When we talk about the Oilers and what their core should be, there’s plenty of debate between fans who the core pieces are. There’s discussion of Hall, Eberle, Draisatl, McDavid, Nurse, Klefbom, and the like, but are those truly “core” pieces that can’t be moved, or do we exaggerate how much a team really needs a core like that. Or do we even have that complete core to work with?
To decide this question, we can look at a team who’s dominated the NHL for the last half a decade, the Chicago Blackhawks. A core player can be defined as any team member who played reasonable minutes during all of their respective cup wins.
Their common players list through all cup wins consists of Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford and Bryan Bickell. However, Crawford was not the primary goalie during the first cup run, and in fact, saw virtually no ice time, therefore he can be removed from this list. As for Bryan Bickell, although a large part of one cup run, would not be defined as a core player, and is more still there out of luck than anything else.
That leaves us with:
Patrick Kane, a RW, who for his career has averaged 1.00ppg on the dot. This is the “sniper”, the player that they count on to score goals and who can be used on either of the top two lines to boost scoring, as he has proven he can put up points wherever he’s used.
Jonathan Toews, a C, who anchors the top line, plays quality defense, wins face-offs, is able to score points when needed, plays an aggressive game, and is the team captain with strong leadership ability
Patrick Sharp, a LW, who provides veteran scoring savvy wherever he’s used in the Top-9, and can help settle down a rookie teammate or help a new teammate get used to the team fast during the stretch run, and can consistently score points for the club regardless of his linemates.
Marian Hossa, a RW, who provides elite-level defensive ability along with solid scoring totals, and alongside Toews gives Chicago a duo who can go power-for-power against any line and provide quality defensive play along with solid offensive punch, and who acts as a mentor to the entire team.
Duncan Keith, a Left-Shooting D, who acts as the anchor on the back end, able to play absurd minutes when needed, provides solid offense from the back end, and can be put out at any time against any player and is able to get the job done, is a true elite defenseman.
Brent Seabrook, a Right-Shooting D, who provides physical play, high-quality scoring, and anchors a second defensive unit that allows Chicago to mix and match partners there as needed while still providing a quality second unit that can match up with most any other club in the league.
Niklas Hjalmarsson, a Left-Shooting D, but who plays primarily with Keith, and is the shut-down minute-eating compliment to Keith that allows him to push the play down the ice while knowing his partner can cover anyone. Is a true shut-down defenseman who relies on positioning more than physical play.
So, what we have here for a core is a First-Line pair of C/RW who are able to put up points and play against any line in the league and provide quality shut-down play, leadership and mentorship. From there, we have a pair of quality snipers and point producers who can be used anywhere in the Top-9 and are able to put up points regardless of their linemates. On the back end, we have an elite top-pairing who can log heavy minutes and do anything asked of them, along with a 3rd defenseman who would be top-pairing for many other clubs anchoring a solid second pairing.
It should be noted that, in their performance, Chicago hasn’t considered the Center spot all that “core-worthy”, and has rotated a cast of players through the 2-4C spots based on deadline pickups and cheap veterans for the most part. The same applies to goaltending, as, although Crawford has been the starter for the last two cups, Chicago has been unafraid to replace goalies at will as well.
So, if we look at the Oilers roster in terms of the Chicago model, what do we have: We can call McDavid our future Toews equvailent, although at this point he can’t be said to have that same leadership level, but this should occur. As for an elite veteran winger who can play alongside him and help shut down the best teams, well, the Oilers utterly lack veteran wingers in their Top-6 with the exception of Purcell, who will never be confused with Hossa. For an elite winger who can score, Hall can be considered our Kane equivalent, and he has done that job fairly well in the circumstances. Lastly, as for our Patrick Sharp, the closest to this we have may be Jordan Eberle, who has similar hands.
On the back end, we can consider Klefbom to be a future Hjalmarsson, and they have similar traits and play styles. It might be that, if we all cross our fingers, Nurse may be a Duncan Seabrook in the future, however we can all admit that will take some time before it may occur. As for a Duncan Keith, there is nothing resembling this type of player either in our system or on the roster.
That leaves us at: Requiring a veteran, defensively aware, skilled Top-3 winger who can play alongside McDavid, and a top-pairing minute-eating defenseman with the ability to score from the back end. Now, when you consider the core to be Hall, McDavid, Eberle, Klefbom and Nurse, that does exclude Draisaitl at this point in time. But, Chicago this year has actually went and obtained a true 2C in exchange for the second veteran winger in Patrick Sharp, so we’ll exchange the Sharp role for the 2C instead, and swap Eberle and Draisaitl as core players.
Applying the Chicago model to our line-up, we have:
Line 1: xxx-McDavid-xxx
Line 2: Hall-Draisaitl-xxx
Pairing 1: Klefbom-xxx
Pairing 2: Nurse-xxx
So, we need an elite veteran winger that can be either a LW or a RW, and we need that elite top-pairing Defenseman. From this model, we can afford to consider Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Benoit Pouliot, Griffin Reinhart, Andrej Sekera, Brandon Davidson, Teddy Purcell and Justin Schultz as all disposable to obtain those two pieces, since Chicago tradition is to fill the remainder of the roster out with prospects, budget signings and trades with other clubs without too much concern. As for who those players could be, that’s a very difficult question to answer, and to be blunt, the odds on obtaining exact equivalent players is difficult, but for argument’s sake, we can consider Loui Eriksson (a Right-Wing from Boston and pending UFA) to be a possible Hossa, and Kevin Shattenkirk (a Defenseman rumored to be available from St. Louis) to be a possible Duncan Keith.
If you plug them in to the above model, we have:
Line 1: xxx-McDavid-Eriksson
Line 2: Hall-Draisaitl-xxx
Pairing 1: Klefbom-Shattenkirk
Pairing 2: Nurse-xxx
That leaves us wanting to keep one LW and one RW for our Top-6, and one defenseman for our second pairing on the right side. On that first line, Chicago has been known to run a banging forward, so we can plug Pouliot back in to that spot. On the second line, Chicago will usually run a budget forward, usually someone with a physical side to their game, so we’ll plug Kassian in there for now.
On the back end, there is a concern as to the clear fact Nurse will be unable to drive a pairing by himself at this point, however, Sekera is able to play the right-side as well, and his veteran presence will support Nurse here, so we can plug him back in.
That takes us to:
Line 1: Pouliot-McDavid-Eriksson
Line 2: Hall-Draisatl-Kassian
Pairing 1: Klefbom-Shattenkirk
Pairing 2: Nurse-Sekera
That allows the Oilers to use Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Griffin Reinhart, Brandon Davidson, Teddy Purcell and Justin Schultz as pieces to flush out the roster and obtain those missing pieces. Chicago has traditionally not spent significant cash on their 3rd or 4th lines, preferring to flush those out at the deadline or with cheap UFA signings, and the same applies to their 3rd defensive pairing. This, then, would be the Oilers based on the Chicago model. You’ll notice there’s no specific 3rd and 4th lines, or 3rd pairing, and that’s due to the fact Chicago tends to address those needs as they come up, and depending on how their payroll fits.