Photo credit:© James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Oilers Quest for the Stanley Cup Begins Today
By Jason Gregor5 months ago
The Edmonton Oilers will have their first informal skate of the 2023-24 season today. Their leadership group wanted the entire team in town to start skating together today. Gathering the team together two weeks before training camp won’t guarantee a Stanley Cup next June — there is nothing that can do that — but it shows the mindset of the group. They believe they are a legit contender. Their journey begins today. That isn’t to say they didn’t believe they could compete before, but last year’s playoff loss to Vegas was the first time this team showed how close they were to a championship. Many Cup-winning teams experience a devastating series loss before eventually winning the Cup. But many teams also endure similar gut-wrenching losses without ever finding a way to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The Oilers hope they will be the former, not the latter.
Look at Vegas’s road to the Cup. They lost in the Final in 2018. Then they lost in the first round in 2019. They lost in the third round in 2020 and 2021, then missed the playoffs in 2022, before rebounding and winning the Cup in 2023. Their core was focused from the onset, but the journey to winning a Cup is rarely smooth.
Tampa Bay lost in the Cup final in 2015. Then they lost in the third round in 2016, missed the playoffs in 2017, lost in the third round in 2018. The Bolts won 62 games in 2019 but were swept out of the first round. Then they won the Cup in 2020 and 2021. The majority of their core was intact for six seasons before they finally found a way to win.
Winning the Cup is extremely difficult. The biggest unknown is health. If Viktor Hedman doesn’t get injured late in the 2019 season, does Tampa find a way to defeat Columbus? If Mark Stone didn’t have surgery in January and miss the rest of the regular season, then Vegas’s lineup would have been different.
Health can simultaneously be the biggest equalizer, largest deterrent or the leader of many “what-if” scenarios. Colorado might have gone deeper into the 2020 bubble in Edmonton if their goaltenders remained healthy. The 2006 Oilers might have won the Cup if Dwayne Roloson wasn’t injured in game one of the final. We will never know, but when a key piece of a team is unavailable in the post-season, it can alter a series.
If Laurent Brossoit didn’t get injured for Vegas in the second round vs. the Oilers, would we have seen Adin Hill?
Health is rarely talked about among the players, because it is so unpredictable. Players spend hundreds of hours in the off-season, and during the season, trying to optimize their bodies, and performances, while also hoping it keeps them healthy. However, you can be in the best shape of your life, and an inadvertent shot to the side of your skate can break your foot. One unexpected collision can tear an ACL or MCL. One awkward hit can dislocate a shoulder. It’s the cruel reality of the NHL.
No one knows when an injury will occur, who will be injured, and how it will impact a team. Some injuries will derail a team. Others can create unexpected heroes and new opportunities. That is why I strongly disagree when someone says the regular season doesn’t matter. It matters significantly, for a variety of reasons, and health, or injury, are often huge factors.
Last season only 116 skaters played in all 82 games. A total of 191 skaters played 80 games, 365 played 70 and the chart below shows the rest.
Missing a few games is normal, but lengthy injuries can have a significant impact on individuals and their teams.
Here’s a look at goalies and how many starts they made.
Only 24 teams had a goalie start 40 of their 82 games. In today’s NHL you need two quality goalies, sometimes three. And then there is the wild unpredictability of the position. Hill made 88 regular season starts over the past six seasons. He had a .910Sv% and 2.67 GAA. He’d never played a playoff game until last season. In 16 games (14 starts) he posted a stellar .932Sv% and 2.17 GAA. How many expected him to be that good?
There are many uncontrollable factors in an NHL season, but by having the team together on September 5th, it tells me they are trying their best to control the things they can control.
CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN…
Nov 30, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) and forward Connor McDavid (97) talk before a face off against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
By arriving early and skating together as a group for two weeks prior to training camp, the Oilers are doing their best to ensure they are unified and ready when the season begins. You can’t control injuries. You can’t control slumps, but preparation is under their control and in conversations I’ve had with players and coaches the past few weeks, there is a different feeling. This morning on the Kevin Karius Show on Sports 1440, assistant coach Glen Gulutzan mentioned how this year feels different than previous ones. The expectations are higher. The focus, not that it was poor before, is heightened.
There are many storylines to watch this upcoming season:
How efficient will the power play be?
Can McDavid score 150 points again and become only the third player in NHL history to score 150 points twice?
Will Leon Draisaitl become the 15th player in NHL history to have four 50-goal seasons?
Can Jack Campbell rebound?
How many games, and how many minutes, will Philip Broberg play?
But the one I will be watching closest, is how the team plays defensively. Will they limit the “easy” goals against? From my seat, that has been their most consistent weakness the past few seasons. Scoring goals isn’t an issue for the Oilers. They were the highest scoring team in the NHL last year. Winning games regularly hasn’t been a problem. Since Jay Woodcroft arrived, only Boston has more victories than the Oilers. But limiting goals against — and more specifically, reducing the glaring errors, risky passes or poor decisions positionally or with the puck — is crucial to any post-season success.
The Oilers gifted too many goals early last season, then they reduced them significantly down the stretch. But they lost the series to Vegas due to poor second periods in games five and six where they allowed three goals in each period. And they didn’t make Vegas work as hard as they should have to score three goals. Their Achilles heel reappeared in the playoffs, at the worst possible time.
This regular season will be about consistently reducing those glaring errors. That doesn’t mean playing perfect. No team does. Mistakes are part of the game, but if the Oilers prove they have learned from past mistakes and become more sound defensively in the regular season, then the odds that continues in the playoffs increases.
Arriving today, and being on the ice as a group, is step one of the process. It shows me how serious they are about building a winning culture.
A huge thank you to all who reached out via email, DMs on socials and via text regarding the launch of Sports 1440. The encouragement and positive responses have been fantastic. Thank you. We are excited to be talking sports on the radio with you again. Thanks for making us part of your day. You can listen on Sports 1440, online at sports1440.ca or download the iheartradio, Radio Player or Stingray app.
Today will also be my first show live on YouTube and Facebook. I’m pumped to be partnering up with Oilersnation. You can watch the show here. Please subscribe. We have a goal to get to 20K subscribers before the start of the regular season. When we do, one of the subscribers will win tickets to an Oilers game.
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