There's a part of me that wants to say I told you so for suggesting that the Oilers needed to do more in the off-season. (I was far from the only one.) There's a part of me that wants to write an article dedicated to the fact that I said the Oilers franchise finally established some good will with the fan base this past off-season & they were poised to waste it by stopping short of actually doing enough to get better...but that's not what I'm here to write about this morning. Nope, what I'm here to write about, is the fallout from the fact that the above statements are true. Namely, the absurd brand of analysis that is being offered up by some long-time Oiler scribes about the state of the club following a fairly disastrous 5 game Eastern conference road trip.
You see, all of that good will that existed is gone, and the pendulum that had swung too far in the direction of optimism, has now swung right back to the opposite extreme of "every Oiler is worthless!" when the truth, as always is right in the middle. Unfortunately, people don't tend to write about the middle ground because it doesn't stoke the flames of emotion that exist at the exteme ends of the emotional landscape of sports fans. So, what you get over the summer is "could they be a playoff team?" and now, when the days are darker, you get this, equally misleading kind of reactionary stuff (which, to be fair, is basically what twitter is made for):
So should Oilers go scorched earth? Or move 1 or 2 big pieces? Or replace failing role players? Or stay calm, keep powder dry?
— David Staples (@dstaples) December 1, 2015
Jordan Eberle is heckuva player playing very poorly but even if Chiarelli wants to move him now wouldn't get enuff for him#EJlive
— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) December 1, 2015
The Matheson tweet (along with some others of his) made their way into this piece by Frank Seravelli at TSN.ca where he basically says McLellan is calling out RNH and Eberle.
Now, Eberle hasn't played well since returning from injury, I don't dispute that, and if you even want to discuss trading him to address a need elsewhere...say, oh, I don't know...the top of the depth chart on the blueline...then I can certainly get on board with that notion, but to suggest that Eberle's value in the marketplace is diminished to the point of not being able to acquire a valuable asset in return for him because of stretch of 10 bad games? How about you step back from the edge and breathe a little. Is Sydney Crosby not capable of getting a good return because he's struggling? What about Corey Perry? He had an awful first 15 games or so...was his trade value irreparably damaged? Certainly Eberle is not that class of player, but this is a player who has scored at a rate of 0.7 points per game or higher every year since his rookie season and he's in his prime at 25 years old. to suggest that he's not capable of landing a substantial return on the trade market because of a stretch of 10 games after returning from injury is just ridiculous.
Nugent-Hopkins looks like Sidney right now. Neither playing anywhere near like they can Mystifying. #EJLive
— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) December 1, 2015
As for RNH, maybe when your team has no discernible scoring depth, you should look elsewhere before pointing a finger at a guy who is taking the toughest assignments on the team and has 17 points in 24 games. I read somewhere this morning that "RNH was on for all three goals against last night". While this is true, 1 was a PP goal against where Justin Schultz took his sweet time strolling back from the half boards thus allowing the man in front to re-direct it in, the next was an excellent tip by Kadri from 20 feet away from the net where RNH was right with him and at worst can be accused of not tying up his stick, and the last was an empty net goal against while the Oilers were pressing for offence. Not exactly the same as getting over-matched all night 5v5, which wasn't the case despite the fact that his most common wingers are both struggling mightily at the moment.
I should point out that while I'm referencing Matheson and Staples in this piece, they are far from the only people to flip the panic switch in an extreme manner. Ryan Rishaug, Jason Gregor and others have all cited the notion of trading RNH or the problems with players like Nuge and Eberle over the last week or two.
This brings me to the "scorched earth" notion. It appears to me that in addition to having really poor judgment on the type of players they want to see the Oilers acquire (Matheson and his 6 year long cheerleading session for Drew Stafford for example), it seems many in the Edmonton media are also distracted by newer, shinier things and lose sight pretty quickly on how valuable something might be just because it's not the latest model. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is an outstanding hockey player who has played every minute of his NHL career on a terrible hockey team. Every. Minute. The guy has never once been given an opportunity to show what he's capable of because Oiler management has never found a way to provide a supporting cast that doesn't make it far too easy for opposing coaches to focus their efforts on shutting down his line, since none of the others are all that dangerous. He's also never once had a blueline corps even remotely capable of transitioning the puck from the defensive zone into an offensive rush at a level resembling NHL calibre. Yet given all of these glaringly obvious holes, issues and outright failings of people elsewhere in the organization, the hawt take of the moment is to toss RNH's name around in trade rumours, because, of course it is.
After all, why would you ever want actual depth at the most important forward position? Better to just start calling Nugent-Hopkins "soft skill" because he's not big like the shiny new toy Leon Draisaitl and his unsustainable 30% shooting percentage. Now Draisaitl might be an amazing player someday, I hope he is and he sure looks like it's a real possibility, but even if the right move in a few years might be to deal from a position of strength and trade Nugent-Hopkins, maybe it might be prudent to actually let the team see what it's like to have all three of their prized centres play together for even a brief period of time before contemplating moving one of them.
While we're at it, I don't understand the logic of some guys in the mainstream media giving RNH the Ales Hemsky treatment and devaluing his contributions as a way to justify the suggestion to trade him. A damaged perception of the player around the league only hurts what the Oilers could get for him, so why contribute to that, especially when you have to really reach to make it sound true?
How about they fix the actual problems first?
Before we go any further down this road of burying two guys who have given everything they have to this team and this City during the darkest days in franchise history, how about we look at the real problems first?
The Oilers completely lack a 1st AND 2nd pairing Defenceman on the right side. They also have no tangible third line to speak of which completely destroys their ability to receive secondary scoring support for the top two lines which were rolling before the injuries to McDavid & Yakupov. Furthermore, the goaltending is still suspect and the team grossly misjudged some of its off-season moves in handing Lander the 3C role, the acquisitions of Gryba & Korpikoski and the expectations placed on (to say nothing of the acquisition cost of) Griffin Reinhart.
Cam Talbot hasn't looked good since the first 4 or 5 games, but I'm not ready to shut that door yet. I think past history with goalies is being placed on his shoulders, when he still deserves an opportunity to set himself straight. After all, the season is over already, why not find out what real game the guy has?
So, before we devalue assets and run some of the only actual NHL players on the team out of town, how about we take a breath and think critically. If you look at this team and you see Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle, or even guys like Sekera and Fayne (who have been far from perfect, yet still miles better than many others) as the sources of the problems, I urge you to give your head a shake.
Until the names like Schultz, Gryba, Ference, Nikitin, Lander, Korpikoski, and Hendricks are replaced with guys capable of making tangible contributions that actually impact winning games on a consistent basis, maybe we should give the guys who have been bailing water off the sinking ship that is the Oiler franchise the benefit of the doubt.
Get a 3rd line. Get a couple top 4 right-side defenders, and then let's talk again. If that has to cost a player like Eberle to do it, fine, but let's be clear...it's not because he's "soft-skill" or not that valuable that he's being traded...it's because he IS valuable and it was simply the cost of doing what was needed for the Oilers.