Welcome back to another Edmonton Oilers’ season. I’ve been writing about the Oilers for over a decade and I have to say, this is the best roster we have iced in that time. In fact, it’s not even close. With how last night went, I thought I would break the team down and how I see our Stanley Cup hopes.
For instance, TheAthletic has us ranking in the top tier of favourites, along with the Carolina Hurricanes. I have this theory that no team is perfect in a cap world; every team has it’s flaws, every single one. However, if you want to win a Stanley Cup you need to be very strong in two of the three categories. Eg. the last two Cup champions had average goalies backed up by very strong defence and forward groups.
The best forward group in the league
Wow, our forward group may be the best forward group in the NHL. Other fanbases could argue but we have to be top five easily. Our top six is cemented and is absolutely fantastic without too many weaknesses. We have three 100+ point scorers in our top six and all three are centres! We have grit and skill in Evander Kane. We have grit and tenacity in Zach Hyman. We have Connor Brown on a brilliant deal and looking to fit the team like a glove!
The bottom six is also not bad. The Oilers even has a few guys that could push for top six minutes in case of injuries or regression. Dylan Holloway is a first rounder and should be “arriving” soon. He has all the tools and pedigree to be a top-six forward and if he can get himself on the top two lines, then the sky is the limit. Ryan McLeod also has some top six potential. In the pipe we have Raphael Lavoie and Xavier Bourgault (second half of season.) Our pipe is now weak and a cause for concern but we still have some good pieces that can fill in the roster.
I really don’t see any weaknesses. To put it another way, our forwards are so good that we could sustain a Connor McDavid injury and still be competitive in the regular season. We have top-six forwards who can score, an insane power play and very effective bottom-six players. I’d keep an eye on Holloway this season as a potential breakout player, if he can get in the right situation. Even our contracts are good. The only “bad” contract, to me is Warren Foegele who is not going to provide near $3M in return.
Is defence good enough?
For years now, the Oil have had their D playing one slot too high. Typical deployment would be to give Darnell Nurse 25 minutes and a fifth or sixth defenceman 8 to 12 minutes a night. Nurse is a very good defenceman. I could see him helping us win a Cup. He is overpaid by $1M and he’d probably get the same deal if he was UFA this summer elsewhere. He’s essentially an $8M player making over $9M. Nurse is key to our defence and does a very good job. He is probably around the 15th best defenceman in the NHL.
We picked up Mattias Ekholm in a brilliant trade. He’s now our second best defenceman and someone we needed badly. We improved after signing him and it helped slot everyone to a more reasonable spot in the lineup. This may be GM Ken Holland’s best trade!
Evan Bouchard is due to blowup. He was well over a point per game after Tyson Barrie was traded. He was over a point per game in the playoffs too! He is poised to potentially be in the 60 to 70-point range if he can stay healthy and keep his PP1 job. He has arrived and should have an amazing year. Defensively he will never be perfect but his offence and shot are undeniable assets. He added to that power play and was not just a passenger on it.
Brett Kulak is a perfect fifth or sixth d-man that can step up in case of injury. Spot duty as a third or fourth is easy for him and he’s done well. He’s also shown to be a good playoff performer. He’s great value and in the perfect slot in the lineup.
After that, it gets a little dicey. Cody Ceci is in our top four and routinely plays very heavy minutes against the oppositions top lines. He has a thankless and very difficult job which he does well at. However, to me, he is not a top four defenceman on a Cup-winning team. He’d be an amazing fifth or sixth, or could do spot duty in the top four on a Cup-winning team. However, he’s still slotted in the top four. Ceci will do a good job but an upgrade is required to join Bouchard, Nurse, and Ekholm to legitimize our top four.
Philip Broberg is the wildcard here. If he can play his way up the lineup and force himself into the top four, then our problems could be solved internally. Otherwise, our defence needs a trade before the deadline to improve.
Vincent Desharnais and Markus Niemelainen are spot duty seventh or eighth type D. They have snarl and are fan favourites, but I’m not sure we are looking at guys that can help the Oil win a cup.
This is about the 15th best defence core in the NHL. Not awful, better than what we’ve had the last decade but it’s not enough. Broberg needs to take steps or Holland needs to make another great trade at the deadline (or earlier.)
A precarious goalie situation
Something I have yet to see is Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner perform well at the same time. Campbell had a good playoffs (statistically speaking), and an awful regular season. Skinner had an amazing regular season and an awful playoffs. To Skinner’s defence, he was a rookie and meant to be the backup. He played more games than anticipated and was, potentially, exposed.
The dream is that Campbell and Skinner both have better seasons (.910 is all we need) and push each other for a playoff spot. The nightmare is that Skinner is exposed and Campbell doesn’t improve. Both are possible. We are hoping at least one plays well. It’s not a great goalie tandem going into the season.
This goaltending duo is a bit of a hope and a prayer.
What to expect overall
We are very strong at forward and we spent last year being excellent at winning 5–4 games. During the regular season, we could usually outscore our problems which made for great TV. This didn’t work in the playoffs though. The Oilers didn’t do well in low scoring contests and are too easily scored on. That could be a weaker D or weaker goalies, or it could be a combo of both. We don’t have the D that the Colorado Avalanches’ or Vegas Golden Knights’ had when they won the Cup. I’m not even sure Ceci or Kulak would’ve made the Av’s Cup winning lineup? In both cases, we are very much relying on the same D and goaltending that wasn’t good enough a year ago.
I should mention that our coach is very good and not a liability in any way. Most the pieces are in place. I expect regular season to go very well. I hope that Holloway and Broberg take a next step and we require no trades. I hope that Campbell has bounced back and has a very good season. I hope Skinner bounces back after an awful playoff and learns from the experience. At this moment, the goaltending looks like a weakness to start the season.
Our road to the Cup has a potentially resurging Calgary squad that hates us, an improving L.A.squad that absolutely hates us, a returning to form Avalanches team that could be very dangerous, and the Knights who are defending Cup Champions and didn’t get weaker at all. Our forwards are definitely the best forward group amongst those teams. Is our D and goalies?
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire