With less than a month before the start of hockey’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers have been near the bottom of the standings for so long, its hard to imagine the team as a competitive one. However, after missing the playoffs for eight straight seasons, with very little change in the standings over that time period, fans are fed up with being in the basement. Though a playoff berth might be too much to ask, the Oilers need a sign that the team is improving in 2015.
Last Season – Like many recent seasons of the Edmonton Oilers, last season saw Edmonton finish well out of the playoffs at the bottom of the Western Conference. The collapse started early for the Oilers, finishing the first month of the season with a 3-9-2 record. In a tough Western Conference, its difficult to recover from that kind of start, especially when the November that follows produces another losing record. The one bright spot for Edmonton last season was the team’s play in March, which saw a surprising 6-6-2 record. Not the greatest run, but for a team that had a losing record in almost every month, even .500 play is worth noting.
Taylor Hall continued to be the leader on the Edmonton Oilers, finishing over a point-per-game for the second year in a row. Hall appears to be the recent No. 1 draft pick that has developed the most. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has done well, but appears to be more suited to a second-line center role than centering the first line. Nail Yakupov has been a massive disappointment for Edmonton, both offensively and defensively. It is no secret that the Edmonton management has not been happy with his play.
The Edmonton Oilers finished last season with the third overall pick, grabbing center from the Prince Albert Raiders, Leon Draisaitl. Picking Draisaitl over Sam Bennett (who went one pick later) was an interesting move for the Oilers, though Edmonton may have felt that Draisaitl will be a better fit for the future makeup of their team. After signing a three-year entry level deal, the Oilers are going to give him every opportunity to succeed.
The Offseason – The offseason saw the departure of long-time Oiler, Sam Gagner, sent to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for shifty winger Teddy Purcell. Gagner broke into the league with a bang, scoring 49 points in 79 games in his rookie year in 2007, but since then, he was never really able to take that next step. A consistent 40-point scorer is a nice depth player to have, but the Oilers decided to exchange him for a new face in hope of improving their winger depth.
Edmonton also signed winger Benoit Pouliot to improve that depth, but the contract they gave him left many scratching their heads. Pouliot is a decent player in his own right, but after receiving one-year contracts for the past few years, and barely living up to those contracts as it is, why the Edmonton Oilers felt it necessary to pay him $20 million over five years is known only to the Edmonton management.
What to Watch for Next Season – The playoffs might be a pipe dream, but the Oilers, at the very least, need to find their way out of the basement. They need to show a visible sign of improvement after stockpiling high draft picks all these years. That means a commitment from every person in the organization to change the “loser” mentality that has gripped the team. This means the players have to be willing to work hard on both sides of the ice, and management has to be willing to ship off those who don’t, even if it means selling a talented player at a low price.
Nail Yakupov has been criticized by the fans, the coaches, and the management for his play last season. He clearly did not mesh well with the system that head coach Dallas Eakins brought to the team, and it resulted in an embarrassing 24 point season, as well as the lowest plus/minus on the team. There is hope that it finally clicks with him this year, but if it does not, Edmonton needs to be willing to move him if they want to improve in the long run.
The combination of Viktor Fasth and Ben Scrivens is arguably the best goaltending combination the Oilers have had since Dwayne Roloson wore the Edmonton uniform, but neither goaltender has much of a resume to speak of. They both have found success on more talented teams (the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings respectively), but behind a shoddy Edmonton defense, it is hard to expect them to put up even average numbers.
Expect another season of disappointment in Edmonton. Even if everything goes right for the team, the Western Conference is too stacked to expect much success from the roster that the Oilers are putting on the ice. However, while the playoffs are likely out of reach, the Edmonton Oilers could start to move in the right direction, and a sign of that improvement is needed for everyone involved in the organization.
Join the Guardian Liberty Voice tomorrow, where 30 in 30 will take a look at the Florida Panthers. Also check out yesterday’s team, the Detroit Red Wings.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner