If we were setting an objective for the 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers, what would it be? Obviously, it would be nice to see them contend for the Stanley Cup, but from a practical point of view there are a lot of improvements that need to be made to get there. I think the goal that most fans would be relatively satisfied with for next season is some playoff hockey.
Considering where the Oilers are coming from, I think 8th in the West is a good minimum goal. With that in mind, let’s look at how the team faired in some statistical categories. All of these consider Western Conference teams only (in other words, they’re out of 15), and are ranked in order from best to worst.
- Goals: 7th
- 5-on-5 Goals For: 7th
- —Playoff Cut—
- Powerplay: 10th
- 5-on-5 Goals Against: 11th
- Shots For: 12th
- Faceoffs: 12th
- Penalty-kill: 14th
- Shots Against: 15th
Now, we could gamble that changing up the coaching staff and continued development by young players are going to help the team – and they very well might. That said, I wouldn’t want to gamble a playoff spot on it; even if both of these changes help, there are certainly roster changes needed.
The most interesting thing about this list is something that gets glossed over or ignored time and time again: the Oilers had playoff-calibre offense last season. In other words, if making the playoffs was dependant on goals scored and nothing else, the Oilers last season were a playoff team.
Could they be better? Absolutely. But goal-scoring did not keep the Oilers out of the playoffs last season. The powerplay was part of the problem, but some simple coaching decisions (like using Dustin Penner in an intelligent manner) make this one of the few areas where the Oilers could see a significant improvement without making wholesale roster changes.
On the other hand, the Oilers didn’t generate a ton of shots; their offense was dependant on making the most of the shots they did get; something they did well last season, probably because of the overall skill level of the team’s forwards. Adding a few players with a greater tendency to shoot – perhaps even from within (late season pickup Patrick O’Sullivan and minor-league prospect Ryan Potulny are both shooters) would help.
Now we get into the things that kept the Oilers out of the playoffs last year: a lousy penalty-kill and poor defensive play. The Oilers PK was second-worst in the Western Conference, and desperately needs to be addressed.
I’ve heard it repeatedly suggested that a change in coaches should fix the penalty-kill, but I don’t buy it because:
- Craig MacTavish-coached teams have a good track record on the penalty-kill
- Multiple penalty-killers (Stoll, Reasoner, Greene) were shipped out prior to 2008-09 and were never replaced – and now another one (Brodziak) has been sent out too
Some of the problem may have been coaching, but the likelihood is that this is primarily a personnel issue – something that’s borne out by the Oilers poor defensive play 5-on-5.
Last year, the Oilers ranked 11th in the West in goals against – and they would have ranked worse except for a fantastic performance by Dwayne Roloson; something that’s made obvious by the fact that Oilers’ goaltenders faced more shots than anyone else in the Western Conference.
Something needs to be done to address the fact that the Oilers bled chances defensively. I know this isn’t going to be a popular stance amongst fans (many of whom are still cheering for the vaunted “three offensive lines” concept and looking forward to a new era of offensive creativity under Pat Quinn) but this was and is the Oilers biggest problem. The team is full of young, offensive-minded players with little or no clue defensively and its defensive stalwarts have either been overused (Horcoff) or are questionable due to age and injury (Moreau/Pisani).
The Edmonton Oilers will never be a successful team unless they can find a way to fill their gaping defensive holes.
Unfortunately, filling those holes seems to be a low priority – not just among fans, but also in the G.M.’s office.