As we work our way through the offseason and inch closer to the start of the 2019/20 season, I find myself wondering about the Oilers roster again and whether or not Old Dutch has done enough in his first summer as GM to right the ship and turn things around.
Alright, well, I guess I'm heading down to Rogers Place to start building a Ken Holland statue. Who's with me? #Oilers
— Baggedmilk – Offseason Beet writer (@jsbmbaggedmilk) July 19, 2019
As Oilers fans, we’ve known more than our share of disappointment over the years, but we always seem to find ways to use the extended summer to recharge our batteries and get ourselves pumped for a new year. This year, though, I feel like fan perception about the upcoming year is a little bit more split than ever before, and I wanted to put a few questions out into the universe in the hopes that we can solve them together.
DO WE HAVE ENOUGH SCORING?
I don’t think I’m talking out of school here when I say that the Oilers didn’t get nearly enough scoring from players outside of their big three last season. That’s not to say that everyone had a bad year, guys like Chiasson, Kassian, and Nurse put up career bests in scoring which is certainly a good sign, but it still wasn’t enough to make a dent in the chasm that was the Oilers’ goal differential. If the team is going to turn things around in 2019/20, they’re going to have to get more out of basically everyone and I still have concerns that the ask is realistic.
Back in May, I wrote about the Oilers’ lack of secondary scoring:
In 2018-19, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins accounted for 119 of the Oilers 232 goals which works out to 51% of the team’s total offence. Add in Alex Chiasson’s 22 goals and that number jumps to 61% which is obviously not nearly good enough. Needless to say, it’s pretty tough to win hockey games when the bulk of your offence comes from three or four guys and it’s a situation that Holland will need to address sooner than later but how he gets that done will be anyone’s guess.
Obviously (hopefully?), the addition of James Neal into the top-six should help the team score a few more goals at even strength and on the power play, but I’m not as sure about the lottery tickets Uncle Ken signed to fill out the third and fourth lines. Will Joakim Nygard have the juice to score 10-15? What the hell is a Gaetan Haas anyway? Can Markus Granlund get close to the 19-goal form he had in Vancouver a few years ago? If the answer to any of these questions isn’t resoundingly “yes” then I fear we could be in trouble again. Call me pessimistic or whatever you want, but I’m just concerned about still having so many “maybes” in key positions. Fingers crossed, my friends.
IS THE DEFENCE GOOD ENOUGH?
In 2018-19, the Edmonton Oilers were tied with the New Jersey Devils for the sixth-most goals against (271), and its penalty kill was ranked second worst in the NHL (74.8%) behind only the Chicago Blackhawks (72.7%). Needless to say, the Oilers gave up way too many goals at even strength and on the penalty kill and that’s a problem that needs to get solved in short order. Now, when you consider that the team is bringing back more or less the same defensive group as they had a season ago, I think it’s fair to wonder whether or not that’s good enough. Is the defence completely to blame for what happened? Of course not, but there are still some concerns here.
Maybe a new coach help this time around?
Dave Tippett, who was hired by the Oilers back in late May, will try to correct these defensive liabilities and shore up the recklessness that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in the defensive zone. Obviously, Tippett is known for his defensive systems, but I should also mention that the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes allowed the 13th most goals in the NHL (1,728) during his tenure there. You’d assume that having better players in Edmonton than he did in the desert will help, but that’s only a guess at this point. If they’re going to cut out enough goals to make the playoffs, the Oilers will need significant improvement from individual players rather than just expecting a new coaching staff to make the difference.
WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL OF THE NET?
Heading into the new season with Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith as the goaltending tandem has made some folks around here nervous and I can’t say that I blame them. That’s not to say that the duo won’t be able to make it work, they both went on runs where they looked like starting goalies, I just think that their lacklustre 2018-19 seasons are making everyone nervous because we know all too well how mediocre goaltending can sink your season. When you’ve been hurt as many times as we have, I think it’s fair to be skeptical, right?
So who will take control?
Last year, Mikko Koskinen set a career-high with 51 starts, 25 wins and a .906 save percentage after playing the previous five seasons in the KHL, but he’ll need to pump those numbers way up if he really wants to be considered a legitimate starter. From start to finish, he had every opportunity to grab the net as the Oilers’ number one option, but outside of a month-long stretch, I’m not so sure that that happened. Perhaps, if Edmonton corrects its defensive numbers, it could drastically improve Koskinen’s even-strength save percentage (.913), a number that was second last among goalies to play at least 55 games, but that’s just a hope right now.
Mike Smith, on the other hand, didn’t fare much better in Calgary in the 42 games he played for the Flames. His .898 save percentage was nothing to write home about and it’s fair to wonder whether the 37-year-old goaltender will be able to bounce back. In his own words, Smith has owned his performance last season and is anxious to move forward, but I’ve been fooled by interviews before and I think I can speak for everyone when I say that he’ll need to show us what he can do rather than simply talking about it. Gord knows we need him.
WHAT SAY YOU?
As I said off the jump, these are just a few of the thoughts that are rolling around in my mind now that we’re getting closer to the start of training camp and I’m very intrigued to see how they get answered. Now that I’ve emptied my brain, I’m curious to know what you guys think and what are the biggest questions you have as we make our way through August. Is there something specific you’re looking forward to seeing how it gets sorted? Something you’re nervous about? Let me know in the comments section and we can get to work on solving these issues together.