The Oilers: What Went Wrong? (6 Min Read)
Updated: Feb 6
As an Oilers fan, this season has been tough to watch. Recently cooling off the grill from last year’s playoff barbeque had critics and fans alike rejoicing in the possibility of a Stanley Cup matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Boy, were we living in a fantasy. The end of the #DecadeofDarkness inadvertently sent our expectations through the roof. Over halfway through the regular season, the Oilers record of 20-23-3 hardly gives them a statistical chance at making the playoffs, let alone the Stanley Cup Finals. They sit with a lowly 43 points; good enough for 25th in the league. What went wrong? Is the season still salvageable? Easy, baby birds. I’ll feed you.
What Went Wrong?
Injuries to our Defensive Core
The Oilers may have stumbled out of the gates worse than Trump in an immigration meeting, but a large part of that could be attributed to the consistent rotation of defensive lines due to injury. It’s difficult to build chemistry with any list of defensive partners, but having to consistently rotate bench players with top 4 d-men makes things much more difficult.
Andrej Sekera missed 35 games this year. He previously played the most minutes on special teams for any D-man on the oilers roster for the 2016-17 season. A tough gap to fill without any trade leverage or cap space.
Oskar Klefbom missed four games due to a shoulder injury that had lingered from Edmonton’s playoff run, seemingly effecting his performance. After his breakout year of 12 goals and 38 points, Klefbom’s production has dropped drastically. Through 46 games, Klefbom has a +/- of -10 and is on pace for only 22 points.
Cam Talbot missed 7 games, leaving the team to lean on young backup tender Laurent Brossoit. The team squeaked out a 3-4 record over the seven-game stretch, with Brossoit amassing an .892 save percentage and an abysmal 3.22 goals against.
Adam Larsson missed 8 games with a nagging upper body injury. Larsson is the most important d-man we have on the team at this point. He quarterbacks the defense and leads the team in hits, but it seems as though his performance has dropped considerably this year as well. Injuries have a way of taking a player out of rhythm and fighting to keep them out of it.
Lack of Depth & Poor Offensive Performance
If the Oilers offense was correlated with their center depth, the Oilers would be one of the best teams in the league. Unfortunately, they lack any sustainable wing depth, putting immense pressure on their centres to score goals and produce offensively. Of the 125 goals the Oilers have scored this season, 50 have been scored by their 4 centres. That’s 40% of the team’s goals by 4 (McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Letestu) of it’s 22 players who have suited up this year.
As for their wingers, only two players are putting up decent numbers, Lucic and Maroon, with 28 and 24 points, respectively. Lucic doesn’t produce enough of an ouput for his $8,000,000 a year (although depreciating) price tag and Maroon is not only inconsistent, but also a defensive liability (but I can’t complain for $1,575,000). The crux of any offense is reliability and consistency, which is exactly what the Oilers lack. When Connor McDavid is the only person the team can rely on night in and night out to get pucks on the net, they are going to continue to have problems. Chiarelli, fire up the trade machine!
Terrible Special Teams
The Oil have never had a PP prowess, but their PP% has dropped from 22.54% to 15.45% in just one year. Yes, part of that is due to a small sample size, but being roughly 4% points below the league average of 19.24% is astonishing.
Their PK is equally as depressing; PK% has dropped from 80.32% to 72.79% in just one year, with the league average sitting around 80.76%.
It’s important to note that the league average is a .500 performance team, a team on the brink of maybe making the playoffs, not even a commendable team. That’s how much worse the Oilers are performing.
Is This Season Salvageable?
In a couple of words, probably not. In running 4.5 billion statistical simulations based on the Oiler’s possible playoff outcomes, they made the playoffs 0.5% of the time. Although statistics and my dad will argue the improbability of this happening, bear with me for one second.
Historically, for a team to make the playoffs in the 8 spot, they will require a point scale ranging from 86-100, depending on the year. This year, there is a high skew of teams with many more losses than wins (AKA awful teams). That means teams entering the playoffs this year are going to need more points than usual. With 96 points at the end of the season, the Oilers will have a 71.6% chance of making the playoffs (depending on how other teams finish). So, assuming 96 points as our goal, what does our record need to be and how do we get there?
Right now, our record is 20-23-3 with 43 points. In order to get 96 points, that means the Oilers will need to finish their remaining 36 games with a record of 24-7-5 on the optimistic side. It’s more likely, given the Oilers low level of losses in OT, that their record would need to be 25-8-3.
25 Wins. 11 Losses (3 of which we need to contend). That doesn’t sound too hard right?! 2.5 wins for every loss.
My theory is that these next eight games will decide whether the Oilers have the gumption to make the playoffs or not. My theory goes something like this:
Either the Oilers…
1. Drop 6 of the next 8 and almost mathematically eliminate themselves from contention
2. They come out guns a blazin’. Their next four games are: Vancouver Canucks (18-21-6), Buffalo (11-25-9), Calgary (25-16-4), and Colorado (25-16-3). These are 4 extremely winnable games. Although the Oilers will be without RNH for at least the next game, the Oilers should be able to beat Vancouver and Buffalo (I’m eliminating our first loss to Buffalo from my memory as a grievance for our injured d-men). As for Calgary, we’ve beaten them twice already this year. Colorado also sits on the playoff border and has had inconsistency issues as well. Four wins in a row.
After these four wins and a humongous wave of momentum, the Oilers will enter their second section of four games: Tampa Bay Lightning (31-11-3), LA Kings (24-16-5), Anaheim Ducks (21-16-9), and the San Jose Sharks (24-14-6). The Oilers will lose to Tampa Bay in overtime in a really tight game, giving them validation of their recent play. They will then enter the familiarity zone and play three teams they’ve played so many times before with so much repetition that it gives them more of a chance than our record suggests. Edmonton will win 2/3 of these games, finishing this decidedly important 8 game stretch with a record of 6-1-1. From then on, the Oilers will need to average roughly 2.5 wins for every loss. Doable.
I prefer to believe in the latter.
Their schedule dictates that over 50% of their remaining games are against their opponents in the Pacific division. These are teams that we know well and have experience playing. We can contend against all of these teams, even Vegas. Hell, especially Vegas! It’s truly up to the Oilers if they want to give up on this season or not, because this is their last shot.
Some will argue it’s impossible. Others will say that not even guaranteeing a playoff spot after miraculously winning 25 games makes me an idiot. Their probably right. But what am I if not an Edmonton boy who believes in his team? At the end of the day, most of these games are null – anyone can win on any given day. Let’s let the chips fall where they may.