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Sports Lack of lift from their wings has grounded Edmonton Oilers on the attack this season

22:21  13 march  2018
22:21  13 march  2018 Source:   edmontonjournal.com

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Game Day 69: Oilers at Flames. Four weeks and fourteen games remain in the Edmonton Oilers ’ 2017-18 season , but it’s not too early to start writing its epitaph. How about this one? HERE LIE THE 2017-18 EDMONTON OILERS . NEVER COULD GET OFF THE GROUND . NO WINGS .

Lack of lift from their wings has grounded Edmonton Oilers on the attack this season .

031218-Flames036.JPG: <span style=Milan Lucic." src="/upload/images/real/2018/03/13/031218-flames036-jpg-span-style-font-size-13px-milan-lucic-span__812747_.jpg?content=1" />© Al CharestMilan Lucic.

Four weeks and fourteen games remain in the Edmonton Oilers’ 2017-18 season, but it’s not too early to start writing its epitaph. How about this one?

HERE LIE THE 2017-18 EDMONTON OILERS.
NEVER COULD GET OFF THE GROUND.
NO WINGS.

Granted that’s just one more alternative in a season that goaltending, defence, special teams, coaching and management have all come under fire, and with cause. A strong case can be made to weave an ineffectual group of wingers into the mix, indeed to interweave them into some of the other issues, notably the management that constructed this roster.

Consider the group that took to the ice Saturday night as the Oilers wrapped up a five-game home stand against Minnesota Wild. Edmonton’s Top Six in that game featured three natural wingers who have combined to score ONE goal since Christmas, and a converted centre playing his first-ever game on the flanks. Welcome to the Connor and Leon Show, ladies and gentlemen. Hope you fellows are prepared to score some goals!

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Connor McDavid (2) and Leon Draisaitl (1) did just that on Saturday, while the newly-converted centre, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, chipped in with an empty netter and an earlier assist as the Oilers tamed the Wild 4-1. But those other Top Six wingers — Milan Lucic, Mike Cammalleri, Pontus Aberg — added as much spark to the offence as a Zippo lighter. A combined 0-0-0 from those three, even on a night when their cumulative linemates lit the lamp four times. Fortunately, enough of the other parts came together — the goaltending, defensive play, special teams, and offensive production from the centres — for the Oilers to roll to a solid win. This time.

But that black hole on the wings has been an ongoing problem, one that arguably dates back to last summer when the Oilers parted company with a handful of experienced wingers and replaced them with precious little.

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 Lack of lift from their wings has grounded Edmonton Oilers on the attack this season .

This is especially true when considering natural wingers. It must be stated that most nights Todd McLellan dresses at least five qualified centres and deploys at least one of them on the wings. Usually, whoever is the guy playing out of position — Draisaitl, Nuge, Ryan Strome, Jujhar Khaira — is more likely to score than any of the dudes whose full-time job is on the flanks.

I could throw a stack of statistics at you, but for today’s purposes let’s follow Henry David Thoreau’s lead and “simplify, simplify”. The most basic measure of offensive production is goals, a count that is particularly important for wingers, where finishing plays is a major part of the job description. This is how things looked for the Oilers one year ago:

All forwards who scored at least 1 goal are shown. Pure wingers are shown in blue font. Those in black are either full-time centres or players that spent significant time at the position; indeed my chosen group of centre-capable players includes exactly those eight Oilers who took 100+ faceoffs last year.

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It’s immediately apparent that the “centres” played way more than a third of Games Played, it was closer to 48% as McLellan would dress five, six, or even seven trained centres on a nightly basis. Then as now, his preference was to front-load his line-up with his three most skilled pivots in the top six. Difference was, that Top Six also included three full-time wingers who each connected for 20+ goals. All told the forward corps was very balanced with almost identical goal production from the identified groups. The team as a whole finished eighth in the NHL in Goals For.

This past summer, Peter Chairelli locked down his entire defence group from last season but made a number of changes up front. Jordan Eberle was traded for Ryan Strome, while Benoit Pouliot was bought out and all of Tyler Pitlick, Matt Hendricks, David Desharnais and Anton Lander were allowed to walk.

So, how’d that work out? Let’s look at a similar list through 68 games:

I’ve included a couple of zero-goal scorers for completeness, while some players have changed roles; Khaira has played quite a bit of centre this year, Caggiula almost none. Of the 6 identified pivots, all have taken at least 280 faceoffs this year, none of the others even a quarter that many.

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The preponderance of black font at the top of the list tells a tale, as do the totals at the bottom. Pure wingers have gotten 55% of the games but have scored just 36% of the goals produced by the forwards. The failure of that group has played a massive role in the collapse of club scoring to 21st in the league.

Part of that can be explained by the exchange of Eberle for Strome, a more versatile player who has become a fixture at 3C even as the club has struggled mightily to fill the gaping hole that was created at 2RW. The spot at 1RW has still been primarily filled by Draisaitl, a man whose controversial $68 million contract extension was predicated on the young star’s capacity to centre his own line. So said Peter Chairelli at the time. But Todd McLellan says by his actions, “I need a winger who can play with Connor and these other guys ain’t it.”

It’s further troubling that Edmonton’s most productive goal scorer on the flanks, Patrick Maroon, was recently sent packing for a package of packing tape. What’s left is a group currently topped by 19-year-old Jesse Puljujarvi, whose 11 goals represent decent progress over last season. But those paltry 11 goals also make him the top-scoring natural winger on the team! That’s… not good.

Indeed, with Maroon permanently removed from the picture, the eight natural wingers who remain have mustered all of 45 goals this season. Barely more as a collective than Rocket Richard Trophy candidates Alex Ovechkin (42) or Patrik Laine (41) have managed on their lonesome. Not reasonable to expect a sniper of their calibre, but a 20-goal sniper would be nice, especially on a team with some brilliant playmakers in the middle of the ice.

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 Lack of lift from their wings has grounded Edmonton Oilers on the attack this season .

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Oilers had one in Eberle, but moved him. In his absence, Maroon’s production dropped a little and Milan Lucic’s fell off a cliff. And of the many players given more opportunity, I’d argue that not one of them has seized the day.

It gets worse if you consider what might have been. Here’s a list of just full-time wingers that includes those who have moved on since the end of last season:

In a word, ugh. Four natural wingers from last year’s Oilers have managed a dozen goals in the current campaign; ALL FOUR of them now play for other NHL teams. The six holdovers are all in the 2-11 range, while in-season additions Michael Cammalleri and Pontus Aberg have combined for 2 goals in 50 games wearing the Oil drop.

I could go back further in time and add the name of Taylor Hall to the list of departed wingers, but will leave that as an exercise to the reader. If we confine our analysis to changes within the last twelve months, I’d argue Strome was an upgrade on Desharnais at 3C but no move was made to bring in “a Tomas Vanek” let alone “a James Neal” on the flanks to put actual pucks into actual nets. The loss of Maroon was imminent due to his contract status, while I’d argue that the departure of Pitlick to Group VI free agency contained a significant component of bad luck. After missing his games played threshold due to a variety of injuries, it figures that he would have his healthiest season of his seven-year pro career this season, doesn’t it? But the signs were there of an emerging depth winger and no apparent offers were made to retain him.

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That leaves the Benoit Pouliot fiasco. The rangy winger was bought out with two years remaining on his contract, leaving the club on the hook for $1.333 million per season for the next four years. They replaced him with first Jussi Jokinen, then Michael Cammalleri, two veterans in the $1 million class, both with a history of scoring. Here, however, they have combined for 2 goals in 58 games. That’s 10 fewer than Pouliot, who is getting paid more to not play in Edmonton than he is to score goals in Buffalo.

The other issue is that even with the buyout, Pouliot + Replacement have carried a cap hit of around $2.5 million, a savings of ~$1.5 MM on Pouliot’s original pact. Which might have been useful, had the club bothered to use that cap space. Instead that $1.5 million plus a further $3.5 million reduction from the Eberle-for-Strome transaction sat in the piggy bank all season, unused.

Indeed, the Oilers with their spiffy new barn playing to capacity crowds paying premium prices, have the league’s 29th highest payroll according to the good people at CapFriendly. That will adjust a little when bonuses are included at season’s end, but nonetheless casts a different, harsh light on the club’s 25th place in the overall standings. This, as many critics point our, in the last year of McDavid’s ELC, which at the end of the season will have been utterly wasted. It’s not a good look for management or ownership.

Exact same line-up that topped the Wild will try to put the hurt on the Calgary Flames tonight. So, a top six featuring three natural wingers who have combined to score one goal since Christmas, and a converted centre playing his second-ever game on the flanks. Baby steps.

Oscar Klefbom misses his second straight game after a mystery “procedure”, meaning Ethan Bear gets another look. He’ll partner up with Kris Russell on the second pairing, and is also apt to get Klefbom’s minutes on the first powerplay unit, dangerously assuming that the Oilers get actual powerplays. (They rank a distant 31st overall in the NHL in powerplay opportunities, 14 fewer than any other team and 40 below the median. But I digress)

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Lack of lift from their wings has grounded Edmonton Oilers on the attack this season . Oilers ' woes dragging down McDavid's MVP chances.

Iiro Pakarinen remains either a coach’s decision or walking wounded. He took a cheap shot from Cal Clutterbuck in his last game, and while he finished that contest he spent a chunk of it in the room.

Between the pipes there’s no rest for the weary as Cam Talbot starts for the 14th time in 15 games. The Oilers are in a pinch in the sense that backup Al Montoya can make just one more appearance of 30+ minutes before the conditional 5th-round pick the Oilers ceded to acquire the netminder ten weeks ago will become a 4th. Not sure if it’s worth the cost of exhausting Talbot, but that appears to be the path. It’s not as if the Oilers are fighting for playoff position, they’ve just painted themselves into yet another corner.

Meanwhile their provincial rivals are in the hunt. The Flames sit in eleventh in the West, but only two points behind the last wild card spot and three out of third in the Pacific Division. They have just 12 games remaining, yielding games in hand to most of their playoff rivals. This is desperation time for the Flames, who will be missing sparkplug Matthew Tkachuk tonight as they try to end a 7-game losing streak vs. the Oil. Tkachuk’s 24 goals lead a group of three (ahem) natural wingers on the Flames to hit the 20-goal mark. Johnny Gaudreau has 21, Micheal Ferland 20.

Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan is feeling the heat, and unleashed some of his own in the form of 22 F-bombs in a single diatribe at yesterday’s practice. So maybe tonight’s theme is “plenty of F-bombs but no Klefbom”.

Cam Talbot placed like an ace, including making his save of the season, as the Oilers beat the Minnesota Wild. Not only that, Andrej Sekera was back to his old self in the game. David Staples and Bruce McCurdy dig in to the game, which also saw Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finally team up with Connor McDavid.

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Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

Oilers' Klefbom done for season after undergoing shoulder surgery .
Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom underwent successful shoulder surgery on Thursday and will miss the remainder of the regular season, the team announced. Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom underwent successful shoulder surgery on Thursday and will miss the remainder of the regul The 24-year-old will require five-to-six weeks of recovery after which he will be cleared for workouts.Back on March 14 the team announced that Klefbom was returning to the lineup after a two-game absence, while knowing that he would be having season-ending surgery soon after.

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