Pre-Playoff Mailbag

Pre-Playoff Mailbag

Oilers

Pre-Playoff Mailbag

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Hello friends! We asked our crack team of writers (as well as some folks you’ll be seeing from time to time on the site) for some thoughts about the upcoming Stanley Cup qualifying round, as well as some more Oiler-specific stuff.

Part II will be up tomorrow.

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Mark Spector just put out an article saying that Broberg has passed Bouchard on the Oilers depth chart. What are your thoughts?

Dave Gordon: Good for Broberg, disappointing for Bouchard for sure. It’s still too early in both of their careers to call either pick a success or bust. We all know that defencemen take much longer to settle in to their actual role with an NHL squad. I’m still pretty high on both players, it would be a great thing if they both became big minute players.

Rex Libris: My thoughts, such as they are, on Mark Spector as a sports journalist and writer, are not worth repeating here. My thoughts on whether Broberg has passed Bouchard on the depth chart are that those who would rush to publish this sort of information based on Return To Play training camps are desperate to get you to click on their article, to push an angle, any angle regardless of whether it is valid, sound, sincere or even vaguely sane because their job relies more on selling you a story than giving you information.

Alex Thomas: At first I rolled my eyes so damn hard and closed Twitter. After a day, I’m less skeptical, but still disagree. Bouchard already has an offensive ability that is NHL ready, and his style is a perfect fit for the NHL. He was terrific in Bakersfield after Christmas too. I think Broberg might be better than we first thought, but I’m not sold on him having passed Bouchard. Then again, who the hell really knows with prospects.

WheatNOil: When someone new comes in and impresses, we have a tendency to see their strengths and forgive their weaknesses as inexperience. Meanwhile, people we’re more familiar with don’t get the benefit of the doubt. Broberg does have speed. Skating may be the thing that holds Bouchard back. In that way it’s not impossible that Broberg passes Bouchard at the NHL level. At the same time, the first days of training camp tend to favour raw athleticism and physical toolset, which is Broberg’s strength. Decision-making and real game performance is Bouchard’s strength. Let’s see some games before we announce a coronation. More broadly, this is the battle Bouchard is going to have. He’s a big guy who’s an okay skater and never looks like he’s working hard out there except, at least the AHL level, he was always where needed to be making the right play again and again. Right when he was drafted, I suspected he wouldn’t get love from a certain section of Edmonton fans because it wouldn’t look like he was working hard enough. The results were there, though, at the Junior level and now at the AHL level. I suspect he’ll get pushback even if the results are there at the NHL level in favour of more athletic guys that ‘look’ like they’re doing more.

Avry Lewis McDougall: I’m going to pump the brakes all the way on that idea. Philip Broberg has yet to play in any meaningful games in North America. Is there a future for him on this roster? Absolutely there is, but let’s settle down that he’s already passed someone like Evan Bouchard. Evan Bouchard was second in scoring with Bakersfield during this season with 36 points and we’re seeing him develop that offensive game nicely at the pro level in this part of the world. Broberg yes, is a wonderful skater and I see him in 2021 being a part of this franchise but why are we trying to rush him onto this blueline? Let him develop slowly and bring him onto this team for his NHL debut when he’s ready and not into the COVID playoffs.

Megan Fowler: I think that Spector forgot all the good things he’s said about Bouchard in the past, which says a lot more about Spector than it does about either player. Broberg has upside, and it’s telling that he’s being kept up as a 19 year old, but I think Bouchard is the future on defence.

Steven Stauffer: Assuming Spec is repeating someone important’s opinion not just sharing his own, my thoughts are this says more about Bouchard than Broberg. Broberg has looked good in camp, but it’s just camp. You can only gain so much ground in one hot week. If Broberg caught the mighty Bouch, it meant he was catch-able. I know he had a great farm season, and was great the year before that, and that he’s a more valuable hand, but he was also drafted by the old regime. Broberg is Holland’s shiny new toy. I’m pleased he is showing well, but a little concerned the guy a lot of us had penciled into the team next year isn’t turning more heads himself.

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Reports suggest AA may not be fitting with 29 & 97, and it got me thinking about Puljujarvi. Assuming they all are signed and make the team, do you think AA-McLeod-JP could form a speedy third line? Would they form good chem? Would they check well enough?

Dave Gordon: I’m still not convinced JP will be an Oiler again. Obviously I’d like to see that all work out. AA on the other hand has already been a 30 goal scorer in the league and can get back there, it’s just camp right now and I think the playoffs will be a good time to evaluate AAs potential. I’d also like to see Holland being Sheahan back next season, which should make it tougher for McLeod to grab a full time spot in the line up.

Rex Libris: On paper, Puljujarvi should be an easy addition to the team. This was the sort of low-cost addition Sather would do over and over again to complement his major stars. It might not always work but you only needed it to work once in awhile for it to really pay off. As for chemistry, I think that is beyond the ability of even the players themselves to predict. I would trust all three of those young men’s development to a coach like Dave Tippett now, though, far more so than I might have with previous coaches such as Hitchcock and his predecessors.

Alex Thomas: The speed here would be insane. All three players have absolute WHEELS. I’d have some concerns here, however. Where does the offense come from? Athanasiou is a former 30-goal scorer, but can McLeod and Puljujarvi get him the puck? Can JP’s strong season in Finland translate? Is there more offense to McLeod than we saw in Bakersfield? This line would leave me a little uneasy. I think they’d need a veteran somewhere in there.

WheatNOil: That’s a real wildcard of a line. I don’t know if and when McLeod might be ready. AA and JP is a fascinating combo, not the least because I think JP is better defensively than some give him credit for. However there’s some chaos with those wingers and the C is going to be a key lynchpin to hold it all together. I’m not sure handing that responsibility to a young rookie C is a good choice.

Avry Lewis McDougall: I personally think that this would be a quick third line but when it comes to chemistry that’s something I think that would come in time and not overnight. That’s a line that I’d like to see next year in camp IF and IF Jesse and the Oilers have a big ol’ reunion (personally I’m not convinced of it happening). McLeod and Jesse are still young bucks in the North American game and it would be fun to see them handle this in a training camp. In terms of checking I think it would be adequate at an NHL level.

Megan Fowler: I don’t think this will happen, because I’m pretty sure JP’s time as an Oiler is over. If it isn’t, however, I don’t think that McLeod is the right guy at C on that line. The speed on the wings would be out of control, but I feel like it would be a little too chaotic to be successful in the long term.

Steven Stauffer: Could they form chemistry? Sure, who knows. Will it rain on June 3rd, 2023? Could they check well enough? A bad defensive forward, a rookie, and a guy with an encouraging but mixed NHL record? Probably not. But they sure is fast. I think the real question is, “Did the Oilers trade for AA to play on their 3rd line?” On the one hand, it doesn’t matter. The cost is as sunk as a Taylor Hall-piloted boat, so forget that and just play him where it most helps the team. On the other hand, there’s an opportunity cost of using a guy of his (expected) salary and trade value in a depth role. If he doesn’t crack the top 6 he’s getting traded, that’s my bet.

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Considering BLM protests and recent awareness towards systemic racism and the role privileged people play in inadvertently perpetuating racism, what role do NHL players have in bringing light to these topics? Do you think statements denouncing racism are enough?

Dave Gordon: I think that it’s in each player’s purview to make that decision for them selves. Denouncing systemic racism is a no brainer, however, these players do have a voice and influence that should be used the help facilitate change. The NHL has often been behind the eight ball on social issues, racism, sexism and bullying as examples. I would like to see them doing something similar to other professional sports leagues such as taking a knee before games, etc. But I fear they’re going to just “stick to hockey”

Rex Libris: I think NHL players have a significant role to play in the public perception of, and reaction to, racism in North American, or perhaps particularly Canadian society. It wasn’t until the NHL shut down that it seemed that many Canadians took the risk of covid-19 seriously. And I believe that illustrates the degree to which the country, consciously or unconsciously, processes the role that hockey plays within our culture. A hockey player, especially one with a significant reputation, who challenges the banal and mundane culture of sport (take it one game at a time, give it 110%, leave it all on the ice) with a message that brings the reality of the world into the rink clears a space for others to add their voice. And as we’ve seen, many voices can bring about great change.

Alex Thomas: I think statements denouncing racism are a big step in the right direction. Let’s be honest, too many people have been too quiet for too long. It’s not enough, however. I truly believe that people with big platforms should be using them to force change and make the world better. There’s a big battle ahead in terms of fighting racism in this world. I think NHL players absolutely should bring light to these topics. I’d be very surprised if they didn’t during this postseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if this Oilers group, which is so diverse, was one of the driving forces. They should be.

WheatNOil: This is a massive question for a mailbag and probably worth a longer answer than I will give here. In short, there’s a difference between the role they ‘can’ play and the role I’d ‘expect’ them to play.

Hockey of course plays a huge role in national identity and self view. We deify the players as Gods and place them in local and national pantheons. Speaking about systemic racism and its impact in society would be an incredible thing for them to do. It would reach people who otherwise wouldn’t hear it. Not just denouncing racism but also looking at how the system (both hockey and non-hockey) is skewed towards privilege and conformity. Their impact could be great.

Yet, in order to speak about all this, you have to have insight into it. Hockey is a privileged sport. It’s expensive to play. Ice time is limited. High level teams at most levels are selected with equal parts merit and politics/favouritism. Ice time is similarly doled out presumably based on merit but partially based on the coach’s individual preference. Your ability to conform with the team is rewarded while things that speak to individuality are generally frowned upon. Things that make you different can impact your very opportunities. This is a system ripe for either overt racism or inadvertent racist outcomes. We potentially see the results in how few non-minorities play hockey at a high level.

Do professional hockey players have insight into this? Do they know the role their own privilege plays? If we asked them to speak out more about systemic racism, what would they say? Does the average hockey player even think systemic racism is an issue? I think before we ask hockey players to take a more vocal role in this, we’d want them to look inward first. There are ways to make hockey more inclusive. More ‘for everyone’. I think I’d want to see hockey players make a genuine attempt in that area before I saw them take on a more vocal role in the community at large.

Avry Lewis-McDougall: Players can use their Twitter and IG accounts to help bring awareness in the push for the arrests for the killers of Breonna Taylor (Be it by sharing petitions, gofundmelinks). Players can also use social media to also face the facts of the privilege that they have as majority white athletes (how many NHLers would be pulled over with a cop already having a hand on their gun? How many NHLers would have to video tape an interaction with a hostile stranger to ensure their safety?) Statements denouncing racism is a start. I do like large amounts of players publicly addressing it now because as we know the status quo with many players has been to say nothing at all, a great example was the overwhelming silence among players on Akim Aliu’s Player Tribune piece on racism in hockey. Denouncing racism also has to be a movement, not just a moment for the players, educating themselves on issues important to the black community is something that players have to continue to work on. I’m glad that Tyler Seguin took part in the BLM protests in Dallas, but I would also love to see him work within the black community in Dallas and keep learning about the Black American experience. I would also love to see more NHLers past and present get involved in donating to and working with Black Girl Hockey Club.

Megan Fowler: Statements aren’t enough, especially when players are doing things that directly contradict the intent of the statements (looking at you, Brad Marchand). I don’t think the NHL is in a position to mandate that players vocally take a particular stance, but I also think there has to be a way (perhaps through a personal conduct policy) that enforces consequences for contradicting the NHL’s official position. I think that the first step in any kind of social justice movement is the one that looks internally at privilege and bias before projecting anything outward. Hockey is, as we know, a sport that requires a certain level of privilege to play even at the lowest level, and most NHL players have probably never had to consider how fortunate they were to have parents who could not only afford to pay fees and buy equipment, but take time off work to travel to tournaments and whatnot. Obviously that’s not true for every single NHL player, but there is a significant amount of privilege that exists just to play the game, never mind at a high level.

Steven Stauffer: After hours of agonized thought and hundreds of words written and erased, I’ve come up with this: What can we demand from players? Play good hockey. You don’t make the NHL by being thoughtful and well-informed. Plenty of players are, sure, but that’s not their job. Their job is to play hockey. We get mad when they say or do especially bad things, and get happy when they say or do especially good things, but what we really care about is how well they play hockey. Search your feelings. You know it to be true. (Don’t get me started on the way you people talk about the guys who was an environmental and political advocate, won awards for his community work, and who called out teammates for dirty and injurious play just because he had the bad fortune of being old and done by the time he got to Edmonton. Don’t even get me started.) What can we hope for from players? Their platform and resources is an incredible opportunity. With great power, etc etc. But brace yourself. Most hockey players are rich white conservatives. If you want to prompt them for their political thoughts, you can’t play the “shut up and play” card when they give them to you. Choose your leaders carefully. Final thoughts? Yes, thank you. Athletes have as much responsibility toward addressing systemic racism as you or I do. Take that how you will.

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Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, when we decide which SCF matchup is best for the most chaos, and what top seed is going to get swept in the qualifier.

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