- Craig Custance
The Oilers lost again Sunday night. This time, it was a 5-4 defeat at the hands of a heating up Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks team. It was the third consecutive game the Oilers had allowed at least four goals and increased the number of goals per game opponents are averaging against them in November to 4.2. You can't win in the NHL allowing four goals per game, regardless of how much offensive talent you've gathered.
When teams give up five goals, fingers typically point to the goalie. But in this case, the loss wasn't all on goalie Devan Dubnyk. He actually kept the Oilers in the game during a second period in which he stopped 12 of 13 shots by the Blackhawks. Chicago's only goal in the second came from Andrew Shaw, who was left alone in front of Dubnyk and was found on a great pass from Brandon Saad. In this game, there were too many quality opportunities at close range for the Blackhawks.
"That's missed coverage and missed coverage by some of our veteran players which is concerning for me," coach Dallas Eakins said in his postgame chat with the media. "That's one of those things we're going to have to keep pounding home to this team. If you can't defend in this league, you're not going to win. That's just the way it is."
The Oilers have signed Ilya Bryzgalov to help plug the gaping void in the hull of a sinking ship, which leads us to our first Monday Next Question:
Is Bryzgalov the answer in Edmonton?
Bryzgalov was at his best playing in front of Dave Tippett's defensively sound and structured Coyotes teams ... which is about as far away from the current Oilers group as you can get. But last year, when the Flyers were changing the way they played in the defensive zone early on in the season to mixed success, Bryzgalov was their best player. In six January starts last season for the Flyers, he stopped 157 of 170 shots, good for a .924 save percentage. The Flyers didn't win many of those games, but it was primarily because they couldn't score, which isn't the issue in Edmonton. The Oilers simply can't keep the puck out of their own net.
It may be asking a lot for Bryzgalov to play a couple conditioning games in the AHL and jump into Edmonton at that level but he's certainly motivated to prove he's still an NHL goalie. He had KHL offers and could have easily played at home in Russia, but this is a player who has something to prove in the NHL. When you mix his talent level with the motivation that comes from being rejected by most of the league, it has the possibility to produce good results. He's capable of coming in and settling things down in the short term for the Oilers, but if it's going to work over the long term, the Oilers must play better defensively in front of him.
Patrick Roy in his prime would have a hard time stopping some of the shots the Oilers are allowing this season.
"The things that are plaguing this team are our responsibilities individually in the D-zone coverage and the second part of it ... our turnover rate," Eakins said Sunday. "We're losing individual responsibilities in the D-zone and it's killing us. That's the battle. We will stay in it, keep teaching and try to hold guys accountable."
If you simply look at the Bryzgalov addition as a comparison to the player he's replacing, Jason LaBarbera it's a no-brainer for the Oilers. However, subtracting Ladislav Smid to make it happen is concerning. Despite Craig MacTavish's public declaration that he's done making moves, trading a defenseman making $3.5 million through 2016-17 to clear room for a goalie earning $1.75 million (per CapGeek.com) for just this season doesn't add up. There's got to be more coming. Aside from that, this move makes sense for the Oilers. They have little to lose at this point, plugging in the veteran Bryzgalov while easing up the pressure on Dubnyk, who, by the way, is still more than capable of regaining his confidence and becoming the goalie the Oilers thought they had when he posted a .920 save percentage last season. Especially if the team in front of him figures out how to play defense.
The news: Dale Tallon fired his head coach Friday, then put his team on notice that anybody who doesn't want to be a part of a winning team in Florida will be shipped out. Tallon hasn't been shy in revealing that he has actively been working the trade market to try to shake things up for a Panthers team that is currently sitting at No. 7 in the Atlantic. Next Question:
Which player makes the most sense for the Panthers to move?
Florida is in a dangerous place right now because you have a GM in Tallon who appears eager to show results of the rebuilding process he's leading for a new owner with high standards. The problem is that it's clear this team isn't quite there yet. Yes, they've been hit by bad luck with a PDO of 95.6 (worst in the NHL) in all situations. But the youth is a huge factor. They're leaning on a 18-year-old center in Aleksander Barkov, who is talented but extremely young to hold a key role; their franchise defenseman, Erik Gudbranson, is 21; their Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau is just 20, and is showing signs of inconsistency that sometimes happen with second-year players.
The mistake in Florida would be to make a trade for the sake of improving this season. The chance of Tallon making a deal that will catapult the Panthers past better division teams such as the Senators, Canadiens and Bruins for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic are slim. That trade doesn't exist. That's why any deal involving Dmitry Kulikov had better be a long-term play for the Panthers. He's in the rumor mill but also young, just 23 years old. The No. 14 overall pick in 2009 would be a great addition for a team looking to add a young defenseman but the return needs to be in an area of need for the Panthers and player in the same age range.
Brian Campbell would be an attractive addition for any playoff contender if he didn't come with a price tag of $7.1 million through 2015-16. There aren't a lot of teams fighting to make the playoffs that currently have that kind of cap space available even if you could almost justify it. So if not Kulikov or Campbell, then who is an attractive trade option for other NHL teams?
"Fleischmann," answered one NHL source Sunday. The NHL general managers are gathering in Toronto early this week for their fall meeting and Tallon will no doubt be a popular guy to talk to as vultures circle to see if they can take advantage of a floundering franchise. Tomas Fleischmann is signed through next season at $4.5 million and has a modified no-trade clause. That's a fairly big ticket for the winger but he also has quietly been very productive for the Panthers. In the last full NHL season, he scored 27 goals. In 48 games last season, he registered 35 points. His blood clot problem is under control, and he's played in every game possible the past two regular seasons. On a team that has struggled to score goals (Florida's 2 goals per game average puts the Panthers at No. 27), he has managed to produce nine points in 17 games. Once his shooting percentage moves from 6.4 to closer to his career average of 12.2 percent, the goals will start coming too. At 29 years old, he's not a part of the Panthers' young core and has the potential to get strong return in a trade.
If Tallon is looking to shake things up without disrupting the long-term plans in Florida, that's where he should start.