With the boys back in town (THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN!) and training camp just around the corner, there are still a few questions rolling around in my brain box in regards to what’s happening with the Oilers and how things are going to shake out by the time the puck drops on October 6th.
At this point in the offseason, I will fully admit that I’m in total Kool-Aid mode. It’s that time of the summer when optimism is flowing, the excitement is building, and a fresh season is almost set to be taken out of its packaging. For hockey fans, this is the time of the year where possibilities seem endless and that’s a refreshing change from where we ended the year. Personally, as a lifelong Oilers fans, this is always one of my favourite times of year because we haven’t had our dreams crushed by a three-game losing streak or whatever stupid point in time that we’ll surely argue about in the coming months. Even so, there are still a few questions that come to mind with this year’s team, and it’ll be interesting to see how things play out in the coming days, weeks, and months.
1) When you gonna sign, Darryl?
One of the most obviously pressing bits of housekeeping that still needs to get done before the season starts is a new contract for Darnell Nurse. As we heard on Wednesday, Nurse won’t report to training camp, though he is already in Edmonton, until a new contract is signed and that’s not overly surprising given that the guy wouldn’t jeopardize his health without his name appearing on the dotted line. With that in mind, Nurse has already said he’s optimistic that a deal will get done before the season starts, but we’re getting into crunch time here and I’d like to see this get cleared up ASAP so that he doesn’t miss any time.
While all indications (read: guesses) point to a two-year bridge deal or something in that general neighbourhood, nothing is locked in yet and training camp is only a few days away so it is a reason for concern, albeit minor concern. Adding even more pressure to the situation is the fact that Andrej Sekera is out indefinitely, so starting the year without Nurse locked in just can’t happen. What will be interesting is seeing who blinks first. Do the Oilers give Nurse more dollars or less term than they had hoped just to get things done before main camp starts? Does Nurse have to bring his price down? While those questions will surely get answers in the coming days, the Sekera wrinkle gives Nurse’s camp a little bit more leverage than they otherwise would have had and it will be interesting to see how the Oilers handle it.
2) How will the new coaches make their mark?
Back in August, Glen Gulutzan talked about the Oilers changing up their style of play a little bit for the upcoming season, and I can’t wait to find out exactly what that means. In that interview, Gulutzan specifically mentioned that what happens at 5-on-5 will be getting an upgrade and I’m super excited to figure out what aspects of their game plan will get the tweaks. Gulutzan says he wants to “speed up our pace of play” by changing up the “transition, forecheck, and the way we defend” and I’m looking forward to seeing what gets implemented and how that works out. Personally, and obviously I’m just guessing here, I think that one of the bigger things they’ll look to do is getting guys to better support each other, specifically in the defensive zone. Short passes instead of the cross-ice guesses, ya know?
I don’t know how many times I yelled at my TV last season because of a cross-ice pass to nobody, but nothing will slow your progress down quite like an interception down Broadway. As for the special teams, your guess is as good as mine as to what changes because both PK and PP were absolute disasters at times, and I’m thinking any new game plan will likely be an upgrade for each. Overhaul or not, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the new coaching staff puts their stamp on this team and how a fresh perspective can help turn things around. With Viveiros being a power play guy and Trent Yawney taking over the PK, the specials teams could see some big changes this season, and on the bright side, there’s plenty of opportunity there for improvement.
3) Bear or Bouchard?
With Andrej Sekera on the shelf for the foreseeable future with a torn Achilles, I can’t help but feel like the plan is to have a rookie taking some of those at-bats whether they’re ready or not. Sure, the team brought in Jakub Jerabek on a one-year deal, Jason Garrison on a PTO and has Kevin Gravel looking for a chance to show what he can do, but I don’t necessarily see any of those guys being the top-four solutions that this team needs right now, though I’d love to be wrong. But don’t get it twisted, I’m not saying that Ethan Bear or Evan Bouchard would necessarily be better options to fill that slot, but I can’t help but feel like the team is going to roll the dice with one of those two guys anyway. Last year, Matt Benning was the guy that was thrown into the deep end before he was ready, and I think we’re going to see version 2.0 of this same plan in 2018-19.
Obviously, Bear got his first taste of NHL action at the end of last season, and while it was great to see him up and scoring his first NHL goal, he had some mixed results which isn’t at all uncommon for a young player. If the plan is to have Bear starting the season with the Oilers, then we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that he’s going to struggle at times and make some costly mistakes — that’s part of the package for a rookie defenceman. Evan Bouchard hasn’t played a lick of professional hockey yet and we don’t know if he’s ready yet (or not ready for that matter), but that doesn’t mean that he won’t start the season with the Oilers if Bear doesn’t clearly outplay him at training camp. Seeing as both of those guys are offensive-minded, right-handed defenders and the Oilers don’t have anyone with similar skillsets ahead of them on the depth chart, it almost seems like a safe bet to assume that one of the two will make the opening night roster whether that’s right or wrong.
So what do you guys think? Do you have answers for my questions? Are you as confused as I am? What are questions still left unanswered in your minds? Let me know in the comments section.