The first “Hot Takes” of 2018. Obviously I’ll get to the Oilers and what a complete and humiliating shit show they’ve once again become, but before I do so I have to go around the league because that’s what this piece is about. Don’t be so selfish Oilers fans! Trust me, I’ll get to them…
I’ll start with the Avs. Everyone wants to talk about what a great story Vegas is, but I have trouble wrapping my arms around it. They got every break from the schedule makers imaginable, and they’re just on an insane hot streak much like the Jackets, Wild and Flames went on last year (combined playoff wins for those three last season: two). I believe they’ll make the playoffs, but I believe it’ll still be a struggle to get in. But the Avs got no breaks at all and were coming off a season where everything went wrong, and they did nothing in the off-season to really improve the club. Yet they’re flourishing! And not only is this team in the playoff hunt in the West, but all of a sudden their blueline moving forward has three studs to potentially build around. Sam Girard, Cale Makar and Conor Timmins have the makings of a very nice trio. The first two were known, but even a draft junkie like myself didn’t realize just how great Timmins was. I did like everything I read on him leading into last years draft, but when a draft prospect has no flash in his game it’s tough to see the potential. This is why I always harp on intelligence being a vastly overlooked skill. If you can think quick, you’ll always find ways to improve. It’s insanely early to suggest that will be three of their top four moving forward, and you’re looking at these three being 3-5 years away from being impact guys, but no doubt Avs fans should be excited about them, and excited at the huge improvement their team has made.
And maybe the most odd thing about all of it is Nathan MacKinnon taking off once Matt Duchene was dealt. On one hand, I guess he started seeing more ice (I actually don’t have time to research those numbers, but it’s a safe bet), but on the other hand he’ll have started seeing top competition. So maybe it was just a case of MacKinnon feeling like it was “his team” with Duchene out of the picture. And that’s something I’ve always wondered about with Hall out of the room in Edmonton. A lot can be picked apart on the Oilers right now, but that is one where the organization may have been right is to move on from an alpha dog like Hall so McDavid could more so take the reigns. Even being close like they were, McDavid may have been hesitant to do so. Doesn’t mean you needed to get killed on value while moving Hall though….Anyway, MacKinnon. He’s second in league scoring as of writing this, and if the Avs make the playoffs combined with this continuing from him, he has to be the Hart winner. A long ways to go, but he’s going to jump into the conversation.
The Avs success has got me to thinking…are there any truly weak teams anymore, or just teams who have the worst holes? Look at Vegas, and looking at it statistically (so not at the actual roster), and they don’t have a flaw. The Oilers have come crashing down this season, because they have an all time worst PK. It’s not even a bad PK, it’s just horrific at home. Going into yesterday’s game, it was the 4th best PK in the league on the road! But that PK bleeds into their game because last season they were able to impose their will on teams and this year perhaps they’re too timid (especially at home) to play physical knowing that if they take a penalty, it’s a 45% chance of being a goal. Last year, the Avs didn’t have goaltending. This year they do, and look at not just a bit of a difference but the dramatic difference. The Vancouver Canucks were a competitive team before Bo Horvat went down. Now without Horvat, and Brandon Sutter was already out, now they can’t matchup with anyone down the middle and they’re getting obliterated. The Islanders looked like a serious threat in the East. Lost Johnny Boychuk and since then the blueline is a mess and they’re bleeding goals. As bad as the Coyotes have been this season, it wouldn’t shock me at all with that roster to see them get a goaltending upgrade in the summer and be competing for a playoff spot next season. The only organization in the league that I feel is truly bad at this point is Buffalo, because their confidence has just been beat into the ground much like the Oilers had been prior to last season. It’s been a fine line between winning and losing in this league since the 2005 lockout, but in the last two or three years it sure feels as though that line has become even finer. Fewer elite teams, fewer awful teams, and a ton of fluctuation in the standings year to year.
It’s easy to say having watched the Oilers just play them on Saturday, but it looks to me like the Stars are on the rise finally. They’ve only played on the road in one of their last nine, so this could be wrong, but they sure took care of business while at home winning seven of eight. Only four points back of the Blues now with two games in hand, and it wouldn’t shock me if they end up battling for top spot in the Central by late March.
Speaking of teams rising and falling, man I don’t get how the Boston Bruins are good! You can point to all their positives all you want. Charlie McAvoy being a tremendous rookie, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand. Those guys are all great. But they have a lot of slower players who are past their primes in key positions, yet they’re one of the best teams in the East at the moment. Teams like the Bruins, Kings, Sharks, Blues, etc. The media can spare me on speed being the reason teams win and lose in this league. It has little to do with individual speed. In the regular season in today’s league it’s just simply about depth. Top nine up front, top four on D, and great goaltending. Speed is overblown. Team speed, sure, but that’s more of a sign of confidence than anything else.
The Bruins are about to pull away from the Leafs in the standings. I haven’t heard it get much attention (although I’m sure Leafs fans notice), but the Leafs aren’t anything of the world beaters they appeared to be at the start of the season. Teams have figured them out. Now, obviously they’re going to the playoffs because I don’t know if you’ve noticed but beyond the top three in the Atlantic that division is a complete joke, but at the deadline they might look to do a lot of buying. I’ve loved the idea of them going after John Carlson. I feel like he would be a terrific fit in their system. I would also look to upgrade at centre. Babcock still doesn’t use Matthews head to head against other teams top lines, so they could use another guy like Kadri to do that. I thought Bozak was that player, but I don’t know how much they like him these days (doesn’t seem like they do at all, but maybe I’m going off bad information). I’m certain the Habs are going to eat half of Plekanec six million to get something for him at the deadline, so maybe he would be that guy? I’m just spitballing. They need a lot if they want to contend. But then again, they still have a year left of Matthews and Marner on ELC’s, so the push to go hard after a Cup now likely isn’t there.
As for the Oilers….good gawd….
Let’s not forget that going into the Christmas break this team very much so looked like they were about to put a major stretch together and jump back into the playoff picture. Had won four straight, and an eight game run where they looked like one of the best teams in the league. They were dominating everyone five on five. What in the hell happened over the Christmas break?!? This is the point where I had originally wrote about how Todd McLellan is done and started discussing replacements and what else needed to be done. It might surprise you to hear me say this, because I’ve slowly crept towards being in favour of that the last few months both on here and on Twitter. But I said to a buddy yesterday during the game “You know what else I’d be cool with too? Chiarelli putting out a statement acknowledging his mistakes, saying he’s going to adjust some of the ways he does things (AKA not take shit value for your assets), and saying Todd isn’t going anywhere” He didn’t really do THAT, but he backed his coach, which should help the coach and the team settle down a bit. I’m good with it, but now the build to next year begins. This year has been completely pissed away.
So you obviously sell at the deadline. Letestu, gone. Maroon, gone. For me Russell for sure needs to go to clear some cap space. Most want Lucic gone, and I would be ok with that, but I can’t see there being a taker (not to mention I highly doubt Chiarelli would move him with their relationship). But this doesn’t mean that you can’t buy as well, you’re just not buying rentals. Should a kid like Risto Ristolainen actually be made available by the Sabres, Chiarelli has to be all over that as he would be the perfect fit for what the Oilers blueline needs, and what the Oilers PP needs.
And McLellan has to get the ship pointed in the right direction here. This team is already going to get a draft pick which will be miles ahead of where anyone thought it would be (I for one didn’t believe they’d have much of a draft in 2018 when all was said and done!), so while winning Rasmus Dahlin would be amazing it is not something this team needs to be a Cup contender someday soon. So win games. Get things back on track. Look to make the PP and PK top five units from the All-Star break on. Start using Puljujarvi on the top unit PP already! It is the next step in his development, and what a chance they now have to really develop him. The same could probably be said for Darnell Nurse or maybe an Adam Larsson. Maybe you give them time on that top unit PP, and see if they can add more offence to what they bring to the table.
But I will say, if there isn’t much improvement between the All-Star break and game 82, this organization has to look at cleaning house. You better not do it blindly and have competent people in mind to take those jobs. You owe it to your fans, and you owe it to the young talent on this team. You have to realize the blind luck and incredible gift you won in Connor McDavid and it’s vital they do right by him and get the best people possible in here to build a Cup winner around him. With Katz money, the arena, the job they’ve done drafting the last few years, another high pick coming this year, and just about all of the pieces already in place it would have to be one of the most desired jobs in the league. So doing something insane like promoting in house would be just an absolute nightmare.
Oh one more thing…analytics guys…I doubt any of you are reading this, but if any of you are…quit celebrating this as some big victory for you all and claiming that “you called this”. None of you called THIS. Sure, you might have expected the team to digress during the regular season (as did I), and you figured they would fight for a playoff spot. Were any of you calling this when the team looked so good two weeks ago? No, you weren’t, so shut up. I know so many of you want to prove the media wrong. I’m with you! Such a large majority of the people in the media have no business having the voice they have and refuse to put in the work that many of us who blog and dig deeper do. But just because the Oilers have been a train wreck this season doesn’t mean you won or have proven anything. Keep your heads down and keep doing the great work that most of you do, quit looking to make it a fight. Maybe then you’ll start getting the respect you deserve, because as a guy who appreciates analytics but doesn’t think they’re the end all be all, I want to like you guys. But many of you make it damn near impossible to do so.
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