Archive for 2016-07-03

Friday's Fifteen


Every Friday, I'll be posting fifteen thoughts, items, or statements about the Edmonton Oilers. In much the same way that I call blog articles or opinion pieces "spilling my guts", these will be me spilling my guts but in a quick style format.

I won't go into as much depth on each topic, but instead provide more food for thought in an effort to give readers something think about and potentially provoke a little conversation.

But, hey, I mean who really cares what I think right?

1) I believe if Nail Yakupov is an Oiler by the start of this coming season, look for Todd McLellan to give him 10-12 games with Connor McDavid to prove he can be a contributor or showcase him to the point he becomes a trade piece that can be sold at a higher value than the absolute basement prices opposing GM's are willing to pay now. It would be a waste if Yakupov couldn't get going and I think with some confidence, he could get 25-30 goals with a bit of consistency.

Jonathan Willis wrote an interesting piece on this topic over at the Cult of Hockey. Worth the read.

2) If there's one thing that's for certain, the Oilers are a tougher, meaner team than they were last season. Lucic, Hendricks, Nurse, Maroon, Gryba (if signed) all have good chances to be on the ice at every point in a game. There won't be a time this season that other teams should or will take liberties where in the past the Oilers "tough guys" were often not on the ice. It should create some space for the skilled players to do what they do best.

3) The Oilers need a hard-shooting defenceman. The one thing they lacked all season last year was a bomb from the point, especially on the power play and I believe that was ultimately the biggest disappointment in Justin Schultz. There was never a fear by penalty killers on the opposing team that Edmonton could beat you with a bomb, thus they never had to defend it and the Oilers powerplay lacked any real threat. If Tyson Barrie isn't an option for Edmonton after arbitration, look for the Oilers to seek out a stop-gap such as James Wisniewski as a powerplay specialist.

4) In the same vein, if one of the Oilers younger defencemen, namely Brandon Davidson, can work on his shot, expect that player to make a major jump in point totals for the Oilers. I would love to see Darnell Nurse work on his shot, but I think Davidson's is highly underrated and Edmonton should try to take advantage.

5) If you haven't taken a look at how Rogers Place is coming along, visit their website and check out live camera views as things are happening.

6) There have been some interesting write-ups in the Oilers blogosphere about Adam Larrson. The one thing the Taylor Hall trade did, after of course almost causing a riot amongst fans; was create real interest into exactly who and what Larsson is. Edmonton fans didn't get to see him much and therefore don't know exactly what the Oilers are getting. Larsson played little to no time on the powerplay in New Jersey, but in Sweden he was a player often used on offense. He's going to by primarily a shut-down defenseman for Edmonton, but don't be surprised if he gets a little second-unit powerplay time.

7) How many games do you think Milan Lucic plays in an Oiler uniform before his first fight? I'll set the over/under at 2. The Oilers open their regular season against Calgary, so it might not even take that long.

8) Anton Lander gets forgotten in Edmonton. But, I see the potential for Lander to have a good season if the proper situation presents itself. There was a point in time two years ago that Lander was a highly productive player on the Oilers. I don't think that skill or drive has left and if given the right opportunity and a little chemistry, Lander could have a breakout year.

9) The Oilers need to obtain a 2nd round pick sometime this season in a trade to keep a selection in next years draft. Edmonton still owes Boston compensation for signing Chiarelli and it makes sense at the deadline, Edmonton may trade a prospect for a 2nd rounder to keep a selection for themselves.

10) With the entry-level bonuses due some of the Oilers higher draft pedigree players, we might want to watch for Edmonton to start a player like Reinhart in the minors or move his contract. Above board, the Oilers appear to be a team with cap space, but behind the scenes, those bonuses could cause potential cap issues. Edmonton may look to offload one of those contracts that is heavily bonus loaded.

11) Edmonton plays six of its first nine games in the new arena. If the Oilers don't get a good start to the season, it could be trouble as they play eight of the next ten on the road. There should be some real motivation in the new rink to perform at a higher level, but for the Oilers, in a way, it's almost like being a road team as they'll be more unfamiliar with the rink. A good start will be huge to the Oilers season.

12) Drake Caggiula is relatively unknown to Oiler fans, but not for long. I expect to see him get one of the first cracks at NHL duty if he doesn't make the team out of camp and upon the first real injury at forward for Edmonton. Caggiula has some real bite to his game and skill to score on any line. He'll be the type of forward who can move up and down the line-up easily. He's the type of "hard" player that Chiarelli and McLellan like.

13) Fans hoping for Tyson Barrie might be disappointed. Barrie is exactly what the Oilers are looking for, but he's not of interest to just the Oilers. If he shakes loose in Colorado, expect a few teams to be willing to offer something up.

14) I don't believe it would be wise to trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at this point. His name seems rumored most often in trades as the Oilers look for that powerplay specialst, but the Oilers are strong at center and Nugent-Hopkins has something to prove in what will be a rebound year for him. I'm calling it now...it's not out the realm of possibility that the "Nuge" strings together a 65 point season.

15) I'll be doing some writing for the Hockeywriters.com   as a Calgary Flames author. I'll dabble a bit on the Oilers and one day, may move over to cover Edmonton on that site exclusively, but it will be fun to take a closer look at the Battle of Alberta from the Flames perspective. I look forward to contributing regularly.



VALUE DEALS


The NHL Value Contract

In hockey terms, a value deal refers to a player who, on a contract with an NHL team, is likely to outperform the amount they're paid dollar-wise versus their on-ice performance. In order for an NHL team to be successful nowadays, management has to employ at least three to four value contracts. 

Every team has a player or two who make the big bucks. In Chicago, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, make up $21 million of the $73 million cap space the Blackhawks have available to them. In other words, 29% of the team cap is being taken up by two players. The only way to balance it out is to have players like Artemi Panarin or Brian Campbell on value deals to ice a full roster that can compete. The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins have the contracts of Crosby and Malkin being balanced out by Nick Bonino and Bryan Rust. Tampa has Steven Stamkos balanced out by a Jonathan Drouin. The list goes on and on.

It's a struggle to keep a window of opportunity open since these value deals don't last long and can be difficult to find. Once a player has proven himself a consistent contributor, the bump in pay comes and the dominos fall. Chicago has done a decent job managing value deals during their championship years, but they've had to say goodbye to some valuable pieces along the way. Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Brandon Saad were all casualties of a cap system that forced the Blackhawks to replace previous value contracts with new value deals. Other teams aren't as lucky.

The best practice is to have fair value deals across the board and some teams are quite good at it, but when you have superstars or your team becomes a perennial winning franchise, it can be challenging to keep those fair value contracts in-house with free agency and the scare of offer sheets a big part of today's NHL landscape.

Oiler's Value Deals

In Edmonton, Connor McDavid, much like many entry-level contracts, is the first and highest profile of a few value contracts. Where McDavid differs is in his ability to be a generational talent and overall game-changer. He projects in a healthy season to score 80-100 points and bump the statistics and point totals of the players who play on his line. The Oilers have exactly two years to get value out of Connor McDavid's contract.

To a lesser extent, Edmonton also has Brandon Davidson ($1.425 million), Patrick Maroon ($1.5 million), Darnell Nurse ($863K), and Leon Draisaitl ($925K) all on great value deals with the potential to play major roles on this team and contribute in a big way. One might argue even Nail Yakupov ($2.5 million) is a value deal if he gets an opportunity to play first line minutes and take advantage of it. Personally, I still think he has the potential to be a 20-25 goal winger in the NHL.

The key for the Oilers is recognizing the window of these value deals and taking advantage while they exist. Once these players start to out-perform their contracts, Edmonton, especially if they are not a playoff team, will have to bump salaries or overpay to keep players. Sometimes this window isn't as obvious, but Edmonton is one of a few teams who should be able to notice this window is staring them in the face. This window is not next season or tomorrow -- it's today.

After the Taylor Hall trade, many fans will contest that the Oilers aren't seizing their opportunities, but I'm not sure I agree. Where I can understand the argument and to a degree sympathize, is that Taylor Hall's contract was considered a value contract. This was true. Hall's point totals and ability to drive an entire line 5 vs 5, were above his pay scale in comparison to a number of players in the league. Hall was worth his pay if look strictly at his on-ice performance.

Where I disagree is that Hall's contract was categorized as "way above" his pay scale and that there were not better value deals out there. I think New Jersey is going to find what Hall brings them is worth what they'll pay; but $6 million dollars is a higher cap hit in the NHL and the Oilers instead chose to trade Hall's contract for Adam Larsson ($4.1 million), who too could turn out to be a bigger value deal based on ice-time and what he brings to the table.

Is Larsson's deal a better value deal than Hall's? Today, maybe not, but what Larsson's contract also provides, is an additional $1.9 million to find another player - on a value deal - to compliment the Edmonton Oilers. There are at least a dozen players still in free agency who could add value and $1.9 million per season would cover the contract of almost any one of these players. As the summer goes by, the value deals get better.

I also believe, based on the salary cap implications of some of the Oilers higher draft pedigree players, we'll see some trades or demotions to balance out the cap roster and bonus structure that may be hampering the Oilers. Griffin Reinhart is a prime example. With $2.35 million in performance bonuses available to him as the fourth overall selection, Reinhart will likely be sacrificed for a value contract that can prove to help the Oilers today. He may start in Bakersfield or be moved along if a buyer comes knocking and someone like Jordan Oesterle makes more sense from a financial perspective for Edmonton. While the intangibles are different, Oesterle is as proven as Reinhart in terms of on-ice performance, but at a much better price.

Value deals will play a major role in the rest of the Edmonton Oilers summer plans. Whether it be trading for and signing a big fish like Tyson Barrie or moving smaller pieces around to get more value deals in this small window that's been presented, Edmonton will be making a number of decisions and the Oilers roster today is not what it will be in September/October.

Keep an eye on players like Drake Caggiula and  Tyler Pitlick. Should they get an opportunity and make the most of it, we could see them a lot and be looking at them as value deals down the road.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.





Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.

Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.




KLEFBOM, SUBBAN, AND THE MYSTERIOUS ANKLE


The Edmonton Oilers are taking a serious gamble. Even after the trade for Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom is being touted as this team's only legit number one defenseman and while hopeful, the Oilers aren't sure if he'll be able to start the season.

In the 2015/2016 campaign, the Oilers were 13-15-2 when he was in the lineup, and 18-28-6 when he was not. He had 12 points in 30 games, averaged more than 2 blocked shots per game, played over 21 minutes per game and 1:52 per game on the powerplay. For the Oilers to move up in the standings, Klefbom clearly needs to be healthy and right now, he's a question mark. The latest news is that he'll be sent for a fitted skate to help solve what turned out to be two separate infections in his leg/ankle after going down initially with a hand injury.

With Edmonton mathematically out of the playoffs and out of caution, the Oilers essentially shut him down to end last season, suggesting that if Edmonton had made the playoffs, Klefbom would likely have been skating; yet after two surgeries, no one seems to know exactly where Klefbom stands.  The ankle still has issues, the skate rubs against it causing discomfort and he's still not 100%.  This fitted skate is being heavily relied upon as the solution that could allow him to return to un-interfered regular action.

I don't proclaim to know everything that's going on behind closed doors and I'm not a medical expert who sees Oscar Klefbom every day, but to me, from the outside looking in, this is not good news. In fact, it's a scary indication that everyone is downplaying the severity of the issues and the Oilers may have to get used to Klefbom in and out of the line-up more than once this coming season.

The team, the player, and management seem to be optimistic, but it sounds a lot like misdirection. What if this skate doesn't solve the problem? While not in the same realm of issues that ended former defenceman Ryan Whitney's career and made him a shadow of the former player he once was, what if Klefbom has persistent issues with that ankle?

Will Klefbom ever return to the player he was looking to become? Will he take a step forward or a step back? Will he miss a lot of action next season and Edmonton once again be forced to place an unproven number two defenceman in a number one role?

And here's some food for thought; a potential conversation kick-starter --  if Klefbom isn't going to be the same and the Oilers were concerned, would you have made the P.K. Subban trade that was rumored knowing what you know? Montreal wanted Leon Draisaitl, Oscar Klefbom or Darnell Nurse, the 4th overall and something else.

It was a large ask, but I suggest that one of the biggest worries for the Oilers in that proposed trade was giving up on either Nurse or Klefbom before seeing what they had in either of these two players. If the concern was Klefbom not being ready or potentially not returning to his former self, would you reconsider the trade? If I'm management and the risk exists that I'll not see the return of what Oscar Klefbom could have been, P.K. Subban and his massive cap hit look a lot more attractive.

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.





Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.

Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.

WHY YOU SHOULD NO LONGER PICK ON THE EDMONTON OILERS


Like the unsuspecting quiet, somewhat nerdy kid in the school yard, who, by the way, also happens to be a third-degree black belt, the Edmonton Oilers are no longer a team you pick a fight with. You're either bound to look like a schmuck who was ill-prepared for the task at hand, or you'll walk away with a few bruises to show for your trouble.

The Oilers aren't perfect. In fact, they may still not yet be a playoff team. But, no longer can you come into Edmonton and take a night off. In much the same way the nerdy kid surprises everyone and teaches the big bad bully a lesson, Chiarelli has decided, if you're going to come into Rogers Place, the Oilers new house of hockey; you might be surprised by how you'll be greeted.

As an opponent, you are either going to get schooled by skill in the form of Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl or to a lesser extent Milan Lucic and Nail Yakupov; or you're going to get your ass handed to you by Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Matt Hendricks, Darnell Nurse or Mark Fraser. You might even get a little cheap-shot from a guy like Benoit Pouliot for good measure.

I say, it's about damn time.

I'm well aware that the Oilers may lose some hockey games. I'm not for a minute suggesting this team all of a sudden starts to win 45-50 games and easily makes the post-season. In fact, there are a lot of fans right now calling for Chiarelli's head after trading away Taylor Hall, which is a move that could come back to bite the Oilers and one I argued the other day shows Chiarelli is choosing better balance over pure talent. But, Chiarelli's vision for this team is a far different one than former management. No one can deny that.

The way this version of the Oilers is being built, no longer should opposing teams visit with a sense of ease. Done are the days of free passes. Done are the days of an automatic two points. Hopefully done are the days of teams playing their backups goalies and putting in anything less than their best efforts. If you're going to beat the Oilers, you're going to have to earn it. The Oilers are being built to stand toe-to-toe with any team, skilled or gritty. They'll lose along the way, but this change is a welcome change and one I believes leads to more wins and an improved sense of team culture.

For too long this Oilers team was built entirely on skill along side an attempt at a run-and-gun offense. The Hemsky, Gagner, Nilsson, and Cogliano era to the first round draft pick years of Eberle, Hall, Nuge and Yak are long gone. With McDavid and other clearly gifted and highly drafted talents, the Oilers still possess team skill, but also became a team not afraid to try and win in other ways. One would need to look no further than the recent Taylor Hall to find evidence this team is taking a different direction.

Those previous days were supposed to be defined by team toughness, but more often than not, included little to no push-back from the Oilers. Sure, every once and while Edmonton could beat you 7-1 or 8-3, but far more often were the losses and the allowances for comebacks from teams who could simply turn up the dial and the Oilers had no response. There was no willingness by Edmonton to play a little rough, nor get those skilled hands dirty.

In those days, the Oilers were supposed to be able to beat you with their powerplay. Take a penalty on the Oilers and they'll make you pay on the scoreboard. The only problem was, the Oilers were actually not very good at scoring, consistently being one of the lowest-scoring offensive teams in the NHL. Only during a small window, when Ralph Kreuger was coaching, did the Oilers have anything resembling an effective powerplay.

The idea of beating you on the scoreboard only works if you can actually score when given the opportunity. Chiarelli wants a team that if they can't score based on skill, could score in the dirty areas and if they can't do that, will simply attempt to beat you into submission.

It's a new look Oilers. It's a look I kind of like. But, I mean, who really cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until the next time I feel like spilling my guts.



Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.

Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here. 

BALANCE VERSUS TALENT - WHICH SIDE DO YOU FALL?


Unless you take the position that Adam Larsson is not any better a defender than the Oilers have been icing the last three seasons, the Edmonton Oilers are a better hockey team today than they were just one week ago.

Think what you will about the fleecing of Chiarelli by New Jersey in the Taylor Hall trade, Chiarelli set out with a clear objective - win now, balance out the roster and look to put together a competitive blueline that could stand the wear and tear of a nasty Pacific division.

Hopefully in trading Hall, Chiarelli didn't trade an elite level talent that would, by consequence, send Connor McDavid into such a state of discontent that he'll have to think twice before choosing to stay long term, but I believe the idea here was to show McDavid that the agenda is to win today, not tomorrow. Chiarelli's blueprint includes being bigger, meaner and more balanced. He's well on his way in his design, but; is doing so at the expense of overall talent.

Talent alone won't get you to the Stanley Cup or any major championship in professional sports. Look around any league and you'll see some of the most talented players are playing and showcasing their skills for some of the worst teams. In sport, as in life, talent gets you part way there, but dedication, hard work, sacrifice and a team-first mentality, mixed with talent, breeds winning. For too long the Oilers have been stockpiling talent, but finishing a lottery team, learning how to lose and not win.

Every summer, management has tinkered with small changes - insignificant pieces -  surrounding their talent with not enough muster to make any difference in the standings. Call it a culture change, call it a necessary evil, call it a GM having blind faith in the ceiling of an incoming player that has yet to prove his talent to match the asset he was traded for, Chiarelli is choosing team first, talented players second. He's filling positions of need, sacrificing positions of strength.

I've not heard one person, even those who love Adam Larsson as a player, suggest that Larsson is as talented or skilled as Taylor Hall. It's pretty clear that today, the New Jersey Devils got the better player in that trade. I've also not heard anyone say that the Oilers clearly didn't need to upgrade their defence.

The UFA market was bare, sans Jason Demers who visited the city, but ultimately chose Florida. Subban to Edmonton trade rumors monopolized the draft, but in the end, the asking price was deemed far too expensive for the Oilers to make that trade work. Chiarelli explored his options and in the end chose a path that has fans divided. It doesn't change the fact that Edmonton couldn't wait even one more summer before doing everything in their power to start winning now.

I hated the optics of the Taylor Hall trade. I'm sad to see him go. I also don't know enough about Adam Larsson to say he can't or won't turn into a great find for the Oilers. Everything Chiarelli is doing may work out, even though today it looks like the Oilers didn't receive fair value. One thing I do know, I'm more willing to watch fewer hockey games as an Oiler fan if the Oilers keep losing than if they trade a player I liked to watch. Taylor Hall or not, Edmonton needs to start making the playoffs.

If balance over talent is what makes that happen,onward and upward Mr. Chiarelli. I'm not completely confident in the path you're taking, but I see what you're going for and I agree with the methodology.

The rest of what Chiarelli does with his summer will tell us, if in fact, Chiarelli has lost his marbles. Can he find a puck-moving, powerplay specialist? Will he sacrifice talent for balance again? Can he swap talent for talent?

Make the playoffs Edmonton. Do it now. At the end of the day, what happens in five years is less of an issue to me.

But who really cares what I think right? In the meantime, I'll keep it shut until the next time I feel like spilling my guts.


For other Oil Spill articles by Jim Parsons, click here.

Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.