With the Edmonton Oilers about to kick-off their third season under the current management group and coaching staff, it’s hard to have a lot of confidence in the team’s ability to break through and become one of those top teams in the league.
This off-season was a major disappointment as management failed to build a championship contender, spending lots of assets in the form of players and cap space but still having so many question marks across the roster.
For things to go right this upcoming season, the star players need to be healthy, young prospects like Evan Bouchard will need to establish themselves as regular NHL players and some of the veteran players need to perform above what we’d expect from aging defencemen and goalies. That’s a lot of uncertainty and risk, most of which could have mitigated had management applied basic principles of talent evaluation and salary cap management.
The lack of success over the last two seasons, including the many, many red flags, doesn’t really breed a lot of confidence in the team either. While it was encouraging to see them make the playoffs twice, they failed to get out of the qualifying round in 2020 and were swept by the Jets in 2021 – with the Oilers getting out-coached in both series.
What was especially troubling is the Oilers poor performance in the regular seasons at even-strength (5v5), a direct indictment on the management group that assembled the roster and the coaching staff that handled the on-ice deployment. In both seasons, the Oilers posted a negative goal-differential, often being out-shot and out-chanced by opponents, as reflected by their Corsi For% (a proxy for puck possession or flow-of-play) and the Fenwick For% (a proxy for scoring chances). Compared to the on-ice numbers of previous top teams, the true contenders, who have had playoff success, the Oilers haven’t even been close.
It’s been well established that the Oilers even-strength failures have largely been driven by the depth players – players that Holland has acquired or re-signed – and how badly the team has been outplayed without their superstar on the ice.
Over the past two seasons, the Oilers have a goal-differential of +20 with McDavid on the ice at even-strength (5v5), and a -37 goal-differential without him. The team has spent far more time without the puck and in their own zone when McDavid is on the bench, posting a Corsi For% of 47.08% and a Fenwick For% of 47.55%.
In the all-Canadian North division last season, the Oilers only out-scored two teams at even-strength – Ottawa and Winnipeg. They were outscored by everyone else including the Canucks and Flames – neither of which made the playoffs. But because of McDavid’s production at even-strength and the team’s potent powerplay (mostly against non-playoff teams), the Oilers were able to finish second in the North and these underlying issues were largely ignored. (Related: North division review)
With results like this, again because of the roster that the current management group acquired or re-assembled, it’s hard to have confidence in their talent evaluation and cap management capabilities going forward. And if management does get something right, like hopefully the Hyman signing, it’s hard to have confidence in the coaching staff to deploy them correctly just based on how they’ve mishandled things and what kind of players they value in the past two seasons.
Being in a relatively weak Pacific division and having McDavid on the roster with a potent powerplay, the hope is that things work out and the team solidifies itself as a championship contender. The biggest concern will be preventing goals with a weak defence core assembled, replacement-level forwards in the bottom six, two aging goalies sharing the crease, and a coaching staff that appears to be applying some flawed, outdated logic. Whatever happens, the Oilers need a lot of off-ice help to figure their mess out, make the necessary roster moves, and hopefully head into next season with a lot more certainty.
Data: Natural Stat Trick