Another NHL season begins today, as the 29 teams still in North America (Calgary and Boston are in China, still waiting for their equipment to clear customs) welcome their players to camp by putting them through rigorous testing. Welcome back, boys. Today we will discuss specific events I am confident (kind of ) will occur, or not occur, this season.
The teams will be on the ice tomorrow and preseason games begin this weekend. The Oilers open up their preseason schedule in Calgary on Monday, Vancouver Tuesday, and are home to the Winnipeg Jets next Thursday. The Oilers will have 62 players at training camp, but right now Darnell Nurse is not one of them. More on that later.
The players are excited. They want nothing more than to erase the stench of last season, which was arguably the most disappointing season in franchise history.
Let’s start with my “Locks” for this season. These are things I am 100% confident will take place.
LOCK IT DOWN
Some of these were very easy to predict. I apologize in advance to Oilersnation for bringing up some stats you likely want to forget.
— The Oilers will be better than last season. They had 78 points and were an ugly -36 in GF/GA. The current betting line on the Oilers is 91.5. I’d take the over. That doesn’t guarantee playoffs of course, but last year many things went horribly bad for them. Their special teams were uglier than my grade ten picture (which is saying a lot, because I think I would have been in the running for ugliest high schooler in Canada that year; thankfully, it was only a one year dip for me, but I digress). Many of the reasons the Oilers will be better than last year are below.
— Cam Talbot will not allow a goal on the first shot of the game fourteen times. Think about that. He started 67 games and in 21% of those games the Oilers (because it isn’t just the goalie) allowed a goal on the first shot of the game. **I sent a note to Elias Sports Bureau to see what the NHL record is for that.**
— The Oilers home PK will be better. The NHL began tracking PK% in 1977/1978. The Oilers home PK, 65.8%, was the worst in NHL history. The worst. They allowed 40 goals on 117 kills. FORTY. Essentially they started every home game down 1-0, because they were going to give up a PP goal. Only five other times in NHL history has a team finished a season with a home PK under 70%. The 1978 Capitals (66.7%), the 1986 Red Wings (67.6%), the 1986 Kings (68.9%), the 2009 Maple Leafs (69.4%) and the 1984 Kings (69.9%). The Oilers home PK was record-setting bad. The crazy part was their road PK was 86.7%, the best in the NHL. They allowed only 17 PP goals. It makes no sense how they could be so polar opposite at home and on the road.
— Milan Lucic will not score one measly goal in 46 games. No chance. I see him scoring between 18-22 goals.
— Leon Draisaitl will not go 20 games without a PP point. Draisaitl went from 27 PP points in 2017 to only 11 in 2018. He is simply too skilled to produce as poorly as he did. Draisaitl will benefit a lot from new PP coach Manny Viveiros. I’d lock it in he produces 20+ PP points this season.
— Connor McDavid will draw more than 35 penalties. In 2017 he drew a league-high 51. Last year he was tied for 7th with 35. McDavid is stronger this year. He is more experienced and because I expect the Oilers to be more competitive in the standings he will get more tight calls in his favour. McDavid will scored 110 points. I hope he scores 125, because I love offence, but 110 is a lock from my vantage point.
— Jesse Puljujarvi will have a solid season. He’ll continue on a steady improvement scale. His supporters will be annoyed because he isn’t on the first unit PP regularly and feel he should play more. Oddly enough, many of them are the same people who complain the Oilers rush players to quickly.
— The PP will improve. Again, this is an easy prediction. The PP was a major disappointment last season finishing dead last in the NHL at 14.8%. The Oilers scored 31 goals a 45% drop off from 2017 when they scored 56. A revamped PP, with McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH on the same unit, combined with new formations/plays/strategy drawn up by Manny Viveiros will have the Oilers PP in the top-10.
— They will draw more penalties. Edmonton had a league-low 210 powerplays last season. In 2017 the Oilers had 245 powerplays. They will be changing their forecheck, as well as their neutral zone pressure tactics, and how they defend. The coaching staff’s main focus will be on possessing the puck more. Their plan is to hopefully have the puck more, which should lead to more power plays.
— Edmonton will continue to play well against the Pacific Division. Last season they were 16-11-2 against Pacific foes. It was the only division they had a winning record against. Over the past two seasons the Oilers are 36-17-5 v. the Pacific.
Here are some things I believe should happen.
— Edmonton makes the playoffs. They aren’t as bad as last season, and likely aren’t as good as the 103 points they had in 2017, but 95 points should be attainable. Injuries are the ultimate game changer for most teams, so let’s just assume we are talking about a team staying relatively healthy. They’ve already suffered a key injury to Andrej Sekera, but good teams should be able to overcome a few injuries.
— A rookie is not playing a significant role. If one of Ethan Bear, Evan Bouchard or Kailer Yamamoto makes the team and contributes, that is great, but none should be looked at as difference makers. I think Bear might have the best chance to be in the lineup. I expect Yamamoto to get time to develop in the AHL, which is wise, while Bouchard ends up back in junior and playing for Canada at the World Championships.
— Nugent-Hopkins should surpass his career high of 56 points. He will be playing a lot with McDavid. That doesn’t guarantee him a boatload of points — remember Patrick Maroon had 42 skating shotgun with McDavid — but RNH should become a 60-point player.
— Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson return as a solid, consistent pair.
— Cam Talbot’s SV% is around .917. He doesn’t have to be an all-star, he just needs to be consistent.
— Draisaitl scores 70+ points again. I believe he will score 80 at some point, but he should be a 70-point player.
NEED TO HAPPEN
These are far from locks, and could easily not happen, but the Oilers and their fans would benefit if they did come to fruition.
— Darnell Nurse’s contract stalemate is short lived. The Oilers need him to be sharp to start the season, and Nurse would benefit from having as much interaction with his new defence coach Trent Yawney. He can miss a few days and it won’t matter, but if this stretchers into next weekend then both parties start to lose. Every day Nurse isn’t in camp is an opportunity lost for him to learn Yawney’s new system, and for Yawney to learn more about Nurse.
— A better in-game experience for fans. This has no impact on the game, per se, but for the thousands who pay big money to support the team, an improved experience is needed. Less panning of the crowd and more replays on the big screen, including all goals against. Fans want to see how a goal occurred. Fans sitting at home watching on TV are afforded that luxury, There is zero reason fans in the rink, paying hundreds of dollars, don’t deserve to see what happened too. It is ridiculous that fans have to go online on their phone to watch replays. Also, show some features of stats of the players instead of endlessly panning the crowd so fans can watch another fan be “shocked” or “happy” they are on the big screen. That does nothing to enhance the energy in the rink.
— An unexpected offensive explosion from one of these wingers; Ty Rattie, Tobias Reider, Drake Caggiula or Jesse Puljujarvi. One of them needs to grab the massive opportunity that will be presented to them this season on the right wing. The first and second line RW spots are wide open. Sure, Rattie and Reider are penciled in there to start, but nothing is in pen. At least one of these four players has to grab this glorious opportunity and become a fixture in the top-six regardless of which centre they play with.
— One of the loyal Oilersnation readers is due to win the 50/50. When they do, they will tweet it out and tell the Nation to join them post-game for beers on the house. I guarantee if I win I will host a party for Nation readers and I’m sure Struds (Jason Strudwick) will have all of you crushing some China Whites with him.
PLEASE DON’T HAPPEN
— The Oilers are out of the playoff race in January, AGAIN. I’ve been writing at the Nation for ten years and this is the 16th year of hosting my radio show. The Oilers have been in the playoffs three times, and only once in 12 years. I’m tired of writing and talking about the same trainwreck, and I know Oilers fans are tired of witnessing the same carnage. Enough is enough. This organization needs to find some consistency. For the love of Big Turks, please find a way to not be out of the race in January.
— Rush more young players. I don’t see any rookie who is likely to be a difference maker. Oilers fans shouldn’t be hoping for it and the Oilers definitely shouldn’t be planning for it.
I’ve noticed suggestions the Drake Caggiula and Mikko Koskinen contracts are why the Oilers haven’t signed Nurse. I don’t see it this way. If each was signed for $500,000 less, the Oilers would have another $1 million in cap space, and I can see validity in saying those contracts should have been lower. However, Nurse isn’t signed because the Oilers don’t have cap space. If he signed long-term I don’t believe he’d sign for the figure offered by the Oilers. Nurse wouldn’t get more than Noah Hanafin, who just signed for $4.9 million, and I don’t sense he’d want to sign long-term for $4.5 million. He hasn’t reached his full potential. And the Oilers aren’t sure of what he will be. He’s played 195 NHL games. I don’t think anyone knows what his level of play will be in two years. He isn’t signed today mainly because of the gap on a two-year deal. It isn’t about a lack of an extra $500,000 in cap space to pay him, it is about looking at comparables for RFA D-men without arbitration.
The Oilers could just meet Nurse’s demands and pay him around $3.5 million, and they might eventually, but that resets a market for RFA defenders. To date, they have opted not to sign Nurse, but it is not because they are in a cap crunch due to Caggiula and Koskinen’s contracts. It is more a business negotiation. Eventually, I assume, the two sides will meet in the middle or close to it.
I love that we can discuss, agree or disagree about sports at the Nation. It is a great escape from the real world. I try hard to never take for granted I have a job that I love. I’m truly blessed. Some days I get stark reminders about how lucky all of us are, while others can suddenly receive heartbreaking news.
Brent Lauman is a normal guy like all of us. He is a loving husband and father. He and his wife Sabrina have a young daughter. They also found out a few months ago they are expecting a second child. They were pretty happy. Unfortunately that changed in an instant last month.
Sabrina was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare degenerative, invariably fatal illness that attacks the brain. It affects about one in every one million people per year worldwide. There is no cure, no answers and no way to prolong her life. She was giving a month to live.
Brent is now facing the reality his wife is dying, their second child (about 20 months along) might as well and he will have to raised his two and half year old daughter by himself. As a happily married father to a young son I can’t imagine his pain.
So today we will help him out. I am auctioning off a great sports weekend package on my show from 2-6 p..m. today. Tune in to hear the package and you can bid on it by sending a text to 101260. If you can’t bid on the package but want to support the Laumans you can.
Thanks in advance.