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  

  • Dan 1919

    I agree the Oilers are unproven, and at this point cannot be given the benefit of the doubt until they start to win.

    But as an Oilers fan, here’s why this is the first offseason in a long time that I am optimistic. The Oilers lost 9/10 games near the end of last season with a very weak bottom six. If they had gone even .500 in those games they would have battled for the 8th spot.

    Not only do I think think this year’s bottom six is better than last year’s, I do not think this team will drop 9/10 under Eakins. Also our defence looks to be considerably better than last years. Even if the current guys succumb to injury or start to flounder, there will be Larson and Fedun right behind them who looked plenty good enough for a 5/6 role in my opinion.

    We just need to weather the RNH, Gagner injuries then I think this is the year! I really hope so anyway.

      • Dan 1919

        I hope so, and I think we’ve seen enough of MacT’s work already to know that if the Oilers appear to be heading for dire straights again, he will make moves and shake things up, rather than wait for the off season and sign a few bottom six free agents and repeat… Like we’ve seen in the past :/

  • Dan 1919

    I am really pulling for Dallas Eakins. However I think he will be over his head. Not enough talent in the bottom 6 .Down the middle looks frightening to start the season. Somebody will have to walk on water for this team to make the playoffs.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    I sincerely believe you are underestimating the scoring ability of the Oilers; their transition game has shown to be VASTLY improved. The three tip-in goals last game could have beat any goalie in the league. And the bottom 6 forwards improving from 0.33/gpg is not an insurmountable feat. Yakupov could get that by himself this year.

    I also think coaching will show the 4th line will only be playing 4-5 min per night. Mitigating the fear that the blogging community has shown recently.

    Success will then depend on the health of Hall/Ebs/Gordon/Perron/Dubnyk – particularly if Hall/Ebs are playing PK time too.

    I would wager they go 0.500 W/L in October, barring no missed time to the above 5.

    • Dan 1919

      I like this optimism.

      I think many of last year loses can be attributed to playing Ryan Whitney. That addition by subtraction thing. Also:
      +(-Belanger) + (-Jones)= ++

      Not only did these guys not contribute, they were liabilities when on the ice.

      It seems to me Eakins has McT’s backing and won’t feel obligated to give high priced rusty gates ice-time.

    • I want the Oilers to hang in there at .500 too, but if you take an objective look at our bottom six and our home/away games mix there’s no way you can reasonably come to that conclusion.

      Then you’re assuming none of our remaining players get so much as a stubbed toe for the first two months. ON TOP OF WHICH both Gagner and RNH will take at least a month to recover their game strength after they get back.

      Playing “OK” against scrub lineups in pre-season isn’t in any way, shape or form an indicator of regular season success.*

      *OK. Well maybe in NHL14.

    • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

      A lot of stuff can happen as a result of unplanned circumstances……

      For example, Taylor Hall may turn out to be an All Star calibre Center…..which would never have happened if both Nuge and Gags were healthy to start the season.

      Another example is Arcobello….he may turn out to be a regular NHL roster player given the opportunity to play regularly for 20 games…he finally gets a legitimate shot to see for himself if he’s got what it takes….a true testing ground for him that wouldn’t have happened otherwise….either way, at least we’ll finally know and not have to wonder…

  • Credit to fifthcartel on Lowetide for the name…

    Jim O’Briens on waivers. Good size. His NHL points aren’t high yet but they look around Acton’s AHL points (he’s also only 24 so there is potential for improvement ) . Had one pretty good year in AHL with 56 puts in 74 games, with 24 of those goals. Comes cheap at 637.5k. Would this not be a good opportunity to replace Acton? Looks like Obrien needs face off work though.. Mid to high 40s

    • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

      The one thing Acton has going for him is that Eakins is familiar with him, Eakins knows his strengths and weaknesses, so any success Acton has will be a direct result of Eakins using him in the right situations. In no way am I sold on Acton, but time will tell.

    • Jason Gregor

      There is no re-entry waivers anymore, but if they are recalled, and sent back down within 30 days I’m pretty sure they don’t. If they stay longer then yes they would have to clear waivers again if sent down a 2nd time.

    • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

      Just heard, they only have to clear waivers once, then they are free and clear to move up and down without having to clear waivers.

  • bazmagoo

    If Nuge comes back healthy and scores 60ish points the Oilers are a playoff team. I agree, lots of “ifs” this year yet again but I think the Oil will squeek into the playoffs in the 7th or 8th spot in the conference.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    ^yup, Belanger gave up the ghost and retired apparently?

    i was mildly surprised that Jones didn’t get claimed though. he could be too expensive for some teams or they might be seeing what the Oiler brass are seeing….a guy having a hard time recovering from an eye injury that perhaps had made him a little timid?