Turning The Oilers Into A Playoff Team


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.

  • Hippy

    Face-off wins result in less shots against. Face-off wins result in a better PK. If we got some decent face-off men, I feel both would drastically improve.
    AND SINCE WHEN are Gagner and Cogs centermen??? What happened to the Kid line? Stick em back together!

  • Hippy

    How much of the problem is with the GM and how much is with the owner?

    Katz was "vocal" in having the team pursue Laraque last year, Heatley this year, neither moves would have been the overall benefit of the teams performance. I wonder if Katz is being overzealous in his want for an immediate winner.

  • Hippy

    I totally agree, we will compete, let's not forget, if it weren't for our late tail spin at the end of the season, we at the very least should have been able to clinch 8th. One never knows for sure, especially with teams like St. Louis and Los Angeles always improving but I think 8th isn't out of reach, with or without Heatley.

  • Hippy

    Good Post!!! I agree and have been baffled by the fact the Oilers havent signed any quality defensive centerman such as Malholtra or Moore. I am aware that bodies have to go out in order to bring some in but they are also able to go over the cap by 5% or is it 10% as long as they are down to the cap by season opening.

    As well, I think they need a shut down D man as I dont think we have a legit shutdown D man on this team. Yes Souray is great on the powerplay and his size and grit helps in our end but having watched him last year, he is not a shut down D man and he handles the puck like a hand grenade in his own end.

    So as you said, extra offence is nice, but I think some work on team defense is just as important.

  • Hippy

    I think the opinion of those who want more offense is that if we improve the quality + systems of our offense, less time will be spent in the defensive zone to begin with leading to less shots & goals against.

    While that may have some merit, the fact is most of last year the oilers looked like a bunch of druken monkeys in their own zone. You have to be able to quickly, efficiently and consistantly be able to get out of your own zone or all the offense in the world is meaningless.

    Good article JW