I spent much of the last 12 months worrying that Peter Chiarelli would trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. It didn’t make sense on many levels (Nuge is a fairly good comp for David Krejci, Oilers needed to be strong up the middle, he was the one Steve Austin who had a two-way game) but that 2015-16 season was not Nuge-worthy. I don’t know if it was wisdom or luck—the offers rumored for RNH were shy—but Peter Chiarelli has not traded him.
As you know, this blog is mildly obsessed with balance. It has been many years (I always say since G7 SCF) since the Oilers had proper balance across the roster, and the summer events—while painful—have in fact improved the balance of the Edmonton Oilers. The defense is more substantial (Larsson in, Justin Schultz out) and he didn’t trade Nuge. Not everything is roses—the goaltending choice this summer was poor—but this is a more balanced roster now than a year ago.
One of the things the RE series is showing me this summer? The Oilers should be a better team than a year ago, and Edmonton should push closer to 40 wins in the coming year (31 last season, 24 the previous year). If Edmonton does post (say) 37 wins and 85 points in 2016-17, many will point to Taylor Hall’s exit. Don’t you be fooled. The primary reasons for hope in Edmonton next winter will be (in order) better health, Connor McDavid for more that 45 games, better defense, better balance. Now, they need to work on better depth.
2016-17 UP THE MIDDLE
- Goalies Cam Talbot, Jonas Gustavsson and Laurent Brossoit. I am onboard with Talbot as the No. 1 goalie (.924 save percentage after December 1), but am very disappointed in Peter Chiarelli’s choice of backup. A stronger choice was badly needed—remember, Anders Nilsson was the starter for a time—and I worry that PC is listening to the lieutenants in the room who are tied to Brossoit.
- Centers Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Mark Letestu. My goodness what a group, doubt they are together for more than two more years but this is a lot of high end talent. Todd McLellan may be tempted to move Leon to RW if Jesse Puljujarvi, Nail Yakupov or Zack Kassian cannot fill the 2R hole. If that happens, this position becomes weaker. I like the idea of Patrick Maroon and Jesse Puljujarvi on a soft parade third line but we are miles from knowing.
- Defensemen Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera, Brandon Davidson, Mark Fayne, Darnell Nurse, Jordan Oesterle, Griffin Reinhart. Balance is better now, no doubt in my mind. Larsson is not a popular player-type (most of you reading this blog are likely to be disappointed in him—he is not going to post 40 points, folks) for Oilers fans, but I like defensive defenders and he can pass the puck. Andrej Sekera is a very good top 4D, and Chiarelli arrived at a good time for the emerging talent (Klefbom, Davidson and possibly Nurse, Reinhart). If this group could stay healthy all year, I would consider the top 7D capable of getting this team in or close to the playoffs—but there is no depth, or at least not enough of it.
SURE OILERS, YEAR OVER YEAR
2015-16 (at this point in summer)
SURE OILERS 2016-17
There is more balance on this year’s team. It came at a tremendous cost, but the defense has more structure—and depending on how you feel about defensive defensemen—is more versatile. I think we all agree the club needs a power-play hammer from the point, but that player may not be out there this summer.
I will tell you I cannot publish the balance photo this summer. They are closer, but are not there yet. Sorry.