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Random Thoughts: The 2023-24 Oilers’ season has been a rollercoaster

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
baggedmilk
27 days ago
Now that we’ve hit the All-Star break and the Oilers are undefeated in 2024, there’s been plenty of time to consider the insanity that the 2023-24 season has dished out so far. And since we haven’t had a game to talk about in a minute, I’ve had time to think about some of the stranger storylines we’ve already seen through 45 games.

THE YEAR OF ZACHARY MARTIN HYMAN

Seeing as Zach Hyman’s career high in goals is 36, a total he put up last year over 79 games, I think it’s safe to say that he’s in line for a new personal best. With 30 goals already, Hyman is on pace for 55 over 82 games in year three of his deal that one Leafs blogger said was the “worst in NHL history.”
Jokes aside, the guy is playing some fantastic hockey, and he’s cementing himself in our hearts in a way that is almost like watching Ryan Smyth pass him the “legend forever” baton in real time. At $5.5 million per year, Hyman is giving the Oilers value well beyond anything we would have expected when he signed his seven-year, $38.5 million deal.
With plenty of meat left on the season, I can’t wait to see where Hyman ends up and if he can find a way to keep this run going. Regardless of where he finishes, however, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the guy is easily the greatest free agency signing the Oilers have ever had, and I don’t think it’s close.
Who knows how long it will be before he starts to slow down, but here in 2024, Zach Hyman is playing the best hockey of his NHL career, and I couldn’t be happier that the geniuses in Toronto didn’t think he was worth the money. What they wouldn’t give to have a forward with that kind of motor and touch around the net.

ALL KNOBBY DOES IS WIN

Nov 13, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Kris Knoblauch looks on against the New York Islanders at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
When Jay Woodcroft got fired on November 12th after the Oilers finished up a road trip, many of us had never heard much about his replacement in Kris Knoblauch, apart from being Connor McDavid’s coach in Erie. Put another way, if Woody was going to get fired, it seemed more likely that they would choose a veteran coach over one who had yet to run an NHL bench.
Yet, after winning only three of his first games behind the bench, Kris Knoblauch has turned the Oilers’ season around in a way that seems almost impossible. After that minor speed bump to start his tenure, Knoblauch’s Oilers have won 24 of their last 27 games and flown up the Western Conference standings like they’re T-1000 chasing John Connor in Terminator 2.
Obviously, we don’t know if the Oilers would have been able to turn things around had a coaching change not been made, but what we can say for sure is that Kris Knoblauch has this team playing its best hockey right now. From my side of the TV screen, I see a team that’s playing a much calmer flavour of hockey with way more structure in place in all three zones, and I think the coach deserves a tonne of credit for making that happen in only a couple of months.

RISE OF THE PENALTY KILL

When I think about the Oilers’ PK, it’s hard not to think back a few years to the 2017-18 season when the boys were sporting a miserable 55.5% kill rate at home. As far as being bad, that team set the bar for awfulness and it’s honestly amazing to see how far the group has come. Over at the Edmonton Journal, Bruce McCurdy dove into the numbers behind the penalty kill improvement, and there was one piece that stuck out to me the most:
“The cold hard fact of the matter is that the Oilers gave up more opponents’ powerplay goals in Woodcroft’s last stand than they have to date in Knoblauch’s, despite the fact that the latter is a 2.5x larger sample in terms of GP and 2x larger in terms of times shorthanded. When shorthanded goals are folded into the mix, the Oilers are a net -7 in 32 games under Knoblauch/Stuart compared to -15 in 13 GP under Woodcroft/Manson.”
For years, the Oilers seemed to have trouble keeping pucks out of the net when down a man, no matter what they tried. They gave different players a chance and switched up the system, but nothing seemed to work in any real, tangible way. So to see the boys having the success they are under Mark Stuart’s tutelage is like a gift that I never expected, and one that will make a massive difference in the team’s success going forward.
I know the PK will likely dip a little bit at some point down the stretch, but if the Oilers can maintain some version of their current success then that will be a massive upgrade as we wind down the year. Either way, what I can say today is that it’s been very nice to not be stressed out about a goal against every time the Oilers are down a man.

WHAT A TRIP

I’m 38 years old; I’ve been an Oilers fan my whole life, and there is no doubt in my mind that the 2023-24 season has been the strangest that I’ve ever experienced. We got the lowest of lows followed by the highest of highs, and the ride was about as intense as it gets for a fan base with Stanley Cup dreams.
When the team started the year at 2-9-1, fired Jay Woodcroft, and won only three of the first five games in the Knobby era, this season looked like it was on the ropes before it even began. The vibe around here was as grim as I’ve seen in the 16 years of this website’s existence, and given that we know what happens next, that early panic almost feels ridiculous in hindsight.
Yet, despite the ups and downs, the best part about sports is never knowing what’s going to happen next, and there’s no better example than what’s gone on with our beloved Oilers through the first 45 games. Even though it’s been stressful and some of us teetered on the edge of exploding into rage, watching the turnaround has been one of the greatest stories I’ve ever experienced as an Oilers fan.

THE #NATIONVACATION TO ARIZONA

Oilersnation is headed to the desert! Escape to Arizona on our next Oilersnation Vacation presented by Alberta Blue Cross from Feb 18-20th, 2024! Join the party for just $1,999/person (double occupancy rooms). Your ticket includes roundtrip flights from Edmonton, two-night stay in a popular hotel, transportation to the airport and premium hockey game tickets! Limited spots are available so don’t hesitate to get your ticket now!

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