3 August Questions: Goal Scoring, Defence, and Goaltending

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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?

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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.

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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.

  • vetinari

    We dipped into the bargain bin for forwards so the answer to the question about whether we have enough secondary scoring is… maybe? Few of them have proven track records and others are coming off subpar seasons so it will be either the perfect storm of ineffectiveness or the year of reclamation projects. Who knows?

    Our goaltending still makes me nervous and I see the potential for either to take the job and run. I also see the potential of an 8 game lose streak with them in net and neither stopping a beach ball dipped in molasses.

    On the coach… we’ve tried battle tested veterans like Quinn, Renney, McLellan and Hitchcock and newbies like Kruger and Eakins, and only one got us a playoff appearance. I like Tippett and hope for the best but have seen hall of famers fail where he hopes to succeed.

    In other words, bring on the season and let’s see what we have!

  • Spydyr

    The bottom six has to produce better than last year. They can’t be worse,right?
    The defense needs one more top four guy. Hopefully someone steps up.

    Goaltending will once again hurt the team.

    • D

      Based on the comments I’ve seen on this website and others, yes, you’re in the minority. But it’s worthwhile to wait and see how the uniforms actually look on the ice.

    • The have grown on me considerably. At first I was like “these look like what Abercrombie & Fitch would sell as a ‘Hockey Shirt’ in 1998” but now I compare them favorably to the stealth jerseys worn by the Sharks last year, or Philly’s Stadium Series look. Clean. Sharp. Different. And isn’t that what you want out of your third jersey?

  • Bond 0097

    Addition by subtraction
    We are a much better team because of the people we are not bringing back
    There are opportunities for guy’s coming up the ranks and the EU imports
    If we aren’t hit too badly by injuries our defence will be fine
    Playoffs in the spring, Let’s go Oil!!!

  • TKB2677

    Here is a question. How many goals do the Oilers need?

    They have 232 goals last year. That was with:
    – a guy in Rieder setting a record for not scoring. He had zero.
    – Kharia getting 3 goals. If you score 3 goals, you are probably not an NHLer.
    – Puljujarvi had 4 goals in 46 games. That’s a 7 goal pace.
    – Strome had zero goals but was traded for Spooner who barely scored but are traded for Gagner who had 5 goals.
    – Lucic had 6 goals.

    All those guys played in the Oilers bottom 6. So the have Granlund and Archibald who are taking Rieders and Puljujarvi’s spot. I am willing to bet that combined, those 2 will score more than 4 goals combined. They probably get at least 10 goals a piece. So that’s plus 16 goals.

    Neal replaces Lucic. I would bet Neal scores more than 6 goals. Let’s say he gets 15 to be conservative. So that’s plus 9 goals.

    I bet Khaira scores more than 3 goals. I could see him getting close to 10. So that’s plus 7.

    In a full season, I bet Gagner scores more than 5. Say 10 min. There is plus 5 goals.

    NYgard is replacing the combo of Caggulia/Rattie/Currie. Combined those 3 scores 11 goals. So let’s say he matches that.

    So just looking above, I have 32 extra goals being scored from bottom 6 guys just putting up 10 goals which is pretty standard bottom 6 numbers plus Neal giving you a conservative mid teens in goals. I don’t think the combination of Leon, McDavid, Nuge and Chiasson will drop off 32 goals. So the Oilers will score more.

    • Dapper Dan 3099

      I don’t think Chiasson gets near what he got last year, I say he gets around 12-15 goals (and if he does that, Im happy), McDavid is coming off a pretty bad injury and may not be 100%, so his stats may dip a bit, I also think if Leon hits 40 we should be happy. Nuge I think will be similar to last year, maybe a bit better since I expect Neal to be a better line mate than Lucic was for him. So it may be pretty close for scoring, but I think Tippett’s system may shave off a few goals allowed as well, so fingers corssed.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    The problem with scoring last year was there were really only a handful of guys on the roster doing the majority of it, there was no real offence to the Oilers bottom six, Holland has signed guys with some offensive upside for the bottom six, now we have to wait and see how it goes in the games and if it will effect the the score sheet
    Defence should be a little better last year we had D Men bouncing in and out of the lineup with injuries and we had Sekea missing for a season and a half, Klefbom was out for a while, Larsson was suffering from back problems. The problen was the Oilers defensive system they played was a total mess, and the fans couldnt understand it and from the way things looked on the ice the players didnt understand it either. I am hoping this year they get a system together everyone can understand and that the players can play.

    Goaltending is going to be a question mark, I have been hoping the Oilers and Koskinen made out some kind of plan to get Koskinen some help with the holes in his game during the off season after some rest, someone said that Koskinen did some sessions with Schwartz on his game ( and no that doesnt inspire confidence for me…any other goalie coach but Schwartz ) I still dont like the signing of Smith, way way past his prime in my opinion , I still think they could have found someone else…but we are stuck with him for now. I Hope Koskinen can get back to his early form he showed in the early part of the season, but the Oilers should have learned from last year they have to give the guy some rest, I dont think he can do 55 or 60 games

  • Ty Guy

    The ongoing abuse of Conner has me concerned, yes we still have toughness in JJ, Nurse and Kass…(heck, I’d even put Smith in there) but is it going to take an injury to the Captain to open the NHLs eyes to the barrage of non calls against him? at least 3 time per game there is a blatant no call against him, to the point that even the offending team is surprised it isn’t a penalty…bad look NHL…we are sorry he is in another stratosphere but that doesn’t mean “a little extra” to slow him down shouldn’t be called.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      The ref’s at times seem to turn a blind eye to some of the abuse Connor takes, while other like say Johnny whatshisname whine and complain the moment they get bumped into in the slightest of ways, the things that gets me is the blatant stuff and the ref is right there and no call, like you almost have to wonder at times what the refs are watching

  • Gary Chalmers

    1. Scoring: There scoring will be higher, Neal is going to score more than Reider and Lucic did last year and the whole team will have a higher shooting % then last year, so that will help.
    2. Defence: Health is the biggest variable, Klefbom’s injury was the biggest reason the teams play fell off, they are a top 15 defence if they are healthy.
    3, Goaltender: The split games exactly, the key is better defensive zone coverage, and giving up less high quality chances.
    I think this team can make the playoffs, they will cut down on goals against this year, shoot at a higher % and the PK will be better.

  • The bottom six will do better than lat year’s crew, no question (I mean, how could they NOT?!) But I think we might get a few goals from an unlikely source: the D.

    Darryl continues to make strides. Is this the year he really breaks out? Klefbom played in 61 games last year and scored five goals. Can he do better? Maybe ten? If he’s healthy? And then you’ve got the interesting possibility of a Bouchard or Jones making the lineup, and chipping in at a decent rate. (No, I don’t want to rush them into the lineup, but there are spots available, guys, so let ’em eat.)

    Plus, more puck possession = less time in our end = fewer goals against. The team +/- should improve. Drastically? No. But measurably.

  • Canoe Ride 27

    There is a good chance Mike Smith outscores one of last years bottom six forwards. So 2/3 problems solved.

    I don’t get real excited when it seems like the best answer to improving our D is Dave Tippett. Not KHs fault though, he’s done a good job at the process of unscrewing us.

  • Violentgent13

    Holly definitely has a trade coming before camp starts. I could see him moving Russell to make either Jones/Bear/Persson a regular on the 3rd pairing. He knows we need a solid 3rd centre but we need cap space to bring in the right man. Also, it might just be me but i wouldn’t be against bringing Paajarvi in on a PTO. I can see him competing with guys like Jurco for a spot. As for the goalie sitch. I’m excited to see if Koskinen fixes the holes in his game, let’s not forget the string of amazing games he had last season. That was excellent, confident goaltending.

  • BR

    1. Not even close
    2. Solid not great – need a lot of things to go right ad rookies to play well.
    3. Expecting Koskinen to be much better second year round and retain the starting spot, but Smith will get significant starts as well.

  • TKB2677

    The Oilers scored 232 goals while getting very little offense from their bottom 6. The Islanders a 103 pt team who made it into the second round in the playoffs, scored 228 goals. The Islanders improved by getting good goaltending and playing good team defense under a good system.

    The Oilers were only 8 goals behind Nashville, 15 goals behind the Cup Champs Blues, 17 goals behind Vegas. They got ZERO goals from a 2 mill 3rd liner in Rieder. All it would take is for Rieder not to score zero goals, even giving the Oilers 10 which would still be a down year for him and the Oilers would be in the mix with those teams. THey still would have missed the playoffs but scoring wouldn’t have looked so bad.

    I am not worried about the Oilers scoring. They need to get their goals against down. More consistent defense and goaltending will go a long way to getting this team to move up the standings.

  • CMG30

    As long as it stays healthy, I think the defense is competent.

    We lack proven scoring up front. McDavid, Drai and RNH all had excellent (career?) seasons last year. If one of those three doesn’t repeat, then where are the make up points going to come from… let alone more?

    Goaltending is a real concern. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that one of Smith or Koskinen steps up in a big way but it’s more likely that our long history of inconsistent goal tending continues.

  • ed from edmonton

    By far the biggest question mark for the Oil is the goaltending. Crap shoot if either guy can be a starter. D is stronger than last year, about middling in the NHL. Biggest problem with the forwards if lack of 3c (maybe 4C as well). Even with a problem with 3C/4C bottom 6 is significantly better than the group of AHLers that finished the end of last year.

  • Goaltender Interference

    The bottom six will score more this year but expecting the same amounts from Draisatl and Chaisson is foolhardy. I expect total goals to be a little better than last years historic low but probably not by much.

    Our Defense is better than people think although definitely not top tier. The good news is that with the prospects we have, as long as Holland doesn’t go full Chiarelli then the future is bright for the Oilers here.

    Goal-tending is what will keep us in the bottom third of the league this season. The Oil will not be able to out-score the pipeline flow of rubber that their own net is going to turn into.

    No – Holland didn’t do enough. However given the dumpster fire that he was handed ‘doing enough’ in one Summer was an impossibility. To his credit he’s done a far better job digging his way out of the hole than anyone reasonably expected.

  • Leaking5w-30

    So to sum up. The oilers have issues in all phases of the game and need to get better in all of them to be relevant. I feel like this will be a dark year.

  • OilCan2

    More goals scored. For sure. Defence is better due to depth. Jones, Bear & Lagesson are all ready for call up duty which may be important. Bouchard could go super nova in camp. Koskinen was mis managed by two desperate coaches. If the game split is more 1A / 1B then GA should drop.

    • ed from edmonton

      Are you suggesting that Starret will become the guy? Only way he gets a serious look this year is if there is an injury or if both Koski and Smith are disasters. But what the heck, it worked for the Blues last year.

  • Fireball

    Holland made affordable bets. The ones he could afford with the cap space he has. No one can say how it’ll go forsure.. I can say I think with a Split work loaf I think Koss is capable of being a starting goalie. He had the best home record in the league through his first 25 games. He’s always been a tandem guy. I think something happened in Cowtown with Smith.. he wasn’t seeing eye to eye with someone there. He made comments that in the first half he wasn’t on at all but “ he starting playing for himself “ in the second half which he put up decent numbers. Much better anyhow. The big thing people do overlook on his stats last year is the win losses., he Won 23 lost 16 and OT/So 2 with a 2.72 GGA. Winning is what really matters and as poor as his save percentage was he won more than he lost. So there’s a good bet he could return to form and the best part is he only gets paid like a Good Goalie if he’s a good Goalie. Top 6 you got the highest scoring pair in the league last year. First “two”100 plus guys for the Oilers the since Gretzky n Kurri ., that was the 80s ., so filler on the wing is fine.. Kass was on pace for 28 over 82 once paired with McD. Second line ., big bet on Neal ., if he’s the real deal that lines fine.. the bottom 6 is where the major problem was last year most of all.. I’d say it looks better than it did last year.. fixing penalties killing doesn’t require super stars or even third liners.. requires hard nosed defensively sound players with pace. Good bet there’s a few of them in that group. That’ll help save percentage., and Goal Differential., I honestly don’t think it’s possible for the bottom 6 to score as little as last season.. It’s complete anomaly for a bottom 6 in the NHL to score that little., Reider set a NHL record for no Goals. How many games did they waste trying to play him in the top 6 let alone the bottom., plus they have kids really pushing for the first time in years. The D needs to be healthy .. kids need to push.. my biggest concern is a 3c that wins faceoffs and can score double digits. Winning faceoffs puts you on the right side of the puck and not the wrong side.. if your not defending that really helps .. but in the end if players don’t do what they’ve been signed and paid to do ., your in big trouble. Hope Holland got enough bets on the table that few shine through