So the Edmonton Oilers are flailing, with just three wins in October, a 3-6-1 record and only a dozen games left before American Thanksgiving.
General manager Peter Chiarelli spent some time on the farm in Bakersfield last week, trying to discern if Jesse Puljujarvi would be an answer to the Oilers’ issues on right wing. Or, if his game it still at a place where bringing him would simply be adding another project to head coach Todd McLellan’s overflowing plate.
Meanwhile, Chiarelli has been working the phones.
Trade talk at this time of year should be prefaced with the fact that deals are seldom consummated in November, mostly because the market is bogged down with struggling teams looking to move struggling players whom nobody else wants.
But a source indicates Chiarelli would be willing to move Anton Slepyshev to improve his scoring off the right side, while we have also learned that at least one team is showing interest in defenceman Matt Benning. There is no evidence that the Oilers are shopping Benning, but the sense would be that Chiarelli has targeted other young defenceman and as such, Benning becomes the ask.
Unsigned free agent veteran Chris Kelly is still in Edmonton and skating with the team. He has a long past relationship with Chiarelli, and no one would be surprised if he were signed the moment Kailer Yamamoto is shipped back to junior, a move that increasingly appears imminent.
Would they move Ryan Strome, as Nick Kypreos suggested on Hockey Night in Canada? Absolutely, but the current state of Strome’s game suggests a less than impactful return. Or perhaps another struggling player whose production is underwhelming.
With due respect however, none of Kelly, Puljujarvi, Yamamoto or Strome will turn this ship around in Edmonton, as long as so many of the core players on this team are performing this poorly. The Oilers’ game has to be fixed from within, by the same players (mostly) who put together a 103-point season last year.
Where do the problems start? Here’s the laundry list:
• Oscar Klefbom: He may not be a bonafide No. 1 NHL defenceman, but the 24-year-old is the No. 1 man in Edmonton, and half of what was an effective pair alongside Adam Larsson last season. Well, thus far in 2017-18, Klefbom has been awful. Night after night awful.
Larsson hasn’t been good either, and their No. 3 defenceman — Andrej Sekera — is recovering from off-season ACL surgery. That puts more on Kris Russell, which he has not handled well, and being a No. 4 has not looked great on Benning.
“(Defencemen) one, two and three have to get the job done,” McLellan bluntly said Monday. “They have to perform at a high level, and when that doesn’t happen, there is no rescuing them (by giving) minutes to your seventh and eighth defencemen. There is that much of a disparity between levels.
“Right now we’re working hard to get one two and three … to where they need to be.”
“We have not, other than on opening night, been able to put 18 players together who are playing even close to their A game,” McLellan said. “We find a few, and a few fall off.”
Kassian is a veteran, and his game has gone AWOL. He isn’t banging or net-crashing, and if he’s not doing that he may as well not dress. Strome is shifting from being a “subtle player” to one who simply doesn’t do any one thing extraordinarily. He’s not real fast, without a great shot, not overly tenacious, with only OK size and hands… What is it he does well again?
When you trade a player who has two years left at $6 million (Jordan Eberle) for one in the final year of a deal that pays him $2.5 million, it basically defines a contract dump. So you shouldn’t expect commensurate production or impact on your team’s overall game. Strome has not disproved that theory.
• Special teams: Some criticized Milan Lucic for collecting half of his 50 points last season on the power play. This season he has zero power-play points, a far bigger problem.
Edmonton’s power play (12.1 per cent) is 29th in the NHL. The penalty kill (70.3 per cent) ranks 30th. The Oilers are tied for 29th with seven points in the standings, and only one team (Arizona) has less than their three victories.
“Last year,” McLellan points out, “we started 7-1 and then went 2-7-1 in our next 10 games.
“The power play was struggling, penalty kill wasn’t very good during that time frame…”
So, it can be done. Great.
The time has come to do it.