The Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres have made it very clear – it’s time to flip the switch. The two franchises collected their rewards for a season of ineptitude – two generational talents in
Connor McDavid and
Jack Eichel – 12 days ago at the draft and they’ve been bathing in optimism ever since with an attitude that suggests they’re going to waste no time in getting the teams back into contention. The two teams made some of the biggest moves during the off-season that show they mean just that. Edmonton traded for goaltender
Cam Talbot and added steady defender
Andrej Sekera during free agency, while Buffalo got a young, almost-elite center in
Ryan O’Reilly to go with their own new goaltender,
Robin Lehner. They’re very good moves for both clubs and there’s no doubt that the teams are much better because of it. Here’s the thing: these two teams were already very bad. In terms of goal difference, Buffalo allowed 113 more goals than they scored while Edmonton allowed 85. Not many teams have put up numbers that atrocious (adjusted to this year’s goal-scoring levels and talent distribution) since the league has expanded and those that have were still pretty bad the next season, too.
On average, the 33 teams that had an adjusted goal difference below -80 improved by 45 goals the next season, which is about 15 points in the standings. That would still leave Edmonton and Buffalo below 80 points. And while almost one of every five teams made the playoffs the next year, only one of 14 has made it since the league expanded to 30 teams. Basically, both these teams are in tough. But perhaps these two teams will be exceptions to the rule, they did add a lot of talent after all, and it’s possible to project just how much using wins above replacement from war-on-ice.com. The method is the same as our free agency post where we used a player’s last three seasons to get an estimate of what he’ll do next season with consideration to his age. Of course, that leaves out the two biggest additions in McDavid and Eichel. In that case, we used NHL equivalencies of comparable players during their draft years and looked at their WAR in their rookie season.
Buffalo improved to the tune of almost five extra wins, while Edmonton did half of that. It’s lower than the average for the other terrible teams mentioned above, but it’s important to understand the limitations of the method of projection here. It doesn’t consider prospects like
Leon Draisaitl or
Sam Reinhart graduating to the NHL level, players already on the team that will improve naturally as they move into their prime or the improvement that will come with playing alongside better players. Call this one a conservative estimate, one that leaves Edmonton and Buffalo toiling away in the basement for another season. There is one last thing to consider, and that’s the fact that both teams drafted very special players in McDavid and Eichel. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the Oilers and Sabres to other sad-sacks and only look at how teams fared after adding their own generational talent.
Again, the trend is crystal clear. Year One will likely still be painful, with the three teams that actually drafted the players all producing forgettable seasons in the -60 range. But the rise is quick after that and the teams will likely be contenders by the third season if history is any indication. It may take time, but the teams will be very good, very soon with a decent chance of Stanley Cups, too. It’s just not going to happen overnight.