Author of the article:

David Staples  •  Edmonton Journal

Publishing date:

Nov 18, 2021  •  3 days ago  •  4 minute read  •  13 Comments

Tim Stützle (18) of the Ottawa Senators battles for the puck against Kyle Turris (8) of the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on April 7, 2021, in Ottawa.
Tim Stützle (18) of the Ottawa Senators battles for the puck against Kyle Turris (8) of the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on April 7, 2021, in Ottawa. Photo by Chris Tanouye /Getty Images

The last big problem on the Edmonton Oilers isn’t getting any closer to a fix.

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Other issues have been solved in the McDavid Era, but not this one.

Top line centres? Check.

No. 1 d-man? Check.

Right shot d-man depth? Check.

Wingers to play with McDavid and Draisaitl? Check

Special teams among the best in the NHL? Check.

Goaltending? Check (Give or take Mike Smith’s next medical check up).

All those crucial things have been solved for now, or at least arguably are close to being non-issues.

But for all the brilliance of McDavid and Draisaitl, for all the scoring depth now upfront on the top two lines, the puck-moving acumen on the blueline and the responsible play in goal, Edmonton is getting whipped when the third and fourth lines are on the ice.

At even strength, Natural Stat Trick tells us that without Draisaitl, McDavid or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the ice, when third and fourth line players are asked to carry the load, the Oil have been caved in so far this year, outshot 147 to 122 and outscored 20 goals to nine goals.

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That’s just a 31 per cent goals for percentage for the third and fourth lines. That’s the kind of nasty goal differential you would expect from a lottery team, not a team that’s now deemed as a Stanley Cup contender.

Worse, this problem on the third and fourth lines has trended in the wrong direction in recent years.

In 2016-17, when the Oilers first burst out of Decade of Darkness nightmare mode, the third and fourth lines (again, defined as the team’s play without one of McDavid, Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the ice at even strength) scored 47 goals and gave up 42, a 52.8 Goals For percentage at even strength.

Since that time the Goals For percentage for this group of forwards has dropped from 52.8 to 42.5 to 40.0 to 40.4 to 34.3 last year, then 31 per cent this year (in just 15 games, a small sample size).

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Ken Holland, we have a problem.

How are the third and fourth line forwards performing?

At centre, not one of the players is keeping his head above water so far this year, all of them leaking more Grade A shots against than they’re creating on the attack. Ryan McLeod is doing the best, with Derek Ryan falling off hard and fast after a solid start and Devin Shore never really finding his game as a centre.

Indeed if there’s one thing we know, it’s that while Shore might hang in there as a fourth line winger, he’s not a centre. The defensive reads get the best of him consistently. When Shore gets healthy and if Coach Dave Tippett keeps asking him to play centre, Tippett is setting him up to fail. Shore is a much better wing candidate with his speed and hustle.

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On the wing, big and fast Warren Foegele started off well, but his defensive game sputtered on the recent road trip. That said, given his tool set, he’s a good bet to be a solid third line winger this year.

Zack Kassian? Your guess is as good as mine. Can he stay healthy? Can he find some consistency in his two-way game, while providing Edmonton with some toughness? I’d give him a 40 per cent chance of answering those questions affirmatively this year, with Foegele having a 70 per cent chance of coming through.

But if Kass can’t get it done, the Oilers will need a solid third line winger. Is it possible Josh Archibald will get healthy and vaccinated? If he does, he’s got a spot wide open for him.

I’ve liked what I’ve seen with Tyler Benson and Colton Sceviour in a small sample size, but evidently the coaches prefer Brendan Perlini and Kyle Turris.

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Sceviour is a solid defensive player, while Benson hits and hustles.

Perlini is OK on the forecheck, and might find his game as a fourth line banger, but he’s going to have to amp up the banging.

As for Turris, he struggled immensely at centre last year and now he’s struggling immensely on the wing as well. Not only that, neither he nor Perlini plays on the PK, a traditional job of fourth line wingers.

The two seem an odd fit on the Oilers, two wingers who provide iffy defence, nothing much on the attack, aren’t that physical and don’t help out on the PK. They seem like misfits.

If Benson or Sceviour don’t get the opportunity, or fail to step up if they do get it, and if Archibald’s return isn’t in the cards (I’m not betting on it, based on the general stubbornness of the anti-vaxxers), maybe rookie Dylan Holloway will be good to go in March, after he returns from injury.

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The good news?

It’s not the most difficult thing in the world to find a fourth line winger who can skate, hit and play defence. The Oilers have found such players in the past and not paid a high price.

What they need to do now is scour NHL rosters for the next Matt Hendricks, the next Alex Chiasson, the next Archibald.

Get a list going for Ken Holland ((I’d bet one already exists, in fact) of the top third and fourth line wingers who might be available and bring one in when the price is right.

What’s being tried now isn’t worked, nor did it work last season, so it’s time to change things up.

Make sense? Too hasty? I don’t think so.

Game Day

This in from Bob Stauffer of the Oilers:

Hyman-McDavid-Puljujarvi

RNH-Draisaitl-Yamamoto

Foegele-McLeod-Kassian

Benson-Sceviour-Turris (

Ryan not on the ice)

Nurse-Barrie

Keith-Ceci

Koekkoek-Bouchard

Skinner

Staples on politics

Winners and Losers of Alberta’s $10-per-day child-care program

At the Cult

STAPLES: Player grades in thundering loss to the Jets

McCURDY: PK crushing it despite personnel changes

STAPLES: Seven Oilers who are driving early results

McCURDY: Player grades in huge win over Blues

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