Ten Tuesday Questions…
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Jason Gregor2 months ago
We are 10 days away from the unofficial start of another Edmonton Oilers season. For the first time since 2017, the Oilers rookies will participate in the Young Stars Classic tournament in Penticton on September 16th-19th, and they will play one game against prospects from the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. The rookies will do their medical testing next Wednesday and then depart to Penticton.
Dylan Holloway, Xavier Bourgault, Reid Schaefer, Matvei Petrov will lead the forwards, Philip Broberg, Michael Kesselring and Max Wanner will lead the blueliners, while Olivier Rodrigue and Ryan Fanti will be the guys to watch in goal. Edmonton will fill out its rookie roster by extending invites to undrafted WHL players.
The Oilers veterans will report for medicals on September 21st and be on the ice for training camp on the 22nd. Their first preseason game is Sunday, September 25th v. Winnipeg. They play in Seattle on the 26th and Calgary on the 28th, home to the Flames on the 30th, in Winnipeg on October 1st, home to Vancouver on the 3rd, in Vancouver on the 5th and host Seattle on the 7th.
They begin their 43rd regular season on Wednesday, October 12th v. the Canucks. With training camp just over two weeks away, here are 10 questions I have.
1. Will Holloway make the team?
He will be on the roster for at least one day, for salary cap purposes, but will he be in the lineup on opening night? Gone are the days (which lasted over a decade) when rookies come to camp and are guaranteed a spot in the lineup. When the Oilers were a bad team, the top rookies gave fans hope, but that isn’t the case anymore. Holloway will make the team based on his play, not because he was a first round pick. Oilersnation should be thrilled by this because it means the team is good. Holloway will be given opportunities to showcase his skill, and if he is on the opening night roster, it will be because he earned it.
2. Will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins play more at centre or on the wing?
Edmonton had 11 players take at least 25 faceoffs last season, and RNH had the worst F0% of all of them at 40.7%. He struggled mightily in the dot. The next lowest among those forwards was Warren Foegele at 46.4% (13-15). RNH took the fifth most faceoffs (437), behind Derek Ryan (512), Ryan McLeod (525), Connor McDavid (1,046) and Leon Draisaitl (1,661). Ryan was 55.9%, McDavid 53.7%, Draisaitl 53.4% and McLeod was 47.2%. McLeod was a rookie, yet he was almost 7% better than 11-year vet RNH.
RNH was 43.1% at EV strength. Not all faceoffs are created equal, but last year was his second-worst season in the dot in his career. Only his rookie season, 37.5%, was worse. There is much more to centre than just faceoffs, but RNH’s inability to improve (he is 44% in his career) means you can’t rely on him for key faceoffs right now. If RNH could become even a regular 48% in the dot, he’d be much more valuable to the team. I think we see him split time between LW/C, because there will be games where McDavid and Draisaitl play together. They are too dangerous together not to unite them now and again.
3. How will the Oilers be cap compliant?
They have five weeks to figure out their cap situation. They need to be compliant for day one of the regular season. Here is where they stand right now.
They have 12 forwards at $49,875m (McDavid, Draisaitl, Kane, Hyman, RNH, Puljujarvi, Yamamoto, Foegele, Janmark, Ryan, Shore and Holloway) and seven D-men at $26,393,668 (Nurse, Ceci, Barrie, Bouchard, Kulak, Broberg and Murray), two goalies at $5.75m, $896K in bonus overages and $4,166,667 in buyouts or retained salary. That puts them at $82,914,335m with a 21-man roster. So they are $414K over the cap and still need to sign Ryan McLeod.
They could sign McLeod for $900K and start the season with a 20-man roster. They’d send Shore and Murray to the minors. That would put them at $82,214,335. The worst-case scenario is they start with a 20-man roster. The problem is if a player gets injured in game two, they have to play one player short for one game before they can recall a player on emergency recall. Goalies are exempt for this rule. The risk with a 20-man roster is you will play one game with either 11 forwards or five D-men. If skaters get injured in the same game, then you’d have to play two players short for one game.
The Oilers don’t want to start the season with a 20-man roster, and that’s why a trade is the most realistic scenario, and Puljujarvi or Foegele are the most likely candidates to get moved. Tyson Barrie is an option, but the lack of RD depth makes trading him less likely unless you get an RD in return.
4. Will the Oilers win their division for the first time since 1987?
Edmonton owns the NHL’s longest division-winning drought. The Islanders (1988) have the second longest. If the Oilers remain fairly healthy they should have a great chance to finish first in the Pacific division. The Oilers went 26-9-3 under Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson last season. They had the third best points% over those 38 games. I don’t expect them to have a .724P% all season. If they did they’d finish with 119 points, which would tie the franchise high set in 1984 and 1986. Those are the only two seasons the Oilers had a .700P% over a full season.
If they collect 115 points they’d finish with .701P%, which was fourth in the NHL last season. Calgary won the division with 111 points (.677P%), and I think 110 points will win the Pacific this year. I see the Oilers ending their division-winning drought.
5. Can Edmonton finish top-10 in goals against at 5×5?
Over the past 15 seasons, the Oilers have struggled mightily trying to suppress goals against 5×5. They allowed the most GA at 5×5 in the NHL over that span. The only year they finished in the top 10 was in 2017 when they were 9th. They were 19th in 2013 and in 2022. Those are the only other two seasons they were in the top 20. It has been an issue for years.
After finishing ninth in 2017, they reverted to their old ways and finished 27th in 2018, 24th in 2019, 26th in 2020 and 21st in 2021.
They did improve under Woodcroft and Manson as they finished tied for seventh from February 11th on. They need to ensure they don’t revert back to being porous defensively like they did in 2018 and 2019.
I think they will finish top-15 for only the second time in 16 seasons, but just miss finishing top-10.
6. Will McDavid reach 80 assists in a season for the first time in his career?
He had 79 last season to set a new career high, but he also had 72 in the 56-game shortened 2021 season. Five players have reached 80 assists in a season in the 2000s. Jonathon Huberdeau had 85 last year, Nikita Kucherov had 87 in 2019, Henrik Sedin had 83 in 2010, Sidney Crosby had 82 in 2007 and Joe Thornton had 92 in 2007 and 94 in 2006.
Only 11 players in NHL history have tallied 90+ assists in a season. McDavid was on pace for 102 in 2021. I see him reaching 80 for the first time, and he has an outside shot at 90. Evander Kane is a better finisher than any winger McDavid has played with other than Draisaitl. Kane should finish off more of the sublime passes McDavid dishes out.
7. Will McDavid or Draisaitl set a new career-best point streak?
McDavid had a 17 and 15-game point streak last year to set a new career high, while Draisaitl’s career-best is 14 games set in 2019. McDavid will break his record while Draisaitl will not, but Draisaitl will score 100 points for the third time in his career.
8. Will Edmonton have three 40-goal scorers?
McDavid and Draisaitl are locks to score 40, barring any significant injuries. But could Evander Kane reach 40 for the first time in his career? He scored 22 goals in 43 games last season, and he and McDavid created more chemistry the more they played together. He added 13 goals in 15 playoff games and is the best power forward Edmonton has had since Bill Guerin.
Kane’s biggest challenge is staying healthy. He’s played 70+ games five times in his career. He did play all 56 games in 2021 and all 48 in 2013 when the seasons were shortened, so he might have reached 70+ in those years as well. He scored 30 goals in 2019 and 2012, but that’s the closest he’s come to 40. He believes he can do it, and if he manages to play 75 games I think he has a realistic shot because he’ll play most of the season with McDavid.
9. How different will the opening roster be compared to the roster post trade deadline?
Colorado had five in-season acquisitions last year. They added Nicolas Aube-Kubel in late October, then they acquired Josh Manson, Arturri Lehkonen, Nico Sturm and Andrew Cogliano near the trade deadline. None were top line players, but Lehkonen scored eight goals, while Manson added a physical presence and chipped in with eight points while Cogliano, Sturm and Aube-Kubel filled in roles in the bottom six.
The Oilers will need to make some tweaks before the deadline. I’m just curious how many GM Ken Holland makes.
I say the Oilers will add three skaters who aren’t on the opening day roster.
10. How many games will Jack Campbell start?
Campbell has 125 starts in his career. He started 47 last season after making 26 starts in 2020, 25 in 2019 and 22 in 2021 (shortened season). Sixteen goalies started 50+ games last year and 10 made 56+ plus starts. Campbell turns 31 in January, but he doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear on his body. He’s only played 40+ games in a season three times since turning pro in 2011/2012. Ideally, the Oilers would like him to start between 52-56 games. If he does, then he will have played well, and Stuart Skinner will also have been solid enough to not have to overplay Campbell.
- When: On Thursday, January 12th, we’re jumping on a flight at the Edmonton International Airport and making our way to Vegas. On Sunday evening, we’ll fly back from Vegas to Edmonton. So the dates that you need to block off for this trip are January 12th to 15th.
- Where we’re staying: After landing in LV, we’ll jump on the free shuttle and make our way to the Park MGM before settling in for a good night’s sleep. 😉
- What you get: Your roundtrip flight, hotel, shuttle, viewing party (Friday night), game entry — we got seats this time (Saturday night), and exclusive entry into our pre-trip ‘get to know everyone’ event.
- How Much: The total cost for the trip, flight, hotel, and entry to the game is $1499 per person (based on double occupancy)
- Tickets: Ready to dive in? Click this link.
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