Are the Edmonton Oilers Playoff Contenders Now?

BLH FA PIC     There is an enormous amount of talk on the Twittersphere right now about the Oilers attempting to negotiate a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks to land defensive stalwart Brent Seabrook. All that talk got me to thinking about what is realistic for the Oilers moving forward. I agree that adding Seabrook would be a tremendous boost and would make the team a playoff contender next season. But with that being said, I still don’t see Seabrook being moved. Although I can honestly say I didn’t think that Saad would be moved either. He would be a tremendous add to the team but that would be a best case scenario. While I would love to see him play in the blue and orange I just don’t see it as being realistic at this point.

That is my topic for the day, what is realistic going forward? I read a blog this morning from Richard Cloutier over at PrettySkateMachine and it got me to thinking about what fans should expect this coming season. If you want to read the post it is here. Now before I begin to discuss the post I need to make it perfectly clear that I DO NOT dislike Richard in any way. I respect his opinion and someday hope to be as widely followed as him. Truth be told, Richard is a big reason that I got into blogging in the first place. So if you hate my writing or whatever please direct all complaints to him. But in all seriousness, Richard and I don’t have any animosity between us and even though we rarely agree, we respect each others opinions and enjoy discussing the team. I read the post mentioned above and I agreed with virtually everything that he wrote in the piece with the exception being that the Oilers will be a playoff team in 2015-16.

I do think that the team will take an astronomical step forward this season but there are still far too many variables that need to break right in order for this team to see the second season. The Oilers were 35 points out of playoffs last season. Yes you read that right, 35 points! That is a huge number of points to make up in one season. While the Oilers got better this summer, dramatically better in fact, so did a lot of teams in the Western conference. To assume that the additions we made is enough is putting the cart before the horse in my opinion. Of course if the Oilers get the puck luck that the Flames had last season it is entirely possible but not probable. So what needs to happen for this much maligned franchise to see the post-season for the first time in a decade? A whole lot actually.

talbot

Cam Talbot has to be the bona fide starter that the team expects him to be, we cannot afford to have another goaltender issue like we have in the past couple of seasons. Talbot has to be able to steal games for this team and keep them in the games that they have no business being in. On top of that he is going to need to be able to handle the 60 plus game workload normally associated with being a true starting goalie. That is a ton of pressure to put on a guy that has played less than a hundred games in the NHL. Is he ready for it? I guess we will know in the coming months.

What else needs to happen? Well we need Andrej Sekera to play huge minutes for us on the top pairing and this season and do it well. Is he capable of it? Possibly but he is definitely better suited to be the number three defender on the . The unfortunate thing here is that the Oilers are again going to be forced to play the defense above their heads as we don’t have the real top pairing guys, a la Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith and we won’t see one coming this year either. That was a large part of the issue last season. All the defencemen were playing over their ability level and that is something that the good teams never do.

To me those are the two biggest factors moving forward this season. The goaltending needs to be much much better and the defense needs to be less chaotic and more efficient at moving the puck out of our zone. If both of those items break in the Oilers favor we could see hockey in late April again.

Now that I have framed the issue at hand lets look at what we know so far. We know that our star players will be our stars again. Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, and Eberle are all a year older and capable of handling the tougher competition. Benoit Pouliot, Nail Yakupov, Teddy Purcell, and Lauri Korpikoski will fill out the top nine wingers positions adequately if not spectacularly. Lander looks extremely capable of handling the third line center spot and chip in offensively on a consistent basis. The fourth line players like Mark Letestu, Matt Hendricks, and Rob Klinkhammer will be counted on to be sound defensively and little else. We also know that Oscar Klefbom is capable of playing top four minutes this year without quite as easy zone starts, depending on his partner. Dragging Schultz around again this year will virtually guarantee massive offensive zone starts if for no other reason than Schultz is a train wreck in the defensive zone. At this point barring other players joining the roster before training camp in September that is about all we can count on being true.

Of course I am leaving out the phenom and future league superstar Connor McDavid. The reason I am leaving him out for now is we don’t know just how well he will do this season. I fully expect him to be a finalist for the Calder trophy, but since the league seems to hate awarding trophies to Edmonton Oilers players, he will be runner-up to Jack Eichel from Buffalo. McDavid’s numbers will depend a lot on Todd McLellan and how much he decides to play the youngster. Richard states in his article that he feels that Connor could challenge for the Art Ross this season and depending on his minutes and zone starts it isn’t outside the realm of possibility. That would obviously be the best case scenario but it isn’t entirely unrealistic.

We know what we have so far and who can be counted on to be effective and consistent players moving forward. I am not going to get into exactly where I see the players finishing point wise as that would take away from future posts that I plan to write this summer. What I do want to look at is where I predict the Oilers will finish in the standings this season. Unlike Richard I don’t see Edmonton being quite there yet. To get into the playoffs last season in the west you needed a minimum of 97 points and that was just the wildcard berths. To be looked at as an actual contender would require 100 plus points and I am sorry Oilers but that just isn’t going to happen. Especially with the Oilers atrocious record against the west last season. Edmonton finished the season 20 games below .500 and to me that is just too much ground to make up in one off-season.  If we are  being realistic and even a little optimistic, I know that is hard for us Oilers fans, I could see maybe 15 more wins next season. That adds 30 points to our total from last year and while it is a massive increase it still isn’t enough to take us to the promised land. I see Edmonton finishing ninth or tenth next season which while not appeasing the franchises need for playoff it does mean meaningful games into March and I for one would be completely okay with that!

What do you think? Has Chiarelli done enough of a transformation to this team to make the playoffs? Where do you see the boys finishing this year? Hit me up in the comments section or on twitter, @cooke_rob, with your thoughts on this or any other hockey related topic. I am always up for a good discussion. Thanks for reading Beer Leaguers and please spread the word about our fantastic little site here!

Cheers!

Rob

Rob Cooke Written by:

I will come back to this when I can think of something interesting to say here.

  • lee

    I would be happy with a big increase in points, even if we don’t make the playoffs. Let the team that PC built this year grow together.

    • Rob Cooke

      That is my thinking exactly! I’d love to see the playoffs but I am not overly optimistic about it next year. Thanks for reading!

    • Kyle

      Except MacT built this team. Let’s be honest. Go Oil!

  • CofC

    Good article – thx.

    I think the Oilers have always been a step or two away from real contention; i.e. With some tweaks on D and a solid net minder, there has been great potential brewing – for some time now. Craig MacTavish was not out in left field in taking a stab at a new coach as the potential catalyst to turn this thing around (in addition to his subsequent attempts to improve Goal and D); As we all suspect, Eakins might not have been the right fit for the team at the time, but I agree with Craig’s intentions.

    I think Todd Mclellan said it best when he said during interviews following his hire by the Oilers that (paraphrasing) the Oilers are always that team that could beat you 7-2 (any given night); He then alluded to the fact that there were lessons to be learned by the team regarding consistency and 60 minute compete every night, and that this is something he will bring to the team.

    He, along with many others, have always seen the Oilers as a dangerous team, one step away from contention; The changes we have seen to date, along with the addition of Connor McDavid, will move the team in the right direction. It might take a season or part of a season to gel, and we might benefit from an additional piece on D; But I firmly believe even as we now stand, we will see some major progress under seasoned tutelage, and with some of the progress made to date in Goal and on D.

    Go Oil!

    • Rob Cooke

      Thanks for reading! I agree totally. If the team adds another proven NHL defenceman that can play top 4 minutes without moving Klefbom, Nurse or Draisaitl we could see the first round.

  • Way too early to make any predictions on what this team will do…although it is sure fun! I can see this team putting a string of wins together at some point in the season. Team chemistry and injuries will play a major part. Either way its going to be one heck of a developmental year with the new acquisitions and young players with another year under their belts.
    Tough to compete with the power house western conference teams.
    The Oilers will definitely be competing in more games and there will be some circus/rock concert like moments to behold!

  • Walter Foddis

    Enjoyed your post, Rob. From an analytics perspective, I wanted to address an issue.

    Because there is a lot variance in goals, even within a season, more points won’t necessarily mean the team has improved. For instance, last year Calgary had enough points to make the playoffs, but their shot metrics indicated non-playoff team. Their statistically high shooting percentage carried them. Colorado was lucky the season before. It didn’t surprise any of the analytics people that Colorado failed to make the playoffs last season.

    What we’ll want to see with the Oilers is that their underlying shot metrics have improved, specifically, their shot attempt (Corsi) and weighted shot differentials. Weighted shots are the latest and most accurate predictor of future performance. A weighted shot assigns more points to a goal compared to a shot attempt. For instance, Matt Cane of war-on-ice assigns 10 points to a goal (for and against) and 1 point to a shot attempt. This takes some calculation, which I’ll be doing in my twice-monthly “fancy stats” rankings.

    Anyway, for the sake of simplicity, let me focus on shot-attempt differential (Corsi). What we want to see is the Oilers’s Corsi differential approaching 50% or more. In a statistically perfect world, a 50% Corsi would result in 82 points. Historically, teams with a 52.5% Corsi have a 90% of making the playoffs. So if the Oilers’s Corsi differential is close to 52.5%, then we know they are close to playoff range.

    Sure, seeing point improvement would be great, but how the Oilers earned this points is more important: Were they lucky (like Calgary last season & Colorado the season before) or did they earn those points (as measured by Corsi & weighted shot differentials)?

    Cheers,

    Walter

    • Rob Cooke

      Thanks Walt, I will take your word for it on the advanced stats stuff as I am still learning the ropes with them. I do agree that I would much rather the team earns the points instead of being the team with the unsustainable shooting percentage!

  • RED DEER OILER

    35 points seems like alot but if you consider how many games they lost by just one goal I truly believe that there is an opportunity to make the playoffs