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Edmonton Oilers 2020-21 Season In Review: the defence

Welcome to the season in review! In this, and other articles, I’ll be, well, reviewing the Edmonton Oilers 2020-21 season. You can read about the analytics behind my analysis here.

Well well well, how the turntables.

Edmonton’s defence was a curious case in the 2020-21 season. You had Darnell Nurse take massive, massive strides in his game coming into his own showing signs of a number one defenceman, while Adam Larsson’s game had a massive turnaround.

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Tyson Barrie joined the club and brought all the offence and little defence, while Ethan Bear had his fair share of ups and downs. A rotating cast filled out the rest of the Oilers defence.

At all strengths, the Oilers posted a 2.74 GA/60 ranking 13th in the league. That number fell to 2.54 at 5×5, but so did the ranking as the Oilers came in 20th. It was a significant improvement from the 3 GA/60 allowed in all situations and the 2.72 at 5×5 they allowed in 2019-20.

Edmonton shut things down in tight, too. In all situations, they posted a 1.3 HDGA/60, the seventh-best in the league and a sizeable difference from the 1.58 they posted last year. At 5×5, the Oilers HDGA/60 improved from 1.54 in 2019-20 to 1.29, too — another big improvement.

According to hockeyviz.com, the Oilers allowed four percent less xGA/60 than league average this past season — another significant improvement from the three percent worse than league average the year before.

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Edmonton had some slightly better goaltending this year in the form of a .048 boost in team save percentage, but that’s not enough to cause the

Sure, there was a bit of a smaller sample size this season with only a 56-game set, but the improvement was noticeable. Edmonton’s systems improved this year and it led to results.

The Oilers have long been a team that has struggled with their defensive zone play and it’s been a point of focus under Dave Tippett. For them to take a serious step forward as a team it’s something they’ll need to continue to work on.

Nurse will take another step forward next year, but the rest of the Oilers defence could be considered very up in the air. All signs point towards Adam Larsson returning as a UFA, and the team has already spoken about wanting to see Evan Bouchard in a regular role. Oscar Klefbom’s future continues to be up in the air, but him returning to the lineup at 100% next season ould be a massive, massive addition.

Cowboy Kris Russell is under contract for another season but he found himself falling out of favour towards the end of the season. He’ll likely fill in as the Oilers seventh defenceman next year.

In my eyes, the Oilers are likely going to lose a defenceman in expansion in either Caleb Jones or William Lagesson. Tyson Barrie will likely be on the out as he seeks a long-term contract. It’s unknown if Slater Koekkoek or deadline addition Dmirty Kulikov will be re-signing.

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Edmonton has a solid amount of cap space — and can, and should generate more — to be able to re-tool their defence ahead of the 2021-22 season.

Previous Season In Reviews


Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]