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Oilers must face tough questions (and Hall, Eberle)

attends the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.

attends the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.

Bruce Bennett

The Edmonton Oilers aren’t wrong in claiming that they’ve been close; that point rang true on Wednesday, when an Evgeni Malkin power-play goal was the difference in a 3-2 victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They remain a dominant puck possession team by a variety of standards, undone by forms of bad luck that should bounce back to normal as the season goes along.

It’s understandable that there is a lot of talk about “close,” even if such thoughts are tinged with frustration like they were in this story from the Edmonton Journal.

Still, at some point, the confidence behind the phrase “it’s early” begins to waver. Eleven games into their schedule, the Oilers are now at 3-7-1, digging themselves a big hole.

The Oilers must face some tough questions and could very well be haunted by recent decisions during the next week.

Do you trust Peter Chiarelli to fix this?

As The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis astutely notes (subscription required), the Oilers are, in many ways, stuck with the decisions they’ve made.

Many people (*raises hand*) don’t approve of the contracts that Chiarelli handed to Milan Lucic and Kris Russell, but considering the costs of each and many protections like no-trade or no-movement clauses, there’s not much of a chance of trading them.

Speaking of trades, the odious Oilers face a cruel twist, as their shaky situation will include visits from The Ghosts of Trades Past:

Fri, Nov 3 vs New Jersey
Sun, Nov 5 vs Detroit
Tue, Nov 7 @ NY Islanders
Thu, Nov 9 @ New Jersey
Sat, Nov 11 @ NY Rangers
Sun, Nov 12 @ Washington

That’s right, during the next week, the 3-7-1 will face Taylor Hall twice and Jordan Eberle once.

Yes, the same Oilers team that is struggling to find scoring beyond Connor McDavid’s line, which usually includes Leon Draisaitl (when he’s healthy). Yes, the same Oilers team that’s rumored to be disappointed with Ryan Strome, the main takeaway - beyond cap space - from the Eberle trade.

Oh, and Hall’s Devils are off to a historic start, with him being an integral part of said run. He even has more points than McDavid (15 in 11 games for Hall; 13 for McDavid).

Hall’s Twitter game also remains fierce:

The Oilers must stay the course with certain aspects of their team, but there are still decisions to be made, whether they be how to value Strome/Patrick Maroon and eventually Cam Talbot, to what to do with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujärvi.

At this point, has Chia really inspired any confidence that he could pull off an equitable trade if management decides to move on from RNH and/or Puljujärvi? Hall and Eberle may very well perform in a way that provides painful reminders that the answer is meh at best.

Searching for answers

Here’s the thing Todd McLellan seems like a good coach. One can debate if he leans more toward “solid” or “great,” but his teams have performed capably on his under watch.

The Oilers might want someone with more of an experimental leaning to get things right, though.

Maybe it’s easier just to put Leon Draisaitl with McDavid, but wouldn’t you rather have McDavid carry cheaper wingers and ask your $8.5M forward to pull more of his own weight? Another Willis bit for The Athletic nails Edmonton’s struggles to make things work on the second line, but maybe McLellan needs to try a wider variety of options?

Perhaps even seemingly off-the-wall options could be considered. On paper, RNH and McDavid don’t seem like ideal linemates, but who knows? Putting number 93 with number 97 could be interesting, even if the true goal is really just to pump up the Nuge’s trade value.

McLellan & Co. also seem to be wasting a resource in Puljujärvi. The Oilers already burned a year off of his entry-level contract, and haven’t enjoyed the most sober development path, but maybe he can earn some trust and generate some depth scoring/help where others have failed in the top six?

The Oilers don’t necessarily need to hit the panic buttons, but you can argue that management really hits the right buttons, either.

If the goal merely was to make the playoffs, Edmonton shouldn’t be excessively worried. The Oilers want more than that, though, so sometimes that comes down to asking difficult questions and digging deep for the answers.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.