Hockey

Due to the decade-plus-long streak of Red Wings exceptionalism, it was just a given that Ken Holland was a genius who prolonged the mid-90s dominance constructed by Jimmy Devellano by unearthing gems like Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. And yeah, that’s quite a foursome to back up the free-spending ways of the Bowman Years.

As time went along, it appeared more and more that Holland simply kept Forrest Gump’ing his way into great players, and as the cap took more and more hold of the league, he simply couldn’t adjust. There were some hideous contracts handed out (Frans Nielsen and Trevor Daley, hello!), while the pipeline went dry for years (remember when Tomas Jurco was going to change the sport forever?). That core that ran the league in the mid-to-late 2000s got old and had not support. And then it all collapsed, and the Wings are still trying to get out from under it. Some began to wonder what Holland’s actual legacy was. Was he just born on third in Detroit?

We’ll find out now, because for some reason Holland decided to take on one of the few bigger messes than Detroit in the NHL, and that’s the Edmonton Oilers.

Perhaps like a couple coaches have, the allure and glow of Connor McDavid is just too strong to ignore. Perhaps the name-recognition of Holland in the sport delays any inklings McDavid might have of demanding out (they have to be there, right?). Or maybe it’s just the truckload of cash dropped at his door. Whatever the reason, Holland is certainly up to the knee in it now.

One thing Holland might be hoping is that simply not being Peter Chiarelli buys him a season or two to assemble a couple more draft picks. The Oilers only hope is to get production out of players on minimal deals to offset the shovelful of horseshit they’re getting from some of their higher-paid players.

Salvation might not be as far away as everyone likes to joke. The Oilers only have McDavid, RNH, Draisaitl, Neal, Chiasson, Klefbom, Russell, Koskinen signed for next year, though they only have $23M in space to fill some 13-14 spaces. The only player they are likely to want to keep is Darnell Nurse, but his play has hardly warranted paying him like the angry Seth Jones we thought he might become a year or two ago. Perhaps Phillip Broberg and Evan Bouchard can join the blue line for cheap help in the next couple seasons. Then again, Broberg was Holland’s first pick and was widely panned. Tigers can’t change their stripes, after all.

Which continued the tradition of what Holland had done in Detroit. Over his last nine drafts in Motor City, after they had stopped picking in the high-20s due to on-ice success, Holland provided only Anathasiou. Mantha, Larkin, and (if we squint) Tyler Bertuzzi. There’s some hope for Svechnikov and Hronek, but needless to say no jury is anywhere close to being back from lunch on them. Without reinforcements from within, all the while swearing that they were just overcooking in Grand Rapids, the Red Wings main roster aged and expensed its way out of competence.

One way to goose the process would be to find a trade, but the Oilers don’t have much to make a splash with. Draisaitl and McDavid are immovable and you’d never get fair value for them anyway. The window to move Ryan Nugent-Hopkins along might very well have passed. He has one more year on his deal after this one before hitting unrestricted free agency, and he’ll only be 27, so the time would be at this deadline. Waiting until the offseason will only lower his value. But then the Oilers would have to find another center or winger to make up for Draisaitl moving back to his natural pivot spot. It’s going to have to be more than Kailer Yamomoto, that’s for sure.

While it would be un-hockey-like, there must be a ticking clock hanging over McDavid as well. If any player could pull an NBA-style “Get Me The Fuck Outta Here” power move, it’s Run CMD. He’s seen the playoffs once in five seasons and patience must be thin. If Holland hasn’t presented something of a plan to his captain, he’s going to have to soon.

Holland needs at least one more year of high picks though, and maybe collecting a few more by selling off whatever’s not tied down. Except there isn’t anything. What would be worth anything at the deadline? Kassian? Maybe Benning? Those are worth low-round picks at best. RNH to someone desperate might be his only hope.

Does Holland have the patience for a slow burn that he didn’t show in Detroit until it was too late? Does he have the luxury considering what McDavid’s mood might be? We’ll see what he’s made of now.

Hockey

And now this disaster. I was thinking earlier this morning that there really isn’t a parallel to the Oilers wasting one of the best players of all-time for years, but of course there is. It’s the Anaheim Angels. Mike Trout appeared in the playoffs once, and his team has been weighed down by incredibly bad contracts and journeymen and kids who were never up to it. And the same goes for Connor McDavid. Other than Leon Draisaitl, they’ve been surrounded be either old trash or kids that just haven’t popped the way it was thought (looking at you directly, Darnell Nurse). And this season doesn’t look to be any different. We can only hope this is the one where McDavid snaps and demands a trade midseason or in the summer, to give us some proper drama.

Let’s get through it together:

2018-2019

35-38-9  79 points (6th in Pacific)

2.79 GF/G (20th)  3.30 GA/G (25th)  -42 GD

47.9 CF% (25th)  46.6 xGF% (26th)

21.2 PP% (9th)  74.8 PK% (30th)

Goalies: Sweet Jesus God. As we said with the Flames preview yesterday, the two Alberta teams pulled an indirect goalie switch, with Mike Smith, his .900 SV%, and his cantankerous nature landing behind an even worse defense than the one he had in Calgary that had him throwing whatever he could fit under the bus. Won’t his go well? Smith had a promising playoff performance while under constant carpet-bombing from the Avalanche, but that won’t be a worry here. Though the carpet-bombing might be. Smith is also 37, and I guess the hope here is that being reunited with coach Dave Tippett will help them rekindle the sporadic and greatly overblown success they had in Arizona. Good luck.

Backing him up is Mikko Koskinen, who earned a three-year extension from Peter Chiarelli, which must have been the last straw as Chiarelli was fired the very next day. Which might lead one to ask how you’re letting a GM you want to shitcan sign anyone to an extension, but keep in mind EdMo is where logic freezes and then is pissed on for sport. Koskinen’s .906 last year really inspired the masses, and as he’s 31 now there’s little reason to think it’s going to get much better. Sure, Tippett can batten down the hatches and try and create trench after trench in front of him. But with this outfit, what would that matter. Fun fun fun!

Defense: The “definition of insanity” quote isn’t actually real. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results just makes you the Oilers. So once again, these clowns are going to roll out Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning, and even Brandon Manning, and then be truly perplexed why McDavid is bringing a machete to the dressing room that he keeps sharpening and whispering something about the time of purification being at hand.

Nurse just has never blossomed into the atom-smashing, puck-moving loudmouth he promised as a junior, and is basically just kinda there. Klefbom, while allowing for a bunch of Tom Jones jokes, is just an ok possession-driver. Larsson is great at putting all his equipment on. The rest you know. They must hope Evan Bouchard can stick this time, though he seems to be a bit of a plodder and will need to quicken up to be effective at this level. Ethan Bear is going to keep Bouchard in the AHL for now, along with something called Joel Persson, because you always want to trust 25-year-olds making their NHL debut to really impact your roster. The hope must be for Bouchard to bludgeon the AHL for half of a season and then be up.

Forwards: Zack Kassian is going to be on McDavid’s line. I don’t know what more I have to say.

Once again, the Oilers will keep having the debate of whether Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins should play center or be moved to McJesus’s wing to give him any talent to play with, and once again there really won’t be a right answer. They’ve reassembled the bad parts of the 2015 Wings with Riley Sheehan and Tomas Jurco here, and remember that Wings team sucked. James Neal escaped his hell in Calgary to stand still and fire here with whatever passes McDavid or Draisaitl can get him. Which should actually work for 20-25 goals or so.

Sam Gagner has come home again, even though you were pretty sure he was dead. Tippett will find a way to keep Kailer Yamamoto off this roster, even though it could use all the dash it can find.

Prediction: This is where I’m supposed to say that Tippett will tighten things up and at least lower their goals against to keep them competitive for a while. But Ken Hitchcock couldn’t do it, and that’s all he does. And Todd McLellan is no idiot and he couldn’t either. Even if you trusted the goalies, which you shouldn’t, the defense has no top pairing player anywhere. Maybe if Tippet is finally the one to unlock Nurse, things could improve. But how many coaches is it going to take?

Tippett surely isn’t known for getting max scoring out of a team, and this team was short on scoring even with McClavicle, RNH, and Leon The Ladies Man. They still think Kassian can do anything. Neal might pop for a few goals, but not enough. They’re simply miles behind Calgary, Vegas, and San Jose, and you can’t see them running with any wildcard contender either. It’s another lost season up in EdMo, barring some miracle.

Save yourself, Connor. No one else here will.

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 20-24-9   Oilers 23-24-5

PUCK DROP: 8pm

TV: WGN

EdMo Dee: Oilers Nation

The Hawks conclude this post-break, three-game road trip in the NHL’s “Beyond The Wall,” the hellscape that is Edmonton, Alberta (I assume). And when I say hellscape, I really mean the team that you’ll find there. Though a city that cold can’t have that much going on, no matter how much oil money flows or freezes in the streets. I’m sure the Hawks will thank the schedule makers for a five-day trip that spans three timezones and a collective temperature of “go fuck yourself.”

You may have heard about the Oilers, Biggest laughingstock in the league, despite having two more points than the Hawks. If the Hawks were to win tonight most Oilers fans would take being level on points with them as rock-bottom, just to give you a clear vision of what the Hawks are right now. Have the best player in the league as well, these Oilers. Can’t seem to make that count. Recently fired their addled GM two years too late. Now everyone is waiting with giddy excitement to see what drunken, near-sighted clown they hire next. He’ll almost assuredly have played on the Oilers in the 80s, because the one time they tried not to do that they ended up with Peter Chiarelli and his bent vision of reality, which basically involved whatever signing caused him to grab his groin aggressively. So clearly they have to go back to what didn’t work before. God bless this organization.

On the ice, the Oilers have center-depth and literally nothing else. Run CMD, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are by far their three leading scorers, and at various times this season have played with each other. Now they’re all back at their natural center positions, but when you look at what surrounds them it’s enough to make your food turn septic in your digestive track.

Milan Lucic is “skating” with McDavid, except you can’t call what Lucic does skating anymore so much as “thrashing about as the air currents push him ever so slightly.” Alex Chiasson is a second-line winger. Jujhar Khaira and Zack Kassian are somehow on a NHL third-line together instead of loading up on Skittles at a truck-stop somewhere during an AHL bus ride. “Putrid” doesn’t even come close to starting to describe this, and now you know why they are where they are. They’ve broken Jesse Puljujarvi, if he was anything to begin with, and he’s skating with Kyle Brodziak and Brad Malone in a chilling vision of what the future as a tomato can will look like.

It’s not any better on the back end. This is a team that traded FOR Brandon Manning, remember. And he plays. Adam Larsson is parading around the top pairing with a Kings castoff. Darnell Nurse will occasionally flash the modern-Pronger bit we thought he was destined for, and then remembers he’s spent almost all of his career with Kris Russell and retreats into sadness done in blue and orange again. Andrej Sekera wanders the arena looking for whatever fell off of him this week. It’s bleak.

And when the Oilers have threatened to be good in the past, it was because Cam And Magic Talbot could bail them out. He hasn’t this year, and this is where they are. They’re trusting Mikko Koskinen, a 30-year-old whose flights got crossed up and ended up signing here from the KHL rather than try and figure out how to rebook. In Chiarelli’s final act of lunacy, he re-signed Koskinen for three years to kind of just stand there, which is what he does. But his .908 is better than Talbot’s .893.

The Oilers tried to salvage this by hiring Ken Hitchcock midseason, because his track record of success is so blaring over the past 12 years. They’ve gone 14-14-4 with Hitch, a massive improvement over the 9-10-1 they managed with Todd McLellan. You know it’s bad when Hitch is longing for Jay Bouwmeester and Alex OrangeJello again. He gave up his Civil War reading for this?

This is maybe the biggest mess in the league, and whatever stooge they install as GM is going to find it nearly impossible to extricate. There’s barely any money coming off the books in the summer, really only Talbot’s $4M+ hit. And this team has no wingers. Lucic is in Seabrook territory at this point, and Kris Russell isn’t far behind. That is if the Oilers were inclined to move Russell, but they still seem oddly infatuated with him, mostly to sneer at most of the hockey world pointing out he sucks.

And really, that’s all the Oilers have been for nearly three decades now. Most of the hockey world has been pointing out they suck since 1991, and they still point and gloat about five Cups won before most of you could form a sentence. They’re convinced that run that started 35 years ago still makes them ahead of the game and won’t hear otherwise. This organization has accomplished exactly dick since their glory days, save one goofed Final appearance the first year of the lockout when nothing made sense and is something Chris Pronger clearly erased from his memory (the Blues traded him for Eric Brewer, by the way. Take a moment to think about that).

Anyway, tonight’s challenge is simple enough. Hitch will throw McDavid out against Keith and Seabrook as often as he can, unless he still thinks it’s 2013, and he might. Failing that, Forsling and Gustafsson will be similarly tortured. If the Hawks can somehow keep McJesus on a leash, they should have a good chance at this one. The Oilers recently gave up four power play goals in a game, so the Hawks’ PP should barely be able to keep from slobbering when they get their chance.

As for the Hawks, no word yet on who starts but one would hope Delia gets wheeled back out there. Ward’s had two decent starts in a row though and we know Coach Cool Youth Pastor will shit himself if he has to tell any veteran other than Chris Kunitz anything bad, so you never know. Perlini should stay in ahead of Kunitz, but that’s about it.

As we said at the weekend, the schedule is pretty shitty now, so if the Hawks are insistent on chasing playoff spots that don’t really matter, this is where they’ll make their run. With the Canucks and Wings at home next, they could actually put together a substantial winning streak. Then again, this is just about the same outfit that got worked by the Wings at home last year. The Hawks have lost to the Oilers twice already this season, but hey, they’re both under .500 so maybe they’re not good enough to beat anyone three times.

We’re in this together.

 

Game #54 Preview Suite

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You’d think if a team somehow hoarded three of the top five picks of any draft year, you’d have a real peach of a team. Hell, even two should do it. That’s what the Sharks did for years with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton who were the #1 and #2 picks in the same draft. But then again, leave it to the Oilers to collect top-five picks from a draft that pretty much sucked. So the Oilers are left with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, and Ryan Strome, and that silly look on their face they’ve had for north of 20 years. Also, the latter two cost them top-10 picks from other drafts, and who were unquestionably better players.

It’s not RNH’s fault he was taken at the top of the 2011 draft. He was the best player in a weak crop. It’s not even the Oilers’ fault. They had the top pick, and they took what was best available. Looking back through it, the best player in that draft turned out to probably be Dougie Hamilton, but you couldn’t get too many sheets of paper between him and anyone else, likely Mark Scheifele. And no one was saying Scheifele or Hamilton should go #1 in that draft at the time. Does anyone trade a #1 pick anymore? Maybe there’s a lesson there.

And Nugent-Hopkins has been fine. More than fine, really. He’s put up solid #2 center numbers pretty much his entire career. Never less than 43 points, never more than 56. On a really good team, which he’s never seen, that’s probably a third center. For the Oilers, it’s been a second, which tells you a lot, and until McJesus showed up a #1 center, which tells you more.

The Oilers probably missed their window to sell high on RNH, if they ever realized he would never live up to his #1 pick billing. That window certainly closed when they handed him $6M over seven years after his entry-level deal expired. But what do you do? You’ve taken this guy #1, McDavid wasn’t anywhere near the scene yet, and you have to look like you know what you’re doing somewhat. We said, “somewhat.”

And now the Oilers are on the brink of making that $6M look very economical, despite themselves, which we have to believe means it was on accident. After handing Leon Draisaitl a huge deal last year, the Oilers knew they pretty much had two #2 centers, and one center who would be far too expensive to be anchoring a third line. Draisaitl is getting the bigger paycheck, so they’ve left him to work out the more valuable role, behind Run CMD. Which means for the first time in his NHL career, Nugent-Hopkins is on a wing. And he seems to be taking to it.

RNH has 13 points in 11 games running with McDavid, as just about anyone would (though the Oilers keep finding players who somehow can’t, a true miracle). He’s never been anything close to a point-per-game as a center, but in that range is the buy-in for a half-decent winger with the best player in the game.

This could work out well for all parties. If RNH were to put up 60 or 70 points this year, that’s well worth $6 million a year. For the two years the Oilers have left to pay him, they would think that’s a good deal. It also might look attractive to other teams, who won’t see much past the point-total and the salary and perhaps not the factors that led to it. After all, very few teams can put a winger with a center anywhere near the quality of McDavid. There’s like three others, maybe. So get ready for an RNH-Kessel trade this summer or something.

It also works out for RNH. He will hit the UFA market at the age of 28 in the summer of 2021, though under a new CBA. After a couple years with McDavid who knows what his numbers could look like, and he can advertise being able to play both wing and center. That’s assuming he doesn’t cash in with the Oilers themselves, but free agents at 28 are still something of a rarity in the NHL. A raise from his current $6M per year should be a kip.

Nugent-Hopkins never turned into the franchise-shifting center a #1 pick suggests. But he was in a year where someone had to have that label. After all this time, both he and the Oilers may finally be maximizing their value to each other.

 

Game #14 Preview Suite

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I Make A Lot Of Graphs

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Everything Else

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.

Game #41 Preview

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We here at FFUD Headquarters are a progressive bunch, or at least we’d like to think so. We think most traditions should be looked at if not outright eliminated. Just because you’ve always done something one way is not a reason to keep doing it if there’s a better way. Especially in hockey, where everything is grounded in Canadian backwoods mythology.

So we’re all for player numbers being more than just 1-35. But the Oilers have way too many fucking stupid numbers.

Look at these things. #91? Who the fuck are you, Drake Caggiula? You don’t get an identifying number. If you’re going above 80, you better know what the fuck you’re doing. 93? No wonder Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is overrated. His number doesn’t make any sense.

97? Yes, you may be the best player in the league Run CMD, but do you really want to wear the number that Jeremy Roenick wore when he got fat and shitty? 98? Even football players who wear 98 tend to be terrible, Jesse Puljujarvi. That’s a dumb hockey number that takes up too much space.

58? Only middle relievers wear 58, Anton Slepyshev! And who are you, anyway?

Yohan Auvitu, you do not get to wear #81. #81 is sleek and cool and intimidating. Marian Hossa gets to wear that. Tim Brown gets to wear that. Night Train Lane gets to wear that. You do not, whoever you are.

EIGHTY-THREE?! That’s stupid and clunky and so are you Matt Benning. You’re not Flipper Anderson! You’re not Willie Gault! Fuck you!

Brandon Davidson you don’t get #88. You have to be someone we can pick out of a lineup, sometimes literally, to wear that. Kiss our ass and call it a love story!

This is not like the Canadiens, where they have retired so many numbers that current players have to pick dumb numbers. Only seven have retired their numbers, and for some reason Glenn Anderson is one of them. There’s plenty to go around. RNH you wear #18 now. The rest of you… who cares? McDavid you wear 10. Messi wears 10. Great players wear 10. 97 looks silly.

Let Milan Lucic wear a stupid number, because he’s stupid. Put 57 on Patrick Maroon to match his clumsiness and uselessness. This has gone on long enough.

 

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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.

Everything Else

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)

Everything Else

250px-Ozymandias at ball-of-oil

Game Time: 8:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN, WGN-AM 720
Rear View Mirror: OilersNation

blackhawks-lineup-card

oilers-lineup-card

The times, they are a-changing in Edmonton. They’ve got a fancy new building wherein the lights are actually at full power and the benches are on the proper side of the ice, even if that ice is not as fast or as high a quality as that at Northlands/SkyReach/Rexall (sky point). They’re even trying the novel concept of having the puck more than the other team, which so far has yielded positive, if modest results.