the potential line combinations and defence pairings for the upcoming season, which young prospects will emerge and take on important roles – and really just getting as much information as possible about this roster. And we’re getting plenty of content and storylines to follow and dissect, already within the first couple of days. But it’s pretty hard to ignore the situation with forward Josh Archibald and his reluctance to get vaccinated to spend training camp with his teammates.
Now, Archibald has had plenty of time to get things sorted out and has probably had more than a few discussions with management and the coaching staff to talk about the impacts of his decision to his career and to the team. If he hasn’t straightened things out at this point with training camp already underway, why are the Oilers so hesitant about assigning him to the AHL or even terminating his contract? He’s on the second year of a two-year contract that pays him $1.5 million this upcoming season and is very, very replaceable.
This is clearly a fourth line player averaging about 10-11 minutes per game at even-strength (5v5) and producing 1.18 points per hour over his 235-game career. He’s not a shut-down player, spending the majority of his ice-time against lesser competition. And has in fact been a part of the depth problems the Oilers have been experiencing, specifically when McDavid has been on the bench. In his two seasons with the Oilers, the team has posted a goal differential of -23 (38 GF/61 GA) with Archibald on the ice, a goal-share of 38.4%. Part of the reason for that is the team has poor possession numbers with Archibald on the ice, with the team posting a Corsi For% of 45.5%. And again, this is predominantly against the opponents third and fourth lines and away from elite competition.
Where the coaching staff does have faith in Archibald is on the penalty kill, as he lead the Oilers forwards in total shorthanded ice-time and average ice-time per game in 2020/21 and had the second most minutes the year before. And while the results have been good for the team in terms of preventing goals, with the team allowing about the same rate of goals against with and without Archibald on the ice in the last two seasons, they do a see a significantly higher rate of shots with Archibald deployed. Without him, the Oilers have allowed about 51 shots against per hour, which is just slightly better than league average. With him, that rate of shots against jumps up to 64 per hour, an increase of about 25%. Now part of that has to do with the fact that he’s often played against the other team’s top power play units. But keep in mind, top penalty kill units see an increase of +5.45 shots against per hour relative to the team rate. Archibald’s rate of shots against (+12.27) is double the league average of top penalty kill units, so you really can’t put it all on the level of competition.
Knowing the Oilers might be starting the season without Archibald, the Oilers did bring in 32-year old Colton Sceviour on a professional try-out agreement, who appears to be a pretty seamless replacement for Archibald. He’s played 500 NHL games, has played a similar depth role as Archibald averaging about 10 minutes a game at even-strength and has a slightly better career points-per-hour rate of 1.41.
Sceviour also has plenty of experience on the penalty kill, becoming a regular option during his four seasons in Florida between 2016 and 2020 leading the team in ice time and average ice time per game.
Sceviour posted some pretty solid on-ice penalty kill numbers in Florida for a player who was deployed as often he was. In two of his four seasons, the rate of shots against were lower relative to his team numbers. And a couple times the rate of shots against were higher but reasonably in line with what happens across the league when top penalty killers are on the ice. Sceviour did see his average ice time drop as a new member of the Penguins last season. But the club did quite well at suppressing shots with him on the ice, seeing their rate of shots against drop by 8.87 shots per hour.
With a replacement like Sceviour who can play depth minutes and has experience killing penalties already participating in the Oilers training camp, the Oilers really should move on from Archibald as soon as possible. The club needs to sort out their even-strength line combinations, give players time to develop chemistry and figure out their special teams – especially their penalty kill, which is going to look a lot different than last season.
More importantly, the Oilers need to make a clear statement that the organization understands the gravity of the global pandemic and do not want to risk the health and safety of their staff, their players, the fans and the community. Letting the decision to move on from Archibald linger is a terrible look for Oilers management, the coaching staff and the leadership group among the players, especially since it’s been revealed that one of their own teammates is still dealing with complications from being diagnosed with Covid-19 last year.
This really isn’t a hard decision or a tough stance to take. Organizations around the globe are making vaccines mandatory to protect their businesses and their industry, and the Oilers really have no excuse here trying to accommodate a single player who doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of his actions. It’s a big season coming up with high expectations for the club – and the focus at this point should be on the players who want to be at training camp and want to have a strong season.