There it is. A loss to the Vegas Golden Knights yesterday appears to be the end of the line for the 2018-2019 Edmonton Oilers. Maybe it sounds like I’m writing the team off a little early, they’re only three points behind the Vancouver Canucks for third spot in the Pacific Division, but no, they’ve lost six of their past 7 and I see no reason to expect that trend to change.
Oscar Klefbom is finally healthy, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is scoring at almost a point-per-game pace, Leon Draisaitl is just above that, and of course, Connor McDavid is still Connor McDavid. And yet, none of that matters. The Oilers are below .500, and keep finding new ways to lose. Because of all this, I’ve decided to hand out some recognition.
Congratulations to GM and President of Hockey Operations Peter Chiarelli. He’s done a great job of turning an up-and-coming potential powerhouse team into a team where Making the Playoffs is the ultimate goal. This is not an easy thing to accomplish when you inherit a team with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, the first overall pick that will be used on McDavid, and two more picks in the top-33 of one of the deepest drafts the NHL has ever seen. Alas, he managed to do it. A Taylor Hall trade here, a Jordan Eberle trade there, and the most incredible of all, trading those other two top picks for Griffin Reinhart. Just in case that wasn’t enough of a handicap to accomplish that incredible goal of making the playoffs in year four of Connor McDavid, A Milan Lucic signing here, and a Kris Russell signing there, to help get the Oilers above the Cap Ceiling really makes it a challenge. It took a lot of work to be able to accomplish this, but someone felt it needed doing. No one wants to come into a job and have it too easy, I guess. So congratulations to Peter Chiarelli. I honor him by giving him the Mike Milbury award. That’s of course, ignoring that Mike Milbury was still making the playoffs most of the time when he was making terrible trades.
Congratulations to Todd McLellan for his accomplishments. This is also a tough one. In the NHL almost all teams use a zone defense, well that’s no fun, Todd McLellan has used a Man-to-Man system the entire time he’s been here. This accomplishes a few things — It makes it easier to get beat down low if you have defensemen with spotty edge-work, and it helps increase the scoring chance quality for the opposition. It’s a great way to tank your own goalies save percentage, and the head coach has done an incredible job of doing just that.
That wasn’t enough though, maybe the team could still win games through offense like that. Have no fear, Todd McLellan relies on dump-and-chase offense with activated defense. Unless your name is McDavid, there is no reason to be shooting as a forward. This helps increase the opposition goalies save%, lowers your own quality chances, and increases the probability of an odd-man rush against you. It’s the kind of system you put together if you want to win the Corsi battle, but have no interest in scoring goals. Again, this is a team that had some elite shooters. McLellan used the media, as is his calling card, to run a few players out of town, and attack various bloggers and fans who disagreed with his moves.
Just in case that wasn’t enough, he brought out the L-formation penalty kill. The penalty kill here did a great job of almost single-handedly tanking the season last year. The only thing it’s effective against is our own powerplay. The penalty killing is again one of the lowest in the league — ranked 26th — and there is no reason to expect improvement.
The most amazing part of the coaching, is the deployment. Every team has one of these guys who just get way too much ice time despite not being very good. They’ll get powerplay minutes, first line minutes, and more opportunity than plenty of better players. Todd has taken this to the next level over his four years, though. One of those guys isn’t enough. He likes to ride the bull with Kris Russell, he likes getting Milan Lucic out on the powerplay despite the fact he’s never been a powerplay player, but mostly, he just loves him some Drake Caggiula. There isn’t a shortage of evidence to suggest these players are bad, but he is not having any of it. Sometimes there’s even a lot of evidence to suggest that he has better players sitting at 10 minutes per night. Luckily, he was able to strap players like that to lower lines, blame them for not scoring, and then shifting that inconvenient reality to the AHL and then pretend he’s using his roster efficiently.
Chiarelli did his part in turning a potential powerhouse into a team that can’t make the playoffs, but through terrible deployment, special-teams, zone coverage, and offence killing, Todd McLellan has upped the anti by making November 19th a meaningful day. He gets himself the Barry Melrose award. Although, it should be noted that Barry Melrose was fired 16 games into his first season in Tampa when it became obvious that he was terrible.
Most of the players are doing their part. I can’t get mad at them for being who they are, or going through with the systems in place. Matt Benning is a lot better than he’s looked the past two years, but he’s following a terrible system and that does not play to his strengths.
Connor McDavid is somehow still giving his all and racking up goals and points. I have no idea how he’s managing to stay happy about any of this, but God bless him.
In any event, I think these players do deserve to win something, so, I’ve decided to put together a Copper&Blue beer-league team. If any current Oilers wish to be a part of this, I really think we can put up a good fight, using real systems and win the beer-league championship. Of course, I haven’t been on skates in 10-years, so I will act as head coach and GM, I can’t afford to pay NHL salaries, but I can ensure there is always a keg of beer waiting around for after the game.
If you’re sick of losing, lets make this happen, I bet we’d even have fans showing up to watch players winning, and playing for a coach and GM who is not incompetent — just drunk. All Oilers players can send their applications, with a copy of NHL stats to my twitter messages. Caggiula need not apply.