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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Oilers Will End 34-Year Drought

The chorus in Sam Cooke’s song, A Change is Gonna Come, accurately depicts how I view the Edmonton Oilers 42nd NHL season.

It’s been a long
A long time coming
But I know a change gonna come
Oh, yes it will

It has been 34 years since the Oilers finished first in their division. In their first two seasons, they finished fourth in their division, then finished first for six consecutive season between 1982-1987. Only three current Oilers were alive when they last won their division in April of 1987: Mike Smith (5), Duncan Keith (3) and Derek Ryan (four months). Kris Russell was born when the Oilers were in the third round of the playoffs on their way to their third Stanley Cup in May of 1987.

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Edmonton currently owns the longest division-winning drought in the NHL. Followed by the New York Islanders who haven’t led their division since 1988.

Edmonton will end their drought this year.

WHY?

Dec 6, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) and forward Leon Draisaitl (29) discuss a play during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Here are a few reasons why I believe they will.

— Since January 1st, 2020 (85 NHL games) the Oilers are 51-27-7. They are eighth in points and ninth in points%. They have scored the fourth most goals in the NHL (3.33/game) and allowed the ninth fewest goals/game (2.78). They have been trending upwards for the past few regular seasons.

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— They have the two most productive offensive players in the NHL. Over the past three seasons Connor McDavid leads the NHL with 318 points. Leon Draisaitl is second with 299. Patrick Kane is third at 260. McDavid has 100 more points than every player in the NHL except 10: Draisaitl, Kane, Nathan MacKinnon (257), Brad Marchand (256), Artemi Panarin (240), Jonathon Huberdeau (231), Mitch Marner (228), David Pastrnak (224), Mark Schiefele (220) and Auston Matthews (219).

Draisaitl has 100 more points than every player except 17.

Both are entering the prime of their careers, and having both produce 120+ points is very realistic. Over the past two seasons McDavid has averaged 1.68 points/game, while Draisaitl is at 1.53. Over an 82-game season that is 137 and 125 points. Last season McDavid averaged a ridiculous 1.88 points/game. I predict he’ll score 147 points this year (1.79 P/GP) so 120 points seems very attainable.

— Edmonton finished seventh in goals scored last season, despite very little depth scoring from their forwards (at 5×5) after McDavid and Draisaitl. They’ve added Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele, Derek Ryan and Brendan Perlini in place of Dominik Kahun, Alex Chiasson, Jujhar Khaira and Gaetan Haas. I expect more production from the new four forwards.

Last season Edmonton received a total of 59 goals at 5×5 from forwards not named Draisaitl and McDavid. The 3rd-12th forwards will produce more this season, while McDavid and Draisaitl will continue to be productive.

— The power play will remain one of the best in the NHL. There should be more power plays this season, at least early on, and that benefits the Oilers who had the #1 power play in each of the previous two seasons. Since the NHL began tracking PP% in 1977/1978 there has been 1,599 combined power play seasons by NHL teams. The Oilers’ 29.5% in 2020 was fourth among the 1,599, and last season’s 27.6% was 14th. I see no reason why their PP won’t continue to dominate as the main players are all back. The Oilers PP was 21.6% in their first 10 games last season as Tyson Barrie got comfortable. In their final 46 games, the PP clicked at 29.9% scoring 40 goals on 134 chances.

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The Oilers were seventh in team Sv% last season and since January 1st, 2020 they are sixth. Over their past 87 games Mike Smith (51 GP) has a .918Sv% overall and .920 at 5×5. Mikko Koskinen (38 GP) has a .909Sv% overall and .918 at 5×5. Smith and Koskinen have been a solid tandem recently. Last season Smith was unreal, while Koskinen struggled early when he was overplayed. That won’t be the case this season, because if one of them is injured Stuart Skinner will be recalled and he is more NHL-ready now. Edmonton doesn’t have a superstar goalie, but as a tandem they will be better than many expect.

— Edmonton will possess the puck more this season because they have better puck retrievers in Hyman and Foegele. I’d argue Perlini is better than any fourth line LW they deployed last year. The Oilers will attack more and will be defending less. And their overall team defence will be better. We saw that in the preseason.

— Edmonton’s top-three goalies had really good numbers. Smith stopped 55 of 57 shots, (.965Sv%), Koskinen stopped 84 of 90 (.933Sv%) while Skinner stopped 69 of 75 (.920Sv%). That is a combined .936sv%. Of course they won’t be that good in the regular season, but I think concerns over the goaltending for the regular season are overblown.

— I believe Edmonton’s overall defence corps is better than last year. Duncan Keith is an upgrade in the second pair over Caleb Jones and while Cody Ceci isn’t as physical as Adam Larsson, he moves the puck better and as a pair I’d take Keith-Ceci over Jones-Larsson. I don’t expect Darnell Nurse (0.64 points/game) and Tyson Barrie (0.86 P/GP) to produce at the same point total as last season, but both will be productive offensively. Associate coach Jim Playfair outlined why he believes Tyson Barrie will better defensively this season. I also think Evan Bouchard will be better all-around than Ethan Bear was last season. The main area Edmonton could miss Larsson and Bear is on the PK. Both were solid on the PK.

— Edmonton won 35 of 56 games last season, which was a 51-win pace over a full season. Edmonton has only won 50 games three times (50 in 1987, 56 in 1986, and 57 in 1984). I have them winning 49 this season, the most since 1987. They won 47 in 2017 when they finished second in the Pacific, but they will surpass that this season.

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS…

I’ve covered the Oilers for 21 seasons. Picking them to make the playoffs was rare, so expecting them to win the division is odd. It will be close between them and Vegas, but I see Edmonton slightly ahead.

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Pacific Central Atlantic Metro
Edmonton (playoffs) Colorado (playoffs) Florida (playoffs) NYI (playoffs)
Vegas (playoffs) Winnipeg (playoffs) Tampa Bay (playoffs) Carolina (playoffs)
Vancouver (playoffs) Minnesota (playoffs) Toronto (playoffs) Washington (playoffs)
Calgary Dallas (playoffs) Boston NYR (playoffs)
LA Chicago (playoffs) Montreal Philadelphia (playoffs)
Seattle St. Louis Ottawa Pittsburgh
San Jose Nashville Detroit New Jersey
Anaheim Arizona Buffalo Columbus

I have both the Islanders and Oilers ending their lengthy division-winning droughts. I found seeding the Central and Metro the most difficult. I think the top three teams in the Atlantic and Pacific are obvious, barring major injuries. They might switch the spots I placed them in, but I see those six teams as the easier selections. Not having Boston in the playoffs seems odd, and if I was betting on a team to say “you’re an idiot,” it would be them.

Who do you have making it?

For fun, my final four today is:

Colorado/Edmonton
Florida/Washington

With Florida defeating Colorado in the Final.

I might have a much different prediction when the playoffs begin based on injuries and trade deadline acquisitions.

Other predictions:

Hart and Art Ross Trophy: McDavid
Vezina: Andrei Vasilevskiy
Calder: Trevor Zegras
Norris:  Cale Makar
Breakout player: Kaapo Kakko
Coaches on hot seat: Craig Berube, Jeremy Colliton and Bob Boughner.

Let the chirping begin. What are you predictions?

GOOD LAUGH…

This is the early leader for best NHL commercial.

**The Backstrom slurp out of his bowl. Gold. Because who doesn’t love doing that?**

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