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The Ten Biggest Questions

Earlier last week, I took to social media and asked you, Oilersnation, what your biggest question/concern was regarding the Oilers upcoming season?

The responses came flying in and after finding all the serious answers, I tallied them up and ranked them.

These are the top ten questions regarding the Oilers as voted by you, the fans.

10 – WHAT IS THE JERSEY SITUATION?

I couldn’t decide if I should include this in the actual ten questions, but after sorting through all of your answers, it was clear there is a large group of you very passionate about the teams’ jerseys.

I like the orange jerseys more than a lot of other fans, but I also miss seeing the team in their blues.

Both Tom Gazzola and Chris Creamer mentioned the possibility of a blue jersey returning, and the fact that the team has an open slot in the Adidas catalogue leads me to believe that it will happen. At this point, it’s just a matter of them unveiling the new threads.

9 – HOW WILL THE TEAM RESPOND TO A TOUGH SCHEDULE?

The first month of the schedule is not very kind to the Oilers. They begin their European tour with an exhibition game on October 3rd and finish it off with their regular season opener on October 6th.

Their return to North America is hardly a homecoming with their first three games back all being on the road. They finally return to home ice on October 18th.

There’s a lot of travel and out of their first 11 games, nine of them are against teams that made the playoffs last year. A bad start could sink this team, just like it did last year, and could result in jobs being lost. The first month of the season is a legitimate concern.

8 – WHAT KIND OF IMPACT WILL THE NEW COACHING STAFF HAVE?

Ian Herbers, Jim Johnson, and Jay Woodcroft are out as Assistant Coaches this season and have been replaced with Glen Gulutzan, Manny Viveiros, and Trent Yawney. All three come with very solid reputations.

I would say that the new voices in the room will have a positive impact on both the players and Todd McLellan. It would be hard for the special teams to be any worse next season, same goes for the defence and that’s what these new coaches were really brought in to help.

7 – CAN THE TEAM STAY HEALTHY?

Dec 23, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Andrej Sekera (2) skates against the Montreal Canadiens at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the answer to this is already no as the team has lost Andrej Sekera for what I suspect will be the entire season.

In 2016/17, the only significant injuries that the team sustained were to Tyler Pitlick (47 games), Drake Caggiula (18 games), and Darnell Nurse (35 games).

In 2017/18, the list was much longer and includes Andrej Sekera (34 games), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (14 games), Oscar Klefbom (16 games), and Cam Talbot (8 games). On top of that, you have to consider the fact that Oscar Klefbom played multiple games with a banged up shoulder and the team dealt with a nasty flu virus for a good chunk of the season.

Health was a big reason why the team failed in 2017/18 and if they want to succeed in 2018/19, they’ll have to keep their best players on the ice.

6 – HOW MANY PLAYERS WILL SCORE 20 GOALS?

This is a great question and relates to the teams’ overall depth (which I’ll get into right away). Ill start by saying that I believe there are three players who are locks to score 20 goals and they are Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

After that, I would say there’s a middle layer of players that could realistically pot 20 this year. I have Tobias Rieder, Ryan Strome, Milan Lucic, and Jesse Puljujarvi.

Then you could look at guys like Ty Rattie, Kailer Yamamoto, and Drake Caggiula who could very well hit the 20 goal plateau, but will need the right opportunities and probably a little luck to do it.

There are ten players who COULD do it in my opinion and if five of them can find a way to do it, then there should be no concerns about the teams forward depth.

5 – WILL THE SPECIAL TEAMS FIND THEIR GROOVE?

The Oilers powerplay dropped from 22.9% in 2016/17 to 14.8% this past season. It was absolutely awful. There a multiple reasons for this drop. They never had a reliable, healthy powerplay quarterback. That should change this year with the return of Oscar Klefbom. They also shot just 9.14%, that number should be better this year.

Their penalty kill cost them multiple games this season. In their first 41 games, their PK was dead last in the league at 70.5% and was historically awful on home ice. The reason I think it will get better is because, in the last half of the season, it was third best in the NHL.

They appeared to have figured it out and with a better supporting cast (Kyle Brodziak, Tobias Rieder, and Scott Upshall) and a brand new coaching staff, I can’t see the penalty kill costing them that many games this season.

4 – WHO’S GOING TO PLAY WITH CONNOR McDAVID?

Mar 27, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) celebrates a first period goal assisted by forward Connor McDavid (97), his 100th point of the season at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

I think it’s safe to assume Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will get a nice long look on McDavid’s left side. It’s the right side that isn’t set in stone. I would say there are two realistic candidates for the spot.

The first is Ty Rattie. He got a nine game run with McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins at the end of the last season and looked really good in that spot. Still, he’s never played more than 14 games in an NHL season. There’s no guarantee he sticks in the top six this year.

The other option is Kailer Yamamoto. He played with McDavid at the start of last season before being sent back to junior. He’s now had another full year of development in the WHL and a full summer of training so I wouldn’t be shocked in Yamamoto takes a massive step forward this year.

3 – ARE THE REST OF THE WINGERS GOOD ENOUGH?

I kind of answered this during question six, but it’s a major concern. Let me start with the top six, where I see some potential but really only one sure thing, and that’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The way I see it, the team needs three players to take major steps forward and establish themselves in the top six. They are Milan Lucic, Jujhar Khaira, Jesse Puljujarvi, Tobias Rieder, Kailer Yamamoto, and Ty Rattie.

The bottom six has the opposite problem, it’s overflowing with options. Add on the fact that three of the names I just mentioned will most likely find spots, there will be Zack Kassian, Scottie Upshall, Pontus Aberg, Brad Malone, Cooper Marody, and Drake Caggiula fighting for whatever spots remain.

A barren top six, and a crammed bottom six is how I see it. There’s a chance that we get some breakout performances like we did in 16/17 and the group the Oilers have is actually competent, but it’s far from a sure thing.

2 – WILL THE DEFENCE BOUNCEBACK?

Darnell Nurse was the lone bright spot on last years blueline. Kris Russell and Adam Larsson held their own but there’s still room for them to improve. Matt Benning sputtered in his second pro season while Oscar Klefbom never looked comfortable.

With Andrej Sekera on the shelf for what I suspect will be the entire season, the team will need a healthy Klefbom and a big step forward from Benning just to survive.

I’m not going to say this group is good enough, and I believe they need to add a player via trade before the start of the season, but in 2016/17 we saw what can happen when a bunch of players have career years. That’s what the Oilers will need from their defence this year.

1 – WHAT WILL THEY GET FROM THE GOALIES?

Mar 29, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot (33) awaits the start of play against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not going to dissect Cam Talbot’s struggles, because that’s been done enough. For the Oilers to make the playoffs, I believe they need Talbot to have his GAA in the 2.50 range and his save percentage somewhere around 0.915. If he does that, I believe the Oilers will be a playoff team this season.

They also need to do a better job of keeping Talbot fresh, which brings me to Mikko Koskinen.

I’ve never seen Koskinen play so I don’t know what to expect and when it comes to goalies, it’s very tough to translate KHL numbers to NHL numbers. For Mikko Koskinen to be worth his $2.5 million price tag, I’d like to see him get between 20-25 starts and win between 12-15 games

I don’t care what his individual stats are at the end of the year, as long as he can help them get somewhere between 12-15 wins, I’ll be thrilled. The team doesn’t need him to be their next starting goalie, they just need an adequate backup who won’t lose them games.

Those are the best case scenarios, and as we saw last year, anything less than that could sink this team.

    • Dan 1919

      Realistic chance w/current roster: Slim-to-none
      Offseason Oiler fan optimism: Well if Klefbom, Larsson & Nurse play solid, plus McDavid, Drai, Nuge up front… this team can make it if they play well.

  • Consultant

    The first month of the schedule is super rough. In my mind they just need to play .500 hockey in October, get used to the new coaches and systems and they’ll be on route to the playoffs. But .500 in October is going to be tough.

  • the reasonable person

    So in year 4 of Connor it’s “if a whole bunch of things go right” we might make the playoffs. Those “things” include 4 legit nhl defenceman and Benning, an up and comer who can be adequate on the bottom pairing, holding down the blue line for the entire year, several forwards scoring at levels they never have before or are arguably unlikely to again, both special teams units markedly improving, and both goaltenders playing well with a less than ideal defense core in front of them (including one who’s never played an NHL game).

    Sorry to be bleak but I’m not that excited for this year. It’s better than all the pre-Connor years where people would get hilariously stoked about the possibility of the season going well in the summer, only to be realistically out of playoffs by November most years.

    It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that all the “things” could go right so theres that. But I’d still argue that this roster has zero chance of contending this season.

    And it’s nice that the future looks reasonably promising now, but on the other hand there have been several post-Connor boneheaded decisions made too that the fans have to live with.

    • Daryl Katz

      I’m not that excited about this coming season either! I just don’t see enough improvement to think we are going to have anything other than another mediocre season.

      • the reasonable person

        To not be a complete jerk… Connor could have his best season ever picking up where he left off last year (when he started shooting and scoring at a torrent pace!) But the truth is the blue line as it currently is was just good enough with Reggie and not NHL calibre without him. And this is not Chia’s fault. But couple that injury with basically having only 3 forwards who unquestionably belong in an NHL top 6 and no one should be getting this will be even a playoff season. Hoping, sure.

        • the reasonable person

          I meant to write “betting” instead of “getting” and I assume that was auto-corrected.

          And I should have also mentioned that Talbot will probably not let in 11 or 13 or whatever first-shots, which should help some.

          I still don’t see playoffs as a prudent bet just a somewhat realistic hope.

  • Abagofpucks

    After last year it’s easy to be down on the Oilers. But if you put away the bad feelings from last year, and focus on all the players that had injuries or just didnt have it for whatever reason, its easier to see this team being better.
    All im saying is these players have some pride and that got trashed last year, im sure they will be making a big push to prove the critics wrong.

      • QuitForRealThisTime

        I partially disagree…A) The players were on the ice not management, was Talbot’s play Chia’s fault, no, was not having a quality backup Chia’s fault probably. Tough to say. LB looked close to me, but cleary was not ready B) Same goes for the special teams, can’t blame the PP or PK on Chia, TMac maybe (and it looks like the did blame the coaching staff), players still need to execute. C)Injuries are tough and I don’t believe it is as easy to replace a quality NHL player at the drop of a hat that many in the comments seem to thing. Remember, only fans get the luxury of make decisions in hindsight. I look at this years roster and there a question marks for sure, but it looks to me at least, that this roster is deeper and more experienced that almost any since 2007. The core of youth, still near the youngest in the league is getting more experience and the vets are a good mix, in my opinion. So I for one am choosing to believe that this team is going to have a good year and am excited about the upcoming season. I say we as fans throw some positive mojo their way and cheer for the team because the relentless complaining is just pointless. Unless the only way you can feel better about your life is to bash others then by all means carry on, we all deserve the right to be happy.

        p.s if this “hot mess” of a management team gets the team back to the playoffs you will all credit Chia for his patience and belief in the players he has brought it right? I kid, the Oil could win every game and every playoff game and the Serious Gords of E-town will complain about Russell’s corsi

  • OriginalPouzar

    9. I kinda like the tough schedule to start – if they can tread water through October they will set themselves up very well as their schedule in the back half is one of the easiest in the league. Being on the road early and bonding, from accounts, could be a good thing. Also, some of those teams could have the “playoff hangover”. Anecdotally, I often see higher end teams get off to slow starts before they get going.

    8. Won’t go in to detail but the new hires may be the biggest acquisition of the off-season – very excited for Yawney to work with our young defence and also to see Viverios work his PP magic (movement and innovation are his trademarks on the PP).

    • FISTO Siltanen

      What I loved about the 2017 team that made them so fun was they were resilient. They could lose three in a row and you knew by season’s end they weren’t going to fall into a ridiculous 12 game losing streak. They had bad games. They had a couple of bad stretches but they always bounced back.

      That resiliency needs to come back. Havr crappy games, sure. But get back to it.

      And I agree, I think the coaching will be huge change for this club. Say what you want about this team’s failings last year but I never saw a 23rd place team there. Honestly, I still don’t.

  • A crappy PK last year certainly had an effect on Talbot’s save percentage and confidence. As the PK improved, he seemed to improve.

    Gulutzan says the team will play with more pace and quickness. This should translate into more goals and play in the offensive end.

  • Abagofpucks

    3 new coaches new players a year of soul searching in the books im up beat for this year.

    There’s players that need to take another step, can they who knows but im pulling for them and who might crack the line up.

    Goaltending, ya cam has to be better around 9.16 would be nice and it’s very possible, he’s not the crappy back up some ppl say he is.

    Defense now that Sekera is done for the year and could be his death as an nhler has the biggest question mark it worries me.

    But we have the one of the top 2 players in the league and that will help a lot, and i would’nt bet against him he’s that good. I like or chances plus the hockey news has us as a dog this year so we know how they can pick em lol.

    The hockey news has the flames being the top team in the division lol oh oh.

    • ubermiguel

      He’s something else to see live, even faster than he looks on TV if that’s possible. And he’s smart without the puck too so I usually end up just watching him his entire shift. He brings me more joy and excitement than any hockey player since Gretzky.

  • Violentgent13

    I’m not worried about this year, I think it will be more fun then last year haha
    I’m so excited that Nuge will be playing with McD I’m taking him in the 2nd round of my fantasy pool this year!
    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  • Vanhellian

    Defense is a big question mark, but i believe they needed a year of adversity to bring them down to earth. Young players can’t juat be gifted big minutes and contracts they need to bring their lunchpails and get to work every day. I thought they looked complacent a lot of last year, and really what do you expect for young guns who are treated like royalty in a small hockey-mad market? They had to learn that it doesn’t come easy or cheap. Also they looked poorly coached much of the time, players out of position and not able to execute routine plays. Coaching staff is my biggest reason for optimism this season.

  • Billy Charlebois

    Something that doesn’t get mentioned often is how the Oilers really missed Hendricks last season. Although his game has tailed off, he has huge value off ice. He seems to have brought that to the Jets last season. Now he gets a contract in Minnesota.

    I will be interested to see if that intangible, which was missing last season can be brought back to the team with the signing of Brodziak and maybe Upshall. For sure it can’t hurt.