Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pool Outlook for Edmonton

Yes, the Edmonton Oilers had another terrible season and no, you can't say that they 'tanked.'  With all of that talent that they have drafted over the last few years, there was no real motive to tank this season, especially given that a few teams would likely be below them, especially given some of the expectations that they had.

No, they were just pretty bad.  Injuries played a part of it all, sure, but at the end of the day, the top end talent that they have drafted through the years has seen very little support from management, trying to sign or add some good depth and that has not only made the future superstar forwards struggle, it has looked poorly on the goaltending behind them all and that has added up to some disaster seasons.

The real mention of tanking comes from the race for the top draft pick in the Summer, which would bring a team the future franchise player, Connor McDavid.  The Oilers were only in the conversation, because they had a poor season and some okay odds, but it was the Buffalo's, Arizona's and Toronto's, who may have been expecting the pick to land to them.  Not Edmonton... not again!

But here we are, the Oilers are the first team reviewed on the blog, because they got the first pick and well, how does that impact their near future?

First, we have to look at what they had in the year.  The first mention is generally for the team's best player in points and as much as that finished off to be Jordan Eberle, thanks to 24 goals and 63 points in 81 games, he gets the nod.  Whether or not he was the best player on the ice on a consistent basis for the Oilers, that's another story.  Eberle finished 57th overall in pool scoring this season, which isn't too bad.  If you were to throw that placement into this year's draft of 23 teams, he would still be a 3rd round pick.

Since the team has plenty of roster questions left to be answered this Summer, Eberle might be the answer to, who could the Oilers benefit the most from trading away?

As expected, the rest of the better players this season were forwards, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finished 80th overall in pool scoring, thanks to 56 points in 76 games, probably my pick as the best overall player for Edmonton this year.  Taylor Hall had another down year, thanks to injury, 38 points in 53 games; Benoit Pouliot came in and did okay, 34 points in 58 games; Teddy Purcell wasn't quite the add they thought they were getting, 34 points in 82 games; and Nail Yakupov, my favourite for a breakout year, didn't do that with 33 points in 81 games.  In this year's draft, they were all worthy of being picked, most were best as late picks.

The Oilers only had one defender worthy of being picked in the pool, Justin Schultz, who finished with 31 points in 81 games, the 49th best defender.  At the end of the year, he was the only Oilers defenseman active.

Goaltending.  Oh, boy.  I'll be the first to say, that these boys get a bum rap for what goes on in front of them.  Both Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth came from teams with excellent defenses in California and put up some good numbers with them.  Last year, Devan Dubnyk finally departed Edmonton, finally landing in Minnesota, getting a good defense and pow!  We'll see him later on in this series.

Scrivens led the way for the Oilers in 2015, playing the most, winning the most and earning the most points for the team, but that still wasn't enough to be a top 30 goalie, by pool standards.  Scrivens finished the year with 33 points, good enough for 37th among all keepers, despite being 17th in minutes played among all goalies.

2016 Pool Outlook

Today, there is a lot of talent on this team signed on for next season and that isn't necessarily a good thing.  A team that suffered so much through it's consistency, keeping contracts for a lot of players, that has to be a concern.  If you were to have your fantasy pool draft before the Summer, you wouldn't be rushing out to pick Oilers, unless it was a few of the top, top players and their future top draft pick from the Summer.

Things can change, I would expect them to change and those changes, in theory, should be enough to sway the minds of those in the hockey pool, but confidence will still be low, as this rebuild process starts all over again.

In all likelihood, yes, Connor McDavid will be in an Oilers uniform next season, but until then, we'll play it as if he isn't.  The cupboards are not bare for Edmonton, but I still don't think there is enough to help them win.  That won't be our issue though, as our concern as poolies will be, 'will any of them get me enough points to help me win?'

The Oilers are short on quality defensemen and this could be the year that Darnell Nurse gets a good look, as he finishes junior hockey with some rave reviews.  Playing defense as a rookie will be tough, especially in Edmonton, so you may not want to put yourself out there for him as a rookie, but do keep an eye on him.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

After the season that was, the headliner for the team's free agent crop is veteran forward Derek Roy, who had an impact on guys like Yakupov this season and there would be some expectation that they will have him back.  Viktor Fasth also provides an interesting question mark as a UFA this year.

As for restricted free agents, defenseman Justin Schultz is due up, possibly earning a decent raise, while Matt Fraser, a mid-season pick-up, may have turned enough heads to earn a deal.

The salary cap ceiling projection for the 2016 season stood around the $71.7 million mark and with 31 players under contract, eight more than the roster limit for the start of the regular season, the Oilers still had $6.322 million (approx.) left in space.  Roy, Schultz and Fasth may take up a decent chunk of that, pare down the non-roster players and the Oilers could be in the mix at the free agent frenzy... for whatever that's worth this year.

Needs at the 2015 Entry Draft

The real needs of this team are things that cannot be picked up at the Entry Draft, but seeing as though the Oilers have the 1st overall pick and the Penguins' 1st round pick, they will definitely be able to address some of their long-term roster needs.  Connor McDavid is an immediate no-brainer and as much as they could use some more young talent, the Penguins' pick could be better suited to addressing those immediate depth needs.  If they don't do that, they have to be looking at something in either defense or in goal.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

My prediction for the Oilers in 2015 today doesn't reflect well upon what they have in the bank, so far. The Oilers are likely to make a big push in the off-season to help accommodate their goals for the playoffs, but these goals get pushed further from their grasp, as every team gets the benefit of a raised cap ceiling and the talent pool for free agency isn't quite as deep as it once was. If the Oilers can persuade two or more key free agents to join their cause, I would go so far as to say that they will finally start pushing for a playoff spot, but I would rather suggest that very little will change until the Old Boys Club of Former Glory move out of the way for some more relevant hockey thinking. I don't expect to Oilers to improve without significant change.

Did the Oilers make a big push in the off-season?  No, they had addressed their goaltending at the end of 2014 and the team were not in the running for much in the off-season.  Did the Old Boys Club of Former Glory get disbanded?  No... and no relevant hockey thinking was added and there was no significant change during the year.  That's all we really need to know.

I will join the many, who have voiced their disgust in the luck the Oilers have had with getting 1st overall draft picks, but my prediction will be fairly close to the same as last year.  Despite gaining a franchise player, like McDavid, the Oilers still need some drastic change in their thinking, as teams in the NHL are built to withstand the possibility of another run and gun destiny team, like the Oilers of the 1980's.  Unless there is a move to shift one of their top end picks, Eberle being the better for returns, they won't improve as a whole.  The free agent pool is shallow and likely won't help a great deal, so unless they can move an Eberle or a Nugent-Hopkins, the 2016 season will be another one for the newly-altered Draft Lottery as well.

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