Tonight marks the final game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers in this unique season. The Oilers record (2-5-1, 5 points compared to Toronto’s 6-1-1, 13 points) leaves no room for argument: Edmonton is not the equal of the TML.
Oilers have solid records against Ottawa (7-0), Winnipeg and Calgary (4-2-0), even Vancouver (3-2-0). Toronto (2-5-1) and Montreal (1-2-0) have been the trouble for the westerners so far this year. Much of the Canadiens story is yet to come. Tonight? The final chance against Toronto before the playoffs. It’s starting to get interesting up north.
I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here is our recent work.
- New Lowetide: Lowetide’s Oilers trade deadline quiz: Test your knowledge
- Lowetide: Scouring the hockey world for a left winger for the Oilers’ skill line
- Lowetide: How the Oilers could benefit at the trade deadline from relaxed quarantine rules
- Lowetide: Every major transaction Ken Holland has made as Oilers GM
- Jonathan Willis: Five questions the Oilers need to answer by the NHL trade deadline
- Lowetide: Carter Savoie’s college season suggests Oilers could have a real goal scoring prospect
- Lowetide: Has Oilers goalie prospect Stuart Skinner turned a corner?
- Lowetide: Where does Zack Kassian fit on the Oilers, now and in the future?
- Lowetide: Oilers’ midseason depth chart informs their needs for trade deadline and beyond
- Jonathan Willis: A position-by-position look at the Oilers after 30 games
- Lowetide: How will Oilers GM Ken Holland make room in the lineup for Evan Bouchard?
- Lowetide: Are the Oilers and Elvis Merzlikins a trade match?
- Lowetide: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Dominik Kahun, Dylan Holloway and a perfect storm on the Oilers’ left side
- Lowetide: Why Oilers GM Ken Holland shouldn’t wait for the deadline to make a trade
- Lowetide: Three Oilers prospects form hottest line in the AHL
- Lowetide: Oilers’ top 20 prospects, trade deadline edition
- Lowetide: Why are some Oilers fans hesitant to give Darnell Nurse his due?
- Jonathan Willis: Can Oilers improve enough to beat TML it in May?
- Lowetide: Top trade targets for the Oilers at the 2021 deadline
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers 2021 trade value rankings
- Lowetide: Is this peak Connor McDavid?
OILERS AFTER 36 GAMES
- Oilers in 2015-16: 15-18-3, 33 points; goal differential -16
- Oilers in 2016-17: 18-12-6, 42 points; goal differential +5
- Oilers in 2017-18: 17-17-2, 36 points; goal differential -5
- Oilers in 2018-19: 18-15-3, 39 points; goal differential -1
- Oilers in 2019-20: 19-13-4, 42 points; goal differential -1
- Oilers in 2020-21: 21-13-1, 43 points; goal differential +16
This is a sweet ride really, after years and years of poor performances the Oilers have been rock solid two years in a row. If you include 2016-17, that’s three of the last five where the team had some promise. Humble, humble beginnings. The turn north is in these numbers, lads.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN MARCH
- At home to: Toronto, Toronto, Calgary (Expected: 1-1-1) (Actual 1-2-0)
- At home to: Ottawa, Ottawa, Ottawa (Expected: 2-1-0) (Actual 3-0-0)
- On the road to: Vancouver, Calgary, Calgary (Expected: 2-1-0) (Actual 1-2-0)
- At home to Winnipeg, Winnipeg (Expected: 1-1-0) (Actual 2-0-0)
On the road to: Montreal, Montreal, Montreal (Expected 2-1-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- On the road to: Toronto, Toronto, Montreal (Expected 2-1-0) (Actual 0-0-1)
- Overall expected result: 8-5-1, 17 points in 14 games
- Current results: 7-4-1, 15 points in 12 games
No matter the result tonight, the bet has been covered. If Edmonton does win, it sets up the month as a slight over-achievement. One more thing: There’s an extra game against the Habs Tuesday. So, there are extra points dangling at the end of March.
2019-20 five on five scorers (forwards)
You know, I’ve been staring at this year’s five on five pts-60 for Oilers forwards and trying to remember where I saw them. And suddenly, BAM! I remembered. Last season. Oilers. Nuge struggling, not much shaking but the top line of Draisaitl-McDavid-Kassian. Seriously. Here are the numbers after 35 games for Edmonton’s forwards, and their rank among NHL regulars at that time. It’s uncanny.
- No. 6 Leon Draisaitl [3.12]
- No. 12 Connor McDavid [3.04]
- No. 28 Zack Kassian [2.54]
That’s a complete No. 1 line, and contains two of the best offensive forwards in the game, plus a solid complementary forward having a career year. No room at the Inn for any minor leaguer here. Now, let’s look at the second line forwards (94-186):
- No. 104 Sam Gagner [1.98]
That was it. Just one player qualified as an offensive second line forward. Now, No. 187-279, the third liners:
- No. 272 Gaetan Haas [1.24]
The Oilers followed up having just one second line player with just one third liner (by average). And that means (you guessed it) a large group who provide fourth line offense (279-372):
- No. 294 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins [1.11]
- No. 314 Joakim Nygard [1.00]
- No. 319 Jujhar Khaira [0.98]
- No. 336 Markus Granlund [0.88]
- No. 343 Patrick Russell [0.83]
- No. 346 James Neal [0.81]
- No. 355 Alex Chiasson [0.73]
- No. 366 Riley Sheahan [0.41]
- No. 373 Josh Archibald [0.23]
That’s 14 NHL forwards in 2019-20, nine of them scoring at a fourth-line level after 35 games. Huh. Let’s see if this year’s Oilers are better than one year ago.
2020-21 five on five scorers (forwards)
There are 372 forwards who have played 200+ minutes five on five this season. Not all Oilers forwards will make this list (14 a year ago, but the taxi squad has taken minutes away from the fourth liners) so it’s not a perfect comparison. Let’s start with the first-line forwards, 1-93 across the NHL. Here are the top Oilers ranked in 2020-21:
- No. 1 Connor McDavid [3.46]
- No. 6 Leon Draisaitl [3.13]
- No. 68 Jujhar Khaira [2.12]
McDavid is the No. 1 player in the NHL at five on five pts-60, and Draisaitl has duplicated his first half, it’s almost a perfect match. A third player joins the dance this year, Jujhar Khaira posting 2.00+ per 60 from the bottom-six (3-5-8 in 24 games). Now the second line forwards (94-186):
- No. 114 Tyler Ennis [1.83]
- No. 141 Kailer Yamamoto [1.74]
Well, it’s a start. Ennis has been a fantastic addition, if the Oilers had some bigger wingers who could PK, I think he could slide up and down the depth chart at will. As it is, he’s a valuable part-time player. Yamamoto is finding his way as an NHL regular and this is a solid spot for him (33 games, 7-9-16). On to the third line, numbers 187-279:
- No. 214 Zack Kassian [1.46]
- No. 239 Jesse Puljujarvi [1.39]
- No. 245 Dominik Kahun [1.32]
- No. 254 Alex Chiasson [1.28]
- No. 273 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins [1.21]
Well, the fourth-line guys moved up to third-line performance, so that’s an improvement. Nuge is actually better than he was a year ago at this time. Puljujarvi’s total is his best since he was a rookie (1.45-60) and he’s such a better player now that’ I think we’ll count him as encouraging full stop. Kahun needs to be about 1.50-60 to be productive by my estimate, he’s not far away. Now, fourth-line forwards (279-372):
- No. 290 Kyle Turris [1.14]
- No. 332 Josh Archibald [0.90]
The fourth line is missing two names (12 instead of 14 from a year ago) and the contents of the fourth line is a disappointing free agent and a main penalty killer.
I would say that two things are clear: First, the forwards are more productive than a year ago (understanding the universe of opponents is different). Second, Nuge needs the band (Leon, KY) to get back together pretty damn quick.
OILERS FORWARD PIPELINE CONDORS FORWARDS
Eric Rodgers has been so kind in tracking stats for Oilers fans, from Oklahoma City to Bakersfield. His tracking allows us to see progress, not just over one year, but over each year. Here’s the 2018-19 forwards from the Condors and their numbers:
This isn’t over yet, Marody and Benson could still emerge as NHL players, but as of now it’s Patrick Russell and Kailer Yamamoto who have made that next step. So often, we (I) focus on points, but for AHL players it’s mostly about grinding their games down to get rid of the chaos and mistakes. Let’s look at 2019-20:
This was a down year, mostly (imo) due to Marody’s injury as he is the most talented offensive forward among the group on the outside. Yamamoto did not rock the AHL in either year, but (as is the case with all AHL players who graduate) he brought more than one element with him to the NHL. I’ve been curious for some time about Benson and the rest, where they are headed. Rodgers’ latest numbers (he kindly sent them to me) through 17 games:
The first three names here look like strong contenders for NHL work, that may come next year and it might not be with the Oilers (Marody specifically may want a second opinion). There is value here. Note: McLeod’s numbers from his 20-year old season don’t appear on the previous graph, but they are: 56 games, 5-18-23, 11:29 TOI estimate, 27-27 EV GF-GA, 16.4 NHLE. McLeod’s numbers are up drastically across the board. He is the bright new star on this list.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 on TSN1260 this morning, we hit the ground running on a miserable Monday in the city. Mike Stephens from the Staff & Graff Podcast will talk Maple Leafs versus Oilers from a Toronto perspective. Paul Sir from The Basketball Show will break down March Madness and talk some NBA down the stretch. At 11, Jason Gregor from the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 will help us tee up the big game tonight.10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!!