Did the Edmonton Oilers Do Enough to Build a Team Worthy of Expectations?

NHL teams across North America have been in fear of meeting the deadly duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the ice for six seasons, with the 2021/22 campaign the seventh. In that time, the Edmonton Oilers have made it to the playoffs three times, winning just one round (in 2017).

Tied up a bit in terms of assets to trade, there were still high hopes for the Oilers last season, but they got swept by the Winnipeg Jets immediately. Regardless of this, it’s impossible to deny the level of talent that the team possesses, at least in small part, with McDavid and Draisaitl ranking as the highest and joint-second-highest rated skaters in NHL 22. Still, after yet another postseason collapse, the finger of blame shifted from the superstars to the front office and its ability to build around its generational talent.

The more scathing indictments call it an easy money approach, while it’s evident that, with a change in mantra, the team could be truly special. Now, with the 2021/22 season underway, expectations for Connor & Co. are as high as ever, and they may just be warranted after an active offseason.

Experts Tempering Their Expectations for Edmonton

The idea of “it’ll have to click eventually” is one that Oilers fans just don’t want to hear, especially as few think that “eventually” is going to come true this season.

That said, Edmonton got off to a flying start to the campaign, with veteran goaltender Mike Smith truly pulling his weight. Naturally, top-set scoring won’t be a problem all season for the Oilers, unless injuries play a major part. So, seeing the other side of Edmonton’s game look sharp out of the blocks is a promising sign. After all, two of the team’s keys to having a good season rely on goaltending holding up and the new-look defence gelling quickly.

Already, pundits are siding with the Oilers at least improving on last season, placing second in the division but just missing the Western Conference Finals. As of October 19, this holds up in the outright markets of the NHL odds for this season, too, with the Oilers second at +300 to win the Pacific Division. This doesn’t put them far back of the Vegas Golden Knights, and Edmonton is graded as the best of the rest at +850 for the conference crown. Still, at +1800 for the Stanley Cup, the Oilers are certainly considered to be dark horses.

While it’d still be an improvement, others also foresee a second-round exit should they meet the Golden Knights before the Conference Finals. So, it’s fair to say that the experts have tempered their forecasts for the Oilers, despite their two superstars.

Did the Oilers Patch the Right Holes in the Offseason?

If Smith can hold up in goal, avoid long-term injuries, and back-up Mikko Koskinen can contribute when called upon, his mission to make preseason pundits look like fools will certainly bolster Edmonton’s chances. However, question-marks are still rightfully being cast towards one of last season’s weakest and this season’s most changed corps, the defence.

Adam Larsson leaving for the same term and wages as the Oilers offered but to the Seattle Kraken will hurt, especially as the GM’s trade for Duncan Keith on July 12 was to add an improved presentation to the top four alongside Larsson. Given the former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman’s steady offensive declined – 27 points in 2019/20, 15 points in 2020/21 – he’s certainly not a replacement. Still, the top pairing of Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie should still hold firm, and the tenth-overall pick in the 2018 Entry Draft, Evan Bouchard, is expected to take another step forward. Overall, the defensive lines look solid.

Still, the issue with the team, for quite some time now, is the incredible lack of scoring from anyone not named McDavid or Draisaitl. When on the same line, they’re unstoppable, but as the team lacks talent elsewhere, they’re often divided, at least through the regular season. The statistics of goal contributions when either is off of the ice is quite staggering, even to the extent that their own incredible numbers often don’t matter much by the final horn. When the Oilers bowed out to the Jets last season, the difference between the two second forward lines was not just apparent, but the difference-maker.

For the most part, the Oilers did little to amend this issue, with the trade for Warren Foegele, who’s scored 50 points across the last two seasons for the Carolina Hurricanes being the main move. Of course, signing the likes of Zach Hyman to a hefty, long-term deal as a free agent, Derek Ryan, and Brendan Perlini was done with the hopes of adding points to the lines, but the scoring depth – on paper, at least – doesn’t quite look to be there yet.

McDavid and Draisaitl are expected to be their superstar selves once again this season, the defence looks solid, and Smith’s early performances are promising. Still, Edmonton’s fate will ultimately be decided by the scoring of each player hitting the cap at less than $8 million per season.

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