Before the season started, the Oilers had the second best odds (in Vegas) to win the Stanley Cup. Optimism among media and fans was high, and any criticisms of weaknesses in the roster were seen as the ramblings of lunatics (or bad fans, as it were).
Fast forward to November and the situation is considerably different than
most some people expected.
After 19 games, the Oilers are 7-10-2, which is good for 14th in the Western Conference, ahead of only Arizona. The Oilers are behind everyone, including the Vancouver Canucks (a team Oiler fans mocked relentlessly during the off-season), the Colorado Avalanche (a team that everyone mocked relentlessly during the off-season), and even the Calgary Flames (a team Oiler fans felt they could mock throughout the season).
Turns out that a 3-7 start to the season is a tough thing to overcome, especially when the puck luck that existed last season has all but disappeared this year.
Puck luck isn’t the only thing that disappeared, however. The Oilers have scored a measly 47 goals in those 19 games (and that includes the 14 they scored in 2 games against Vegas and New Jersey). Their offence has dried up, Cam Talbot isn’t playing like a robot anymore, and there are some serious deficiencies on the blue line.
An uneducated hockey fan might look at the Oilers place in the standings this year compared to last and assume that they are missing a bunch of active roster players to injury. The unfortunate truth is that they are missing one guy – defenceman Andrej Sekera. He’s obviously a big reason the defence is so seriously lacking, but Sekera isn’t an 80 point man like Erik Karlsson, so he has less to do with the lack of offence than one might think.
If that same fan looks at the roster, though, they’ll notice that Jordan Eberle is missing. Where is he? In Brooklyn, having a pretty good start to the season with the Islanders. The 7 goals and 14 points he’s put up there are looking mighty fine in comparison to his replacement
Dylan Ryan Strome (3-5-8). It’s well known now that the patented 1-for-1 trade was a salary dump, but since it didn’t need to happen this season its a bit of a head scratcher.
This morning at the general manager’s meeting in Toronto, when asked for his thoughts on the season, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli said this:
Any GM worth his contract would be upset with the performance of a team that employs arguably the best player in the world and pays him less than $4m, a team that surpassed expectations last season and came within a goal of the Western Conference Final, a team that made some significant moves the last two off-seasons and traded away high-skilled fan favourites for….not that.
See here’s the thing: if Peter Chiarelli is disappointed in the performance of his team, that’s probably fair. The Oilers are underperforming (and probably won’t continue to shoot with something like 6% accuracy all season long. But if Chiarelli really wants to reflect on his disappointment, he needs to look at his scouting staff and his own decision-making.
Starting with the trade of 2015 picks 16 & 33 for Griffin Reinhart, Chiarelli’s big decisions have been hit and miss. (Reinhart was left exposed in the expansion draft, picked up by Vegas and placed on waivers. Matthew Barzal, the player the Islanders took with that 16th pick, has 17 points in 18 games and is part of an actual second scoring line in Brooklyn. In case you were wondering how that went.) While trading Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson addressed a need on defence, it didn’t really do much for offensive production. Last season that wasn’t as important, as Leon Draisaitl really stepped up and played at almost a point-per-game pace. Bringing in Milan Lucic wasn’t the answer on offence either, but the promised grit and swagger seemed to outweigh the lack of offensive talent from the outset. Moreso than the Hall trade (because Larsson does contribute defensively and can get the puck up to a winger so that the winger doesn’t have to carry the puck out of the defensive zone AND into the offensive zone), dumping Eberle’s salary in favour of Ryan Strome (who can play but is nowhere near as good as Ebs) is the decision that will come back to haunt Chiarelli and his management team.
To hear the Oiler GM say that he’s disappointed is almost laughable. From the day of the Eberle trade to about 3 minutes before that quote came to light, there’s been discussion about whether or not this team is good enough as constructed (spoiler: it’s not). Some fans and bloggers knew right away that Sekera’s injury was going to cause some trouble and the GM did nothing to address that gap on defence, choosing instead to force Todd McLellan to deploy a subpar roster, one that includes Kris Russell’s $4m on the 3rd pair. This roster also has a dearth of secondary scoring, which is problematic because the primary scoring isn’t really happening at any great clip.
If Chiarelli is finally admitting that he’s disappointed, the only real question to ask is: what took him so long?