How Did the Oilers Improve So Much This Season? Part 2 by Andrew Taylor 

This is the second of a five-part series looking into the areas in which the Oilers improved in the 2016-17 NHL season, leading them to their first playoff appearance in eleven years.  

Connor McDavid was “gifted” to the Edmonton Oilers on April 18th, 2015.

A week prior to that their season had officially wrapped up with 62 points.  It could easily be argued that their season was likely done much earlier; they hit the mid-point of the season with 27 points, on pace for 54 which they actually surpassed for a grand total of 62 points.  Their roster for that final game of the season was, to be as polite as possible, cringe-worthy.  Are you ready for Oilers fan shell shock?  Keith Aulie, Matt Fraser, and David Musil all played more than 10 minutes that game for the Oil and haven’t stepped foot into an NHL game since.  Yikes!

Here are some other highlights (read lowlights) from that game:

  • Ben Scrivens was our anointed #1 goalie (Ben’s a great guy, champion of human rights and likely has more brains in his pinky finger than I do, but likely not a sufficient #1 goalie on an NHL team).  I get playing out the string but that night he had an .821 save percentage.  As the cool kids say, WOOF!
  • Luke Gazdic hung out there for 7:16 TOI.  He cracked New Jersey’s roster for a whopping 11 games this year, and I see no evidence that he was on the injury shelf.  New Jersey ended the season with 70 points and in 27th place overall, not exactly a huge improvement over Edmonton’s 70 points and 29th place overall the season prior, so not cracking that lineup more frequently somewhat begs the question as to why he was able to crack the Oilers roster the season before for 40 games.
  • I love Matt Hendricks, he’s been a helluva soldier for the Oilers, but 12:59 TOI?  Even though he was at that time still a spring chicken (well, 33 years old) it’s simply too much to ask of a hard-nosed grinder like him.
  • Remember Rob Klinkhammer?  8:42 TOI.  Here’s how bad things were for the Oilers shortly thereafter and often during the 10 full seasons without a post-season berth: a lot of discussion surrounded whether or not to bring him back that off-season.  Aren’t you indeed glad the Oilers became an NHL team shortly thereafter?
  • Anton Lander played 17:10 that night.  He suited up for the Oilers 22 times this last season, had 4 points in total in an average of 9:46 TOI per game.

Can anyone honestly look at that roster, claim Connor McDavid would join it and expect two years later they would make it to the seventh game of the second round?  If you can, without breaking out in hysterical laughter, remind me to NEVER play poker with you.

Effective Player Attrition

If you take the roster of that last game in April of 2015 and compare it to the roster on March 28, 2017 (the playoff clinching game against the Los Angeles Kings) there are literally 3 players in common: Jordan Eberle, Oscar Klefbom, and Benoit Pouliot.  To be fair, the shell of a team stripped of any ambition in game 82 two years ago might be a little unfair to compare to the one that punched the playoff ticket for the first time in 11 years almost two months ago.

Instead, let’s compare the opening night roster at the beginning of the 2015-16 season to that same game 76 of this year instead.  A whopping 8 players (7 skaters and a Netminder) played for the Oilers in both games: Oscar Klefbom, Mark Letestu, Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Benoit Pouliot, Andrej Sekera, Anton Slepyshev, and Cam Talbot.  They lost that game to the St. Louis Blues 3-1.  They didn’t lose a game to them this past season, not once, ever.

Possibly unfair still, I mean it was Connor’s first game (that counts) in the NHL.  The full season would show better I’m sure.  Let’s take a look.

Connor McDavid only played 45 games in 2015-16 (thanks again Brandon Manning!) and amassed 48 points (1.07 points per game).  So, if he was around all year they’d have been much better right?  Well, if you compare the team’s success with him to their success without him points wise, you might be surprised.  They actually went 17-25-3 in the 45 games he played for a total of 37 points, which would line up to 67 points over an 82 game season.  Without him, they went 14-18-5, good for 33 points over 37 games or 73 points over an 82 game season.

OK, for those diehard fans that would say “it’s because Klefbom was gone as well” I will say this: Klefbom wasn’t injured until after the first 30 games of last season and for the 13 games they played together at the beginning of the year the Edmonton Oilers went…wait for it…5-11 for 10 points over 21 games or 39 points over an 82 game season.  Of those 13 games Cam Talbot started 10, they went 3-7, 6 points in 10 games or 49 in 82.  Really, no matter how you want to slice it, the team wasn’t good last year no matter what combination of players you want to focus on.

I stand firm that a General Manager’s first year on the job is more about tactical observation and decisive planning to build and shape a team.  The group Peter Chiarelli inherited was dysfunctional at best and a massive improvement in the standings in that season would’ve handcuffed the team for years.  Instead, he did some tinkering including shaving off some players who weren’t going to be part of the long-term plan and bringing in a couple of bigger guys who can agitate and create space, and most importantly play.

There wasn’t a massive sell-off of talent at the trade deadline of 2016 as had been the tradition for the Oilers for years, in fact almost the opposite took place.  They managed to make two significant, “actual” hockey trades by bringing in Patrick Maroon for scraps and Zack Kassian for Ben Scrivens.  They were slightly better after these “gambles” but still not a .500 club.  This was a significant sign to the fan base however, that the days of flushing out talent might be in the past.

His most significant move was mere months down the road…

If you missed part one of Andrew Taylor’s five-part series, you can check that out here. Tomorrow in part three, Andrew will be discussing “The Larsson/Hall Trade” and what a balanced roster meant to the Oilers this season.

You can follow Andrew Taylor on Twitter @drewtaylor1978!!

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Beer League Hero Written by:

I’m the Beer League Hero! I am from Camrose, Alberta but I make my home in Taipei City, Taiwan. I’ve been through the ups and downs and the highs and the Lowes, the Bonsignores and the McDavids, the Sathers and the Eakins but I’ll never leave my Oilers, no matter what!

They’re with me until the end and then some. GO OILERS GO!