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Hitchcock vs McLellan, a Blog Most Have Already Written…

Hmmm, I see I managed to get pictures which are both photo bombed by Drake Caggiula.  I prefer Caggiula with Hitch simply so I can call them “Drake and the fat man”.  Used that line talking to one of my buddies the other night and if he’s reading this now he’s thinking “get a new joke Campbell you fucking moron”.  Completely justified.

 

Can I be honest about something?  I wasn’t at all surprised by that win Tuesday night.  Even at 3-2 going to the 3rd, I felt good about the spot they were in.  They won, and now we go from the sky is falling to starring at a golden chance to take 5 of 6 or maybe even 6 straight. The division is so bad that they’re already back in a tie for 3rd spot (at least by points percentage).  The optimism isn’t all because of the coaching change.  But it’s the coaching change combined with a massive win against the top team in the division and a light schedule on the horizon.  And if you go by my personal power rankings (outdated now of course), the Oilers are now 5-4-1 against what were my top 8 teams at the end of October.  Being fair, three of the five were in OT.  But if you want to be fair to the Oilers, two of those three were comeback wins on the road, and three of the five have been on the road.  You’ll have a tough time convincing me that this team isn’t capable of making the playoffs in this division when they’re above .500 against top competition.

 

So the more I’ve given this thought, the more I’ve loved this move for the Oilers.  Hey, maybe it’s all just optimism that comes with a new coach?  Easily could be.  And combine that with me being a pretty big Hitchcock fan for a long time now, this will likely be viewed as me going overboard.  But it’s tough to look at his track record and not see how positive his impact could be.  Not for sure, who the hell knows what’ll happen, but I have a tough time seeing how it won’t be at least a decent upgrade.

 

Do you remember the 2014-15 Penguins?  Of course you don’t.  You remember the 2015-16 Penguins?  Of course you do because they won the Cup.  The 14-15 Penguins were a disaster.  And then in November of 2015 the Penguins looked like a completely fucked franchise.  But people forget this.  Mike Johnston was a disaster of a head coach for them, after they had done nothing but digress after winning the Cup with Dan Bylsma in 09.  Something else with that team that was being said at the time is that the GM (first Shero and then Rutherford) was they weren’t getting Sid the help he needed.  All he had was Malkin, the Kessel trade was horrendous, and Sid had nothing.  Sound familiar Oilers fans?…The effect that change had on the Pens was insane.  Mike Sullivan didn’t do a lot honestly.  Mike Johnston just was a bad fit for that hockey club.  I don’t feel like Todd McLellan, the way he was coaching the team from the psychology to the system to the results was a fit for this Oilers team.  Ken Hitchock just might be the perfect fit for them.

 

I might just sound like an amateur blogger who is really just a guy spewing garbage who’s opinion deserves nothing more than to be pissed on by people in the media, but I’m right and most of them are very wrong on the fact that Todd McLellan isn’t a great head coach.  Sounds like an AMAZING man, and I feel awful for the guy because I really do believe that he worked his balls off and had nothing but the best intentions imaginable for the Oilers.  He’s just an average coach by NHL standards.  Not by the media’s standards.  No, by their standards he treated them great so he’s an amazing head coach and it’s not his fault.  Because he treated them great.  I get it, but let’s maybe start doing our jobs and get just a LITTLE more objectivity fellas?

 

Is Peter Chiarelli deserving of his job right now?  I don’t think so.  I’m not a “one or the other” guy on this.  Both coach and GM should have lost their jobs after last season, let alone 20 games into this one.  But Chiarelli going won’t make or break THIS season, I’m not sure how this is lost on the “yeah but Chiarelli…” crowd.  What exactly is your defence for McLellan staying if you simply want to blame Chiarelli?  What is his track record of getting his teams to higher level’s of performance?  And why did most of you believe 12 months ago this roster was capable of contending for a Cup and now is nothing other than 97?  I’m VERY well aware of how much gold Chiarelli traded away and it makes me sick.  I get that.  But is this roster capable of making the playoffs?  Yes, it is.  And last year it not only didn’t make the playoffs, it didn’t COMPETE for the playoffs.  Most observers reasoning for McLellan staying was basically “well, if he had the stacked roster he should have then they would be a playoff team”.  So, he’s a great coach, but because his roster isn’t loaded it’s not his fault.  Right?  Who is the player which surprised and took a massive leap under McLellan?  The only one I can think of who you can maybe make a case for is Nurse, though if you’ve read my stuff you know I’ve been sky high on Nurse from day one.  There wasn’t one player who I personally looked at as a guy McLellan and his staff were elevating/developing.  And TRUST ME on this: I was full board on the McLellan bandwagon once they hired him.  I didn’t know what the big deal was about him previous to the hire, but once they hired him I bought into everything the media told us on how great of a coach he was and for two and a half years I never gave it a thought.  But the fact is that there just isn’t a case for the guy.

 

Look at the track record and it gets worse.  Ron Wilson is a pariah these days.  Wilson took just an ok team (the 98 Caps) to the Stanley Cup final.  He took the Sharks to the Western final in 04.  Going into the 06 playoffs they were most observers favourites to go to the final.  06-08 they couldn’t get past the 2nd round and Wilson was fired.  In steps McLellan to get this loaded Sharks team to the Cup!  Here we go, they’re about to rattle off some Cups!  09, bounced in the 1st round.  Well whatever, just one season of many.  2010 they made it to the Western final!  They took six games to knock off an awful Avalanche team (seriously, one of the worst playoff teams since the league went to 30 teams in 01).  Then they knocked off the Wings in five…who had gone seven games with the Coyotes and had played 63 playoff games over the three previous seasons so it’s safe to say they were just a tad gassed.  But whatever, they were in the West final…and got swept.  2011 though, that’s their year!  Right?!  They beat the Kings…before Darryl Sutter took over and became what they did.  They beat the Wings again…after blowing a 3-0 lead and barely hanging on in game seven at home.  Then against a weaker Canucks team than the Hawks had been, they managed to get a big one win in the West final.  2012, THIS is it for them though right?!  Stumbled down the stretch and got embarrassed in the first round by…Ken Hitchcock’s St. Louis Blues.  Hey, in fairness the Blues had hardly any talent at the time and the Sharks only had a few hall of famers.  2013 was ok, though bounced in the 2nd round to the Kings.  2014 they looked like they FINALLY were going to go somewhere, and blew a 3-0 lead in the first round to the Kings.  2015 he missed the playoffs and was fired.  But obviously the Sharks will digress big time once he’s gone…right?…If Ron Wilson had done all that we’d be talking about what a disaster he was for not getting anywhere near over the hump with that talent.  And then the next coach takes them to the final?!  That’s a bad look!  But McLellan skates because everyone loves the guy.  And again, I’m not in anyway looking to bash the person, but I’m trying to look at it objectively when most seem to be refusing to do so.

 

Now, some will say the Oilers took a big leap forward because of him, but did they?  Cam Talbot was Vezina candidate worthy in 2017, and it was McDavid’s first full season.  Add to that, Lucic was still producing, Eberle while digressing was still a 50 point player, and the team (even though it was a disgusting overpay to get there) was a lot more balanced up front and on the blueline.  I actually believe he might have done a better job in 2016.  2016 he had horrible injury luck and had the team stayed healthy with the West being down, they might have snuck in the playoffs.  But for people to be picking virtually the same roster as this one to go to the final 14 months ago (or at least be a legit contender to get there), and then say today that the roster has nothing other than McDavid…spare me.  FUCKING.  SPARE.  ME.  Todd McLellan…he’s just another coach.  I remember saying this about him when I had tapped on him last year.  He’s not a BAD coach, but he’s no different than 3/4 of the coaches in the league.  He’s no different from a Paul Maurice, a Gerard Gallant, a John Stevens, a Lindy Ruff, a Mike Yeo, a Glen Gulutzan, a Willie Desjardins.  They’re all just guys who don’t have much of an impact on teams.  They mainly live and die with their goaltending, and they’re a dime a dozen.  Can they have momentary impacts like Maurice first did with the Jets or Gallant last season in Vegas?  Yep.  But Gallant for example has had three gigs now.  In Columbus he didn’t have goaltending and his teams did nothing.  In Florida he had great goaltending and they made the playoffs in 2016.  And last year he had incredible goaltending (and frankly the easiest job in the league).  They’re all guys who people seem to really like, and get REALLY overrated.  McLellan was a hot coaching candidate initially because the job he did as Mike Babcock’s assistant in Detroit.  The last guy who was hired in similar fashion was Jeff Blashill.  Blashill spent time as a Babcock assistant and the head coach in Grand Rapids and all I heard about was how great Jeff Blashill was.  Granted, the Wings roster has gone to complete shit under him, but he seems to be just like all these other guys to me.

 

Hitchcock though, the media can shut up with all the cliches already on the guy looking to downplay his accomplishments.  “He’s fixer.”  “He has a shelf life”.  No, he’s an elite coach.  Is he going to be any teams coach forever?  No.  But does the media realize that probably 95% of coaches don’t last long EITHER?!  “He has a shelf life”.  Oh ok, I’ll take four or five awesome years of Hitch elevating 3/4 of my team without a shelf life then a decade of Paul Maurice doing nothing like he did in Hartford/Carolina.  I like my teams to WIN, I’m weird like that.

What Hitch does is drastically improve teams.  Dallas, 95-96, bottom five team.  Hitch’s first full season was 96-97 and they finished tied for 2nd in the league, three points out of 1st.  97-98 they won the President’s trophy.  98-99 they won it again and that big silver thing they hand out at the end of the playoffs.  2000 they nearly won that big silver thing again.  But we all know the Stars had a sky high payroll so he only deserves so much credit.  On to Philly in 02-03.  Finished one point behind Jersey for tops in the Atlantic, six behind Ottawa for the President’s trophy after looking awful during the 01-02 season for the talent they had.  The next season they went to game seven of the East final and lost to Tampa by a goal.  Game changed pretty dramatically in 05-06 and they fell apart.  A detractor could say A) Philly also had a monster payroll and B) game got more offensive and Hitch couldn’t adjust.  Ok, that’s fine.  Onto Columbus.  Blue Jackets had never made the playoffs, Hitch gets them to the playoffs.  Not only gets them to the playoffs but has Steve Mason as a Vezina candidate.  And again someone would say that he got lucky Mason was so hot.  Ok…St. Louis.  Blues were very similar to the Oilers.  After making it in 09, Blues fell back off in 2010 and 2011.  2012 started off weak too, and after being shit kicked by the Oilers 5-2, Hitch was brought in.  David Backes, T.J. Oshie, and David Perron were the “stars” up front.  Man, let’s hear about how McDavid, Draisaitl and Nuge are so much worse than that trio…Anyway, 43-15-11 the rest of the way.  Goaltending duo?  Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak.  Defence?  21 year old Alex Pietrangelo as his number one guy.  22 year old Kevin Shattenkirk as his number two guy.  I like how the media has completely forgotten where the Blues were at when Hitch took over, or how they’ve just slowly digressed since he left.  In Dallas last season, they also had/have a very similar roster to the Oilers.  Seguin is their McDavid, Benn is their Draisaitl, the blueline is more talented but a lot less experienced than the Oilers is (which is saying something), go look at the Stars roster at the start of last season and tell me you though Radek Faksa was anything.  Now he’s looked at as one of the best two way centres in the game.

 

The one thing a lot of people are leaving out of this though, it’s not just that it looks like an upgrade, it’s that it feels like a much better fit for Chiarelli’s vision.  We’ll call it Chiarelli’s vision, though in the last few days I’ve really wondered how much of it is JUST his doing.  Regardless, think back to Chiarelli’s Boston teams.  Those were teams who resembled Ken Hitchcock teams.  Did they resemble Todd McLellan teams?  They really didn’t.  The Oilers are built like those Bruins teams, and like Hitchcock’s Blues teams.

 

Ken Hitchcock is an elite head coach, even at 66 years old.  He’s a BIG upgrade for the Oilers and in my opinion, combined with a very weak Pacific division, is going to get them in the playoffs and by April I believe they’ll be looked at much differently.  Initially, I felt uneasy about bringing in Hitch.  But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.  Maybe the biggest thing is that he’s a teacher.  He lives to coach and teach and evolve.  This is a guy, despite being 66 who has embraced analytics, he isn’t just simply an old crusty head coach who’ll do things the same as he did in 1999.  Hitch is known for having veteran teams, but you can point to so many guys who played their best hockey under Hitch.  Modano, Lehtinen, Primeau, Nash, Tarasenko, Backes, Seguin, Faksa, and that’s just the forwards.  As a whole the blueline and goaltending gets a LOT better under Hitch’s watch.  Of course the reason for all the improvements is his system and philosophies on the game.  He demands his players defend as a five man unit.  If you’re a forward, you’re not going to be a passenger in your own zone.  And if you are, then you’ll either be scratched, sent down, or be traded.  Simple.

 

Jimmy Johnson was the same style of coach as Hitchcock when he coached in the NFL.  Now, I know this was 25 years ago, but I’m still going to roll on this.  Anyone will tell you that Johnson is a great guy, yet he pushed his players to their limits.  And he was a psychology major, so he knew how to do it.  Johnson would speak about the self fulfilling prophecy to treat a person as they are and they will remain who they are.  Treat a person as they could be or should be and they will become that person.  I think of that when I think of the comparisons with these two, and though I’ve never heard Hitch say that, I have very little doubt he has the same philosophy.  And to me, it works.  Always has, always will.

 

So many people miss this, not just with Hitch, but the top end coaches in general is their grasp on psychology.  The media just plays it off as “pushing buttons”.  You can’t “push buttons” if you don’t know how to do it.  Dallas Eakins took this approach and it blew up in his face, he didn’t know how to do it.  Look at how much people around hockey absolutely love Hitch.  People didn’t think of Mike Keenan like that, who was also considered a “task master” or a guy who would “push buttons”.  Nobody talks about Michel Therrien like that, and he’s considered that guy too.  I’ve talked about this with my psychologist.  We were talking last year about how it is simply disastrous when coaches try to play mind games with players just because they think that’s what they need to do as a coach.  You can’t do that shit when you don’t know why you’re doing it, or how to do it.  Hitch does.  Away from the rink the guy is an extremely engaging guy.  He’s a teacher.  You really think he would be adored in hockey circles if he was actually anything like what he is behind the bench or at practice?  He’s not, which to me is a sign that the guy knows exactly how to do it.

 

And he’s 100%, not just confident in what he’s telling his players and in how he’s pushing his players, but also 100% secure in what he’s doing and how he’s doing it.  That’s the key.  There are A LOT of people in life who have a massive ego but you can see it’s an act and that they’re actually very insecure people.  Hitch doesn’t come across as that guy at all.  He studies the game non stop, he’s open minded to all idea’s on how to improve (another sign of being secure), and sure he’s 66 but I’m going to tell you the game isn’t passing this guy by.  He’ll change as the game and people playing it do.  It’s a lot like Bill Belichick, Gregg Popovich, Scotty Bowman, etc.

 

Ok, so that’s what Hitch is bringing to the table.  But what you want to know is how this could help/hurt the team.  So…let’s do just that.  I got both area’s and players who I believe he’ll either improve, could improve, or will fall off.

 

First and foremost, the goaltending now should be fine.  Koskinen has already been giving the Oilers the goaltending they’ll need.  Even on nights he doesn’t look great, he’s not getting rattled.  Cam Talbot badly needs some easy nights to get his confidence back up, which is exactly what will happen with Hitch.  Brian Elliott was an afterthought before Hitch got to St. Louis.  By the end of the 2016 season most believed that the Flames got a bargain when they dealt the 35th pick in the 16 draft for Elliott.  Talbot has more talent then Brian Elliott so I’m interested to see how he plays.

 

Next is the PK, and again this would greatly help Talbot in particular who seems to be really struggling mentally on the PK.  But the PK looked a little better already in San Jose.  The Oilers are currently only at 75.4% which is actually slightly worse than last season.  In St. Louis the PK was elite.  7th, 7th, 2nd, 9th, and 3rd overall.  The season before Hitch arrived they were 18th, 81.7%.  Blues first full season without Hitch was of course last season, and where was their PK?  18th, 79.9%.  Where was the Stars in 2017?  30th, 73.9%.  Last season?  14th, 80.8% (top five apparently before Ben Bishop went down Elliotte Friedman pointed out on the latest 31 Thoughts podcast).  He improves it.

 

The blueline in general will improve a lot.  Klefbom and Larsson I feel as though will take another step.  Might be a small one, but it’ll still be noticeable.  The big one though I’m watching for is Nurse.  I really believe this is the perfect coach for Nurse.  Not sure if Hitch will tap into his offensive ability, but defensively I see the kid becoming a beast in his own zone.  Under Hitch, Colton Parayko for example sure was looked at as the next stud D-man in the league wasn’t he?  Since?  No progression.  Won’t surprise me actually if the Oilers end up trading for him just as a side note.  They loved him before and if Hitch does too, I could see them pushing hard with the Blues struggling and Parayko not progressing as they’d hoped.  Also I should toss in here, really like the trade for Chris Wideman if he’s going to be their number six/PP1 D-man.  Klefbom isn’t good enough on that top unit.  Lefty, doesn’t move the puck quick, and too stationary back there for my liking.  I could see Wideman really making an impact if given the chance.  Question will be whether or not he can play well enough five on five to stay in the lineup.

 

Ok I have to speed this up!

 

Leon Draisaitl I believe will thrive.  I’m surprised Hitch wants to keep him on McDavid’s wing, but it’s what he had in Dallas with Seguin and Benn.  Draisaitl’s big problem is he lacks consistency.  I believe they’ll butt heads much like Hull and Tarasenko did to name a few, but we’re going to see Draisaitl’s best.

 

Jujhar Khaira might play the best hockey of his career. First, a lot of observers including myself believe Khaira is better in the middle because it forces him to move his feet.  Hitch has thrived with players of his skill set (Faksa, Shore, Backes to name a few), and I strongly believe we’re going to see him become a pretty valuable player.

 

Then you have the wildcard types where I’m not sure which way it could go.  In terms of players, those would be Lucic and Caggiula.

 

With Looch, he doesn’t strike me as a mentally tough guy.  I could be very wrong about that, but it’s just how he comes off.  So I believe Hitch will either get the most out of him, or get absolutely nothing (which isn’t far off what Looch is giving the team now, though I do believe the effort has been there most nights).  Time will tell.  I know this: the system is better suited for Looch.  Don’t mistake “slower pace” with “slower team”.  And a slower pace with more puck support all over the ice should help Lucic.

 

Caggiula is interesting.  On one hand, he’s a bit of a pest, plays hard, has talent.  But he’s a disaster in his own zone.  He strikes me as a kid who is willing to learn, so I believe he could thrive, and again above pushing buttons and heavy hockey, Hitch is known for being a teacher.  If Caggiula wants to learn and wants to buy in, we could see a big improvement.  But he’s BAD in his own zone at the moment, so it might take some time.

 

But I have another wildcard for you that Hitch could improve with this squad, and it’s the offence.  WHAT?!?!?!?!  Yep.  I’m not calling my shot on it, but the thing I saw with McLellan was attempting to play a style that was just horrendous for creating offence.  I’m not really sure what it was attempting to do, as the main goal was for the forwards to always look to the blueline option.  Problem with that is the Oilers blueline had no threats offensively and so you’d often get a bad shot on goal.  To top it off, often there would be no traffic.  It was pretty obvious to me that while McLellan didn’t have a deep team up front, he wasn’t allowing the players to play with ANY offensive creativity.  When I think of Hitch’s teams, while offensive creativity doesn’t come to mind, manufacturing goals is something his teams will do.  They cycle it to death, and often get the puck to the slot whether it be a D-man pinching in or someone rotating off the cycle once the opportunity is there.  That means the Oilers will likely be getting the pucks to their best offensive players more often and in better shooting positions.  The PP may also get better, though in Hitch’s last two stops (St. Louis and Dallas) it was in the bottom 12 both years.  It’s at 20.3% right now, but what might be a big improvement for it is the Chris Wideman acquisition made yesterday.  Remains to be seen if they’ll use him as more than a number seven guy, to me he should be a lock for their number six every night and send Gravel back down (since he no longer has to clear waivers).  If Wideman does get in regularly, he better be on top PP unit in place of Klefbom.  He moves the puck quicker than Klefbom, more mobility, and he’s a righty shot.  He’s just a much better fit for it.

 

Another big one I have yet to hit on is Nuge, but I don’t see Nuge improving much just because he plays the way Hitch loves already.  Maybe the system suits his game better too?  But I wouldn’t look for much improvement.  If anything, I could see his offensive stats droping a little, but he grows even more defensively and maybe he’s the new David Backes or Radek Faksa AKA Selke candidate?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not betting on it.  Just throwing it out there as something to watch for.

 

Of course when it comes to 97, we know what he’s going to do.  No, his offensive game isn’t going to take this big hit.  No doubt that his defensive game could improve some, but his offensive game won’t suffer.  The latest guy to play under Hitch who was similar to McDavid was Seguin.  His numbers went UP last season.  Jamie Benn’s numbers also went UP last season.  97 will be just fine.

 

Two guys I have no issue saying they’re done are Ryan Spooner and Ty Rattie.  Both kids play nothing the way the new coach wishes.  The latter of course already had many chances to play for him in St. Louis and never could break through.  The former I was really high on the Oilers getting, but I can’t see him fitting in knowing how soft he plays.  You have to either have a well rounded game, or have the ability to have a well rounded game.  Both of those guys are undersized, not overly fast, a little soft, and not good away from the puck.

 

Ok.  FINALLY I’ve come to the big key to all of this.  The player who I see improving the most.  The player who McLellan badly failed with.  The player who I believe is going to thrive playing for Hitch.  It’s Jesse Puljujarvi.

 

Hearing Chiarelli’s comments in the aftermath of all this, it became clear to me that Puljujarvi’s handling played a large part in the decision to make the change.  Chiarelli sounded as though he made sure that Hitch is going to work with the 20 year old Fin and give him a real chance to play.  Is he his Tarasenko?  You would scoff at that, and I’m by no means expecting THAT.  But let me ask you this: Who was the better player at 20 years old?  Puljujarvi is.  What has Tarasenko done since Hitchcock left, which was supposed to be a change that would see his game take right off?  Word is that Doug Armstrong might be ready to deal him.

 

Puljujarvi dominated in his quick AHL stint.  Dominated.  Whether he pops on this call-up (which as of writing this he has yet to be recalled but according to Stauffer it’ll be coming soon), I don’t know.  But Hitch is an analytics guy, and I have little doubt he’s going to see Puljujarvi’s goal share with McDavid and give him a legit chance in that spot.

So, McLellan was refusing to give the guy at the top of that list a chance?  He gave the guy 2nd on that list two months of a dog shit performance on the top PP unit in 16-17 before he finally caved and took him off it, but the guy who produces best with McDavid gets jerked around all season and eventually they have to demote him due to the coach not playing him?  This one has serious potential to be a massive black eye on McLellan moving forward.  He hated Puljujarvi, at least this season he sure did.  Apologists want to talk about how McLellan had nothing to work with, yet maybe his fourth and fifth most skilled players entering the season looked like nothing playing for him.  Hitch is going to work with Puljujarvi, because Hitch will see the potential to be the type of player he adores.  And it wasn’t just Puljujarvi and Yamamoto who have struggled offensively under McLellan.  Taylor Hall had a brutal 2nd half of the 15-16 season, Eberle digressed in his 2nd season under him, Lucic has fallen off a cliff, and I’m not saying these are on McLellan but it’s very noteworthy.  Probably on the players, but that is a pretty big list of talented guys.  Hell, even think of a kid like Caggiula.  You can see the offensive ability in his game, and yet offensively he’s never taken a step.

 

So Puljujarvi is the key.  Because if Hitch starts to tap into that potential then it completely changes the dynamic of the team.  All of a sudden you have the winger for 97, and you can deploy 29 and 93 accordingly.  Or maybe he loads up the top line even more?  Currently constructed, this Oilers team in my mind is as good as the Stars were last year.  Three stars up front, an ok but not great blueline, and real good TALENT between the pipes.  And while they didn’t make the playoffs in the end, tougher division and the Ben Bishop injury really killed them late in the season.  This Oilers team compared to the 2011-12 St. Louis Blues is head and shoulders above them in talent.  The Blues maybe had a bit more depth at the time, but nowhere near the skilled guys or the talent between the pipes.  If Puljujarvi gets rolling, it’s going to make one hell of a difference.

 

Do not get ANY of this twisted.  It doesn’t absolve anyone of anything.  Chiarelli has still been a bad GM, the OBC still BADLY need to go, I’m not singing their praises just because one possible season saving change was made.  But credit where credit is due, this has potential to be a hell of a good move!  The fit for the players, the fit with the assistants, the fit for the organization, the fit for the city, it’s an all around terrific fit.  And while I slag on how McLellan gets pretty badly overrated by people, it’s not as though he’s the only coach who is just ok.  The league is littered with them.  So there was no point in firing him to hand it over to Gulutzan on an interim basis.  Maybe you get a jolt for 10-15 games, but it’ll probably back to status quo after.  Hitch is an elite coach.

 

I’m probably making this sound better than it is or will be.  Best case scenario with all of these things.  I get it.  I really don’t feel that everything is going to work out amazingly as I likely just made it sound.  All I’m saying is I see SOME improvement coming for most, and basically we’ll see the team we saw over the first 11 games more consistently.  It’s his type of team (which was another thing I heard multiple media members say it wasn’t…sure…).  Hitch needs to coach up some guys without a doubt, but he’s the guy to do it.  I see them getting back to bullying teams with heavy hockey much like they did in 16-17, much improved defensive play, and rarely getting out coached.  Combine that with a very weak Pacific division, and I feel pretty damn comfortable predicting…barring injuries…the Oilers will get in the top three in the division.  Not an accomplishment to be all that proud of in McDavid’s 4th season, and doesn’t absolve anyone for any of the shit that’s gone on.  But it’s a great move that will likely save their season, so at least it’s a start.

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Time to Wake Up

Todd McLellan got on the plane yesterday, and is in San Jose along with the rest of the Edmonton Oilers as we start our day today.  I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so sick about someone keeping their job then I was with this.  I’m not a bad person and don’t wish for anyone to lose their job, but it has just become crystal clear that Todd McLellan isn’t too good of a coach by NHL standards and maybe more so is the flat out wrong coach for the Oilers.  Yet that’s what he’ll be at least for one more evening.

 

I’m not sure what the hold up is here quite frankly.  Lost 6 of 7, going on the road for 3 massive games, is management waiting for the season to be completely lost?!  I’ll get back to them, but for now I’ll stick with McLellan.  He badly needs to be fired.  I brought up on the podcast the last time around that Todd McLellan tries to act a lot like Mike Babcock.  This has been a similar problem with former Bill Belichick coaches is that they try to act like Belichick but don’t try to coach like Belichick, they just copy his mannerisms.  Matt Patricia for example keeps a pencil in his ear like Belichick…he never uses it as his sheets are all laminated.  McLellan emulates his former boss in his pressers, in his body language on the bench, with his “I’m firm but fair” approach towards his players.  That’s great, but Mike Babcock’s biggest key to his success is his ability to adapt and be open minded.  Babcock has won now with three different organizations in three different ways (I know it’s only two, but it’s going to happen with the third whether you loathe them or not).  He took a talentless team to game 7 of the final, he won a Cup and went to game 7 of the final with a team that had a ton of high end skill and veterans, and when he takes the Leafs on at least a deep run and likely wins a Cup with them he’ll have done it started right from scratch with mostly kids on his roster.  Todd McLellan in the meantime continues to have his teams get pucks in deep, funnel it to the point, and go hard to the net.  He refuses to trust or attempt to develop any of his highly skilled kids.  He openly admits he tries to win 2-1 games.  Todd, look around the league.  Look at who is winning.  Those teams aren’t trying to play 2-1 hockey anymore brotha.

 

As for who should take over, Joel Quennville….ain’t happening.  Simply put, there are no ties to Quennville in the organization.  I’d be happy if that’s who they went out and got, but I HIGHLY doubt it.

 

If I had to guess what would happen if or when Todd McLellan is let go, I would say Glen Gulutzan will be promoted to interim head coach with it being a legitimate audition to become the permanent head coach, which I’m not sure ever works long term.  But that’s what I see happening, with Gulutzan perhaps adding a new assistant to the new staff.  What would I do?  Well my solution goes well beyond the head coach, but what I will say is that their are certain qualities I would look for.  One would be the ability to keep his team loose.  Playing in Edmonton, these players are tight enough as is thanks to how crazy this fan base is and how much media attention they have.  It’s a fishbowl.  So they need someone who will keep the team playing loose and keep things positive, though not simply patting players on the back non stop like Ralph Kruger did for example.  They need that, and they need someone who understands today’s game.  Today’s game has become very difficult to defend, and there for you need to take advantage of that and allow your highly skilled players to use that skill.  They also need someone who is open minded and there for can adapt.  Now, who that coach is, I don’t know.  I have guys in mind, but I would have to interview the coach and I don’t see that happening anytime soon.  But I’d want those three things, and then I would want to know what he plans on his entire staff looking like because an underrated part of coaching in all sports to me is the ability to identify the right people to work with you.

 

But the problem with a coaching change is that Peter Chiarelli is still GM…right?

 

Before I get rolling here, note to “yeah, but…” guy in Oiler land (there are a few of them) who want to tell people that the actual problem is Peter Chiarelli.  Guys, just because people are saying Todd McLellan needs to go doesn’t mean most didn’t realize Chiarelli needed to go long ago.  In fact I’d say MOST, if not all Oilers fans had their fill of Chiarelli before the start of last season.  I know for me, I HATED the Griffin Reinhart trade, HATED the Taylor Hall trade (even though I understood a bit more at least what the logic was with it), felt sick about the Milan Lucic contract (was pumped about the player but the contract was worrisome right from the get go), HATED the Jordan Eberle trade (not trading Eberle, but for the return of Ryan Strome), HATED the Kris Russell contract, HATED the pointless Benoit Pouliot buyout, HATED the pointless Eric Gryba buyout, man that is such a long list of awful.  Anyway, if you’re taking to Twitter and pointing out how he’s ACTULLY the problem like you’ve figured it out and nobody else has, who thinks he’s doing a good job?!  That’s not too original boys.  And if you’re bragging about an article you wrote a year ago on Chiarelli’s terrible moves that was three months old AT THE TIME, you’re really a schmuck and not helping The Athletic get more subscriptions…no names mentioned…

 

Yes, Chiarelli needs to go too.  But the reason most are hot about McLellan right now is A) Chiarelli likely isn’t going to go anywhere right now, and B) while the roster has been royally fucked up from what it could be, it’s still a team that can make the playoffs in the worst division in hockey.

 

I’ve actually begun to wonder how much of the big moves have actually been Chiarelli’s doing?  And stay with me here because I’m not meaning to be an apologist for him.  But in the last year, we’ve started to hear things leak out that make Chiarelli look more innocent in all of this.  The infamous “red wine meetings”.  Mike Liut did the latest 31 Thoughts podcast.  For those who aren’t aware, Liut is Leon Draisaitl’s agent, and he gave a little insight to the contract negotiations.  He talked about the analytics Chiarelli was using which were right in line with the analytics a lot of Oilers bloggers were pointing to as to why Draisaitl was undeserving of a contract North of 7 million per season.  Yet…he got 8.5?  So it looks like Chiarelli was right in line with the thinking of others, yet Draisaitl still got the overpay?  Of course when it comes to the Griffin Reinhart trade, while I admit I often throw it in when pissing on Chiarelli, I know that wasn’t his trade.  That was very clearly done by the old regime.  Did he sign off on it?  At the time I would have said he did because we had been led to believe he had the final say on all decisions.  Yet as time has gone on, it hasn’t seemed as though he has.  With the Hall trade, I’ve never heard anything about Peter Chiarelli having ANY issue with Taylor Hall and Hall has admitted since that he was stunned by the trade in large part because his talks with Chiarelli were so positive.  But what do we know?  What we know is that before Chiarelli arrived there were a TON of rumours that people in management had a big issue with Hall.  You also have the Todd McLellan hiring.  I’ve said this before and will say it again, Elliotte Friedman has gone on the record (he could have better information now, but this was the day Babcock was hired) that he believed Mike Babcock wanted the Edmonton job when he initially stepped down in Detroit, but the Oilers went with McLellan anyway…who was heavily rumoured to be the next coach of the Oilers well before Chiarelli was ever brought in.  If Babcock did want the Oilers job, no chance that wouldn’t have been relayed to the Oilers.  And most sane people would want Mike Babcock and spare me on how the Oilers wouldn’t have gave him the same contract the Leafs did, yes they would have.  If this organization has done one thing right since Darryl Katz took over it’s that they haven’t been cheap.

 

So let’s take a minute to add it all up.  A lot of these moves gone horribly wrong have deeper roots than Peter Chiarelli as GM of the team, and does it make sense that he just plainly sees things the exact same way as his predecessor’s did?  I’ll add it for you and give you the answer: nope.  I’m not saying Chiarelli is now all of a sudden blameless in all of this.  I believe the Eberle trade/Russell signing that was simultaneous was very likely all him.  Lucic?  That one is tougher to say because while he had his history with Looch, it was also well known that the people above him were craving the Oilers to get really big and really tough.  And I have no doubt that Chiarelli was on board for the vision of the team to be big and tough.  But the more I give it thought, and the more word leaks out about what goes on in management, it doesn’t really add up to being simply Chiarelli’s doing.  Not at all blameless, and should be axed, but don’t you want to get to the root of the problem as an Oilers fan rather than just wash, rinse, repeat?

 

I want to go back to what I said about the desire of not just Chiarelli but the organization to get bigger and tougher.  In doing so, the Oilers showed how little they knew there team.  For a long time, the Oilers without a doubt got pushed around as much or more than any other team in the league.  No doubt the team toughness had to greatly improve.  But while they were so caught up in that, it was completely lost on them how slow they were.  That was the biggest fundamental flaw with the Oilers through the “rebuild” is that they were small AND slow.  While they were labelled as this young and exciting team, they weren’t.  They were small and slow.  They had kids like Eberle, Sam Gagner, Nail Yakupov, David Perron for a short period of time, all under 6’0 and all poor skaters for their size.  Someone is bound to point out that Yak was speedy, which I don’t disagree with, but where you’re missing it is that Yak needed about nine or ten steps to get up to top speed.  That hurt his ability to play fast.  Anyway, by 2016 it was clear in the league that speed was the big thing, and the league in about a three year span had taken a massive leap in speed (which we continue to see now).  I wrote about it after the season how the Oilers better be careful not to sacrifice their speed because it was becoming a speed league, they weren’t an overly fast team, but had two elite skaters to build around in McDavid and Hall.

 

This isn’t me talking out my ass, I believe Stauffer has mentioned it before that it wasn’t a Chiarelli thing but rather an organizational decision to get much bigger and tougher.  But yet, those people above Chiarelli, they aren’t even to blame.  Kevin Lowe (whom we were told had no more say in hockey matters as of April, 2015), Craig MacTavish, Wayne Gretzky, and Bob Nicholson.  Sure, these people all seem to have a much bigger say into things than they should, but it’s not on them either.

 

All of these guys in the organization have a lot of blame.  McLellan isn’t a good coach and there is no reason to keep him.  A coaching change will likely give this squad a short term spark that they need.  The season isn’t lost yet, they’re capable of making the playoffs (especially in the Pacific).  But a change behind the bench is badly needed.  However, that’s the short term.  Big picture, Chiarelli needs to go too.  Even if Chiarelli was more of a puppet for the brass, he still has overpaid in trades, overpaid for free agents or on extensions, been careless with things like buyouts and handing out NTC’s, he’s done a terrific job with the amateur scouting staff he’s put together but you need to do more.  And then the OBC drinking their red wine, for shit like that to leak out and especially the talks of them holding the proverbial gun to McLellan’s head is a complete disgrace.  Have those talks, sure.  They’re getting leaked to the fucking national media!??  What is wrong with people in this organization?!  But no, still, it isn’t the fault of any of these people.  The Edmonton Oilers problem is Daryl Katz.

 

Since taking ownership in the summer of 2008, Katz has done little to help this organization on the ice.  It’s my understanding (Elliotte Friedman has stated this before) that Katz stays out of hockey matters.  That’s good to know, because most owners in pro sports love to meddle.  But those people I mentioned in the last paragraph, none of them should have any say as to what goes on in Edmonton, and they do.  They do because A) Rumour is that Katz can’t fire people (Bob McCowan has made mention of this on Prime Time Sports in the past), and B) Katz is still a fan boy for the 80’s teams and clearly loves having those guys around as his buddies.  WAKE THE FUCK UP!!!  Hell, the man doesn’t even have to fire those guys, but cut their balls off already!  Quit giving them any kind of say as to what goes on here!  He’s had Kevin Lowe around this entire time and it’s clear that Lowe has no clue what he’s doing.  I had a good chat about Lowe with my psychologist (a sentence I never thought I’d say) yesterday before my session began and he talked about how the big thing that he believes gets in Lowe’s way is his ego.  Not earth shattering news I know, but Lowe seems more worried about protecting his ego than he is about the hockey team, which is why it’s such an “old boys club” with the Oilers.  He doesn’t want anyone in power who can look better than he does or anyone who he can’t get the ear of.  I’m sure Lowe doesn’t realize this is what he’s doing, but he is.  He sees it as competitiveness, but in reality he has to prove that he can put a winner together, and he can’t.  But that’s not Lowe’s fault, it’s the man who employs Lowe refusing to recognize things such as this and make a change.

 

If the Edmonton Oilers are EVER going to get out of this hell hole they’re in, they have to make massive changes and completely clean house.  More analytics input, more sports science input, continue to improve the amateur scouting, improve the developing, really improve the pro scouting, create an organizational identity, bring in a coach and coaching staff who are on the same page as the GM.  If Katz wants to actually build an elite team, he needs to clean house.  Basically I’m saying…grow a fucking set Daryl.  The longer he doesn’t, the longer it’s clear he’s picking his buddies over winning.  Which is his right, he owns the team.  But then fans should stop paying for the product, and Connor McDavid should be demanding a trade.  And I’m starting to get really worried that a McDavid trade demand is coming.

 

He’s not an idiot.  Edmonton is already a small market that is pretty undesirable for a hockey player.  And this is coming from an Oilers fan, someone who grew up in Northern Alberta.  I don’t like saying it because I love it here.  But it’s the truth, and Katz more than anyone needs to wake up to this reality.  Sure, he has McDavid on an eight year contract, but if McDavid wants out then Katz is going to have the NHL, the NHLPA, the media, and fans of 30 other teams breathing down his neck to trade him for the good of the player and the good of the league.  I’m not rocking the fan goggles on this one, I would not blame McDavid for one second if he request’s to get out of this mess.  He deserves so much better than this shit show Katz has not only created, but continued to allow.

 

As an Oilers fan, it’s disgusting what CONTINUES to go on here.  The Oilers should be as setup or even better than the Leafs are right now.  Instead, the Leafs, without a lot of the assets the Oilers had, have blown right past them and are the NHL’s next big thing while the Oilers are struggling to stay at .500…STILL.  This owner is going to either cost the fan base it’s most treasured asset since Gretzky, or he’s going to cost a generational talent a lot of amazing years in his career because he doesn’t have the balls to clean house.  Daryl Katz, I know you’ll never read this, nor will many others because I don’t have much of a voice, but wake the fuck up man.  Wake the fuck up.  McLellan is in San Jose coaching what has now reverted back to your laughing stock of a team.  Why?  Because your GM won’t fire him.  And why is that?  Because he has a bunch of jack asses above him who also have a say in matters.  And why is that?  Because you, Daryl Katz, need to grow a set of balls and clean house.  You’ve had several chances to do it, and you either never do it or kind of do it or claim you’ve done yet really haven’t.  ENOUGH.  Buy new friends, you have the money to do so.

 

Denzel Washington’s character “Alonzo” in the movie Training Day asked “you wanna go to jail or you wanna go home?”  I want to ask Daryl Katz “you want McDavid to ask for a trade or you wanna win Cups?”

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Is Bouchard Being Rushed? Probably Not

As of writing this, Evan Bouchard is expected to dress in the Oilers opener today.  I’m posting this two hours ahead of puck drop, but writing it on the Friday night prior because I’m too useless to wake up early on a Saturday morning to do it.  So if it’s changed and you can read this…I’m still sleeping, but when I wake up I will be updating things right after I shower, go get my coffee, maybe feed the cat (I really wish we had a dog but we don’t yet), scroll through Twitter, think of things to take pics of and post on the new Instagram account, then realize the games started and settle into watching it, text my buddies right after the first missed call about what horse shit the officiating in the league is, but you better believe that in that 2nd intermission, maybe early in the 3rd if there is a lull in the action, I just might think about updating this should Bouchard end up a healthy scratch!

 

So I’ve been vocal the past few weeks talking about how Evan Bouchard making the team, not just for nine games but the season, doesn’t scare me at all.  It scared a lot of people.  I’m not sure after seeing him in camp that many Oilers fans are still scared, but nevertheless I’m sure there are some holdouts.  Obviously the big thing for me wasn’t the camp he had, but it’s the skill set.  He doesn’t have anything which you would consider “raw” or that needs big time developing still.  He’s played three years of junior.  He turns 19 in three weeks.  He’s physically mature.  He’s mentally VERY mature.  His IQ is off the charts.  His vision and passing is already at a very high level and will likely be elite soon.  His shot is already high end and will likely be elite soon.  His skating…which is his knock (stupidly), is real good.  I’ve made this point a lot, his skating is fine it’s just that he plays methodical and doesn’t waste energy he doesn’t need to.  So if he’s going to be a number six defenceman who sees some time on the top PP unit, absolutely keep him up!

 

Sometimes though, it isn’t enough to just say those things to people.  Sometimes, people need reminders of guys who were similar.  So I thought about some and now I’ll lay it out.  Guys who were drafted in the top 10, are similar players to Bouchard, and entered the league at the same time in their careers.

 

Wade Redden 1996-97

This is one I can speak to best seeing that our families are good friends, I know Wade, followed every step of his career very closely, and as a fat little fuck of a 13 year old kid I was giddy as can be that I knew someone playing in the NHL so I didn’t miss a game of his.  But I can say, he was great for them that season.  He played top four, got a lot of PP time, didn’t look out of place, and that was on a Sens team that was pretty much average.  They barely made the playoffs.  But as I said above, I’m looking at guys who all were or are very similar to Bouchard.  Bouchard is four months younger than Wade was when he broke in, similar abilities passing the puck, similar shots from the point, similar methodical/cerebral styles of play, similar maturity and IQ levels.  Wade definitely had more edge in his game but that might be where the differences between the two end.  And it’s not as though Wade was a crusher defensively.  Nobody ever thought throughout his career that Wade got rushed into the league.

 

Aaron Ekblad 2014-15

WOAH!  Hold up before you lose your shit.  I am NOT suggesting that they are the same guy.  But what I am suggesting is how similar Bouchard is in terms of maturity (both physically and mentally) and the fact that they both had three seasons in the OHL under their belts entering their rookie seasons.  Ekblad fit in perfectly right from the get go.

 

Ivan Provorov 2016-17

Like Ekblad, this is not an identical comparison (unlike the next guy), but there are a lot of similarities.  Stepped in at 19, three years junior under his belt (though only two in the CHL, other one in the USHL), cerebral, not really flashy, really mature, had no trouble.  Pretty certain that nobody in Philly believes they rushed Provorov right now!

 

Zach Werenski 2016-17

This is the best example of today’s players.  I’d say Werenski has a little more speed, and that’s it.  Nearly the exact same size, nearly the exact same scouting report, Werenski was three months older than Bouchard (just about to the day) when he stepped in, and we all know how good Werenski was for the Blue Jackets two seasons ago and continues to be.  He was on their top PP unit which for a while during that season was the best in the league (ended up 12th mind you), and as would be the case with Bouchard he didn’t need to run it, just play on it.

 

Feel free to call me out on guys who play and have a similar IQ and maturity at the same age as Bouchard does and I’ll be happy to listen.  But I’ll also bark back because I’ve gone through the drafts from the last 25 years and didn’t see guys that busted or even were anything disappointing, who play similar, stepped in after three years of junior, and busted.  Now, if you want the case for sending him back, and I’m not saying Bouchard is identical to this guy, but Alex Pietrangelo went back in 2010 as a 19 year old.  Last time I checked, he’s pretty damn good.

 

Sending Bouchard back definitely isn’t going to hurt him, nor am I saying it would.  But to me, you only send him back if you don’t believe you’ll use him.  I think the better play for the organization is to keep him as their number six D-man, and send Bear back to Bakersfield to further work on his skating and knowledge that he’ll be the first guy called up and that it’s simply nothing to do with where he’s at but more to do with having more low cost talent available throughout the season.

 

I completely understand the fears that this fan base will have.  You can’t trust management at all to do the right thing, we’ve seen all the kids who got rushed over the years (Smid, Gagner, Paajarvi, Puljujarvi, etc.), but this isn’t that.

 

From what I see of this kid, and mind you I’m just a “wannabe” scout, but I see a kid who is physically mature, mentally mature, and has an extremely high IQ.  I don’t see anything that would be considered raw in his game.  Those are the guys who need more seasoning in my opinion, not the guys who are smooth, poised, and mature.  He has the strength to play.  He might not be as intense of a defender as we’d like to see, but he won’t get pushed around either.  He has the skating ability.  With this one, people need to figure out that he’s a really good skater, he’s just not one of these undersized burners that so many fans and media fall in love with (again, he’s cerebral, he’ll skate the speed he needs to).  To me, the things he needs work on would be his stick defensively, his positioning defensively, and something that people better be ready to accept is that he isn’t going to lay anyone out at any time.  He has basically no edge in his game.  But lots of D-men play with a similar lack of edge these days.  It’s fine.  You can still learn to defend.  And the thing with a kid this intelligent and this mature is that he’ll be better playing with better talent, and he’ll figure it out quickly what he needs to do to thrive in this league.

 

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Hot Takes – July 16th

I have to start this today with a tribute to Ray Emery.  A lot of times when celebrities or athletes pass away, especially like this scenario where its so tragic and FAR too soon, we tend to glorify the person maybe a bit too much.  So I try not to do that.  But I can honestly say that Ray Emery was one of my absolute favourites.  He had a style all his own.  He was known as one of the best fighters in all of hockey…as a goaltender.  I Always LOVED the masks with the different boxers on them, especially his one in Philly with Joe Frazier and Bernard Hopkins on each side, and then Rocky on the back.  Initially, I recall Emery being nicknamed “Sugar Ray” which I just thought was AWESOME!!  But then “hockey guys” started calling him “Razor”.  Well that’s boring, what guy named Ray DOESN’T get that nickname?!?  Sugar Ray though?  That was beautiful!  Couldn’t have fit any better, and I never understood why that went away other than other players and the media being lame for lack of a better term.  Sugar Ray wasn’t lame though, the nickname or the person.  Dude was the coolest player in the league for a significant stretch.  I nearly bought a suit one time specifically because I seen Emery rocking it pre-game one night and just thought it was so cool that I had to have it (then found out the price and all of a sudden I didn’t have to have it).  There are two things in his career that don’t get the love they deserve.  One is his amazing comeback from the hip injury.  His career was done, I’m not over blowing that.  It was the same hip injury that ended Bo Jackson’s football career, and while Jackson returned to baseball, he was never anything close to what he was again.  And that kind of leads me into the second thing that deserved more love.  Because not only did Emery comeback from the injury, but people forget how incredible he was for the Hawks during the 2013 season.  17-1 with a 1.94 G.A.A. and a .922 Sv%.  He never saw action in the playoffs that spring (although I’m sure he was damn close to entering game four of the Stanley Cup final with Corey Crawford struggling mightily), but he was a big part of that Cup win for the Hawks.  They went 11-2 at home in the playoffs that season, only 5-5 on the road.  If they don’t get the goaltending Emery gave them that season, they might not end up with home ice throughout the playoffs and there for might not win that Cup.  RIP Ray, from every account you were an absolute gem, one of the coolest players in league history (of which there aren’t many) and will be sorely missed.

 

Not easy to transition after that, so I’ll just simply have to do it very clumsily like this.

 

So, its now mid July, and the Montreal Canadiens still have Max Pacioretty on the roster.  Everyone was quick to call for Marc Bergevin’s head after the Subban deal and I was likely one of the very few exceptions.  I don’t know if the problem is with Bergevin or with the Moulson family.  One thing I’ve started to look at lately is how much more say ownership has in certain organizations than we believe.  Fans and media will hear when a new GM is brought in that “he has full control to do what is needed to get this organization to the next level” or something to that effect.  But it really isn’t the case in so many scenarios and I wonder who is calling which shots with the Habs?  Nevertheless, they’re a complete mess and desperately need to rebuild.  For me, it was this off-season.  This was their last chance to salvage it.  And they’ve done next to nothing.  Now is the time to blow it up.  Trade Carey Price.  Trade Brendan Gallagher.  Trade Shea Weber once he returns.  Why?  You have an incredible draft class in 2019.  Then in 2020, you have the local boy who looks to already be a lock to go number one in Alexis Lafrenière.  So if you’re ever going to rebuild, what a terrific time to do it!  Its not as though they have NOTHING right now, but they don’t have anywhere near enough to make them much better than they currently are.  Granted, teams won’t be as willing to part with their 2019 first round picks as in other years, but for a goaltender like Price I bet they’d pay up.  Could you get both one’s from the Avs in a deal?  I bet you could, as they have a boat load of cap space and even though they just got Philipp Grubauer, we’re talking about an elite goaltender.  It just couldn’t be a better time to blow it all up for them, yet you get the sense that its not even on the table for them.

 

I have a LOT of Oilers I wanted to hit on today, namely two trade ideas I want to lay out (neither of which I’m expecting to happen).  But before that, I’m going to start with Mikko Koskinen.

 

Now, this should have been wrote right after the signing.  I’m sure it was by someone, but I haven’t seen it.  But it started to bother me that the signing was and still is getting as crushed as much as it was by so many fans and Ryan Rishaug….mainly Rishaug.  Normally, I’m with anyone ripping on Peter Chiarelli, and I’m not necessarily singing his praises here or even defending him.  But what I do believe is that people are looking at the signing all wrong.  The reaction is “2.5 mil for a BACKUP?!?  Look at what other backups went for!!!  What an awful signing!”  I completely understand where you’re coming from on that.  But what if you change the POV on that?  What if he just signed a STARTER for 2.5 mil?  That’s a low salary for a starting goaltender, isn’t it?  And they were quite clear on the fact that they weren’t looking for just a normal backup, they wanted someone who could play 30-35 games next season.  35 games is only six short of half the season!  And Chiarelli should be given credit for is his track record finding goaltenders.  He didn’t really find Tim Thomas, but he stuck with him in Boston and made sure that Thomas got a legitimate chance.  In 07, which was Chiarelli’s first season as Bruins GM, there were a lot of reasons to get rid of him or trade for an upgrade and Chiarelli simply stuck with him.  When he got here he did the deal for Cam Talbot which despite some rough stretches we all believe is a legitimate starting goaltender in this league and capable of carrying a team deep into the playoffs.  He brought Anders Nilsson back to the NHL and he’s become a solid backup who has produced some real hot stretches the last three seasons including one where it looked as though he’d established himself as the number one goaltender here.  Look at the talent the Oilers now have in the system between the pipes.  Chiarelli or someone on his staff has a great eye for goaltenders.  The other end of this is that while they paid that price, that was the rumoured rate for Koskinen and a lot of teams were seemingly willing to pay it.  Look at his numbers, its not just in the regular season, its not just in the KHL in general.  In three of his last four seasons, his playoff numbers have been better than his regular season numbers.  His numbers for Finland internationally have been stellar the last four seasons.  Now, I fully understand those numbers don’t tell a lot of the story as they can be padded facing greatly inferior competition at times, but we’re not talking about someone who has come out of nowhere like a Jonas Gustavsson was once upon a time (which admittedly is a dumb example for me to bring up because while I’m referencing when the Leafs signed him, one of the oddest and worst signings Chiarelli has made was Gustavsson to be Talbot’s backup).  Koskinen was the 31st pick of the 2009 draft.  I really believe that their thinking here is he’s got the ability to be a legitimate number one goaltender, and so should Talbot struggle again like he did last season, Koskinen can step in, carry them, and possibly even end up being the guy they go with heading into next season should things go bad for Talbot again.

 

So I’ve mentioned Brett Connolly a lot over the last two years, but I’m going to yet again.  What a signing by the Caps, and it pisses me off from the standpoint of them not needing what he does best.  The Oilers badly need that RH shot on the off wing for the top pp unit, Connolly can be that guy, and he hardly sees the ice during Caps man advantages as long as Ovechkin and Oshie are healthy.  They’re only paying him 1.5 mil for next season, so they have no need to move him.  The Oilers would have to pony up and make it worth their while.  And you don’t want to overpay, I get that.  But I can’t get over the need for a sniper to play opposite McDavid on the top pp unit, not to mention the chemistry I believe he could have with McDavid and RNH five on five (not that I have ANY issue with Ty Rattie, but I do believe Connolly could be better), and he’s only a 1.5 mil cap hit IF they could get him.  But again, what’s the price?  Would Slepyshev and a pick get it done?  The Caps could perhaps sign Slepyshev to a two year deal at the same ticket while adding a pick?  The Oil own an extra 3rd rounder in this next draft, though they pissed away their 5th on a goaltender they haven’t signed going into his final season of college hockey not that I’m panicking that they made yet another absolutely horse shit/beyond moronic/completely fucking careless personal move or anything…

 

Here’s another possible move that I’ve been wondering about that’ll without a doubt be much sexier to Oilers fans than Brett Connolly.

 

Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek ran down all 31 teams on the last 31 Thoughts podcast.  When they got to Edmonton, Friedman made it sound as if there is a bridge which is either currently or about to be lit on fire between the Oilers and Oscar Klefbom.  Maybe the gasoline is poured and one side is trying to get the lighter going but its a new lighter and they’re having issues knowing where you old it down so the lighter will light not that I’ve ever had that happen a billion times to me before.  Seriously though, he kind of compared it to the Dougie Hamilton situation in Calgary and I believe said something to the effect of “its the same deal, best to move on from the problem now before things get bad”.  Not an exact quote, but something to that effect.  Later on, they got to the Blues and Marek asked him if the Parayko trade talk was real, and Friedman believes it was or is.  His thinking on that is perhaps the Blues don’t want too much money tied up on the right side of the D, and they’re going to have to extend Alex Pietrangelo soon.  Add to that, the Blues left side all of a sudden looks relatively weak with Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson, both impending UFA’s, and both coming off disastrous seasons.  They have Vince Dunn, but probably don’t want to throw him to the wolves just yet.  So it made me wonder, especially with how talked about the Oilers always seem to be with Parayko (especially leading up to the draft) if there is a deal to be made there?  I believe the initial thought is “they’d need to pay a lot more than Klefbom”.  Would they?!  Go look at their career numbers, they’re VERY similar, and combined with their cap hits to me it would make them almost identical in value depending on what you’re looking for.  Parayko has more points in less games, but we’re talking 13 less games, and 9 more points.  By the way, Klefbom has 5 more goals than Parayko in his career.  And I honestly wonder if the Blues aren’t worrying that he already is what he’s going to be?  SO many defenceman step into the league, will look great early on, but never can really grow their games to the levels expected.  Think of Dion Phaneuf.  10 years ago, if you told somebody he’d never be considered a top 10 defenceman in the league they would have told you that you’re insane.  So with that being said, why would the Oilers want him?  Well, obviously they’d be banking on that not being the case, along with the obvious balancing out of the blueline and the big RH shot bomb for the pp.  Would the Blues do the deal?  If Friedman’s theory is correct then it does make a lot of sense for them.  Klefbom is 1.3 mil cheaper, has an extra year on his deal compared to Parayko, and they’re very similar defencemen who are the same age (in fact, Klefbom is actual a couple months younger despite being drafted a year earlier).  Just thinking out loud, but would Klefbom and Matt Benning for Parayko and maybe a prospect like Jake Walman make sense?  I really don’t know, and I’m really just putting two and two together here and spit-balling.  But to me, it does feel like a deal could be made that makes sense for both sides and improves both clubs.

 

Before I finish this today, its not hockey, but hockey is how I know and am buddies with the guy even though I haven’t got to see him in a long time.  Congrats Kurt!!  You’re really going to make me do this another nine times (at least) aren’t you?  I’ll do it, but just don’t expect me to come up with anything real original.  Seriously though, the guy is at an all-time great level right now.  I watched every run at the Stampede, and out of all his runs where he blew everyone away, the most impressive one was (I believe) Thursday night where he gets off to a slow start on the barrels, is fourth over half way through the race, damn near takes the heat, and ends up with the third best time of the night.  Its honestly like watching Tiger Woods in 2000 where you pretty much knew he was going to win every tournament.  Awesome to see!

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

2018 NHL Draft: Edmonton Oilers

Yesterday, the draft was only four days away.  So you know what that means?!  Today, the draft is only THREE days away!!!  I don’t mean to brag, but I can count with the best of them as I just proved.  So wanting to do so much draft stuff in the week leading up I decided I’d dedicate a blog to the Oilers draft and look at just what they could or might do with their six picks on Friday night/Saturday morning (MST).

 

Originally, I was going to do this like a mock draft.  But that’s just too damn tough.  You end up rattling off more and more names the deeper you go and the fact is that a guy you may think will go in the 3rd round ends up going in the 7th, if he even gets drafted at all.  The draft does nothing but opens up more and more and more the deeper we go.  So doing a mock draft is kind of pointless.  So I’m not necessarily going to do that (though I will talk about who I believe could be in range with certain picks), but I’ll look at who I like for the Oilers, and who the Oilers track record suggests they could look for.

 

10th Pick

With my last mock draft, I had Brady Tkachuk falling to them.  The big reason for this is the need for D with teams in the 4-7 range of the top 10.  Kotkaniemi is going 3rd, so if D-men are going 4-7 its going to leave Zadina, Wahlstrom and Tkachuk there for 8, 9, and 10.  I believe most Oilers fans would view this as a massive win for the organization.  Zadina and Tkachuk are both going to step right into the lineup of the team which drafts them next fall.  Wahlstrom won’t, but he is that deadly right handed sniper Oilers fans have craved to be put with McDavid since he arrived.  So anyone of those three would just be so incredible to land.

 

Having said all that, it is crystal clear that the organization is in love with Ty Smith.  Bob Stauffer won’t shut up about him.  Stauffer and Jack Michaels both basically said on the Oilers TV mock draft that it’ll either be Smith or Barrett Hayton with Vitali Kravtsov also being in the mix.  Would that be at the expense of one of the wingers mentioned above?!  I sure hope not.  And hey, I’m basically anti winger!  But those three wingers are all elite level guys.  I’m sky high on Smith too.  I’ve got him in my third tier with Tkachuk and Wahlstrom (Zadina is in the second tier), and I truly believe that if he were 6’2 he’d be the clear cut number two ranked D-man in this draft.  But he’s not.  He’s not even quite 5’11 (5’10.8 to be exact).  So that’s a concern, because for all that talk of how much less of an emphasis there is now on size, if you go look at all the legitimate number one guys in this league, they’re all bigger than Smith.  I personally think Smith can become a number one guy.  A guy you want to use 25-28 minutes a night and not only can play but excels in all situations.  But I also wouldn’t say he’s for certain going to be that guy either.

 

Something that peaked my interest yesterday when speaking about Smith on Oilers Now, Bob Green said that he prefers Smith to play the right side, believes he’s more comfortable on his off-side.  That could be a big reason the Oilers seem to have him higher than Adam Boqvist.  And in fairness, that is something we do too often is get caught up in the hand a guy shoots and not the side he’s more comfortable on.  Hell, case in point look at T.J. Brodie.  Glen Gulutzan continually tried to use Brodie on the left side, and the success Brodie had playing for Bob Hartley was on the right side.  Jonas Brodin, Dion Phaneuf, even this years top pick Rasmus Dahlin are all guys who seem to prefer playing their opposite hand.  Even growing up playing D, I always wanted to play my right side (righty shot), but would come across guys who had legitimate reasons as to why they were more comfortable playing their opposite side.  So if they’re viewing Smith as a right side D-man, combine that with his extremely high IQ, passing ability, elite skating, work ethic, coachability, etc. then it does make a lot more sense as to why they love him so much.

 

So with the 10th pick, none of us know who for sure is going to go.  I’d say the safest bet is that it’ll be Ty Smith.  I personally don’t like to go the wishful thinking route which is what projecting Tkachuk or Wahlstrom to the Oilers feels like.  However, I really don’t think its far fetched that one of those two fall to them.  And even though its further fetched, Zadina wouldn’t completely shock me either.  The draft really opens up from four on (at least with it now looking as though the Habs are taking Kotkaniemi).  As for Barrett Hayton…I love my centres, and I’ve argued hard for a couple years now that they need to start loading up with centres in the draft.  I compare him to Ryan O’Reilly and believe he’ll produce along the lines of what Jordan Staal does.  If he’s a Ryan O’Reilly or Bo Horvat, yeah, that’s tough to pass up.  But you better be DAMN sure that’s what he’s going to be if you’re taking him.  He has skating issues, which this team doesn’t need more of.

 

It doesn’t get talked about, but while I wouldn’t be very interested in trading out of the pick, I definitely would be interested in trading back.  What if the Kings were to offer 20 and their 2019 (a ridiculous draft class) for the 10th pick?  Obviously the pick would be protected, but perhaps you could have lighter restrictions than simply “lottery protected”.  Maybe you could say its only top five or three protected?  And that’s just an example, no clue if the Kings would want to trade up.  Point being here though, this scouting staff has done a good job thus far, so I feel as though we can trust them to move back in certain situations and get great value with the picks they have.

 

40th Pick

A guy who could be both on the radar and fall to that pick is Jack McBain.  I got him 28th, but McKenzie has him 35th so I do think its possible.  Big, physical, intelligent, high end distributor, known for his work ethic, he fits the type of player Chiarelli likes, and he fits the need of a centre.  He’s fallen a lot since the start of the season, but I personally just keep coming back to the physical ability combined with a high IQ and great work ethic…not sure that formula can fail.

 

Would they dare take a swing on Ryan Merkley with this pick should they get one of those wingers at 10?  I think it would open the door for the thought, but I can’t see them being the team to do that.  As much as I’m down on Merkley myself, at the 40th pick, especially if they go with any kind of forward at 10, I believe its worth doing.  The thing with Merkley though is you have to get him help.  You have to have the right people working with him, and he has to be open to getting the help.  It didn’t sound like he was very aware of his faults from the draft combine interviews, which turns a few red flags into a few more red flags.  Teams want to hear you be aware of your flaws, not in denial of them.

 

Two other guys he has in that range though are Jacob Olofsson and Calen Addison.  Olofsson’s drop this season has essentially been due to him not being flashy enough, but he’s really a lot like Barrett Hayton in that he isn’t a terrific skater but he does everything so well.  Addison has a game a lot like Merkley, just without the baggage.  Can move it and skate it out of his own zone, undersized, RH shot, if he can clean up the play in his own zone he’ll be a top four guy in the league.

 

If you want a kid who is safe in his own zone but has questionable offensive upside, then perhaps you take RH shooting Okotoks Oilers defenceman Jacob Bernard-Docker.  Smooth skater, great puck mover, high IQ, not much flash at all but has the ability to be a top four guy in the NHL.

 

Then you have the kid who maybe would have the biggest upside of the kids who POSSIBLY could be available at 40 and that’s Kirill Marchenko.  I don’t think Marchenko will be on the board, but McKenzie has him 44th.  Power forward who plays an excellent 200 foot game, and maybe his biggest issue is his skating but it simply just looks to be a case of lack of strength.  Once he gets the strength to match his frame, the kid could be a star.

 

McKenzie’s list has Nils Lundkvist still down at 36.  That’s the dream for him to fall to 40, but it ain’t happening.  I have to believe he’s going in the first round with how some rave about him.

 

A lot of who I’d take at 40 depends on who I get at 10.  If they take Smith at 10, then I definitely want a centre at 40.  If they get one of the wingers at 10, then my focus might change to one of the RH shooting D-men, though in either of these scenario’s if a good centre is there to be taken I believe they have to pull the trigger as its just become far too big of a need for the organization.  Its not as though you don’t have more picks to add to that, but this is a good spot to do so as I believe a lot of quality centres will be on the board here.  Having said that, if a kid like Marchenko is still around….TOUGH to pass up.

 

71st Pick

First guy who comes to mind for me is Jan Jenik.  He’s a natural centre even though he played the wing this season, and this kid is much like Marchenko in that he just needs to pack on the weight and gain strength and it will likely solve a lot of his issues.  Good skater, plays 200 feet, willing to go to all the dirty area’s on the ice.  He’s also the youngest kid in the draft, so he’ll need some time.  But in three or four years, the team which gets him could have a hell of a player on their hands.

 

I don’t love Allan McShane, but if he’s on the board at 71 he’s a centre well worth looking at.  We’re talking about a kid who skates well and has terrific vision.  The book is that he prefers to play on the perimeter, but if the kid has the right makeup that is something that he can overcome.  Its as much a playmakers league these days as it is a skating league.

 

McKenzie doesn’t even have him ranked, which I’m guessing speaks volumes on where NHL teams are going to rank a kid re-entering the draft (no collusion here folks….), but this is the pick I’d start looking at Adam Mascherin.  He’s a made prospect.  Steps right into Bakersfield next season and maybe even sees some games in the show should they take him.  He reminds me so much of Mike Cammalleri, whom the Oilers got too late, but if they had got the 2009 Mike Cammalleri this season to pair with McDavid it would have been lethal.

 

I’m a big Cole Fonstad fan.  I fully admit, I went a little too nuts with his ranking on my last list (I want to say I had him around 31 or so…just not right), but you can still have a kid down around the 40-50 range and still love him.  The P.A. Raiders winger is another high end playmaker, who right now is yet another kid who has strength issues.  PPG player on an average Raiders team this season, but the league has become tailor made for players like Fonstad, and the Oilers can’t take enough skilled wingers in these later rounds to possibly pair with McDavid or Draisaitl down the line.

 

133rd, 164th, and 195th picks

Its just easier to lump these in together.  I’ll start with one of my favourites.

 

Will he still be on the board with this pick?  He is one of those kids who could go anywhere from the 3rd round on in my opinion.  But this is where I’d be taking my guy Chase Wouters.  For how long has Wouters been “my guy” for the 2018 draft?  Well I’ve been watching him play since Novice or so, and I believe I was first saying “he’s playing in the league” in his second year pee-wee.  He has always been willing to do anything asked of him on the ice.  He’s a 200 foot centre, he’s a great playmaker (51 points in 72 games on a weak Saskatoon Blades team this season, 36 of them five on five), size is good enough (big frame too, probably can put on another 25 lbs or so), skates good, really high IQ, the kid is a coaches dream.  I really believe that Wouters can be one of those Casey Cizikas, Matt Cullen, Derek Ryan types who are elite fourth line centres, with his ceiling being a Tyler Bozak type.  That might not excite fans too much, but while the ceiling isn’t enormous, I view him as a very safe pick since I believe he’s going to play in the league.

 

Another kid I’m really intrigued by in this range is Martin Pospisil.  37 points in 49 games this season with 253 PIM’s.  I LOVE this kid as a later rounds guy because the knock on him is that he takes far too many penalties and acts like a dip shit out on the ice.  PERFECT!  As long as he checks out in the interview process and teammates don’t have an issue with him, you can reign in the other shit and he’ll eventually figure out to tone it down.  He’s got the talent to play otherwise.  Quick, good hands, good vision, and he’s got a good frame that he can still add 25 lbs or more to.  He could be a HELL of a pick.  An agitator who can play which is so damn tough to find.

 

I know Matt Moss (A.K.A. EDM Prospect Watch on Twitter) is really high on centre Luka Burzan as a latter rounds pick and I agree.  Burzan has a pretty big ceiling if you’re looking to take a big swing with some of these later picks, but has a very questionable motor.  If the pilot light ever gets lit, the kid could really be a player.  While I’m on the topic of kids he likes, Moss has also mentioned LW Eric Florchuk who I’ve heard a few people also mention as a kid they like in the later rounds.  A lot of Florchuk’s shortcomings should be overcome with added weight and strength much like Marchenko and Janik whom I previously mentioned.  The skating and the shot specifically.

 

Dennis Busby is a kid I’m really high in my rankings, but not to suggest he’s going to go high in the draft.  He was being discussed as a first round pick prior to the season, and then he ended up only playing two games all season due to injury (collar bone).  But he’s another smaller (5’11) RH shooting D-man who can really transport the puck and produce on the blueline.  Obviously he’ll need some time, but if he happened to still be around in the later rounds, I’d absolutely be grabbing him.  The only knock is that he missed a season?  And the injury wasn’t a back or knee AKA something that could linger?  He’d be a great get, and this scouting staff has loved their OHL kids in the middle rounds in the last two drafts, taking four in the last two drafts.

 

Speaking of RH shooting D, something this organization has loved to do in the Chiarelli era is take a RH shooting D-man with good size, good skating ability and a high IQ late in the draft.  John Marino, Vincent Desharnais, and last year Philip Kemp.  So this is something to keep an eye on.  With that in mind, here are a few guys who fit that bill.

 

Michael Kesselring even fits the bill for someone going the college route as those previous three picks did.  The one thing with Kesselring is I’m not sure the IQ is considered great, but as I often bring up….is it his actual smarts, or is it just that he’s never been forced to think the game?  But he’s a good skater, great size, RH shot, and put up some great offensive numbers for a D-man this season (albeit playing high school hockey).  Another kid really fitting this bill well is Alex Green.  Much like Desharnais in that he’s in his third year of eligibility, and just finished his freshman season at Cornell where the Oilers scouts may have seen him while watching one of Matt Cairns whopping ten games.  Green is a terrific skater and can really move the puck, pretty much exactly what the Oilers have looked for late in the draft.

 

Another thing Peter Chiarelli has been hell bent on doing since taking over as Oilers GM is ensuring that they’re deep in goal.  So I think its likely they take another tendy this year, but I’d have a few ground rules with this one.  A) needs to be a 2000 born, get some separation from Wells and Skinner.  B) it would be ideal for him to be going the NCAA route or in Europe so they’ll have an extra year to make a decision on him.  Which leads me to someone who really fits that bill in Erik Portillo.  He’s huge, one of the youngest tendy’s in the draft (September 3rd, 2000), he fits the Oilers mold of goaltender, and he fits the criteria that I believe is a must if they take a goaltender in this draft.

 

Another kid who fits that bill is Swiss born Akira Schmid.  Another big tendy (though not as big as Portillo) who moves well in net and much like a lot of the kids I love the later rounds, is currently really lack size (weight) and strength.

 

I know Jack Michaels brought up during the Oilers TV mock draft that he believes they’ll have eyes for Olivier Rodrigue.  At 40, that’s absolutely disgusting and will be yet another example of how inept this organization is taking the very last need for the organization with such a high pick simply because his dad is the goaltending coach.  Humiliating…at that pick.  However, if he falls due to his size (very possible) and can be had with one of the last three selections I wouldn’t have a big issue with it.

 

To me, the ideal draft is to walk out with two centres minimum, two D-men (both on the right side), and two wingers.  You can afford to pass on a goaltender in this draft with two entering pro hockey this fall.  If they must take one though, do it at the expense of the second winger.  Having said this…you can’t plan a draft like that.  You have to stick to your board, especially later in the draft.  And I’ll say it again, this team doesn’t have one need.  They need pretty much everything.

 

I trust this scouting staff to make the right picks come Friday night.  However, the front office is a different story.  The front office has lost the trust of the fan base, so its vital that they stay out of the way of the scouting staff and simply let them do the job that they have been crushing thus far.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Enough Bitching…Let’s Talk About How to Fix It

Did someone say 8,500 word blog?!?  Because that’s what you’re getting today!  Seeing it’s Family Day, I figured it would be best to keep you reading this shit all day rather than having to spend time with your families, you’re welcome!  I’m going to tell you right now, don’t read this if you don’t want to read extensively about what the team can do to fix some of their issues here at the trade deadine, at the draft, on July 1st, and later in the summer.  If you DO want to dig into that, read on!

 

Any other Oilers fans had enough of the bitching?  I have.  Analytics guys going on and on and on and on and on and on…and on and on and on some more about how Peter Chiarelli has fucked this thing up.  And I totally agree…obviously.  Peter Chiarelli had a gold mine of elite talent and assets when he first came onto the scene.  He has completely pissed at least 1/3 of it away, has the team in cap trouble thanks to careless contracts and buyouts, and has turned what was seemingly a home run situation when arriving in April of 2015 into a sinking ship.  It’s not the Titanic, it doesn’t have to sink.  They can hit this bitch with a ton of Flex Seal and it’ll be floating better then that truck on the ad’s.  But as of now, this season has been one big shit storm of hell for Oilers fans who were thought to be at least done with being a contender for the number one pick in the draft.  Most knew that the Reinhart and Larsson deals were absolutely disgusting over payments, and the Lucic contract was going to be a boat anchor, but did a team with more than enough talent to at worse still make the playoffs have to completely crumble while we saw these things occur?!

 

At some point here, we need to stop dwelling on what’s been done.  And hey, that very much so includes me.  I don’t know if I’ll ever let the Reinhart for 16 and 33 trade die.  At least Hall brought back Larsson who we all now know why he struggled this season and when he’s on, he’s a top pairing defenceman.  I don’t care if the Oilers were going to take Eriksson Ek had they kept the picks.  If you’re using that as the excuse for doing the deal you’re a moron.  Eriksson Ek is likely going to be a very good two way centre in this league, and oh yeah they would have got Brandon Carlo at 33 who is in the league….unlike Griffin Reinhart.  See, I need to stop dwelling on things like this!  Let’s focus on what needs to be done.

 

Now, let’s just get the obvious out of the way, yes.  Yes, they need to clean house.  Peter Chiarelli needs to go, Todd McLellan and his staff need to go.  I’ve tried to make the case for continuity within the organization being important, but the job Chiarelli has done to this point has been horrific, and the job McLellan has done this season has been as bad if not worse.  I love the idea of continuity, who doesn’t crave that?  But hell man, how do you in anyway believe these two are ever going to figure it out when you look at the jobs both have done, not just in Edmonton but throughout their careers?

 

I can say for me, I was never that high on McLellan as a hire.  I was basically Babcock or bust in the spring of 2015 and kind of got talked into McLellan as being a great fit by the media whom as I do this more and more realize that most of them are normally talking out their ass, and that aside from a few of them, really don’t know what they’re talking about.  The Sharks never improved much from Ron Wilson (who is looked at as a joke of a coach) to McLellan, and then from McLellan to DeBoer the Sharks went to the Cup final the next season.  Albeit, DeBoer had a goaltender McLellan never had in Martin Jones, but it’s not as though McLellan didn’t have a pretty good guy in Evgeny Nabokov for two years.  And I gave this guy a true chance.  I felt good in 2016 despite the team not improving in the standings (they had an insane amount of injuries that season).  Obviously last season the coaching looked solid (though not terrific despite the great year).  But this season, oh man.  No idea when to push any of the right buttons.  He’s been far too soft on his team, he’s seemingly never had his teams back publicly when they’ve been screwed, and he either refuses to adjust or refuses to give anything a chance (Darnell Nurse on the top unit PP is the perfect example).  Then of course we all know about the nightmarish special teams.  It’s just become painfully obvious that while Peter Chiarelli hurt this teams chances to be a Cup contender like they should have been this season, he’s still given McLellan a squad capable of making the playoffs and they aren’t going to come anywhere close to it.  In the words of Mike Commordore, pack your shit.

 

So if you’re going to gut the GM and coaching staff, who do you bring in?  I’ll start with upstairs, and there are a lot of ways this could go.  One guy who I would look to bring in at all costs is Tampa’s director of amateur scouting Al Murray.  Give him a new title so it’s a promotion, and back the Brinks truck up to his door.  Before going to the Lightning, his boss was Bob Nicholson, so that’s a pretty strong tie to the organization.  But I wouldn’t name Murray GM.  Perhaps a title of assistant GM, or Vice President of Hockey Operations, but ensure that he’ll still be overseeing the scouting and running the draft.

 

You still need a GM.  My guy would be wunderkind Kyle Dubas.  Whether you like them or not, analytics are here to stay.  And while I don’t want someone in charge who lives and dies by them, I want someone in charge who has big respect for them…unlike Chiarelli.  But will the Leafs let him go?  You have to assume they won’t considering he wasn’t given permission last summer to speak to the Avalanche.

 

So next on my list would be Paul Fenton from the Predators.  Fenton is a major part of the Preds front office who have performed flat out heists in the last three seasons.  Jones for Johansen was a great trade from the Preds POV.  Weber for Subban was ballsy considering how big of a piece Weber was to that organization, but was also a total steal.  And then the Turris trade this season….how they gave up so little compared to what Ottawa did in that trade I’ll never understand.  So Fenton has been a big part of that, not to mention has also seen the Preds do tremendous on draft day just like Murray has done with the Lightning, and he seems like a tremendous candidate.  The key here though is Fenton would have to be ok working with Murray and vice versa.  Also, Fenton is next on MY list.  I don’t trust Bob Nicholson to even bother looking at a guy he doesn’t know.  Go listen to Nicholson do an interview on Prime Time Sports sometime.  He has that country club/old boys club mentality that is terrifying to hear as an Oilers fan.  “I don’t need to look at other people, I know people who can do the job”.  Yikes.

 

I fear “his guy” would be Ken Holland who has an expiring contract with the Red Wings.  Holland has done some good things over the years, but not in the last six or seven.  He seems to be stuck in the pre cap world where he just waits for UFA’s to hit the market and then sell them on playing for his squad.  In today’s NHL you absolutely have to do two things: draft extremely well and find value.  He hasn’t done either for a long time now.

 

Next up we have the coach.  Most Oilers fans would likely say to bring back Todd Nelson.  And guess what?  I agree.  You look at how well the team responded when he stepped into the role in 2015, so many players began to play to their potential.  Yakupov, Lander, Schultz played much better, Petry if you recall looked phenomenal, Eberle, so much talent was being elevated.  That was the best hockey Nail Yakupov or Anton Lander ever played.  I would also give Nelson the resources to ensure he can put together the best staff possible.  There is no cap restrictions on coaching staffs, front offices, or scouting, so if Katz is going to give you the green light on spending, then spend big on those areas.

 

Another possibility is Dave Tippett who I would be real good with, but the one thing with Tippett is that you aren’t going to see an exciting team.  He would get the most out of Cam Talbot for sure, as that’s what his system does is builds up the goaltenders confidence by really limiting scoring chances.  Would he be different coaching a player like McDavid?  Tough to say.  Darryl Sutter would definitely be tougher on these guys and demand excellence, but the way the Kings couldn’t score was troubling and the way the Oilers do things offensively under McLellan with a lot of point shots and not much creativity offensively is really similar to how the Kings were under Sutter.  Barry Trotz currently is coaching without a contract for next season.  Much like Tippett, Trotz has a system built around ensuring his goaltneders confidence is sky high.  One thing that worries me with Trotz however is the whole theory of jamming all your top end talent into your top six.  When he spread out his fire power once down 3-1 to Pittsburgh last season, they thrived.  He just seems to hate doing this, despite it proving to be the best way to deploy a lineup.

 

Onto the changes that need to happen on the ice, and they are plenty.

 

First of all, they MUST do something about the three bloated contracts which are Lucic, and to a lesser extent Sekera and Russell.  The biggest reason at this moment I would like to see Chiarelli shown the door is because I don’t believe he can bring himself to go to any of these players he signed and ask them to waive their NMC.  A new GM who didn’t sign any of them to those deals would have a much easier time doing it.

 

Despite the tough season, I believe Andrej Sekera might be the easiest of the three to move out.  I could see him after three seasons in Edmonton, two of them being so miserable, being open to moving on.  Maybe I’m nuts, but I believe there might be a trade to be made with him between the Avs and the Oilers (I believe there might be a ton of moves to be made between these two as you’ll read).  The Oilers badly need a RH shooting puck mover who can also play on the top unit PP, and the Avs seem willing to part with Barrie so they’d get a guy like Sekera who has the exact same cap hit as Barrie.  The Avs get a much more trustworthy/stable defencemen that they need (not to mention make room for Cale Makar), and the Oilers get the type of guy that they need.  It’s a win/win deal, as long as Sekera would waive, and I think he would to go to the Avs.  They’re in the playoff hunt, Denver is an unreal city, the trade deadline could be a great time to inquire about this type of deal.

 

If something like that can’t be done for Sekera, then perhaps you go bigger?  I’ve thought about a deal between the Oilers and Sabres seeing Klefbom go to Buffalo for Rasmus Ristolainen might make sense for both?  I don’t love it, but I believe Sekera will be back strong next season, so would be a fine number three, and Nurse has emerged as a top pairing guy meaning the Oilers could afford to part with Klefbom (though again, I’m not in love with this idea).  Ristolainen is the type of D-man who the Oilers really need (big, mobile, RH shot, puckmover with a big shot too).  Essentially he’s a bigger version of Tyson Barrie.  I know his possession numbers haven’t been great, but playing second pair with Andrej Sekera would be a whole hell of a lot different than first pair in Buffalo.  It’s very similar to the Justin Schultz situation two years ago.  What shelter has Ristolainen had?  He’d look damn good as the point man on the Oilers PP.

 

But a move like that obviously isn’t going to clear up any cap, just improve the team.  They need to dump Kris Russell.  The irony here is that if he didn’t have a NMC (and for the record, I’m still unsure about his NMC because he has both an NMC and a modified NTC in the last two years of his deal, so why would he need both unless the NMC in the deal is strictly to ensure he is not put in the minors?) he would fetch the Oilers something decent, he’s had a decent season!  But they now need this money to go to Darnell Nurse who they seem destined to also royally fuck up his contract extension just like they did with Leon Draisaitl.  Right now, I believe you’d be looking at 8 years, 5.5 mil per season for Nurse which with how he’s played and how he’s trending looks like a great deal moving forward.  But there is no talk of an extension….and he’s an RFA this summer….with the Oilers rubbing right against the cap already….anyway, I wouldn’t be shocked if Russell could fetch them one of the Islanders first round picks IF he’d waive (if he has to).  They’re desperate for some help on defence, and Garth Snow has said he won’t move either of those picks for a rental, where Russell has three years left on the deal.  Having said this, if he has to waive, I can’t see him being willing to waive for a team out East.  It would likely have to be a Calgary or Winnipeg in my mind AKA still close to home and in the hunt.

 

But much like Sekera, Russell going isn’t saving money.  The reason being that they need to now get Darnell Nurse locked down.  And I’m not moving off the point I’ve been making for two months or so now: Nurse is going to get a massive pay day.  Seven or eight years, and 5-5.5 per season.  Mike Matheson got eight years, 4.875 per.  Jacob Slavin got seven years, 5.3 per.  Nurse has very comparable numbers to those two, and will be the same age when signing.

 

So they need to shed those two big contracts possibly just to make the blueline fit together better.  Which brings us to the albatross deal, Lucic.  I’m a massive Lucic fan, but it’s been clear in the last month and a half that it just ain’t working.  Even when he’s been scoring, he’s not creating much.  It’s no surprise the physicality isn’t what it was (in part because he can’t get to guys, in part because he’s likely too beat up from playing that style despite the fact that he has stayed in the lineup since 2010).  More so than that, his contract isn’t going to work.  And we all knew it was too long to begin with.  Even at five years (which is likely all it will be thanks to the CBA expiring in three more years), it was at best a four year contract.  He was thought to be a guy who would work well with McDavid, and he really hasn’t.

 

So how do you ditch the big man?  It won’t be easy at all.  In my mind you have to A) find a place who would take him.  B) be willing to waive his NMC for.  C) add a valuable asset to him.  D) take back a contract that isn’t as bad.  I got a couple of places in mind that MIGHT work.

 

The first is Boston.  He was beloved in Boston, the organization moved him out of fear they couldn’t re-sign him, they aren’t the fastest team which could really help him out, it wasn’t ever his choice to leave, and they (somehow) are a legitimate threat to win it all this season.  The contract the Oilers would need to take back is Matt Belesky.  The asset the Oilers would have to add in my mind would be either Caleb Jones or Ethan Bear.  So…would you do this?  For Boston you turn a guy who is just three million of dead cap space into a guy who is six million, but can play, along with a real good prospect on the blueline.  For the Oilers, you open up 2.2 mil on the cap for next season, but more likely they could then buy out Belesky, which isn’t ideal, but buying him out would then save over five million on Lucic for next season, four million in 2020, and back up to five million for the last two years.

 

Then the other team I had in mind was Vancouver.  The Sedin’s will get new, more team friendly contracts next season and will have well over 30 million in cap space.  Jim Benning had him in Boston (obviously with Chiarelli).  As most of you know, Lucic is from Vancouver.  They had interest in him in the summer of 2016.  And they probably would like an enforcer to play with their kids, as we saw with the Oilers from 2010-2015 they were badly bullied by teams (which is what led to Chiarelli over doing it/overpaying while adding toughness and character).  The bad contract to take back would be Sam Gagner.  Now I was NEVER a big Sam Gagner guy past about 2009.  It became clear to me early on that he didn’t have the speed or strength to ever be the second line player the Oilers needed.  However, as a very expensive fourth line centre who could go in the bumper role on the top PP unit as he was in Columbus last season (look at the difference this season to last for them on the PP) and also play up in the lineup if/when injuries occur.  Again, you’d have to attach one of Jones or Bear in my mind to get the Canucks attention, but the Oilers look pretty set on D in the system and could afford to move out one of them.  The Oilers would be saving nearly three million on Lucic in this deal.  If the Oilers were to then buy out Gagner, it would be approximately one million a year against the cap for the next four years, so it opens up five million a year much like Belesky would in all but one season.

 

You have other options that are perhaps less likely, but possible.  If the Coyotes had a “hockey guy” as their GM, they’d perhaps be a pretty good target.  However I can’t see John Chayka doing it (even with a prospect like Bear or Jones attached), and Lucic likely wouldn’t accept a deal to one of the worst teams in the league.  Colorado maybe works?  The Oilers would need to take back Colin Wilson who is nearly a four million cap hit for next year….but only next year….or maybe Carl Soderberg who has two years left at 4.75 million along with a past relationship with Peter Chiarelli.  But that front office just ditched their slow guys, so would they go back to that well with Lucic?  I can’t see it.  Vegas will have something like 35 million in cap space, it remains to be seen if they’ll re-sign James Neal, and could really use some prospects who are close to playing.  The biggest flaw in that plan I see is that they play much quicker than Lucic is right now.  San Jose is one I looked at, and that one feels like it’s workable for the Sharks, but the scenarios I came up with probably wouldn’t work for the Oilers unless Doug Wilson was willing to simply do Boedker for Lucic straight up which saves the Oilers two million a year, Boedker’s deal is done in two years, and he brings a lot more speed to the table.  Minnesota could give the Oilers Tyler Ennis.  Hometown kid, only a year left on his deal, but it’s a 4.6 cap hit, and while he’s undersized and skilled, he isn’t that fast.  Would Lucic go to Minny?  Would the Oilers be willing to eat 4.6 million for one more season on a guy who is essentially producing like Mike Cammalleri?

 

You aren’t getting out from under the Lucic deal without some kind of penalty.  But I actually feel a lot more confident after taking a long look at this that the Oilers can work around the Lucic deal, especially if they are willing to attach a piece that they can afford to part with.  And one of Bear or Jones, it hurts…a lot…but if you look at their prospect pool and look at the depth they currently have on D, the organization can afford to lose one of them.  Adding a guy like Lucic and a good prospect or draft pick for two to three million on a rising cap I believe would be very attractive for a team looking to make a deep run this spring.

 

Now, assuming they can move that albatross contract out, it will obviously be a big help.  But it’s still likely not going to be enough.  I love Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but it’s becoming more and more obvious that they’ll need to buy down on him.  It SUCKS, but it’s the reality of the situation.  But just because you have to buy down, doesn’t mean you can’t get a centre who is still a great guy to have as your third line centre.

 

The team to look at is the Hurricanes.  Their interest in Nugent-Hopkins hasn’t exactly been a secret.  Apparently Rod Brind’Amour is a massive fan and knows Nugent-Hopkins very well, and the Hurricanes really need to improve on what they have down the middle.  They got two guys I would be heavily interested in.  One is Elias Lindholm.  Now you might look at the stats on the season and say “why would the Canes do that, Lindholm has one more point”.  Well, yes, but he’s played in 11 more games than RNH this season, and RNH has put up his points while not playing on the top PP unit in Edmonton, nor is he playing with the top wingers (not that the Oilers have a lot of good wingers).  Lindholm is also an RFA, so a lot of this depends on what Lindholm would cost.  If you can do a two or three year bridge with Lindholm at 3.75-4.5 per, then it makes sense for the Oilers.  If it’s going to be more rich than that, then you have to look elsewhere.  But it’s an interesting deal for both if the numbers will work, and even at only 1.5 mil in savings for the Oilers, you’re saving while maintaining tremendous depth down the middle.

 

The other, might be a little more far fetched, but could they possibly get Martin Necas?  And some of you might be asking “who?”  Martin Necas is one of the best prospects not in the NHL right now.  The Hurricanes got him 12th in the draft last year, and the kid just has tremendous skill.  Getting a kid like Necas would be a home run for the Oilers.  You would have him on an ELC, and it would really open things up for whoever the GM might be to upgrade on the wings.  In my opinion, he’d be the guy I’d chase, and if I had to add to the deal to land him I would.  Not a lot, but something.

 

Another one I actually have been thinking of is the Avs.  And you might say “why would the Avs want Nuge?  They just dealt Duchene and have been better.”  Yep, they sure have.  But they have over 25 million in cap space for next season (probably over 30 million once we find out what the cap will be), no vital players to re-sign, and they have a kid in Tyson Jost who has yet to take off.  It’s not just point totals, he doesn’t have good possession numbers either.  So straight up, this would be viewed as a huge gamble by a lot of people.  But for me, I was sky high on Jost going into the 2016 draft, and really believe he is going to really pop sooner rather than later.  You get a third line centre who has elite second line centre upside with two years left on his ELC, that’s a gamble I’m willing to take.

 

Don’t sleep on the Blues in a potential deal for RNH.  They got Paul Stastny’s seven mil coming off the books this summer and really could use a centre if they’re going to contend.  They got Robert Thomas who I believe would be a perfect compliment to McDavid and Draisaitl.  They also have Robby Fabbri who has been injured now for the last two seasons, but still shouldn’t be slept on as a kid with big potential.  I would ask for both, as neither is a sure thing.  Now I don’t know if you can get both if you’re Peter Chiarelli, I don’t know if you can simply add a piece to that to make the deal work, I don’t know if the Blues want to add another big ticket once they shed one in Stastny.  But I would target the Blues and see if you couldn’t make something work.  Like Jost, I was sky high on Thomas last year leading into the draft and believe he has enormous potential.

 

Other teams with possible interest in my mind would be Montreal, but I just don’t know what they could offer (and PLEASE don’t say Max Pacioretty, one year left on his deal and you’re going to have to give him a gross extension).  They don’t have much in the system, and don’t have a cheaper centre option who would fit.  Columbus is another team that hasn’t really been quiet about wanting to improve down the middle in a hurry, but would they possibly give up a kid like Pierre-Luc Dubois?  I doubt it, not without the Oilers adding to the deal with perhaps as much as a 2019 first rounder.  Then the next best option would be Boone Jenner, who has completely fallen apart the last two seasons.  Jenner could be a guy a team can land this summer without having to give too much seeing he’s an RFA who’ll get over three million on a QO and he’s only got 16 points this season.  Would the Minnesota Wild part with Charlie Coyle?  I can’t see it, plus adding nearly three million to their cap probably isn’t feasible without dumping a guy like Ennis who I spoke of already, or Marcus Foligno.

 

Of course when speaking of RNH, everyone believes you need to use him to land a high end winger.  And that could easily be done, no doubt.  You use him for that, and you still have a kid in Ryan Strome who would probably be ok as your third line centre.  He’s got good possession numbers, and next season with an upgrade on his wings like a Yamamoto or Puljujarvi as well as a knowledge both in the off-season and to start next season that he’s set in stone as a centre could see increased production.  For me, I don’t like Strome much and would prefer RNH be used to land a centre with a cheaper deal, then use that money to land a winger in another way, but both are good options to have.  If they decide to go my way, I do have a list of guys to target for the wings.  They aren’t sure things, and they aren’t big money guys.  But I believe they’d work.

 

Max Domi – Best of this bunch for sure.  He’s a winger who they’ve attempted to convert into a centre.  It’s not as though Domi is incapable to play centre, but he is just plain as day a winger.  A winger with a ton of skill.  The Oilers have to take a run at Domi.  What could they offer?  Well let’s assume for a minute that the Oilers get a centre in return for RNH.  Would a package built around Ryan Strome get it done?  At first blush you’re likely the same as me, thinking “hell no, not even close”.  But look deeper at it.  Strome has only four less points (26-22) as of writing this.  Strome has more size.  Strome is much more so a natural centre.  Both are RFA’s after the season and I believe you could argue that Domi will be looking for more money than Strome.  Could there be an attraction/desire from the Coyotes to pair the Strome brothers together?  And remember, I said Strome package, not straight up.  Ryan Strome and….Matt Benning for Domi?  Maybe a prospect like Cam Dineen comes back with Domi in that scenario?  I believe the Oilers have the pieces to give for Domi, and it shouldn’t have to be (notice I didn’t say doesn’t have to be…) big pieces.

 

Brett Connolly – I’ve been fascinated by Connolly as a potential fit for the Oilers for a year and a half now.  A pure shooter with size and underrated wheels.  He’d be an answer to that RH shooting bullet they crave on the off wing on the PP, and I also believe he could potentially be a terrific fit with McDavid five on five.  He has 14 goals as of writing this for the Caps this season playing mostly in the Caps bottom six, and only seeing time with the second PP unit.  Why Barry Trotz doesn’t look to use him more with Backstrom and put Ovechkin elsewhere five on five is completely lost on me.  But he’s having a good season, so he wouldn’t cost nothing, however he wouldn’t cost a lot either and he has one more year at just 1.5 million next season.  I believe you’d be look at two pieces, perhaps an Anton Slepyshev (even though I don’t like the idea of dealing him) and maybe a 3rd round pick or so.  Connolly doesn’t drive offence, so his cost might come down a bit from now until the draft (which is when you’d look to acquire him, this wouldn’t be a trade deadline move) should he cool off a bit.

 

Andreas Athanasiou – He had a long, drawn out contract squabble with the Wings last season, and he was recently a healthy scratch.  But this kid is one of the fastest skaters in the league, with real good size to go with it.  And on top of this, the Wings are in cap hell still and could stand to buy down on him.  So perhaps a flip of Athanasiou for Caggiula would work?  I like Caggiula, but he’s had trouble getting it going here and is still a bit of a mess in his own zone.  Athanasiou would be looking for a long term deal, but I could see something like 5 years/18 million (3.6 cap hit) getting it done.  I could see him working tremendous with Draisaitl more so than McDavid.  I know the theory is that they need speed to play with McDavid but I believe while they need more speed to play with McDavid, having a guy who can stay with him isn’t essential.  But having that speed with Draisaitl, that could be REAL good.

 

Nic Petan – I have to throw this in off the top, and even though I’ve been writing this piece since last Thursday and had Petan in mind, Lowetide came out with a piece for the Athletic yesterday which featured (I guess you could say) Petan as a potential get for the Oilers.  So while I’m not just taking what he said and making it my own, we definitely agree on the idea.  This is a kid who has never got a real opportunity in Winnipeg.  There was never a great spot to fit him in.  I have no doubt that Petan can thrive in today’s NHL.  He was the same type of player and a better player than Brayden Point was in the WHL, and I’m not knocking Point, I’m praising Petan.  The only thing with Petan that worries me is if the wheels are good enough for his size.  He’s not a poor skater, but at 5’9 you need a guy to be close to an elite skater.  He’s a guy who I wouldn’t pay a lot to get, but definitely have interest in for the right price.

 

Arturri Lehkonen – He only has 11 points on the season in 41 games, so you might think he’s useless.  He is playing with no centre, and his CF% is the best on the Habs (minimum 400 minutes) at 54.88%.  I’ve followed Lehkonen since his draft year, this is a HIGHLY skilled and speedy kid.  We know Marc Bergevin isn’t a big analytics guy, so could you perhaps get Lehkonen on the cheap?  Another bonus is he’s got another season on his ELC.  As much as I believe Bergevin would move him, I’m not sure he’d move him for real cheap seeing he does have a season left on his ELC.  Caggiula and a future pick get it done?  Maybe Caggiula and Benning for Lehkonen and a D prospect like Noah Juulsen?  Josh Brook?  You could do a deal.  It’s risky.  Hell, any of these guys I’m talking about trading for are risky to roll with, but you have to find guys like this.

 

Denis Gurianov – Drafted just three years ago mainly because of a terrific shot.  Gurianov was viewed as a better version of Brock Boeser when he was taken.  Today, he’s been struggling in the minors.  You wouldn’t want to pay much, and it’s suspect that the Stars would give up on him while he still has two years remaining on his ELC.  But he’s interesting, because snipers need guys to get them the puck.  I’d want to really dig into the film on Gurianov to determine whether his lack of production has been a lack of playing with guys who can get him the puck, or if he’s just yet another in a long line of underachieving Russian players.  Like with Petan, I’d want Gurianov on the cheap.  I think of guys like Curtis Lazar and Sven Baertschi who netted second round picks when they were in similar situations.  I’d maybe do a 2019 or 2020 second for him, not a 2018 second, even if they land an extra one at the deadline as I believe they really need to look to keep their picks this year and stock the cupboard, especially seeing that I have them moving three or four prospects to load up the system.

 

Sam Bennett – I just can’t see the Flames letting this kid get to the Oilers, so don’t get me wrong here.  If he finally popped and was wearing an Oilers jersey while doing so, that would be a nightmare for the Flames brass.  BUT….Bennett’s time with the Flames does appear to be coming to an end as he just can’t gain much traction.  It’s well known that he’s close with Connor McDavid, and the Oilers need help on the wing (left side specifically) or possibly a third line centre.  Again, I HIGHLY doubt the Flames would allow him the Oilers to take a chance on him, and the other thing is the only guy the Oilers would have who possibly would interest the Flames is Patrick Maroon, so I doubt there is a fit.  Still….my guess is they’d have a lot of interest if Bennett could now be made available.  Maybe if Chiarelli was shrewd enough to orchestrate a three way deal it could be done?

 

Of course in a few of these deals, I’ve suggested dealing away Matt Benning.  I don’t have anything against Benning by any means, but he’d have decent value on the trade market, and feels to me like one of the odd men out if they’re looking to change the look of their blueline and add more pure puck movers to the fold.  So with him out, who do you then go get?  I got one guy I really like the idea of:

 

Tim Heed – I don’t know if the Sharks would be too eager to part with a puck moving defenceman who will go into next season with a cap hit of 650K.  But they haven’t used him as I suspected they would this season.  When he is up with the big club, he does see quite a bit of PP time, and his analytics look good to my eye (though despite constantly looking at them I can never tell if I’m reading them properly).  If the Sharks were willing to move him, I have a tough time figuring out what he would even cost.  But I do know this: in today’s NHL, this guy should be on some teams bottom pairing.

 

 

Ok, you had enough yet?  Well I’m probably only about half done….time to move onto the first round pick.

 

Obviously we are a LONG ways off, but the more I give this thought, the more I feel that it’s vital they be in a spot to get one of the two top LW’s in this draft.  I wouldn’t be against trading back in pretty much any situation because of how well this organization has started to draft.  But in my mind it’s just vital that they win a top three pick.  If you win a top three pick, you’re guaranteed one of Filip Zadina or Brady Tkachuk.  Either player will be able to step into the Oilers lineup next fall and produce.  Maybe not on the top line, but definitely in the top nine.  My preference is Zadina because he’s going to tilt the ice similar to how Taylor Hall does.  Similar size, doesn’t quite have Hall’s North/South speed, but brings more pure skill to the table then Hall did.  Zadina with McDavid, Draisaitl, and Puljujarvi moving forward I believe would be insanely difficult to handle.  However, Tkachuk would bring the size and toughness that they will lose with Maroon, and lose with Lucic if they are sharp enough to attempt to unload him, while being a solid skater (not great, but much better than either of them) and also being more of an instigator which the Oilers badly need more of in their lineup.  As for Andrei Svechnikov, I admit that with the Oilers that idea is intriguing.  But if you read my prospect rankings last week you’ll know I’m not as intrigued by the kid.  Russian kids taken high in the draft have busted a lot in the last ten years, and he gets a ton of goals thanks to his physical maturity.  Doesn’t have to think the game too much.  Having said all that, I get the intrigue with him.

 

Of course winning Rasmus Dahlin would change so much of this blog.  It’s highly unlikely as much as everyone loves to joke about the Oilers winning the lottery, but it is possible.  You would need to make sure a spot on your bottom pairing is open, and you let him get his feet wet there.  You don’t put him in your top four until year two, and by year three you possibly are putting him on your top pair.  But it’s so tough to say because a generational defencemen is so extremely rare.  He might be ready to be a teams number three guy next season, and a number one by year two.  But obviously, nobody will be crying if the Oilers win the Swedish defenceman.

 

Of course I have yet to touch on what the deadline could bring.  First off….PLEASE Peter Chiarelli, DO NOT RE-SIGN PATRICK MAROON PRIOR TO THE TRADE DEADLINE!!!!!!!!!!!  And I am such a massive Patrick Maroon fan, but this is a business, especially in the cap world, and he is not worth what he’s going to command at the moment.  Trade him.  Second off (is that a thing?  Second off?), DO NOT DO WHAT YOU DID WITH HALL!!!!!!!!!!!!  What does that mean exactly?  It means that he better not go in with a plan to simply add any guy who fits his bill no matter how badly he loses in value.  And it wasn’t just Hall.  He did that with Davidson and Eberle also, it’s ridiculous!  For example, on Insider Trading last week they spoke of the possibility of Maroon possibly fetching the Oilers a first round pick.  If you can get that, you absolutely must take that deal.  But they also talked about Chiarelli wanting a prospect who is close to playing, and the popular theory is that he has eyes for Adam Erne.  23 year old prospect from the Lightning who is close to playing to the league and not close to being worth your time.  He’s a lot more of a heavy player than quick, and it would just be more Chiarelli bull shit that’s gotten him into trouble in past deals he’s done.  Take the first if you can get it, and go from there.  If you can’t get a first, then a second and a prospect would still be a good haul, and if you can then get say Adam Erne as the prospect with that second, then ok.  And that’s more so what I’m expecting for Maroon.  Second rounder and a B type of prospect or young player.  Maybe a second round pick and a guy like Ivan Barbashev (ironically drafted using the Oilers draft pick in 2014) if the Blues are in it.  But don’t FUCKING settle!!!

 

Mark Letestu is really the only other piece who is sure to go.  You may ask “what about Mike Cammalleri?”  Well, yeah, if anyone wants him.  But someone will want Letestu (suckers).  Letestu is done.  He was a damn good signing, played tremendous last season, but he’s shot.  He doesn’t have the speed to make up for his lack of size anymore.  So he’ll go, and I would be looking for a 3rd and a 5th round pick for him.  It could even be a 2019 3rd.  But why the added 5th?  Because it recoups what they lost for Al Montoya.  So if you can get a team to pay that price, and I really believe someone would pay that for a perceived elite 4th line centre.  Last year Brian Boyle was that guy, and Boyle fetched the Lightning a 2nd round pick.  Weaker draft, so you must keep that in mind, but I believe a 3rd and a 5th is possible for Letestu.

 

Of course this summer they will still need to look at the UFA market to plug a few holes.  Even if you clear up a lot of space, you can’t go pissing that cap space away.  I already talked about Nurse, already talked about upgrading on the wings and with a top four RH shooting defenceman, you got Jesse Puljujarvi as a candidate to get a long term deal on an extension (which I would look to do this summer), and you can’t assume the cap will continue to rise…even though it should.

 

Derek Ryan – Love him, but so will a lot of teams.  I worry that he could get a big pay day.  He’s got real good numbers across the board.  But he will be 32, and he is a bit of an unknown still.  If you could get him in to be your fourth line centre for three years and two million per, I’d do it.  And that might seem like a gross pay day for your fourth line centre, but looking at the needs of this team (especially the PK), I believe Ryan would be a major asset much the way Letestu was last season.

 

Tyler Bozak – Similar theory to Ryan, and I wonder if Bozak won’t be cheaper than Ryan.  He’s looked at as declining where Ryan is looked at as rising, even though they are as similar as can be!  Age, size, shot, position, point totals, etc.  I have to assume that both Ryan and Bozak are getting more money than I’m hopeful the Oilers can get them at, but I wouldn’t rule it out.  The NHL world can be so odd in the way they under and overvalue players, and it wouldn’t shock me if one of Ryan or Bozak look for home run deals and if they don’t get it, they’re left out in the cold much the way Kris Russell was in the summer of 2016.

 

Marcus Kruger – This one is pending, but the belief is that the Hurricanes are going to buy him out this summer.  Darcy McLeod had some good stuff on him last week showing that he’s really been hurt playing with Joakim Nordstrom this season.  Away from Nordstrom, the guy has really tilted the ice!  So as a fourth line centre/13th forward possibility he could be a tremendous option.

 

Greg McKegg – I actually didn’t know where to put McKegg, because this isn’t a guy who would cost much at all via trade, nor in free agency if the Pens don’t give him a qualifying offer.  But the point here is to land a 13th forward who plays the middle.  There are a lot of guys like McKegg, but I’m using him as the example of this.  I told you this was extensive…

 

Michael Grabner – I don’t know.  He’s going to get a big pay day.  Maybe the same type of deal that we saw Benoit Pouliot and Michael Frolik get.  But no doubt he would be a terrific get for the Oilers if they can afford him.  Speed to burn and a total sniper who creates a ton of his scoring chances on his own.  I love the guys game, and have since the Islanders first plucked him off waivers years ago thinking “why in the hell did the Canucks let this kid go on waivers?!”  But again, a 4×4 type of deal is what I think he’s looking at.

 

Patrick Maroon – YEP!  I just talked about trading him, now I’m talking about signing him!  But some ground rules here.  No more than a two year deal, no more than 2.5 million a season, and you sign him to be in a bottom six role.  If he works his way back up the lineup next season, then awesome!  But otherwise, he’s still a perfect guy to have in the bottom six for the right price.  As of now, I believe that Maroon isn’t going to get the pay day that most thought he would get about four months ago.  Now, he’ll likely need a big playoff run to get that, so he’s another guy I could see getting left out in the cold on July 1st and if that’s the case then whoever the Oilers GM is could swoop in and grab him on the cheap.

 

Yohan Auvitu – Obviously this one would be a re-signing, but I really want to see him back as the seventh D-man.  When given the chance, he’s played ok.  And he can make the jump up front if need be.

 

Ok, I think I’m on the home stretch now!

 

When all this is said and done, something like this would be completely ideal going into next season for the Oilers:

Max Domi – McDavid – Brett Connolly

Andreas Athanisiou – Draisaitl – Puljujarvi

Khaira – Elias Lindholm – Yamamoto

Maroon – Marcus Kruger – Kassian

Greg McKegg

Pakarinen

 

 

Nurse – Larsson

Klefbom – Tyson Barrie

Davidson – Tim Heed

Auvitu

 

Talbot

Montoya

I can’t wait to see who is the bigger schmuck, Chiarelli or Darren Dreger.  Because either Chiarelli is going to get a goaltender to “push Cam Talbot” right after he went out and acquired Al Montoya, or else Dreger is once again caught talking out his ass.  I would say it’s a complete coin flip at the moment, either man could win.  Both of their reputations are pretty terrible at this time.  Of course, who the hell knows if it’ll be Chiarelli making any trades.  Anyway…this would be a massive overhaul, and I’m not saying that all this is necessary.  The three reasons this team is in the spot their in are the PP, the PK, and the goaltender.  So it’s tough to say how anyone, no matter who the GM is will view this.  I’m sure there are an insane amount of options out there that I didn’t even hit on.  But the point is that they have to clear out the shitty contracts, they have to get a lot faster, and they have to get more skilled on the wings.  Now with that last one, let’s keep in mind that they will have an even better Puljujarvi next season along with Yamamoto coming up.  They SHOULD be better just with that (though they SHOULD have been a playoff team this season…).  But more is needed without a doubt.

 

After doing this, and going through things with a fine tooth comb as I did, I do feel confident that with the right management in place that this thing is very salvageable.  But I don’t trust Peter Chiarelli in the least.  The man doesn’t know how to make deals, that is CRYSTAL CLEAR now.  He’s a poor negotiator whether he’s negotiating with a fellow GM, or if he’s negotiating with an agent.  He caves easily.  Leon Draisaitl should have been signed in early October to a deal worth 1-1.5 million a year less than what it was.  Nope, he gave in.  Just like he did with Reinhart, Larsson, Desharnais, Strome, etc.  It’s not just a new GM that’s needed, it’s the right GM that’s needed.  Along with not just a new coach, but the right coach.

 

The biggest issue of all though is that this organization very literally has one of the worst owners in pro sports who is much more worried about getting his buddies jobs than he is with winning hockey games.  He is an absolute DISGRACE to this fan base who have supported this team more than any other fan base would over the last eleven seasons, and of course that ineptitude has trickle down throughout the organization.  Like for example, leave your fucking kid at home when you go to Dallas this year would you?!?!  Or if he HAS to come, then he can sit his ass down at the table!!!  He doesn’t need to be up there with management and scouts who while might be inept because you won’t find competent people, still do all the work and your son does none of it…you jack ass.  Maybe you could at the very least shell out for Harrison to get an adult hair cut?  Hell, even the teams daily radio show has become a complete joke and not worth anyone’s time to hear Bob Stauffer attempt to spin things as if they aren’t as bad as we can all see they are and hint at sweetheart trade possibilities which are purely wishful thinking on his part.  Even Stauffer is a guy who has gone from respected voice calling it like it is, to coming off as being overzealous with his social standing in the city and the league thanks to being given a job by a DISGRACE of an owner (tell us more about Pub 1905 and how your boys with Dan Baker, I don’t think people have heard that before, and fuck do we ever care).

 

Woah.  I kind of went off the rails in this last part.  And didn’t I say to stop bitching about things in the title?!  Shit.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Edmonton Oilers Top 20 Prospects – Jan. 2018

Is there perhaps any better time than now to release a piece on the Oilers organizational depth?  Wow, this season has gone so depressingly horrendous for this organization.  Worst year in the history of the club given the expectations vs the results, and that’s no exaggeration.

 

But I’ll continue to make the point that while its just that, it’s not a bleak scenario, just a real shitty season to go through.  This isn’t like 2014 or 15 where they hardly had anything, and nothing was going right.  This team is setup very well even despite so many missteps by the organization.  The system isn’t rich, but it features an elite prospect, and good depth.  It won’t get the love at this point that other systems around the league will because it only features one 1st rounder and none of the other kids were able to make splashes at the WJC, but trust me they’re in the midst of building a damn good system.  You can go after Peter Chiarelli for a lot of things (like most have, and deservedly so), but one thing you can’t deny is that since he’s taken over the drafting has been greatly improved.  I seen someone on Twitter the other day amidst the beat down of Peter Chiarelli take a swing at the way they’ve scouted and drafted saying something to the effect of “if they were going to take Eriksson Ek over Barzal then it’s just proof that the scouting hasn’t improved under these guys either!”  I love Barzal and would have taken him with that pick, so don’t get me wrong here.  But Eriksson Ek is a damn good prospect and just because at 20 years old he has yet to set the league on fire like Barzal has, doesn’t at all mean that he’s not going to be a hell of a player.

 

Under Kevin Pendergast and then Stu McGregor, I don’t recall looking at 4th and 5th round picks and getting real excited.  We’re seeing 6th and 7th rounders show as much or more promise as previous regime’s 2nd and 3rd rounders.  I’ll go back to the 2010 draft for example and how excited people were about it out of the gate.  But the question on Martin Marcincin for example was always hockey sense, and it was highly unlikely, even after the great start he had to the 2011 season, that light bulb was ever going to go on.  And it never has.  Another example from that draft was Ryan Martindale, who was putting up big numbers, but his skating and determination were always a massive question mark.  Those are things that just aren’t going to be fixed.

 

But now, we’re seeing a lot of kids drafted who have what I would call fixable flaws, and as long as they’re coachable, they’ll have a great opportunity to get their shot and stick in the league.

 

Things I like about the system: Maybe the most vital thing about the system is they look a lot better on the wings, especially when compared to what I had wrote in May of last year.  I would suggest that they got two tremendous prospects on the wing in the draft, with another exciting wildcard.  And in addition to that, what looked like a wildcard at that time in Tyler Benson has comeback and flourished this season.  The downside there is that only one of those wingers is ready to step in next season (and even that could be a little up in the air at the moment), but it’s much improved and is a big need for this organization in order to support the strength the club has down the middle.  Other areas I like are in goal.  I feel like Chiarelli has maybe done his best work shoring up the Oilers goaltending from the time he arrived.  I don’t recall them ever having this kind of goaltending depth.  And finally, given that this team hasn’t drafted a D-man in the 1st round since 2013, the blueline looks real good moving forward.  On this list you’ll see six of the ten defencemen that this regime has drafted since taking over in 2015.  Two of the four which aren’t on here were 7th round picks.  And the other two not on the list were drafted as projects and I certainly wouldn’t write them off as of now.  Six of the top eleven are D-men too, so it’s definitely something I feel they’ve done well considering they haven’t spent a 1st round pick there.

 

Things I don’t like about the system: Only one, but it’s a biggie.  Centre.  Without a doubt.  This organization is extremely weak down the middle after 97, 29 and 93.  They’ve completely ignored centre ice since they took McDavid in the draft.  I believe two of their 21 picks since taking McDavid have been used on centres, and both weren’t until the 6th round.  I don’t care how good you feel about your first three guys, you can’t leave your system depleted of centres like they’ve done.  It was a massive issue heading into the draft last year, so in this draft…saying it’s vital to take care of is an understatement.  Extremely careless of this organization to be so thin at such an important position.

 

Honourable Mention:

Nick Ellis  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 180  Glove: L  Age: 23

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed April 7th, 2016

He hasn’t looked near as good to date this season as he did last.  After last season, I had Ellis as the 10th ranked Oilers prospect and suggested the only thing that could hold him back from playing in the NHL was his size.  He did technically get a call-up, but as you all know he didn’t see a minute of ice time.  It was clear the coaching staff had zero faith in him when he didn’t get the start either against Philadelphia or against Toronto on the second half of a back to back.  Tough to ignore last seasons performance, so he stays an honourable mention.  But with Brossoit now back down there and another prospect I’ll get to coming on strong, not to mention the possibility of two more kids entering pro hockey next season in the system, it’s tough to see Ellis being with the organization for much longer.

 

Cameron Hebig  Regina  WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 185  Shot: R  Age: 20

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed December 28th, 2017

Hebig is the latest Oilers prospect.  I list him as a centre, but I’m not sure he’ll play centre in pro hockey.  He might, he does have damn good wheels, and as it currently stands the Bakersfield Condors don’t have much at centre, but at 5’10 that’s always dicey.  Also, he’s listed as 20, but he turns 21 in 11 days (playing as an overager this season).  Freshly dealt to the Pats from his hometown Blades which ensures that he’ll get some big minutes in the Memorial Cup this spring.  He missed all of last season, and it’s been quite impressive how he’s bounced back with damn near 1.5 PPG on a weaker Blades team (though much better than they were in his tenure there).

 

Dillon Simpson  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 205  Shot: L  Age: 24

Acquired: 4th Round, 92nd Overall, 2011 Draft

In the past when I’ve done this list, I’ve avoided the “veteran prospects”.  It wasn’t as if I didn’t like any of the guys, I just didn’t view them as prospects.  But I’m slightly changing that tune, though it’s highly unlikely you’ll see me rank any of them in the top 15 or so.  I like Simpson’s game and wouldn’t have been against rolling with him as the seventh defenceman had they started the season that way.  Chances are slim at best that he’s going to get a shot with the team now being nine D deep, and who knows if they’ll qualify him this summer.  It’s a shame though, because I think there might be a player there.  The knock has always been the wheels, but he makes up for it with IQ, composure, and how well he moves the puck.

 

Joey Laleggia  Bakersfield AHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 185 Shot: L  Age: 25

Acquired: 5th Round, 123rd Overall, 2012 Draft

Not at all about production here. Much like I mentioned with Russell, nobody is tearing it up in the AHL for the Condors. Laleggia is 2nd on the team in scoring right behind Ty Rattie though (21 points in 33 games). But the team doesn’t have any centres who can produce offensively. So when that’s the case, you have to really scout what the kid can do and how he may fit with a good centre at the next level. The wheels are real good, he’s put up offensive numbers in the past whether it be as a winger or defenceman, and he’s responsible defensively. I think of a kid like Bryan Rust or Brandon Tanev who never put up the kind of numbers in the AHL which would garner attention, yet when playing with the right guys they’re very effective players. He’s very much like Simpson in that I’ve always felt like there might be something with Laleggia, and it’d be nice to see him get a few games at some point this season to see what they really have before possibly moving on from him this summer.

 

I felt while writing this that I better break it up between the honourable mentions and the top 20.  Otherwise it would just feel like a top 24 list, wouldn’t it?!  So I guess I can hit on a few of the other kids in the system while doing that.  I hated both the Markus Niemelainen and Matt Cairns picks in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft and so far they both look like disasters.  I actually had Niemelainen ranked in the mid 30’s going into the draft, but to be real honest I recall not being a fan despite having him there (definitely a case where I wasn’t being honest with myself on how I truly felt, just going with the rest of the scouting world).  Tough player to get a read on because he isn’t and never will be a great two way player.  He’s big and for such a big kid he’s really mobile.  But he’s back in Finland this season and from all reports he doesn’t seem to be growing as a player.  He was still eligible for the WJC this season, and I’m not even sure he was on Finland’s radar (though how do I know of course).  The kid I personally liked with that 63rd pick in the draft for the Oilers was Adam Fox, taken at 65 by the Calgary Flames…As for Cairns, he’s only got into one game so far this season with Cornell.  I know he was viewed as a project, but he did nothing to really impress in the USHL or the BCHL last season, and it continues to look like a wasted pick.  I’ll never forget reading about him leading into the draft and thinking “what is anyone seeing in this kid to make him a top 100 prospect?”  The very next pick?  St. Albert native and Ducks stud prospect Josh Mahura.  OOPS!!!  Hopefully I’ll get proven very wrong someday soon.

 

Also at some point I had to mention the great work that @EDProspectWatch does on You Tube.  If you want to follow these kids and how they’re tracking, you follow him on Twitter, and you subscribe to his You Tube page and trust me you won’t regret it!  The guy just does phenomenal work and I believe he mentioned something not that long ago about doing a new top 20 list himself (likely will be better than this one!) so watch for that to come out before too long.  Ok, that’s a good enough break I think…eh?!  On to the top 20.

 

***Made a very embarrassing mistake when I first put out these rankings, having Miroslav Svboda as the 15th prospect when he is no longer property of the team.  Stupid, sloppy, embarrassing mistake.  It’s been corrected now, but I apologize for the mistake.

 

20. Patrick Russell  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 205  Shot: R  Age: 25

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed May 9th, 2016

Russell really shows some ability if you watch him play.  But he just turned 25.  So it’s questionable whether the kid is going to grow into anything more than what he currently is.  He could, it’s not unheard of.  Look at a guy like Derek Ryan, or Fernando Pisani.  You’ll see a trend with any of the AHL kids I talk about on here.  It’s tough to get a read on how good their potential is this season as the club has really been struggling offensively.  But what I can say is Russell shows a lot of power down low, and pretty good explosiveness.

 

19. Shane Starrett   Whichita  ECHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 195  Glove: L  Age: 23

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed April 10th, 2017

I know it’s only been in the ECHL thus far, but thus far Starrett has looked pretty good!  6th in the league in Sv% at .923 as of writing this.  He got the one start in the AHL thanks to the shuffling that went on when Talbot went down, and even though he took the loss, he made 44 of 47 stops.  He looked great in his start at the rookie tournament in Penticton this past fall too.  Only gets to 19th for now, because it is only the East Coast league, but it’ll be interesting to see how he’ll do once room is made for him in Bakersfield.  He’s got the size and in today’s NHL that’s half the battle for a goaltender.

 

 

18. Tyler Vesel  Nebraska-Omaha  NCAA

Pos: C  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 182  Shot: R  Age: 23

Acquired: 6th Round, 153rd Overall, 2014 Draft

I might have Vesel too low.  Then again, I might have him too high.  But he’s a kid who I haven’t seen much of.  Even in highlight clips, it’s tough to get a read on how his game might translate.  Doesn’t seem to score a lot off the rush, more shifty and agile than speedy in my viewings (but fully admit that could be wrong with how little I’ve truly seen him).  Maybe a good way to look at his production is by comparing it to former teammate Jake Guentzel?  Guentzel in his final season with the program put up 46 points in 35 games.  Vesel as of right now is a little below a PPG (16 points in 20 games), second in points on the team (behind Edmonton product David Pope), but the team this season isn’t anywhere near as good as that 2016 team was which Guentzel played on.  It’ll be much easier to get a read on him should they get him signed and into Bakersfield for next season.

 

17. Joe Gambardella  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 200  Shot: L  Age: 24

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed March 28th, 2017

I doubt he’s having the start to his pro career that he would of liked to (just 6 points in 16 games), but I’m keeping him in the top 20 because he’s still got that great speed, real good wrist shot, and while he’s not that tall he has a real thick frame.  And again, the Condors aren’t scoring much this season, there’s no high scoring AHL centre like Anton Lander was last season to get the most out of these wingers, so it’s tougher to judge their performances.  I know he went through college and was signed as a centre, but though I could be mistaken, I believe Bakersfield has used him primarily on the wing this season and as I’ve said before in my write up’s about him that is where I see him ending up should he make it to the show.  He’s got the tools to play, just a matter of putting it all together.

 

16. Philip Kemp  Yale  NCAA

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 202  Shot: R  Age: 18

Acquired: 7th Round, 208th Overall, 2017 Draft

An invite to team USA WJC camp as a 7th rounder in your 18 year old year?  That’s a HELL of a start to Kemp’s development.  Not only that, but he was the final cut for the States, and Elliotte Friedman even made a point of mentioning this in his 31 Thoughts article a few weeks back.  “Edmonton’s hoping it found a diamond-in-the-rough late in the 2017 Draft. Seventh-rounder Philip Kemp (208th overall), was the final defenceman cut from the Team USA World Junior roster. No guarantees, but that was a good showing for him.”  I said to a buddy after reading that “you know Friedman didn’t just write that after seeing it, he asked around if the kid was possibly the real deal as a prospect.”  I’ve hardly seen Kemp play, and though I really like the combination of RH shooting 6’3 D-man who skates well and is at an Ivy League school, I still don’t have enough on Kemp to rank him higher than this.  But it’s clear to me that in Chiarelli’s three drafts that he’s high (or someone in the room is) on simply taking RH shooting D-men who skate well, have a good size, and show intelligence.  John Marino, 6th round in 2015, righty, attends Harvard, 6’2, good skater.  Vincent Desharnais, 7th round in 2016, righty, attends Providence, 6’6, good skater.  Kemp is the same as those two and frankly its strategy I really like.  You get down to the 6th and 7th rounds, just look for guys who have most of the unteachable traits covered and of course we know the value of the righty shot on the blueline.  He took someone who fits this bill when he was in Boston in the 2012 draft named Matt Benning.

 

15. John Marino  Harvard  NCAA

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 190  Shot: R  Age: 20

Acquired: 6th Round, 154th Overall, 2015 Draft

He’s a ways away, but if you’ve read my first two Oilers top prospect lists then you know I’m a big John Marino guy.  Righty shot, decent size, real good skater, high IQ, and moves the puck real well.  For a 6th rounder, this is what the Oilers need.  And I hit on it earlier while talking about Philip Kemp that this is smart strategy by whoever is suggesting it for the Oilers at the draft table.  The big problem for Marino is he has Flames prospect and team USA blueliner Adam Fox playing in front of him, and they’re both RH shooting D-men so they never play together.  I love everything I hear on Marino though and believe the Oilers will look to get him signed at the conclusion of this season.

 

14. Stuart Skinner  Swift Current  WHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 205  Glove: L  Age: 19

Acquired: 3rd Round, 78th Overall, 2017 Draft

The freshly dealt Stuart Skinner as he was just moved from Lethbridge to the Swift Current Broncos.  Not a great season for Skinner to this point, yet I’m starting to see his pattern is that he plays up and down to his competition.  His best game of the season so far was a 47 save performance against Portland who lead the WHL’s Western Conference.  Skinner was awesome in his start at the rookie tournament in the fall, and of course was tremendous for the Canes in their run to the Eastern Conference finals in the WHL playoffs last spring.  Yet his numbers don’t look that good at all.  So I believe we have to ignore the numbers with Skinner to a point because it’s quite possible that the bigger the game, the better he’s going to play.  So that’s the positive, but we still need to start seeing that higher level on a consistent basis.  I’ve never been quiet about not liking the pick for the organization (not that I don’t like Skinner, just didn’t like the move to trade up for him and not for others), so he had better prove the organization right in doing it.  I’ll be a little interested to see if maybe the team doesn’t have him back in the WHL next season as an OA.  With so many kids potentially taking up spots in Bakersfield and Whichita next season, if the organization has that option I’m wondering if they might take advantage of it?

 

13. Aapeli Rasanen  Boston College  NCAA

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 190  Shot: R  Age: 19

Acquired: 6th Round, 153rd Overall, 2016 Draft

Pre World Juniors I had him on the list.  I was well aware of Rasanen from the day they picked him, always liked the pick.  But at the WJC, he just looked to me like a kid who is going to play in the league.  So he jumped up quite a few spots.  This ranking is a lot more about the probability that he’ll play rather than upside.  Because I don’t see Rasanen becoming a kid who’ll produce much, but more like a better version of what Mark Letestu is.  You can use him on the PP, PK, give him tougher minutes and he can handle it.  He’s just solid all around.  Good size, good speed, good shot, dominated the WJC in the dot.  The best centre in the system shouldn’t be 12th on the list, so this must be fixed by the organization by the time the 2018 draft has wrapped up.  Having said that, I believe the Oilers have a regular someday soon who was taken with a 6th round pick, not too shabby.

 

12. Graham McPhee  Boston College  NCAA

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 175  Shot: L  Age: 19

Acquired: 5th Round, 135th Overall, 2016 Draft

Ok, so the story here is that I made a lot of mistakes while making my original list.  You would think that after 6 years of blogging that I’d learn to trust my head a little less, because what happens is I’m so confident in my ability to remember sports and especially Oiler related things that I mess up.  So I end up making embarrassing mistakes that make this look like amateur hour such as including Miroslav Svboda in my rankings when the team no longer owns his rights, or completely forget about Graham McPhee. This one wasn’t near as bad at the moment I put these rankings out, but he still deserved to be ranked.  At the time?  Probably 16th or 17th. But since my mistake, he’s been on fire and made me want to come back and adjust this list. Not cause I want to look right, but I want to get it right for anyone who may want to look this up.  The kid has sniper written all over him as he loves to get it off his stick as quickly as possible.  The size is going to be real good once he’s filled out, and the wheels are well above average.  I would guess with both McPhee and Rasanen the talk from Pete Chiarelli this spring will be “we can do a deal now if you want to come out, we’d prefer you stay one more year and dominate, but it’s up to you.”  I would guess they’ll stay, but then it’ll be a concern in the spring of 2019 whether or not the Oilers can get these two signed. Both are intriguing.

 

11. William Lagesson  Djurgardens IF  SHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 198  Shot: L  Age: 21

Acquired: 4th Round, 91st Overall, 2014 Draft

From off the list the last time around to cracking the top 11 this time around.  And I made mention of this in another blog I wrote, but it was difficult to leave him off when I did, because the guy was a personal favourite.  I loved his game, but felt others had a higher ceiling.  Then he may have been the best defenceman in rookie camp, so I know nothing!  And his ranking is a lot like Rasanen’s where I don’t love the upside, but I really love the potential to be a regular.  I’m not sure it’s fair to say he’s a Radko Gudas type because I don’t see him as being THAT nasty (also Gudas is a top four, I don’t see Lagesson being more than a five), but he’s got an edge to him without a doubt.  Skates well, and can move the puck well.  I do believe he has a bit of untapped offensive potential which could come out if he’s in the right role. But I see an old school/stay at home type defenceman here with the skating and puck moving ability you now need to go with that to succeed in the league.

 

10. Filip Berglund  Skelleftea  SHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 209  Shot: R  Age: 20

Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2016 draft

I read a piece David Staples did a couple months ago on Berglund and had some really good stuff in there.  One of the things he actually attributed to Jonathan Willis, and was said by Swedish hockey reporter Robin Lindgren.  “If the offence comes with him, that’s gravy, as plenty of good Swedish defenders (including Larsson and Oscar Klefbom) have failed to put up big numbers in the SHL.”  In the piece Lindgren also stated that Berglund reminded him a lot of Larsson.  In 26 games in the SHL this season, Berglund has 2 goals and 5 assists.  Compare that with last season where he had no goals and 9 assists in 47 games played.  So he’s obviously showing improvement on the offensive side of things, while defensively from every report you can find the kid is a rock, and with the limited viewings I can find of him he moves real well.  I know the reason he got passed over in the 2015 draft was because of a pretty bad knee injury, but he seems to have rebounded really well from it.

 

9. Ryan Mantha  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 225  Shot: R  Age: 21

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed March 1st, 2017

Mantha has been coming on a little bit of late, though one of his three goals on the season was an EN goal.  The size is real good as you can read, and the mobility, while it could stand to improve, is solid…especially for someone this big.  And he’s got a bomb of a shot which he gets away quickly and pretty accurately.  It’s always difficult to get a good read on AHL defencemen, even more so on such a low scoring team like the Condors are.  But midway through his first season of pro hockey there really hasn’t been any reason to get more or less excited about Mantha.  Most Oilers observers love the thought of Ethan Bear getting on that top PP unit as soon as possible, but Mantha has all the tools to be that guy someday as well.

 

8. Dmitri Samorukov  Guelph  OHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 181  Shot: L  Age: 18

Acquired: 3rd Round, 84th Overall, 2017 Draft

If I did tiers like I do for my prospect lists leading into the draft, this would definitely be a new tier starting with Samorukov as we go from guys who have low ceilings or are more projects to the kids with much higher ceilings.  I admit, I didn’t know a lot about him when he was drafted.  Now that I’m following him, I’m loving what I’m seeing.  I wouldn’t say he’s a project, but I would say the upside is unlimited with this kid.  Love the size, love the mobility (not only a real good skater but very agile), love how active he plays, the shot looks great, and it’s really just a matter of how coachable he’s going to be.  If he’s got the IQ and coachability to go with his talent, this kids going to be a top four guy someday because the ability is without a doubt there.  One of only three 18 year old kids to play for Russia at the WJC, and when he got a chance to move up in the lineup he really thrived (I believe that was in the quarter final game against the States).

 

7. Dylan Wells  Peterborough  OHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 182  Glove: L  Age: 19

Acquired: 5th Round, 123rd Overall, 2016 Draft

He takes a fall down my rankings with a combination of others playing very well, and he not playing up to last years standards as of writing this.  But he’s still showing flashes of being terrific, and I really believe it’s just typical of a goaltender to have his up’s and down’s, but considering in the summer he looked like a legitimate threat to Carter Hart’s job on the World Junior team to not even likely being much of a consideration for an invite to camp, he has to move down the rankings a bit.  Still, I really do see Wells as a high end prospect and believe he’s got all the tools, including the makeup, to play in the league.  His numbers have climbed a bit from earlier in the year (his G.S.A.A. is now up to 5.43, yet still nowhere near the incredible 31.87 he put up last year), and you have to remember that he’s playing on a very bad Peterborough Petes team.

 

6. Ostap Safin  St. John  QMJHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 191  Shot: L  Age: 18

Acquired: 4th Round, 115th Overall, 2017 Draft

This is the first of three wingers who all have different style games, but not much separates them as prospects in my mind.  Safin was a personal favourite of mine going into the draft (had him 47th in my final rankings), and I had him only one spot below this entering the season.  Yet still, Safin has exceeded my expectations a bit this season.  He leads the Sea Dogs in scoring, has been around a PPG player all season, and something you have to keep in mind is that the Q has gone from an absurdly high scoring league to maybe the lowest scoring league in the CHL.  So to be a PPG player (sitting 35th in PPG as of writing this), and on a team which after trading Joe Velano now has nobody for him to play with, is pretty impressive.  And that’s just the bonus.  Safin, much like Samorukov, is a kid who isn’t really a project, but has an unlimited ceiling.  With his size, skating, and willingness to play a physical game, the sky is the limit for this kid.  Reminds me a lot of Jujhar Khaira (with more offensive upside).  There is an off switch, and that’s the downside with him.  But when he’s on, he is terrific.

 

5. Tyler Benson  Vancouver  WHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 190  Shot: L  Age: 19

Acquired: 2nd Round, 32nd Overall, 2016 Draft

Talk about your turnarounds.  Late October, and Benson still hadn’t suited up yet.  At that point I’m saying to anyone who is familiar with the situation “this is looking bleak, and this kid is looking like a write off”.  I mean, he was supposed to be ready for camp, and now it’s a month into the season and he’s still not playing?!  But oh my….he literally took three games to knock the rust off, and has been on FREAKING FIRE ever since!  Is he a great skater?  No, he’s not a great skater.  But I’d say he’s an ok skater and such an intelligent player that he won’t have problems keeping up.  In his draft year I used Mark Stone as the comparison, and I’m a little proud of myself for thinking of that because that’s really who he has the potential to be.  Thick, physical, intelligent, can play quick and skates good enough.  David Perron is another guy who comes to mind, though Benson will likely be more physical and less of a pest than Perron.  As long as he can stay healthy, I really believe Benson is going to end up on McDavid’s wing in a few seasons because he can think the game at a similar level.

 

4. Kirill Maksimov  Niagara  OHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 192  Shot: R  Age: 18

Acquired: 5th Round, 146th Overall, 2017 Draft

Speaking of kids who have potential to ride shotgun with McDavid….he gets the nod over Benson for 4th mainly because I feel like he has a game and something that nobody else in the entire organization brings to the table, and that is a pure sniper mentality.  This kid can flat out RIP.  IT.  His skating isn’t terrific, much like Benson, but unlike Benson, I feel as though Maksimov has room to improve his stride.  It appears to my naked eye that Maksimov currently lacks lower body strength, so once that improves we could see him gain that extra gear.  It’s not bad though, definitely could play in the league with the wheels he has as long as that shot continues to be the weapon it is.  Just go look at the way he scores.  Everything is Hull/Stamkos/Heatley/Kessel like.  I’m not saying he’ll become one of those guys, but he scores the same way they score.  Of course in saying that I’m mostly referring to his one timer.  His wrist shot has literally no back swing, and is also an absolute bullet.  Remember Joe Sakic’s?  His might be that good.  And he’s a righty, so on the PP in two, three, or four years, what a weapon to have with McDavid!  Some other things to take in here, he’s 5th in the OHL in goals (25 in 36 games as of writing this).  Three of the four in front of him have played either three of four more games.  The only guy who hasn’t is Boris Katchouk who has the luxury of playing on the OHL’s top team, and with it’s top point producer in Morgan Frost.  Maksimov has Ben Jones, who isn’t a slouch, but he’s not near what Frost has done.  It’s extremely early in the process, a long road ahead developing, but so far Maksimov has me ecstatic about what he could become.

 

3. Ethan Bear  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 205  Shot: R  Age: 20

Acquired: 5th Round, 124th Overall, 2015 Draft

Holding firm in the three/four slot.  Had him third in the spring, fourth in the fall, back to three here thanks to a graduation (at least in my rankings).  But if he hadn’t missed time with a concussion this season, he might be higher in these rankings as he got off to a torrid start for a rookie in the AHL.  Again, just like the last two guys I talked about and is always top of mind with Bear, skating is the debate.  And again, like the two guys below him, he’s probably got wheels which are good enough.  I recall a Vancouver analytics guy on Twitter during the rookie tournament describing his skating as “passable” while raving about Bear.  The issue though is that if all three of these 3-5 prospects were to make it, with how fast this league is getting, the team speed then would start to take a hit.  But make no mistake, Bear will play in the league, it’s just a matter of whether he’ll be a number six who is a PP specialist, or a top four.

 

2. Caleb Jones  Bakersfield  AHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 190  Shot: L  Age: 20

Acquired: 4th Round, 117th Overall, 2015 Draft

Finally, a kid with no skating issues.  Not only doesn’t have skating issues, but is likely the best skater in the pipeline.  Jones is playing in the league someday, it’s just a matter of when, and how good will he be.  Right now the big thing in Bakersfield is for him to learn how to play in his own end.  Gaps, positioning, stick, handling bigger players down low, etc.  But that’s all stuff that can be coached up.  His wheels and offensive instincts really can’t be.  I won’t be shocked if Jones is pushing for a spot sometime next season should Peter Chiarelli (or whomever the GM could be…) can move out the right people, because they’ll need some cheap contracts on their bottom pair.  We better start wrapping our heads around the fact that Darnell Nurse is playing himself into a big extension that could exceed five million a year.  So Jones very possibly will have a chance to earn a spot, and I really believe that after a couple seasons on the bottom pairing, he’ll be pushing for a top four role.  The only thing that would hold him back is if he’s not coachable, which with the way he’s developed to this point, and how he embraced his role of Charlie McAvoy’s guardian so to speak at last year’s WJC, he really doesn’t seem like a kid who coaches have trouble getting through to.

 

1. Kailer Yamamoto  Spokane  WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’8  Wt: 154  Shot: R  Age: 19

Acquired: 1st Round, 22nd Overall, 2017 Draft

A no brainer here.  Work on your shot kid, and that’s about it.  Yamamoto is almost guaranteed to be in a top six role on the Oilers next season.  Part of that is because of his rookie deal and how he can only be a max of 1.1 million against the cap, but even if that weren’t the case he’d be a prime candidate to step in.  I could care less that he hasn’t torn apart the WHL since he returned to Spokane, or that he didn’t set the WJC on fire (got better and better as the tourney went on though).  The kid damn near stuck with the NHL team this year and spent time on their top line…and if he had a better shot…which he likely will next season…then he probably is still there.  He’s tiny, but other than that the kid possess everything you want.  Speed, vision, intelligence, work ethic, determination, he plays the game you want every player to play it.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: he constantly gets a Johnny Gaudreau comparison, and that’s nice, but he’s much more Marty St. Louis than Johnny Gaudreau.  I think we’ll see as time goes on he’ll become a little more chippy of a player, just because of the intensity he plays with, it’s bound to come out on a consistent basis.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Wake Up Call to Oilers Fans: Darnell Nurse is Going to get PAIIIIID

WARNING: Today’s blog start’s out with a ton of gloating, back patting, and also contains a lot of “F bombs”.  With that being said, let’s begin with me emphatically saying “I TOLD YOU SO”.  People love a guy who announces that he’s told you so.  If I know people, and obviously I do, then the one thing they love is having someone repeatedly throw it in their faces that they were right about something.  The people who didn’t disagree, they love it, and the people who did, they love it even more so.  At least in my dealings with people that has been the case……….

 

Best to put a lot of dots there to enhance the notion that I’m being very sarcastic before someone doesn’t get the joke and sucker punches me the next time they see me.

 

This is from my 2013 mock draft, June 29th, 2013 (remember, the draft was late that season because of the lockout).

 

I see a kid who in 5-10 years could be the best d-man to come out of this 1st round.  Better than Jones and that isn’t a knock on Jones at all, I just think Nurse has THAT much going for him.  High IQ, love that.  Effortless skater, he simply looks like he is gliding around the ice.  Obviously he has the size and will likely be 210-220 once he fills out.  Incredible work ethic as was shown on Sports Centre earlier this week, and while I just made the case for not needing the mean streak fans crave in d-men…Nurse has it.  Scouts worry about his offence, but with his skating and shot I don’t see how it doesn’t come.  Jeff Marek said in an interview with Dan Tencer on Wednesday night that Nurse’s offensive growth was stunted because he hardly saw any PP time this past season.  I really believe this kid has it all and will be a legit number one, a guy you build your team around.

 

He’s been my boy for a long time now.  The first head turner moment for me with Nurse was the Coaches Corner hit from the Stanley Cup final that year.  Until then, I didn’t pay all that much attention to him.  Not that I disliked him at all, but no more than any other draft prospect.  He was the first kid who I noticed doing that segment who had zero nerves while doing it.  He was joking around, giving very well thought out answers to everything Grapes would ask, it legitimately turned me into a massive fan (and you might ask “why is that anything to get excited over?”  Have you seen the kids when they’re doing that segment?  They’re completely terrified 98% of the time).  Because I knew he had all the raw tools already.  But now it was clear he had the IQ to figure out how to improve on any short comings he may have.  And it was after that, when I discovered that he was the OHL scholastic player of the year, so now I’m even higher on him than before, and was all about the Oilers hanging onto that 7th pick that year (which everyone basically was demanding they trade) to take who they ended up taking.

 

And in the years between, I admit I started to have doubts that he could get his game to another level.  I’m going to rip on some analytics guys later in this piece, but I fully respect and pay close attention to the work they do.  It’s not the analytics I dislike, it’s the people who live for them.  But one guy who seems like a beauty and knows his stuff AND also knows the game well is Darcy McLeod.  So when he speaks, I pay close attention.  And for a few years now he hadn’t been as high on Nurse and said he wasn’t tracking like a top pairing defenceman.  So I lowered my expectations on him because of that, but I constantly kept coming back to “how many of those guys who didn’t track like a number one had the combination of IQ, skating ability, size, toughness, mean streak, and work ethic that Nurse has?”

 

And this isn’t to say that Nurse has established himself as a stud number one defenceman just yet.  He still needs to improve his vision maybe more than anything.  It doesn’t need to get to an elite level, but it would drastically improve his breakout passes and when he’s able to gain the zone on the rush we would see a lot more scoring chances created.  But oh man, has he shown a lot of flashes of becoming a legitimate number one this season.  And thanks to that, his pay day is going to be a lot more lucrative then most people seem to realize.

 

I was wanting to write this piece about a week or so ago.  Then I seen a little bit of chat about this on Twitter this week.  One guy, who I used to follow until his work really fell off this season, was talking about Darnell Nurse getting a bridge deal.  Another guy, who I’ve come across on Twitter before and doesn’t really have the insight he seems to believe he has on most things puck, said something to the effect of “on a long term deal, 4.5 per season isn’t out of the question for Nurse”.  Oh, it’s out of the question my man.  Of course, that guy meant it to be that he could possibly get upwards of 4.5 per season.  No no bud.  He’s already passed 4.5.

 

If you want numbers on Nurse, you have to dig a little deeper than straight up stats.  For example, he’s on pace for 30 points this season.  That’s ok, but on pace for 30 points while averaging four seconds of PP time a game.  And while I like analytics, I’m not the best at tracking them so forgive me if this is wrong, but I believe Nurse is 9th for defencemen in CF% at 55.68 (minimum 200 minutes).  He’s 5th for defencemen who have played over 400 minutes this season.  Pretty impressive.

 

Nurse has two comparisons right now that his camp will without a doubt be looking at, and that is Mike Matheson, who just got 8×4.875 per.  The other is Jacob Slavin, who just got 7×5.3 per.  Oilers fans are praying for another Oscar Klefbom deal, and I know that would be oh so sweet.  But it ain’t happening guys, not unless Nurse all of a sudden completely falls apart sometime soon.

 

This guy is playing like a legitimate number one defenceman this season, he’s made an astronomical leap, and still has a ridiculous amount of room to keep growing!  Wait until he starts seeing time on the top PP unit.  I very honestly wonder if McLellan has been asked to try to keep Nurse off the top PP unit in hopes of keeping the guys contract demands a little lower, because I’m pretty surprised he has yet to see time on that top unit with how poor Klefbom has been.  Nurse doesn’t yet have an accurate shot, but he can rip it.  I mentioned his vision earlier which has gotten better already, he’s getting more confident with the puck, and he can REALLY walk the line (go check out the third Oilers goal from Saturday night, head up, moving effortlessly, granted the Flames aren’t pressuring him but you can see how great he’s eventually going to be doing it).  30 points could easily go to over 40 if he ends up stealing the point duties on the top PP unit from Klefbom.

 

As for the idea of bridging him…don’t be an idiot.  At this point, a bridge deal is going to be at least 3.5 per.  What are you going to do by saving about 1.5-2 million over the next two seasons?  Bring Jussi Jokinen back?  Short term pain for long term gain.  It’s unlikely we will ever see a GM try that again with a young stud defenceman after how it completely blew up in the Habs face with Subban.  Plus, Nurse is a prototypical Peter Chiarelli guy.  He’s getting at least seven, and likely eight years.

 

My prediction as of this time: 8×5.5 per.  It may still go higher than that with how great he’s played, but it would take a massive drop off at this point for him to go back down to the “Klebom/Larsson” range in my opinion.

 

Something else I’ll touch on in this piece was what started this conversation between these guys who’ll remain nameless.  They were discussing the Oilers moving out one of Klefbom or Nurse because they somehow came to the conclusion that Ryan Rishaug was hinting at that.  Oh dear lord.  You FINALLY have a talented blueline, with the very real potential once Klefbom gets back to form of being one of the best bluelines in the entire league, and these guys actually think that Chiarelli is going to dump one of the two pillars of this blueline for a forward?!  Clearly, these are people who don’t understand the value of certain things in the NHL.  You can find wingers, they are a dime a dozen.  You literally can’t find defencemen, and these two, who both have quite a few followers and at least the one guy for sure has quite a bit of respect in the Oilers analytics community, actually believe Chiarelli is going to dump one of them?!?  If Nurse gets what I believe he will, combined they won’t even be 10 mil a season!!!  Yet he should move one of these guys, to get a damn winger.  Man, I’m a nice guy, but the sentence “don’t be a FUCKING MORON” comes to mind.

 

And this is increasingly becoming my issue with guys, especially the analytics guys, who rip Peter Chiarelli to shreds.  And I’ve done it too, but I seem to have a better grip on player value then most of these guys do (and hey, I’m wrong on it a lot myself).  If you’re going to rip on Chiarelli’s moves, cool.  I’m with you most of the time!  But then present alternatives!  Explain what else he could have done!  It is so mother fucking easy to pile on, for some reason people in today’s society get off on it and it’s absolutely disgusting, whether it be sports, politics, pop culture, etc.  Why don’t some of these guys grab some actual balls, quit trying to be “Twitter tough” and suggest, in the moment what the better alternative was?  That’s all I ask.  Don’t just say “well he’s tossed away all their secondary scoring and he should have got something better than what he did yada yada yada” shut the fuck up and say what the better alternative was.  I didn’t like the Eberle deal, but he needed the cap space at the time.  Was he supposed to hang on to a guy who was two million dollars overpaid?!  I’m not a big Ryan Strome fan, but his deal is up after this season, you can walk away from him after the season.  The point of the Eberle deal was to shed an inflated contract.

 

Everyone is freaked out about Russell’s contract, as was I.  But with Nurse emerging, Klefbom, the possibility of Davidson getting things back on track and giving him a new deal, a kid like Caleb Jones not far away from making it to the show, and Sekera with a NTC, chances are that Russell gets moved out after the season.  And maybe they’ll have to take some salary back, but teams are desperate for defencemen.  You don’t think the Avs for example would see Kris Russell as an upgrade on what they have?!  And it’s three more years and manageable money with the cap rising, not six more years with the cap flat-lining.  Most (not all) analytics guys don’t like Russell, but the majority of this league is still “hockey guys”, and “hockey guys” adore Kris Russell.

 

Anyway, this piece is supposed to be about how right I’ve always been on Darnell Nurse and how he’s going to get a bigger contract this summer that anyone is expecting at the moment.

 

Actually, I don’t have that much to add!  A bit of a cluster fuck write up, I know.  And I apologize for all the swearing, but I’m leaving it in this time because I’m legitimately fired up about some of the stuff I hit on.  Sometimes you just feel like getting things off your chest.  But make no mistake, Darnell Nurse, at best (or worse in his case), is getting the equivalent of what Mike Matheson got from the Panthers, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he got even more than what Jacob Slavin got from the Hurricanes.  Guaranteed.

 

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Chiarelli’s Biggest Mistake?

Hindsight is 20/20 as we all know.  Really though, it’s just so painful.  “If I had just done THIS, then I wouldn’t be in THIS position”.  It’s so rare that we ever have hindsight and say “good thing I did THIS because then I wouldn’t have THIS”.  So for sports fans, it’s likely not healthy to do the hindsight game.  And the worse the franchise you pull for is, the more you do it.  Take the Oilers for example.  Oilers fans could go down this road just about any point and time since June 19th, 2006, but for this let’s just focus on the Peter Chiarelli hiring.  Had he not been hired, then the Oilers likely land Dougie Hamilton because I’m sure they would have overpaid or at least paid more than the Flames did, and the Bruins wouldn’t have refused to deal with them.  That likely would have kept Taylor Hall in Edmonton because they would have had their top pairing RH shooting D-man.  Of course who knows how or if they could have landed both Hamilton and Talbot (and I’m well aware of Talbot’s start to the season, but he’s been terrific in his Oilers tenure), but seeing the price wasn’t ridiculous I’m sure they could have found a way.  Another thing a Hamilton trade may have done is kept Justin Schultz in town because he wouldn’t have had to be the number one D-man in 2016 and there for could have been sheltered a lot more than he was.  Perhaps he then becomes the D-man he’s become in Pittsburgh.  They likely don’t go hard after Milan Lucic then because there is no reason to replace something you have to ship out.  A lot more likely that off season they go after Jason Demers who could have gave Schultz even more sheltering.  See, it’s depressing!  And lately it’s been so easy to look at what Peter Chiarelli has done in his Oilers tenure and beat it to death.

 

But the one that nobody ever brings up  is the one that just might be the biggest misstep by the Oilers in the last three years, and that is failing to go after tonight’s opposing coach.

 

Let’s go back to maybe April 25th, 2015.  Maybe not that EXACT date, but somewhere in there.  Just eight days prior, the Oilers were in complete shambles.  Craig MacTavish was seemingly not going anywhere as GM, they were realistically looking at the 4th pick in the draft (which turned out to be Mitch Marner, but it would have been either Noah Hanifin or Ivan Provorov depending on how the top three picks played out) which would be a nice piece but nothing which would plug all the holes in that sinking ship.  They literally didn’t have a top four defenceman on the roster (a few potential top four’s, but none as of that date), they didn’t have a goaltender, sometimes I feel as though we truly don’t appreciate what a mess it was!  As bad as this season’s gone thus far, this team is extremely well setup moving forward.

 

But things were now different.  The Oilers had won Connor FREAKING McDavid!  Just two days after that, Bob Nicholson kind of sort of demoted Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe.  Four days after that, Peter Chiarelli, a guy who was actually respected and had accomplished something as a GM was hired.  With Mike Babcock poised to hit the open market, all the connections to Babcock through Team Canada, Edmonton being the closet NHL city to home for the Babcock family, and of course McDavid, all the pieces were seemingly falling into place for the Oilers to have one of the best off season’s in NHL history.  Babcock to Edmonton seemed like a SLAM DUNK, and getting him to work with the other talent like Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Schultz, and even Yakupov at the time….sky could be the limit for a team that talented with that great of a coach.

 

I wish I could find the clip, but I believe it was from Prime Time Sports on May 20th, 2015.  Elliotte Friedman was on, and being interviewed about how Mike Babcock ended up in Toronto.  It was early in the interview and Friedman says (paraphrasing) he believed what happened with Babcock is that he wanted the Edmonton job, but once it was gone he wasn’t sure where he wanted to go.  Now this doesn’t mean Babcock was going to come to the Oilers, but Friedman doesn’t say things of that nature unless he has some solid information.

 

Now, maybe Friedman wasn’t right.  Maybe Edmonton wasn’t where Mike Babcock wanted to be.  But are we seriously going to suggest that he would have preferred Buffalo?  Because that’s who the Leafs were bidding against.  And for how shitty the Oilers were at the time, they not only were about to draft McDavid, but they were also better positioned (and in the standings, though that’s not saying much) than the Sabres.  And I can’t see it being a case where the Oilers weren’t willing to pay him what the Leafs did, because if Daryl Katz has done one thing right as the Oilers owner, it’s been his willingness to spend whatever he’s needed to pay in an attempt to bring this team out of it’s darkness.  This one isn’t hindsight for me.  I fully believed they were making a massive mistake at the time, and obviously that’s played out, which always makes me a little more edgey on these matters.

 

And this is not a piece where I’m making the case for McLellan to be fired, far from it in fact.  But in his three years here I believe it has become plain as day that McLellan isn’t an above average coach.  Again, please do not confuse this with bad coach or needs to be fired.  That’s not the case.  But for example, did the Sharks ever get better under McLellan than they did under Ron Wilson?  Did they get any worse under Peter Deboer than they did under Todd McLellan?  He’s not a bad coach, but he’s not an elite coach, he’s a JAG (just another guy).  Obviously this is more so highlighted by the job he’s done this season.  I wouldn’t say McLellan has been the biggest issue for the team, but he’s been up there.  The PP, the PK, the lack of quality scoring chances this team produces five on five, he’s just in the last two games used McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins on three different lines.  Definitely not calling for the man to be fired, but he’s done a very poor job this season.

 

The league is littered with coaches like McLellan.  There are basically three types of coaches in the league.  Ones which make you worse (Dallas Eakins), ones which get nothing more or less out of their teams (too many to name but McLellan is one of these), and then the elite who always get everything there is to get out of their teams (Mike Babcock).

 

Babcock’s track record, pre Toronto, was ridiculous.  Cup final his first season in Anaheim after they were in the gutter for three seasons prior.  Then he goes to Detroit and those Wings teams were a couple bounces away from quite possibly winning three straight Cups, but more impressive than that run from 07-09 might be the job he did from 2013-15 where he seemingly willed that team to the playoffs every season.  The Detroit playoff streak should have ended long before it did, and only kept going because of Babcock.  2013, that team damn near made the Western Conference final!  2015 they took Tampa seven games, and if they win that seventh game who knows how deep they end up going (remember, the Lightning went to the final that year).

 

In fairness to the Oilers, it wasn’t clear that McLellan was a middle of the pack coach in 2015.  He came in as a very highly respected coach in league circles, and we didn’t have the track record of how the Sharks would do after he was gone.  But again, we all knew how great Mike Babcock was, which is why that was the only time in league history we’ve seen an actual bidding war between teams for his services.  You just can’t pass on a chance at hiring Bill Belichick, or Greg Popovich, or Mike Babcock.  Can’t do it.  They had a solid guy in Todd Nelson as a fall back plan.  If you miss on Babcock, other options were out there who were at least close to what McLellan is.

 

This all brings us to tonight.  And the biggest reason I believe that the Leafs have surpassed the Oilers as Canada’s next great team is because of Babcock.  No doubt, Auston Matthews is elite, and the supporting cast is tremendous.  But this Leafs team are skipping phases of growth.  Hell, even once Shanahan and company had things completely torn down, the Leafs, despite finishing 30th in the league, had one of the most impressive 30th place finishes you’ll ever see!  Last year, that team was supposed to be nowhere near the playoffs, and yet they got in and made life miserable for the Caps.  I had them to miss the playoffs this season mainly because I thought “this team can’t just continue to skip these growth phases”, yet here they are!  It’s unreal, and it’s because of Babcock!  I’m not saying they would suck without him, but I believe you’d see a normal growth pattern from them.

 

And perhaps that would be the Oilers situation.  Perhaps it would be the Oilers near the top of the standings and continuing to get better.  But management decided to go the easy route.  Again, who knows if they would have got him.  But to not try?  That decision REALLY stings, was really head scratching, and could end up stinging especially hard tonight as the red hot Leafs roll into Edmonton.

 

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Seeing Eberle Didn’t Hurt…Seeing His Linemate Sure Did Though

I switched this site to “Soups on Hockey” a couple months ago, and it’s not the most uplifting thing, but I just can’t write something for this morning without talking about one of my favourite athletes, favourite ball players, and favourite Jays of all time, Roy Halladay.

When I read on Twitter yesterday around 1:30 PM MST that the plane which went down was his but they hadn’t yet identified the body, I very literally got sick at the idea that it was him.  A lot of athletes have passed away in my 34 years, but this one really sucked for lack of a better word.  I guess Doc came along at a time where I was really able to appreciate just how incredible he was.  From 99-09, the Jays pretty much sucked.  From 01-09, they were literally never in the race come September.  And you never once heard Halladay complain, or say a bad word about anyone or anything.  I remember listening to Colin Cowherd in 2009 and Doc was to be a guest on his show that day, and Cowherd did his entire show around him speaking on how he was Mr. consistency, one of his favourite athletes at the time because all he did was work hard and could have cared less about any publicity, and how underappreciated he was by the American media.  Goes without saying, but that episode of his show (that I listen to daily) always stuck with me.

If Doc had come along in 1989 or 2013 for example, he would be considered the greatest Blue Jay of all time.  Nothing against Robbie Alomar, another one of my favourites, but Robbie is only considered above Doc because of the teams he got to play on.  Doc had pretty much NOTHING surrounding him.  The stat I seen on Twitter yesterday of him going 18-6 against the Yankees while with the Jays is absurd.  For Doc’s entire time with the Jays, the Yanks dominated the AL East, winning it every year but two (07 and 08, 07 they won the wildcard).  And the man dominated them.  Take out the numbers, although he definitely has hall of fame numbers.  Take out the numbers and consider the era.  Doc is right there with the greatest pitchers in the history of the game.  And from EVERYTHING you heard and read yesterday, the guy was held in the highest regard from literally everyone.  Any time someone passes away, great things get said.  But the detail that people went into with their stories about Doc, and how close I seen so many broadcasters came to breaking down on air yesterday, and actually as I’m typing this Dan O’Toole just did and it’s making things a little dusty for myself.  Man, just shows you just how great this man was on and off the field.   Re-watching the Sheriff speak about him today and go into such detail about just how great of a guy he was, I’ve never seen that before.

This is an awful loss for Jays fans, for Major League Baseball, and most importantly for his wife and two sons.  R.I.P. Doc, you’re an absolute legend.

And there is literally no way to segue from that to the topic I want to talk about, so I’ll just get to it.

Trust me, I feel bad that I’m going to bring Oilers fans down after last night, but just be warned, I’m likely going to.

Big win for the Oilers last night.  Not a win that gives you a lot of confidence in the team busting out, very similar to the win in Chicago a few weeks ago, but big none the less.  On a trip where they badly need at least five points, those were a big two against what might be the best team they’ll play on the trip (at least to this point).

And a big night for Jordan Eberle getting a goal against his former team.  I wanted Eberle gone pretty bad, for a few seasons now.  But the guy always dreamed of being an Oiler, was great with the fans and media, it simply wasn’t in his DNA to become more of a player than what he is.  It was time to move on, but zero reason to pull against the guy, so good on him for sniping one.

But what I feel sick about is the reason Eberle has got hot lately, and that’s from playing with Matthew Barzal.

Before I hit on Barzal, let me take you Oilers fans down another miserable path, the 2003 NHL draft.  Ahhhhh yes.  I still remember it like it was yesterday.  Pierre McGuire going ape shit on the NY Islanders for passing on Zach Parise.  How could an organization be SO STUPID?!?!?  Two picks later, Parise is there for the Oilers to absolutely flat out steal with the 17th pick.  And Gary Bettman goes to the podium and says “we have a trade to announce”.  Man, you KNEW right from that moment that it was going to be such a massive mistake for Oilers organization.  You just knew it!  Fast forward 12 years, and in the words of Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again.

Going into the 2015 draft, I was SKY HIGH on Barzal.  Had him ranked fifth overall, ahead of Dylan Strome (I’m very proud of that) and Mitch Marner (that one looks good right now but not sure I’d do it again…)

http://soupsonhockey.com/2015/06/25/top-50-prospects/

I know, I know, before you say it Oilers fans, I know they were going to select Joel Eriksson Ek had they kept the pick, which also would have been MUCH better than trading for Reinhart.  But when the Bruins picked Jakub Zbroil, Jake Debrusk and then Zach Senyshyn, I recall going nuts on Twitter saying something to the effect of “The Oil don’t need Barzal but they’ll damn sure take him!!”  Shortly after that tweet, I got a response from an Islanders fan laughing at me and how they just got the gift.  How gut wrenchingly correct that piece of shit was….not that I’m bitter about it….

At the time, I didn’t hold back on how awful of a trade it was for Griffin Reinhart and here is the best of that write up:

You can’t sit there and say “well they’re just draft picks”, because every draft is different.  This one was special.  2013 was special.  2012 and 2014 were average to below average drafts.  2012 is the draft where Reinhart went 4th.  So while the average fan sits there and says “well he went 4th so the Oilers won the deal”, it’s not that simple.  Matthew Barzal was a gift falling to 16.  I had him 5th, liked him more than most, but anyone else would have told you he should be a top 10 pick.  He fell due to other teams wanting size in the top 12, and then Boston being idiotic with picks 13-15.  Barzal I really believe would have gone 4th in the 2012 draft.  I wouldn’t have him ahead of Galchenyuk, but at the time (note I say “at the time” for those who love to tell me how dumb I am after the fact) the same prospect would have ranked ahead of Reinhart, Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm, Mathew Dumba, etc.

The 33rd pick in this draft was worth what the 20th pick is worth in most drafts.  So you’re paying the 4th pick and 20th pick for the 5th pick if you compare this draft to the 2012 draft.  That’s gross.  And 2 other things factor in here.  1) the Islanders were shopping Reinhart.  They had given up on the kid.  2) Reinhart indicated afterwards that while he didn’t ask for a trade, it was known that he wasn’t happy with the Islanders and wanted out.  So how is it that the OILERS end up overpaying in this scenario???

Added to this, I don’t believe that Peter Chiarelli was really on board for doing this particular deal, but had the Griffin Reinhart fan club to put up with at the Oilers draft table.  Daryl Katz, Katz kid (who for some reason was there in the thick of things YET AGAIN), Bob Green, Craig MacTavish, Scott Howson, and absent but likely with input, Kevin Lowe.  I’m not saying they pushed Chiarelli into doing this, but I am saying that once the offer was made a ton of internal pressure went on Chiarelli to do the deal.

“Peter, we know this guy and he is wonderful.  He was the captain of a team we watch win the Memorial Cup, so he’s better than Darnell because Darnell didn’t do that”.

I was livid, to put it nicely.  I have a rule, and the rule is that I shouldn’t be able to run a hockey team better than the people in charge.  This hockey club with Matt Barzal right now wouldn’t have an issue on the right side.  Barzal is a centre, but easily could play the wing.  Maybe the teams biggest issue right now is the lack of talent on the right side.  Plus he’d bring more speed to the table, which they’re also lacking (though it’s not the issue many want you to believe it is).  He would also be another valuable weapon on the PP whether he were on the first or second unit.

And let’s not forget that 33rd pick.  That would likely be a very good trade chip at this point.  The Islanders traded up to get Anthony Beauvillier, the Lightning took two time Canadian WJC star Mitchell Stephens, Bob Stauffer has said the Oilers would have selected Boston Bruins defenceman Brandon Carlo, the two picks after Stephens were Travis Dermott and Sebastian Aho.  Yep…the Oil sure could use one of these guys coupled with Barzal right about now!

It really is a reminder of how awfully the organization was run.  Technically it was a Peter Chiarelli move.  But let’s be honest, this was Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Bob Green, Daryl Katz and others all hot and bothered at the idea of getting Griffin Reinhart and not giving a damn about how his development had gone or what they were giving up.  He was a former Oil King and they needed defencemen so let’s go get him, value be damned!

Barzal has star written all over him.  Reminds me a lot of Ales Hemsky with how confident he is with the puck and how it has it on a string all game.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but for me this was in no way hindsight.  This is watching what should have been.  Such a piss off to watch.  Eberle, you know what he does.  You know he’s capable of being better than he was last season, but probably not ever being worth the six million per season he is making because while he can give you 30 goals and 60 points, he hurts you in just about every other area of the game.  He’s not big, he’s not fast, he’s awful on the wall, he’s below average in his own zone, he cheats too often offensively, he brings no physicality or grit, he’s just a scorer.  And that sounds good, but if all you’re going to be is that, then you better be damn special at it, and Eberle isn’t.  But Barzal…that ELC deal he’d be on, even if they would have rushed him in last season, giving this team the options it craves out of Ryan Strome, giving this team options after the season with RNH, this organization had this kid delivered to them on a silver platter.  The Bruins had run off Peter Chiarelli just months previous and now here was his chance to show them how stupid they are by stepping to the podium and taking the star which they had passed over three freaking times….

Nope.  And for the large majority of fans, they can’t get over the Taylor Hall trade, but don’t make me go into the billion reasons as to why that was a good trade.  For me, it’s this one.  Matthew Barzal should be an Edmonton Oiler.  Like Zach Parise before him, it’s going to hurt every single time the kid is mentioned.  And I knew it was going to the second Gary Bettman said “we have a trade to announce”.

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