Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Pool Outlook for Edmonton

What happens at the beginning of the season to the team that features (arguably) the best player in the game?  The expectations start going up, up and up some more.  The 2017 season saw the Oilers return to the playoffs and Connor McDavid had an award-winning season and that really got the hype machine into full gear.  Rightfully so, many would agree.

The Edmonton Oilers, however, are such a great example of how hockey is so much more of a team game, rather than everyone on the 23-man roster leaning on the best player, looking for results.  The Oilers had the league's leading scorer, but still failed to reach the playoffs and if I was to point my finger, it would be at the team's overall defense game.  The team's goaltending couldn't play out of their skin every night and the goals against piled up faster than the goals for and that's where the Oilers suffered the most.

One could say that the 2018 season was a bit of a waste of talent and many would agree, but are there any quick fixes to get this team back on track to being a contender?  They have some really good pieces up front, a starting goalie that can carry the load, but they could really use a little bit more depth, especially on the blueline.  If they are going to win now, they can't wait for a few of these prospects to come along, the deals have to be made to acquire some more reliable depth, especially to help out their goaltending.  It just seems like a broken record, year after year.

McDavid was able to make a huge individual push at the end of the season, despite the lack of wins, to earn back-to-back Art Ross Trophies, finishing with 41 goals and 106 points in all 82 games, taking top spot in the hockey pool scoring as well, earning him the MVP honours there, which appear to be his only MVP honours he'll be getting.

The Oilers had 10 players, including McDavid, to be considered pool worthy in the 2018 season and also among the forwards were Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Strome and Milan Lucic.  On defense, it was Darnell Nurse, Matt Benning, Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell, but all four were in the bottom half of the top 100, so nothing spectacular there, just good depth players.  Cam Talbot appeared in 67 games for the Oilers, but only walked away with 65 pool points, good enough for 13th among all goalies, but that was more because of sheer volume of minutes, than the quality of his starts.  There were quite a few points to be had from Edmonton, but besides McDavid, Draisaitl and Talbot, it wasn't terribly impressive.

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

It's scary to think of what the Oilers could be capable of here in the next year, two and/or three. We've seen most of the Pacific Division already in these outlook posts and there shouldn't be a lot there that scares the Oilers moving forward. They gained some regular season experience with a big year, they played two playoff seasoned teams before getting eliminated this year, so most of that should add up to something fantastic, before too long. Undoubtedly, the Oilers are going to score a lot of goals and Cam Talbot will play as much hockey as he can, but the long-term results will always stem from the blueline here and with Sekera starting the season hurt and Russell unsigned right now, there are holes to fill and a division title and/or playoff success will hinge on what the Oilers do to help their defense. Everything is possible for these kids right now,, they just need help.

The kids were certainly capable, but the help just never came and things got worse, before they got better.  The defense improved offensively, but regressed at their main function and the playoffs were nothing more than a pipe dream at the end of the day.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

A decent stint in the AHL didn't really boost the morale of Jesse Puljujarvi's game in the 2018 season, as he was still able to appear in 65 games for the Oilers at the top level, but he only posted 12 goals and 20 points.  It's getting increasingly difficult to see Puljujarvi succeeding in the Edmonton system, as they haven't been able to provide the ice-time or the opportunity for the 2016 4th overall pick to succeed at the top level.  There were (and still are) too many mouths to feed up front in their organization and most of them make way more money than the kid's entry-level deal.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Connor McDavid 12.500 Andrej Sekera 5.500 Cam Talbot 4.167
Leon Draisaitl 8.500 Oscar Klefbom 4.167 Mikko Koskinen 2.500
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 6.000 Adam Larsson 4.167 Al Montoya 1.063
Milan Lucic 6.000 Kris Russell 4.000
Zack Kassian 1.950 Eric Gryba 0.900
Jesse Puljujarvi 0.925 Ethan Bear 0.720
Kailer Yamamoto 0.925 Ryan Stanton 0.700
Tyler Benson 0.839
Ty Rattie 0.800
Jujhar Khaira 0.675
Pontus Aberg 0.650
Brad Malone 0.650

It seems silly to take the 2018 season and really cast a shadow over this team, thinking that they are not going to be that great in 2019 either.  I suppose there is always going to be a chance of that, if management doesn't sort themselves out in this off-season, but there is a lot of talent on this team and they are very pool worthy.  You're going to see a lot of points from these Oilers, but how many a guy like Cam Talbot is going to get is dependent on what management does to help fill the gaps defensively.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Now that McDavid's salary cap hit is going to take effect this season, the math crunch really begins!  Restricted free agency is going to offer up some interesting situations, where pool worthy players like Ryan Strome, Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning are all in need of new deals and they might have the numbers to ask for some significant raises.

Unrestricted free agency won't really offer up too much, in the way of flexibility, except that Mark Fayne's $3.625 million comes off the books, so there is that, at the very least.  There's no pool worthy talent coming off the books, which is probably the best news.

The early number for this summer is looking like $69.6 million for that 22-man roster above and a buyout still on the books.  Once the cap ceiling gets bumped up, then the management team can finally come up with a solid plan to help fortify this squad.

Despite being small, the Oilers are very high on the playmaking skills of their 1st round pick last summer, Kailer Yamamoto.  The Oilers did see him for nine games this season and he did post a trio of assists, but it was certainly a good move to send him back to junior, where he flourished, posting 64 points in 40 games, also having a stop at the World Juniors with Team USA.  This kid is pure offense, which is great in the hockey pool circles, but it might not be what the Oilers need, exactly.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
I don't usually do well, when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers, because they have almost always needed a defenseman and if they had done what I had said for years, they might have themselves a much more well-rounded organization by now.  Nope, they continue to draft forwards in the opening round, but I'll keep plugging away.  Spokane Chiefs defenseman Ty Smith has some elite skating skills and put up some good offensive numbers in the WHL in 2018, 73 points in 68 games, and could be a catalyst kind of player that the Oilers could really use.  They really need to start filling the stable of able-bodied defenders with good skating skills.

The Oilers need to be faster and harder to play against.  The Pacific Division is full of fast teams that work extra hard and in this new era of the Golden Knights, the Oilers do not keep up.  Connor McDavid needs some help on his line, so he's not doing it all by himself and the Oilers need more depth, so they don't lean so heavily on their superstar.  The Oilers will be busy in this off-season, they have to be.  Is there enough out there to make it work for the Oilers?  Not in the free agent pool, at least.  The Oilers will have to make some more trades and if they can pull off a good one, two or three deals, then we'll talk about the playoffs.

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