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Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

The Checklist

“One of the things we learned is you can’t believe your own hype.” Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers grabbed my attention today with that snippet – part of his take about what was a monumentally miserable and disappointing season for him and the Oilers in 2017-18. No, you can’t do that, among other things.

“One of the things we learned is you can’t believe your own hype,” Nurse said in an interview with TSN. “I think we kind of went in with, ah . . . we didn’t have that hunger that we had the year before that made us so successful. It’ll be good to have that back in the room. I know guys will all be ready to go.” The entire interview, including clips with Connor McDavid, is here.

The clip was filed under the headline “Oilers eager for redemption after rough season: last year was a kick in the head.” I’m thinking most fans of the Oilers felt that kick a little bit lower than that, but it’s based on a quote, so fine. As for redemption, well, would you expect talk of anything else after a season in which the Oilers fell out of the playoff picture after teasing the faithful with 103 points and going two rounds deep the year before? No.

As for what Nurse said, learning you can’t read too much into your own press clippings, there’s some substance to that, even though I find it a bit of a pat answer. It’s true, after all, that a lot of people, not all of them outwardly dim, picked the Oilers to waltz into the playoffs again last season. Some seasoned pundits even picked Edmonton to not only play for the Stanley Cup, but win it. So, there was that.

MORE THAN THAT

Mar 17, 2018; Sunrise, FL, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his goal against the Florida Panthers with defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) in the third period at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

So, yes, there was more than enough hoopla surrounding what was supposed to be an emerging Oilers team. I got sucked in by some of what I saw in 2016-17 and so did many of you. I can see how some players might have bought into that as well. How, exactly that impacted their collective performance, and to what degree, I don’t know. What I do know is there was more to the failure that unfolded than that. Yes, one of the things we learned is you can’t believe the hype, but there’s a whole bunch of things teams can’t do. The Oilers did them anyway.

  • Teams can’t go into a season obviously lacking depth and hoping that unproven players will perform at optimal levels. The Oilers did that, especially with their forwards on the right side. How did that work? Has GM Peter Chiarelli done enough to address that this off-season or are we hoping for the best again?
  • Teams can’t have a high-ticket player pegged for an important top-six role like Milan Lucic score just one goal in the final 46 games of the season, but it happened. While I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe Lucic will bounce back, how good does the left side look beyond Ryan Nugent-Hopkins if he isn’t substantially better?
  • Teams need proven depth on defence and not having enough almost always bites you at some point in the season. We saw that when Oscar Klefbom was banged up, Adam Larsson had to deal with the passing of his father and Andrej Sekera was less than he’d been after returning from knee surgery. Now, Sekera is out again. Are the Oilers counting on Ethan Bear or Evan Bouchard to make the team?
  • Teams can’t have special teams as abysmal as the Oilers were for most of the season, they can’t allow 14 first-shot goals and they can’t have their starting goaltender struggle mightily for 60 games with no viable option as a back-up, but we saw all of that, too. By the time Cam Talbot regained his form, the season was lost. There’s no proven back-up this season.

THE THINGS WE LEARNED

If the Oilers started last season feeling pretty good about themselves after going two rounds deep and were lacking the edge and hunger that it takes to fashion an encore, it won’t hurt a bit if being humbled rekindles the fire in the belly all of the best teams have. So, sure, what Nurse said matters. That checks one box, and it’s a significant one.

I wonder, though, about the rest. If the Oilers come out with the chip on their shoulders players often talk about, that’s good, but will it be enough to provide answers for the questions that still remain? Will re-finding that edge, playing with something to prove, make up for a shortage of established right wingers or having to toss young defencemen into the deep end if they aren’t ready? I think we know the answer to that.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • bazmagoo

    Fistly, with the Sekera injury there is now $5.5 million freed up on the cap, which Chiarelli could use to bolster the roster depth. Sadly, he’s going to make the same mistake as last year. However, I do think the Oilers will make the playoffs.

    • OriginalPouzar

      This isn’t really true. They don’t gain any cap space but, if they are at the upper cap limit, which they will be, via a very complicated formula, they get a cushion to go over the cap.

      The problem is, once Sekera is activated, that cushion goes away – given cap space accumulates daily, they may have built up some room but its not as simple as having extra cap.

      Further, even if Sekera doesn’t come back this year, he will be back for next year, so tread lightly with acquiring any player with term that we wouldn’t have without the Sekera issue. Also, even if Sekera is on LTIR for the next 3 years (like Ference), the team still needs to be cap compliant, including Sekera’s $5.5M, on the day the season opens.

      • bazmagoo

        Sekera will be out until February by most accounts, which will free up around $3 million conservatively.

        Easy enough to get 2 – 3 players with nhl experience with that cushion.

        But he won’t, because he won’t learn from his mistake last year.

  • Abagofpucks

    The Oilers have a lot of players coming in this year with a lot to prove im my mind .

    This makes for an interesting year coming with all the trashed egos and new players and coaches.

    Somehow i just cant see them missing the playoffs this year, I think were going to be surprised.

  • Carbonrod

    I see us as an 85-90 pt team this year.

    Losing Sekera hurts us, and I can’t see anybody available that can fill in for him, without us paying a big price. We are weak on the wings, unless we have Pul and/or Yamamoto breakout AND Lucic returning to his 50 pt/year form, and we have to count on a bounce back year from Talbot. They are all possible but it is unlikely all that can go right, will.

    • jesse says yep

      Sekera was a big question mark this year anyway. Hopefully Benning can step up this year and jerebek can fill in ably in the bottom 6. Bear, Jones, Mantha and a couple others should be able to fill in during call ups in a sheltered role and gain valuable experience.

  • People are talking about getting Torey Krug from Boston for Nuge. Boston has tons of good defencemen, Krug is making 5.5 a year for two more seasons, and he’s 27. Had 59 points last season and was even +/-. Chiarelli signed him out of Michigan State, undrafted. Yay or nay? Better than unloading the future to get Karlsson? Or just sew up Nurse with a bridge contract and limp along with five regular NHL d-men?

  • BobbyCanuck

    What I find the most befuddling is that we are a 25th place team experiencing cap hell, Reg is injured which will free up some funds, but the way the Oilers play, it is hard to imagine that the entire payroll is more than $40 million

  • What-a-Mike

    If I read somewhere correctly that the Oilers were 17 points from the playoff cutline then that puts the Oilers only 9 wins behind last year… and 9 wins is definitely not insurmountable to overcome this season. But again, like everyone is saying (Oilers & Fans), there has to be a lot going the Oilers way from goaltending, defence to forwards this year. Even with Sekera out and then bad coming back during the season last year, the bad attitude, laziness, lack of confidence, and injuries/health issues costed the Oilers at least just 9 games from contention. While everyone or most will complain about the Oilers not having enough more higher ended forwards or defencemenor a proven back up goalie this year, the depth is better than last year IMO, when there are players added of better forward based defence skills like Reider, Brodziak and possibly PTO man Scottie Upshall vs Cagguila, Aberg, Malone, etc.,), with a KHL top goalie coming in (Koskinen) vs a Montoya (ok), Nilsson (ok to bad), Brossoitt (bad) and even past ones such as Jinas Gustavsson. I am liking the Oilers type lunch-pail work gang look right now. I think the Oilers will rebound and stay in the mix this year for a 6-8 playoff position in the Western Conference. Losing Sekera sucks but the Oilers are healthy wih Nurse, Larsson, Klebom, and Benning. I will finally add that I believe that Gravel & Jerabek will provide at least decent defence this year.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    This season will be no different than last. The oilers will rely heavily on Talbot if TM doesnt like the backup’s play and we saw plenty of that already. There is a lot of “hope” once again that players will step up in their play, and last season that “hope” didnt work out so well. New assistants, a new back up and still lots of holes in the lineup and “hope” once again being relied on. I would love the Oil to make the playoffs but too many holes and too much reliance on hope is going to really put the Oil in a precarious situation.

    • Big Nuggets

      It’s less about the roster than it is about how the roster plays. This season will be different because these players are motivated and the coaching should be much better. More experience for some of the young players should help, as well as a solid veteran in Brodziak and maybe Upshall will also help. I admit the defense is pretty thin, but even so I expect this tean to perform much better than last year.

  • Freddie the fog

    If they play marginally better at 5×5, and get the PP, PK into the top third of the league, they should be right there competing for a playoff spot.

  • CMG30

    Atrocious asset management, pointless buyouts, overly generous contracts, unwillingness to create depth in favor of rushing unproven rookies, dithering when the season was on fire, and now a 25th place team in a cap crunch? I would like to know what metric Katz uses to evaluate his employees.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    If this is the defense core we go into this season with, I fear it has already been lost.
    Adding 2 #6-7 guys (JJ and Gravel) isn’t enough to off-set the loss of Rej. Heck, I think with Rej in the lineup, the team’s defense was suspect.
    Klefbom looked horrible last year. Injuries aside, his confidence was in the toilet. Larsson is an honest and solid defensive Dman. But the Oilers blueline has no bona fida offensive player that can outlet the puck effectively or shoot the puck from the point on the PP.

    If Chiarelli is relying on Bear/Bouchard to fill those voids, we are destined for the lottery.

  • Nellzo

    Let’s all be realistic. A lot went wrong last year. Injuries, poor play, bad luck, etc all played into it. What nobody has pointed out is they lost a hell of a penalty killing forward in Pouliot. One of the most respected players in the room, Hendo, was not resigned and even though he was injured partway through the season Pitlick was played well for them. They also had most of the top 4 D healthy (Klefbom) for the entire season. On top of that Eberle chipped in with 20 goals and 51 points. Combine those factors with over confidence, (mentioned by more than one member of the team), and you’ve got a perfect storm. Let’s hope things fall the other way this year.

      • Nellzo

        My point being that a team is the sum of it’s parts. They keep losing parts and not having adequate replacements. The further down that road they go the more likely it is we will see regression. The X factor will be the young players coming up. Can JP pot 20 goals and help the PK? Can Kass become a blood guts leader in the locker room? Will the goaltending improve over last season? Can the bulk of the D stay healthy and return to, (and maybe improve), their previous form from 16/17. I’m interested to see how things play out this season.

  • MrBung

    The bottom line is that when you take an objective look at this roster and compare to most of the teams that made the playoffs last season, it is not good enough to make the playoffs. This is not a very good team aside from McDavid.