COULD BE A RED OCTOBER

The Oilers final roster hasn’t been made official, but with Ryan Jones clearing waivers and Denis Grebeshkov, Corey Potter, Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all injured it is obvious who will be on the team. The only change could come in the form of a waiver wire pickup over the weekend when teams make their final cuts.

If a viable centre is available, general manager Craig MacTavish will need to decide if this player is better than Marc Arcobello or Will Acton.

Even if they claim a centre on the waiver wire, the Oilers will start the season with some key injuries and a very difficult schedule. They could find themselves in the "red" very early.

In their first 19 games, only 6 of them are at home, and 14 of their first 19 are against the eastern conference. The East has most of the true heavyweights, so I’m expecting we’ll see Steve MacIntyre more often early in the year than later, but he isn’t the main storyline for the Oilers.

If the Oilers are going to end their seven-year playoff drought, they will need to be better on the ice, than they currently look on paper. Their defence is much better than last year, but the right now the forward group isn’t; on paper anyways.

The Oilers start the season with only one proven NHL centre. Taylor Hall gets an asterisk beside his name, because he’s a elite player, but moving to centre will be a challenge, especially when he has to face regular NHL teams.

Can Jesse Joensuu, Acton and Arcobello be productive NHL forwards? We’ll find out quickly

The only preseason game they played where the opposition had more than 70% of an NHL roster was against the Jets in Winnipeg. Their previous four games against the Canucks (2), Rangers and Jets were against lineups with half a roster of AHL players. I’m not sure how much we can take away from those games.

The Oilers blueline should be much better than last season, and Devan Dubnyk looked sharp in preseason.

WHO WILL LEAD?

Hall will need to be just as dominant as he was last season for the Oilers to be in the race at the end of October. In the last 20 years, 77% of teams that were in a playoff spot at the end of October made the playoffs in April.

I’m not sure if the new schedule, playing every team at least twice, will impact that % or not, but even if it doesn’t, it is clear the Oilers will need to be close, or in a playoff spots, after 14 games.

Hall averaged 18:37 of icetime/game last season, and head coach Dallas Eakins has already stated Hall is going to play more this season. I’m guessing he’ll play close to 21-22 minutes a night, but even with more minutes it will be extremely difficult for him to produce more than he did last season.

Hall had 50 points in 45 games; he averaged 1.1 points-per-game. Only six players, Crosby, St.Louis, Stamkos, Kane, Lupul and Ovechkin had a better PPG average. (Lupul only played 16 games, so I’d say five.) Just having Hall on the ice more should help the Oilers cause, but he’ll need some teammates to step up if the Oilers are going to be competitve.

Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky need to be much better than they were last year. Smyth is back playing wing, where he belongs, and that will help him. If Hemsky can find the game he had between 2005-2011, he’ll be a huge benefit to Hall. Hemsky is completely healthy, and there is no reason he shouldn’t be able to produce playing with Hall.

Jordan Eberle and David Perron have shown good chemistry early on. Eberle will also get more icetime, and he needs to play like he did in 2011/2012, while Perron should produce more than Magnus Paajarvi. The Smyth/Hall/Hemsky trio will likely face the top defencemen most nights, so Eberle and Perron must produce against the 2nd and 3rd D-pairs.

I believe the key to the Oilers treading water lies at the hands of Boyd Gordon, and specifically Nail Yakupov. Gordon isn’t a point producer. He’s never scored more than 8 goals or 29 points, so it’s unrealistic to expect he’ll produce much more over the entire season, but players get on hot streaks, and he’ll need one early.

I see Yakupov as the key to success early on. Most opposing coaches will put their 3rd pair defencemen against his line, because he’s the only proven NHL threat on that line, so Yakupov will need to feast on "softer" matchups. I don’t like the term soft/easy, because every NHL player is damn good, but there is a drop off from the 1st pairing down to the 3rd and Yakupov has to score at even strength against those players. I expect he’ll produce on the PP, but the Oilers will need to producing 5-on-5.

TEAM DEFENCE

With RNH and Gagner injured, the Oilers must lower their GAA. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that they will score more with their current lineup, so Dubnyk and the re-vamped D core must step up.

Justin Schultz should be better. Andrew Ference and Anton Belov (I expect he’ll start opening night) are upgrades over Ryan Whitney and Corey Potter/Mark Fistric, and Nick Schultz will be more effective as a 3rd pairing defender instead of being in the top-pair last year.

Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid are similar to Smyth and Hemsky; they must have bounce back seasons. Petry and Smid underperformed last year, and both of them need to be more consistent to lower the Oilers’ GAA.

WRAP UP…

  • At the end of last season Craig MacTavish said, "We had a lot of guys that the best they were going to be in any given game was a non-factor." He was referring to his bottom six forwards. Fast forward ahead to today and the bottom six only looks better because Yakupov is in it.

    Boyd Gordon will be a factor. I think Oilers fans will appreciate him, because he’s competitive. He isn’t going to produce many points, but he’s solid defensively and at least he plays hard. However, after those two there are many question marks.

    Can Joensuu emerge as a regular, productive NHL player? He looked good in the preseason, but the quality of the opponents wasn’t NHL caliber.

    I’d like to believe Will Acton can make more of an impact than Eric Belanger. Hell, if Acton plays with a pulse, he’ll be an improvement, but being better than Belanger won’t be enough. He’ll need to much better.

    The 4th line wingers will be a mix of MacIntyre, Ben Eager, Mike Brown and Ryan Hamilton. A fighter, two bangers and a minor leaguer. Maybe Eakins will be able to get more out of them, or use them better than Tom Renney or Ralph Krueger did, but that is a big IF at this point.

    MacTavish said he wanted guys who could be factors, yet 66% of his bottom six forwards aren’t proven, consistent NHL players. It is a major risk, and he’s put a lot of faith that Eakins can get the most out of these guys. If he does, then Eakins will prove to be a better coach than Renney or Krueger.
     

  • Of the 14 October games, 10 of them are against teams who made the playoffs last year. If the Oilers can win 6 games and get an OT point or two, they should be ecstatic. They have a very tough schedule.
     
  • Ryan Jones cleared waivers, not a surprise, and he should get a lot of icetime in OKC. If he plays well early, I could see him being recalled. I don’t see anyone 4th line wingers who are a lock to dress every night, so if he produces and plays well in OKC, he could be back in Edmonton very soon.
     
  • I like the hybrid icing and I hope the NHLPA votes it in. There are so few races for the puck that actually impact the game positively; I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t implement it this season.
     
  • I don’t want to sound like a broken record, or be a Debby Downer, but when you look at the Oilers early schedule combined with their injuries, it is going to be extremely tough to overcome both of them and make the playoffs. I see them making a strong push at the end of the season, but coming up short.

    For the sake of all you loyal Oilers fans, I hope I’m wrong.

STREAKCRED

Wanye is so worked up about his precious Streakcred I have to make sure to add in a plug to play this season. The early bird special is on right now for only $15 a team. I am playing too as it is for charity and I have to admit it is a pretty fun game. The prizes are good too and it is in support of the ICCP. 

You should sign up here.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR  

  • CaptainLander

    Easier said than done, but here is what needs to happen for the team to keep their head above water during the month of Oct:

    Win 3 of 4 first games .. 3 are at home
    Win 3 of 6 eastern road games
    Win 2 of 4 remaing games all western with 2H and 2 R games.

    That would give you 8 of 14 wins, slightly over .500 hockey. A challenge but not impossible.

    There are still pretenders on this.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    A whole lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘needs’ in this article. From my most recent experience with this team, any time we ‘need’ something or we can win ‘if’ something happens, we lose.

    How do I drink the Cool-Aid that y’all are chugging?

    I’m curious to see how our bruisers will be plugged into the lineup. Will they have a super-goon-line of Brown-MacIntyre-Eager???

    That’d be the end of the world me thinks.

    • Mikey

      You’re first paragraph is definitely correct.

      It’s not about drinking Cool-Aid. It’s about hoping what your team can do. It’s about being positive while pointing out your teams weakness, and saying “maybe” and “if” things go right you get to cheer for your team in the playoffs.

      • Admiral Ackbar

        So the Cool-Aid is optimism! I’ll jump on that bandwagon!

        I think The oil will have constant offensive threats out on the ice this year. Not just a concentration of talent in the top 6. Yak in the bottom six with possibly the emergence of Joensuu: I’m thinking that we may see a triple threat. With MacIntyre-Eager-Brown to devour the competition in the bottom 3.

        I know I’m dreaming, but hey, it’s Cool-Aid bliss.

  • Spoils

    The goal for the first five weeks? Survival. 13 of 19 on the road, including 6 straight against playoff teams, 5 of them in an 8-day span. With both top centers out for most of this stretch and Gagner like gone for the first 25 games or more, it could hardly be more challenging.

    Somehow Eakins has to get the guys to treat this hellacious stretch like a playoff drive, because if they don’t they will be in a deep, dark hole very quickly. They are going to have dig deep, block shots, play tough defence and battle every shift. Every time I think of Kassian I burn inside. It is not fair, but that is no consolation.

  • Spoils

    “We had a lot of guys that the best they were going to be in any given game was a non-factor.”
    This comment has been interpreted that the bottom 6 need to produce more points. I am not sure that was MacT’s entire intent. Sure it would be helpful for these guys to chip in. But the biggest issue last year was that the bottom 6 were easy to play against. They didn’t bring any emotion. No grind. Have we improved? It would be difficult to be worse. I suspect Eakin behind the bench is the biggest improvement for this group. Failure to contribute something to a game will not be tolerated.