It is mid-April and after a difficult and disappointing
season marred by injuries throughout the lineup, the Edmonton Oilers are looking at a top
end draft pick and facing some significant roster changes under their new
Is it 2010 or 2016?
The Edmonton Oilers.
They’re like the punchline to a joke that has long stopped
At the beginning of the year, and again at the halfway
point, I went through the Canucks, Oilers and Flames to predict what might be a
reasonable season for each team. Today I’m reviewing the Oilers’ season with
those initial projections in mind.
What Was Said
Here are some of the things that I wrote at the beginning of
1. Based on my projections above I’ve got the
Oilers scoring 227 goals this year.
2. The defense is going to be a work in
progress right until the end of the year unless we see a big trade bring in an
established veteran who can fairly and effectively be called a 1st pairing
defender. This group is going to struggle to keep on a level with the forward
3. The goaltending looks to be improved, by how
much remains to be seen. However, working out a .914 team sv% averaged between
Talbot and either Scrivens or Nilsson puts the Oilers 10th in the league last
season, just ahead of the Winnipeg Jets and behind the Penguins.
4. The playoffs are probably still a way’s off,
but they could find themselves at least in the conversation. Let’s say 4th in
the Division, 10th in the conference and somewhere around 19th in the League.
5. What’s the worst-case scenario? Finishing in
the bottom five, drafting 6th overall and trading away Eberle or Hall and
Yakupov out of panic.
And here are the results:
The Oilers scored 203 goals this year, off the
mark by 24 goals. Given the number of injuries I believe that my original
estimate may have been too conservative for a healthy roster.
The defense for the Oilers’ last three NHL games
featured a defense group included three players with fewer than 100 NHL games
played, and as a group they averaged 237 NHL games played. Two of the players
began the season in the AHL and one was a waiver-wire pickup at the trade
deadline. The defense was an already-rickety vessel held together with bailing
twine and prayer by season’s end. There were rumours of a Nugent-Hopkins for Seth Jones trade that Peter Chiarelli later denied. Injuries likely scuttled any attempt to make such a move.
The Oilers managed a team sv% of 0.905, up from
last season’s disastrous 0.888. This alone may be one of the most significant
developments for the team in the last five years.
The Oilers finished 7th in the
division, 15th in the conference and 29th overall. Not
They did finish in the bottom five, the lottery
results have yet to determine where the team will draft but they can draft no
later than 5th overall. More importantly, Peter Chiarelli did not
panic during the season and make any rash moves but will likely move at least
one of the bodies listed above, perhaps two or even all of the above, this
off-season as he addresses the defense.
This season wasn’t pretty but, and this speaks to the
incredibly low levels this franchise and its fans have seen over the past
decade, things actually appeared to be looking up this season.
Because Oilers? Because Injuries!
Connor McDavid missed half a season after breaking his
collarbone when he was railroaded into the end boards. Oscar Klefbom only
played 30 games after suffering a broken finger and then developing a staph
infection in his foot due to an ill-fitting skate. Add to that extended games
missed by Eberle, Pouliot, Davidson, Gryba, Yakupov and Nugent-Hopkins and you
have a roster that was already in tough competing for mediocrity now completely
undermined by injuries.
Overall the list of walking wounded and games missed looks
NHL top 10 man-games lost
1 TOR 448
— Man-Games Lost NHL (@ManGamesLostNHL) April 9, 2016
On the whole, just over one-third of the season was lost by
the Oilers’ top two centers, three of their top six wingers, and three of their
six defenders including two of their top three at that position.
I despise that old tripe about “injuries are not an excuse”.
No, they are not but they are an explanation and to wave them away as
unimportant is a lazy act of willful ignorance.
Now if someone wants to discuss injuries as they relate to
roster depth, that is fair and worth your time. But if someone had the temerity
to tell you that the Flames shouldn’t miss a beat without TJ Brodie, Dougie
Hamilton, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Michael Frolik for a third of a
season how much patience would you have?
Let’s have a look at the player performance predictions and
where they ended up.
I’ve highlighted those players whose ppg results were off
the predicted mark by a margin greater than 0.1.
Leon Draisaitl blew away my expectations of him this season
with a hot start. He settled as the season drew on with some speculation that
there was a rib issue hindering his playmaking and skating ability, but seemed
to find some middle ground later in the season. His future will likely be as a
swing man moving from wing to center as needs dictate.
Eberle had a down year along with Nugent-Hopkins, not surprisingly both lost time to injury, Nugent-Hopkins’ being the more serious (broken finger and later
a minor concussion) but both maintained a point-per-game rate above 0.60.
Taylor Hall registered his first full 82-game season of his career and while his point totals leveled off in the second half of the season
he was a force for the entire year, disproving many of his critics who said that he lacked
a 200-foot game.
Nail Yakupov may have played his last game as an Oiler. This
summer his name may be amongst the many that are headed out of town. I will
miss him on this team.
I underestimated Connor McDavid. As a 19 year old rookie in
a half-season shortened due to injury he kept pace with Patrick Kane on a
point-per-game basis while facing the best defensive competition opposing teams
had to offer on a team torpedoed by injuries and with a defense cobbled together with prayer and bailing twine. Words fail me. The Oilers are going to invest a king’s ransom in
making sure he remains healthy.
A Look At the Numbers
Below are various statistical categories that I tracked
through the season. Overall the Oilers kept an even keel, despite the injuries.
The goal differential improved over the course of the
season, however the loss of Nugent-Hopkins and Klefbom are probably the two
biggest factors at play here.
The possession game for this team will need to improve, the two areas that would provide the greatest return in that area would be to add two top-four defensemen and to have a roster that can remain healthy.
The team save percentage started poorly and that more or
less nailed the lid on the team early with the injuries coming in afterwards to
throw dirt on the coffin.
Talbot emerged this year as a starting goaltender who should
be relied upon to deliver league average goaltending at the very least. At this
stage that is all a team can ask for.
Outside of Nilsson’s stretch from mid-November to early December things did not go especially well for him. I expect the Oilers will be aggressive in pursuing a replacement backup goaltender this summer. Chiarelli is fed up with wet feet and bailing and he will be patching holes in this boat without delay.
Hero of the Season
From a fan perspective, this could be difficult. Many fans would choose Brandon Davidson as a candidate because a team so starved for defenseman managed to draft and develop one of their own (it doesn’t happen often in Oilerville, and when it does they usually get traded right when they become capable players). His backstory (skipped some years playing because his family couldn’t afford it, walk on tryout for the Pats who became eventually became captain of the team, 6th round draft pick who made it to the AHL and then battled testicular cancer to eventually come into the NHL and earn a top-four spot) is an inspiration.
I suspect Peter Chiarelli would pick Cam Talbot as his hero for the season after spending some dear draft picks to acquire him and then overcoming a difficult start to the season, Talbot’s emergence as a capable starting goaltender strikes a massive item off the GM’s to-do list for this summer and gives the team something it hasn’t had since perhaps the departure of Dwayne Roloson.
Others would argue Connor McDavid who provided a compelling reason to watch every game he played, regardless of where the team was in the standings.
Off Season Plan
Defense? Defense. Definitely defense.
The Oilers are buying on the blueline this summer. The only thing we don’t know yet is the cost. All sorts of names have been thrown around but what we do know is that the blueline begins with Andrei Sekera, Brandon Davidson, and Oscar Klefbom. Nurse and Reinhart are the nearly-ready prospects and Mark Fayne is the old man who can’t get no love. They need at least one, ideally two right-handed defensemen for next season.
Some additional cleaning up of the bottom six is needed but not necessarily a priority.
I won’t speculate here on who they target or who is on the block, but suffice to say that many believe Peter Chiarelli could be one of the busier GMs this summer.
Why This Song?
You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down
At the beginning of the season I’d picked Johnny Cash as the musical herald for the Oilers (Canucks got Tom Petty, Flames got Elvis Presley).
In this video Rick Rubin discusses Cash wearing black to show common cause with the disenfranchised and downtrodden.
There could be no better association for Oilers fans and their team today.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the Oilers have become a joke that people long ago stopped finding funny.
Instead it seems some people are finding sport in dropping by to punish fans or castigate them for their loyalties, laying at their feet the blame for the organization’s long season of discontent.
The media no longer have any time for Oilers’ stories aside from venting anger and resentment at the prospect of another 1st overall draft pick going to Edmonton. Indeed, it appears that it has become en vogue to argue that the team needs to be punished in some way for it’s sins, real or perceived.
Oiler fans are being targeted by those outside the market and the team has once again found itself, justifiably or not, at the center of everyone’s hit list.
And yet every other Canadian team has found itself outside the playoffs this year. The bottom ten teams in the league include six of the seven Canadian teams, the bottom five positions have four Canadian teams, and the bottom three positions are occupied solely by Canadian teams.
Of course the response to that is “this is just one year” or “we’re going to do this rebuild better and smarter than the Oilers” and it would be hard to argue that it could be done any less well up to this point.
But the popular idea now that the Oilers need to be punished, and let’s
be perfectly honest this isn’t punishing the team so much as punishing
the fans, is superficial and facile.
It is kicking a team and a fan base when they are down and it looks more like spite and vindictiveness than anything resembling the best interests of the game.
So you can run on for a long time, getting by myriad ways, and it is the nature of sports fans to boast when their team is up. But sooner or later you’ll be brought down. So best be careful how you go when things are up, because how you carry yourself in the good times says as much about what kind of person you are as what you do when the days get dark.