Tuesday, August 30, 2016

5 Questions: Week 1

So  the Oilers website is doing this 5 questions in 5 weeks thing, where they talk about 5 important factors heading into the 2016/2017 season. And since I'm the kind of guy who can't go without talking some kind of hockey, I figured I'd throw my hat into the ring and give my thoughts on the subjects. So let's start with week 1.

 http://oilers.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=891194&navid=DL|EDM|home

Question 1. Will the defence be improved?

By the end of the regular season, the Oilers were allowing 2.95 goals against and 31.1 shots against per game (4 and 5 worst in the league, respectively). At his year end conferance, GM Peter Chiarelli made it no secret that the Oilers would go out and acquire a defenceman in the offseason. The Oilers quickly went out and did just that. They shopped the 4th overall pick in the 2016 draft to try and swoon other GM's, and they were even in the running to land PK Subban from the Montreal Canadiens. However a trade didn't come until June 29th when the Oilers traded Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenceman Adam Larsson.

This trade started a huge debate which is still raging today. While hockey fans agree that the Devils won the trade, the biggest concern is whether or not Adam Larsson is going to be the defenceman the Oilers need. After all, the guy was drafted 4th overall in 2011 and only had a breakout year last year. That being said, I've heard that Larsson is a great defensive defenceman and was certainly helping the Devils in that regard. However I do think the Oilers should've definitely gotten more for Taylor Hall

So the question now becomes, who is paired with Larsson? Oscar Klefbom is the answer to that question. For the past few years now, Klefbom has certainly been Edmonton's best defeneman. He's big, he moves the puck well, he has good hockey sense and best of all, he doesn't partake in the Oilers tradition of "Jultzing". Those two will most likely form Edmonton's top D-pairing and be a big shut-down contributor to Edmonton's team next season.

One pleasant surprise from the Oilers defence-core last season was the emergence of Brandon Davidson. This guy was drafted and properly developed by the Oilers and stepped into the NHL last year with great success. Yes his season was cut short, and yes I would've loved to have seen more from him, but I do think he handled himself pretty well last year and he definitely seems ready to go for this upcoming season. Plus that contract extension he received last year shows how confident Chiarelli and co. are in this guy.

Darnell Nurse was also another pleasant surprise for the Oilers last year. He showed his tough side and managed to shore up the back-end when injuries to Davidson, Klefbom, and Gryba occured. He was the proven defenceman that the Oilers drafted back in 2013 and it's good to see him developed properly. The only question mark that is existent with Nurse is whether or not he'll make the opening night roster. On that note, let's talk about Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle. Both were young and developming d-man that were thrust into prominent defensive roles with Edmonton when the injury bug hit the team. And I think they handled themsevles well. While both would've benefitted from more development with Bakersfield, they did show upswing and promise as future NHL defenceman. Both will have to compete with Nurse for that final opening nigh roster spot, so it could go to any of them.

And finally we have Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne. Let's start with Fayne. I think he did...Ok with the team last year. He's a right handed shot with makes him valuable to the team straight out, but I don't think he'll amount to anything more than a 3rd pairing guy who will be playing reduced minutes with the Oilers. At best, he's serviceable to the team and at worst, he'll be send back down to Bakersfield. Sekera was a bit of a question mark for me heading into the season last year. The Oilers inked him to a 6 year/$33 million contract last summer and his age indicated he woudln't be as good as he used to be. However he didn't alright for himself when he was playing sheltered minutes behind the rest of the Oilers defence. Once Davidson, Klefbom, Gryba and Ference got injured though, Sekera was required to play more minutes and he showed his age by being, well, not good. Like Fayne, he's a serviceable NHL defenceman who could thrive and excel on the 3rd pairing playing reduced minutes, but we'll see what McLellan does with him.

So the question still remains, will the defence be improved? I think so, yes. Now does that mean all of Edmonton's defensive woes are solved? No. However with the acquisition of Larsson + a healthy Klefbom and Davidson, the Oilers defense should be the best it's been in years. It was strong last year, and this year it should be stronger. If the Oilers can keep their d-men healthy for a significant portion of the season, the defense will massively improve the Oilers and help them push for a playoff spot this season.
http://oilers.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=891194&navid=DL|EDM|home

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why the Hall/Larsson trade...actually makes sense .

Before I begin, here is a physical representation of my reaction to the trade that sent Taylor Hall out of Edmonton (watch from 0:08 - 0:15)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdRX910Rk68&list=FLkhWQKMNRLV8AFw4SYt6vWQ&index=20

Like most Oilers fans (and hockey fans for that matter), I was losing it when I first heard this trade. Taylor Hall was personally one of my favorite players on the Oilers, he was one of the players Edmonton SHOULDN'T have traded, and history suggests that Hall would have an incredible career with the Devils. However when I finally came to accept that this trade happened and I started to dig a little bit deeper into it, I realized that the trade wasn't that bad, at least in terms of function. Let me explain.

First off, let me say this. This trade is absolutely terrible. They traded away a winger who scored 65 pts this past season (and ranks 3rd among left wingers in points, behind Alex Ovechkin and Jamie Benn) while Larsson has only mustered 69 points in 4 NHL seasons. Now granted, Hall is a high scoring forward and not a low scoring defenceman, but at the end of the day, this trade is just an absolute terrible deal whichever way you look at it.

But while the trade itself is terrible, the functionality of this trade makes sense. According to GeneralFanager.com, the Oilers currently have $13,288,835 in cap space. This figure takes into account the amount of cap freed from Hall's contract, but also the new money Edmonton will be paying Larsson for the next 5 seasons. This means that the Oilers now have the flexibility to extend the contracts of Leon Draisitl, Connor McDavid, Darnell Nurse, and Jesse Puljujarvi, once their ELC (entry level contracts) expire in the next three years (Draisitl's in 2017, McDavid's and Nurse's in 2018, Puljujarvi in 2019).

This trade also helps the Oilers address the defensive woes of the team, both in terms of beefing it up and adding another right handed shot defenceman. The Oilers only had three RHD last year, Clendenning, Fayne, Gryba. With Clendenning not recieving a qualifying sheet and Gryba still yet to be resigned, the Oilers only have 2 official RHD (Fayne and Larsson).

Another thing this trade did was show the fans of Edmonton that Chiarelli is deadly serious in making this team good again. At the end of the 2014/2015 season (before the PC was hired), MacT came out and said that Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Yakupov under any circumstances WERE NOT going to be traded. But with Chiarelli at the helm, and having had a full year to understand what the Oilers need, he's doing whatever he can to help the Oilers become a better team. He even said it himself. "This is the price you have to pay for defence." This trade was a statement. Chiarelli isn't afraid to trade one of Edmonton's young players, if it means helping the Oilers out.

Finally this trade, along the $13M cap space, gives Edmonton the chance to sign both Jason Demers and Milan Lucic on July 1st. Recall that both of them were in Edmonton on Tuesday talking to the Oilers management. Both have assests that the Oilers can use to great effect and signing them won't be easy (especially since Milan Lucic would be asking for top-dollar). This means that if the Oilers do sign both Demers and Lucic, they'll basically have traded Taylor Hall for Jason Demers, Adam Larsson, and Milan Lucic.

So yeah, this trade is as lopsided and stupid as stupid and lopsided trades go. The return isn't worth Hall and he's much more valuable to the Oilers than Larsson is, by their numbers alone. However when you really get into it, this trade ultimately makes sense and helps the Oilers to take the next step forward in making the playoffs and ultimately contending for the Stanley Cup. And who knows? Maybe Larsson will work out just fine and Chiarelli would've made a smart move here. But until then, we have no choice but to wait until July 1st and ultimately next season, to see if this trade paid off.

And with that, I bid farewell and good luck to Taylor Hall in New Jersey.

Hall traded to Devils for Larsson...:(

Remember when I talked about the Oilers drafting Puljujarvi and their top line could be Taylor Hall - Connor McDavid - Jesse Puljujarvi? Well that is no longer an option. Today, Peter Chiarelli traded LW Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for D Adam Larsson.

ARGH!!!!!!

Okay...just looking at this trade on the outside, it makes zero sense. Taylor Hall has scored more points in 1 season than Larsson has scored in his entire career. Hall was a left wing and an integral part of the Oilers rebuild.

But when you get into it, Larsson is a right handed shot defenceman and Edmonton needs those kinds of players. I already mentioned how Jason Demers (another RHD) was in Edmonton yesterday and so I think that this trade was done as a way to give Edmonton security should Demers NOT sign with the Oilers. Oh and it also gives them salary cap space to sign Lucic as well.

So what does this trade mean? Ultimately it means that Chiarelli is the GM and he isn't going to hold back when it comes to the first overall picks. Hall was a name that rarely came up in terms of trade (Nuge. Yak, or Ebs were the most common), and yet he is the first to go. What makes this sting even more is that Tyler Seguin went AFTER Hall in the 2010 draft and Chiarelli was GM of the Bruins when Seguin was traded to the Stars!

So much for Hall-McDavid-Puljujarvi...

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Milan Lucic and Jason Demers

Free agents Milan Lucic and Jason Demers met with the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday to discuss potentially signing with the team. Both players help to fill the needs of the Oilers as Edmonton is in need of a right handed shot defenseman and a strong physical player to give Edmonton size and grit.

If Edmonton signs Lucic, he will join Zack Kassian, Adam Cracknell, Adam Pardy, and Patrick Maroon as big bodied players that give the Oilers size. Demers, if signed, will help give a veteran prescence on Edmonton's blue line. He will also join Eric Gryba and Mark Fayne as a right handed shot defenseman, which Edmonton needs (especially since Adam Clendenning wasn't issued an qualifying offer by Edmonton).

Free agency opens on Friday July 1st, so Edmonton won't be able to sign anyone until then. Hopefully PC can work out some sort of deal to acquire both Lucic and Demers or one of the two.

Update:

http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/milan-lucic-denies-reached-agreement-oilers/

I don't know...he kind of looks like Shane from the Walking Dead out there. But in all seriousness, I'm not sure what to think of this. One part of me thinks that the Oilers won't be able to actually sign him, because of what he is asking versus what Edmonton can afford. However the other part of me just thinks is the having people put doubt into their mind until July 1st when an official announcement is actually made. Personally for me? PLEASE SIGN DEMERS!!!!

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Oilers Draft Puljujarvi

So this past weekend saw the 2016 NHL Entry Draft commence and then finish up. Natrually the Oilers used their picks and came away with drafting 9 prospects (4 forwards, 4 defencemen and 1 goalie). And the drafting for Edmonton started off with the Oilers using their 4th overall selection to draft Finnish winger Jesse Puljujarvi. This was completely unexpected. From what I gathered/read into, Puljujarvi was going to be top 3 behind Austin Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Patrik Laine (Winnipeg Jets). But instead, Pierre-Luc Dubois was drafted by the Blue Jackets and that left Puljujarvi ripe for the picking...or uh drafting considering the situation.

So what were my thoughts at the time of the draft? To be 100% honest...I didn't have any thoughts on the drafting. I was more surprised at how far down Jakob Chychrun was drafted when he was selected by the Coyotes. Coming into this draft, I thought Austin Matthews, Patrick Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi would've been drafted by the Leafs, Jets, and Blue Jackets respectively. I didn't even bother following these three leading up to the draft since I figured that they would all be gone by the time Edmonton was up to select at #4.

But now that the dust has settled and I've had time to actually look at Puljujarvi in a more "in-depth" light, let me give my thoughts on the Oilers drafting him. I think the Oilers pretty lucky to have landed him. He's got size and speed as well as skill about him that could make him a perfect fit for Connor McDavid to play with. Throw Taylor Hall into that line and the Oilers first line looks pretty dangerous all of a sudden, doesn't it.

Of course the line of Hall-McDavid-Puljujarvi looks good on paper right now, meaning that there is no guarantee of them looking good on the ice. But if these three do manage to find chemistry during next season, Edmonton's top line looks pretty scary to opposing teams. Heck forget a Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid pairing working out. If McDavid and Puljujarvi work well off each other, you have the makings of Edmonton's version of Kessel and JVR (back when Kessel was with Toronto), Crosby and Malkin, Toews and Kane, or even a better version of McDavid and Eberle from last season.

What do you guys think? Do you think that the line of Taylor Hall - Connor McDavid - Jesse Puljujarvi will work out? Do you think Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi will have good chemistry together? And with Puljujarvi in the mix, what happens to Jordan Eberle? Let me know 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Defensive Combinations

As I've eluded to a couple of times in the past couple of posts, the Edmonton Oilers used a total of 12 defencemen during the 2015/2016 season. That is probably the highest number of d-men the Oilers have used and this defensive core was also their strongest since probably 2009-2010. Plus it helped that the additions of Andrej Sekera, Eric Gryba, and Griffin Reinhart ended up paying off in the long run. However the injuries to key players on the blue line, forced Edmonton to go with a couple of weird defensive pairings for games. In the final game of the season, here was the line combinations on defense for Edmonton.

Sekera - Fayne
Reinhart - Oesterle
Nurse - Pardy
Nikitin - Clendenning

These pairings did work out for the team more than I expected it too (especially with Reinhart and Oesterle taking on a bulk of on-ice minutes), but it wouldn't be the defensive core that I'd like Edmonton to go with. Here is my ideal defensive core for the Oilers.

Brandon Davidson
Mark Fayne
Eric Gryba
Oscar Klefbom
Darnell Nurse
Andrej Sekera

Now does that mean the Oilers should not keep their other 6 defensemen? No. What this means is that Clendenning, Nikitin, Pardy and Ference should be kept as healthy scratches while both Reinhart and Oesterle continue development down in the AHL. Now in terms of pairings? Well since I'm not Todd McLellan, I can't decide on which pairings would work best. That being said, I can take a wild guess and give my own personal pairings. Here would be my pairings based on the 6 players above.

Sekera - Fayne
Nurse - Gryba
Klefbom - Davidson

Now there are, admittedly, a couple of problems with these pairings. First, I don't know how the chemistry will play out between these pairings. Sure some of them might work out, but there is no guarantee that chemistry between Sekera and Fayne won't develop, chemistry between Nurse and Gryba won't develop, and chemistry between Klefbom and Davidson won't develop. Second the Oilers only have three right handed defensemen on the roster right now. And while Clendenning, Fayne, and Gryba are right handed shots, the Oilers do need more. Third, this combination only, ONLY exists if the Oilers manage to stay healthy for the majority of the season.

Of course these line combinations are not official. McLellan ultimately has control over the defensive pairings and he may or may not use these players or these combinations. But regardless of what happens or who is paired with who, you can bet that the Oilers blue line just got tougher now and will be tougher to play against. For a team that was mocked for only drafting high scoring forwards, it's nice to see young drafted d-men coming into their own as well as GM Chiarelli pulling the strings to get the veteran d-men onto this team. I'm looking forward to seeing the defensive core of Edmonton next season.

Off-Season Outlook

So with the 2016 NHL entry draft going on this upcoming weekend, I figured I'd take the time to look ahead to the free-agency outlook for the Edmonton Oilers. Who might the Oilers either sign or trade for? Since their forward core is pretty much intact and as best as it could possibly be right now, so I'm only going to focus on the defence and goaltending of the Oilers.

Let's start with the defensive core of the team. Last season, the Oilers used 12 D-men;
 
1. Adam Clendenning
2. Brandon Davidson
3. Mark Fayne
4. Andrew Ference
5. Eric Gryba
6. Oscar Klefbom
7. Nikita Nikitin
8. Darnell Nurse
9. Jordan Oesterle
10. Adam Pardy
11. Griffin Reinhart
12. Andrej Sekera

Regardless of the perception of the Oilers defense in the past, this was the strongest defensive group for the Oilers since 2009-2010. However the injuries to key blue liners like Eric Gryba, Brandon Davidson and Oscar Klefbom hurt the potential of the Oilers blue line this season. As such, Peter Chiarelli hasn't hidden his desire for another veteran d-man to stabilize the Oilers blue line should a key defenseman suffer a long-term injury. Of course there are a few veteran d-men that will be on the free agent market this year, so it would be interesting to see who Chiarelli will try to pick up or even if he can pick someone up. A common name I've heard tossed around the grapevine is Kevin Shattenkirk from the St. Louis Blues, but again, we won't know once the free agency market opens July 1st.

Now on to the goaltending situation in Edmonton. At the 2015 draft last year, the Oilers made a trade and acquired goaltender Cam Talbot from the New York Rangers. Talbot was brought in to be the undisputed No. 1 goalie in Edmonton and he has not only embraced that role, but he has earned it. His play in the last half of the season AND at the IIHF tournamet cemented the faith that the Oilers had in him. They also agreed on a contract extension, hours after the Oilers beat the Flames 2-1 in a shootout. That same draft, the Oilers also acquired goaltender Anders Nilsson from the Chicago Blackhawks who stepped into the No. 1 position when Cam struggled in the early part of the season. However the Oilers ended up trading Nilsson to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline and finished the season using back-up Laurent Brossoit. That being said, I think the Oilers could use a backup goaltender to help give depth at the goaltending position. There are going to be lots of available free agent goalies on the market this year, and I think it would be wise for Peter Chiarelli to get a solid back-up while Brossoit continues development with the Bakersfield Condors. In fact if you were to look at the current roster for the Edmonton Oilers, Laurent Brossoit doesn't appear in the goaltenders section. Nothing against him, but that just shows the Oilers aren't ready to use him in a back-up role yet.

Looking at all the names, there are a few people Edmonton would probably be interested though the question of money is always an issue. As much as I would like to see someone like Ben Bishop or Marc-Andre Fleury suit up in an Oilers uniform, Edmonton's reputation around the league that tends to have free agents avoid the Oilers GM altogether. That being said, I wouldn't mind seeing Anders Nilsson back in Edmonton. As I mentioned above, he did provide steady, solid, and consistent goaltending for Edmonton when Cam Talbot struggled early on. Really when it comes to goalies, Chiarelli has three questions to answers. Do Edmonton really need another goalie? Can they afford one? Do they have enough confidence in Laurent Brossoit to have him back-up Cam Talbot over an 82-game season?

What do you guys think? Let me know below.