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The Group of 7 is all we’ve got!

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We were really good at our job too!

Imagine you are an excellent Police Officer. You get to work and the boss hands you a fire fighting suit and the keys to the fire truck. Your job today is to go put out a fire down the street. How would you do?

One of my biggest frustrations as a lifelong Oiler’s fan is that we never have enough NHL players. For the last decade or so we consistently have a mix of current NHL players, up and coming ones that ‘might’ become stars and veterans on their last legs. Then we trade a useful roster player for ‘magic beans’. Magic Beans is a long Oiler’s tradition of trading away current NHL players for a bunch of players that usually don’t amount to much or draft picks that never materialize. Or we draft a guy who pays dividends and becomes a great NHL player while trading away another good player in the process. I have repeatedly said if we ‘win the lottery’ and draft Jack Hughes that you can say goodbye to RNH or Drai. This is how it works in Oil Country. We can’t have both.

When Chia took over in April of 2015 he had these guys at his disposal:

Notable forwards:

Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Leon Draisaitl and he would draft Connor McDavid a few months later to add to that mix.

Today that has been turned into McDavid, RNH and Drai. Chia has not added one Top 6 forward to our current roster. Last season’s 4th leading scorer was 3C Ryan Strome with 34 points. We never replaced Maroon (42 points), Lucic (50 points) or Eberle (51 points) who were all Top 6 players in 2016/17. Ironic that we need someone to get 50 points like Lucic did while still having Lucic for 5 more years at 6 million per, no?

For argument sake, my definition of a Top 6 guy would be somewhere in the 40 to 60 point range or 20 goals. I’m also fine if they want to score more than 20 goals or 60 points.

Notable Defence:

Justin Schultz, Jeff Petry, Darnell Nurse, Oskar Klefbom and Brandon Davidson.

We could have a Top 4 D core like this today (again mix and match anyway you like):

Klefbom Petry

Nurse Schultz

Instead we have Klefbom, Nurse and Larsson. We currently do not have a Top 4 group of D. Chia has added one player to that core in Adam Larsson. Is this current group really that much better than the old group?

We all know how it ends. Top 6 player Eberle becomes bottom 6 player Strome. Top LW Hall becomes Top 4 D Adam Larsson. Schultz becomes no one on our current roster and goes on to win 2 Stanley Cups and become a Top 4 Dman on a perennial Stanley Cup contender (neat stat: Schultz finished 10th in Norris voting a few years ago). Petry also becomes no one on our current roster, continued to be a good Top 4 D who has averaged 22 minutes a night and roughly a 35 point scorer for the Canadiens (and at a .ppg pace this season). Yakupov flamed out badly and we traded him at his lowest possible point for another non roster player. Davidson was traded twice.

Chia did get Sekera who was an excellent signing who really solidified our Top 4 and pushed most of our D into positions where they can succeed (eg. Russel on the third pair with Benning, one of Larsson/Klefbom on second pair). Sekera, by no fault of his own (or Chiarelli), has not panned out due to brutal injuries. In the last 2 years, Sekera has played half a season and torn his ACL and Achilles. He’s over 30 and I just don’t see him coming back and being a Top 4 player. I hope I’m dead wrong. Should be noted, pre injuries Sekera was averaging 21:40 minutes and 32 points. I feel Chia has had a long time to address this gaping hole though. Currently it is being filled by Kris Russel or Matthew Benning. I feel Kris Russel is a tremendous 3rd pair Dman and whomever we pair him with (Benning, Gravel, Bouchard, Bear) finds success in that 13 minute a night role.

Back to today, we have 7 guys on our team that are good at their job in the NHL. Or we have 7 firefighters capable of putting out a fire and about 13 cops who could definitely help out and do their best. Who do you want in your driveway when the house is burning down?

Our ‘Top 6 forwards’ are Connor, Leon and RNH (all centres).

Our ‘Top 4 D’ are Klefbom, Larsson and Nurse. Currently, with no injuries, our 4th is Kris Russel on his wrong wing.

Our Top Goalie is Cam Talbot who has been a top 20 goalie the last 3 years despite a bad run last year (wonder if the horrendous D had anything to do with it?).

Everyone else is, as of today, not a proven Top 6 forward, Top 4 defenceman or Top 50 goalie.

Milan Lucic (5GP, 2pts) is paid and played like a Top 6 forward. He used to be a very good Top 6 player but he is on the wrong side of 30 and his game doesn’t transition that well into today’s quick and young NHL. If he does get 40 to 50 points this season then I will admit that we have four Top 6 players again. I love Lucic on line 3 and think he can help out a lot there. 30 points on the third line and his intimidating presence could be great for the Oiler’s bottom 6.

Yamamoto (5GP, 1 pt) might be one day. Pullujaarvi (5GP, 1 pt)might be as well (especially if he is given Top 6 time). They are both young, have good draft pedigrees and are excellent prospects. As of today, I have no evidence to suggest either is getting 40 to 50 points in the NHL soon. Again, I hope I’m dead wrong.

Ty Rattie (5GP, 2 pts) is next on our list. Ty is 25 years old and has played in 54 NHL games and gotten 20 points in his entire career. He’s either winning the Rocket Richard Trophy or heading to Europe next season.

The rest of the list includes Ryan Strome, Drake Caggiula, Zack Kassian, Tobias Rieder, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Chiasson and Jujhar Khaira. Funny note: These 8 players have combined for 0 points this season.

I have said before that I think McDavid(1st pick), Drai (2nd pick) and RNH(1st pick) could be on any Top 6 in the league. That is a formidable threesome. Maybe the only threesome that is stronger is Tavares (1st)/Marner(4th)/Matthews(1st). I actually think they’d be better than my favourite first line of Pastrnak (25th)/Bergeron (45th)/Marchand (71st) who are arguably the best line in the league. Can you imagine the best line the Oiler’s could piece together with a late first round, second round and third round pick? Yamamoto/Bensen/Khaira?

Problem is that we have absolutely nothing else behind them that qualifies as a Top 6 forward in the NHL today. We don’t have a Nylander, Kadri or Krejci, Heinen, Debrusk for instance.

When I look at the Oiler’s I see (mix and match Top 6 and Bottom 6 anyway you like):

RNH McDavid ????

???? Draisaitl ????

Lucic Strome Pullijaarvi

Rieder Khaira Caggiula

???? ????

Klefbom Larsson

Russel Nurse

Talbot

????

All those ???? have been here for 2 years now. We are missing 6 players to fill out this roster and be a cup contender. In my own season review last year I addressed all these concerns going into the draft and offseason. So what did Chia do to address our gaping holes everywhere but Centre?

He acquired Tobias Rieder who is an excellent bottom 6 player who can fill in the Top 6 (5GP, 0 pts, -3).

He acquired Kyle Brodziak who hasn’t really done anything (4GP, 0 pts, -4).

He drafted Evan Bouchard and he’s now in the NHL doing very little (4GP, 13 minutes a night, healthy scratched once, 0 pts and minus 2).

He signed Miro Koskinen who has literally done nothing so far.

He signed up Ty Rattie for another year who has played 5 games and scored 2 points playing on Connor McDavid’s (5GP, 11 points) line.

So far this season our coach is basically playing our 3 Forwards and 4D constantly. The discrepancy in minutes is concerning and not sustainable over a full season.

Here is how the forwards minutes look:

Connor (24 mins), RNH (22 mins), Drai (19) and the rest between 16 and 11 minutes.

Here is how the defence minutes look:

Nurse (25 mins), Klefbom (24 mins), Larsson (22 mins) and Russel (20 mins) and the other D are 13 or less. We’re playing 4 guys.

So far, Talbot is at .902 and at 2.81 GAA. He has played well but his D is terrible and he definitely has not ‘regressed’ back to .918.

For a contrast, here is how the Leafs and Bruins are running the minutes for their Top 9 forwards.

The Leafs range from 19 to 13 minutes for their Top 9 guys and the Bruins have an even tighter cluster of 18 to 13 minutes. Our range is 24 to 11 minutes for our ‘Top 9’.

Note the balance and how they generate so much offence without overusing their star players.

This group, by and large, is the exact same group from last year and we are expecting different results. I honestly don’t see how we can be better with the same group. The 3 and 2 start is awesome and I’m enjoying every minute of it but I just don’t see how we can sustain winning over 82 games while playing 3 Forwards and 4 Dmen all night. Until Chia addresses our lack of 3 wingers and 1 Dman we are going to be struggling all year.