Oscar Klefbom

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Why Oilers are struggling, and what needs to change

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Sure, Connor McDavid scored all three of their goals, but it was still electrifying to see the Edmonton Oilers open their season with a 3-0 win against the Calgary Flames.

For those who saw red flags, the last week must have felt like retribution, as the Oilers dropped three straight, with their most recent loss (6-1 to the Ottawa Senators) marking a low point.

With that 1-3-0 record in mind and Leon Draisaitl on the shelf, spirits are low and frustrations might be high in Edmonton. Let’s dig deeper to see which patterns should continue and how much this boils down to bad luck.

Plenty of shots, but maybe the wrong guys shooting?

The Oilers lead the NHL in Corsi For rating with 59.42 percent, and Edmonton sports the classic signs of bad luck: they fall in the bottom five in PDO and team shooting percentage. (Fancy stats via Natural Stat Trick.)

The takeaway there is quite basic: more bounces are bound to go their way. Just consider McDavid alone: he hasn’t scored a goal since that thrilling hat trick to start the season.

A lot of those trends will end merely by playing more games.

That said, the distribution of shots on goal is a bit troubling, and it’s something that Oilers head coach Todd McLellan should address either through tweaking lines or his system (or both?).

Check out the Oilers’ top five players in shots on goal:

1. McDavid (19)
2. Oscar Klefbom (15)
3. Darnell Nurse (13)
4. Draisaitl (12 in three GP)
5. Adam Larsson (11)

Yes, three of the Oilers’ top five shooters are defensemen. McLellan pointed out the team’s most glaring offensive deficit, so far, to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal.

“We’re not getting enough from the wingers or our bottom six and if you’re not scoring (as a team), you can’t be giving up six (goals),” McLellan said.

Indeed, the Oilers need more from their supporting cast.

Most of those players should expect a rebound; the more frightening question is: how much can the Oilers really expect? Even in Milan Lucic‘s best days, he’s never been a volume shooter; his career average is well under two shots on goal per contest.

Ryan Strome hasn’t scored a point so far for the Oilers, but some of that might come down to a lack of opportunities. He’s averaging almost one fewer minute of ice time per game vs. his last season with the Islanders, which is a touch surprising since many expected this to be an opportunity for him to break through.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins simply needs to do more. While RNH has two goals so far, he’s only fired five SOG in four games. You can explain some of that away by explaining playmaking leanings, but when your team is struggling, sometimes a passer must be a bit more assertive, too.

Again, expect better things from RNH and Lucic in particular, not to mention Patrick Maroon, Kailer Yamamoto, and Jussi Jokinen. Even so, some of this might come down to the makeup of this team.

Depth can often be key for scoring in the NHL, and the Oilers have something to prove in that area.

Frustrations for Cam Talbot

Credit Edmonton Oilers workhorse Cam Talbot for accepting blame for his part in the Oilers’ 1-3-0 start, as the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones notes.

“I’ll find a way to fix it. I know I will because I’ve always done it before,” Talbot said. “We’re going to turn this around here, no doubt. It starts with me in net. Once I start making the saves I’m supposed to make, the guys in front of me can do what they’re supposed to do. It starts in net and we work our way out from there.”

If you want to look at the surest spot where things will improve for Edmonton, look to Talbot.

Much like a host of other NHL goalies, he’s off to a shockingly bad start. Talbot’s GAA is just under four (3.96) and his save percentage probably gives Grant Fuhr some unpleasant flashbacks (.880). Talbot’s numbers should rise considerably, even if he fails to match the heights of 2016-17.

In the meantime, the Oilers turn to Laurent Brossoit, who’s off to a solid start.

***

In most cases, the Oilers should settle things down.

Still, it’s important to remember that this team has Stanley Cup aspirations. For all the justifiable criticisms GM Peter Chiarelli receives, if he can identify issues during the season and address at least some of them with savvy “rentals,” then he’ll earn his place as the guy who lucked into having McDavid on his roster.

Things will get better. It’s just going to be a challenge when you consider how high they set the bar for themselves.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Oilers, Maple Leafs lead NHL’s Canadian revival

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The NHL’s two most dynamic stars under 21 play there, and it’s the home of five playoff teams from last season and potentially more this year.

Oh, Canada, home of some pretty good hockey.

Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are at the forefront of a revival north of the 48th parallel two years after no Canadian team made the Stanley Cup playoffs. McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers, Matthews’ Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames are all in position to qualify again, with the young Winnipeg Jets looking like a contender, too.

“It’s great for hockey when you got the Canadian teams, they’re fighting for playoff spots and they’re in the playoffs,” Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau said. “It was two years ago zero teams (made it). Now you can see all those teams are making a push to make the playoffs and hopefully win a Cup eventually.”

No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since Montreal in 1993. If six Canadian teams make the playoffs in 2017-18, it’ll be the first time since then.

Carey Price gives Montreal a shot, Erik Karlsson can work magic with Ottawa and goaltending could make all the difference in Calgary, but it’s Edmonton that gives Canada the best chance of ending the country’s Cup drought. The past 23 times the Cup has been handed out, it has gone to an American team.

“It’ll vary from year to year,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “What’s in the league’s interest is that we have great hockey.”

There’s plenty of that across Canada right now.

McDavid is coming off winning the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP at age 20, and the Oilers have a talented young core with forward Leon Draisaitl, defensemen Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom and goaltender Cam Talbot that looks ready to challenge the big boys in the Western Conference.

“That’s what good teams do, teams that have won, that’s kind of their recipe is draft good players and watch them develop,” McDavid said. “We’re very lucky that way that we have a lot of young faces in Edmonton, as well as a good mix of older guys that have played and been around the league.”

Adding goalie Mike Smith has given the Flames a spark in the Battle of Alberta. The team and city of Calgary are locked in a dispute over a new arena, but on the ice there’s a lot of optimism about a team with Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and a deep defense.

“I’m excited. I know all the guys in Calgary are excited,” Gaudreau said. “For the Flames and Edmonton, it’s a great rivalry. The province gets pretty crazy and excited for those games.”

Things can get pretty crazy in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia, too. In the Eastern Conference, the Canadiens and Maple Leafs being playoff contenders at the same time has led some to dream about the first playoff series between those Original Six teams since 1979.

“It creates good rivalries,” Montreal forward Jonathan Drouin said. “Obviously the Toronto one is good. They’re a good team. You saw it last year. They surprised a lot of people, and they’re going to do the same this year.”

If any Canadian team is a major surprise this season, it’s the Vancouver Canucks, who have a new coach in Travis Green and are expected to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive year. Aging faces of the franchise Daniel and Henrik Sedin remain committed to the Canucks, saying on The Players Tribune, “If we are going to win a Stanley Cup, if we are going to achieve our dream, we’d only want it to be in Vancouver.”

But Vancouver is the anomaly as the Canadiens, Senators, Maple Leafs, Jets, Flames and Oilers can all think playoffs and dream of the Cup.

“It is exciting to see all these Canadian teams taking big steps,” Jets center Mark Scheifele said. “Hopefully we’re at the top of that Canadian list.”

With Talbot at his best, Oilers should be a force in the West

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This post is part of Oilers Day on PHT…

Connor McDavid is the driving force behind the turnaround in Edmonton.

He had a 100 points to lead the league and won the Hart Trophy. Edmonton made the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and came within one win of the Western Conference Final.

Not to be overlooked, Cam Talbot provided terrific goaltending and was a pivotal factor in helping Edmonton get back into the post-season.

In his second season in Edmonton following the trade from the New York Rangers, Talbot was a work horse, even exceeding expectations of coach Todd McLellan.

In a time when some goalie coaches believe the days of playing 70 or more games in a season are behind us, the Oilers netminder made 73 starts and led all goalies with almost 4,300 minutes played.

That was by far the largest amount of ice time last season for an NHL goalie, and Talbot was able to sustain a .919 save percentage throughout the whole year. His save percentage went up to .924 in the post-season, as Edmonton got through the first round and pushed Anaheim to Game 7 of the second round.

“This is what you work your whole career towards,” Talbot said earlier last season. “I was working my butt off day in, day out, in New York, hoping to get this opportunity at some point behind (Henrik Lundqvist). And Edmonton, I was lucky enough (they gave) me an opportunity last year. You’ve just got to be ready for it when you get it. … I feel great doing it.”

Talbot just turned 30 years old in July. He has two years left on his three-year deal with an annual cap hit of $4.166 million.

Talbot will be eligible for unrestricted free agency at the completion of this contract, and his no-movement clause has only one year remaining before it transitions to a modified no-trade clause in the third year, according to CapFriendly.

The Oilers will soon have a more long-term decision to make with Talbot.

In the short term, his playing time will be a focus this upcoming season. Will McLellan once again rely heavily on Talbot to start in 70 or more games? Or will Laurent Brossoit make the leap as a capable back-up, trusted to take on increased playing time in order to keep the starter refreshed and healthy?

After years of disappointment — and previous first overall selections — the fortunes of this franchise took quite a turn when it won the lottery and the opportunity to select the dynamic phenom McDavid. Edmonton, with McDavid and the rise of Leon Draisaitl up front, Oscar Klefbom on defense and the arrival as an NHL starter in Talbot, took a big step last season.

It may be a tall order for Talbot to duplicate what he accomplished in 2016-17, but another solid season from their starting goaltender should solidify the Oilers as a serious contender in the West.

Related: Poll: Are the Oilers legitimate Stanley Cup contender?

Poll: Are the Oilers legitimate Stanley Cup contenders?

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This post is part of Oilers Day on PHT…

The Edmonton Oilers were one of the biggest surprises of the 2016-17 season. No one expected them to break their 10-year playoff drought last season, but that’s exactly what they did.

Led by Connor McDavid, the Oilers proved to be an offensive force. They finished eighth in goals for (247) and McDavid finished first in points with 100. This off-season, the team handed McDavid a huge eight-year, $100 million contract.

“This may be one of the largest contracts ever given in the NHL, but I can assure you, it could easily have been a lot higher in value and shorter in term,” GM Peter Chiarelli said, per NHL.com. “Building a team to win the Stanley Cup championship was a constant discussion point in this negotiation.”

Chiarelli didn’t make many changes up front during the off-season. He swapped Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome (that move saved them some cap space) and he handed out massive extensions to McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

The Oilers also surprised by ranking eighth in the league in goals against (212). Goalie Cam Talbot was the biggest reason for that, as he turned in solid performances night after night. He played 73 games last season and won 42 of them. It’ll be interesting to see if they lighten his workload next season.

Although the defense has improved after the acquisitions of Andrej Sekera and Adam Larsson, the unit is still a work in progress. Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse have also developed into solid options for the Oilers, but they’re still lacking a true number one defenseman. Is that going to hold them back in the future?

It’s obvious that the Oilers are no longer pushovers in the Western Conference. But do they have what it takes to to make a run to the Stanley Cup Final?
Alright, it’s your turn to have your say. Vote in our poll and feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below.

Oilers cap situation is scary, and not just because of Draisaitl, McDavid

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The Edmonton Oilers pulled the trigger – and likely made teams with big RFA headaches like the Boston Bruins grimace – in signing Leon Draisaitl to a massive eight-year, $68 million contract on Wednesday.

You have to do a little stretching to call it a good deal, although credit Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshysnki with some reasonably stated optimism.

Either way, the per-year cap bill for Connor McDavid and Draisaitl is $21 million once McDavid’s extension kicks in starting in 2018-19; that’s the same combined cost that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane receive … and those two got those paydays after they won three Stanley Cups for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Now, if the Oilers struggle in the near future, plenty of people will heap blame on McDavid and/or Draisaitl. Really, though, the true scapegoats should be a management team with more strikeouts than homers.

(As usual, Cap Friendly was a key resource in studying Edmonton’s salary structure.)

Bloated supporting cast

There are some frightening contracts on the books in Edmonton, especially if a few situations work out unfavorably.

At 29, there’s severe risk of regression with Milan Lucic, even if he enjoys a more stable second season with Edmonton. He carries a $6M cap hit through 2022-23, so he’ll be on the books for all but two years of Draisaitl’s new deal.

Kris Russell costs $4.167M during a four-year stretch, and even now, he has plenty of critics. Those complaints may only get louder if, at 30, he also starts to slip from his already debatable spot.

Andrej Sekera‘s been a useful blueliner, yet there’s some concern that time won’t treat him kindly. He’s dealing with injuries heading into 2017-18, and at 31, there’s always the risk that his best days are behind him. Not great for a guy carrying a $5.5M cap hit through 2020-21.

One can’t help but wonder if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might be an odd man out once the shackles of the salary cap really tighten. Just consider how much Edmonton is spending on a limited number of players, and you wonder if the 24-year-old will be deemed too pricey at his $6M clip.

Yeah, not ideal.

It’s not all bad

Now, let’s be fair.

RNH could easily grow into being well worth that $6M. Draisaitl may also justify his hefty price tag. McDavid honestly cut the Oilers a relative deal by taking $12.5M instead of the maximum.

The Oilers also have two quality, 24-year-old defensemen locked up to team-friendly deals: Oscar Klefbom ($4.167M through 2022-23) and Adam Larsson ($4.167M through 2020-21). They need every bargain they can get, and those two figure to fit the bill.

Crucial future negotiations

GM Peter Chiarelli’s had a questionable history of getting good deals. He’ll need to get together soon, or the Oilers will really struggle to surround their core with helpful support.

Cam Talbot is a brilliant bargain at the strangely familiar cap hit of $4.167M, but that value only lasts through 2018-19. After that, he’s eligible to become a UFA, and could be massively expensive if he produces two more strong seasons.

The bright side is that the Oilers aren’t locked into an expensive goalie, so they can look for deals. That isn’t as sunny a situation if you don’t trust management to have much success in the bargain bin.

Talbot isn’t the only upcoming expiring contract. The Oilers have serious questions to answer with Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome. Also, will they need to let Lucic-like winger Patrick Maroon go? Even with mild relief in Mark Fayne‘s money coming off the books, the Oilers might regret this buffet when the bills start piling up next summer.

***

Look, the truth is that management is likely to be propped up by the top-end in Edmonton, particularly in the case of McDavid’s otherworldly skills. As much as that Draisaitl deal looks like an overpay – possibly a massive one – there’s a chance that he lives up to that $8.5M, too.

It’s not just about those stars, though.

The Pittsburgh Penguins gained new life by complimenting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with the likes of Phil Kessel. The Blackhawks have struggled once they couldn’t afford as much help for Kane and Toews.

You have to mix your premium items with bargains, and one wonders if the Oilers will be able to spot sufficient value beyond the no-brainer top guys. Their recent history in that area certainly leaves a lot to be desired.