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23 Oilers observations to wrap up 2023

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
baggedmilk
1 month ago
As we wrap up 2023, I wanted to write a list of 23 lessons the Oilers have taught me over the past 12 months, and when I started putting this article together, the memories of a rollercoaster year really came roaring back.
1. Starting with the star of the show, Connor McDavid hit 153 points (64G,89A) in 2022-23 and I don’t think we talk about it enough. That was the best season by an NHL player in nearly two decades. DECADES. It’s ridiculous. And even though I’ve said it a thousand times at this point, I wanted to take another minute to remind everyone how lucky we are to have him. The man is a cheat code on a nightly basis and is always worth the price of admission. The same goes for Leon Draisaitl, who never gets nearly enough respect for what he does just because of the guy that rocks the ‘C’ on his sweater. We call them the Dynamic Duo, but the reality is those two are so much more than that to the fanbase and this franchise.
2. When you catch lightning in a bottle, you have to find a way to run with it at all costs, and there’s no better example than the trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid, and Zach Hyman. That line is one of the most dangerous combinations in the National Hockey League right now, and that means Kris Knoblauch has to do whatever it takes to keep them together. As a result, Leon Draisaitl has had a variety of wingers on either side of him with varying degrees of success, and that revolving door is a direct result of wanting to keep the first line together. Frankly, I love that call by Knobby.
3. I never thought I’d see the day when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would put up a 104-point season, so I guess the lesson here is to expect the unexpected. Even though we know not everyone will see a production spike like Nuge’s, maybe we should be open to guys catching fire from time to time.
4. How are NHL jerseys so expensive? I bought a fresh Nugent-Hopkins this past year, and I was stunned to see how much they’re selling for now. I now have a different appreciation for the horrible knock-offs you see from time to time. I get it.
5. Are we always going to talk about goaltending? I feel like we are, aren’t we? While I fully believe in Stuart Skinner, it’s hard to ignore the inconsistencies we often see between the pipes. Given the fact that Jack Campbell remains with the Bakersfield Condors, the thing I’ve been wondering over the last few weeks is if we were too harsh on Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. Do you remember when we were freaking out about Mike Smith getting extended as the Oilers’ starting goalie? The fact of the matter is that Smith never had a save percentage lower than a .902 — that came in his first season in Edmonton — and the .923 he put up in his second year would be an absolute blessing here in 2023-24. With the benefit of hindsight and that awful Jack Campbell contract fresh in our minds, my perspective on the Mike Smith era has certainly changed as we make our way into 2024.
6. Having the best win percentage will not save your job if the team you coach is supposed to be a Stanley Cup favourite. I loved Jay Woodcroft as the man behind the bench, but professional sports is a cold mistress, and poor Woody might be the poster child around here for a while. That said, I definitely appreciate the way Kris Knoblauch has the boys playing, so what the hell do I know?
7. Development isn’t a straight line. It’s amazing how often we see a young player rip it up for a short time and assume it will carry on forever. I’m thinking of a guy like Ryan McLeod, who most of us believe in but is taking a little bit longer to be fully formed on both sides of the puck. That progression is certainly coming, but maybe a little slower than we would have liked. Sometimes we all need to exercise patience.
8. When do we start talking about Ken Holland’s draft record? Whether it’s fair or not, his first round selections have yet to make an impact on the Oilers’ roster, and that’s a tough scene for a team that is literally begging for someone on a cheap deal to steal someone’s job. So far, it hasn’t happened, and I’m patiently waiting. We don’t talk about drafting as much as we used to, but what’s clear is how important it is to hit on more than just your top end prospects. Right now, the Oilers could desperately use a player or two on an ELC to come in and contribute in a real way.
9. If we’re being honest with ourselves, how many of us would have ever expected that Zach Hyman would be this good for the Edmonton Oilers? Before he got here, Hyman’s career-high was 41 points in 71 games back in 2018-19 with the Leafs, making the last few years here in Edmonton a gift that I certainly didn’t see coming. Zach Hyman is on pace for a 50-goal season — who knows if he gets there — and some of the old tweets from Leafs fans have aged incredibly poorly. Every time he scores, a bunch of them circle back around on Twitter and it’s always hilarious. Long story short, thank you for Zachary Martin Hyman.
10. No matter how much I complain about the price of beer at hockey rinks around the continent, I will still end up buying two anyway.
11. I beg that our next GM does not sign players to bonus heavy contracts. Or, if he does, maybe put some parameters in there greater than playing 10 total games.
12. It’s pretty hilarious to think that we Oilers fans used to cheer for the video coach. Jeremy Coupal was a hero of sorts around here, and that’s what makes it amazing that the article for his departure was read by 10s of thousands of people.
13. You can absolutely make trades when you’re pressed up against the cap, and there’s no better example than the one Ken Holland pulled off to bring Mattias Ekholm to town. That’s not to say that it wasn’t costly to acquire him — I was pretty surprised to see Tyson Barrie leave at the time — but you can’t tell me that it’s impossible to upgrade the roster when you don’t have money to spend.
14. The season Evan Bouchard is putting up is pretty incredible. I know there were some rough patches early and that he’ll never be a shutdown defenceman, but the points he’s putting up are absolutely incredible. Even with a puck mover like Tyson Barrie on the roster leading up to the Dad years, I never would have expected him to rip it up like this.
15. Bridge deals are going to crush us again. Given that he’s on pace for a point-per-game season, this $3.9 million AAV deal that Evan Bouchard signed is going to set us up for a whopper in the summer of 2025.
16. I know there’s a segment of Oilers fans that will never appreciate what Darnell Nurse does on the ice because of how much money he makes, but I think he’s having a pretty damned strong first half to this season.
17. Vinny Desharnais is a fantastic story, and I can’t help but cheer for the guy as he continues to improve at the NHL level. If I’m being honest, I never would have expected the seventh round pick from 2016 to end up on the roster as a key piece at any point, and yet, here he is. How can you not pull for a guy who worked his way into an NHL gig?
18. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a power play merchant. The only people who say that kind of stuff are fans of teams with terrible special teams.Life’s too short to bet the under, especially with the firepower and goaltending issues we’ve seen around these parts.
19. Dead cap space is always going to drive me nuts. As we flip the calendar over to 2024, the Oilers still have another season of paying $1.9 million for the James Neal buyout and I don’t think I’m talking out of school when I say that those dollars could be better spent elsewhere. That’s why I always get nervous when I see people talking about a Jack Campbell buyout. I know there’s a good chance it might happen, but that doesn’t mean I’ll still be happy about it when we see his name on the cap list six years from now.
20. It was so much fun to bring my old man to the Heritage Classic, and it’s a memory I’ll carry with me forever. We had such a blast watching the Oilers dismantle the Flames at Commonwealth Stadium, and it was also the first time he really got an idea of how big Oilersnation has become since I started working here. We had Greta packed before and after the game, and it was very fun for me to watch him soak up the moment.
21. Being an Oilers fan is a wild ride. There are times when you think the team is a world-beater, and others when you believe they may never win again. Thankfully, we’re all in this together and can basically handle anything this team throws us at this point.
22. We had the Oilersnation 15th anniversary party back in March and it was an incredible day that I’ll never forget. Not only did we see the boys pick up a win against the Seattle Kraken, but it was an amazing day filled with laughs and familiar faces from so many incredible Nation Citizens that help make this whole thing work. When I think back to that party, I almost can’t believe how long we’ve been talking about the Oilers together. Unreal.
23. Cody Ceci may never score again. Maybe there’s something in the water?
What am I missing? What’s on your list?

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