Archive for 2016-09-04

EDMONTON OILERS LINE COMBINATIONS HEADING INTO CAMP

We're about two weeks away from the start of NHL training camp and real debate about line combinations for the Edmonton Oilers seem to be dominating the headlines. Even more so, with the recent news that Kris Versteeg has signed a PTO and coming to camp to win a role on the roster, things have gotten interesting in Oil Country.

Who plays with McDavid? Who is your second line right wing? Is Draisaitl a third-line center or should he get time in the top-six? Does Versteeg make the team? Is someone on the way out?



I wrote a couple articles on for the Hockey Writers discussing these exact topics:

Related: Is Nugent-Hopkins a Second-Line or Third-Line Center?

Related: Oilers Should Consider Starting Draisaitl at Wing

Centers


Based on the current depth chart, the center position looks like Connor McDavid followed by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Mark Letestu. It's stronger depth at center than the Oilers have had in years, but there is still a bit of uncertainty to it.

The Oilers have offered Mike Richards a PTO in an attempt to add a bit more depth to this roster. Perhaps a move like this will create flexibility to move players like Draisaitl around the lineup, making different line combinations an option for coach Todd McLellan. Should injury pop up, (which it often does in Edmonton) this added depth is not a bad idea. The only question is whether or not a player like Richards will accept a PTO with the Oilers and if he does, can he get back to even a fraction of his old self?

Wingers

Left wing looks like Milan Lucic, Benoit Pouliot, Patrick Maroon and Matt Hendricks. This is a real strength of the Oilers this year. The top-three have proven to be moveable pieces up and down the lineup, have size, grit and ability to score. This group seems to become more a matter of managing ice time and finding linemates that create chemistry than anything else.

Edmonton's right wing depth is a bit weaker and unproven, but still, the potential is there. Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Zack Kassian and Iiro Pakarinen make up the current roster with newly drafted Jesse Puljujarvi seems ready to make a statement in the NHL. Potentially, Versteeg fills out the right-side, adding some veteran depth.

Puljujarvi could be a star and he could take some time to transition into the NHL. Yakupov has struggled and is looking for a rebound season. Kassian appears to be in the best shape of his NHL career and mentally ready to slay dragon's while Eberle is working on his one-timer, hopefully adding another element to his ability to be one of the NHL's best pure goal scorers. Versteeg needs to prove he still has the goods and his injury troubles that kept him out of the Swiss League and brought him back to the NHL is actually all behind him.


Defense


This defense is vastly improved and appears to be the best since 2006 when the Oilers squeaked into the playoffs. However, it's also a question mark. It should go Oscar Klefbom with Adam Larsson, Brandon Davidson with Andrej Sekera (Sekera playing his off side) and Darnell Nurse with Mark Fayne. That said, there is a very strong possibility that we see a lot of combinations and changes on this blue line throughout the season. Expect Griffin Reinhart, Jordan Oesterle and newly signed college free agent Matthew Benning to get some time this season.

The hope is that Larsson and Klefbom make a strong first-unit pair and stay healthy. This alone would be a drastic and positive change for the Oilers. If they can eat big minutes and play against the opposing teams top scoring lines with success, it could drastically improve the Oilers very traditionally weak goals-against statistics.

Not to be forgotten, the Oilers have also invited Eric Gryba on a PTO, but he's yet to accept. This would add some proven depth to Edmonton's right side that of the two sides is clearly weaker. It doesn't fill their hole for an offensive powerplay specialist, but that looks it may not happen here for the season starts. I'm sure it's still on Chiarelli's mind.

Overall


This team is improved and the only way to know how much is to start playing games. The biggest hurdle for the Oilers is health. How healthy can this team stay and if they don't, how will this affect the line combinations? If they do, how do new players like Lucic and McDavid mesh? Larsson and Kelfbom? You get the idea. It's a team with the most depth at all positions that I've seen in years.

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.

EDMONTON OILERS TOGETHER WITH KRIS VERSTEEG ON NHL PTO

The Oilers had a few question marks at right wing. It's not a poor group of wingers, but it's not a veteran group with proven experience either. If the word from TSN's Darren Dreger is accurate, it looks like Edmonton may be considering adding a bit of veteran assistance.


Photo By Anna Enriquez

Kris Versteeg left the NHL this summer. He signed a deal with the Swiss League and the right-winger was pretty much history from the NHL. He was one of the earlier free agent exits as he didn't wait around before making a career change in hockey. Unfortunately for Versteeg, due to an earlier NHL injury complications arose and he could no longer sign in the Swiss League due to insurance reasons. He's coming back to the NHL 100% healthy as a free agent and it looks like the Oilers are his team of choice on a PTO.


While Versteeg hasn't blown the socks off of other NHL right-wingers in terms of production, he would be a stronger addition for the Oilers who have questionable depth at the right wing. With a combination of Jordan Eberle, Zack Kassian, Nail Yakupov and Iiro Pakarinen, Edmonton's depth at right wing could use some veteran presence. Only Jesse Puljujarvi has an opportunity to play significant time at right wing outside of these four and he's a newly drafted rookie.

Versteeg has played 550 NHL games, has 313 regular season points and has won the Stanley Cup twice. He's not big, but he is gritty. He could be enough to round-out Edmonton's top-nine forward group in a major way.

More to come as the news starts to get a little more clear. If this deal does happen, my prediction of moving Draisaitl to wing may not be necessary now and three potential scoring lines may be more of an option than earlier considered.

EDMONTON OILERS: It's Connor's Team

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyBsGYaQGhs

Yesterday was like reliving a bad break-up. Elliotte Friedman published an article that had every blogger stopping in their tracks and taking a day to write almost exclusively about Taylor Hall and the trade that sent Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson. Frankly, people are kind of sick of the subject.

The opinions varied from how the optics of the trade coming to light make the Oilers look less than ideal, to articles citing that no matter the appearance, the Oilers needed to make a change. An NHL franchise can only be so bad for so long before the central figure(s) key to the face of that losing is/are traded or removed from the equation.

Hall was moved for a defenseman that Edmonton badly needed. Hall was also removed to signify a changing of the times.

Players on Board


What matters at the end of the day are two things.

First, are the Oilers a better and more balanced team? Hall was a heck of a player for the Oilers, but in his place now comes Larsson and Milan Lucic as the top-line left-wing. It's hard to argue (even if you don't view the trade as a two-for-one) that Edmonton is not stronger than they were before the trade.

Second, the players seem to be on board. Sure, you can argue that players have to tow-the-line or they risk alienation from management and coaches, but what appears to be going on in Edmonton is more than that. Matt Hendricks, Oscar Klefbom and unnamed Oilers in the Friedman piece all seem to be of the consensus that removing Hall means this team is now McDavid's team and there's not a single person in the organization or player in the locker room who doesn't both understand and fully embrace that fact.


McDavid's Team


He'll be the youngest captain in the NHL, but he's clearly the choice. As teams in the World Cup of Hockey start naming their captains, it should be a matter of only a couple days that McDavid may get the title of captain with team North America and after the tournament ends, named captain of the Edmonton Oilers.

There's no situation in which McDavid gets moved out of Edmonton. He's ready to take the position of captain, his team is ready to accept him in that role and fans are ready to stand behind McDavid as the face of the franchise leading them out of a decade of darkness.

The day McDavid was drafted, it was an unspoken certainty. With the Hall trade, the unspoken truth is now screaming the Oiler's roster, fans and to everyone else, this is now McDavid's team.

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.

FRIEDMAN'S 23 MINUTES: A GREAT PIECE WITH LITTLE NEW INFORMATION

This morning Twitter went crazy as one of the most respected media-men in the county laid upon the hockey world a masterpiece of writing with his "23 Minutes that Shook the Hockey World". In my opinion, Elliotte Friedman is one of the absolute best at what he does and as a result of this article, Oiler fans and media are revisiting the Taylor Hall trade in a painful way, as if to suggest they'd finally just gotten over the trade and now are being tossed back into the fire.

Photo By Connor Mah



Here's the Thing

Despite the fact that Friedman's piece brings back memories of a trade that many Oiler fans aren't 100% ready to yet accept, there is absolutely nothing new here that would change the way we should or did feel about this trade before Friedman dropped this proverbial bomb.

You can sit there and say that Oiler GM Peter Chiarelli is more of a boob than you may have already thought he was for trading Hall, but we already knew Edmonton needed a defenseman. We knew the Oilers were not happy with the team dynamic in the dressing room. We knew that the Oilers were an unbalanced team. We also knew that no NHL GM was just going to give away a top-two defenseman for nothing.


Prior Warning Regarding the Larsson Acquisition

Elliott's Quote:

“A few teams asked me about him after I took the job, but we weren’t really interested,” Shero said. “And no one at the deadline asked about Adam at all. I told teams the only way I’m moving him is if it really makes sense. We don’t have to do this.”

Part of what made this trade so hard to fathom is that it sort of came out of nowhere. When Hall was traded, it came as a total shock to fans, but the Oilers knew that to get a defenseman they coveted, whether it be Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Faulk, Matt Dumba, Tyson Barrie, or P.K. Subban, they were going to have to give up a significant piece.

Friedman goes on to later explain that Chiarelli asked for more, but due to the cap implications that involved the two players salaries, New Jersey wasn't willing to budge. Chiarelli wasn't clueless to the fact that he was giving up the better player in the deal and whether or not you believe that a trade should never be made if you are losing the higher caliber talent, does not mean that in some cases, giving up the better player to create a better team isn't the right way to go. Only time will tell if Chiarelli has done so or not.

Trade Talk Between With Jersey Started Just Before the Draft


This we also knew, or at least were told by Chiarelli. Edmonton had considered moving down in the draft and selecting a defenseman, but upon realizing they could potentially draft Jesse Puljujarvi, decided not to go that route and went back to Larsson where the talks picked up steam.

Some people are plucking from this article that Edmonton decided to trade Hall after the final game of last season, when the Calgary Flames handed the Oilers a 5-0 loss. That Hendrick's refusal to fight was a metaphor for throwing in the towel on the team by its players, coaches and management.

In a way, the reference to the fight makes it feel as though the trade is framed in that sort of light, but it likely just isn't true. The Oilers were well aware of their inefficiencies on defense well before that game and that particular defeat was not the signal of all signals, that Hall was the piece to be moved.

Hall was a Personality in the Room

Elliott's quote: 

"In Hall’s case, a couple of Oilers believe the organization wanted to make it easier for McDavid’s influence to grow in the room. “Taylor’s a dominant personality,” one said. “That’s not a criticism. That’s who he is.”

This is about the closest thing to new information the article delivers on the Hall trade front, but it's not terribly surprising as Hall being a personality in the room was rumoured for a while. Even the Friedman piece, however, hints that it's not as though this was the defining reason for the trade as some Hall haters would like you to believe.

Related: Was Taylor Hall Trade a Dressing Room Maneuver?

What we really learn from this quote is that whoever said it believes only one thing that matters moving forward. Connor McDavid is the horse the Oilers want to hitch their wagon too and will be the next captain in Edmonton.

It also reaffirms something we already knew about Chiarelli. He may not want to do it, but he is willing to trade a player who has immense talent if the personality of that player could be hindering the team dynamic. With major reservation he made the move in Boston with Tyler Seguin and he wasn't afraid to make a move here in Edmonton.

New Information


Again, there is nothing new in the Friedman piece we didn't already know. It may seem painful having someone remind us of things that aren't easy to hear, but the news is no different than it was when told to us by Chiarelli or the Oilers players that knew change was on its way.

All we can hope for now is that the Oilers look to make significant moves toward better results in 2016-17. If they don't, people will be looking back at the trade, this article and tweets like the ones listed above showing that it was a terrible move. In that respect I agree.

If you're going to trade your second-best player, you'd better have plans to improve your team in doing so. But this I believed well before Friedman's wondeful article ever came out.

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.

EDMONTON OILERS AND TRADING FOR RASMUS RISTOLAINEN

The Buffalo Sabres are always an interesting team to watch. And, when I say interesting, I don't necessarily mean on the ice. Season after season, Buffalo is one of the busiest teams in the NHL during the summer. They overspend on players, they dump contracts, they make splashes and like they are doing with Rasmus Ristolainen, they leave real talent out on a limb.

Rasmus Ristolainen Photo By Lisa Gansky


Part of what is starting to make the Sabres a more entertaining team to watch on the ice is their youth movement. Jack Eichel is the real thing and players like Ristolainen have come on strong as viable defensive talent only scratching the surface of his ability. Signing Eichel will be a no-brainer, so why is Ristolainen taking so long?


Who is Ristolainen


As one of Buffalo's restricted free agents, the Sabres have extended a qualifying offer to Ristolainen, but the 21-year-old has yet to sign it. A 25-minute per game player, Ristolainen played both power play and shorthanded minutes scoring 41 points last season. He was a not great in plus/minus with a minus-21 rating, but he's trending upward and looking at a six-year, Seth Jones type contract; somewhere in the ballpark of $5.2-$5.5 million per year.

Buffalo has the cap space to make this happen, so why are they waiting? It looks like the Sabres are trying to low-ball the player, offering fewer minutes and since Ristolainen's camp has gone on record that they won't extend during the World Cup of Hockey; when he gets signed, it will likely be after the World Cup. Is there an opportunity there?

Checking the Boxes


Ristolainen is a right-shooting, right-side defenseman, he's a heavy load at 6 foot 4 inches and 217 pounds and is Buffalo's number one option on defense. It would be crazy the think they'd consider trading him, but the Oilers sure could use a player of his ability and he fills an immediate hole.

If Buffalo would even contemplate a trade, what would the Oilers not be willing to move? Perhaps only Oscar Klefbom or Adam Larsson who are pencilled in as Edmonton first-unit pairing. Everything else from the Oilers blueline should be considered.


What it Would Take


I'm going on record to say that I think his deal with the Sabres gets done. That said, if Buffalo called and I was the Oilers GM, I would have to start with Darnell Nurse, another roster player and perhaps a prospect to get the Sabres attention.

The Sabres would want a potential replacement blueliner and while Nurse plays the left, Buffalo isn't deep there. Dmitry Kulikov is pretty much it for lefties and Nurse could slot in at the number two left spot. I'd have to offer more value.

Behind Kyle Okposo on the right, the Sabres are also not as deep at right wing. That being noted, the Oilers don't have much beyond Nail Yakupov to give and I don't think Yakupov and Nurse get it done. It may require a contract for contract type swap, helping the Sabres move a bad contract from their books (they always seem to have at least one).


Does Nurse, Yakupov and a 1st or 2nd round draft pick get it done? I'm not sure even that would do it, but Buffalo has been on the losing end of trades in the past and as Dustin Neilson points out, there is always a potential offer sheet play. Perhaps the Oilers make a call and see if they avoid getting hung up on.

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.