Oilers Should Be Optimistic Despite Early Exit
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The Oilers were sent home packing again after another disappointing end to their season. Edmonton not only lost to the Jets, a team they dominated all season long, they failed to record a single win in their series. It’s not anything new for this crop of Oilers, since drafting the phenom Connor McDavid, the franchise has won just a single playoff series. Yes, another early exit is less than ideal, but the sky is most definitely not falling.
Edmonton performed better than most expected given their inconsistent play. Mike Smith was able to take the starting job and run with it during the regular season, and played well in the playoffs to boot. Obviously Smith isn’t the future for them in net, and given Mikko Koskinen’s uninspiring play, that may be a point of emphasis this offseason. Luckily, they’ll have options with names like Andersen, Rask, Grubauer and Mrazek possibly available.
Another big issue for the Oilers is their scoring depth. McDavid or Draisaitl have literally carried this team all year long. Of all of the Oilers 183 goals this season, McDavid has either scored or assisted in over half of those tallies. In the playoffs, only two players produced more than two points in their four games, McDavid and Draisaitl. Of course you want your best players to lead the way, but having a cast behind them can make all the difference.
Although it's not a perfect comparison, they can look to their North division rival Toronto Maple Leafs as inspiration. Matthews and Marner have been quiet against Montreal, yet the rest of the teams offence has been picking up the slack. Without the likes of a Kerfoot or Nylander, the Leafs may be in the same scenario as Edmonton. Of course, having depth is the goal, so it's easier said than done, but there are teams with big contracts who manage to do it.
That extra depth could come by the way of free agency. The Oilers have set themselves up nicely this offseason, and should have plenty of cap space to play with. They’ll look to re-sign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first, but after that the likes of Taylor Hall, Zach Hyman, Tomas Tatar and Kyle Palmieri could all be in play. And if by some strange chance Alex Ovechkin is on the market, they could throw a few shekels his way as well.
They do need to be weary though. The Oilers have had some horrid luck when it comes to dishing out contracts. We've already talked about Mikko Koskinen, but we can't forget Jame Neal's dismal season either. Both players take up over 10 million dollars in cap space and have been non-factors for Edmonton so far. So approach with caution, but a Taylor Hall reunion sure seems like a nice thought.
It will also be interesting to see what they do with Tyson Barrie and Adam Larsson. Barrie signed for a cool 1-year 3.5 million with Edmonton last off-season, and the short term deal paid off as he’ll look to get paid this summer. He was third in team scoring and led all defencemen in that category. On the other side, Larsson was part of the Taylor Hall trade a few years back, and has become a solid player. It’s worth watching what they do there.
In short, Ken Holland has the experience and pedigree to win. He’s been able to clean up many of Chiarelli's mistakes and has improved a lot of the team's many flaws. Dave Tippett has changed the Oilers culture for the better and has helped improve their defence tremendously. With tonnes of cap room, sound infrastructure, and the best player in the game. Oiler fans have every reason to be optimistic heading into the offseason.