I wouldn’t be the first guy to expect the Oilers to crash and burn this season, and certainly I expect some pretty terrible results. However I don’t see quite the train wreck that many others seem to see coming. Don’t get me wrong, the Oilers will almost certainly miss the playoffs. Especially in the Western Conference, there’s almost no chance that the Oilers will do much more in the standings than fade slowly into the background. The Edmonton Oilers are playing in the weakest division in the West, and so have the potential to poach a few points off weak teams like Minnesota, Calgary and potentially less weak, but likely inconsistent Colorado.
Where the Red Wings have everything going the right direction, the Oilers do not. While they have some pieces in place for the future, in all likelihood the next couple years are going to be rough going for Oilers fans. Last season the team struggled not only with the talent level on the squad, but also an impressive, almost Kings-like number of injuries through the entire season. I would think it is unlikely for them to get hit quite as hard this season. That said, the talent level is just not there for them to realistically hang with the better teams in the conference.
Dustin Penner, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Whitney
It’s no mistake that two of the “key players” above are rookies. The Oilers don’t have much in the way of established offensive talent. If the Oilers are going to possess real offensive firepower, they’re going to need to get it from some of their incoming rookies. That is not to say that the rookies don’t have that potential. Players like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and potentially Magnus Paajarvi have truly high end skill, and could inject some electricity into the Oilers offense immediately. More likely, they will struggle at least a bit adjusting to the speed and toughness of the NHL game, while providing a bit of punch for the squad. Dustin Penner will be the established scorer on the team, and the Oilers will look for him to increase his protection from the 32 goals of last season.
What the Oilers truly lack is a shut down defenseman. They’ve got some mobile players who can move the puck in Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid. Even Kurtis Foster lacks the ability to shut down a top pairing defenseman. In goal the Oilers are a bit of a question mark as well. Nikolai Khabibulin is a far cry from his peak, and the off-season drama surrounding his drunk driving arrest can’t possibly be helpful. Behind the torn down “Bulin Wall,” the Oilers are relying on a group of average keepers who thus far have not proven much. Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk, and Martin Gerber won’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing scorers, and the goaltending spot may be the biggest weak spot on this squad.
Sheldon Souray has been little short than a huge distraction for a team that needs nothing less. With his absurd contract he’s nearly impossible to move, but he won’t be playing for the Oilers this season. The distractions playing out in the media can’t be helpful for a young team that needs to focus on this season if they want any chance at all of success. I see the Oilers struggling this season, though I don’t imagine they’ll be at the absolute bottom of the Western Conference standings come May, they may well spend another season at the bottom of the Northwest Division.
Topics: Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings, Devan Dubnyk, Dustin Penner, Edmonton Oilers, Jeff Deslauriers, Jordan Eberle, Kurtis Foster, Ladislav Smid, Los Angeles Kings, Magnus Paajarvi, Martin Gerber, Minnesota Wild, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ryan Whitney, Sheldon Souray, Taylor Hall, Tom Gilbert