The Edmonton Oilers were supposed to be in the race for the Pacific Division crown by now. Connor McDavid and co. were expected to be one of the premier teams in the Western Conference – and the Oilers were a trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup in 2018.
Instead, the Oilers don’t look any different than the squads that missed the playoffs 10 years in a row from 2007-2016. Nobody really knows how the Oilers went from juggernaut in 2017 to possibly winning the draft lottery for the fifth time since 2010.
Entering play on Tuesday night, the Oilers are 22-24-3 and sit 10 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the final playoff spot in the West. There are three teams tied with Colorado’s 57 points, though. So the Oilers have to magically find a way to jump over four teams JUST to make the postseason. They have 33 games left to do it.
“We’re going to make the playoffs,” Cam Talbot said, according to Sportsnet’s Mark Spector. It’s good that the Oilers goalie is confident, but he’s going to have to have a massive turnaround. He’s 18-17-2 with a 3.14 goals against average and .901 save percentage.
So how did the Oilers get to this point? How are they among the worst teams in the West when they were supposedly to topple the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Final – putting an end to Sidney Crosby‘s dynasty while starting their own run?
Well, the Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle trades are looking real bad for general manager Peter Chiarelli. The former has 17 goals and 48 points for the New Jersey Devils, while the latter has 17 goals and 39 points with the New York Islanders.
Adam Larsson – who was acquired in the Hall trade two years ago – has missed time with injuries and has just six points in 40 games. Known for his stay-at-home ability, Larsson hasn’t been much of a shutdown defender this year. Ryan Strome came to Edmonton in the Eberle trade. He has just seven goals and 19 points.
So there’s that. The Oilers clearly miss two speedy, top-scoring wingers. The returns they got for both Hall and Eberle have flopped in 2017-18. Edmonton has relied on centres Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins way too much. Those three have combined for 43 of Edmonton’s 133 goals. Not acceptable.
Their highest-scoring winger is Milan Lucic – who has a mere nine goals and 30 points this season. After him, Patrick Maroon is their top-scoring winger with 26 points in 47 games. Again, not good enough or acceptable. Both players eclipsed the 20-goal and 40-point marks last year.
Then there’s the very strange case of Edmonton’s penalty kill. The Oilers own the best penalty kill on the road, but the story could not be anymore different than at home:
#Oilers currently own a 54.2% Penalty Kill at home.
The NHL record for single-season home futility on the PK is the 1977-78 capitals at 66.7%
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) January 24, 2018
That’s just impossible to explain. How is it possible to get scored on in nearly half of your penalty kills at home? Especially in an era where scoring has never been so difficult? It’s beyond me.
Okay, so we’ve touched base on the Oilers lacking scoring depth on the wings and their awful penalty kill. What else is missing? Oh yeah, I guess injuries deserve some of the blame.
Draisaitl hasn’t been consistent this season. A concussion forced him to miss some time in October, and it took the German star awhile to find his groove. It’s hard to see him building off the 77-point season he had last year. But it’s hard for any player to be at his best when he’s dealing with a concussion, so we’ll give him a pass.
Cam Talbot missed seven games with an injury, and backup Laurent Brossoit didn’t exactly do a good job covering him – posting an .892 save percentage (via CBC Sports).
You also throw in defenceman Andrej Sekera — this team’s top blueliner from a year ago. He needed ACL surgery in the offseason, and didn’t return until Dec. 22. Sekera is among the game’s top shutdown defenders, and the Oilers learned this during his near-three month absence.
With Sekera and Larsson battling injuries, Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell weren’t able to shoulder the load. Both were instrumental in helping the Oilers reach the second round of last year’s playoffs, where they came oh-so-close to taking down the powerhouse Anaheim Ducks.
Klefbom was among the top offensive blueliners last year, scoring 12 goals and 38 points. He only has three goals and 11 points on the season. Russell should hit 200 blocked shots yet again, but he’s already turned the puck over 49 times and has a mere 50.1 Corsi For percentage. Hardly inspiring.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the Oilers went from Stanley Cup contender to colossal failure. Call it Murphy’s Law if you want, because everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.
The trades have backfired. The wingers have stopped scoring. The home penalty kill is historically bad. The injuries have piled up. The defencemen have forgotten how to defend. Add it all up, and it’s easy to see how the Oilers have become the NHL’s biggest disappointment in 2017-18.
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