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Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to season question 11: Where will the Oilers improve?

The Edmonton Oilers finished 8th overall in the NHL in 2016/2017 with 103 points.

They were 8th in goals for with 243 and 8th in goals against at 207. Their +36 goal differential was 6th best.

They were 8th in shots for, 2547, and 9th in shots against, 2416. Their +131 shot differential was 7th.

Their powerplay ranked 5th at 22.9% and their PK was 17th at 80.9%.

After a decade of Horrawful (Hi Shaq) hockey, last season was a welcome reprieve for fans and media alike. Discussing a terrible team year after year creates a lot of easy topics, but it was tiresome.

Where can the Oilers improve in 2017/2018 and become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender?

I looked at many other areas of their game. Their 5×5 play was solid. They were 8th in GF, 9th in GA, but they had the 6th best GF/GA (166-140) at +26. Washington (+65), Minnesota (39), Pittsburgh and Columbus (35) and Chicago (28) were the only teams with a better 5×5 GF/GA ratio.

I’m not the biggest believer in Corsi. I don’t think it should be completely discounted, however, I don’t see it being as important as some suggest.

The Oilers were 18th in 5×5 CF% at 49.6%. The four conference finalists ranked: Anaheim 17th, Pittsburgh 20th, Ottawa 22nd and Nashville was the best coming in 5th.

The Oilers Corsi ranking didn’t jive with where they finished in the standings, goals scored and shots on goal. Similar to Pittsburgh, however, Washington was near the top in everything including Corsi.

We can debate the merits of Corsi all we like, but for me it is not the first stat I go to when looking at overall team success.

Last season at this time it was easy to note the areas the Oilers needed to improve. Basically everywhere, except in the stands. The fans loyalty to buy tickets was always top-notch. I’d like the Oilers to recognize that through actions rather than just words more often, but I digress.

Taking the jump from the basement to respectability was much easier than the next few steps will be for the Oilers.

Becoming a top-five team, a division or conference winner and making it to the third and fourth rounds of the playoffs will be more difficult than climbing out of the cellar and into the playoffs.

Sadly, for many who put so much work and effort into their training and preparation, luck plays a massive role. Luck can come in the form of both good and bad luck through bounces, injuries, travel or penalties called or uncalled and often it is out of a team’s control. I’m pretty sure Oilersnation had some &*(^*^()* thoughts about the Ducks goal in game five of the Pacific Division final.

But, there is still much a team can control, and coming off a 103-point season the Oilers still have areas they can improve.

It will be much smaller increments of improvement from last season, based on their massive jump from 2016 to 2017.

May 3, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Anaheim Ducks celebrate an overtime winning goal by Anaheim Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg (33) against the Edmonton Oilers in game four of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

IMPROVED AREAS

  • Score first. The Oilers scored first in exactly half of their games. They ranked 15th in scoring the first goal 41 times. The Oilers were actually 9th in wins when scoring first, 31, and they had the third best W% when scoring first at .756. When they did score first they were very good going 31-7-3. Fifteen of the sixteen playoff teams ranked in the top-16 in wins when scoring first. Scoring first is a big factor in winning. Their ability to win games, despite not scoring first, helped them a lot last season. The Oilers had the 8th most wins when not scoring first, and the 10th best W% when surrendering the first goal. It is interesting to note that six of the top-14 teams in wins when surrendering the first goal didn’t make the playoffs.
  • Penalty kill. Their PK started out great. They were 88.4% through the first 24 games. They allowed eight PP goals in October and November, but once the calendar turned to December their PK struggled. In their final 58 games they allowed 35 powerplay goals on 154 penalties, 77.2%. The Oilers were one of the least penalized teams in the NHL. They had the 7th lowest PK time in the NHL at 380:25 minutes and they were tied with Vancouver, NYR and Columbus for the 5th fewest penalty kill situations. Their discipline wasn’t a problem. Todd McLellan spent the first 25 minutes of his special teams practice working on the PK, so it is an area he clearly wants to see improved.
  • **Sidenote. Something to watch for this season. The most penalties across the league occurred in the second period. Every team except for New Jersey, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Colorado, Tampa Bay and St. Louis had more penalties, and often by a large margin, in the middle frame than in any other period. The Oilers were shorthanded 70 times in the first period, 91 in the second and 60 in the third. Across the NHL teams were on the PK 2405 times in the first, 2769 in the second and 2111 in the third. Do teams naturally get more disciplined in the final frame or do referees call fewer penalties?
  • They were the worst faceoff team in the league, so obviously they’d like to improve in the dot. The overall faceoff stat can be misleading, and because Pittsburgh won the Cup despite being a bottom three team in faceoffs I’ve noticed some suggesting the stat has no value. I disagree it has no value, but it can be overrated at times. It definitely won’t guarantee you wins, and I’d like to see the stat evolve to who maintains possession after the faceoff, but winning important draws in your own end, especially when starting the PK, could help their PK%. They don’t have to be a top-five team, but being the worst in the NHL is not ideal year-after-year.
  • Most of their improvements will come from individuals which will ultimately help the team. Connor McDavid will shoot on the fly more. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins wants to be more assertive offensively and take some risks. Darnell Nurse becoming more consistent with his decision. Kris Russell will be assertive in the defensive zone. Milan Lucic will produce more at 5×5 and other players will work on their own games. I believe much of the Oilers improvement will occur internally, from their younger players, who happen to play significant minutes.

Where do you think the Oilers need to improve?

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Spydyr

    If they young players continue to progress and there are not many regressions. The team should be fine. My biggest concern this season is injuries. If McDavid , Talbot or there are a couple blueline injuries early there will be trouble.

  • Spydyr

    The teams two biggest needs are a trigger man for Connor and a true number one elite defenceman who has a cannon from the point and can quarterback the powerplay. Both will not be easy fixes.

        • Shameless Plugger

          So having a different opinion is drinking the kool-aid in your eyes? When did your opinion become law ?

          Mcdavid qb’s the pp Klefbom was only improving as the season wore on and he didn’t even start on the pp until halfway through the year. The pp finished 5th overall. Not sure that’s the area needing much change. The PK would be where I’d be looking for improvement. But hey I just drink kook-aid and ignore numbers. Cheers oh yeeeeahhhh!!!

        • Crazy Pedestrian

          I think it got trashed because from what people have seen last season, we already have a #1 pp d-man in klefbom. He may be a rhd, but the Oilers were something like #3 on the power play last season after putting letestu on the pp. and we all saw that rocket of a shot in game 5 against San Jose. Holy cow was that a cannon!!!
          I will agree that the trigger man for McDavid is up there though. Personally I think the biggest needs for next season is for Lucic to have a 5v5 rebound season, and Lady Luck to be on our side for injuries (allthough it’s not looking like a good start)

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      I feel like it’s getting trashed because Connor worked on his shot and can be his own trigger man.

      Klefbom has a cannon of a shot and is really coming into his own. Connor QB’s the PP already so we don’t really need a d-man to do it. Plus Pittsburgh just won the cup without Letang so they’ve shown it’s not a need.

      • Spydyr

        Connor can’t do it all he needs a shooter. Klefbom is getting better but he is nowhere knew elite. Sure Pittsburgh won this year the also have two of the best centres in the game but look back in history and a large percentage of Cup winning teams have that one stud defenceman. Pronger almost was the man here in 2006.

        • Dwayne Roloson 35

          If anyone can do it all, It’s Connor. But really, he was part of the most productive line in the NHL in terms of goals and points. Does he really need a trigger man when his line is outproducing every other line in the NHL? Crosby has Sheary and Guentzel and they aren’t exactly trigger men.

          Klefbom is still only 24 years old and 189 games into his career. 38 points had him tied for 32nd in points among d-men and his 12 goals had him tied for 13th in goals among d-men. He was also only on the PP for half the year. A full year will probably see his production go up quite a bit. I’d rather let him develop then to trade a bunch of assets for a #1 d-man who will also be making probably double what Klef is making.

        • JimmyV1965

          I think everyone would like a QB trigger man. The problem is the cost. The Oilers have one of the best PPs in the league. Getting a true number 1 dman is nice, but what do you give up to get one? And I would rather have a shut down guy than someone like Barrie or Vattanen.

    • OriginalPouzar

      I don’t think we need to acquire either of those.

      The “sniper” can likely be filled internally – near term options of JP and Yamamoto with longer term options of Safin and Maksimov. Even if there is no legit 1st line winger, lesser players on value contracts filling the wings is the direction of this team – they can not afford to go and acquire an actual proven sniper.

      I think a “cannon from the point” is highly over-rated on the PP and I also think that Klefbom’s shot is underrated and good enough. Its really tough to argue for any need on a PP that finished 5th overall last year and was the best in the league for the last third of the season – not to mention in conjunction with McDavid being somewhat average on the PP (which will not be the norm, I’m sure).

    • Jason Gregor

      You don’t need more of a “cannon” from the point than what Klefbom possesses. Look at best PPs in NHL, they aren’t focused on a huge point shot. Klefbom was fine on 1st unit PP last year, especially considering he hasn’t played much PP. He is also the 69th highest paid D-man in the league and has six years left on his deal. The Oilers PP was 22.9% last year. It wasn’t an issue and shouldn’t be for the foreseeable future.

  • Oilerchild77

    I think the biggest improvements will probably come on the backend as both Nurse and Benning (hopefully) noth take a step forward this year. Other than that, the most improvement might be coming at the AHL level, as it looks like they’ll have a better squad on the ice this year.

  • the reasonable person

    The interesting thing about this season is that so many players have so much to improve and there are story-lines to follow throughout the roster. Makes prediction pretty hard when we are relying on many guys being better this year than they’ve ever been before, but there everyone that is hoped to improve has a shot of doing so, so it’s an exciting dynamic too.

  • OriginalPouzar

    I think they will improve their numbers and goal ratio with McDavid off the ice this year. That is predicated on Leon being the 2C the majority of the time.

    Last year, they had 61% of the goals with McDavid on the ice but were under 50% without him on the ice. Part of the problem is that, with McDavid off the ice, Drai was also off the ice for a large portion of that time.

    With that said, Drai was also under 50% himself without McDavid but I’m going to “blame” some of that on his wingers (i.e. Lucic’s tough ES year, etc.).

  • FISTO Siltanen

    Fwiw the cheesy goal came in Game 5. Fans were indifferent anout the Ducks lone goal in Game 6.

    As well, I saw someone at the corn maze rocking a Ducks Kesler jersey.

  • Oiler Al

    When Dria is at center, there are “ZERO” snipers on the wing.McLellans wont allow his D-men to play up. so there is not much happening beyond #97 and 29. McLellans ideal game is having Russell block 10 shots and Letestu scoring on the PP.

  • madjam

    Oilers biggest improvement will hopefully come from a bigger winning record outside of Pacific division . Improving on Pacific division will be difficult , although not impossible with Vegas added into mix , and state of Coyotes and Canucks .

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    Improved PK. More help from the backup goalie to give Talbot some rest. More scoring help from RNH. Better PK. All areas I’m hoping they improve on.

  • Hockeyfan

    1 lucky year with a lucky welfare pick out of 7 welfare picks in seven years equates back to mediocre hockey when key injuries show the coil as the 1 man/child team they are. Will be lucky to sneak into post season, BAHHHHHHAAAAHHHHH!!!! WELFARE COILERS. #NORESPECT

  • JimmyV1965

    I’m worried about defence. If we lose Klef or Larsson, it could get ugly. I expect huge growth from Nurse this year, but I’m not sold on Benning. He was manhandled in the playoffs and I’m not sure how much stronger he will get.

  • ed from edmonton

    I hadn’t realized how poor the oil penalty kill was. Having seen that stat pk is the biggest area of improvement. I would also suggest having the worst face off guys in the league contributes to struggles on the pk. hopefully CMD and LD will be working on this. I’m not so concerned about a trigger man for CMD he will score 100+ points with curly and moe. Having said that they will need either Sleepy or JP to provide legitimate minutes on RW.

  • EastVanOilFan

    Ducks are Pacific Division public enemy #1 (if not the league) I’m guessing most PD teams “hate” play the ducks and they probably won’t have that fun of a season leaving no body in the oils way of PACIFIC DIVISION GLORY AND ON TO THE CUP

  • OilCan2

    Connor will improve. Leon will improve and go 2C in a big way. Nuge will improve his boxcars. There will be at least a few youngsters improving including LB posting a decent SV% in more starts.