I’m on record as saying the Edmonton Oilers will make the playoffs this season. Reading the other blogs, I think there’s a sense this won’t be the season for Edmonton to break on through to the other side and the second season. The sense, from what I can tell, is that Craig MacTavish didn’t do enough with the roster this summer. I think it’s worth examining what the major moves of summer are, what impact they may have, and the kind of team we’ll be seeing this fall in Edmonton.
For me, the place to start this summer is the coaching staff. If we can agree that Ralph Krueger’s group was outmanned (Krueger stated that there was asbolutely a need for another coach, that was the reason for interviewing Dallas Eakins) in the coaching room, then Eakins and Acton may be a stronger group than Krueger with the two assistants. I’m not going too far out on this limb, there’s just no way to know if the current coaching staff is going to find traction in their problem solving this fall and winter. Krueger had a fine PP and PK, but the even strength performance killed his chances. If Eakins and Acton (with Buchberger and Smith) can adapt, then we should see marked improvement at even strength this season. The shot differential will give us clues, ugly numbers arrived early and often one year ago.
The next stop is the defense. I believe the Oilers improved depth in this area, married to adding a real veteran in Andrew Ference, and the subtraction of a clearly underperforming Ryan Whitney (I sincerely hope he gets his game back) should mean better results. A more button down blue–armed with better passers overall than a year ago–should mean the puck is moving in a good direction more quickly this season. Many, many times this past season the Oilers had defensive sorties that lasted forever, and with each tick of the clock the chances of a penalty or goal against increased for Edmonton. If this blueline can retrieve the puck, make a skilled headman pass or carry it to safety, or just calm the waters until the forecheck fades, the better days are ahead. The Oilers have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off in their own zone since MacT left, hopefully that stops now. And if Justin Schultz needs to sit a few games, then so be it.
Finally, I have said (and believe) we’re going to see the heart of this cluster emerge in a big way this season. Taylor Hall going super nova, Nuge healthy and Yakupov riffing like a wild man are going to be tough to defend, and even though the Oilers are going to have some tough left coast trips, I’ll bet there will be long nights in Oakland south, Hollywood and Gretzkytown for the home teams too. Schultz the younger can do a tremendous amount to help if he can add defensive consistency to an already impressive offensive game.
- MacT: “I’ve been consistent in what I’ve said about the value of depth. It’s been on full display in the Stanley Cup playoffs. You need those big goals. Even the year we went to the Stanley Cup finals we had great depth. We had lots of guys who could contribute offensively. And last year we really didn’t. We had a lot of one- and two- and zero-goal scorers. The best you could hope for was that they were a non-negative factor.”
Depth. If you have it, depth seems easy, like crawling into bed or twisting off a beer cap. If you don’t have it, every wince and every body check could mean you’re closer to having a truly unbalanced roster. Craig MacTavish did NOT deliver depth in all areas, but I’m happy with the blue and think the goaltending has a better chance of holding up with the two tall trees currently on the roster.
The wings have shed Petrell and added (possibly) Jesse Joensuu and Ryan Hamilton. The C’s are down one Horcoff, but Boyd Gordon should help and maybe Lander figures it out. I’m not convinced they’re good enough or deep enough in all areas, but you can see the plan here and finally there’s depth on the blueline.
Dallas Eakins figuring out the evens, Taylor Hall pushing the river, and centermen Nuge, Gagner and Gordon. That’s your ticket to the second season. We wait.