Here at Team Ford we are big fans of both the city of Edmonton, and the Edmonton Oilers. Events like Ford Oilers Days, and Conversations with Connor definitely make work more enjoyable. With that being said, there is nothing sweeter than punching the clock, grabbing a six-pack on the way home, and cozying up on the couch with said six-pack and an Oilers game . Now, we’re a pretty opinionated bunch here when it comes to hockey, and we’ve got a lot to say about our Oilers — and it may be a coincidence, but it feels like we as fans have been penalized all season during a season in which our penalty kill was absolutely dreadful. So read on and hear what Edmonton’s second favourite Team thinks about the Oilers’ 2017-2018 season, and some of the off-season moves made thus far.
The Good, the Bad, and the Painfully Ugly
So let’s address the giant, blue and orange elephant in the room first: what a disappointment it was to not make the playoffs again this year. It didn’t stop us from tuning in to 81 games last season (What? A guy has a life outside of watching hockey!), but after coming so close to the conference finals the year before, and being picked as a Cup favourite in the pre-season (on a semi-related note, any gamblers in the house?) this season has arguably been worse than any during the Decade of Darkness. Not only did we have, statistically speaking, one of the worst NHL penalty kills since they started tracking penalty kill stats in 1978, but we finished 23rd in the league with a measly 78 points. Before the season even began we traded a playoff-underperformer Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome–a move to free up salary that we didn’t spend–leading to a number of fans calling for Peter Chiarelli’s head. That loss of offense, in addition to a number of other Oilers forwards forgetting where to put the puck, nearly crippled us. The most egregious being big-ticket contract Milan Lucic, who seems to be baffled by the speed of the current game and, whose hands have turned to stone. Leon Draisaitl, himself awarded a big contract, celebrated with an underwhelming 70 points — nothing to scoff at, but not exactly a reasonable return on investment given the city’s expectations. Unbelievably, Captain Connor had a bit of an off-season as well, although that could be attributed to a mystery illness that left him looking tired and slow from November all the way to January. Nonetheless he’ll still be accepting an Art Ross trophy this summer for his 108 points, a true testament to how dominant he is on the ice. And that just covers a portion of the front end. Cam Talbot struggled mightily (too many sleepless nights due to his twins perhaps?), and our back-end looked shaky. Among other issues, Andrej Sekera was obviously missing a step after coming back from a serious knee injury, and Oscar Klefbom struggled with a nagging shoulder injury that shut him down before the season ended. We aren’t all doom and gloom though, and the season certainly had a few bright spots, including the emergence of young Darnell Nurse as a top defender with offensive upside.
The Off-Season (As If Last Season Wasn’t “Off” Enough)
Now that leads us to the off-season. While the Oilers who didn’t go to the IIHF World Championship tournament presumably worked on their golf game, the team’s office has been busy and will continue to be so. Our draft lottery luck has appeared to run out and the team will be picking 10th in what is still a fairly strong draft class. Unfortunately, there are few players in said draft class (outside of consensus number one pick Rasmus Dahlin) that are likely to step in right away and make an impact. The Oilers have approximately $65 million in salary on the books, and assuming the salary cap rises to $80 million (a very likely number, if not higher), the team will have about $15 million to both sign restricted free agents as well as test the market. Of all those restricted free agents, it is likely rising star Darnell Nurse will command the biggest raise — likely somewhere in the $4 million a year range if he signs long term. The team will still need to add some scoring depth, unless they are relying on Connor and Leon to handle the load for another season (and how well did that work for us?).
But this all remains speculation for now. What we do know is the Oilers coaching staff has seen a significant shakeup -not exactly the heads of Todd McClellan and Peter Chiarelli on pikes outside of Rogers Place (as per request of the city’s more vocal fans)- but a significant shakeup nonetheless. After saying goodbye to Jay Woodcroft and Jim Johnson, the Oilers brought on a trio of new assistant coaches who are here to help right the ship. Manny Viveiros, who has been coaching over in Europe, is supposedly the catalyst our special teams needs to start performing at an NHL-level. Glen Gulutzan, who held the head coach job in Calgary last season, has shown to be a real motivator — albeit with sometimes questionable tactics (for those that don’t remember, he saw a significant amount of television airtime due a profanity-laden, stick-throwing episode during a Flames practise). And Trent Yawney (Jim in Service heard Trent Laurel), who has had a stellar history of mentoring young defenders in Anaheim, rounds out the new batch of assistant coaches. Of course, Paul Coffey will stick around in his mysterious “skills coach” role. One thing is certain, should the Oilers continue to struggle to start the 2018-2019 season, McClellan and Chiarelli won’t be purchasing any green bananas.
“I Don’t Care.”
Much has been made about Sidney Crosby putting a framed photo in his home gym of the Red Wings hoisting the Stanley Cup, after beating the Penguins in 2008. Since then the Penguins have won 3 Cups under Crosby’s lead, including two seasons in a row. Recently, during an interview at tennis’ French Open, Connor McDavid was asked for a Stanley Cup finals prediction — to which he responded “I don’t care.” Connor is obviously a competitive guy, and hearing that provides a renewed sense of hope for the future. Connor is sick of losing, and we’re sure that the rest of the team is as well. Hopefully the team can address some of its needs in the off-season, picking up some depth scoring on the wing, and seeing the defensive core regain its form.
It’s been an unfortunately long off-season, but we’ve got October 6th circled on our calendars for when the Oilers open up their season in Germany. In the meantime, stay tuned to the Team Ford blog for further Oilers news, as well as all things Edmonton and Ford related.