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Game Time: 9:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, CITY, CBC, SportsNet, SN360, WGN-AM 720
Which One Of My Garbage Sons Are You?: Flames Nation, Matchsticks & Gasoline

So coming into this Western Canadian swing of five games, the Hawks were probably going to need three regulation wins to keep themselves reasonably fighting for a wild card spot in the west. To this point they have gotten exactly zero points in the first three games, so tonight in Calgary and tomorrow back in Winnipeg are absolute must wins. Generally those go about as well for the Hawks as hoping an unattended dog doesn’t eat a burger off the kitchen counter, but they’re going to play them anyway.

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Matt Henderson is one of the writers at Oilersnation.com. You can follow him on Twitter @archaeologuy. 

So the Oilers finally got around to firing Peter Chiarelli. Is there genuine hope now? Or is the fear he may have broken this thing beyond repair? What can a new GM conceivably do immediately?
Hope is hard to kill and the Oilers still have McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH, and Klefbom. It’s not many pieces, but the high end talent is there. I don’t think the team is broken beyond repair, however, it’s going to take a lot of work to remove the anchors that Chia added. Russell and Lucic make up $10M on the Cap and they’re 3rd pairing/line quality at best. The new GM needs to start finding reasonable talent on the wings and a right shot defender to keep Bouchard pushed down the order.
Did Cam Talbot simply die of exhaustion?
I wish I could reasonably explain goalies. They’re weird. I don’t think it’s exhaustion. At least not from playing. His twins were born and his game disappeared. My guess is the changes to his life have more to do with the erosion of his play than because he played too many games. It’s jut a guess though. Goalies are Voodoo.
We always ask about him, because we were fascinated by what he could be, but what has Darnell Nurse looked like under Ken Hitchcock? Is he just never going to be the world-altering beast we thought?
I don’t think he’ll be a world altering beast, but he’s played reasonably well under Hitchcock. Because Klefbom has been hurt it’s forced him into the PP and he’s been picking up points at a solid rate. He has better tools than a lot of players. He’s a plus skater and has a mean streak. I think he’ll be a great 2nd pairing defender. I don’t think that’s a knock on him. If he wants to take the next step he needs to keep working on his outlet passing. He usually skates it out but if the passing improves he could unlock that next level.
What’s the deal with Jesse Puljujarvi? The Oilers seem intent on keeping him in the AHL but Oilers fans tend to think he’s getting screwed a bit. 
I’m a big Jesse Puljujarvi fan. He’s a bit like Nurse in that he has unreal physical tools. The Oilers unquestionably screwed up with his development. He never should have seen regular NHL time until this season but the Oilers started the clock on his ELC and his UFA status when he was 18. He ought to have been in the AHL playing 18-22 minutes a night in a top line role learning how to be an offensive difference maker in North America. He has some bad habits that need to be fixed like shooting from way too far out on the rush, but he also has solid defensive awareness. I can’t tell you what his ceiling is anymore, but I think he can still turn into a solid top-six winger.
How does this all play out? Do the Oilers make a deal at the deadline and make the playoffs? Or just more a mess?
Anything can happen, but I fail to see how this team makes the playoffs. If they are trading at the deadline it should be as sellers. If they can move salary from next year out while keeping that small core intact then that’s a huge plus. This team is closer to Jack Hughes than they are being a legit playoff team. If that changes then something miraculous happened.

 

Game #54 Preview Suite

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 vs 
Game Time: 5:00PM
TV/Radio: WGN Ch. 9, NHL Network, Sportsnet 1, WGN-AM 720
53rd Parallel: Copper & Blue, Oilers Nation

It’s a slightly earlier start tonight on West Madison to accomodate the western Canadian audiences as the Hawks welcome Connor McDavid and his merry band of pranksters into the UC for their only visit of the year, with both teams capping off a three-in-four weekend stretch yet again, with all of the Oil’s games coming on the road.

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That’s all we can say. We had to go through several layers of security to get to him, and then found ourselves in a strange location we would not be able to identify. But he seemed to know what he was talking about, so we went with it. Follow him on Twitter @thescottlewis.

With all the noise about the Oilers, and the constant, fair criticisms of their wingers, how does the fact they may have horribly whiffed on Jesse Puljujarvi get missed?
 
If we flashback to the night of the 2016 Draft, the Oilers landing Puljujarvi at No. 4 was viewed as something of a steal at the time. People were busy laughing at the Blue Jackets taking Dubois with the third pick, which has turned out to be a fine selection for them. In a perfect world for the Oilers, they would be trotting out Matthew Tkachuk or Mikhail Sergachev on a nightly basis right now… but it’s the Oilers, so here we are. I’m not ready to close the door on Puljujarvi quite yet, so I’ll chalk it up to another case of management shitting the bed on development. He might still be something. Maybe. Hopefully. Probably not!
 
Is playing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on a wing really a solution? Because it leaves them short at center. Or is this a “cover your head, your feet are cold, cover your feet your head is cold” kind of situation?
 
Personally, I’d love to see him back at center full-time. BUT… he’s producing and his possession totals are looking pretty good so far. It’s definitely a patch job by the coaching staff, so it would be ideal to address the personnel shortage up front sooner than later if this team is to be taken seriously. We’re taking them seriously, right?
 
People seem to be coming for Leon Draisaitl, because he’s not playing with McDavid anymore. Yet he had the same season last year as the one before where he exclusively played with Run CMD, and is a point per game this year. We missing something?
 
To me, the criticism of Draisaitl is a product of his $8.5-million cap hit. He’s proving capable of carrying his own line, even if the possession metrics are pretty ugly so far this season. Canadian blowhards get worked up very easily when a player gets paid, but it’s hard to argue with the production so far. McDavid-Draisaitl ain’t going to be Crosby-Malkin or even Tavares-Matthews, but it’s as good a 1-2 punch you need when No. 1 is Run CMD.
Was it premature to toss that kind of money at Draisaitl right away? Yes. Was it even in the top-5 of GM Peter Chiarelli’s worst decisions since taking over? Nope. Let the kids play and hope you can alleviate the coming cap crunch by sending Milan Lucic to live on a farm in rural Alberta.
 
Our yearly Darnell Nurse update, please. 
 
I soured on Nurse early in his career and didn’t see a whole lot last season to convince me he was ever going to become the player that Hockey Men continued to project him to be. He’s played over 27 minutes in a couple games so far this season, and in my opinion played his best game of the season in the Oilers’ 4-1 win over the Capitals Thursday night. So there’s that.
He’ll turn 24 this season, so it’s becoming less and less likely we’re going to see a huge step forward. At $3.2 million through next season, his ability to command a big raise will be tied to the club’s success. Bottom line, the Oilers need some pieces to improve, and given the fact that a lot of GMs still evaluate players like the old scouts sitting around the table in Moneyball, Nurse might be the Oilers best trade chip.
 
Ryan Strome will probably never live down being traded for Jordan Eberle. But moving to a third line center role at least sees him crushing it possession-wise so far this year. Maybe this is where he belongs?
 
Strome deserves a break on the Eberle chat, simply because that was a Chiarelli crime. It’s doubly frustrating having listened to GMPC cry about the club’s lack of wingers last season after he traded one of the best players in the league with Taylor Hall and a good second-line guy like Eberle. That said, Strome has looked decent in a third-line role while producing absolutely nothing to this point. Some semblance of production would be nice.

 

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I usually don’t get into the whaling about wasting the career of a generational talent. Connor McDavid will hardly be the first truly great player to not get to play in too many games that matter. This list could go forever. Off the top of my head: Dan Marino, Don Mattingly, Joey Votto, and Mike Trout will probably soon be on this list. Fuck, baseball fans don’t complain as loudly about Trout being on a go-nowhere team in a go-nowhere place, and Trout is like two of McDavids. BUT THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED.

Anyway, the Oilers continue to fuck up having the best player of his generation on their team through surrounding him with basically nothing, and that seems like it’s going to continue for another season. Let’s see just how desolate it is.

2017-2018: 36-40-6 76 points  234 GF 263 GA  50.6 CF% 50.8 xGF%  7.4 SH% .917 SV%

Goalies: So when the Oilers faked being a relevant team two years ago, it was basically because Cam And Magic Talbot was really good. .919 overall and a .927 at evens. And he did that while basically starting every game. But you can’t do that to a goalie these days. The game is too fast and takes too much effort. Sure, Grant Fuhr or Martin Brodeur could do it back in the day when your defense was allowed to tackle, rope, and suspend any forward coming through the neutral zone from the rafters without a penalty. You had to make 25 low-pressure saves a night. Not so much anymore.

Talbot paid for that workload last year. He still made 67 starts but dipped to a .908 SV% overall and a .916 at evens. Talbot also saw his medium-danger and high-danger chance SV% drop, perhaps because he was just a tick slower than what he’d been in the past.

And Talbot is 31 now, so it’s not really clear how he’s going to bounce back from 140 combined starts the past two years. 31 isn’t past it as a goalie, but with that workload it just might be.

Backing him up is KHL refugee Mikko Koskinen, who spent the past four seasons backstopping what was clearly the best team in Russia in St. Petersburg. The numbers there are ok to good, but he’s going from a superior team in that league to being behind Kris Russell and Adam Larsson. At least the climate of Edmonton will be familiar to him. Seriously, why would you leave Russia for somewhere just as cold? That’s bad advice right there.

Defense: And this is obviously where the problems start. The Oilers were able to get Darnell Nurse into camp on a two-year bridge deal, so they don’t have that headache. On the flip side, as much as we love his potential and have pined for him on the Hawks for about four years now, he still hasn’t proven to be much more than a second-pairing guy yet. The foot-in-the-ass-of-the-world mercenary that he at times flashes hasn’t materialized full-time yet.

Which leaves the Oilers without a top-pairing d-man. Larsson will never live down “THE TRADE IS ONE-FOR-ONE,” which really has nothing to do with him. He’s a sort of fine middle-pairing guy. So is Matthew Benning. So’s Oscar Klefbom. Kris Russell is a fine second pairing guy on your beer league team. It’s not a complete disaster here but it’s far from good either. There are puck-movers and I suppose if Todd McLellan were inclined he could get-up-and-go through Klefbom, Nurse, and Benning, But his style has always been more conservative than that, and this unit just isn’t going to suppress chances enough to get away with it.

Forwards: Well, in theory this would be the best center-depth in the division. It’s really hard to better McDavid-Draisaitl-RNH down the middle. But the Oilers are so bereft at wing that they usually have to punt one of these guys to the top line wing spots so that Run CMD has anyone to pass to instead of seeing Milan Lucic‘s ogre-gape 50 feet behind him. They’ve added Tobias Rieder and Ty Rattie to the ranks, which is like seasoning your food with compressed air. The best winger on this team might seriously be Drake Caggiula. I don’t know what to tell you. This is a team with the best player in the league and we have to say they’re not going to score enough. How’s that even possible?

Outlook: McLellan generally gets the most out of what he has, though his offensive strategy is a bit boring and plain. It’s a lot of blasts from the point. In a division with the Sharks and Knights and possibly a spikier Flames team, the Oilers need to get out and run, basically. McDavid will get his 100+, Draisaitl will be really good, and RNH will continue to score points no one cares about.

But much like the local outfit, there’s a lot of ifs here. If Talbot can regain the form of two years ago, and if two or more of their young d-men make a huge leap, and if one of their wingers pops off for no reason other than the sense of humor of the gods, the Oilers can scratch out a wildcard spot in a bad division. But they need all of those, and that’s a big ask.

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We make a lot of fun of Peter Chiarelli here… so let’s do it some more! One aspect of building a team these days that seems to get overlooked is a backup goalie. Teams really need to have one that they can trust with 20-25 starts, or get them out of a stretch if a starter were to get hurt, because the days of goalies being able to carry 75 starts and then four rounds of playoff wins are behind us. Quite simply, teams need to find a backup goalie who can “take the ball.”

The Oilers have ignored this, and now may have something of a multi-year problem on their hands. Unless the acquisition of Al “Some Guy In Bensenville Beat Him Like A Rented Goalie At Rat” Montoya works out gangbusters.

Cam Talbot started 73 games last year. And he was pretty good, with a .927 at evens and a .919 overall. Certainly better than the Oilers have gotten in net for a long time. But those 73 starts clearly took a toll, as Talbot’s SV% has dropped to .905 this year and .922 at evens, with his shorthanded mark falling off a cliff that fell off another cliff, from .874 last year to .800 this year.

It’s not a new phenomena, and some goalies have been able to handle that kind of workload for a few years. Talbot’s 73 starts were the 14th highest total in the past 10 years. The most were Martin Brodeur’s matching 77 starts in ’07-’08 and then ’09-’10. In the middle of those, Brodeur got hurt and missed 40 games, and he never approached a .920 SV% again. Then again, Brodeur was already in his mid-30s at this point, where Talbot is only 30 now.

Evgeni Nabokov started 71 games in ’09-’10 for the Sharks at 34 and was never the same. Ryan Miller made 76 appearances at 24 and was able to have excellent seasons after, but never made more than 69 appearances again after that. Mikka Kiprusoff made more than 70 appearances for the first time at age 29, much like Talbot, and again at 30, and then was terrible for two seasons before regaining form at 33, all while making 70+ appearances. Marty Turco made his first 70+ appearance season at 28, and then was awful the next season before rebounding for a couple more. Cam Ward made his only 70+ appearance season in 2011, and he’s never been the same.

Jonas Hiller, much like Talbot, took a while to wrestle a full-time starting gig of his own. He got it in ’11-’12 with the Ducks, made 73 starts at 29. He never started more than 50 games again and had only one more season of an above-average save-percentage after that. On the other side, Braden Holtby made 73 appearances three seasons ago, and then won a Vezina the next season. Jonathan Quick made 70+ appearances in 2015 at 29, missed all of last year, and is now once again have a plus-season.

So it goes both ways, but clearly handing someone around 30 that many starts when they haven’t consistently done it comes with great risk. And it’s just not something Cup-winners have done of late. Matt Murray played 49 games last year, and the year before that was a late-season call-up. Corey Crawford has never started more than 60 games. Jonathan Quick played 49 and 69 games in the Kings’ two Cup years. Tim Thomas played 57 games. Antti Niemi didn’t even become the starter until March. Marc-Andre Fleury made 57 starts.

The Oilers almost certainly don’t have to worry about this this year, as getting into the playoffs is going to be a minor miracle. But this is clearly something they’re going to need to figure out for next year.

 

Game #41 Preview

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BaggedMilk is one of the freaks, very cold freaks, at OilersNation.com. Follow him on Twitter @SBMBaggedMilk. We asked him the same questions as we asked Scott Lewis last week. 

Let’s start with something nice and simple. Why do the Oilers blow chunks?
How much time do you have? The biggest problem (and it’s not close) is that their special teams are a complete and utter disaster. Their PK is on pace to be historically bad, and their power play would be about as effective if they all laid down on the ice and cried for two minutes. Neither of those things make any sense either because their special teams were decent last year, but that’s where we’re at. Happy day.
It seems like the Oilers are finally letting Draisaitl play center full-time. How do they solve their winger crisis? 
Find a better GM that actually knows what he’s doing in terms of evaluating NHL talent? Can I say that? I mean, the guy traded away virtually all of the scoring wingers on the roster to lay down bets on unproven players, so I don’t know how that problem can be rectified if Chiarelli is going to continuously shoot himself in the foot. The dude seems to love making his own job harder and the idea of him actually fixing a problem without creating another is almost a pipe dream.
What dumbass(es) are they going to end up trading Nugent-Hopkins for?
How dare you even put that out into the universe!? Shame on you. He’s just a child. But seriously, though, I’ve been calling the hopefully-never-gonna-but-probably-will-happen Nugent-Hopkins trade #OperationBrownBananas all season because you just know that if he does actually get moved that it will be for some plug like Cal Clutterbuck or some other corpse from Boston or any other equally annoying return. Why? Because Chiarelli loves cheap grit — That’s why. For some reason, Peter Chiarelli likes to trade skilled guys for bags of empties, and another blown one-for-one deal almost seems more like a foregone conclusion. All I can really hope for is that he either gets fired before doing something dumb or that someone takes his phone and throws it in the ocean because the Oilers are way better off with RNH in their lineup than without him.
Is Darnell Nurse closer to being the new Chris Pronger that we’ve always hoped he’d be?
Whoa, whoa, pump the breaks there, big fella. I’m a big Nurse guy too but I think that he’s still a few trips around the sun away from being anywhere close to Chris Pronger’s ballpark. That said, the guy has made some huge steps forward with his game, this season. He’s defending well, moves the puck effectively, and has played some big minutes. If he can keep progressing then the Oilers could have something special there, but they have to make sure to have some patience with him. Right now, he’s able to handle the tough minutes with no real pressure but if the Oilers dump a truckload of expectations on him then he could be the next Justin Schultz that crumbles under the pressure here only to flourish somewhere else. I have high hopes for Darnell Nurse, but it’s also going to take some time to get there.
The Oilers are eight points out of a playoff spot? Could they save themselves?
I’d donate a nut to the cause if meant the Oilers could make up those extra points. The honest answer is that I have no idea. There are games when the Oilers look like world beaters and others when they look like a team that should be relegated. When the Oilers are on their game, they can be very good. When they’re not, then we all pray that Connor can save us. So can they make the playoffs? Yes, they can. The real question is whether or not they can keep their heads out of their asses consistently enough to make that happen.

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 at 

Game Time: 8:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, Various SportsNet Affiliates, WGN-AM 720
Peter Pocklington’s Hairpiece: Copper N Blue, Oilers Nation

With no time to mull over whatever the fuck that was last night in Vancouver, the Hawks stay in Western Canada and head to its northern reaches in Edmonton, where they find an Oilers squad in a similar situation to themselves, with their season still stuck in second gear as well.

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If the Leafs are going to be the annoying bandwagon team in the East, whose fanbase will be the constant drone of the season as they try and flagellate themselves as publicly as possible, then the Oilers are going to be that in the West. They won their first playoff round in 10 years last year, and probably should have beaten the Ducks in the second round. It won’t take people long to point out that Toews and Kane won a Cup in their third season, and that Crosby was in a Final in his third. The training wheels are off Run CMD and the boys. It’s basically June or bust for them. Unfortunately for them, their dumbass GM may have put too many roadblocks in their way. Or more to the point, behind them on defense.

Edmonton Oilers

’16-’17 Record: 47-26-9  103 points (2nd in Pacific, out in 2nd round to ANA)

Team Stats 5v5: 49.9 CF% (18th)  51.0 SF% (9th)  49.7 SCF% (19th)  8.2 SH% (9th)  .927 SV% (7th)

Special Teams: 22.8 PP% (5th)  80.7 PK% (17th)

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Box Score
Natural Stat Trick

By now the stats have been beaten into the ground, that teams coming of the newly mandated bye week are like 3-948-3, and naturally the Hawks fell victim to it themselves, and in doing so snapped a 5 game winning streak, all of which came on the road. But while they lost another winnable game on home ice as their chances for the division rapidly evaporate, the main fear was that they would look disinterested or lethargic, and that was anything but the case.