The Edmonton Oilers deployment on the blue line is a matter of trust: 9 Things

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The Oilers are playoff bound.

All that’s left pending is where they will finish and who they may face in the 1st Round. As of this morning, they are 23-14-1, good for 2nd in the Canadian division, a tie-breaker ahead of the Jets, still 6 up on Montreal who lost to Ottawa Saturday, and 12 up on the playoff cut.

Lots of potential roster tweaks and adjustments to chat about as Ken Holland prepares for the post-season in this week’s edition of…

9 Things

9. Joakim Nygard was placed on waivers by the Oilers Saturday. Puzzling on the face of it. Yes, if he is unclaimed the clock re-stars at 30 days. But Nygard was already on the Taxi Squad. Waivers weren’t required. Maybe agent Matt Keator just asked Ken Holland that if his client’s really not in the plans (Nygard has played just 6 of 38 games) to please just do him a solid. And if he’s picked up, it’s $875k in cap space.

8. The Oilers should be in no hurry to bring fans back into Rexall. Yes, their absence is a huge negative in terms of atmosphere and gate revenue. But another 1,100 COVID cases were reported in Alberta Saturday, more than bigger B.C. next door. Half of those in Alberta were variant cases. Positivity is back up to 9%. In most jurisdictions world-wide, you need to stay below 5% for 2 weeks before re-opening. They’re lucky to be playing in Alberta at all.

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7. I take no “sides” in COVID. I want nothing for the afflicted members of Vancouver Canucks and their families but to get and stay well. Life and family come first. But their situation does affect the Oilers in 2 distinct ways. The clubs still have 5 game remaining against one another. And Brandon Sutter, who could have been a target for Ken Holland for improving his playoff-bound club down the middle, is now under COVID protocol. More on the Oilers at Center in a minute…

6. I respected the hell out of Jennifer Botterill as a player and believe her addition to Hockey Night in Canada has been a real plus. But I took issue with her comments Saturday that Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon had their infractions this past week had “crossed the line”. I might remind Jennifer that I watched her on the Women’s National team because of her elite skill. I wouldn’t have been o.k. if she’d been fouled constantly with no call forthcoming. Every. Night. The Americans were the only ones that even posed that threat.

5. Hard to decipher Sportsnet’s plan is for it’s regional, between-periods TV Panel. I like Gene Principe, he’s popular for a reason. But it has been a musical chairs of panel guests beside him. It’s confusing for the viewer. It doesn’t allow them the opportunity to form a consistent relationship with the personalities. And rehearsing on the air is not a good strategy, especially for those with little broadcast experience. They should pick one, two at the most, and preferably someone who lives in Edmonton. We need more local voices in broadcasting, not fewer.

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4. Philip Broberg’s SHL regular season has wrapped up. Playoffs begin April 11th. Broberg went 3-10-13 in 54 GP and his usage as the season went on dropped. Part of that was injuries. But the SHL also is not a development league. Skelleftea only had 2 D-men under 24 years of age. If it hadn’t been for COVID, I’d have far preferred that Broberg be in Bakersfield. His minutes would be a higher priority there. But that could change as early as this Spring. The soonest Skelleftea could be eliminated is April 15th. The AHL regular season is scheduled to be done April 30th, with playoffs (COVID pending) right after that. I’d keep an eye on that.

3. As Dylan Holloway recovers from thumb surgery, Wisconsin will no doubt be dangling the captaincy in front of him in hopes of luring him back for another college season. But really, what’s left for Holloway to prove there? He was already too good for the NCAA (11-24-35 in 23 GP, +10). With Cole Caufield & several other seniors gone the club probably won’t be nearly as good. And the Oilers will have a Middle-6 Left Wing job open and perhaps a 3rd Line Center hole as well. Both come with an NHL salary which logic dictates would be more enticing. As a result, I fully expect Holloway to sign in Edmonton and not return to college.

2. Speaking of Center, the Oilers were caved in the circle Friday night, to the tune of 57%. The only guy who could win a draw was Leon Draisaitl (66%). As I’ve been saying for weeks now, this club needs another good faceoff man for the playoffs. With Brandon Sutter now likely out of the trade deadline picture for Edmonton, a few well-known names remain. The Oilers will have considered Luke Glendenning from Detroit. The RHS center won 15 of his 16 draws in a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday. A huge number of them were in the D-zone. Glendening played 4:32 SH as the Lightning went 0/3 on the PP. But he was also just 6-13, 32% CF 5v5.

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I keep seeing people bring up the name Ryan Getzlaf. But his No Move Clause and $8.2m cap hit for a club like the Oilers who are already up against it salary-wise makes that extremely difficult for Ken Holland. A more realistic option would be Flames F and former Alberta Golden Bear Derek Ryan. The RHS Ryan is 57% in the circle this season and over his career has been a 50-50 D-Zone player. He fits the bill. Ryan is an expiring UFA with a $3.1m cap hit. The Flames would have to retain and likely take a player back. But the real trick would be to convince Calgary to trade within their division. They wouldn’t be handing out bargains.

1.There is a key ingredient that goes into any NHL coach’s decision to play certain players in certain game situations. And in my experience, it outweighs every other metric available. It’s Trust. We can see this illustrated in the Oilers handling of the 4 young defencemen on their roster in 2021: Ethan Bear, William Lagesson, Caleb Jones and Evan Bouchard. I list the 4 in that specific order intentionally. It could just as easily read “level of trust with the coaching staff, in descending order”. Bouchard is a bit of an outlier, as he’s a raw rookie…and over time, you’d expect more patience. But as for the other 3…

Talk to those around the Arizona Coyotes between 2011-2017. They will tell you that Head Coach Dave Tippett and Associate Coach Jim Playfair had a very close working relation where, as time went on, Playfair took on more and more of the responsibility not just for them D-men but also the PK. I would contend that in Edmonton, Tippett still gives Playfair considerable influence and a wide berth on who the PK pairings will be. Even which 6 men will dress, night-to-night, and the specific skills that they bring. As an example:

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I suspect Playfair trusts William Lagesson’s ability to block out attackers, fill lanes and win battles along the wall. In short, it’s Wild Bill’s D-zone defending. There’s no question Jones moves the puck better. But it’s clear Playfair prefers Lagesson in his own end. Intentional usage (5v5 zone starts) shows Lagesson is 39-61 to Jones’ 55-45 split. And on the PK, Playfair should believe in Lagesson’s SH GA/60 is 3.3 and his CF% Rel = +14.3. Jones? SH GA/60 is 10.8, CF Rel% = -6.3. Though, to be fair, Jones’s is a considerably smaller sample.

Friday night, Playfair shortened his end of the bench with 12 minutes left in the 3rd Period. Caleb Jones only played 2 shifts the rest of the night, one of them :19 and the other :12 long. Now, Playfair knew that the Canucks game Saturday had been postponed. He could afford to drain the tank. And, drain it he did. Darnell Nurse played 27:23. Kris Russell 22:58. Adam Larsson 22:52. Exactly one young D-man took a shift after the 12:00 mark of the 3rd: Ethan Bear, including 2 in the final 3 1/2 minutes. Why? The coaches trust him.

With the likes of Broberg, Samorukov and others on the LHS not quite ready, the uncertainty of Oscar Klefbom’s future, and Jones’s inability to grab the job, one wonders if Ken Holland has an acquisition in mind.

Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins

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