The Good: Healthy Bodies Still Remain on Oilers Roster
Despite the events of the past 24 hours, there was quite a lot of good for the Oilers this week. They won their last three preseason games against some tough opponents, 3-2 against the LA Kings, 2-1 against the Anaheim Ducks, and 5-2 against the Winnipeg Jets. The team looked pretty solid, actually, easily dominating possession and shots as the roster began to finally gel. In particular, Connor McDavid has scored a ton of goals and the Larsson-Klefbom pairing, known more affectionately as Larsbom, has been the shutdown pairing we wanted (and needed).
Aside from that, I would like to also reiterate the fact that being a fan of the Edmonton Oilers has been the single best way to test and build the resilience of my optimism. With that, I want to give a moment of appreciation for the surviving players of the Edmonton Oilers 2016-17 season, which has actually yet to truly begin but has already seen a spate of casualties. Let’s for a second disregard Patrick Maroon, Iiro Pakarinen, Oscar Klefbom, Brandon Davidson, Kris Versteeg, Drake Caggiula, Matt Hendricks, and last but not least, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who came down with a flu this week. We still have a bunch of healthy bodies remaining on the roster! Appreciate the fully-functioning limbs that remain on the likes of Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle. Be thankful for the fact that Andrej Sekera and Adam Larsson have blood coursing through their veins. What a miracle it truly is! Thank all the gods, for we are truly blessed. The good of this week is that by being a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, I have gained a new appreciation for the delicate and beautiful fragility of human life.
The Bad: The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
Nail Yakupov is never going to be what the Oilers, their fans, or people around the NHL expected when he was selected first overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. That’s unfortunate, but it happens. And really, if projecting prospect was an exact science the draft would be a lot less fun. Draft position is ultimately a sunk cost though, so you don’t want to get hung up on it when looking at what a player is, or isn’t, later in their career. That Yakupov didn’t live up to the hype doesn’t make him a bad hockey player, just a bad draft pick; he is absolutely still an NHL hockey player.
And the Oilers traded that NHL hockey player for a couple of lottery tickets that might do something to help the team in three or four years, and more likely never. Mileage will vary on what Yakupov would have brought to the Oilers this season but I think most would agree that the answer is more than the nothing that the Oilers got in return for him. Peter Chiarelli is working hard to transform the Oilers into a winning team, but this is exactly the kind of move that the team has made repeatedly throughout the infinite rebuild. Whether it’s Steve Tambellini, Craig Mactavish, or Peter Chiarelli at the helm it doesn’t seem to matter.
The Ugly: The Potential Imbalance on Defence
With the addition of Kris Russell on Friday night, the Oilers are now loaded up with left-shooting depth defencemen. One would hope that Russell’s addition would mean that young Davidson can continue to excel in a depth role, and the team would send Nurse to the AHL to continue developing at the appropriate level. But knowing the Oilers, it’s looking a lot more like what Reid Wilkins of Inside Sports projected:
Will it be:— Reid Wilkins (@ReidWilkins) October 8, 2016
That first pairing is almost a lock considering how much time Klefbom and Larsson have played together and their overall performance in exhibition games. Everything below that is a little questionable as the Oilers will probably move Davidson AND Sekera to play on the right side. While both may be capable of getting the job done, it’s been found that lefty-righty combinations perform better compared to pairings with the same handedness when it comes to possession numbers (Source: Hockey Graphs). The Oilers would also continue to force Nurse’s development at the NHL level, rather than start him in Bakersfield where he can play significant minutes in all situations.
It also would not surprise me, especially after these recent transactions, if the Oilers moved out Mark Fayne, who performed well with Sekera last season when looking at shots against and expected goals against. Fayne was demoted at one point in 2015/16 to the AHL, but bounced back when he got another opportunity, finishing the season well. He is signed for this year and next year at $3.625 million, which would be expensive for a seventh defenceman, if that is in fact his role. Assuming Gryba will be released from his professional tryout agreement, the Oilers are likely going to have one right shot defenceman on their opening night roster. This is not ideal.