Peter Chiarelli

Getty

How the Oilers became the NHL’s biggest disappointment

16 Comments

At the start of the 2017-18 season the Edmonton Oilers were one of the top Stanley Cup favorites.

They were one game away from reaching the Western Conference Finals and they have the reigning league MVP and scoring champion (and arguably the game’s best player). All of that seemed to indicate a team that was on the verge of taking another major step and breaking through as one of the league’s elite teams. Their preseason Stanley Cup odds from Bovada were second best in the league to only the back-to-back champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The bandwagon was filling up.

Here we are not just a quarter of the way through the season and there is no debating that the Oilers have not only failed to reach those sky-high expectations, they are clearly the league’s biggest disappointment.

Entering play on Wednesday — and following an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night — the Oilers have the third worst points percentage in the league, ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres. Their minus-19 goal differential is fourth-worst. They have managed to win just four games in regulation with only two of them coming over the past month.

So, how did they get here? Let us try to figure it out.

It starts with the people upstairs

Three years ago the Oilers were given a gift from the hockey draft gods when they won the lottery and the right to select Connor McDavid. It was the fourth time in six years they won the top pick and this time were able to pick a player that would quickly become the best offensive player in the league. Since McDavid entered the league he has more than lived up to the hype with a 1.18 points per game average that is tops among all players (minimum 100 games played) during that stretch.

As great as McDavid has been, he can not do it all on his own. This is not the NBA where one or two great players can carry a team deep into the playoffs (or even into the playoffs at all). There has to be a supporting cast around them, and the Oilers have quickly sabotaged their chances to do that through some brutal roster and asset management.

Let’s just examine some of the moves made by Peter Chiarelli since taking over as the Oilers’ general manager.

His first move was to trade two top-33 picks (No. 16 overall and No. 33 overall) to the New York Islanders for defenseman Griffin Reinhart. The Islanders used that pick to select Matthew Barzal, currently one of the top rookies in the NHL this season. Reinhart played 30 forgettable games with the Oilers before moving on to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights this season.

[On fire vs. fireable: Blues humiliate Oilers]

Then came the one-for-one trades: Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, and then Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome.

Both trades have played a significant role in reducing the team’s scoring depth.

Since being traded Hall’s 26 goals and 74 points would make him the third most productive player on the Oilers. His point total this season alone would make him the team’s second-leading scorer behind McDavid. Eberle’s 14 points would make him the team’s fourth-leading scorer.

The return for the Oilers has not come close to matching that production. Larsson is a solid, if unspectacular defenseman, while Strome’s offense has been non-existent. Even at his best Strome was never quite on par with what Eberle has shown to be capable of on a regular basis. Those trades have devastated the Oilers’ scoring depth and are now left with a team that is 27th in the league in goals scored and seems to be unable to generate any offense when McDavid is not on the ice.

In three years Chiarelli has traded two picks in the top-33 of a draft, a top-line forward and gave Kris Russell, a borderline second-to third-pairing defenseman to help improve the defense and the team is still desperate for defensive help.

That is a lot of bad roster management, and it is wasting what might be some of McDavid’s best years in the league.

Cam Talbot can’t get a break

Literally, he can not get a night off.

The Oilers’ goals against numbers improved dramatically a season ago and a lot of credit for that improvement was directed toward the additions of Larsson and Russel. The reality is that a lot of it had to do with Talbot helping to solidify the goaltending position.

His save percentage wasn’t anything spectacular and at .917 was fairly close to the league average. But Talbot played 72 games and if you can get average to slightly above league average goaltending for 72 games that is going to be a positive value to your team, especially with where the Oilers were coming from in recent seasons. His performance, combined with his durability to play that many games, probably shaved 15 goals off the Oilers’ goals against totals.

Talbot has not been as strong so far this season, and given that he has already played a league-high 19 games you have to wonder if maybe that workload is starting to catch up with him.

Since the start of the 2016-17 season Talbot has played in 93 regular season games. Only three other goalies have played in more than 80 and only one (Frederik Andersen, 85) has played in more than 83. He has faced 2,688 shots.

That does not include the 13 playoff games and 437 shots he faced in the playoffs. That is a ton of work for a goalie over a season-and-a-quarter.

The Oilers have no adequate backup that can give him any sort of a break.

Lucky or unlucky?

There does seem to be an element of some bad luck to the Oilers’ struggles this season. Their possession and shot attempt numbers are among the best in the league, and they do seem to be struggling with some poor percentages on the offensive end.

When it comes to the save percentage numbers and Talbot’s struggles it is worth wondering if that extensive workload over the past two seasons has started to wear him down.

It is also worth wondering if they had a lot of players play over their heads a season ago, specifically when it came to players like Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu. That duo combined for 43 goals a season ago. They have combined for 8 so far this season. That puts them on pace for about 15 over 82 games. Combine that with the offense they are losing going from Eberle to Strome, as well as the absence of Hall and that is a big chunk of offense going away and helps explain how a team with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkings all averaging close to a point-per-game is 26th in the league in goals scored.

You might be reading all of this and thinking to yourself, relax, Gretz, it’s only Thanksgiving. Still a lot of hockey left to be played. Sure, there is a lot of hockey remaining in the season. The problem for teams like the Oilers is NHL history tells us the standings do not tend to change much once the calendar rolls over to December. Currently the Oilers are already seven points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference and eight points out of one of the three playoff spots in the Pacific Division.

Points are difficult to make up as the season goes on and teams that are already this far out do not tend to make them up.

Perhaps the Stanley Cup for this Oilers team was a little too premature, mainly because they have managed to squander any chance of building a competitive team around the best player in the world through some terrible roster management.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Edmonton Oilers GM not panicking over team’s slow start

Getty Images
19 Comments

As most teams hit the 20-game mark you have to do some extra scrolling to find the Edmonton Oilers while looking at the overall NHL standings.

A Stanley Cup favorite after a nice run last spring, the Oilers have only 16 points in 19 games. Only the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes currently have fewer points. A number of things have gone against Edmonton so far. There’s that negative-11 goal differential and the 73.4 percent penalty kill. There’s also the lack of secondary scoring, or scoring in general with their average down to 2.47 goals per game. Meanwhile, Jordan Eberle is enjoying his time in Brooklyn.

Speaking from the general manager’s meetings in Montreal on Friday, Peter Chiarelli described his thoughts on the slow start as “general disappointment.”

Via Michael Traikos of the National Post:

“For me, it goes back to where our mindset was in terms of managing expectations,” Chiarelli said. “We fell behind the eight ball at the start for a number of reasons. Execution was one of them, and now you’re in that recovery mode and you lose runway. So that’s where we are right now.

“I’m not putting blame for our record on (the pressure of meeting expectations), but I think it’s something that we needed to address and we did. And maybe we didn’t do a good enough job of it.”

There are a few things in Edmonton’s favor as they attempt to dig themselves out of this whole. First, they have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Second, their possession numbers are good as shown by a league-best 55 percent Fenwick, via Corsica. Then there’s their 98.12 PDO, which tells you they’ve been a bit unlucky at times. And despite their slide, the Oilers are only four points out of both a Western Conference wild card spot and third place in the Pacific Division.

Chiarelli already made one move to try and help their scoring woes by acquiring Mike Cammalleri, who’s enjoyed a nice start to the season. If things don’t improve, you can bet more trade attempts will be made by the GM because if you take a look at their salary cap picture over at CapFriendly, it won’t get any easier to build a contender.

This is the cheapest the Oilers will ever have McDavid, who will see his cap hit go from $925,000 to $12.5 million for 2018-19. Then you have the numbers of restricted and unrestricted free agents after this season. If initial reports of NHL revenues hold, we could see the salary cap ceiling rise a decent amount in the off-season, which could be beneficial.

Of course, other GMs aren’t going to bail Chiarelli out without helping themselves first, so the Oilers can’t rely solely on trades in order for their season to turnaround.

“All of the teams in the league need more help,” Chiarelli said. “But at this point, these guys have to figure it out also.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Edmonton Oilers ’15-16 Outlook

6 Comments

With Connor McDavid in the fold there’s a renewed sense of optimism in Edmonton, and rightfully so. The 18-year-old is the best player to come out of the NHL Draft since Sidney Crosby did in 2005.

McDavid finished last season with 44 goals and 120 points while appearing 47 games with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters. He added 21 goals and 49 points in 20 playoff games. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound center won both the OHL and CHL player of the year.

Oilers’ GM Peter Chiarelli knows there’ll bumps in the road for his star forward as he adjusts to the NHL game.

“He does have some challenges that he’ll have to meet as any good, young, elite prospect will have,” said Chiarelli. “It’s a strong game, strong players and they lean on you. He’s smart, he’ll figure that out, but he’s going to have some learning curves.”

Front office shakeup

Former Hockey Canada boss Bob Nicholson is now in charge, and has left his mark on the organization in the few months since taking over as the Chief Executive Officer and Vice-Chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group.

Chiarelli along with head coach Todd McLellan represent a new era in Edmonton. Nicholson has since re-assigned Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe.

Joining McLellan behind the bench are three new assistant coaches in Jay Woodcroft, Jim Johnson and Ian Herbers.

As Toronto Star columnist Bruce Arthur said in April, “They’re not the same old Oilers, and that’s a start.”

What to expect

Despite addressing issues in goal (Cam Talbot) and making additions to the blue line (Griffin Reinhart, Eric Gryba and Andrej Sekera), the Edmonton Oilers chances of ending their nine-year playoff drought are slim at best.

Given the Oilers play in the Pacific Division with the likes of the Anaheim Ducks, L.A. Kings, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames, making the playoffs is this season is unrealistic.

The Oilers have not reached the 30 win mark in a season since 2011-12 (32) and should see an improvement on their 24-44-14 record from last season.

Related: Oilers’ biggest question: What about the blue line?

Looking to make the leap: Connor McDavid

12 Comments

Barring some unforeseen circumstance, Connor McDavid will have a prominent spot on the Edmonton Oilers’ opening night roster.

Not since Sidney Crosby has the anticipation been so great for a teenager to make the leap to the NHL.

With scoring in the NHL down, McDavid will be in tough to reach the 102-point mark Crosby notched during his rookie campaign, but McDavid is fully aware of the pressures on his shoulders.

“My expectations for myself exceed any of those that are put on me,” said McDavid following the draft. “It’s something that I can’t really worry about. I’ve just got to make sure I’m playing my game and doing all that because if I meet my expectations the chances are I’ll meet your guys’ as well.”

Following what was likely his final season of junior hockey with the Erie Otters, McDavid was named the OHL and CHL player of the year for his 44-goal, 120-point season.

The 18-year-old then led the OHL in post-season scoring adding 21 goals and 49 points in 20 games.

Despite the accolades, GM Peter Chiarelli knows there’ll be growing pains with McDavid.

“He does have some challenges that he’ll have to meet as any good, young, elite prospect will have,” said Chiarelli at the draft. “It’s a strong game, strong players and they lean on you. He’s smart, he’ll figure that out, but he’s going to have some learning curves.”

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound center understands in order to make the leap smoother a solid offseason in the gym is necessary.

“You’ve got to get a lot bigger and a lot stronger and faster and all that,” said McDavid. “You’re playing against men now. It’s a big jump.”

Fans aren’t the only ones excited to see what the Newmarket, Ontario native can do at the next level. New Oilers bench boss Todd McLellan told NHL.com that McDavid’s landing spot played a role in him taking his job in Edmonton.

“The lottery was something everybody was watching,” McLellan said. “If you were a coach out of work and was considering a position to attain, everybody had an eyeball on where Connor was going to end up.”

Related: McDavid scores five in Oilers scrimmage

It’s Edmonton Oilers day at PHT

8 Comments

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Edmonton Oilers.

For a ninth consecutive season the Edmonton Oilers found themselves on the outside looking in when the playoffs began last spring.

Edmonton’s 24-44-14 record was good for 13th in the Western Conference and 28th overall.

As a result of another poor regular season, the Oilers landed in the NHL Draft lottery and for a fourth time in six years won the first overall selection picking Connor McDavid at the June draft.

Jordan Eberle led the Oilers in scoring with 24 goals and 63 points in 81 games, but finished well off his career-high of 34 goals set during the 2011-12 season.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continued to see his goal totals rise setting a new career-high with 24 goals and matched his personal-best 56 points.

Injuries limited Taylor Hall to just 53 games. The 23-year-old scored 14 goals and 24 assists. His 38 points were good for third in Oilers scoring.

Justin Schultz was the top scoring defenseman with six goals goals and 31 points to go along with a minus-17 rating in 81 games.

In goal, Ben Scrivens shouldered the load going 15-26-11 while posting a 3.16 G.A.A. and a .890 save percentage in 57 appearances.

Off-season recap

The biggest off-season moves for the Oilers came off the ice as Peter Chiarelli replaced Craig MacTavish as the club’s general manager and hired Todd McLellan to take over as head coach from Todd Nelson.

On the ice, Chiarelli addressed some of the club’s biggest issues trading for goaltender Cam Talbot and defenseman Griffin Reinhart.

Edmonton also added depth trading veteran Boyd Gordon to Arizona for Lauri Korpikoski.

Chiarelli dipped into the free agent pool and inked free agent defenseman Andrej Sekera and center Mark Letestu.