More Blame To The Players, Less To Chiarelli

5 losses in a row. Ouch. Merry Christmas to us, Oilers fans! There’s no sense in beating around the bush here. The Oilers are playing HORRIBLY right now.

The team can’t keep the puck out of its net right now. They’ve allowed 4 or more goals in each of those 5 consecutive losses. It’s quite clear that losing Klefbom and Russell is having a MASSIVE impact on the team defensively, and the team’s save % is suffering as a result. That’s the most simple and blatantly obvious analysis that I can provide.

The other side of the coin is that the Oilers have only scored 12 goals in those 5 losses. 2.4 goals per game isn’t good enough to win in the NHL. It’s that simple. The Oilers are getting 2.84 goals per game this season as of right now, which also isn’t enough.

Fans and media members have been critical of the roster that Peter Chiarelli has assembled for this season. The depth of the defence has been questioned since the injuries to Klefbom and Russell, which I think is utterly ridiculous. Klefbom is the best defenceman on the team, and Russell has been solid in a 2nd pairing role this season. Any team would be struggling defensively if you took two of their top 4 defenders away (one of which being their best one). The defence was already short-handed due to Andrej Sekera’s injury in August, and the two most recent injuries just made it worse. Injuries to 3 defencemen means that defencemen slotted 7, 8, and 9 on the depth chart are forced into action. The quality of those players is always going to be lower than the quality of the injured players, and it will be below NHL standard in most cases. The injuries are not the GM’s fault. Russell will be back next game it sounds like, and it doesn’t make sense to rob Peter to pay Paul by trading roster players to bring in another defenceman because of Klefbom being out for another month (a month that concludes with a 10-day break).

The star forwards for the Oilers have been great this season. Outside of the big three, there has been very little to write home about. The Oilers have not been getting production from the vast majority of the forwards this season. There are 15 forwards that have played in more than 13 games this season. That is almost 1/3 of the 38 games that have been played thus far. The following is a list that shows the % of change in production that each of those 15 Oilers forwards has had from last season to this season. The % change was calculated by comparing each player’s points per game averages from last season and this season. The numbers for Ryan Strome and Ryan Spooner represent their efforts only while playing for the Oilers this season. Here’s the list:

Draisaitl: +37.8%
Caggiula: +26.7%
Khaira: +26.7%
Nugent-Hopkins: +15.6%
McDavid: +14.4%
Rieder: -12.5%
Puljujarvi: -38.7%
Lucic: -48.8%
Rattie: -50%
Yamamoto: -54.5%
Brodziak: -65.8%
Strome: -73.1%
Spooner: -73.9%

I posted a more detailed table that includes each player’s points per game average from last season and this season, the change in points per game, and the % change on Twitter. For those that do not follow me, my handle is @edmoildrops.

Outside of McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins, there are only 3 other forwards who have increased their offensive production this year: Alex Chiasson, Drake Caggiula, and Jujhar Khaira. Chiasson has been a revelation. His production has more than doubled! Matching 26.7% increases are pretty impressive from Caggiula and Khaira as well.

That’s where the positives end. 9/15 (60%) of Oilers forwards that have had more than a negligible role on the team have regressed offensively this season.

Look at the two names at the bottom of the list: Ryan Strome and Ryan Spooner. Nearly 3/4 of their offensive production disappeared this season! HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?? The trade happened because both Ryans were struggling, and the hope was that a change of scenery would do them some good. It turns out that both guys have actually been more productive offensively since the trade (Strome: +0.22 p/g, Spooner: +0.05 p/g), but they still fall far short of what they accomplished last season. $3.1 million is a lot for that kind of production.

6 forwards are producing at HALF of the rate that they did last season or WORSE. HALF or WORSE!! That’s 40% of Oilers forwards that have played any kind of meaningful minutes this season. 40%! HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN??

Rattie had a small sample size last season (14 games). It was never a certainty that he would duplicate his pace from last season. He had a respectable start (2 pts in 4 games before getting hurt in game 5), but his injury cost him his spot in the line-up. Chiasson stole it. Now that Chiasson is out, it’s Rattie’s for the taking. He responded with a 3-point effort against the Sharks yesterday. I believe that he can produce, but he needs to play with Connor in order to do so.

Speaking of small sample sizes, Yamamoto takes the cake in that regard. He played in 9 games last season, and he has played in 13 games so far this season. Still, his point production has regressed by over 50%. Perhaps that’s a sign that he should still be in the AHL, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Kassian isn’t supposed to contribute a bunch of offence, but he’s taking that too far this season. He is the only player on the team averaging LESS than 0.1 points per game. He’s on pace for 7 points this season. 7. That’s it! He is capable of getting 20+ points in a season. His performance this season is FAR below his capability.

I expected Brodziak’s production to regress slightly from his total last season, but not by nearly as much as it has. My expectations were low, but he hasn’t met them this season.

Lucic has somehow managed to regress by 48.8% this season. You could lump him in that group that has regressed by 50% or more this season, which would bring that total to 7/15 (46.7%). His production went to the store for a pack of smokes and never came back last season; yet he’s managed to nearly cut THAT production in half this year. It’s honestly ridiculous.

Puljujarvi’s 38.7% decline is pretty spectacular in itself. His offensive production will spike dramatically at some point, but we don’t know when it will happen. It likely won’t happen this season.

Rieder’s production is basically on par with last season, but he doesn’t have a goal yet this season. That is really concerning.

The interesting thing to note is that the 2.84 goals per game that the Oilers are getting this season would add up to 233 goals for the entire season. Last year, the Oilers scored 234 goals. It’s frustrating that McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins have all increased their offensive production, but the Oilers have not increased their overall offensive production as a team.

Whose fault is it that the team isn’t getting any depth scoring? The masses are pointing fingers at Chiarelli.

9 of the 15 forwards that have played any type of significant role on the Oilers this season are producing less than they did last season. 8 of those have dropped by 38.7% or more. 7 of those have dropped by 48.8% or more. 2 of those have dropped by almost 75%. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN??

Those numbers are based on last year’s numbers, NOT CAREER-HIGHS. The players in question have proven to be more productive than what they are currently showing as recently as last season, and the majority of them are capable of producing even more than they did last year. The common idea that I keep hearing from fans and media is that the support forwards in Edmonton are not good enough. That’s not the case. In reality, they are just under-performing this season.

Is it Chiarelli’s fault that these players have suddenly stopped producing in an Oilers uniform? No, it isn’t. They have all had at least two different coaches this season (Spooner has had 3), so that isn’t likely as big of a factor as we may think. At what point do we look at the players that are under-performing and blame them instead? The players simply need to play like they are capable of playing.

I can’t explain the mass regression of that group of 9 forwards. Only 2 of them (Lucic and Brodziak) are old enough to be experiencing massive declines in production based on age. The blame needs to be directed towards the players instead of at Chiarelli because there is far more offensive potential in this roster than the results are indicating right now.

This recent slide and the lack of scoring has just exacerbated the existing frustration in the fan base from so much failure over the last decade and losing skilled players like Hall and Eberle. The frustration escalated after the disappointment that was last season, and it has grown exponentially because of the mediocrity of this season thus far. I understand it. Fans want Chiarelli fired because the team isn’t where everyone wants it to be today. He will ultimately fall if the team misses the playoffs, but I for one do not believe that he is the fool that many make him out to be. It isn’t his fault that most of the forwards aren’t producing at anywhere close to the level that they did a year ago, and it isn’t his fault that 3 of the team’s top defencemen are all hurt right now. The players deserve far more blame in this instance than the GM does.

I’m not absolving the GM of any blame. If we’re isolating this season, the biggest mistake that he has made is expecting Lucic, Puljujarvi, and Yamamoto to be ready to produce offensively. I respect the strategy fof betting on cheap, young offensive players that have produced in the past or that have some level of offensive pedigree in a season where cap space is limited due to a couple of big contracts that aren’t delivering value and an $11.575 million raise for McDavid, but the majority of Chiarelli’s bets haven’t paid off (save for Chiasson). It’s a results oriented business. If Chiarelli is fired now or at the end of the season because the team missed the playoffs, it will be understandable. I personally don’t think that he is the fool that many Oilers fans and pundits paint him to be. I think that the roster has enough offence on it to make the playoffs, and the defence is decent when everyone is healthy. It’s just a shame that so many forwards have stopped producing like they are capable of and that key defencemen got hurt at an important juncture of the season.

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