There are two factions of Edmonton Oiler fans, both very much dug into their sides and not really willing to bend to the other. On one hand, you have the group that is with GM Peter Chiarelli, willing to go to bat for the “heavy hockey” mantra. On the other, you have the group clamoring for more speed and skill in the Edmonton lineup and ready to chase Chiarelli back to Boston.
In reality, I find this debate largely to be funny. Why? Because in the end both sides are actually right, and both sides are oh so very wrong. Ironic, isn’t it?
You know which side of the debate you are on if you are an Oiler fan, you’ve likely dug into one of these camps for one reason or an another. I was firmly on the speed and skill side, I’ll admit that, but I’ve kind of backed off that just a little bit in recent weeks.
I still believe Edmonton is a slow hockey team and will never win as currently constructed. Bottom line is, they absolutely need more team speed and they need more skill. I’m not sure anyone, on either side, would argue those two points if we are being honest here.
Why You’re Both Right:
The Oilers, as I mentioned above, absolutely need more skill and speed in their lineup. That’s where that faction is right. The Oil simply don’t have enough wingers that can put the puck in the net and that can help their core pieces of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Players like Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev, Ryan Strome and Jesse Puljujarvi simply weren’t good enough to fill these skilled roles this season, and all but Puljujarvi should be replaced leading into next season (Although I have time for Strome in a different role).
If the Oilers had more skill on the wings to compliment McDavid, RNH and Draisaitl, they would be a much better hockey club and likely be fighting for a playoff spot. Not only that, but I can guarantee you that they’re league worst powerplay group would be at least a few spots better.
Adding speed, which doesn’t have to be fast skaters but also quick puck movement, would also make Edmonton a much more dangerous offensive team, both five-on-five and on the PP. As a result, you could expect more goals and, in turn, more victories.
The club’s lack of speed and skill, in a league that is gearing towards speed and skill, was a killer this season. There really is no way around that.
At the same time, while speed and skill are huge, you have to be able to puck protect and handle the physical rigors of an NHL season and the playoffs. In that regard, I understand the “heavy hockey” mantra.
Milan Lucic has had a nightmare season, I suspect he would admit that, but there is still a spot for him in the NHL. Is he a Taylor Hall replacement? No, he’s not, but he can be a good middle-six forward who protects the puck, plays a physical style and helps in the room and occasionally on the powerplay. A guy like Zack Kassian can play a depth role while providing a little skill as well.
Jujhar Khaira, a big man who plays physical and fights, but also protects pucks and plays on the PK, is a nice ‘heavy’ piece to have too.
See, “heavy hockey” can still play a role and win in the NHL, but it is so much more than fighting and throwing hits. Protecting pucks and not getting pushed around on a nightly basis is playing heavy to me, and all the good teams can do that. The two-time defending champion Penguins included.
In that sense, while speed and skill is absolutely a must in today’s NHL, you have to be able to do things involved with “heavy hockey” if you are going to win games.
Why You Are Both Wrong:
It seems that people are so dug in on this debate that common sense goes out the window. For some, it is truly an “all-or-nothing” scenario. You are either fully entrenched in “heavy hockey” or you are all in on speed and skill. In reality, going all-in on just one of those will result in an unbalanced hockey team that likely loses far more often than it wins.
Yes, you need to be quick in the modern NHL and you need skill, there is no doubt there. You also have to be able to protect pucks, play physical and deal with the rigors of a season in one of the most physical sports on earth. You have to be able to play heavy too.
In reality, it is all about having the right mix, you need guys that can do both. Having the right mix is the key to being successful. You can’t go too far one way or the other, you’ll fail if you do that more often than not.
Of course, there are exceptions (2012 Kings stand out to me) but they aren’t the norm, rather a rare instance where a team really wasn’t well balanced between these philosophies.
The Edmonton Oilers were a poor hockey team this season for a variety of reasons. Chief among them, in my opinion, was the workings of GM Peter Chiarelli. His moves, in my mind, severely weakened the hockey club.
That said, the club wasn’t weakened because Chiarelli decided that heavy was the way to go. Rather, the club was weakened because Chiarelli simply got rid of too many good players and failed to replace them all, hurting the skill level of his team.
Had Chiarelli made solid moves and kept the skill level even, we wouldn’t be having this debate, because the team would be well balanced in both directions. That’s the problem. It wasn’t going heavy, it was trading good players and not replacing them with good players. It’s bad evaluation from the organization, not philosophy so to speak.
The Oilers will likely over compensate the other way this summer, should the same management team be in charge. In reality, the club needs to tinker, add some speed and skill to the bulk, and let that mix work together. It worked out just fine last season.
It isn’t about “Heavy Hockey” Vs. “Speed and Skill”. It’s about getting good players and keeping them. Pretty simple, really.