With a new NHL season around the corner, one of the teams that has a lot to prove is the Edmonton Oilers. An organization that drafted arguably the best player in hockey, they had a memorable 2016-17 season that led them to within one game of the Western Conference Finals, only to falter the following season and finish almost a lottery team.
As the season was falling apart, it was hard to explain what went wrong. Were the Oilers not as good as their 2016-17 season suggested? Were they not as bad as they were currently playing? Was it injuries, bad luck, or miscalculated moves by management?
It could be a little bit of everything, but the good news for fans, there are multiple ways the team can bounce back in 2018-19.
Injuries and Illness
When your best player, and potentially the NHL's best player starts the season sick, you know things aren't going to get off on the right foot. Connor McDavid being ill over the first few weeks of the season was just the start of the problems for a team that had everything go right one season earlier, but couldn't catch a break in 2017-18.
Adam Larsson's father passed, Oscar Klefbom couldn't get over some minor issues, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins missed some time and Andrej Sekera missed nearly a third of the season, unable to find his form when he did return. Sekera will miss serious time again, but the rest of the cast should be ready to roll when the new season opens.
Every team has injuries, so one can't call what happened to Edmonton unique. That said, it was a huge setback for a team that should be better and will be.
Cam Talbot was not the Talbot that took Edmonton to the postseason in 2016-17. He came on towards the end of the year but by the time he was able to find some semblance of consistency, the playoffs were well out of reach for the Oilers. To make matters worse, Edmonton did not have sufficient backup. Bad goaltending severely hurt the Oilers' season.
The Oilers went out this summer and (hopefully) improved their backup goaltending by acquiring Mikko Koskinen. There is no telling how much he'll play, and they paid a premium to acquire him on the idea he'll be a huge step up. The thought is that Koskinen may get between 25 and 35 games. A one-year, show-me deal means he should display his ability to be an NHL starter if he has it.
Talbot is also in a contract year and if he's going to have a strong season, this is it. He's a much better netminder than he showed last year but he's been hot and cold. A hot Talbot will mean a world of difference.
Return to Expectations
You'd have to use both hands and probably remove your socks to count the players who underachieved in Edmonton last season. Near the top of the list was Milan Lucic who is being paid $6 million per season and couldn't get his game right between his ears. He was the first to admit that mentally his game was off and it affected his season. So much so, there were rumors of a trade in the works when this summer began. A trade never took place, Lucic will be back and is committed to being a 50-plus point player again.
It's not fair to wholely blame Lucic. Ryan Strome didn't come in and do as well as expected when the Oilers traded Jordan Eberle for him, Jessie Puljujarvi was looked upon as a highly-skilled draft selection that could contribute in his second year but didn't and players like Zack Kassian, Drake Caggiula, Matt Benning and Adam Larsson didn't produce as they should have.
These are all better players than their numbers last season showed and the Oilers were handed a dose of reality that every season wasn't going to be as successful as the 2016-17 campaign if they didn't show up to play. This season, expect them to.