During the past two weeks I’ve noticed a renewed level of excitement in Oilersnation, and rightfully so, due to the lottery win and the arrival of Peter Chiarelli.
Very few fans expected the Oilers to win the lottery and none felt Bob Nicholson would bring in a new POHO and GM, and relieve Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish of their titles. It was unexpected, and the new changes has brought a new level of expectation as well.
The Oilers should improve in 2015/2016, but realistically how much can they improve?
Their weaknesses are obvious.
Their overall team defence must get better, but specific positions need an upgrade.
Goaltending needs to be more consistent.
They need better D-men.
They need better centres.
I expect Chiarelli to focus on those areas. The obvious improvement at centre will come in the addition of Connor McDavid, but after that Chiarelli will need to improve his team via trades of free agency.
Many readers have suggested the Oilers can be better because of recent improvements by the Islanders, Flames and Avalanche, so today let’s look at how many changes the Islanders made from 2014, when they finished with 79 points and missed the playoffs, to this year when they made the postseason with 101 points.
Keep in mind the Islanders improved by 22 points, while the Oilers will likely need to improve by 35 points to make the postseason.
Islanders GM Garth Snow made significant changes to his roster.
He changed both goalies.
Halak started 20 more games than Nabokov and had better sv%. Snow upgraded his starting goalie position, while the backups had similar numbers.
He added two top-pairing defenders, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, but there was more than just two changes on his blueline.
The top-four D-men in minutes played were:
Travis Hamonic 1,726 (69GP)
Andrew MacDonald 1,601 (63)
Thomas Hickey 1,547 (82GP)
Calvin DeHaan 1,072 (51 GP)
Ten different D-men played at least 13 games for the Islanders.
Nick Leddy 1,588 (78GP)
Johnny Boychuk 1,561 (72 GP)
Travis Hamonic 1,547 (71 GP)
Thomas Hickey 1,533 (81GP)
Calvin DeHaan 1,235 (65GP)
Lubomir Visnovsky 1,034 (53 GP)
Brian Strait 955 (52GP)
Visnonvsky missed 29 games, but he still played 30 more in 2015 than he did in 2014. The Islanders used only seven D-men for the majority of the season. Matt Donovan (12 games) and Griffin Reinhart (eight games) saw limited action.
The Islanders upgraded their blueline with Boychuk and Leddy, but their defensive zone play improved because they had better players, but also because they only had to use seven D-men. The Islanders had 41 PP points from the D corps in 2015, compared to 31 in 2014, so there was a bit of an improvement from points from the defenders, but it didn’t make their PP that much better.
They scored 49 PP goals in 2014 (17.8% efficiency) and 50 (18.7%) in 2015.
The Islanders also added Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski in free agency. That gave them a solid third line, although Grabovksi missed 30 games. The rest of their improvement came from within.
They had ten forwards play 70+ games, John Tavares, Brock Nelson and Kulemin (82), Ryan Strome (81), Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin (78), Anders Lee and Cal Clutterbuck (76) and Josh Bailey and Casey Cizikas (70).
Kyle Okposo played 60 games and had 51 points while Grabovski played 51 games.
Storme played 44 more games in 2015 and scored 32 more points than he did in 2014.
Anders Lee played 54 more games and scored 16 more goals than last
Bailey and Nelson improved offensively, but also had better possession numbers.
Snow added a starting goalie, two top-three defenders and two solid, veteran 3rd line fowards, while the rest of his team stayed much healthier in 2015 and the young players continued to develop.
Five solid moves allowed the Islanders to improve by 22 points. The Oilers need to improve by 35, so Chiarelli has an even more difficult task than Snow had last summer.
It is possible, since Snow did it, but extremely unlikely that Chiarelli will be able to add two top-three defenders without trading away anyone off of his roster. I’m sure he can acquire a top-three defender, but he will need to give up a roster player most likely.
If the Flames can’t re-sign Kari Ramo, that is the goalie I’d go after in free agency, or give up a draft pick and acquire his rights prior to July 1st.
Without question the Oilers have room to have internal improvement. Taylor Hall has proven he can be a point-a-game player, and if he stays healthy you can pencil him in for 75 points. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is still improving while Anton Lander and Nail Yakupov should add a bit more as well.
The Oilers need to stay healthy. They only had six forwards play 59+ games last season. Outside of adding new players to the lineup, the existing ones need to be available to play more frequently.
There are many reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season, but even five key additions only allowed the Islanders to improve by 22 points.
DARE TO DREAM…
Expecting a 36-point jump in one off-season is asking for a lot. Three teams have improved by that much since 2000, so it is possible.
The Islanders improved an amazing 44 points from 2001 to 2002. They accomplished this after missing the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons.
They added Chris Osgood and Garth Snow in goal, Adrian Aucoin (25 min/game), Dick Tarnstrom and Radek Martinek on the blueline and Alexei Yashin, Mike Peca, Shawn Bates and Kip Miller up front.
The Penguins improved by a whopping 47 points from 2006 to 2007 and made the big jump after missing the postseason for four straight years. They improved despite making very few changes.
They got younger by adding Evgeni Malkin (85 points) and Jordan Staal (29 goals), but Crosby, Fleury, Whitney, Talbot, Ouellet and Armstrong all improved.
The Flyers improved by 39 points from 2007 to 2008. The Flyers had one bad year. They had made the playoffs the previous 11 seasons, so 2007 was an oddity for them, and they returned to the postseason in 2008.
Marty Biron went from back up to starter and had a .918sv% compared to Antero Nittymaki’s .894 in 2007. Nittymaki was the back up in 2008. They changed half of their blueline. They signed Kimmo Timonen, and Brayden Coburn (acquired at trade deadline in 2007) became their top pair and they acquired Jason Smith from the Oilers and named him captain.
Up front they added Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere and Joffrey Lupul while Mike Richards improved from 32 points to 75.
Is a 35-point improvement possible, yes, but I don’t believe anyone should expect it.
Chiarelli needs to improve his goaltending and defence and change the makeup of the top-nine before I see this team being a playoff team. I don’t expect him to make all those improvements in one off-season.
3rd Annual Karoake Contest…
Our 3nd annual King/Queen of Karaoke goes on Friday May 22nd at On The Rocks.
If you think you can sing, or know someone who can get them to email a short 30 second-1 minute video audition tape to firstname.lastname@example.org before May 15th. We will pick the top-10 videos, and they along with a few guest celebrity Karaokiers will battle it out on May 22nd.
This year’s winner will win $1,000 in cash.
Tickets are $35, with all the money going to charity, and with
your ticket you receive $45 in GCs from On The Rocks and Oodle Noodle,
as well as one drink when you arrive.
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