It’s sort of the middle of the season, and the Oilers are sitting atop the North Division. Because things are going really well, we thought it was time for another mailbag to get people thinking about some of the finer points of the season thus far.
Without further ado….
What’s been the biggest positive surprise of the Oilers season so far?
I know I can say that Jesse Puljujärvi’s play so far was the biggest surprise for many but watching him develop a little more in Finland you could sense his game was prime for becoming an NHL contributor in his second act in the league. Jesse has stepped up in a massive way when given a chance to play on the Oilers first line. He gets to the net, he’s scored eight times, and he has a puppy. All is right for him this season. The REAL positive surprise to me? The fact he came back to Edmonton at all. We saw how things were just over a year ago. Jesse wanted a trade, he was frustrated, kudos to the post Chiarelli front office for being able to get him back in orange and blue.
Mike Smith. I mean, how can’t it be, right? Smith has been really good for the Oilers most nights. I hated the signing, and naturally still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but he’s been helping them bank points and has them in a great spot right now playoff wise. I’m not sure how sustainable this is, but Smith has been strong and it looks like he’s changed his style up a bit. Hard to say it hasn’t been a major positive and a major surprise.
The winning! I mean, I love the scoring, Mike Smith has been killer, Darnell Nurse is starting to approach his rep, but don’t you have to say all the winning?
I think I’m going to have to say Mike Smith. There’s lots of good stuff happening with this team, but watching that wily old vet win more games than he loses and make a pretty solid case for himself as the actual starter has been kind of fun.
And Jesse. I love that kid, and I’m glad he still loves hockey.
What’s the one Oiler-related thing you knew was coming but has still been disappointing to see happen?
The Kyle Turris deal has been really….underwhelming. It was a 50/50 year to see Turris recapture some level of scoring, obviously not as a top six guy but solid depth scoring. Eight points in 21 games I think is far below anyone expected. To me, Turris was among the last guys I’d have expected right now to have one goal at this point in the season.
A good chunk of the fanbase turning on Ethan Bear and the rumors surrounding him. This organization and its fans have a sick and twisted obsession with turning on good young defensemen. It has to stop. Bear is a damn good player and trading him would be a massive mistake. With Oscar Klefbom out for the season, I knew people would turn on someone. My money was on Bear or Caleb Jones. Still sucks to see.
The coach playing dependable, low-event vets. Fans tend to underrate these guys, but coaches overrate the value of knowing what you’re going to get from a guy.
It’s a reverse mystery box situation. When the other option is a slow, aging boat with a hole in it, check out that mystery box. It could be anything! Especially when you’re reaching a point where you need to make a decision on that mystery box, and maybe build its value so even if you don’t want it someone else might.
The inconsistency in net from night to night. As much as it’s been fun watching Mike Smith play well, the biggest question mark the Oilers have is in net. Tippett’s unwillingness to commit to a starter has been frustrating, especially when an opponent’s first shot goes in the net on a much more regular basis than one would like.
There’s been a lot of conversation about Barrie vs Bear going forward. What’s your take on it?
Right now, I think you’ve got a brighter future keeping Ethan Bear, but for the short term, I’m hanging onto Tyson Barrie. Barrie’s play in his own end has been questionable but you can’t ignore the fact right now he’s at the top of the NHL in defensemen scoring. Barrie has found a way to put up points in a redemption year for himself, but I’m not going to be on the train saying lock him up to a long term deal. Squeeze what you can out of this deal and in the end, move on.
Keep Bear, ride Barrie through the season and let him walk in free agency. I’ve actually enjoyed Barrie a lot, but I think Bear/Bouchard/Larsson is the direction to go in 2021-22. With Klefbom likely to be back in the fold, I’m not sure investing big term and dollars in Barrie is smart. Now, if he’s willing to take less to stay on, say, a three-year deal? Let’s talk.
Most of the people participating in the talk are overreacting to things the “other side” has said, and trying to balance out the bitter, joyless hyperbole surrounding the two fellas. The entire discourse has gone into a tailspin, crashed into an orphanage, and burned several children.
I’ve heard it claimed with straightened face that Tyson Barrie is a Norris candidate.
I’ve read people insist it is not even theoretically possible to win an Ethan Bear trade.
Some have claimed, in public, that neither is of NHL calibre.
The basic truth is Barrie is good at scoring, and scoring is both fun to watch and the hardest thing to do in the NHL. He will almost certainly fetch between six and seven million dollars on the open market. He’ll be a good bet for many teams.
Ethan Bear is a 23 year-old NHLer making two million a year, meaning his value is somewhere between good and putain incroyable depending on how you project him.
Beyond that I don’t want to talk about it.
Just remember, friends, the most important thing isn’t who is the best player, it’s who is the best deal.
You win the cup by maximizing hockey-per-dollar.
Also remember you only have room for one PP specialist, and Bouchard is 21 and-
Nope. Said enough. Said it all.
The question mark isn’t Bear or Barrie, but Klefbom. If his recovery goes well and he’s expected to be back in the lineup next season, then it makes sense to let Barrie walk. If that’s not the case, however, then I think there can be room for both of them on the team, as long as Barrie’s deal isn’t too expensive or too long term.
(Yes I know Klefbom is an LD and Barrie is an RD, but I think that if Klefbom is back in the lineup, the focus of the defence corps shifts to the left side, which pushes Nurse back down to the second pair.
What are the best and worst parts of this divisional system?
The best part of this system this year has to be the baseball series-style schedule. Players love not traveling every single day as they play 2-3 games against the same team within a week. The obvious worst part of it is the fact that due to COVID 19 there’s zero ability to have cross divisional play. There was excitement at the start of the season for the four separate divisions but now you’re seeing burnout start to set in among fans who realize that 9-10 games of Edmonton vs Calgary and Tampa vs Chicago is a lot. Hopefully for 21-22 we can go back to a more normal alignment if the US-Canada border rules when it comes to COVID are relaxed due to the pandemic and the variants being brought more under control.
I like that there is bad blood around the league, but I hate not playing the other divisions. Makes it feel like four different leagues. I totally understand it for this season, but moving forward this format should be tossed into the abyss.
The best part is probably the 3 game series in the same city. I hope they keep that detail. I’ve also enjoyed seeing the eastern Canadian teams more.
The worst part is repeating the same matchups ad nauseum and losing touch with the other 3 divs.
I’m a madman though; I’d abolish divs altogether. Let’s get one 32 team league going and declare a champion, you know? Play everyone twice and let’s see some playoffs.
Seeing an opponent twice or three times in a row is a lot of fun. It feels a little bit like a playoff series every week, except that when it’s over you don’t move on to the next round. Because of this format, I’ve really enjoyed seeing eastern teams playing on western times.
Speaking of times, the thing I hate the most is that there doesn’t seem to be any consistency in start times. I get that there’s a difference between regional and national broadcasts, but it seems bananas to me that if the same two teams are playing in the same rink two days apart and neither of the games is a national broadcast, they should start at the same time.
What’s the long-term solution for the goalie question the Oilers seem incapable of answering for themselves?
Long term, the Oilers are going to have to find a way to part ways with Mike Smith or Mikko Koskinen. Credit where credit is due, there’s times this year where they’ve been solid in net and others where you’ve had to shake your head. We know that for a playoff run, it’s a tandem we saw this past summer struggled in a playoff series.
It’s a trade. I’m not sure if it is with the Panthers for Chris Driedger or Blue Jackets for Elvis Merzlikins, but I think it’s a trade. Smith is older and Koskinen is a fine platoon goalie, but that’s it. Hell, I think I’d invest good assets in a Darcy Kuemper deal too.
No one knows, just make as many cheap bets as you can at the same time and be quick to recognize when one hits. DO NOT OVERPAY FOR VOODOO!
(Hey going back to the last question, if the right side next year is Bear, Bouchard, and Barrie- well that might not be the smart move, but could it be the most fun? Killer bees? Eh? You wanna get nuts?)
There’s no easy solution because as we all know, goalies are voodoo. Maybe Mike Smith has an actual renaissance and turns into the goalie that Ken Holland seems to think he still is. Maybe Koskinen stops letting in the first shot. Maybe someone unexpectedly asks for a trade and wants to come to Edmonton?
As long as the solution isn’t Carey Price’s contract, I think goaltending is going to continue to be the Achilles heel of this organization.
Which four teams from the north are going to make the playoffs?
I’ll go with Toronto, Edmonton, Winnipeg and somehow someway, Vancouver with edge out Montreal for the 4th and final spot. I wouldn’t have said this a few weeks ago but with teams leaving points on the table, Vancouver has a shot.
Maple Leafs, Oilers, Jets, Flames.
Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, and Winnipeg. Bet money.
Toronto, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Montreal