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What We Learned: Edmonton Oilers’ strange path to problem solving

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

The decision to bring aboard Ilya Bryzgalov to solve the Edmonton Oilers' problems is a curious one for Craig MacTavish.

For one thing, and this is a pretty important consideration, Edmonton's real problems don't exactly start with goaltending. This is a systems issue, and a defensive depth issue, and a “no goalie could be much better” issue.

That it's Bryzgalov brought in, albeit at a bargain price, probably doesn't help very much; you can't really expect him to be a notable upgrade over Devan Dubnyk even if he has a ton of experience playing behind a defensively awful, systems-deficient team in the past two years. At best, this just means the end of Jason LaBarbera, and creates a 1a/1b goaltending situation in which no one is outstanding.

Moreover, though, this isn't the end of the moves the Oilers seem extremely likely to make. After all, they cleared some $3.5 million in cap space by trading an under-performing defenseman — of which there are ever so many in Edmonton these days — in Ladislav Smid to the Flames for prospects and more importantly the wiggle room. As Tyler Dellow suggested over the weekend this is likely to do with the fact that he had become their fifth defenseman and didn't figure into future plans with Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom likely to join the NHL club next season. You might even be able to add in Aaron Ekblad to that mix, depending on how things bounce in the draft lottery, and we'd be kidding ourselves if we didn't think that was a possibility.

The fact of the matter is that this atrocious start, coupled with the overall strength of the Western Conference (where, as of Sunday afternoon, a whopping eight teams would be at least tied for the No. 1 seed in the East), effectively ended their playoff hopes about a week ago. Even before that loss to Philadelphia — an aesthetic disaster featuring boneheaded defensive play by the Oilers' top two lines — they were 12 points out of a playoff spot and dead last in the conference, meaning that any personnel decisions made at this point are being made for the future and not in hopes of salvaging something from the wreckage. The number of Edmonton forwards with positive possession numbers with the score close is one, and it's Ben Eager.

All those rumors Friday night in the immediate aftermath of the Bryzgalov signing and Smid trade about someone being moved somewhere for something else were telling. When another trade is made to shake things up, no one is going to be surprised. The media has been trying to trade Nail Yakupov for weeks, and when the Oilers publicly said that wasn't going to happen, Jordan Eberle magically and instantly had his name bandied about, as though the organization would of its own accord let him be anything other than an Oiler for life. The most obvious person to get shipped out of town, for any number of reasons, is Ales Hemsky, who's been on the theoretical block in Edmonton for as long as anyone can remember. He's soft, he doesn't practice hard, he's too cute with the puck, he's gotta go. That's the thinking, anyway.

Hemsky's 30, on the last year of a two-year, $10 million contract, and can be counted on to produce well enough when he's healthy and put in good situations. So everyone in Edmonton is, at present, patiently standing by his stall and furtively checking their watches because something has to give.

Of course MacTavish wants to clear out what he sees as the dead weight on his roster, and Smid and maybe Hemsky and probably a number of other lower-level guys who were not, say, drafted in the past few years, are likely candidates to get gone relatively soon.

And that gets to the heart of the problem with firing the GM in charge of a rebuild before the rebuild is actually over. Obviously Steve Tambellini had to go, because he was awful at his job, but he should have been fired two seasons or more ago. Ralph Krueger, meanwhile, never seemed the right man for the job. You can a GM when he crashes the team into a cornfield, you bring in someone else to put out the fire pick through the smoldering debris. MacTavish and Dallas Eakins were, and this is not their fault but rather that of the obviously-terrible Oilers management above him, brought in to see what they think of the parts already installed in a halfway-built plane that Kevin Lowe and Darryl Katz want zipping down the runway and climbing into the air as soon as possible. It just doesn't work that way. Or at least, it shouldn't.

So now the hockey world waits. Something is going to happen with the Oilers, probably soon, and probably as a means of improving the team in the long-term, but the fact that it's happening that way at all is simply strange. This is what you have to do when you're in MacTavish's position: make stopgap transactions, trim the fat, and hope like hell you finish badly enough you get a top-3 pick.

To this point, MacTavish has for the most part made smart moves (Andrew Ference contract notwithstanding) and therefore seems likely to do so in the future. He can't do any worse than the last guy, at any rate. But there's still too much work to do, and it starts not with a Bryzgalov signing or trading Smid and maybe Hemsky, but with a systems buy-in from their best players. That's Eakins' job, and personnel changes might even distract from that reality.

It says, “We're working to fix the problem,” instead of, “You guys need to stop being the problem.”

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: I don't think we're paying enough attention, as a hockey community, to how well Ryan Getzlaf has been playing this season. His corsi close percentage is through the roof and he's been awesome away from the puck as well. Scoring a hat trick against the Sabres was perhaps an inevitability given the quality he's bringing to the rink every night this season.

Boston Bruins: “We had to be in the present and not think about last year,” Patrice Bergeron, following his two-goal performance against the Maple Leafs in their first meeting since the playoffs last year, told the assembled Boston media, who then steadfastly refused to listen and only brought up that series to an annoying extent.

Buffalo Sabres: That aforementioned loss to the Ducks got so bad that Ron Rolston benched Matt Moulson, Cody Hodgson, and Tyler Ennis for the entire third period. Moulson later said it was “the most embarrassed” he's been in his entire career. And that's coming from a guy who's played for the Islanders and Sabres. Wow.

Calgary Flames: Bob Hartley is so pumped to have a defenseman even the Edmonton Oilers deemed surplus to their needs. Says a lot about the state of things (province of things?) in Alberta.

Carolina Hurricanes: That's right, the Hurricanes need to focus less on defense.

Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks' penalty kill was the big reason they beat the Stars 5-2 on Saturday. Oh and also the combined 3-5-8 from Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp probably didn't hurt either.

Colorado Avalanche: At some point, between 40 and 50 pucks have to get by JS Giguere in a single game to balance out this crazy start, right? He's allowed just five goals on 165 shots this season.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets wore camouflage warmup jerseys on Saturday in an attempt to hide from the fact that they only have one more point than the Flyers.

Dallas Stars: From the Yeah No Kidding Department: Patrick Kane is a big fan of Tyler Seguin.

Detroit Red Wings: Really nice setup from Steven Stamkos to hit Henrik Zetterberg in traffic in the slot for a goal. What do you mean they're not on the same team?

Edmonton Oilers: Ilya Bryzgalov goes Tuesday in the AHL. It'll be very curious to see how he does down there.

Florida Panthers: Jacob Markstrom has been loaned to an AHL team even as Tim Thomas continues to eat copious amounts of garbage in every start. What a season in Florida.

Los Angeles Kings: Pretty decent work to pick up the assist for his first career point in his second career game by Linden Vey to open the scoring against the Canucks.

Minnesota Wild: More nonsense from Jason Pominville. Another goal in regulation (that's 11 in 18 games) and one in the shootout. We get it dude, you wanna make the Olympic team. You made it. Relax.

Montreal Canadiens: Why all the fuss about PK Subban killing penalties? Maybe because the very distinct impression everyone's getting is that they're trying to run the friggin' reigning Norris winner out of town. Hint: It's probably going to work.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Which Nashville Predator will make it to the Hall of Fame? How 'bout a young gun out of the good ol' US of A by the name of Seth Jones. (Oh and probably that Shea Weber guy too but y'know.)

New Jersey Devils: Gorgeous goal from Michael Ryder on Friday night.

New York Islanders: Andrew MacDonald is probably the best value defenseman in the league and yet when it comes to negotiations on a contract extension, the Islanders haven't done any of it yet. Might wanna get a jump on that soon.

New York Rangers: Rick Nash is finally back skating with the Rangers. Certainly a step in the right direction. He'll be a wonderful addition for the suddenly-hot Rangers.

Ottawa Senators: Is Kyle Turris having the quietest point-a-game season in the league right now? Yes he is.

Philadelphia Flyers: Congrats to Claude Giroux on pretending he got hit in the head by Anton Belov and later scoring his first goal of the season. Now just 301 players have more goals than him this season. Fortunately none of them are goalies.

Phoenix Coyotes: Nice comeback by the Coyotes to win in a shootout against the Capitals. Or at least it would have been if the Capitals were a Western Conference team and therefore really any good at all.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Pretty Fleuryish goal here by Kevin Shattenkirk.

San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture is off to a great start in the shootout, going 3 for 4. The rest of the Sharks are a combined 0 for 10. Todd McLellan is now lobbying for a switch to those international rules that let you roll whoever you want as many times as you want.

St. Louis Blues: Currently, Vladimir Tarasenko has more points than Evgeni Malkin. “That will not last,” the second-year player says. Have some confidence, kid.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts' win at the Joe, which propelled them to the top of the Eastern Conference, was their first there since 1994. So the real question, then, is how the 1993-94 Lightning beat the 1993-94 Red Wings.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Nazem Kadri on being forced to go through a rigorous concussion test in the middle of Saturday's game after being drilled by Johnny Boychuk: “They pretty much forced me to (take it). As I was going through the test, I was getting pretty agitated. I just wanted to get back out there.” Hey, the NHL actually doing its job to protect players from concussions? And only like three years after the Quiet Room rule was introduced? What a world.

Vancouver Canucks: With the Canucks getting shelled, John Tortorella stapled Daniel and Henrik Sedin to the bench in the third period so they'd be fresh for Getzlaf and the Ducks the next night. They wanted defensive responsibilities, right?

Washington Capitals: The Caps' power play is first in the league at 28.2 percent. The Caps' penalty kill is second in the league at 88.2 percent. That's really good. The Caps' even-strength goal total is 14th in the league at 32. Might wanna straighten that out.

Winnipeg Jets: Devin Setoguchi says he's “more mature” since he was traded from the Sharks. He's also “more not scoring goals.”

Play of the Weekend

Phil Kessel is the way and the light.

Gold Star Award

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This story by James Mirtle on how hockey in Canada is potentially pricing out the country's future stars was fascinating and great.

Minus of the Weekend

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Roberto Luongo may have gotten crushed by the Kings on Saturday night (four goals against on 18 shots) but at least he lit up a reporter after the game.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “bootsgaudet” wants to change goalies around.

Anaheim sends
Hiller+Holland

to

Washington
for
Laich or brouwer + a pick or Green
then

Caps deal

Holtby or Neuvirth

to Calgary for

T.J Brodie or backlund

All teams say yes.

Signoff
I can taste all the flavors from the past sixty years. I can taste the Korean War.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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