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Photo Credit: Twitter.com/EdmontonOilers

Have the Edmonton Oilers improved?

The Oilers needed to upgrade their roster. So far they’ve added Mikko Koskinen, Tobias Rieder, Kyle Brodziak, and Kevin Gravel. There may be a couple more depth additions, but otherwise this is largely the roster for next season.

This is the first offseason Peter Chiarelli hasn’t added a giant free-agent contract. He added Andrej Sekera for $5.5 million per year for six years in 2015. Milan Lucic’s buyout-proof contract arrived in 2016. Russell’s four-year overpayment joined the payroll after Edmonton’s return to the playoffs in 2017.

Kyle Brodziak and Tobias Rieder are solid depth players signed to good contracts, especially when other third or fourth liners were getting crazy money and term. Brodziak can be easily buried, so two years isn’t a concern. Rieder is young enough that he could be a support player going forward. He’ll be 26 and a restricted free agent after next season.

These are smart bets, but also forced ones due to Chiarelli’s cap mismanagement. The Oilers have roughly $7 million in cap space, although sending Al Montoya to the minors adds another million. Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome will take up most of that. Strome had a $3 million qualifying offer and Nurse should be in that range on a bridge deal. Chiarelli didn’t have to room to do anything else.

Chiarelli is banking on his roster performing more like it did in 2016-17 than 2017-18, which comes with significant question marks.

Will Sekera return to form at age 32 after a serious injury?

Can Kris Russell or Matt Benning round out the top four on the right side?

Can Nurse succeed in a top-four role all season?

Can Lucic finally wake up from his five-on-five slumber in Edmonton?

How much will Edmonton’s shallow right wing hurt?

It’s hard to say this roster is that much different from last season. Brodziak and Rieder essentially replace Mark Letestu and Patrick Maroon, who were sent away at the trade deadline. Gravel might be a left-handed Gryba who skates better. Koskinen is an unknown, and a pricey one at $2.5 million considering what proven NHL options got in free agency.

There’s still a team here. McDavid will do his thing with just about anyone flanking him. Draisaitl should be able to fill the second-line center role, even with shoddy wingers. Strome and Brodziak will face lesser opposition with coaches focusing on shutting down McDavid and Draisaitl first. Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom, and Sekera have all been top-four defencemen when healthy. Nurse in a top-four role isn’t an unrealistic expectation. Benning, Russell, and Gravel can fill out the 4-6 spots. Cam Talbot had good-to-great numbers in every season before 2017-18.

Chiarelli is betting his roster doesn’t need much more than a few player bouncing back for a return to the playoffs. There’s just not much cover if things don’t go as planned.

He might be right, but he won’t be here if he’s wrong

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    No the team has not improved in my opinion, still not enough players that can put the puck in the net which was one of the Oil’s biggest problems last year. As much as I love my oil, there is no way this team will make the playoffs, not even close. Honestly I see a repeat of last year, problems filling the net with pucks, problems on offence and too many guys who Chia and Co are “hoping” can fill this role, or that role or have a bounce back year. Sorry to say but think we are going to see a major repeat of last year.

    A lot of team around the league have managed to improve their rosters ( and a few are way worse off then they were before ) With that said, I dont think the Oil have improved the roster at all, Chia has handcuffed the Oil with overpaying some players ( Benning is one of the people I believe that is over payed for example ) and when the over payments on contract and term are going to stifle the oilers in what moves they can make into the season. Last year it was stand fast the team will get better, and once again Chia’s inability to trade and know the market is going to cost the Oilers getting even close to a playoff slot, I dont see the Oil getting close to the amount of wins needed to even come close to a last spot in the playoffs.

    • braddos

      Oilers
      2016-17 GP W L OT P GF GA
      82 47 26 9 103 243 207
      Oilers
      2017-18 GP W L OT P GF GA
      82 36 40 6 78 229 262
      They scored 14 goals less and had 55 more goals against… I don’t understand where this popular idea came from that they scored way less last season?
      If they would have scored that same amount of 243 last year it would have only moved them ahead of 5 teams in the league rankings.
      In the 2016-17 season 22 teams had more goals scored against them. Last year there were only 4 teams that had more goals scored against them then the Oilers did.

    • OriginalPouzar

      The Oilers finished 11th in the NHL for goals scored at even strength.

      They were dead last on the PP.

      They did not have an issue scoring goals last year except for the PP and I don’t think anyone believe that McDavid and Drai will struggle so much on the PP yet again – in particular since the same team had the 5th best PP in the league the previous year and they just hired an innovative and exciting offensive coach in Manny Viverios.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      When drilling a little deeper, don’t you see the coaching staff being the point of difference? I, like you, think the Oilers are hand-cuffed money-wise. However, I still believe that the majority of their problems last season were injuries & a dysfunctional coaching staff. With the latter fixed & a healthy team (I believe Lucic’s problems also stemmed from injury), this team will go alot further than it did last year. I have to believe anyway, as I am an Oiler Fan…

  • NickL89

    How are some of you guys holding out hope for a 32 year old Sekera bouncing back from an injury while at the same time saying that a 30 year old Lucic is done? These two players were AWFUL last year, no argument there but the excuses for Sekera are ridiculous. His contract is holding this team back just as much as Milan’s is. (Ok fine, by less than $500k) Sekera isn’t a young man anymore and that contract is looking worse by the day. I’m expecting some trashes for mentioning Sekera but I don’t think anyone would argue that we could EASILY replace him for a 2-3M$ player.. For now let’s just hope that EB lights up training camp and earns a spot (Isn’t gifted one) in the lineup

    • Kneedroptalbot

      Lucic and Kassian are still here. 2 of the 4 line are playing handicapped with players that have difficulty taking or making a pass. Very difficult to have decent zone breakouts with these 2.

      • NickL89

        Kassian’s contract is peanuts though in comparison to some of the others. Apart from the decent start to last year we more or less got a $2M player. It’s alarming that he and Lucic were basically interchangeable but with a $4M price difference. If we had more signings in Kassians price range things would be very very different around here.

  • camdog

    If the back up is actually a 2.5 million dollar player, they’ve improved a lot. If he’s a 70,000 AHL goalie, then they haven’t improved. Regardless I hope they keep Montoya around and are forced to compete for the back up job.

    • LAKID

      Montoya and Talbot will be or should be shipped out unless Talbot will sign a 2 year 2M extension and continues on as the backup he is 20-25 games a year goalie.

  • CalOil

    Does this blogger not like the McDavid, Draisaitl contracts? These two contracts are the reason we don’t have extra cap room today. We are paying McDavid $4M more than the guy who finished second in the scoring race. Lots of teams have a $4M 2nd pairing dman or $1.5M for a 3LW.
    Is the blogger blaming PC for the fact that a our best dman had an ACL last year.

    • Arfguy

      I’m not even sure what to make of this comment, as it seems to both criticize and agree with the blogger. The Oilers paid Connor McDavid about $5 million dollars less than the guy who finished second in scoring.

      • VegasOilerFan

        I’m sure you would rather the Oilers save 1.5 million and have JT instead of McDavid. McDavid’s cap hit already looks better than it did when it was signed and will look even better every year that goes by.

      • Big Nuggets

        I’m way more optimistic than you guys. I think a lot of things went wrong last season, it doesn’t mean things will go right this season but there is a good chance of improvement. At the end of the day McDavid is still progressing and has potentially found his winger to help elevate him with Nuge. Add to that Draisaitl and Nurse are still getting better. If they show improvement this year we will be laughing. Just need the goaltending to hold up and potential bounce back seasons from Klef, Sek, maybe Luc. Not saying all of that will happen, but we aren’t in as bad a spot as the negative people seem to think.

  • OilerForLife

    I think they’ll be a lot better than last year, but will fall short of the year before that. Defence and goaltending will be better due to less health, injury, personal, and other issues. PP and PK should do better with new coaching perspective and some new players.

    Looking forward to the season Nurse and Strome, will be signed soon.

  • Serious Gord

    On balance the roster is little changed in terms of ability. Some assets have likely depreciated – lucic, Russell, sekera. While others have appreciated – McDavid, draisaitl, nurse et al. The assets acquired aren’t much different than what they replaced.

    Two factors – coaching and lnjury rate should be far better this season (they couldn’t be any worse.

    The oil SHOULD have a better year, but with so many variables to have much confidence.

    And I suspect Chia isn’t finished yet. The pressure to win now is just to strong to stand pat.

  • EVILTED

    Match up the Oilers against the Champion Caps and there is no question. Optics mean ZERO when roster is that disperate. Oilers with average goaltending and average special teams should be in a playoff mix (missing by 6-8 points) in my opinion. They are not good enough and will not be for a long time. Bummer.

  • If we are in buy mode at deadline time I would have to believe that Milan would be playing well. If he has any value do you deal him even if he is part ofthe reason why you are buying at deadline? This fan base has been very good at trading value?

    One thing I keep thinking about is how do the let the heart of the team walk out with no assets coming back. I have done no research on did he a no trade clause but if he doesn’t how does JT move for nothing?

  • Moneyball

    I’m going to say yes the Oilers are better and I like the deals made. A lot will depend on if the Oilers can get average goaltending from Talbot again, if the defence can stay healthy and if the special teams can turn it around. I have been wondering if the Oil could send puljujarvi to the minors for the year and then spend his bonus money and salary for a guy like maroon or a right winger. Does anyone know if you can bury bonus money as well as salary if the player goes to the minors?

  • drivefastfinishlast

    Nuge-Leon-Yamamoto
    Rieder-McD-Strome
    Lucic-Brodziak-Rattie
    JJ-Marody-Kassain
    Kelfbom-Larsson
    Nurse-Russell
    Sekera-Benning

    JP and Bouchard start in the AHL

  • The Perceptor

    RNH-McDavid-Rattie
    Rieder-Draisaitl-Yamamoto
    Lucic-Strome-Puljujarvi
    Khaira-Brodziak-Kassian

    This leaves Aberg/Caggiula as extras. There is a chance RHD Bouchard gets in some games at the start of the season, as well, which will really alter the look on the back end. If he can’t crack the lineup, expect Bear to. Our 4th line looks solid, we have youth and skill in the top 9 and some healthy competition. There is just enough new life and energy to give the guys a boost. If McDavid stays healthy, this team makes the playoffs and surprises people. He’ll carry this team on his back. He’s fired up and a little angry over how last season worked out. His Awards Show speech to the fans was no surprise to me. I believe Talbot will enter next season fired up to prove people wrong. Simply too many players with something to prove.

  • Johnny Utah

    Team has improved vs end of season for sure. I would say that there is only marginal improvement to the starting lineup, or even a decline, vs the start of last year. Maroon, Letestu, Jokinen/Camo more or less on par with Rieder, Brodziak, and Rattie. Backup goalie is TBD. Cap situation an absolute mess for a fringe playoff team with so many young players. That said, prospect pool has certainly improved, so the 2-3 year outlook has certainly gotten better. Still think this team squeaks into the playoffs.

    • Big Nuggets

      I think Brodziak is a huge upgrade on Letestu. I like Letest but he was not great at being a 4th line center. He did a great job 2 seasons ago on the PP which made his defensive shortcomings forgiveable. But we can put other skilled players on the PP and Brodziak will offer a new element as a shut down 4th line center. It will help with matchups to have a 4th line that can handle heavy defensive zone starts without getting blown out of the water.

      Rieder may not outscore Maroon but it will be nice to have another winger with speed to offset the bulky lineup we had last season. I think the biggest improvement next year will come from the star players on the team not accepting losing.

      • Johnny Utah

        Yup, I’d agree with your last point. That, plus hopefully a healthy Sekera and more guys being pushed by the fringe players (prospects, backup).

        The other moves still seem marginal to me. We’re not talking about any game breakers here.

  • TKB2677

    From my perspective, if you as a fan were looking for the Oilers to dramatically change their roster in an effort “get better” then you would be disappointed.

    From my perspective, I think the team will be a lot better and a lot of it will be from the guys they already had. If you look at the team last year, more than 3/4 of it had a down year. Even if most of them just have mediocre seasons, the team will be better.

    What are the chances that Lucic goes almost half the season scoring 1 goal. I would say ZERO. There is a pretty good chance he bounces back.

    What are the chances Talbot who’s a decent starter, especially in a contract year plays like an AHLer for over half the season? I’d say zero. When you are below .900 in the NHL, you are an AHLer.

    What are the chances Klefbom given he is completely healthy is as bad as he was? Zero.

    Larsson had a tough year. Got off to a slow start, got injured then a family tragedy. No way all that happens again and by seasons end, he was really good and was excellent at the worlds.

    Sekera is an unknown but when he came back, he clearly wasn’t right plus if you miss that much time both in training, practice, camp and games, you will be WAY behind everyone in the league and its impossible to catch up. Last year, he couldn’t play. What are the chances he comes back this season unable to be an NHLer? I’d say zero.

    Benning looked like a borderline NHLer last year. Chances are he will at least establish himself as a decent 3rd pairing.

    Nurse has a good start, then tailed off. Good chance he at least plays more consistent.

    If all that happens which if you read it, is pretty realistic, the team will be a lot better. I didn’t get into the forwards but very few had good years. The PK lost them many games. No chance they will be that bad. Plus the additions of Brodziak and Rieder who are gook PK guys will help. The PP was brutal. Not a chance their PP will be that bad again.

  • Nanook

    to me its not about weather they got better, its weather they can possibly all be as bad as they were last year. I like the coach but was left scratching my head at some of the decisions. A lot will ride on Talbot and the special teams finding traction early, were it not for the PK and PP we very well may have been im the playoffs. Time will tell, some youngsters need to make that step up, and some vets need to put last year past them and step back to the forefront. I don’t mind the moves but it looks more like a lateral to me than an upgrade. It all depends on the existing players to get the ship upright again

  • Hockey_Fan

    I remember watching a Leafs/Oilers game a few seasons ago and there was a serious discussion about who had the brighter future. My how things have changed.

  • Bond

    Quick history lesson, 3 years ago atrocious loss of man games due to injury’s resulting in very poor year end standings. 2 years ago relatively injury free for the core players and resulting in a good season and playoffs. Last year key injury’s to key players throughout the season from start to finish beginning and ending with Sekera, our defacto #1 defenceman resulting in very disappointing season. The coach has exacerbated the problems by over usage of Lucic and Lettestu on special teams and failing to develop and utilise our crop of young talented players.