Puck Daddy Bag of Mail: Oilers hitting rock bottom

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/6743/" data-ylk="slk:Connor McDavid">Connor McDavid</a>’s <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/edm/" data-ylk="slk:Edmonton Oilers">Edmonton Oilers</a> are in a massive tailspin. (Getty Images)
Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers are in a massive tailspin. (Getty Images)

I think the Oilers losing 5-0 at home to a Sabres team playing for the second time in as many nights, without their three best defensemen (“best defensemen” for the Sabres being a very very very relative term), kinda broke a lot of people.

Hell, even the Edmonton media is now questioning the wisdom of having traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. To be fair that’s between bouts of also saying “Connor McDavid has to be better,” which is what you expect from these guys generally.

So yeah I got a bunch of Oilers questions on email and Twitter, and I’ll take the two that best distill the issue. Then I’ll just go with a hodgepodge for the rest.

That said, let’s get to it:

Mike asks: “What does rock bottom even look like for the Oilers?”

Well it’s funny. This feels like it, right? Because while there have certainly been worse Oiler teams than this, none of them had Connor McDavid on them. None of them were coming off a year where they made the playoffs and everyone figured they’d do so again. None of them were at a point where everyone assumed the rebuild was effectively over.

And yet here we are, with the Oilers sitting one a home PK percentage of — not that home/road special teams splits tell you anything but the number is so funny I have to bring it up — 54.2, the team destined to miss the playoffs, and big changes coming in the offseason if not sooner.

I mean, I guess in theory rock bottom could look like “Connor McDavid’s gets attacked by a pack of wolves and he never plays again” but still, this might be worse.

Megan asks: “Which bad Chiarelli decision hurt the Oilers most? Hall/Larsson, Eberle/Strome, Kris Russell’s 4×4, signing Milan Lucic, not addressing the lack of a backup goaltender, signing Draisaitl to that contract?”

Unfortunately it all has to be taken together, right? Because let’s start the process with Taylor Hall being traded for Adam Larsson, the thing that happened to kickstart the Oilers’ move toward, ahem, defensive responsibility.

Day-of, when Bob McKenzie tweeted:


Trade is one for one,” people couldn’t handle it. Flat out, the reaction was, “No way it’s one for one. How is it one for one?” Scroll through the replies. It’s straight-up incredulity and schadenfreude from all but the least-cognizant of Edmonton media goobers.

And it snowballed from there. Because trading Hall gave Edmonton the cap space to go out and sign Lucic (further adding to the team’s “accountability” and “tough-to-play-againstness.” We were encouraged, at the time, to look at it as Hall for Larsson, Lucic, and Jesse Puljujarvi. Which was an insane thing to say at the time but it had a sort of twisted logic to it. (Not in the fun Joker way of being twisted, though.)

Another addition that summer? The Oilers signed Kris Russell for a short-money deal and liked him so much they wanted to meet his higher asking price of $16 million over four years. At the same time, McDavid and Draisaitl formed an instant and incredible partnership that necessitated Draisaitl get a huge contract this summer.

And with the McDavid contract poised to balloon to something like 13 times its previous size in summer 2018, there would need to be some money moved around once again to make sure it all fit under the cap. Thus Eberle had to be moved to accommodate Draisaitl and Russell’s raises. That’s one of those deals Peter Chiarelli likely didn’t want to make but felt he had to. I doubt there was anyone who thought this was a lateral move, let alone an improvement.

Frankly, all this goes back even deeper into the past, before Chiarelli took the job, because the Oilers’ real issue is that there was no elite defenseman in the draft when they were picking in the lottery, and they certainly didn’t develop any help there.

So if I have to pick one of those, it’s definitely the one-for-one trade because of everything that followed. Chiarelli screwed up the easiest job in hockey, and he did so colossally, but the issue is institutional.

Dan asks: “Who makes or misses the playoffs from the Central?”

Nashville and Winnipeg are basically locks at this point, and Dallas has to be seen as having a slight advantage over even St. Louis thanks to the game in hand and the differences in the schedule. But I think those are your four that would have screw up pretty hard to not-make it at this point.

Meanwhile, the only one I’m totally convinced is absolutely and positively out at this point is Chicago.

That leaves Minnesota and Colorado and I kinda consider them both coin-flips. Mathematically only one of them, max, can make it if we assume Dallas does make it. The teams behind them are LA (falling apart) and Anaheim (maybe just-not-good-enough). Of the two, I think I like Minnesota a little better because I figure Colorado won’t get the incredible luck they’ve had of late, or put another way, MacKinnon will stop scoring two points a night sometime soon.

So gimme Nashville, Winnipeg, Dallas, St. Louis, and Minnesota as “in.” I reserve the right to change that last one, though.

Jen asks: “Will the Devils make the playoffs?”

Speaking of coin flips, I don’t know about these guys. They started really well, played terribly for a little while, and now seem to be mostly settled into that range of being about where we all figured they’d be.

You have to like where they’re at right now (second in the ultra-competitive Metro) but they seem to be flagging pretty hard at a time when Philly and Pittsburgh, for instance, are picking it up. You also have to say that while Columbus isn’t playing great right now, they have more skill in the lineup than the Devils do, and the same probably goes for the Islanders.

As I said, the division is competitive, but I’m not sure how good any of those teams are in the grand scheme of things. It’s starting to look like in the East, it’s Tampa and Boston (both at least plus-39 in goal difference), and everyone else (Toronto is third at plus-12). Washington and Philly are the only teams above plus-1 in that division, and Philly’s plus-4. Pretty wild stuff.

So no, I don’t trust the Devils that much, but I’m also not sure who’s currently below them that I trust to push them out of the top eight in the conference. If I had to bet, I would say the Devils squeak in, barely, and get clobbered by Tampa or Boston in the first round.

German asks: “How does hockey rid itself of the carousel of old boys that keep getting GM jobs/coaching jobs and let some new blood in?”

Honestly the problem with the league’s Old Boys Club a lot like the problem in the broader workforce: Baby boomers aren’t retiring. If all the guys over the age of 60, who have been working six- and seven-figure jobs for decades, would just pull out of the workforce, you’d see more Kyle Dubases and John Chaykas getting a shot.

That won’t prevent a lot of hires from being guys who Played The Game but it will almost certainly make it more of a Middle Aged Boys Club. Which, I guess, is progress?

Woodsy asks: “Where do you see the Bruins in the next five years? Will they be perennial Cup contenders? If not, what’s the blueprint to get there? Thanks for all you do!”

Okay let’s go three years in the future. Zdeno Chara is probably retired, yeah? Tuukka Rask is 33. Patrice Bergeron is 35. Brad Marchand is 32. Those are big, important players for the current roster whose production will likely have to be replaced. Problem is, they’re all under contract with the exception of Chara (and who knows what this summer holds?)

Also under contract: two big, less important players in David Krejci (34) and David Backes (36).

Also also under contract: two big, extremely important players in their primes, in David Pastrnak (24) and Charlie McAvoy (23).

Other than that, who knows? Danton Heinen will be 25. Jake DeBrusk 21. Frank Vatrano 26. Torey Krug 29. All have contracts that will need to be renewed between now and then but one imagines they stick around.

I doubt they’re perennial Cup contenders just because when your first line is as dominant as the Bruins’ is, and two-thirds of it are now well into their 30s, that’s a concern. Let’s put it this way: Backes now is basically how old Marchand will be then. And Bergeron is currently just a year younger than Backes. Point being, the wheels could fall off at any point between now and then.

Will the Bruins have developed talent to replace two perennial All-Stars up front like that? It’s very hard to say. It’s harder to say they’d be able to acquire it elsewhere (especially given Don Sweeney’s spotty record of player signings and trades).

To take it to your extreme of five years? Woof, I’m not optimistic. But then again, I don’t think too many people were optimistic about this year and the Bruins look like one of the four or five best teams in the league. I think they’d need to hit home runs on a couple mid-to-late first-round picks the next few years, and round that out with some solid doubles to the gap in the later rounds.

So again, how improbable is this situation? How probable is it, therefore, to project the situation will continue for another five years? The answer to both questions is easy: Not very.

Shiftless Hobo (probably not this person’s real name) asks: “Is there any chance Klingberg finishes top 3 in Norris voting?”

He damn well better, right? He’s running at almost a point a game.

I think it’s probably tough to find a defenseman who has a reputation for being passable defensively and also the kind of point production Klingberg has this year. Maybe John Carlson but he’s a mile back in points (AND A MINUS-4!!!!) and Dallas looks pretty damn good.

Klingberg is putting out big-time possession numbers as a clear No. 1 (no sheltering here), and no one is getting close to the net when he’s on the ice.

Only 40 defensemen have played at least 800 minutes at 5-on-5 this year and while there are a lot of good ones in the mix (Dougie Hamilton, Seth Jones, Charlie McAvoy, etc.) none are even close to Klingberg’s production, and he’s top 10 in just about every underlying category.

I mean, they might try to give it to Drew Doughty again, and thankfully the Alex Pietrangelo hype train is finally off the tracks, but if he’s not the leader in mid-season voting there’s something wrong. Bu I guess we’ll find out Friday.

Freddie asks: “Do you foresee any drafted NCAA juniors not signing ELCs, or basically going into their senior year to become FAs?”

First of all, Freddie, thanks for asking a college hockey question.

Honestly it’s pretty rare that you hear rumblings except for when it comes to the guys who are absolutely positively not coming back. Anyone who didn’t think Jimmy Vesey wasn’t signing in Nashville (oops) wasn’t paying attention, and the same is true of Kevin Hayes. Everyone else? Well, tough to say.

So no, this year I haven’t really heard any of that kind of talk about anyone, though someone always ends up doing it kinda out of nowhere.

The one guy I’ve seen some rumblings about already, who isn’t even a junior yet, is Harvard’s star sophomore defenseman and Flames draft pick Adam Fox. I don’t know where those rumors come from, but they’re out there, even though Fox has two full seasons of hockey to go in college after this one.

Now, Harvard definitely has a thing where a lot of drafted guys stay all four years, because if you don’t finish your degree in four years at Harvard (or any Ivy League school, for that matter), you don’t get a degree, period. So guys like Fox, Vesey, Alex Kerfoot, etc. are certainly incentivized to stick around.

Ryan Donato, oddly, will probably buck the trend and sign with the Bruins this summer. But he has the benefit of being a local kid, staying in Boston, and having his dad as the coach of the damn team.

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

All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise.

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