The Oilers are now just past a quarter of their season, and I’ll bet you a nickel that no one really had it drawn up this way. At 7-12-2, the Oilers have won just four games in regulation time. Are they underperforming? Did they over-perform last year? What’s going on out there?
Our Copper and Blue panel is here to discuss exactly that in our first of a two part series. We’ve got Patrick, Corey, Shona and Matt to suss out what we’ve all been subject to.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.
1. As of this very moment, the Oilers are 7-12-2 after an 8-3 loss to St. Louis. Once picked by oddsmakers to be the odds-on favourite to emerge from the Western Conference, they're steps from the Western Conference basement. Are the Oilers really this bad?
PATRICK: No they're not this bad. They'll get more points than 64 points on the year. The goaltending needs to be more reliable, the shooters need to score more, but beyond the record, the team looks a lot closer to last year's than the one that drafted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
COREY: The Oilers aren't going to be a bottom feeder all year, in that sense, they aren't THIS bad. That being said, I'm not holding my breath for them to suddenly start playing like a 50-win team.
The Oilers may have the league's second best score adjusted Corsi % at 5 on 5, and 3rd best xG %, and although their Corsi % in all situations actually leads the league, their xG% at all strengths is only 10th best.
Of course none of these numbers explain their early-season struggles, but the team's poor shot quality on special teams, combined with the league's 3rd worst penalty differential, suggests that the Oilers' underlying numbers are merely good, rather than excellent. Add in a decent helping of bad luck, a rough start from Talbot, and relatively few players with high-end shooting talent, and you can get an idea of what's gone wrong so far.
SHONA: Apparently, they are. I've listened to people give me a million reasons why the Oilers should be better or would be better but for this injury or that player struggling or the refs are terrible, but the harsh truth is that they are. They haven't put the component parts together in a way that leads to success. They should be better, but they aren't. It's probably time to stop making excuses for them and just admit they are bad.
MATT: Yes and no. The Oilers are probably not as bad as their record. Their shot metrics have been typically good or great for most of the season, but their shooting percentage is in the tank. There should be some regression toward league average in this regard, but one wonders if the Oilers have affected their shooting talent to such a degree that they might be a below-average shooting team. Perhaps even well below average. Extra concerning given some of the work in the Oilers' blog circuit positing that they are shooting so poorly because of how many of their shots are coming from the blueline. Either way, it looks like the Oilers are probably better than their record, but maybe still not that good. After all, we're deep enough now that there's some real room between the Oilers and the good teams.
2. How much of the Oilers' struggles should be put on General Manager Peter Chiarelli? Does any blame fall on Todd McLellan?
PATRICK: Ugh. I can't sit around giving a pass to Jordan Eberle for his low shooting % and then turn around and blame Chiarelli for the team being worse than I think it is while posting low sh%. This is a gripe I'm having with Oiler fans right now, the lack of middle ground. I don't think he's done a very good job but I also don't think he's the bumbling idiot who turned a 103 point team into one on pace for 64. I'll say, Chiarelli deserves the blame for any any instance where Kris Russell flopping like a fish as though he'd just downed a two-six, or any time where Ryan Strome failing to back-check directly leads to a goal against. Count those at your own will and speculate the expected points lost.
Blame falls on Todd a bit. Not a lot, but a bit. Again, it's hard to say right now when the team has a worse record than they should. I don't really understand why Zack Kassian is consistently the high forward. He doesn't score, he's good enough defensively to be the mid or low forward on his line, and he's fast enough to catch the play if there were a different high forward. I'd like to see a change there at the very least. I'll say he definitely deserves more blame than Connor McDavid. I can tell you that much right now.
COREY: It's not like Chiarelli gets fleeced in every trade and free-agent signing. I still really like the Talbot signing, and the Maroon trade was a good low-risk trade. But overall, he's fucked this team over pretty badly. This team would be much better with Hall, Eberle, and, to a lesser extent Pouliot still on the roster. Players like Hall and Eberle don't come along often. They are both bonafide first line players, and Hall is borderline elite. Giving them away for the return Chiarelli got, killed this team's potential.
SHONA: I think a lot of the blame sits on Chiarelli. He made a lot of assumptions of how the Oilers young talent would grow into expanded roles instead of regressing, that the Oilers were competitive because they had a strong finish last year, and that he would be able to replace Eberle's production with what he already had. All of those were wrong assumptions which have hurt the Oilers. While I'm not sure McLellan is able to adjust to what's happening around him adequately, I do believe that he's trying. He might just have a certain set of blinders on.
MATT: In the short term, the bulk of responsibility for where the Oilers are at today lies at the feet of Peter Chiarelli. McLellan is doing himself no favors, and I bet I'm not alone when I say that he's certainly not as elite a coach as perhaps I expected when he signed here. But as the saying goes, you can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit, and Chiarelli's work leaves much to be desired.
3. This team's penalty kill is 29th in the league with a 74.3 percent success rate. How do you go about fixing this?
PATRICK: Todd has been juggling the roster a bit on the PK and in the past few games it's looked better. Save for that 2-0 against Dallas. Cam Talbot needs to make a few saves in tight, the team needs to learn how to make a box, and it needs to make line changes one hell of a lot better than it has.
COREY: Their pk success rate will surely go up once Talbot's game rounds into form. Improving the penalty kill in front of him will take some some work. One thing that they need to do immediately to lessen the impact of their lackluster power play, is to stop taking so many penalties. Generally speaking, a player with a poor penalty differential can be much more harmful to his team than a sub-replacement level defensive player. McLellan has to start rewarding players with good penalty differentials with ice time, while taking away ice time to players who frequently give up power play opportunities to the Oilers' opponents.
SHONA: I honestly don't know. It's easy to see that Talbot has been struggling and not displaying last year's fantastic form and that doesn't help. The Oilers have had poor performances from several key penalty killers. If they were playing better, the Oilers would have a better penalty kill. Other than that, I know there is a solution but I don't know what it is.
MATT: Ultimately, Cam Talbot needs to make a few more saves. Unfortunately for the Oilers - and Talbot fantasy owners, ahem - their netminder has struggled to rekindle his sublime 2016-17 form to start the season. I'm no expert tactically, so my best guess would be they don't do a good enough job of pressuring the puck in their own end, but it really comes down to Talbot finding a way to make an extra save here and there for me.
Playoffs, job security and the 2018 Oilers’ offseason are highlighted in the second half of our roundtable which will run tomorrow. Thanks to all of our writers for their time.