The biggest difference for this fall’s defense from last year (and the year before) is NHL games played. The Oilers have been in development mode on the blue since the Pronger trade, but this fall the outlook is very positive in this regard.
Let’s have a look at NHL games played for opening night rosters since the lockout and then compare that group to the current 7 who look like they’ll make up the opening lineup for the Oilers in 08-09:
- 05-06GP: 3333. This was the Stanley team, led by Pronger (722) but also featuring Jason Smith (710), Igor Ulanov (702), Cory Cross (603), Steve Staios (537) and MA Bergeron (59).
- 06-07GP: 1844. Jason Smith (786), Steve Staios (619), Daniel Tjarnqvist (278), MA Bergeron (134), Matt Greene (27) and Ladislav Smid (0) made up a group that included some nice help in the PB but Hejda was unable to find the lineup early in the year.
- 07-08GP: 1764. This was the nadir for Oilers experience and depth on defense. Steve Staios (677,) Sheldon Souray (506), Dick Tarnstrom (258), Joni Pitkanen (206), Matt Greene (105) and Tom Gilbert (12).
- 08-09GP: 2130. I’m projecting Strudwick and his 488 NHL games to start the season in the pressbox. That means the top 6 are Steve Staios (759), Sheldon Souray (532), Lubomir Visnovsky (499), Ladislav Smid (142), Denis Grebeshkov (104) and Tom Gilbert (94). As a group, this is the most experienced lineup since fall 2005.
If the Oilers make a move before training camp, I think it’ll be the addition of a veteran NHL defenseman. A book end for Staios. As mentioned in the Smid comment, he’s the obvious choice to go should Edmonton make a move in this area.
Here are my predicted point totals for the Oilers D 08-09:
- Lubomir Visnovsky 76gp, 12-38-50
- Sheldon Souray 51gp, 10-17-27
- Tom Gilbert 82gp, 7-15-22
- Denis Grebeshkov 75gp, 2-22-24
- Steve Staios 82gp, 2-14-16
- Ladislav Smid 72gp, 0-5-5
- Jason Strudwick 54gp, 0-3-3
The big offseason pickup is going to carry the mail and Souray should contribute too if he can stay healthy. The young tandem of Grebeshkov and Gilbert will put up some EV points and Staios represents the back end of the offense from the blue.
- 07-08: 35 goals, 79 assists= 114 points
- 08-09: 33 goals, 114 assists= 147 points
The increase in points comes from the addition of Visnovsky (who is a strong bet to exceed Pitkanen’s 8-18-26) and Souray’s health being better (although I’ve cheated a little there too). So, adding up the forwards and the D, and comparing the clubs year over year:
- 07-08: 220 goals, 379 assists= 599 points
- 08-09: 248 goals, 456 assists= 704 points
I should mention here that my stats source on all of this is hockeydb, this sometimes becomes an issue because some posters prefer other sources and to exclude OT goals, et cetera. I also have the assists/goal ratio too high, but didn’t account for Visnovsky’s impact on the roster by shaving a few assists off the forwards. Oh well, no one is betting on these numbers, right?
I project the Oilers to score 28 more goals than a year ago, which is a very handsome increase. I’ve given most of the credit to the PP, Hemsky’s line and Visnvovsky, but there’s every chance that Gagner and others will step forward more than projected here. It’s going to be a fun team to watch.
Now that we’ve discussed the offense, how much is going to the other way? Goalies are next.