After watching the Edmonton Oilers miss the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 years, the frustration level in Edmonton is at a boiling point. Fans are starting to turn away, and there is concern that some of the team’s top players are running out of patience with the never-ending rebuilds and coaching changes (Dave Tippett is the ninth coach in the past 11 seasons).
But despite the unrest, anyone hoping for a massive roster overhaul this summer didn’t get it. New GM Ken Holland didn’t have much cap space or pieces to trade, and he doesn’t want to mortgage the future on a quick fix. So the Oilers are expected to look very much like they did last year, as Hollanduses 2019-20 to evaluate his assets, employing a patient, long-term approach to a long-lasting problem.
Despite having a forward group anchored by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the second- and fourth-leading scorers in the league, Edmonton’s lack of offense remains a critical issue. Once you get past McDavid, Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the unexpected career highs from Alex Chiasson and Zack Kassian (22 and 15 goals, respectively), the scoring dries up fast.
Holland still needs another top-six winger, but he only added Markus Granlund on July 1, as well as Tomas Jurco (12 goals in 33 AHL games last year) and Swedish free agent Joakim Nygard in the hopes they can add a little production to the bottom half of the lineup.
Holland managed to expel his worst contract, sending Milan Lucic to Calgary in exchange for winger James Neal, another overpaid underperformer. Of the pair, Neal has been more consistent and is more likely to return to form than Lucic. Prior to scoring just seven times last year, Neal had netted at least 20 goals in seven consecutive seasons.
Evan Bouchard, the highly touted right-shot D-man drafted 10th overall in 2018, may not be ready to step in and make an impact just yet. The same can be said for Philip Broberg, drafted eighth overall in 2019. The future of the blueline looks bright, but the current group is lacking. Edmonton’s blueline doesn’t retrieve or move the puck as well as they need to in today’s NHL, and they lack a puck-moving, power-play quarterback. Darnell Nurse is coming on offensively, scoring a career-high 41 points last year to lead the defense corps, but the back end simply doesn’t produce enough.
Buying out Andrej Sekera opens up a spot for a prospect, but Sekera was a puck-mover who showed down the stretch last year that he could be helpful when healthy.
Then-GM Peter Chiarelli made a potentially costly rush to judgment last year in signing Mikko Koskinen to a three-year, $13.5-million contract. Koskinen had played only 27 games in the NHL when the deal was consummated and saw his performance drop off down the stretch. Holland added Mike Smith, an established veteran who previously played well under Tippett in Arizona. But Smith is 37 and had an .898 save percentage last year on a superior defensive team.
While the power play was respectable, it’s fair to expect more from a unit that features McDavid and Draisaitl. The Oilers still lack an adequate point presence. Neal’s finishing ability should be a power-play asset. The penalty kill has been terrible for two years, and part of that has been weak goaltending. The Oilers hope Granlund can help, and they added assistant coach Jim Playfair to change the look.
The Oilers have a very young leadership core and need to guard against a “here we go again” mentality if things start off on the wrong foot. There was no quit in the room last year, but losing catches up with everyone eventually. Another playoff miss for McDavid could be disastrous.
The Sekera buyout means there’s a ‘D’ job available, and the offensively inclined Bouchard offers what the Oilers need. Caleb Jones, Joel Persson and Ethan Bear are also in the mix. Up front, Tyler Benson had a strong AHL season, and European free agents Nygard and Gaetan Haas also have a shot.
The Oilers aren’t as far away as it might seem. They would’ve made the playoffs last year with better goaltending, one more 25-goal scorer and a better bottom six. If the goalies hold up and the depth additions pan out, hey, you never know.
Edmonton cleaned house again, bringing in Holland, who’s preaching patience and a sustainable solution, and Tippett, who’s expected to shore up the team’s defense. This time, the cuts ran deeper, addressing failings in scouting and player development. Ownership is clearly unhappy.
– Robert Tychkowski
Stanley Cup Odds: 62/1
Projection: 6th in the Pacific
1. Evan Bouchard, D
Age 19 Team London (OHL)
High upside D-man with a big shot distributes the puck well. Struggles in his own end at times.
Acquired 10th overall, 2018 NHL ’19-20
2. Philip Broberg, D
Age 18 Team AIK (Swe.2)
He’s big and skates well. Was really tested at international tournaments and showed promise.
Acquired 8th overall, 2019 NHL ’20-21
3. Kailer Yamamoto, RW
Age 21 Team Bakersfield (AHL)
Slow-developing winger doesn’t have blazing speed but creates chances with great hands.
Acquired 22nd overall, 2017 NHL ’19-20
4. Caleb Jones, D
Age 22 Team Bakersfield (AHL)
Has the tools to be an offensive contributor but also occasional lapses. Decent two-way potential.
Acquired 117th overall, 2015 NHL ’19-20
5. Raphael Lavoie, RW
Age 19 Team Halifax (QMJHL)
Big winger has a big shot and north-south speed. Needs to work on level of engagement.
Acquired 38th overall, 2019 NHL ’22-23
6. Kirill Maksimov, RW
Age 20 Team Niagara (OHL)
Pure scorer with a quick release. Skating is a question mark, and AHL seasoning required.
Acquired 146th overall, 2017 NHL ’21-22
7. Joel Persson, D
Age 25 Team Vaxjo (Swe.)
Undersized blueliner who can quarterback a power play. Mature and ready to step in.
Acquired Free Agent, May, 2018 NHL ’19-20
8. Ryan McLeod, C
Age 20 Team Saginaw (OHL)
Playmaker with a good wrist shot saw his offense sag in draft-plus-one year. Will be a young AHLer.
Acquired 40th overall, 2018 NHL ’21-22
9. Dmitri Samorukov, D
Age 20 Team Guelph (OHL)
Had an outstanding season and playoffs. Solid in his own end as well. Bound for Bakersfield.
Acquired 84th overall, 2017 NHL ’21-22
10. Cooper Marody, C
Age 22 Team Bakersfield (AHL)
Michigan alum had bust-out rookie season in AHL. A smooth playmaker.
Acquired From Phi, March, 2018 NHL ’20-21