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Photo Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

What the Oilers can learn from the first round of the playoffs

The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the best. Rounds two, three, or four don’t compare. There’s so much hockey on and so many good storylines happening simultaneously.

For fans of teams outside the playoffs, it’s another reminder what their teams need to do to get back in the hunt. The NHL is a copycat league. People raved about the need for a big bruiser that can play, like Tom Wilson when Washington won it all last season. Teams saw what a group of depth players can do if given an extended role with Vegas. Pittsburgh’s back-to-back Cups meant elite skill over anything.

The NHL borrows ideas from each other because they work. Mostly. It’s why the Edmonton Oilers hired Peter Chiarelli and tried to recreate the 2011 Boston Bruins.

What can the Oilers take from this year’s first-round? More importantly, what should they take?

The Columbus Blue Jackets sweeping a historically good Tampa Bay Lightning team is the biggest story. The New York Islanders sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Carolina Hurricanes defeating the Washington Capitals are other noteworthy upsets.

Calgary couldn’t handle a fast, skilled Colorado Avalanche team. San Jose clawed their way back down 3-1, with some help from a generous penalty call.

Boston and Toronto was a fairly even series.

It’s important not to overreact to Tampa’s performance or to diminish Columbus’ win. This is a massive upset, but the Blue Jackets are a good team who probably under-performed in the regular season. Victor Hedman got hurt prior to the playoffs starting and missed two playoff games as well. Nikita Kucherov missed a game for a dumb hit.

The Lightning should have won, and they probably do win nine times out of ten, but they’re still a very good team. Signing Brayden Point will require sending a good player away for cap space, but the Lightning need help on defence too.

Talent is necessary. Does Columbus beat Tampa Bay without Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel? What if they traded Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky? They likely miss the playoffs entirely.

Goaltending is huge. It can make or break a series. San Jose isn’t down 3-1 if Martin Jones has a save percentage that starts with a 9, but they don’t come back if Jones doesn’t suddenly turn it around. Calgary would have been swept if Mike Smith didn’t channel the Mike Smith of 2012. Alternatively, Colorado wouldn’t be where they are without Philipp Grubauer’s play over the past month. Not a bad pickup for a second-round pick and buying out the last year of Brooks Orpik’s contract.

The Oilers have the elite, top-of-the-roster talent up front. Unfortunately, that’s all they have. Can they reach a level similar to Colorado? Their speed is unmatched. They were flying in overtime against Calgary in game four.

The Oilers are paying Mikko Koskinen like he’s their answer in net, but he’s probably more suited to a backup role. His .906 save percentage isn’t good enough. Could Koskinen hold it together for seven games? Possibly. But I could also see teams exploiting his brutal glove hand.

The Oilers can’t rely on Koskinen for the next three years. Yes, they’re paying him $4.5 million but they still need to add a goaltender. The Sharks are a much better team and Jones almost cost them the series.

Toronto added John Tavares and Jake Muzzin and still lost in seven to the Boston Bruins. So much has to go your way to win in the playoffs. Do the Leafs win if Nazem Kadri doesn’t make that pointless cross check on Jake DeBrusk? Now the Leafs have to sign Mitch Marner to a contract that probably reaches eight digits. Auston Matthews’ mega extension kicks in. Jake Gardiner, for all his defensive warts, is a top-four defenceman they won’t be able to re-sign. Jake Muzzin will mitigate that loss a bit, but their right side still needs a significant upgrade.

NHL playoffs are the best because anything can happen, but parity is a double-edged sword. It means anyone has a chance if they make the cut, but it also means good teams have to have so many things go their way to win the Stanley Cup. This year’s Lightning team looked like a surefire Stanley Cup Champion, but they didn’t even win a game.

McDavid and Draisaitl give the Oilers an excellent base to build from, but there’s significant work to be done.

  • Alberta Ice

    One thing learned is that if you can get into the playoffs as a wildcard with a hot streak going in, anything is possible! Give the Avs, the Blue Jackets, the Stars, and the Canes full marks for doing just that. And congrats to Evan Bouchard for being named the OHL Defenceman of the Year. This player’s future looks bright.

    • Spydyr

      Look at all the upsets in the first round. I put that down to teams fighting to make the playoffs playing intense hockey the last month of the season meanwhile teams who clinched weeks ago coasting into the playoffs.

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        agree. I think a lot of the teams at the top that went down were due to a few different factors 1. being that they played at a torrid pace to tsay on top during the season and when the post season game they didnt have the gas in the tank. 2nd the teams got a little caught up in being at the top and a little too comfortable in their belief that teams they may have pounded on diring the season they would roll over…. and they got caught by surprise because some of the teams at the bottom fought and clawed to get in and were in that mindset and kept it going 3rd some guy just couldnt find that gear they had in the season in the playoffs and some guys dissapeared against the other teams plan to play them hard and shut them down. Love the playoffs because you just never know what to expect

  • Shane

    Chasing other teams identities is pointless. By the time the Oilers are able to emmulate the characteristics of another teams roster, another will have become vogue. Just add some skilled wingers, some dman who can actually make a stretch pass, a good backup goalie, and stop giving up on prospects so early and they can be a playoff team sooner than most people think. Everyone overcomplicates this but just add and keep good players.

  • CaptainCanada94

    I didn’t miss a minute of the Calgary series or Toronto series. One thing I learned, is how far the Oilers are away from competing in a first round series.

    I think the biggest emphasis and advantage Oilers need to exploit is having Connor and Leon running their own lines. The center depth is huge. Are Connor and Leon magic during the regular season… YES. However it is imperative we find wingers that compliment both players on a regular basis, as the depth is a necessity in the playoffs. It is then a great luxury to be able to throw them together when you are in desperate need of a goal.

    Goaltending is the next biggest question mark for winning a first round series. How far do Oilers get in 2006 w/o Roloson? Probably not past the first round. I sure hope Kostinen is the answer, however I think it is a pure gamble at this point.

    Can our defence be a competent 6? Contrary to what most believe, I think they are closest, barring they stay healthy. If Kris Russell could be offloaded and an actual puck mover added, I like their core and upcoming prospects. It is also vital that they stay healthy. We see how exposed the defence is when each player is performing in a role higher than what they should.

    Dear new GM. Please help!

  • Spydyr

    What the Oilers can learn from the first round of the playoffs?

    Is the answer: The team is not very good outside a handful of players ,there are many holes to fill and they have a long way to go to get good enough to make the playoffs?

  • Schmidt Head

    The definition of insanity; so goes the old saw, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

    It should follow then that actually doing different things WILL get you different results. Which is precisely why the Oilers should do this off-season, the exact, polar OPPOSITE of what they’ve been doing every off-season for the past 20 years!

    For once, DON’T trade away quality young talent for over-priced, over-the-hill slugs who can’t keep up. DON’T jump into the free agent frenzy and mortgage the future on some wild card who turns out to be just another mill stone around our necks in 2-3 years.

    And most of all, DON’T quit on youngsters who can’t manage to turn a dysfunctional organization around overnight! Instead of expecting instant results, try setting them up for success by thinking and acting like winners yourselves!

  • NickL89

    If Toronto doesn’t have cap space for Gardiner and he’s (from what I can tell) a defenceman that we could benefit from, would you guys as GM make a phone call?

    • The Whispererer

      He’s good, but turns 29 in July and somebody is going to offer him a snootful of cash. The Oilers need to spend for improvements on the right side not the left. Reluctant pass.

      • OilerForLife

        They also need to save some money to pay players who have developed. Imagine if we lose Nurse because the money is tied up up with an overpaid declining free agent with a NMC and long term. That would be repeating the same mistake over again. Contract negotiating is the single most important asset that the next GM needs. They need to keep Gretzky involved in drafting because its working – check out Samorukov.

    • Schmidt Head

      NO!!

      He’s a free agent and free agents always cost WAY more than they’re worth. You almost never come away from the free agent market ahead so for once, the Oilers should just stay out of it!

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      all the toronto medai was all og the leafs have tons of cap space to sign Tavares.. and bla bla bla and then they signed him, then with Nylander the and Matthews they were trying to get them, to sign cheaper… and then got them signed, now they have a bunch of guys to sign and are going to be up near the cap and are going to have to get rid of guys… They will be just like Chicago was and other teams have been were you are going to have to give up guys because you are going to be near the cap…Everyone can say Dubois is some genius but the reality is the leafs will be like other teams that are close to the cap they are going to have getr rid of guys they dont want to because they have themselves in a cap hell situation. every team will face it sooner or leader, the Oilers problem is that we have too many bad contracts on the books that are tough to move tying up cash

  • ziyan94

    The Oilers tried to take a shortcut to the playoffs and failed miserably.
    If we want long-term success, we have to play the long game and build slowly from within (like Winnipeg, Colorado) which means we need actual management, scouts, and draft experts.

  • camdog

    When PC arrived in Edmonton he was point blank – all we need to do as a team is win the Pacific Division. LA, Anaheim were heavy, SanJose skilled. The other teams weren’t supposed to get better; all of the Oiler Executives bought into this “plan”.

  • Ted

    We we’re six wins from a playoff spot! Had Talbot shown up for half of his starts we would be in! Now that Kosky has a year under his belt look out! Now just put a defensive core in front of him … No puck watchers! You know who you are!!!!!

    • camdog

      Eberle, Hall, Strome, Penner, Souray, Smyth, Petry, Dubnyk and there are more were trashed by management/coaches before they were let go. When the Oilers executive has a problem with a player they leak out their concerns and get the fan base jacked.

      When Jesse got injured this year and wouldn’t report to the farm, it was the Oilers organisation that once again stoked the fires.

      • OilerForLife

        That’s absurd. Why would Oilers management trash their own player and downgrade the trade value before they trade them. Tons of fans trashed Eberle after he didn’t get any playoff points on his first try. Then the idiots in management trades him for Strome and then Spooner.

        • camdog

          Todd was trashing Eberle his entire last season. Strome was trashed by Oilers management 2 months into his Oiler career when Kyperos stated on Hockey Night in Canada that Oilers management were disappointed in Strome and he wasn’t the player they thought he was. Everybody in hockey new that Eberle was getting dumped, everybody in hockey new that the Oilers were dumping Strome. What’s absurd is blaming fans for incompetent management. A hallmark move of Peter Chiarelli is dumping players the coach doesn’t like. Hitchcock started down this same path with Caggiula.

  • toprightcorner

    The teams that competed and worked the hardest were the teams that won. Oilers definitely need more skill, but if they don’t learn to give 100% effort all the time, they will never be successful. The harder working teams beat out skill that didn’t compete hard enough.

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    The other lesson from this year’s play-offs is that St. Louis & Dallas missed the previous year’s play-offs but are in it this year–with St. Louis coming back from 31st place in January to have a good-to-great shot at being in the final four, if not the finals. Both teams had injury problems, and both bounced back as their rosters came back together.
    For the Oilers, who played long stretches without Sekera and Klefbom, this means that you either have to avoid the injury “bug” (impossible to do so entirely) or to have the roster depth to bring in the kids and expendables and replacements that’ll get you through a twenty-to-forty game stretch where your missing part of your top six or a 2-3 D man or two.
    The Oilers don’t have that depth. Nor does Calgary for that matter. Without it, you likely won’t get into the playoffs and if you do get in you likely won’t get very far. It’s one thing to have the game’s greatest player. It’s something else to have the greatest depth.