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What is Wrong With the Edmonton Oilers?

The Edmonton Oilers lost last night to the Los Angeles Kings, and now sit at winless on the season. They didn’t just lose though, they were embarrassed by the defending Cup champions. There is no shame in losing to a team that good, but it is the manner in which the Oilers went about getting their teeth kicked in that makes it a point for conversation.

By: Adam Pyde - @Adam_Pyde

1. We’ll start things off with the defence in Edmonton.

Prior to last night’s contest, it was unveiled that head coach Dallas Eakins healthy scratched Jeff Petry. This was met with a resounding “What in the world?!” by anyone that knows anything because Petry is the Oilers’ best defenceman. It isn’t even close.

This comes after the Oilers demoted their other best defenceman to the AHL for reasons, I guess.

That left the Oilers, a team that needs everything to go right to win, starting the game against the best team in the NHL last year, with this:

Nurse – Schultz
Nikitin – Fayne
Hunt – Ference

When it could have been this:

Marincin – Petry
Nikitin – Fayne
Ference – Schultz

For absolutely no discernible reason, the Oilers handicapped themselves. Imagine if Vancouver went into Los Angeles and decided to scratch Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa for no reason. This is almost the same thing, and its the kind of decision that would get a coach fired for actively surrendering a win.

Eakins’ hasn’t been gifted with an all-star defence, but he hasn’t done himself any favours with it either.

It was blatant against Vancouver that Brad Hunt is not capable of playing 5 v 5 in the NHL.

  • His foot speed doesn’t allow for him to prevent zone entries because he has to use a Red Deer sized gap or else he gives up a breakaway.
  • He’s not strong enough or quick enough to win battles in the corners, behind the net or really anywhere along the boards which pins the Oilers in their zone.
  • And unless it is a perfect breakout with no forecheck, he’s unable to make a pass that allows the Oilers to transition in control of the puck.

Scratching Petry in favour of Hunt is not smart. A good team does not scratch a quality 5 v 5 player for a specialist role. Most of the game is played at 5 v 5. Only a few minutes are played on special teams, and Hunt is only useful on the 2nd unit powerplay.

2. The Oilers’ either aren’t taught a system, or the players ignore it

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_4nw9hnC9Q&w=420&h=315]

That is a great breakdown of how the Oilers just aren’t equipped and/or prepared to deal with good breakouts. I brought up last night with a friend how easily the Oilers get carved by a strong side break out.

To add to the video:

  • It starts with a pinch by Hunt, which isn’t a bad play here in essence. He looks to have the some support to avoid a massive blunder.
  • But it turns out bad because instead of playing the body or being aggressive, Hunt only 75% commits to the pinch and waves his stuck a whole bunch. That might work in the AHL where the winger is going to just hammer it up the boards blindly 95% of the time, but you’re not in the AHL anymore.
  • Then Joensuu (#6) decides to write a check his feet could never cash in by trying to hold the blueline while the Kings are in a full breakout. This compounds the failed pressure by Hunt on Richards. Yakimov also doesn’t do anything besides waste his breath.
  • This is where Hunt’s mistake is compiled again, as you don’t make that pinch when you have players like Joensuu and Yakimov as your support against the Kings first line.
  • Everything compounds even worse once the Kings gain the Oilers zone because Ference (#21) is the lone player vaguely in a defensive position, but since things were so hammy in the neutral zone, he has to back off and leave a huge gap that he has no chance of defending. If he doesn’t leave this gap, Kopitar has a partial breakaway.

This is something that comes down to a mix of bad players and bad coaching. A bunch of mistakes were made here by players just not prepared or poised enough for the situation.

Coaching comes in where the Kings didn’t catch the Oilers off guard with this line match up, and Eakins didn’t immediately get Nikitin and Fayne, or anyone else to be honest, for this play. He could have easily changed his players here, but didn’t.

This is where the mix of coaching and players come into play though. If the weak side forward (Yakimov) pressures hard back to Williams then nothing bad really happens. You probably give up the zone, but Ference can play up and Kopitar who justs takes it low and wide and it becomes a regular entry.

All it took was two mistakes, pinch by Hunt and whatever Joensuu tried, and its a Los Angeles goal.

It is pretty brutal all round, and you could excuse Eakins for bad players if this was just a one-off, but it isn’t. You can say “he didn’t coach that awful coverage” but you’re left to wonder “Well, what is he coaching since it happens every game?”

3. So why is Dallas Eakins the coach?

I’m not sure I have the answer to this. Bad players can still know what to do. They just don’t do it well.

I was asked if the Oilers system is “no system” and I felt like I had to agree. There were two break outs that happened back to back that demonstrated this quite well, unfortunately I don’t have YouTube powers.

When you watch the Kings break out, it is: strong side winger low, center support, weak side winger provides mid ice option and weak side D backs up the middle of the ice in case the play breaks. Almost every single time.

The Oilers do it differently: they tend to send the strong side D towards the strong side wingers spot (decides to pass to winger or center), center is pressing the blueline, weak side winger never crosses into the middle for support and weak side D is picking his nose.

The Oilers seem to have no idea what they’re doing to try to exit their zone, or go through the neutral zone, or what to do any time someone not named Taylor Hall has the puck in general.

So again, why is Eakins coach? Well, he coached the Toronto Marlies and got the hype train that comes with it. The Marlies weren’t a team that succeeded because of the young Leaf picks, even though that was the popular opinion. Eakins’ Marlies teams rode strong defensive forward career AHLers in prominent positions.

But he does not have strong defensive NHL forwards to make his system work, and thus you get all sorts of this.



4. So is it the forwards fault?

It is tough to say. A coach has to shape the players into better players, but he can only work with the players he’s given.

Craig MacTavish made a huge mistake by going into the season with a center ice of 1. Nugent-Hopkins 2. Arcobello 3. Draisaitl 4. Gordon. Centers serve as the core of any defensive system and having 2 rookies anchoring the middle six is living on a prayer.

This problem only gets worse when Nugent-Hopkins gets injured. Now, most teams are pooched without their top center, but no team is more pooched than Edmonton due to the sheer lack of anything else in the position.

So the next thing to look at is the wingers. Can they insulate the centermen? And the answer is a resounding “No.”

Pouliot and Purcell are veteran players and responsible enough defensively. Perron and Hall are both better than they get credit for, but no one is confusing them for Jiri Lehtinen any time soon.

That leaves Yakupov and Eberle.

I feel that people unfairly pick on Yakupov for not caring about defence, where I feel the issue is that he is honestly and wholeheartedly plain confused. You can see that he wants to be in the right defensive position, but he doesn’t know where that is. That is the coach’s job.

Eberle has managed to get away with being quite possibly the least defensively responsible forward on the Oilers for quite some time now and I’m not sure why.

By the point in his career, there is no way that Eberle doesn’t know his defensive positioning. And I think he does, but he prefers to cheat for the occasion that it pays off, but you can’t do that in the NHL.

Now this is anecdotal, as I tried some number digging and it was inconclusive, but the number of times you’ll see Eberle do a lazy loop or cheat to the inside and only give his defenceman a risky outlet is way more than any other forward on the Oilers.

5. So…?
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To pull off a center ice, or lack thereof, like the Oilers’ have, you’d need a St. Louis Blues group of top nine wingers. Anything short of that compounds the issues at center. Which compound the issues of the systems play. Which compounds the issues of the defence. Which compounds the decision making of coaching. Which compounds the issues of management.

I guess it is a good thing you can still say that the Oilers are “rebuilding” because if this anywhere resembles the finished product then I’d nuke it from orbit.

NHL Summer Watch: Three Very Different Teams

With the game’s greatest prize heading back to the beaches of SoCal for the second time in three years, the other 29 NHL clubs are dealt back in, and are preparing for a summer of business, and transactions to get them to the next level, to be a contender.

Let’s start by taking a look at the three of the most interesting teams to watch for now that the cup has been delivered.

Teams in the NHL have seemingly found themselves lumped into three separate groups. The first category being “Not Even Close” which would include teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Islanders, Sabres, and Florida Panthers, These are the teams that just can not figure it out, and won’t be close for awhile, if ever, or so it seems.

The second groupings of teams are “Close but not quite” These teams are good, always competitive, but when it comes down to things, they’re still a cut below the best.   Teams like the  St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, Philadephia Flyers, This is the most populated group of the bunch, and these teams are itching to get into the next tier.

The final grouping of teams are the “We’re Here” teams.  Teams that contend seriously for the Stanley Cup each year.  The LA Kings, obviously.  The Boston Bruins and The Chicago Blackhawks. MA Fleury has officially dropped the Penguins into the middle pack.

Let’s take a look at one team out each of these groupings as the most intriguing to watch this summer.  Coming from the not even close grouping, has to be the Edmonton Oilers.  You’ve probably been saying this for the last half a decade, but at some point it just has to click for them… doesn’t it?  The Oilers seem to have fixed their crease, but continue to have a lowly group of defenseman, and the same forward cloned nine times.  Look for them to make some changes to fix the blue line, add some size up front.  Mactavish has proved to be a very active GM, and very open about the changes needed to be made.  They’ve made some changes on the bench this year, and upstairs already having added former Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson into the mix.  This group absolutely has to be eager to get going, and at the very least move into the “Close, but not quite” group.

Coming out of the “Close, but not yet” group is the newest team to join this party, the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Penguins are continually the top of their division, 2005-2006 was the last season that the Penguins didn’t either win their division, or finish second being only a couple points shy of first.  Yet, they still only have one Stanley Cup in that time.  No question they have some of, if not the two best players in the game, but is it working anymore?  After another quick playoff exit, the Penguins have showed they’re tired of being first to the party, and first to leave year after year.  Winning divisions, and opening rounds is no longer acceptable.  Ray Shero, and Dan Bylsma were the first to feel the brunt of that.  But, can this team really win another Stanley cup with MA Fleury in net?  Hard to blame MAF for their woes this playoff, especially when you’re up 3-1 in a series but by now it’s as much a mental barrier, and a distraction with him back there.  He loves to let in bad goals, and the media is constantly talking about it around the Penguins.  The Penguins have to be careful to not change too much, too quickly, but look for them to add some secondary scoring, some depth in net, if not a new starter.  Penguins have wasted no time making headlines since their exit; look for them to continue doing so.  They won’t be content being in this group for very long, not with 87 and 71 on your team.

Now that flightless birds have slipped out of this group, were left with three teams that are rest above the rest.  Hawks. Bruins. Champions.  We’ll look to the LA Kings to be the most intriguing team amongst these three this summer.  Defending champs are always an interesting group to watch going into the next season.  How much hangover will they have?  There are a few key players that are without a contract for 2014-15 season.  Willie Mitchell & Matt Greene who were both quietly very effective for the LA Kings are now free agents.  These two will be sought after by many of the second grouping of teams.  They’re older, but still have some grit, and game left. You can’t win without these types of players.  But, with Mitchell having earned $3.5M last season, and Green earning $2.95M, something tells me these two will need to take a significant pay cut to remain with this group.  Secondly, up front the LA Kings will need to make a decision on Marian Gaborik who was phenomenal for them in the playoffs, and then as well Mike Richards.  Gaborik collected a cool $7.5M last season, which is more than Drew, and more than Anze.  Can’t see Lombardi signing Gabby for any more than his two best players, so alike the rugged defenseman, Gabby will need to be happy with a pay cut if he wants to stick around in LA LA Land.  Mike Richards will be another interesting issue for the Kings.  The guy knows how to win, no doubt.  All he seems to do outside of the nightlife, is win.  But, his role was decreased dramatically, centering the fourth line, scoring only eleven goals in the regular season, and three more in playoffs.  Richards will either need to open up his training program manual a few more times this off season if he doesn’t want to be bought out by the Kings.  The Kings also seem to do a terrific job developing players from Manchester and bringing them in at the right times to be effective with the big club.  See Toffoli, and Pearson.   There is going to be a new Stanley Cup banner raised at Staples Center come opening day, but there is sure to be some new faces as well.

Here comes the summer!

 

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Ryan Smyth: A Legacy Retires

As you’re all probably aware, Saturday night marked Ryan Smyth’s last NHL game, but more than that it marked the exit of one of the greatest players to wear an Oiler’s jersey. He was never the fastest or most skilled player but he created a legacy with his sheer determination, heart, grit, and dedication to not only the Oilers but to the city of Edmonton. Smyth played for four NHL teams, but the Edmonton Oilers was the only team he truly belonged on.

Saturday night was a reflection of the respect and admiration that Smyth earned throughout his 19 year NHL career. I will never forget the atmosphere or the events that took place in Rexall Place that night. An entire stadium stood on their feet for one of the greatest men to ever wear an Oiler’s jersey. It was an emotional night for Smytty and every fan in that building: Canuck’s fans and Oiler’s fans alike came together to give Ryan Smyth a well-deserved send-off.

Ryan Smyth has always been my favourite hockey player and it’s been an emotional time coming to terms with his retirement. We all knew it was coming, but the reality of never seeing number 94 on the ice again is hard to accept for some of us. I don’t think it matters what team you cheer for, Ryan Smyth is a player that is respected throughout the entire league. Not only will Oiler’s fans miss him, but the sport of hockey will miss him.

All we can do now is hope to see him in a position within the organization — a man that loves the game that much won’t be able to stay away for long — and thank him for an incredible career. I know I learned a great deal from Ryan Smyth: I learned that hockey isn’t always about the points, it’s about having a passion for the game and ultimately being in love with the game. I believe his legacy is something we can all learn from when it comes to the sport of hockey and when it comes to life in general. Thank you, Smytty for your inspiration throughout the years, you will be missed.

 

Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/Oilers.NHL/photos/

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Motivation for Struggling Oiler’s fans.

I’m not naive enough to think that the Oilers aren’t currently as bad as they seem. They’re bad. I get that and it’s frustrating. I’ve been too frustrated for words on multiple occasions over the past eight seasons that they’ve failed to make the playoffs and this year is certainly no exception. The longer the Oilers remain in the basement of the standings the higher my frustration level gets, and I’m not alone. But no matter how frustrated I might get, I still remain loyal to the Oil: they’re my team and I’m not about to give up on them now after eight less than mediocre seasons of standing behind them.

Yesterday I was asked if I was humiliated to be an Oiler’s fan. My answer? Of course I’m not humiliated to be an Oiler’s fan: I still plan my schedule around Oiler’s games so I can watch as many as possible, I continue to drive my car with a large Oiler’s decal on the back window, I still proudly wear my jersey, I still go to games, I STILL SUPPORT MY TEAM.

The better question would have been: am I frustrated being an Oiler’s fan? And my answer would’ve been that a lot of the time I am, but I’m also really proud to be an Oiler’s fan. Being frustrated with the Oiler’s is a far cry from being humiliated by them. I wouldn’t even say that I’m embarrassed to be an Oiler’s fan. If anything I’m proud to be a fan that stands by my team even when it’s extremely difficult to do so. If someone is only a “fan” when a team is doing well then I wouldn’t consider them a fan, I consider them a bandwagon-er. Ain’t nobody got time for fake fans.

When I was young I fell in love with the game of hockey and then I fell in love with a team that inspired me to continue loving the game. When I wear my jersey I don’t think about how awful the Oiler’s current record is, I think of the guys (past and present) who are a big part of the reason I wear the jersey: Ryan Smyth, Dwayne Roloson, Wayne Gretzky, and most recently, Ben Scrivens, among others. Being a fan isn’t just about your team’s current record, it’s about your favourite players, your favourite memories, your passion, and most importantly it’s about sticking with your team through their lowest points so that when they reach their highest point you’ll have free rights to drink your face off and cheer like there’s no tomorrow. But seriously, sticking it out when your team is less than adequate only makes their success even more special.

Being an Oiler’s fan doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to get frustrated, it just means that you grab another beer or glass of wine and remind yourself that there’s always next year. I’m not saying it’s easy to be an Oiler’s fan these days but this can’t last forever. For now we just need to embrace the positive things like Smytty being one power play goal away from breaking an NHL record, Ben Scrivens’ record breaking 59-save shutout, or the amazing wins the boys have pulled off that no one ever saw coming. If you give up on them now don’t bother coming back when they start making it to the playoffs because the true Oiler’s fans don’t want you.

Go ahead, have another Rexall crack beer if that will get you through, but DON’T GIVE UP ON THIS TEAM. One day they will achieve the greatness that everyone knows is within them and when that day comes we can all stand proud with our team knowing that we supported them through the worst times. Keep bleeding copper and blue, folks, I have a feeling we’re going to be drinking for celebratory reasons rather than “drowning our sorrows” reasons soon (I mean really, how long can this possibly go on?!).

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Hemsky claims young Oilers need to step up

What’s wrong with the Oilers? This is probably one of the most popular questions surrounding the team and Ales Hemsky chose to answer it today. The new Senator’s forward claimed the Oilers young players need to step up and lead the team to more success.

You can read the details of the interview and Hemsky’s comments here.

The media and Oiler’s fans are having a hay day with this one. Some see this as a case of the pot calling the kettle black, claiming Hemsky never stepped up himself and others think he’s pinpointed the Oiler’s problem.

Whether or not Hemsky is correct in placing the blame on the young guns, the Oilers are still awful. It doesn’t matter how many people claim to have the “solutions” to the Oiler’s woes, they mean nothing until the Oilers start winning hockey games.

The only thing we all know for sure about the Oilers is that everyone — fans and players — are sick of losing. But they can’t stay this way forever, right?