A Balanced Look at the Oilers

our continuing series on estimating team performances this season, today we’ll
look at the forwards for the Oilers.

here to read about my methodology.

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again, we’ll have along our friendly companion for the journey.

That’s me.

of him as my own personal Flaming C-jersey wearing devil sitting on my shoulder
and keeping me from my well-earned rest at night.

let’s get started.

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Oilers’ situation is slightly different than the Canucks and Flames in that they
have a new general manager and coach who will likely have a different
deployment strategy than last season. We’ll start by discussing the changes
there before moving on to the players.

office and bench additions:

  • Peter
    Chiarelli – Experienced former Boston GM brought in by Bob Nicholson to replace
    Craig MacTavish. Has already made significant changes in all three player
  • Todd
    McLellan – experienced coach with a winning record who comes from the Mike
    Babcock/Detroit Red Wings school of hockey. Likes a good forecheck and can make
    a powerplay sing.
  • Jay
    Woodcroft and Jim Johnson – McLellan’s assistants from San Jose.
  • Ian
    Herbers – U of A Golden Bears coach for three years before being brought in
    following his 2nd consecutive national championship.


  • Added:
    Connor McDavid, Andrej Sekera, Mark Letestu, Lauri Korpikoski, Eric Gryba, Cam
    Talbot, Anders Nilsson, Griffin Reinhart
  • Subtracted:
    Boyd Gordon, Viktor Fasth, Martin Marincin, Derek Roy, Keith Aulie, Matt Fraser, Jesse Joensuu

we’ll have a quick look at point projection and QualComp/Team charts for the Oilers forwards:

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Oilers FRE 2015-2016 pts


Oilers FRE 2015-2016 Qual

what can we tell from these numbers?
Eberle and
Nugent-Hopkins drew the toughest competition last season with Hall and Pouliot
next in line.

they really stand out. Everyone else is a minus. Man, that team sucked!
you’re going to do this the whole time it’s going to be a long article.

but you have to admit, from here that team looks like a dumpster fire off the
Jersey turnpike.
Yes, they were a horrible team. The heartbreak started
early, losing to the Flames on opening night, and the crying didn’t stop until they took Ol’ Yeller out behind the barn.

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I thought Hall was
supposed to be this great possession driving winger?

Injuries sidelined him last season and Eakins never really figured out how best
to use him.

Injuries, you say? It
happens. Hall has always been a two-gear guy: go and go harder. Fans
love him for it and the medical staff are all on his Christmas card list for all the time they’ve spent together. It is part of his history and
it’ll dog him until he can string together three consecutive 75+-game seasons.

what can we expect from this group this season?
The Oilers have
two lines now with the four players listed above and Connor McDavid centering behind Nugent-Hopkins. The third line is up in the air. Early on it was rumoured to be Draisaitl, Lander, Yakupov, but Draisaitl is making a case for himself in the top six on the wing. Teddy Purcell is in the mix too as the savvy veteran.

McDavid as 2nd line center. So, the Oilers are going to throw
another rookie into the NHL. That would make it five in a row?
Uh, yeah,
they didn’t in 2013-2014, but Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, Draisaitl and
McDavid (presumably) have all gone from junior straight to the NHL. Players
taken at that point in the draft typically play early and often. Give the Red Wings
a 1st overall pick and even they’d be sorely tempted to run the kid
out on opening night, albeit sheltered by Datsyuk, Zetterberg and the ghost of
Ted Lindsay. 

The Oilers do
realize you don’t just ice one line, right? It takes a few more guys to win
hockey games.
How many years did the Flames forward roster read
“Iginla plus 11 guests”? The hardest thing to do in the NHL is acquire
elite-level talent. The second hardest thing to do is to support that talent.
The Oilers have made that first part look awfully easy so far
this decade. They have absolutely soiled the bed on the second part. The Flames
cycled guys in and out of the lineup, sometimes the same guy several times, to
try and find the right mix. The Oilers have done something similar, with far
less impressive results. They look like they have two lines and the semblance of a third and fourth now. Time will tell but this thing has been cruising along at full Grandma-on-a-Sunday speed for long enough.

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So what grab-bag of
overpriced veterans and never-heard-ofs are they using on the 3rd
and 4th line this year?
Lennart Petrell was
busy so they traded for Lauri Korpikoski, and signed Mark Letestu. The bottom
six will consist of those two, Anton Lander, one of Yakupov, Purcell or Leon
Draisaitl, followed by Matt Hendricks, Rob Klinkhammer, Luke Gazdic, and Tyler
Pitlick. There’s a wide range of players and skills there. I’d guess we’re looking at 5v5 TOI totals around 18/18/14/10 or

I can’t tell if
that’s good or not.
Neither can I. I think McLellan is going to use the first two lines to
draw out the best the opposition has. He really has no choice. Nugent-Hopkins
and Eberle, McDavid and Hall, those pairings are going to get the opposition’s
attention. I think McLellan then hopes to sneak in Lander and Yakupov for some
offensive chances and keep the Hendricks line in his back pocket for when
things get hairy. It looks like three scoring lines, and certainly there’s
enough draft pedigree to suggest it, but the execution is critical and if
things don’t work then it falls to Letestu, Korpikoski, Hendricks and
Klinkhammer as the veterans to try and settle things.

can play up and down the wing, essentially a Swiss Army Knife of a
player, but Finnish. Hendricks and Klinkhammer are decent 4th line
players who can face fair to tough competition and not get their heads bashed
in, figuratively. Letestu has had some better seasons than last and will be relied upon to
play center or wing as the situation requires. These four veterans form a sort
of backbone for the bottom six, providing experience to cover off for the rest
of the bunch.

Yakupov and
Purcell are the swing men here, in competition for the 2nd line RW
position with the other falling into that 3rd line rotation. They’ll
also be in direct competition for powerplay time. Purcell is a very reasonable
obstacle for Yakupov to hurdle if he hopes to turn the corner and develop into
the player he was drafted to become. Purcell is capable of playing against
tougher competition though he struggles at 5v5 offense, lacks speed and doesn’t
engage physically like Yakupov.McLellan has also recently said that he wants to try Yakupov on the LW side and move Draisaitl over to the RW. I think things will be fluid with bodies moving around as required. The advantage is that there is no shortage of skill and with a variety of playing styles available. 

Lander will
have greater expectations upon him this fall. Last year he passed through
waivers before thriving in the AHL prior to call-up. He is expected to become
the 3rd line center this season and will face Letestu in competition
for that role.

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This is
likely Pitlick’s last kick at the Oilers’ roster. He needs to stay healthy and
play a simple game, the latter has always been his strength, the former his
extraordinary weakness.

So a team with a
solid defense corps and enough depth in lines 1 through 4 should be able to put
a blanket on this group easily enough and win the day.
try. We don’t know how things are going to shake out in terms of deployment so
we can’t say just yet that the Flames are ideally situated to beat the Oilers.
The fact is, the Oilers are going to struggle this year with the same things
they have for the last five – learning how to win against teams with experience
and depth and managing to stay in the game when they are down. The advantage they have this year is they have a coach who isn’t
learning it along with them. One thing we do know for certain, the Oilers will
not be winning a great deal through a well-honed defensive game.

And that McDavid
kid? What impact is he going to have?
Well, that’s an
interesting question because you could say he’s already had a massive impact on
this team. Consider: the Oilers won the lottery, then Nicholson reveals his
internal audit, next thing we know MacTavish is out, then Chiarelli is hired,
then Todd McLellan is brought onboard followed by Jackson and Herbers from the
U of A Golden Bears. In the middle of it Stu MacGregor is fired and Bob Green
takes over the scouting duties. McDavid hasn’t played a game and already he is
being credited with changing over a front office that had, in spite of
superficial changes, been somewhat moribund in its thinking for some time.

That lottery made
me want to puke! What a joke sending this kid to a circus show like the Oilers.
He deserves better.
To quote Clint Eastwood’s character in
Unforgiven “deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it”. This won’t be the first time
Edmonton fans have had to contend with
national disgust and disrespect over a
talented young player. Connor McDavid has landed in a welcoming hockey market and with no shortage of skilled young players to grow alongside. 90% of
the hockey world cried foul when that card was turned over and I don’t blame
them. I’ll always remember where I was when I heard they’d won the lottery and
the changes that moment wrought on the organization will have far reaching
effects. The fans have deserved a far better result than has been delivered for
some time now and this young man represents so much more than just hockey to
the fans. 

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The Great Saviour!
Is this the 4th or 5th? I’ve lost track of how many have
been destined to save this team. How balanced are your expectations of this “generational player”?
I’ve got McDavid playing with Hall
on the 2nd line. I’ve used some new NHLE equations courtesy of Oiler
GMoney and his site
. Essentially what GMoney noted was that
NHLE is a broad-based tool that identifies for the majority but doesn’t fairly
reflect the elite. So he fired up his Texas Instruments calculator and set to
it, working out a new formula that proposes a way to estimate NHLE for players
taken in the top end of the draft. He applied is specifically to McDavid and
I’ve basically copied his calculations for here.

You wrote down 66 points up above. I
thought he was supposed to be better than Crosby?
That’s his NHL
equivalency of his points from his last junior season. This year he’ll be
playing with better teammates against better opposition. I’ve estimated a limited 72 game season and that gives him a 0.91ppg pace, on hundredth of a ppg behind Hall who is five years older. And it’s
Stamkos he’s
apparently better than

Crosby got 102
points his rookie season.
In his draft year Crosby scored at 2.7ppg.
McDavid in his draft year scored at 2.55 ppg. 66 points is a line in the sand.
I’ve been watching McDavid since well before the Oilers won the lottery and can
say that this is both reasonable, conservative, and probably a little low. One
thing that is going to challenge McDavid right away is that every coach will
see him coming and no team is going to want to get scorched by him. He’ll draw
marquee opposition from the first shift and it won’t let up until coaches begin
to have to decide whether to cover him or Nugent-Hopkins. He could start slow
and pick up the pace as the season moves closer to Christmas. We’ll see if he
hits the rookie wall in late-winter.

Is he really that
good or is this just more Toronto-media draft hype?
He is. I can’t
really put it into words. He simply is. I’ve never seen someone move so quickly
so effortlessly. There is a very real chance he surpasses Nugent-Hopkins as the
1st line center by the end of the season. As a rookie.

And Draisaitl? A month ago I’d have said he’ll
probably play 1st line center in Bakersfield (the Oilers’ AHL
affiliate) for half the season. The reason was twofold: Chiarelli isn’t in the
same position, nor does he intend to make the same mistakes as, his predecessor
in that he can afford to take more time with Draisaitl by sending him to the
AHL. If he plays half the season in the AHL it has the added contractual
benefit of pushing back the beginning of his free-agency status by another
year. This training camp he has played exceptionally well and is forcing the issue. He has a skill set and build not unlike Joe Thornton and is playing for a coach who recognizes that player type better than any other in the league. He can’t ask for a better shot to make the team this fall.

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16 points isn’t
much for a 3rd overall. You can guarantee Bennett beats that by a
country mile.
Probably, but they aren’t likely to be playing in
similar roles. We’ll discuss Bennett when we get to the Flames, but for
Draisaitl that is 16 pts over 40 games which is .4 ppg, a respectable rate for
what is for all intents and purposes his second rookie season when he’ll be
playing further down the lineup than most 3rd overall picks. Then again, these projections were made when it was assumed he would spend half the season in the AHL. If he plays 82 games in the NHL that comes out to around 33 points, not bad for a do-over rookie season.

we go much further in the Draisaitl/Bennett comparison let’s agree that you
need at least five years to properly judge a draft. We’re entering year two and
there are miles and miles ahead. So brag away, but let’s keep that five year
mark in mind.

Are you done
stalling on talking about the defense?
Is it that obvious?

Oilers DRE 2015-2016 pts


Oilers DRE 2015-2016 Qual

I count one, maybe
two actual NHL defensemen.
Good for you, was it with a calculator or did
you manage just using your fingers?

Jerk. Listen,
I know the Oilers’ defense is a mess. They got screwed by Pronger, shot
themselves in the foot with Souray, never appreciated Vishnovsky, lost Ryan
Whitney too soon to injury, made a really bad bet on Cam Barker and sent Jeff
Petry away because he didn’t eat the red smarties last. The men involved in those decisions have rightly been moved along, one way or another.

matters now is where they go from here. The Sekera addition absolutely had to
happen. He and Fayne are the only two on the roster who can honestly be called
top-four defensemen at this time. Fayne played the 1st pairing shutdown role with
Green in New Jersey and Sekera was an analytics darling back in Carolina before
being acquired by Lombardi in Los Angeles. Those two are living, breathing NHL defensemen.

question next becomes 2nd pairing. Either Fayne or Sekera would be
best fit playing down the rotation because that would represent real depth, but
the Oilers are stuck with odd numbers on the blueline and McLellan will have to
find an answer somewhere.

That seems like it
is going to be a problem.
That’s an understatement. The Oilers are
lousy with 3rd pairing defenders right now in Ference, Nikitin,
and Gryba. Add in Davidson and Reinhart whom you’d like to start deeper down the rotation and they have a surplus.

How do they winnow
that herd?

Gryba and Nikitin are both pending UFAs and can be moved. Schultz is in need of
Yandle-treatment, similar to what Hartley did with Wideman two years ago – keep
him deep in the offensive zone and give him lots of powerplay time. Ference is
a buyout candidate. I suspect Chiarelli and McLellan talk with him sometime
this season. He has two more years on his contract, a no-movement clause and
carries the captaincy, so this is no small problem to solve.There’s always a chance for a trade early in the season, and we’ll see what transpires, but it is Chiarelli’s problem to solve in the short-term.

What do you mean short-term? Klefbom, Reinhart and Nurse could solve more problems than a few, but we’re jumping ahead.

These numbers looks
strange to me. It looks like Nikitin and Ference are top-four players instead
of the tire fire they are when I see them on the ice.
the problem with using advanced analytics to rate defensemen. There really
isn’t a good measure available. Their QualComp numbers are inflated because Eakins
stubbornly stuck to them as good veteran options when the results repeatedly
told him that they weren’t.

contrast, Klefbom and Schultz were paired together and given much easier
competition to face, hence the lower QualComp numbers, but Klefbom executed
exceptionally well while Schultz received lots of ice time as Eakins used him
to try and create offense when the team was often down. The ensuing chaos
usually exacerbated the situation.

and Reinhart were in different organizations under different deployment
strategies. Gryba was used as a 3rd pairing shutdown player while
Reinhart was brought along slowly and faced the easiest competition Jack
Capuano could find for him, with solid teammates on the ice at the time.

What about that
Klefbom kid?
This will be his first full NHL season, barring
injury, and he looks like a solid top-four defender with top-two potential.
Remember when Brodie started and he’d just skate the puck up the ice like it
was the easiest thing in the world before making a tape-to-tape pass with a
forward in good position? Klefbom shows that same skill set. He is calm,
skilled, and shows excellent instincts with and without the puck. But he’s also
just coming into the league and while MacTavish said he was comfortable putting
the kid into a top-pairing role this season Peter Chiarelli has chosen
otherwise and isn’t likely to let him go without some backup.

And Reinhart or

They’ll probably play part of the season in the NHL, the majority in the AHL
unless one clearly wins out at training camp. They are in a similar situation
as Klefbom was last season in needing a little more time. Nurse looks like the one most in need of AHL time. He has all the tools but needs to work on his timing.

And then? Then
the Oilers could go from having two NHL defensemen at the beginning of the
season to having six by year’s end if they graduate Reinhart and Nurse to join
Sekera, Fayne, Schultz and Klefbom. That leaves Gryba, Ference and Nikitin.

Because the Oilers
can never have too many rookies on their blueline, right?
It is a
problem, but all three of Reinhart, Klefbom and Nurse have tremendous skill and
the pedigree to suggest that the Oilers could solve their defense internally in
short order. It won’t be pretty, defenders learning on the job rarely is, but
it could mean not moving Eberle or Hall for an older defenseman past his prime.

What happened to
reasonable and not banking on rookies?
Convenient that you’ve put that aside when
you’re talking about the Oilers.
I’ll admit there is some danger of bias
here, but Klefbom has proven himself thus far. Reinhart has checked off all the
developmental boxes to this point and has a game that translates well and easily
to the NHL as a physical, smooth-skating shutdown defender. Nurse has developed
to become a dominant player every level he’s played at. He will go to the AHL
this year and indications from his previous stints there following the CHL
season are that he will adapt quickly and move to the front of the class for
injury call-up. By season’s end, I expect one or both of Nurse and Reinhart to
be on the regular roster.  

Right, so problem
solved, next stop Stanley. You’re delusional!
Delusional? Do you
honestly think for one moment I could have survived this long as an Oilers fan
if I didn’t have at least some small ability to suspend disbelief?

Alright, fair
enough. But the defense is a mess and if Chiarelli couldn’t fix it this
off-season how is he supposed to do it once the cap is in full effect?
The blueline simply. Isn’t. Good. Enough.
Full stop.
The Oilers have some problems ahead of them and if they try to
solve them using Ference and Nikitin then this season will get away from them

and Eakins stuck to their guns even when they were clearly pointed at their
feet and they’d already squeezed off a few rounds. It cost Eakins his job and
eventually cost MacTavish his as well. Chiarelli has no loyalty to any of
Ference or Nikitin and McLellan isn’t likely to stick his own neck out
too far for them either. Both men want wins and using prime ice time on those
two is not conducive to that end. They’ll find a spot for two of them at
least out of necessity, but I suspect it’ll be sheltered and short.

There’s too many
holes and your solutions are all kids. Sound familiar?
All too
much. The chance for success lies in the convergence of the proximity of help
and the competence of those minding the store for the time being.
Fayne-Sekera-Klefbom-Schultz can get some things done for a time. Nikitin and
Schultz have use on the powerplay and in limited time. Nurse and Reinhart are
at most a year away, soon enough to replace Nikitin and Ference without having
to unseat the top-pairing guys to make a go of it. It isn’t pretty, but it is a
damned sight better than a year ago or anytime since Souray and Vishnovsky were

This is like
talking to a brick wall!
Birds of a feather. Listen, I’m not saying
the defense isn’t a problem. It is. Chiarelli went hard after Dougie Hamilton
and went to Griffin Reinhart as a fallback option because he knew this needed
fixing fast. I believe he has one or two more deals waiting in the wings if the
season quickly starts to look like the latrine after Taco Tuesday.
MacTavish was fired partially because he preached another development year.
Chiarelli was hired because he will not stand for it. The defense today is not
as it will be by Christmas, I’d bet on it. So much depends on it that waiting
too long would be a crime.

Shall we move on to
Now’s as good a time as any.

Oilers GRE 2015-2016

Talbot, right? Right.
He was another of the big additions.

Another bet on a
career backup because Scrivens worked out so well.
The difference
between Talbot and Scrivens is the difference between betting on Bob Essensa or Tommy Salo. Scrivens is and likely always will be a backup-quality goalie.
He has streaks here and there, but struggles with consistency. Talbot has a
track record and has understudied to one of the best for years. Everything in
his history says he’s earned a shot and has a fair chance to make it.

Based on what? I
thought goalies were voodoo.
They are, but another study done by
Woodguy (Darcy
McLeod of BecauseOilers) looked at a wide range of numbers to see where Talbot
fell relative to his peers. The data came back suggesting that Talbot has shown
up on several statistical lists that feature quality, high-end goaltenders, and
with good reason. Meaning Talbot is as good a bet as you can make on a backup
goaltender who needs a shot to prove himself. Sutter did this with Kiprusoff
and the Flames were set for a decade. You don’t always get these bets right,
but when you do, you’re golden. If you want proof, click the link. I’ve also been fortunate enough to get a peek behind the curtains of Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract Update for 2015 and Talbot spends a lot of time in elite company by various measures.

It was a very good bet.

And what about
Scrivens and Nilsson?
Nilsson was brought in by trade for Liam
Coughlin this off-season. He is waiver-eligible, so if the Oilers cut him he could be claimed or go to Europe. He’s a big man who moves well, although sometimes too much. He
is there to challenge Scrivens and his background suggests they are in close
company to each other.

is the clear leader in this group and that save percentage isn’t something I
made up on the fly. It is an estimate based on all of his previous work and
checked against the work done by both Darcy and

the Oilers can manage even league-average goaltending this year they could
improve markedly.

So, is this rebuild
done now or are you planning another ten years of 1st overall picks?
I think
they’ve changed gears now. The patient approach is gone and if the wheels spin
then Chiarelli will have no hesitation to make some changes on the fly. They need to
make this thing work. Immediately.

Alright then, let’s
change tactics. What does the math tell you about this team?
the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Based on my projections above I’ve got the
Oilers scoring 227 goals this year. Last year that would have put them right at
12th or 13th overall, right between Columbus and
Minnesota, one back of Anaheim and one more than Nashville. It represents an
improvement of 34 goals for.

defense is going to be a work in progress right until the end of the year
unless we see a big trade bring in an established veteran who can fairly and
effectively be called a 1st pairing defender. This group is going to
struggle to keep on a level with the forward group. The good news is that there
are plenty of veteran forwards versed in two-way play that can help the defense
and show the younger players the good habits of covering off your man and
finding that open space for a safe outlet pass.

weakness will be their ability to control the chaos. When a team like Anaheim
begins the cycle in the low corners, using size and passing to create confusion
there aren’t enough experienced hands on deck to help calm the waters.The defense ranks in the bottom quarter of the league at this moment. However, changes are expected and I don’t believe that things will stay that way for long.

goaltending looks to be improved, by how much remains to be seen. However,
working out a .914 team sv% averaged between Talbot and either Scrivens or Nilsson puts the Oilers 10th
in the league last season, just ahead of the Winnipeg Jets and behind the

of this would suggest that the Oilers could be a playoff bubble team this year
in Western Conference. I don’t think they leapfrog the Kings and Ducks in the
Pacific Division, but I think they could be in a battle with the Sharks, Canucks
and Flames for a wild card spot at some point. The playoffs are probably still
a way’s off, but they could find themselves at least in the conversation. Let’s
say 4th in the Division, 10th in the conference and
somewhere around 19th in the League.

That’s a pretty
rosy outlook. I think I’ve seen this movie before.
So have I. The
Oilers have been rumoured to turn north for so long you’d think Franklin had
been sent to find them.

What makes this “the

Not sure I have anything that can back it up other than what the numbers

So then let’s ask
the next “reasonable” question: what’s the worst-case scenario?

Finishing in the bottom five, drafting 6th overall and trading away
Eberle or Hall and Yakupov out of panic.

That’d be fun to
see happen.
Tears would be shed and the streets would run with

Why the Johnny Cash

Cash struggled through a lot in his life, much of it was brought on by himself,
but he always empathized with the downtrodden and disenfranchised. He was the
man in black because he knew life’s dirty mix of hard work and tough luck. That
resonates with fans in this blue collar town. Edmonton has a lot
of Johnny Cash in its soul, from the old coal mines to the oil rigs, from the railroads to the family farm.

Wanderer is about a man who has eschewed the wider world to go walkabout. He’s
on the outside looking in, facing the bracing wind and a hard road. Surrounded by
the trappings of wealth in a world he doesn’t recognize, he longs for the
past he’s left behind and a future he doesn’t welcome, searching for himself in
the maelstrom.

2006 no team in professional sports has been as mismanaged and unfortunate in
their own desires than the Edmonton Oilers. The last decade has seen the league
thrive and flourish, the boon of championship has been spread around to both
coasts and has seen the emergence of the first NHL dynasty in a quarter of a

it all the Oilers and their fans have been on the outside looking in. They fell
from grace unceremoniously and aflame, landed hard and have been left looking
for redemption ever since. Fans have fallen for the false prophets and empty
promises but still manage to cheer for this team that
has used every ounce of their good will.

more this year, fans will light that candle in their hearts and pray.

And One Piece At A Time? Listen
to it. Funny as all hell and I can’t think of a better description of the
Oilers’ rebuild than this song. Christ this team is a mess, but it’s a beautiful
mess and there’s probably nothing out there like it.

And the Johnny
Burnette Trio?
That’s all about McDavid. The Oilers went to New York
with a plan of meeting a nice girl they could bring home to meet the parents
and walked away with a five-alarm bombshell they had no business walking down
the street with.

The party started five seconds after the golden ticket was
shown and hasn’t stopped since. Get
along, sweet little woman, get along
is probably now the official motto of
Oilers fans who have tired of the “sit tight and we’ll get through this in
time” approach of the past five (or more) seasons. The war is over, silk stockings are back,
and the kids want their rock and roll music now!

Bull biscuits!
You’re just posting it to watch those women shake their tail feathers!
I could
watch that video all day long. All. Day. Long. 

time we discuss the Calgary Flames.