Every year I’m curious what fans, media, and statistical models say about the Oilers. Many, including myself, were convinced the Oilers had finally turned a corner after making the playoffs in 2016-17, and nearly advancing to the third round of the playoffs, but that wasn’t the case. The Oilers fell back to earth the past two seasons and it’s clear 2016-17 was the outlier and not the dawn of a new Oilers era.
This year’s projections, well, aren’t pretty. Unsurprisingly, people aren’t high on the Oilers after two seasons in the bottom ten of the standings. Even with a new general manager in Ken Holland, there’s still a lot of work to do.
Just added team points projections by @twolinepass and that's probably my last addition before the games get started tonight.
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) October 2, 2019
Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) projects the Oilers at 74 points.
OddsShark has the Oilers with 85.5 projected points.
The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn (@domluszczyszyn) has the Oilers 27th in the league with 83 projected points.
USA Today projects 83 points.
Sporting News is slightly more optimistic at 86.6 points.
At the high end, stats people put the Oilers just above 90 points. At the low end, well, much worse than 90 points. That’s not enough to make the playoffs most years, although the Colorado Avalanche made the playoffs last season with just 90 points last season. That’s the second-lowest total to make the cut in the Western Conference in the past decade since the Minnesota Wild’s 87 points in 2015-16. Alternatively, the Winnipeg Jets had 99 points in 2014-15 and only made the second Wild Card spot.
Most projections have the Oilers without a strong chance at making the playoffs.
It’s hard to argue with the pessimism. Holland and the Oilers didn’t do much this summer. Markus Granlund and Josh Archibald are decent depth signings and punting Milan Lucic’s contract, even with $750 000 retained, is a big win, but this is a roster that’s largely the same as the one that finished with 79 points in 2018-19. This season looks more and more like a building year where the Oilers hope some prospects make the grade while more bad money comes off the books. James Neal can’t be much worse than Lucic, although he was similarly poor in 2018-19. Even so, he’s most likely heading towards a buyout after the season anyways.
Next offseason is where significant moves have to be made. The cap has to increase more than it did this offseason. Neal’s buyout opens up more space than a Lucic buyout and other less daunting contracts like Kris Russell’s can surely be moved with just one season left.
The Oilers have two phenomenal players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and another pretty good one with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but that doesn’t appear enough according to the projections. We don’t need stats to tell that the Oilers have one of the thinnest winger groups in the league, but they reinforce the lack of depth after, McDavid, Draisaitl, and RNH.
Another tough season in Edmonton. Projections can be wrong, they are projections after all, but it’s not a stretch to see a team so similar to the one that finished 25th last season miss the playoffs once again.
Adam Larsson missing potentially 30-40 games doesn’t help things. The Oilers really can’t afford to miss a significant player at a position, right defence, they’re not loaded at. Larsson out means more minutes for Kris Russell, Ethan Bear, and Matt Benning. Projections have the Oilers around 85 points, but that’s with Larsson, one of their better defencemen.
This looks like another building season, which may not be the worst thing for the Oilers. Holland might not come outright and say it, but landing a high draft pick and clearing a bunch of salary is probably his two biggest priorities this season.