Welcome to the second half of the Oilers season. I wish I could tell you that this year things are different and that these games are going to mean something but I can't. Any hopes that the Oilers, or their fans, had of this team still being close to a playoff spot were dashed long ago. But just because the games are meaningless in the standings that doesn't mean that the team should just sit on their hands and wait for the season to end, there is still work to be done. And so, in no particular order, here are five things I want to see happen over the last 41 games of the season.
Sign Petry To An Extension
The reality with Jeff Petry is pretty simple. He's the best defenceman on the team. There is nobody on the team or in the system who is going to be able to replace him next season. And finding a replacement through free agency is going to cost as much if not more, if they can even find one. Sign Petry now. This is the single most important thing for the Oilers to get done between now and the end of the season. In fact, it's been a week since the Oilers could first get his name on an extension, why isn't this done yet?
When it come down to it, this almost isn't a negation at this point, the Oilers need to get his name on a new deal that badly. And if he doesn't want to stay, if he's had enough of the losing and just wants out, beg him to stay. Offer him a one year deal at $6.5M - more if he wants it - and tell him that if he likes how this team looks at this time next year that there'll be a multi-year offer waiting for him then. Whatever needs to get done, do it. And then do it again just in case.
Figure Out What Yakupov Is
There are 41 games left on Nail Yakupov's entry level deal and I have no idea what he is. There's obviously some skill there but so far it hasn't translated the way that we had all hoped. Is he a top line winger? Top six? A power play specialist? A bust? With half a season remaining on his entry level contract perhaps we shouldn't be able to answer these questions completely but we should be a lot closer to an answer than we are. Since these 41 games don't matter, take the opportunity to try and figure it out, it'll only help when trying to hammer out his next deal this summer.
And how do the Oilers go about that? Take a look at the table above (all numbers are from even strength play) and a possible solution might jump out at you. Pair him with a veteran centre - Derek Roy - and let him be. Play him real minutes every night, not 12 minutes. If he makes a mistake, and he will, send him back out there. And stop worrying about him earning time on the power play, just give it to him; it's not like the power play is any better than every other aspect of the team, he can't possibly make it worse. And if he fails he fails, but at least then they'll know.
Figure Out Which One of Ference, Nikitin, Schultz Goes
The Oilers can not start the 2015/16 season with all three of Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin, and Justin Schultz on the team, one has to go, if more go that's fine with me, in fact that's preferred, but at least one has to go because between them they'll be worth more than $11.4M (assuming Schultz signs his qualifying offer) and not one of them belongs higher than the third pairing. That's not a situation that can work for this, or any other team, something has to change. Maybe playing with Petry makes another GM think Ference has enough left for a playoff run, then make that trade at the deadline. Perhaps they see Norris Trophy potential in Schultz, that works too. And if neither pans out, suck it up, admit the mistake, and buyout Nikitin.
Don't Fall In Love With Todd Nelson
He seems like a nice guy but he's not the coach you're looking for. Every time you think that he might be stick a taser into your stomach, that'll make those thoughts go away in no time. Regardless of how this half a season plays out, Nelson can't be the guy. This team needs someone from outside the organization, someone with new ideas and new ways of doing things, standing on the bench. That's not to say that Nelson isn't a good coach, he might be a great coach one day, but the timing for him starting that journey here in Edmonton just isn't going to work out. Don't be fooled by stretches of luck, good or bad, those aren't real and thinking they are is only going to make things worse down the road. Basically, PDO should be management's new best friend.
Don't Panic If The Team Starts Winning
Maybe I'm wrong, but trading David Perron for a pick and Rob Klinkhammer feels like the kind of move that a team trying to lose to secure draft position would make. But here's the thing, at some point this team is going to win a few games. The goaltending looks to be returning to something more closely resembling normal already - remember, Todd Nelson is not responsible for this - and the power play is likely going to start scoring goals at a rate more consistent with their shot rate at some time soon as well, and when those happen this team will start winning more games than they have been.
But fear not, the team a) isn't that good to start with, and b) has been so bad for so long that they're not going to get past 28th place. I know that may not be where a tanking team would like to finish, lower is always better if you're looking to secure the next teenage saviour, but it's reality. And although the improvement has been glacially slow, and can't be found in the standings, it is there, and making more moves to try to reverse that progress just isn't worth a slightly better chance at the first overall pick. Just sit back and enjoy the wins when they come, that's supposed to be the point of the game.