Oscar Klefbom

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Same old questions remain for Oilers

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers.

Pondering three important questions for the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers.

1. Who will help Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?

Our Joey Alfieri already touched on this when he looked at the Oilers’ depth scorers being under pressure to produce more, but this really is the single biggest question facing the Oilers this season. Just as it was last year. And the year before. And the year before that.

Unless James Neal finds a time machine and goes back to his age 26 or 27 seasons, or the team figures out a way to salvage the development of Jesse Puljujarvi before it sends him away for some magic beans it’s hard to see where this improvement comes from.

How top-heavy has the Oilers’ lineup been over the past two years? Some numbers for you.

  • With McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice together during 5-on-5 play the Oilers have outscored teams by an 88-67 (plus-21) margin and controlled more than 52 percent of the shot attemepts.
  • With only ONE of them on the ice the Oilers have been outscored 136-115 (minus-21) and controlled only 49 percent of the shot attempts.
  • With NEITHER of them on the ice the Oilers have been outscored 151-106 (minus-45) and controlled just 48 percent of the shot attempts.

When their top two players are not on the ice the Oilers are playing at the level of an early 1990s expansion team.

It is appalling to have what might be the best offensive duo in the league and still be so far away from the playoffs.

Does acquiring James Neal in a swap of bad salaries (in what should be an upgrade) and signing some cheap, reclamation project free agents do enough to help move the needle closer to the playoffs?

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

2. How will they stop teams?

Here is a set of numbers for you to ponder: 25, 25, 8, 28, 30, 30, 19, 23, 28, 30, 22, 26, 16

What are those numbers representing? They are where the Oilers have ranked in goals against (starting with this past season on the left and moving backwards) dating back to the start of the 2006-07 season. Average finish: 24th. The one outlier (the eighth place year) was when Cam Talbot pretty much stood on his head in net and was eventually run into the ground due to a ridiculous workload.

The Oilers are bringing back mostly the same cast of characters on defense that haven’t been good enough, and barring an unexpected miracle they don’t really have a goalie that should be a serious threat to steal games. Mikko Koskinen‘s contract looks to be a mess, while Mike Smith is coming off the worst season of his career and is entering his age 37 season.

This all seems like a tough recipe to make work.

Dave Tippett has a reputation for being a defensive coach (a reputation he doesn’t really seem to like) and is very respected around the league, but how much of an impact can a coach make with a thin defense and two massive question marks in goal? Even if McDavid and Draisaitl repeat their magic and they find some respectable second-line scoring can they actually stop enough teams for any of it to matter?

3. What changes will Ken Holland make?

Holland has two cornerstone players that are already among the best in the league and haven’t even hit their peak years in the NHL yet. It is a great starting point. That is the good news. The bad news is that even though he has McDavid and Draisaitl to start building around he still has what might be the most daunting rebuilding job of any general manager in the NHL. Not only because he has a ton of holes to plug, but because he has to deal with the pressure that is not wasting anymore of McDavid’s best years in the league.

In the past, the Oilers have tried to shake things up by dealing players that were once considered part of the core (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz). They not only failed to capitalize on those trades, but they have quickly run out of such players to deal.

Will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins be next? Oscar Klefbom? It seems to only be a matter of time until Puljujarvi gets moved.

No matter who it is, he is going to have to make significant changes to get this team out of its current situation.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Report: Oilers, Klefbom zero in on seven-year deal

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The Edmonton Oilers and defenseman Oscar Klefbom are working on a seven-year extension that could be cemented in the next day or two, TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reports.

Klefbom, 22, is currently in the final year of a deal that carries a $894K cap hit. The extension would be worth “north of $4 million per season,” according to Rishaug.

If this comes to fruition, the Oilers’ defensive future would revolve around Klefbom, Andrej Sekera, Darnell Nurse and, to some extent, Mark Fayne.

Klefbom has 77 NHL games under his belt, including 60 with the Oilers in 2014-15. He was the 19th pick of the 2011 NHL Draft.

Oilers Nation discussed the pros and cons of various Klefbom extension scenarios, leaning toward a lengthier deal.

In (Peter) Chiarelli’s shoes, I’d probably wait until November, and if Klefbom continues as he’s started I’d sign him for as long as possible. Cap pressures are already a bit of a concern, and two-to-three years from now they could be really bad; if this team develops as hoped, having Klefbom signed long-term at a reasonable dollar figure could go a long way towards keeping Edmonton’s core together.

Keep in mind that a deal could fall through or be put on hold for a bit.

Oilers’ biggest question: What about the blue line?

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For all the young talent they’ve amassed up front, and even if the goaltending proves better next season, you can’t help but look at the Edmonton Oilers’ blue line and think, Oy, that’s not a very good blue line.

And in a league where it’s rare to win a championship without at least one elite defenseman, that’s a problem.

Case in point, when the Oilers made the finals in 2006, they had a guy by the name of Chris Pronger on the back end. He was traded that summer and they haven’t been back to the playoffs since.

From 2006 to 2012, Edmonton drafted 17 defensemen. The best was Jeff Petry, who’s in Montreal now. Today, the Oilers’ best veteran is probably the newly acquired Andrej Sekera. A solid player, sure. But certainly no threat to win the Norris Trophy. 

Which is why Oilers fans are so hopeful that 20-year-old Darnell Nurse, drafted seventh overall in 2013, can become a cornerstone defender, a la Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, etc.

It’s also why GM Peter Chiarelli doesn’t want to screw up Nurse’s development by throwing him into an NHL role too soon.

“For a defenseman, it is harder to break into the league properly,” Chiarelli said, per OilersNation.com. “With Dougie Hamilton (in Boston), he had a good strong core around him, and they are completely different players. Darnell is a defender and a puck transporter. He has a few more nuances to learn as far as defending, but I saw him play at the end of his playoffs and he played well. He has world class speed and strength.

“That is a hard one (whether Nurse is NHL ready). I want to be patient with these guys knowing that they are good young players and you’d like to have them help you as soon as you can.”

The Oilers have a few other promising defensive prospects, including Oscar Klefbom and Griffin Reinhart. They’re also still hoping Justin Schultz will realize the potential they see in him.

Bottom line: Without a much improved defense, even Connor McDavid will find it tough to bring the glory back to Edmonton.

Related: Todd McLellan is under pressure

Stars re-sign towering d-man Oleksiak: one year, $875,000

Dallas has re-upped with one of the largest players in the league — 6-foot-7, 250-pound rearguard Jamie Oleksiak.

Oleksiak, 22, agreed to a one-year contract extension on Thursday, the club announced. The deal comes after Oleksiak split time between Dallas and AHL Texas last year, scoring eight points in 36 games for the Stars.

The club’s first-round pick (14th overall) at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Oleksiak took a one-year pact for $875,000 (per the Dallas Morning News), opting for less term and slightly less money than fellow Stars d-men Patrik Nemeth and Jyrki Jokipakka took. In June, that pair signed matching two-year, $1.8 million deals with average annual cap hits of $900,000.

Though he’s still relatively young, Oleksiak is heading into something of a “prove it” campaign. He was picked ahead of some other noteworthy d-men in ’11 — like Nathan Beaulieu, Connor Murphy and Oscar Klefbom — and all three of them have played more games at the NHL level than Oleksiak.

 

New Oilers GM Chiarelli interviews McLellan

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Todd McLellan’s focus right now is on coaching Team Canada in the 2015 World Championships, but he did admit that he’s had an interview with new Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli while they’re both in Prague, per the Edmonton Sun.

In fact, the Sun thinks that interview was Chiarelli’s primary motivation for making the journey to Europe. While he’s there though, he’s also met with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Anton Lander, and Oscar Klefbom.

McLellan, who has a career 311-163-66 record, mutually parted ways with the Sharks after San Jose failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. It’s believed that other teams are also interested in his services, including the Buffalo Sabres. At the end of the day though, whether or not he’s teams’ top choice might be dependent on what Mike Babcock decides to do next. The highly regarded Detroit Red Wings coach has the option to become a free agent this summer.

The coaching market might remain at a standstill until Babcock announces what his plans are, but in the meantime McLellan has made his interest in the Oilers clear.

“It’s a team with a rich history and they have some good players there. Now you add in McDavid, Bob (Nicholson) taking over and Peter (Chiarelli) coming in,” McLellan said. “I really do think there were good people there before. What job descriptions they end up in, I’m not sure. But there will be a very strong team and group of people there.

“For any coach to consider all of that, it has to be a positive. It has to be exciting, not just for myself but for anybody. With all those good players there, it will eventually get going the right way. I think some of the changes and the No. 1 draft pick on Connor McDavid’s year make it enticing.”

Related:

Report: Former Lightning coach Boucher has been contacted by NHL teams