Realignmentpalooza: Edmonton Oilers
In the second installment of our series breaking down the Kings' new divisional rivals, we check in with that other Alberta team. The one with all the Cup banners and the first-overall picks and Scott Howson.
Last time in Realignmentpalooza, we looked at the Calgary Flames and came to the conclusion that they probably won't be very good. Of course, Calgary is not the only National Hockey League team in the province of Alberta, and while they appear to be just on the precipice of a "full rebuild", their neighbors to the north have been happily (?) rebuilding for nearly half of the last decade. Are they further along in their process than Calgary? Yes, undoubtedly. But does that mean we should take them seriously as a contender for one of our new division's three guaranteed playoff spots in the upcoming 2013-14 season? Let's dig a little deeper and find out.....
2012-13 Season: 19-22-7, 45 pts, 3rd in Northwest, 12th in West
2011-12 Season: 32-40-10, 74 pts, 5th in Northwest, 14th in West
Last Playoff Appearance: 2005-06 (lost 4-3 in Stanley Cup Final to Carolina)
Last Stanley Cup: 1989-90 (def. Boston 4-1)
SB Nation Blog: Copper & Blue
Before the lockout that cancelled the entire 2004-05 season, the Oilers were a consistently middling hockey club. Long removed from the dynasty days of the 80s or the plucky, somewhat-forgotten Gretzky-less Cup run of 1990, the Oilers managed to make the playoffs five straight seasons from 1996-97 until 2000-01; even more amazingly, they played the exact same team, the Dallas Stars, in every single one of those seasons, despite never advancing past the second round. And although they upset a very good Dallas club in 96-97, they would go on to be eliminated by the Stars in all four meetings that followed. In 01-02 they missed the playoffs before returning in 02-03 and getting knocked out by, you guessed it, the Dallas Stars again in the first round. In 2003-04 they would again miss the playoffs, followed by the aforementioned lockout.
Coming out of the lockout, few things were expected from the 2005-06 Oilers, but awful goaltending early on masqueraded a surprisingly solid club. Chris Pronger, a guy SoCal hockey fans know very well, came over from the St. Louis Blues in the previous offseason, and helped make the Oilers a very not-fun-team to play against. Midway through the season the OIlers acquired veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson from the Minnesota Wild, and he posted a .905 sv% with the Oilers; not particularly good, but considering the other three goalies he replaced had sv%s of .880, .884, and .880, it was a huge improvement, and enough to get the Oilers into the playoffs as an 8th seed.
Now stop me if you heard this one before: an 8th seeded team in the Western Conference, featuring the likes of Matt Greene and Jarrett Stoll, went off on a string of upsets. The President's Trophy-winning Red Wings were taken out in 6, the San Jose Sharks went down in 6 as well, and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim went down shockingly fast in the Conference Finals in just 5 games. They weren't the dominant possession team that Los Angeles was in their own similar string of upsets, but lead by Pronger on the back-end and a very balanced offensive attack (Horcoff had 19 pts, Fernando Pisani had 18, Hemsky had 17, and a few others were in mid-to-high double digits) as well as a stellar .927 sv% performance from the veteran Roloson, the Oilers emerged as the shocking winners of the West.
But unlike our own Kings, this Cinderella story had a far less happy ending. The Oilers put up a good fight in the Stanley Cup Final, taking it as far as it could possibly go, but they fell to the eventual champion Hurricanes in Game 7. Following this near-miss, the Oilers were forced to trade Chris Pronger amidst rumors that his wife was unhappy in Edmonton. He was dealt to Anaheim in return for Joffery Lupul (who never seemed to find his elite offensive game with the Oilers, and arguably wouldn't reach his full potential until arriving in Toronto many years later), Ladislav Smid, and a few draft picks. While Pronger would quickly lead the Ducks to their first Cup in his very first season in Anaheim, the Oilers would flounder without him. Simultaneously they watched the primary reason for their Cup Final appearance walk while also locking up various other contributors to expensive long-term deals. Pisani got 4 years and $10 million, the aging Roloson got 3 years and $11 million, and most notably Horcoff got 3 years and $10.8 million dollars. Horcoff, an above-average center who never really put up close to the numbers in that fateful playoff run again, would eventually be signed to an even more ridiculous contract: a 6-year, $33 million dollar deal that kicked in before the 2008-09 season. And while Horcoff is a useful player, a $5.5 million cap hit for him was obviously quite absurd.
Without Pronger's talent along the blueline and with a cast of overpaid roleplayers up front, the Oilers would flounder for the next few seasons. They put up point totals of 71, 88, and 85 in the three years following their run to the finals, missing the playoffs each time. Along the way the Oilers would make some noteable personnel changes, including trading Stoll & Greene to Los Angeles in exchange for Kings defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky. Finally, as the wheels totally fell off in 2009-10, the Oilers would loudly pronounce that a full rebuild was being undertaken in Edmonton. Historical revisionism on behalf of the Oilers brass and even some in the media has attempted to paint the rebuild as beginning earlier, either before the start of the 09-10 season or even a year or so beforehand, but given their coaching hire heading into the year (Pat Quinn, not exactly a "let's play the kids and suck" kind of choice) it's difficult to really believe it. Instead it looks more like a situation where midway through the season, the brass realized their team was going to be quite awful, and finally decided to embrace a full rebuild. Starting with a likely high draft pick, after all, makes it an easier sell.
And by the time the 2009-10 season was over, the Oilers would start with a very high draft pick indeed, as they finished last overall and then won the draft lottery to retain the first overall pick. After a much-publicized "Taylor vs. Tyler" debate, the Oilers would go with the potential-superstar Left Winger Taylor Hall. The Oilers relieved Quinn of his duties and promoted associate coach (and former Rangers head coach) Tom Renney prior to the 2010-11 season, but the result would be virtually the same: 62 points, the same as in 09-10, and once again last overall in the NHL. Again, the Oilers won the draft lottery, and again picked first overall, this time taking center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Oilers would improve a bit in the 2011-12 season, finishing 12 points better, but that was still only good enough for 14th in the West, 29th overall. Finally showing the first signs of impatience with this now three-year-old rebuild, GM Steve Tambellini fired Renney at the end of the season, replacing him with associate coach Ralph Krueger. Krueger was talked up as having a different approach than his predecessors, with much of his coaching experience coming overseas in Europe, winning several Austrian championships and later leading the Swiss national men's team to some success.
The Oilers entered the 2011-12 draft lottery without the best chance of picking 1st overall for the first time in three years, but for the third straight season the lottery balls fell Edmonton's way, and they leapfrogged Columbus to pick first yet again. The Oilers would add yet another elite offensive talent with the pick in Russian RW Nail Yakupov, and then added even further to their young nucleus with a mild shocker later that offseason. Justin Schultz was originally a second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks (43rd overall) in the 2008 draft, but became a free agent following the 2011-12 season after de-registering from the University of Wisconsin having still not signed a deal with the Ducks. Justin was an offensive defenseman who put up very good numbers in college hockey, and thus was courted by any number of teams, from Vancouver to New York (Rangers) and everywhere in-between. Finally, Schultz somewhat-surprisingly signed with the Oilers on June 30th, 2012, citing among other things a desire to return home to Canada and an opportunity to step into Edmonton's lineup immediately thanks to their woefully thin blueline.
As the 2012-13 lockout came into effect, the Oilers many young players would end up assigned to their AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City. Schultz impressed in his pro debut, putting up 48 points in just 34 games as part of a dynamic power play unit with Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle. As the lockout ended and preparations began for the abbreviated 2012-13 season, many thought the continuity of the youngsters playing together in the AHL beforehand would be a huge advantage. Denver Post hockey reporter Adrian Dater infamously named the Oilers the best team in the entire Western Conference in his preseason power rankings, and while many scoffed at this at the time, others thought he perhaps wasn't all that far off in his assessment. So expectations were high in many circles for the Oilers beginning play, and while they started off pretty well with a 4-2-1 mark in their first seven games, it would mostly be downhill from there. That impressive power play from Oklahoma City mostly carried over (finishing 20.1%, good enough for 8th in the league) but the Oilers would struggle mightily to score at even strength. They scored just 2.2 goals per 60 minutes, 25th in the league, not nearly good enough for a team with so much young talent.
Finally, as it became clear the Oilers were going to miss the playoffs yet again, changes were made. The long-mocked Tambellini was replaced as General Manager with the man who had coached that 2005-06 Oilers squad, Craig MacTavish. This hiring was not without its critics either, as many saw it as team president Kevin Lowe simply hiring yet another former Oiler rather than bringing in the best person available. But even amidst these criticisms of his hire, MacTavish made it perfectly clear that he wasn't going to continue the status quo of the Oilers. As he explained, he was an impatient man, and he wanted to speed up the Oilers long rebuilding process. His first truly shocking move came at the end of the season, as he fired Krueger- who ended up getting just one lockout-shortened season to coach the team- and replaced him with Dallas Eakins, a man who had repeatedly been talked up as the next great NHL head coach following several successful seasons coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs' AHL affiliate. MacTavish made it clear that he would be open to trading one of the Oilers' young offensive talents if it would help improve the team, but to date he has yet to pull the trigger on such a move. He has, however, undoubtedly made his mark on the team already via several trades and free-agent signings, as we will break down further below. This will be a different Oilers team than the one that has disappointed regularly for the past few seasons, and everyone now will be asking whether or not they can finally make a real step forward and contend for a playoff spot.
Edmonton Oilers Recent Team Statistics
(note: as with last time, I have included the 2011-12 stats as well due to the small sample size nature of a 48-game season. and once again I have included LA's stats for both seasons for comparison's sake.)
|Season||Goals For Per Game||Goals Against Per Game||PP %||PK %||FenClose|
|EDM 2011-12||2.52 (20th)||2.83 (23rd)||20.6 (3rd)||82.4 (14th)||48.08 (24th)|
|LA 2011-12||2.29 (29th)||2.07 (2nd)||17.0 (17th)||87.0 (4th)||53.60 (4th)|
|EDM 2012-13||2.56 (18th)||2.73 (19th)||20.1 (8th)||83.4 (9th)||44.48 (28th)|
|LA 2012-13||2.73 (10th)||2.38 (7th)||19.9 (10th)||83.2 (10th)||57.35 (1st) |
There's a slight disconnect here between Edmonton's traditional stats- which improved slightly- and their #fancystats, which took a bit of a dip. Much of that can likely be explained by the aforementioned small sample size. Edmonton also saw a marked improvement in their 5v5 sv%, as their team .922 was good for 14th in the league last year following a .916 (20th) in 2011-12. Devan Dubnyk, who had a very good .920 sv% in 38 games last year, will return this season, although backup Nikolai Khabibulin (who had a .923 sv% in 12 games) is off to Chicago. If Dubnyk can maintain those kinds of numbers over the course of a full season, it will go a long way towards helping the Oilers continuing to chip away at their GA this year. Of course, some much-needed improvement in their FenClose would help quite a bit in that category as well. Also worth noting is that despite all the hype the Oilers' PP unit got heading into the 12-13 campaign after having played together in Oklahoma City, their PP % actually declined a small amount in a season that saw the overall NHL PP efficiency rise.
Edmonton Oilers Offseason Transactions
(According to a report in the Edmonton Journal, this trade came about because goaltender Zach Fucale was taken by Montreal just one pick earlier at 36th. The Oilers coveted the Memorial Cup-winning goalie, and once he was off the board they quickly moved the pick to the Kings to pick up three later picks in the draft. LA, meanwhile, was very interested in Russian RW Valentin Zykov, who played in the QMJHL and was ranked as the 8th best North American skater by Central Scouting. Zykov likely should have gone in the first round but as usual the "Russian factor" scared many GMs away, and if he develops as expected this could be looked back as a missed opportunity by the Oilers for not selecting him. The Oilers would later flip LA's 2nd rounder to the Blues for another third-rounder and two more 4th round picks.)
Sent Shawn Horcoff to Dallas for Philip Larsen & a 2016 7th Round Pick
(The Oilers saved 4.475 million in cap space from this trade, and there's no doubt that Horcoff was overpaid for what he brought to the team, but that's where the positives end for them here. The Oilers were already a team lacking in bottom-six forwards, especially ones who could play a shutdown role, and removing Horcoff only adds to that problem. The Oilers did address this somewhat in free agency- more on that in a bit- but the loss of their captain is still a negative given what they got back for him. Larsen played on the third pairing for Dallas, almost never saw any special teams play, and didn't post strong possession numbers at all. His lone positive is that at 23 he still has time to develop into something more. Of course, a 7th round pick is virtually meaningless.)
(In their excellent article breaking down this trade, Copper & Blue described this move as "robbing Peter to pay Paul". The Oilers got a very productive young player to add to their 2nd line, but if there was one thing the Oilers were not particularly lacking in, it's young, productive top-six forwards. On the other hand, they gave up the much cheaper Paajarvi who was able to play a shutdown 3rd line role. It was another strong bottom-six forward given away, just after trading a player of similar skills in Horcoff. So while Perron should help the team score more goals, especially at even strength, the loss of Paajarvi will not help them ice a strong third line capable of shutting down the opposition, which was already a weakness for them heading into this season.)
(in the interest of holy-crap-this-article-is-long, I'm omitting several signings that are strictly minor league/depth moves.)
Andrew Ference- 4 years, $13 million
(Ference is an interesting case, as the defenseman comes over from a dominant Boston Bruins squad that has reached two Stanley Cup Finals in the past three seasons. But although Boston is a very strong puck possession team overall, Ference himself is not a driver of that; rather he is quite the contrary, consistently posting the worst relative Corsi of all Bruins blueliners. Judging by the contract given to him the Oilers expect him to be a 2nd-pairing defenseman and he will likely start the season that way, but in reality he is an average 5/6 defenseman at best. Playing him as a 4 will likely not work out very well for the Oilers. But hey, he's a hometown kid coming home so maybe everything will magically work out for him in Edmonton!)
Boyd Gordon- 3 years, $9 million
(While the Oilers overpaid a bit here- both in a third year and a $3 million cap hit- what they got was a very good defensive center. Gordon started most of his shifts in the defensive zone for the Coyotes and still came out even or ahead in the various possession stats. He's an improvement over an aging Eric Belanger, and should help fill the void left behind by Horcoff. As of right now this is perhaps the only legitimate shutdown player the Oilers have on their bottom-six.)
Jason LaBarbera- 1 year, $1 million
(With the Bulin Wall heading back to Chicago, the Oilers signed the former LA King to back-up Dubnyk. Barbs posted very strong numbers as Phoenix's backup last season, with a .923 sv% in 15 games. He's also clearly positioned as a backup at this point in his career, so unlike with Khabibulin there will be far less speculation or clamoring for him to overtake Dubnyk in the local media or within the fanbase.)
Jesse Joensuu- 2 years, $1.9 million
(I can't really top Copper & Blue's hilarious take on this signing, in which they speculated MacT signed him solely on his credentials of being big & Finnish. It's tough to argue with that logic considering his underlying numbers are pretty bad and he's never scored much at this level either. Not a particularly good addition to their already-weak bottom-six, and if they're expecting him to play third-line wing minutes their third line is unlikely to be very good.)
1st round, 7th overall- Darnell Nurse (Defenseman/Canadian/OHL Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds)
2nd round, 56th overall- Marc-Olivier Roy (Center/Canadian/QMJHL Blainville-Boisbriand Armada)
3rd round, 83rd overall- Bogdan Yakimov (Center/Russian/MHL Reaktor)
3rd round, 88th overall- Anton Slepyshev (Left Wing/Russian/KHL Salavat Yulaev Ufa)
4th round, 94th overall- Jackson Houck (Right WIng/Canadian/WHL Vancouver Giants)
4th round, 96th overall- Kyle Platzer (Center/Canadian/OHL London Knights)
4th round, 113th overall- Aidan Muir (Winger/Canadian/MWEHL Victory Honda)
5th round, 128th overall- Evan Campbell (Left Wing/Canadian/BCHL Langley Rivermen)
6th round, 158th overall- Ben Betker (Defenseman/Canadian/WHL Everett Silvertips)
7th round, 188th overall- Gregory Chase (Center/Right Wing/Canadian/WHL Calgary Hitmen)
Nurse was a strong pick at 7th overall, with perhaps Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin (who ended up going 10th overall to Dallas) as the only better player available. Given the Oilers' strength at forward as well as the "Russian factor", Nurse was a more-than-justifiable pick. He's a 6'5 young defenseman who still may have untapped offensive potential, as he played behind two other D-men on the power play with the Greyhounds. It may be asking a bit much for him to step into the lineup in 2013-14, but he should be competing for a roster spot in 2014-15. As far as the rest of their draft went, the Oilers ended up moving earlier picks for greater depth, which some have questioned as a general strategy. Still, the notoriously critical Oilers blogging community seemed mostly positive with MacTavish's first draft overall.
(an expected NHL roster based on what they currently have signed, as well as any pending RFAs. again, for the sake of looking at a full season, both their numbers from the shortened 12-13 campaign & full 11-12 season are included. unless otherwise listed, they played in the NHL with Edmonton. asterisks for different league, parentheses for different team.)
|Name||Position/Age/Nationality||2011-12 Stats (GP/G/A/P)||2012-13 Stats (GP/G/A/P)|
|Mark Arcobello||C/24/American||*AHL* 73 GP, 17 G, 26 A, 43 P||*AHL* 74 GP, 22 G, 46 A, 68 P|
|Mike Brown||RW/28/American||(TOR) 50 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 P||(TOR/EDM) 39 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 P|
|Ben Eager||LW/29/Canadian||63 GP, 8 G, 5 A, 13 P||14 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 P|
|Jordan Eberle||RW/23/Canadian||78 GP, 34 G, 42 A, 76 P||48 GP, 16 G, 21 A, 37 P|
|Sam Gagner||C/23/Canadian||75 GP, 18 G, 29 A, 47 P||48 GP, 14 G, 24 A, 38 P|
|Boyd Gordon||C/29/Canadian||(PHX) 75 GP, 8 G, 15 A, 23 P||(PHX) 48 GP, 4 G, 10 A, 14 P|
|Taylor Hall||LW/21/Canadian||61 GP, 27 G, 26 A, 53 P||45 GP, 16 G, 34 A, 50 P|
|Ales Hemsky||RW/29/Czech||69 GP, 10 G, 26 A, 36 P||38 GP, 9 G, 11 A, 20 P|
|Jesse Joensuu||LW/25/Finnish||*SEL* 50 GP, 13 G, 16 A, 29 P||(NYI) 7 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 P|
|Ryan Jones||LW/29/Canadian||79 GP, 17 G, 16 A, 33 P||27 GP, 2 G, 5 A, 7 P|
|Anton Lander||C/22/Swedish||56 GP, 2 G, 4 A, 6 P||11 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 P|
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||C/20/Canadian||62 GP, 18 G, 34 A, 52 P||40 GP, 4 G, 20 A, 24 P|
|David Perron||LW/25/Canadian||(STL) 57 GP, 21 G, 21 A, 42 P||(STL) 48 GP, 10 G, 15 A, 25 P|
|Toni Rajala||RW/22/Finnish||*SM-liiga* 51 GP, 16 G, 13 A, 29 P||*AHL* 46 GP, 17 G, 28 A, 45 P|
|Ryan Smyth||LW/37/Canadian||82 GP, 19 G, 27 A, 46 P||47 GP, 2 G, 11 A, 13 P|
|Nail Yakupov||RW/19/Russian||*OHL* 42 GP, 31 G, 38 A, 69 P||48 GP, 17 G, 14 A, 31 P|
|Name||Age/Nationality||2011-12 Stats (GP/G/A/P)||2012-13 Stats (GP/G/A/P)|
|Taylor Fedun||25/Canadian||did not play due to injury||*AHL* 70 GP, 8 G, 19 A, 27 P|
|Andrew Ference||34/Canadian||(BOS) 72 GP, 6 G, 18 A, 24 P||(BOS) 48 GP, 4 G, 9 A, 13 P|
|Philip Larsen||23/Danish||(DAL) 55 GP, 3 G, 8 A, 11 P||(DAL) 32 GP, 2 G, 3 A, 5 P|
|Jeff Petry||25/American||73 GP, 2 G, 23 A, 25 P||48 GP, 3 G, 9 A, 12 P|
|Corey Potter||29/American||62 GP, 4 G, 17 A, 21 P||33 GP, 3 G, 1 A, 4 P|
|Justin Schultz||23/Canadian||*WCHA* 37 GP, 16 G, 28 A, 44 P||48 GP, 8 G, 19 A, 27 P|
|Nick Schultz||30/Canadian||(MIN/EDM) 82 GP, 1 G, 6 A, 7 P||48 GP, 1 G, 8 A, 9 P|
|Ladislav Smid||27/Czech||78 GP, 5 G, 10 A, 15 P||48 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 P|
|Name||Age/Nationality||2011-12 Stats (GP/SV%/GAA)||2012-13 Stats (GP/SV%/GAA)|
|Richard Bachman||25/American||18 GP, .910 sv%, 2.77 GAA||13 GP, .885 sv%, 3,25 GAA|
|Devan Dubnyk||27/Canadian||47 GP, .914 sv%, 2.67 GAA||38 GP, .920 sv%, 2.57 GAA|
|Jason LaBarbera||33/Canadian||(PHX) 19 GP, .911 sv%, 2.54 GAA||(PHX) 15 GP, .923 sv%, 2.64 GAA|
Coach: Dallas Eakins (1st season)
General Manager: Craig MacTavish (2nd season)
(the following is a list of Edmonton's top 10 prospects, as ranked by Hockey's Future. for the sake of this list, I didn't include any players they listed as "prospects" who already made my Edmonton roster list, such as Nail Yakupov for instance, who is ranked as #1 on their site. also as was pointed out after my Calgary article, this list does not include any 2013 draft picks.)
|Name||Position/Age/Nationality||Acquired||2012-13 Stats (GP/G/A/P)|
|Oscar Klefbom||D/19/Swedish||Drafted 2011, 1st Round, 19th Overall||*SEL* 11 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 P|
|Teemu Haritkainen||LW/23/Finnish||Drafted 2008, 6th Round, 163rd Overall||*AHL* 47 GP, 14 G, 23 A, 37 P|
|Martin Marincin||D/21/Slovakian||Drafted 2010, 2nd Round, 46th Overall||*AHL* 69 GP, 7 G, 23 A, 30 P|
|David Musil||D/20/Canadian||Drafted 2011, 2nd Round, 31st Overall||*WHL* 62 GP, 9 G, 22 A, 31 P|
|Olivier Roy||G/22/Canadian||Drafted 2009, 5th Round, 133rd Overall||*AHL* 22 GP, .902 sv%, 2.77 GAA|
|Mitchell Moroz||RW/19/Canadian||Drafted 2012, 2nd Round, 32nd Overall||*WHL* 69 GP, 13 G, 21 A, 34 P|
|Martin Gernat||D/20/Slovakian||Drafted 2011, 5th Round, 122nd Overall||*WHL* 23 GP, 3 G, 10 A, 13 P|
|Daniil Zharkov||LW/19/Russian||Drafted 2012, 3rd Round, 91st Overall||*OHL* 59 GP, 25 G, 18 A, 43 P|
|Dilion Simpson||D/20/Canadian||Drafted 2011, 4th Round, 92nd Overall||*WCHA* 42 GP, 5 G, 19 A, 24 P|
|Joey LaLeggia||D/21/Canadian||Drafted 2012, 5th Round, 123rd Overall||*WCHA* 39 GP, 11 G, 18 A, 29 P|
Years of rebuilding has its spoils, and the Oilers currently have a deep prospect pool. Hockey's Future ranked Edmonton's prospects third-best in the NHL during their 2012-13 spring rankings, citing very strong depth on defense, a "variety of talent" at forward, and good size at center. Their only complaints were a lack of high-end offensive talent beyond Nail Yakupov (who of course already made the Oilers' roster this season), and a true "blue chip" goaltending prospect. In addition they also claim the Oilers lack a "bonafide power play QB" and depth at RW. Regardless, the Oilers do have a number of interesting prospects that could battle for a spot on an already young roster in training camp this season, especially on defense where they desperately need the help anyway.
It's tough to break down the Edmonton Oilers at this point, because in the back of your mind there's a nagging feeling of "they have to get it together eventually". There's undoubtedly a lot of young talent here, between the forwards who have already broken into the NHL (Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, etc.) and a number of intriguing prospects on defense, lead most prominently by the young Swede Klefbom. At the same time, the Oilers still have some very glaring holes in their current lineup. Their top-six forward unit looks skilled and should be productive, but if their bottom-six was a rock band they'd be named "Boyd Gordon & the Unsustainables". Simply put, there's no way their bottom-six forward group can deal with tough competition on a consistent basis over the course of an 82-game season, as currently constructed. The bottom-six wasn't particuarly good last year, and has lost two of its best puck possession players in Paajarvi and Horcoff. If the Oilers could make a move to bring in some help for Gordon to play tough minutes against quality competition, the Oilers would start to look like a more well-rounded team.
On defense, the Oilers do not look particularly solid right now. Andrew Ference is not a legitimate top 4 defenseman, but he's being paid like one in Edmonton and should enter camp with the fourth spot. It's going to take Klefbom and perhaps even one more young defenseman stepping in and really having an impact in order to turn this unit around. Otherwise, the Oilers did little to improve a very lackluster blueline. Remember, the Oilers finished 28th last season in FenClose, so this was a very poor puck possession team. If they're going to really compete in the new division, they're going to have to drive play forward in a way they haven't in the past few seasons. Their holes on defense and in shutdown forwards who can play against the other team's top lines still look unfilled, so the chances of them making a significant improvement on last year's numbers look slim. In goal, they should be fine, as Dubnyk looked good last year and LaBarbera is a more-than-capable backup. But overall, this team does not look like a serious contender for one of the division's three guaranteed playoff spots, at least without making a significant move (or perhaps even two) before the 2013-14 season. They do have some interesting young players and should not have much trouble scoring goals (especially on the power play), so they could be a dark horse for one of the conference's Wild Card spots.
Agree or disagree with my assessment on the Oilers? Think they're already ready to contend? Let me know about it in the comments section below! Next time we'll talk about a team you should already be pretty familair with- the
Arizona Quebec Seattle Phoenix Coyotes.