Di Stefano’s Beef: The Edmonton Oilers

Even the circus brings joy and smiles to children’s faces, but these local clowns from Oil Country couldn’t please even a newborn baby. These days, the blue and orange are tossed over the glass on a nightly basis. Boo birds have come and now spawned in Rexall Place. The situation in Edmonton right now, is uglier than the Gretzky trade itself. Now let us first look at the long list of good things that has happened to the Oilers:






Secondly, let us look at the short list of bad things to happen to the Oilers: 1) Opening the season losing their first 5 games, 2) Winning only one game over a stretch of 18, winning just 7 out of a possible 36 points, 3) Getting shutout 4 times and 4) Head Coach Dallas Eakins fired, after numerous votes of confidence from GM Craig MacTavish.

As a die-hard devoted fan of Les Canadiens, I can remember the dreadful season of 2011, but jersey tossin’ is one thing that never once crossed my mind. However after 3 straight 1st overall draft picks, and four top 5 picks in the last 4 years, can you blame the fans for the brutal product on the ice? Every hockey fan even outside of Edmonton expected much more from the Oilers. So it should come as no surprise that Edmontonians and fans alike have planned for a clean sweep of upper management. Starting with Kevin Lowe, and now onto Daryl Katz and Craig MacTavish, these men have embarrassed the Edmonton Oilers organization. The same organization that once had a dynasty with Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Fuhr, Coffey, Lowe, and Moog. Ever since the Cinderella cup run of 2006, the Oilers have yet to make the postseason. Edmonton has been a cellar-dweller for almost a decade. This fiasco has scents of Toronto Maple Leafs all over it except for the numerous high draft picks and media hype. Is there any hope?

For those who wanted Eakins fired, he’s been relieved of his duties; but is that enough? In a word, no. It’s not like the Oilers gave up a tonne of shots each game (29.4 SA/G 15th NHL) but their special teams were not something of any significance. For all the offensive weapons the Oilers possess, their powerplay was abysmal converting at 12.6% (27th NHL). Eakins may not have been the most experienced coach and best suited for the job of coaching all these young kids, but he coached to his strengths. Eakins played his stars and challenged each of them with many different lines and positions. Perhaps the problem with Eakins was that he didn’t keep the young guys accountable. Jeff O’Neill, who is hard pressed at ever saying something wise, suggested on OTR the other day that he would hire John Tortorella to be the next coach of the Oilers because he would bring experience and accountability and respect to a locker room that so desperately needs it. I actually find myself in agreement with Jeff, but even if Torts were to coach this squad, could he turn this sinking ship around? We will never know, but with rumors swirling now on TSN about how Taylor Hall wants out of Edmonton, we are going to look at 3 moves that I would make as the GM of the Oilers.

Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Move number #1: Trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – The Red Deer, Alberta native is beloved in Edmonton in front of all his friends and family but until he either learns how to play defense, his game will always be lacking. Sure his hands and offensive skills are a great commodity and something every team wants, but nobody wants a centerman who struggles in the faceoff dot (FO% 48.7%) and lacks all defensive awareness needed to be a centre in the NHL. Ryan currently produces 2.10 points at 5-on-5 per 60 minutes which is good enough for 52nd in the NHL. Nugent -Hopkins is terrible defensively. Lets look at his zone starts: DZFO% 25.7, NZFO% 42.1%, OZFO% 32.2%. The young Oilers’ centre is seriously sheltered from the defensive zone, but what’s worse is his Fenwick per 60 minutes; FF60 37.71, FA60 40.30, FF% 48.3%. Now let me put these numbers into perspective; RNH begins 75% his shifts out of his own zone, but as it turns out, his team allows more shots against even though the play is beginning out of the Oilers’ own end.

A likely trade the Oilers could make is to ship Nugent-Hopkins and Oskar Klefbom to Arizona for Martin Hanzal, Connor Murphy and a 3rd round pick. The Oilers shed $3million in salary to complete this deal and the Coyotes have plenty of cap to accept such a deal. Arizona has struggled offensively this season and although their goals against is in the bottom-5 in the NHL (3.16 GA/G 27th), their goaltending has struggled thus far even with some sound defensive play. Much of the Coyotes problems come from little time spent in the offensive zone, but Nugent-Hopkins could benefit from a change of scenery with a heavy and experienced group of Coyotes forwards. On the other hand, Hanzal is a mammoth of a man (6’6” weighing 230lbs), great on draws (FO% 59%), kills penalties, competes every shift, can put the puck in the net, and controls the play when he’s on the ice (FF% 51.6%). At 27 years old and only 2 years remaining on a 5-year $15.5 million contract worth $3.1 per year, this is a guy to build a team around. Connor Murphy is a quality 21-year old prospect at 6’3″ 190lbs. This trade addresses both teams which have stumbled out of the gate.

Photo by Perry Nelson/Edmonton Sun/QMI Agency

Photo by Perry Nelson/Edmonton Sun/QMI Agency

Move number #2: Trading Justin Schultz – The high valued college free-agent of two years ago, has proved himself as a premier point producer but as someone who struggles mightily in his own end. The Oilers need someone capable to move the puck but they also need someone to make smart pinches and play smart defensively. Schultz is another young Oiler who is sheltered away from defensive zone starts: DZFO% 22.3%, NZFO% 40.5%, OZFO% 37.2% – these numbers look like Alex Kovalev numbers. Schultz is an NHL defenseman and is started in his own zone 22% of the time. That is embarrassing.

The Flyers love defensemen and they would drool over the young Schultz enough to give up Braydon Coburn to save on cap, and with Mason now out with injury, the Flyers’ hopes of the post season are a long shot. At 6’5″ and 220lbs, Coburn has a track record of shutting down Crosby and Malkin for the bulk of his career while still putting up decent numbers. He’s not a hard-nosed, dumb as a stick defenseman; actually quite the opposite. Coburn is an exceptional skater with a great first pass and has an active stick great for breaking up passes and directing opposing rushes. With all the Flyers defensive injuries, this may seem like a stretch but the Flyers were a finalist to sign Schultz 2 years ago and ever Since Kimmo Timonen went down to injury, the blueline for Philly has produced little offense aside from Mark Streit. Coburn would greatly help the Oilers for many years to come. His current deal has one year remaining that pays him $4.5 million and Schultz is in the final year of his deal that pays him $3.75. Hockey deals are rare in today’s NHL but this would be one that would work nicely for both clubs.

Photo: Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo: Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Move number #3: Trading Nail Yakupov – The overly colorful Russian #1 pick hasn’t come close to the hype that he entered the league with. The 21-year old is having an awful season in Edmonton thus far playing on the 3rd line with rarely any powerplay time. Many have theories for his struggles such as the whole “Russian-factor”, or that he didn’t have a great relationship with Eakins or just the fact that he was given a more defensive role on the 3rd line. Whatever it may be, he has just 4 goals and 8 points in 32 games; hardly impressive numbers. On the final year of his entry-level contract, perhaps the best option for him is to pack his bags. Nail is another severely sheltered Oiler: DZFO% 15.6%, NZFO% 43.9%, OZFO% 40.6%. Yakupov is given every opportunity to succeed with limited time spent in his own zone, but then we find his FF% at 45.3%.

Old buddy and teammate Alex Galchenyuk, who just recently became the Habs’ number 1 centre, would love to play with Nail again, even if they weren’t on the same line. David Desharnais has fallen out of sorts for the Canadiens and with Lars Eller returning from injury, the future of Desharnais is in jeopardy. Either the French pivot learns how to play the wing and thrive there, or GM Marc Bergevin will be forced to ship him out. The Habs have an exuberance of centres and with plenty of RFA’s to re-sign in the offseason, Desharnais and his contract simply need to go. The only 3 centres the Oilers have are Draisaitl, Gordon and Nugent-Hopkins (Hanzal) and with plenty of cap space, Desharnais would fit in nicely on the second line. At $3.5 million, with lots of playoff experience, David would help solidify the centre ice position for Edmonton. Desharnais on the second line makes sense with Benoit Pouliot and David Perron flanking him on the wings. Yakupov likely wants to cash in on a new contract so basically that gives him a 50-game tryout with the Habs. Montreal has nothing to lose and everything to gain in a great young player while not giving up a major piece. Yakupov is unlikely to dart back to Russia with the financial instability of the KHL, so Nail would be giving it his all in order to impress the Habs brass or even another club come the trade deadline. This is a perfect hockey deal for both clubs, and if Yakupov doesn’t workout in Montreal, the former number 1 pick would garner interest somewhere else come the deadline.

I truly believe these 3 young guns I mentioned are the biggest problem(s) in Edmonton. Each of them are lazy and are heavily sheltered away from the defensive zone. Leon Draisaitl is also sheltered but as a rookie that’s to be expected. I do believe the goaltending needs to improved but with better defense and more offense, the goaltending will undoubtedly improve also. Ben Scrivens has shown he has what it takes to be a number 1 goalie in the NHL and with better defense, we should be seeing a few more 54-save shutout performances. Here is what the Oilers new lineup would look like:

  1. Hall-Hanzal-Eberle
  2. Pouliot-Desharnais-Perron
  3. Pinizzotto-Draisaitl-Purcell
  4. Hendricks-Gordon-Arcobello
  5. Petry-Coburn
  6. Fayne-Nikitin
  7. Murphy-Ference
  8. Scrivens-Fasth

Now, I am not saying that Desharnais would bring in Yakupov by himself nor am I stating that Edmonton would accept a one-for-one deal with Philadelphia for Coburn but these are players that they definitely could take a look at to start addressing areas of need.

Note: Capgeek is an excellent source in order to assess each team’s cap situation as well as contracts. Here is the Oilers.

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