The Edmonton Oilers enter the 2018-2019 season full in the belief that whatever happened last season was an anomaly, an issue not worth addressing, a hallucination that will soon be forgotten.
This may or may not be the case, but the club is putting a lot of stock in its roster and in its style of play and that’s probably for the best. After all, you don’t blow up a squad built around Connor McDavid after a disastrous off year. You let it grow, let it learn lessons, let it evolve.
To that end, Edmonton held on for a quiet summer. The team signed Kyle Brodziak to a two-year deal and just recently locked in Darnell Nurse to a two-year deal. The latter finished up business with a bridge deal and is far from the final statement on the defenceman, but it does the job for now.
The attention therefore rightly turns to what’s on the ice, with the 36-40-6 team from last year faced with an opportunity to prove themselves once and for all.
“The off-season is not necessarily about acquiring a whole bunch of different players, it’s about getting more out of what we have,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We’ve been able to add a few pieces, a goaltender for competition, obviously, Brodziak and Tobias Rieder are big additions, and [Kevin] Gravel on the back end.”
That “goaltender for competition” is Mikko Koskinen, a 30-year-old from Finland with four NHL games under his belt. In 2010-2011.
Koskinen was lured over from the KHL’s St. Petersburg squad and carries a cumbersome price tag for untested NHL talent, but these are interesting days in Edmonton. The 30-year-old was not exactly inspiring in pre-season play. But conventional wisdom suggests caution, if only because his major task is to keep Cam Talbot responsible.
Last season, the Oilers starter went 31-31-3 with a 3.02 goals against average. That was a big tumble from the previous year and Edmonton is hoping that he’ll return to form. With Koskinen pushing to gain form on NHL ice for the first time in his career, it’s plausible we’ll see a little extra incentive driving Talbot to greater capability.
Along with a goaltending conundrum, the Oilers have some new additions to its coaching staff. Glen Gulutzan, Trent Yawney and Manny Viveiros are in the fold as assistants, replacing Jim Johnson, Jay Woodcroft and Ian Herbers. Gulutzan coached the Flames for the past two seasons and could provide a bit of a, shall we say, provincial advantage.
Offensively, the Oilers should put the puck in the net with consistency. They’d clearly like to see Milan Lucic get going again and they’ll pull goals out of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl by the truckload, plus there are youngsters like Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi in the mix.
But the question marks in goal keep coming back around again and that, mark my words, will make THE difference for the Edmonton Oilers this season.