Dave Tippett has been gifted arguably a better roster than any of his predecessors on the Edmonton Oilers since Kevin Lowe in 2006. I told all my readers that the fanbase in general needed to put the knives away as the team just needed a little time to gel. Fast forward a couple of weeks and what a difference some time makes. The Oilers now have so much depth that even when Connor Mcdavid or Leon Draisaitl don’t score the Oilers still have a chance to win.
The Oilers D corps have scored more goals than any other corps in the league (still want to trade Darnell Nurse right about now, haters?). It’s only been 2 games, but Mike Smith has pleasantly surprised me by coming out of the gate like gangbusters. Now Koskinen will likely play better as well because he has a 1A to relieve some pressure from him. He’s never been a workhorse goaltender that can carry the load and he never will be.
Oh, and did I mention the Oilers are now tied for 2nd in the division with the Habs and hold the tiebreaker because they have 9 wins to the Hab’s 8? All the new guys Ken Holland brought in, with the exception of Kyle Turris, are pulling their weight offensively. I would imagine once Gaetan Haas is healthy, he outperforms Turris from the lineup.
Tyson Barrie has found his way and is producing offence at the same rate as Darnell Nurse, just like Oscar Klefbom did last year. Prior to his covid positive diagnosis, Jesse Puljujarvi was fitting in well on Connor Mcdavid’s line. Dominik Kahun has shown the expected chemistry with Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto. Devin Shore is producing roughly what you’d expect for a bottom 6 forward. Slater Koekkoek has been out of the lineup for a while, but he got off to a nice start there for awhile.
But, along the way, Tippett has made some risky and aggressive roster moves. Let’s look at some of them now:
1) Giving Stuart Skinner a start instead of Troy Grosenick
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That first game against Ottawa on January 31 during Mike Smith’s injury, Tippett had a choice: he desperately needed to give Mikko Koskinen a rest and Ottawa is the only rebuilding team in the division so he has to do it now.
Skinner’s track record was one of a below-average AHL goalie and an average ECHL goalie. Troy Grosenick was at least at the level of an AHL bubble player – he had a cup of coffee with San Jose years ago, Skinner hadn’t even had that.
He also had a much better track record in the minors, having had more experience and 2 elite seasons in the AHL as well as 1 above-average season and 4 average seasons, with only 1 mediocre season.
Even in that 2 game stint with San Jose, he only let in 3 goals in those 2 games. It may have been only 2 games but 2 games is still better than 0 games. All numbers pointed to Grosenick getting the start, but he started Skinner instead. Fortunately, it turned out OK, but this could’ve been disastrous. Skinner performed well, all things considering. We won the game 8-5, and of the 5 goals against only about 2 were Skinner’s fault.
Tippett is lucky this one worked out. All signs pointed to a swiss cheese goaltender. Skinner did not deserve this start based on merit.
2) Taking James Neal out of the lineup after he scored 2 goals in 1 game
Traditional wisdom says that when a player has a good game you reward him with staying in the lineup or more ice time the next game. Tippett took Neal out of the lineup for the next game after he scored 2 goals against Ottawa on January 31. He got right back in for the loss against Calgary, but still, you would’ve thought he would stay in for the February 2 game.
IIRC Tippett was asked about this in his post-game press conference after the 4-2 win against Ottawa on the 2nd, and he said he just wanted to get somebody else into the game and give them some time to play. Still, though, one has to wonder why Tippett wouldn’t just take somebody else out of the lineup who isn’t producing.
Against a rebuilding team we probably don’t have to agonize too much over whether this person or that person is playing, but still. By my eye, Neal hasn’t done enough to sit as a healthy scratch as much as he does. That being said, I trust Tippett so as long as his unorthodox moves are working out, then I’m OK with them.
3) Playing Tyson Barrie on the top pairing with Nurse
The book on Barrie says that he’s the D corps equivalent of James Neal – an elite PP producer that is lousy at evens. That’s why he’s been playing on the 3rd pairing for much of this season and for the majority of the time been on the 1st PP unit, where he remains today.
However, in the last couple of games, Barrie has been playing very well, to the point where now he’s making things happen at the same rate as the red hot Darnell Nurse. His ice time has been consistently increasing, too, and getting more consistent. He’s cracked the 20 mins per game mark in 7 of the last 8 games, and in the last 4 straight.
And yet, even playing against much tougher competition at evens, Barrie is still only at a -4 on the season. Considering he was -7 last year for the Leafs and as bad as -34 1 season for Colorado, this is pretty good territory for Barrie.
Will he sustain this for the entire season? Maybe, maybe not. 1 thing we do know for sure, though there is risk attached to this move, at least it makes sense for Tippett. He’s taking full advantage of Ethan Bear’s injury to gobble up his ice time. His shooting % is still at 6.7%, only 0.2% off his career average, so all signs point to this production being sustainable with Barrie.
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4) Taking out 1 forward to play 7 d-men during a game
The Oilers D corps are producing offence at a pretty good rate now, so I can see where Tippett’s coming from with this one. If you take out a bottom 6 forward, this makes sense.
If you take out a top 6 forward, this becomes a bit of a problem. Still, though, take out a forward and it means you have to double shift 1 forward. That doesn’t always work out. Fortunately, we’re winning right now, so I’m not going to point the finger too hard here.
5) Putting William Lagesson into the lineup in the top 4
I thought Lagesson would need more seasoning in the minors, based on the fact that he was knocking on the door but still only had 92 games in the minors and might need some time to adjust after having been only playing in the Swedish minor leagues this year.
But boy was I wrong, and I’m happy to be wrong in this case. Lagesson appears ready for prime time in a short sample size this season. Lagesson still doesn’t have a goal but has been creating a lot of chances and developed the same kind of chemistry with Adam Larsson that Oscar Klefbom is known for.
Lagesson was drafted in 2014, and although it’s taken him a while to get here, he’s proven that he’s ready for prime time, at least in a short sample size. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do for the rest of the season. We can add another prospect who’s made his way onto the roster and shows how much better the Oilers drafting record has become.
Whether he sticks for good or not remains to be seen, but so far he’s showing he belongs at least in the short term. Not only is he playing well with the puck, but he’s also doing well without the puck too, going +3 in the 7 games he’s played this season.
As long as the Oilers keep winning, Tippett can put Betty White in the Oilers lineup for all I care. It’s just interesting to see how some of the more unorthodox decisions have worked out. I’m not saying by any means I know more than the head coach, but this is just a fun intellectual exercise.