There’s a new general manager and a new coach in Edmonton and the Oilers are hoping they’ve finally found the combination for whatever’s locked them out of the post-season for a dozen of the last 13 seasons. Ken Holland is the new general manager, hired in May, and Dave Tippett is the new head coach.
Tippett is Edmonton’s ninth coach in 11 seasons. He’s the successor of Ken Hitchcock, who couldn’t turn this group around. That’s saying something, but the Oilers are hoping overall reform and refurbishment can wait. After all, there should be enough talent on this roster to win the Stanley Cup.
Holland and Co. have made minor changes, electing to keep the core intact. That’s why the summer’s only seen acquisitions like James Neal, bartered for Milan Lucic in a transaction with Calgary. Neal, who had just seven goals last season with the Flames, isn’t exactly a head-turner anymore. The Oilers are, however, banking on a comeback.
And secondary scoring is the name of the game for this squad, who need to take at least some of the heat off Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. But if we’re being honest, Edmonton’s problems are legion.
McDavid had a career-high 116 points last season, including 41 goals and 75 assists. He’s the first NHLer to have three straight 100-point seasons since Alex Ovechkin and his domination of the game is undeniable if unmatched. McDavid is usually paired with Draisaitl, but there are reverberations that the duo could be divided to draw out more secondary scoring.
Draisaitl, like McDavid and the rest of the team, will have to adapt to Tippett’s defensive style. That could mean a dip in production, but it could also mean more wins. Draisaitl had career-high totals in goals, points, assists, power play points, and shots on goal. He had 50 goals, placing him second in the NHL.
Even with two of the top point-getters in the NHL in the fold, the Oilers struggle to generate wins. After McDavid and Draisaitl, secondary scoring begins and virtually ends with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Nuge had 69 points and was third in the team. He managed a career-high 26 points on the man-advantage, well above his 2017-2018 total of nine.
The Oilers are counting on Neal to revive his scoring touch. Having quit on Lucic, Edmonton’s hope is that the 32-year-old is less a Flame and more a Penguin. Or a Predator or a Star. The Whitby native hooked up for 40 goals in 2011-2012 as a Penguin and reached 31 goals in Nashville’s 2015-2016 campaign. Will sticking Neal with McDavid and/or Draisaitl turn on the jets?
Here’s where it gets bad. The Oilers’ D was dreadful. They allowed 274 goals against, making them the second-worst team in the Western Conference. Only the Chicago Blackhawks allowed more goals against. The Blackhawks scored more often, which tilted the differential a tad and exposed Edmonton further.
Oscar Klefbom has struggled with injuries in the past two seasons and missed considerable time. That’s taking a toll. He was limited to 61 points last season and 66 the season before that. He finished 2018-2019 as a minus-11, but did generate 11 points on the man-advantage and could translate that to more production if he stays healthy.
Darnell Nurse is atop most depth chart projections for 2019-2020 and for good reason. He was often the best player on the ice last season and with 41 points in 82 games he was one of the highest scorers too. The 24-year-old averages nearly 24 minutes of ice time a game and yet was only a minus-five. That’s not bad.
You know how things get bad if you look at the Oilers’ defence? Well, things get worse if you look at the Oilers’ goaltending. Mikko Koskinen is the starter in 2019-2020 and former Flame Mike Smith will assist. Make of that what you will. Many in Edmonton have misgivings about picking up Calgary’s castoffs, but Smith did play some good hockey last season.
Last season, the Oilers probably pushed Koskinen too much. He started 51 games after having just four NHL games under his belt. And those games, by the way, were in 2010-2011 when he was a member of the New York Islanders. Koskinen was .873 then, so his statistical improvement at the NHL game last season should be noted. But a 2.93 goals against average isn’t that thrilling, is it?
Have the Oilers changed enough? That’s a tough sell, since the Oilers didn’t really change at all. The hope sits with management and new coaching. But the players didn’t respond to Hitchcock or Todd McLellan or Todd Nelson or Dallas Eakins. Holland, who had just four coaches in 22 years as GM of the Red Wings (five if you want to count when Barry Smith stepped in for five games with Scotty Bowman out after knee surgery), may be able to steady the ship. Maybe.
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