Whether you’re diving deep into the analytics pool, reading tea leaves or just going with your instincts, making predictions is fun because no matter how you arrive at them, you’re guessing. While some guesses are more educated than others to be sure, the bottom line is it’s a guess.
When you’re right, or anything close to it, you crow. I called it. You heard it here first. That sort of thing. When you’re a $5 cab ride off, as I often am, you shut it and hope nobody really notices because it’s been months since you whipped out your version of the crystal ball and were as wrong as wrong can be.
Maybe you hedge your bets and tag your projections as Bold Predictions, erring more often than not on the side of extreme optimism or including something obviously goofy – hey, I was just having fun, get off my case. Or maybe you go the Reasonable Expectations route – nothing outlandish, making safe bets and soft-selling results. It’s all good.
All that said, here’s what I think about the Edmonton Oilers after an off-season of sweeping changes from top to bottom – the GM’s chair, the coaching and front office staffs right through the roster that will open the season against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place Wednesday. As always, I stand to be corrected.
For all the consternation, and rightfully so, about Connor McDavid’s left knee this off-season, he showed in two pre-season games he’s ready to go. For all this magnificent talent, I think the one thing people don’t always recognize is how competitive he is and that’s why I think he comes through the gate this season flying and doesn’t stop. He’ll set career highs for shots, goals and points this season on the way to surpassing 100 points for the fourth straight year. I’m thinking 45-74-119.
WHAT ABOUT LEON?
While I don’t see Leon Draisaitl scoring 50 goals again because I think it’s highly unlikely that he’ll equal last season’s shooting percentage of 21.6. That said, if he can increase his shots-total for the fifth straight season to something closer to 270 (I think he will), he won’t have to snipe at the same rate to push 50 again. I’ve got him pegged for 47-50-97 if he can play 82 games again.
Aside from McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers had just two forwards reach double figures in goals last season – Alex Chiasson with 22 and Zack Kassian with 15. We’ll see a repeat from those five and you can add two more in James Neal and one of Joakim Nygard or Tomas Jurco. I’m looking at 22-24 from Neal. I think Kassian gets 20 for the first time in his career.
FROM THE BACK END
I expect Oscar Klefbom to bounce back after missing 21 games last season. He runs the power play and leads the blueline in scoring, hitting 40 points for the first time. With Nurse playing alongside Adam Larsson in a shutdown pairing, I’m not sure he repeats his 41 points of last season, but I can see 35. If there’s a dark horse on the blueline for me, it’s Ethan Bear. If he sticks for a full season and gets some power play time, why not 25 points?
THE BLUE PAINT
I think the Oilers can cut down last season’s minus-42 in goal-differential, maybe by as much as half, thanks to a touch more scoring up front and a penalty kill that’s better than the woeful units we’ve seen in recent seasons, but I don’t see the team being markedly better in goal with Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. If Koskinen isn’t better than the .906 he posted last season and Smith doesn’t improve on his .898 in Calgary, the Oilers won’t gain much traction in the standings. The Oilers finished .901 overall in 2018-19 with Koskinen, Cam Talbot and Anthony Stolarz. Can Koskinen and Smith combine to get the Oilers to even .910, which isn’t gangbusters? I don’t see it.
THE BOTTOM LINE
With #Oilers waiving Manning & Gagner today, our Projected Opening Roster has $2.04M Cap Space with 23 (14F/7D/2G) on Active Roster.
IR: Brodziak ($1.15M)
Buried: Gagner ($2.075M buried Cap Hit), Manning ($1.175M buried Cap Hit)https://t.co/yC72vfAUSy
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) September 30, 2019
While I like GM Ken Holland’s work this off-season with a limited budget and believe coach Dave Tippett will squeeze everything he can from a roster that’s marginally improved – having Neal rather than Milan Lucic being the most obvious upgrade – I don’t think there’s enough proven depth up front. I don’t think the goaltending is good enough. The PK will be better, but by how much?
I expect the Oilers to improve on the 79 points they got last season from a record of 35-38-9 to come in at 84-86 points (89 was good enough to make the post-season in the Western Conference, but I don’t think that gets it done this season). Unless Koskinen and Smith are better than I think they are – or Holland makes a deal for another goaltender – I just don’t see this team in the playoffs.