Over the span of six weeks, we’ll be taking a quick look at each of the 30 NHL clubs — examining their major storylines, pivotal players and the most important questions they need to answer heading into the 2016-17 season.
By the time we’ve hit every team, it will be mid-September. And that, of course, means it will be time for training camps to open. Perfect timing, really.
Today, it’s the Edmonton Oilers…
Well, let’s see here… the Edmonton Oilers haven’t been to the playoffs since losing the Stanley Cup in 2006, they just traded away a 24-year old former first rounder who already had 328 career points on his resume and the fans are getting restless.
Oh yeah, and Connor McDavid will be back and ready to (hopefully) play a full season in his second year of NHL hockey. Considering he has all the tools to win Hart Trophies someday — and already looked dynamic in limited action last season — that’s kind of a big deal.
Have the Oilers found their goalie?
At first glance, Cam Talbot’s numbers from last season look fairly pedestrian. His 2.55 goals against average were okay, and his .917 save percentage was decent. But nobody’s building a statue of him out in front of the arena just yet.
A closer look at the situation indicates Edmonton maybe on the right track here, though. The defense in front of Talbot is still a work in progress and the Oilers tend to play a fairly wide open game. As a result, very few teams allowed more shots on goal than they did — and quality shots, at that. With that in mind, the 29-year old netminder’s numbers look a little more impressive.
It’s also worth noting that he was in New York, playing for the Rangers the season before. In that situation, he was lined up behind one of the very best groups of shot blockers in the league. And while that likely made his job a lot easier in 2014-15, it also probably provided a pretty stark contrast to what he was about to experience in Edmonton.
That’s not to say Talbot is the clear-cut answer here and you can just pencil this group into the playoffs. But he showed some positive signs in his first year with the club, and solidifying the situation in net would be a monumental step for this group.
NOTABLE SUMMER LOSS
Taylor Hall (to NJD)
Look, nobody’s going to fault the Oilers for aggressively trying to upgrade their blue line. That’s clearly their biggest area of weakness, and they’re trying to get better. In theory, that’s a sound strategy — the execution left something to be desired, though.
It’s not like Hall needed to be completely untouchable in any trade, and it’s not like Adam Larsson wasn’t worth trading for. They just probably shouldn’t have been involved in the same deal. It’s hard to imagine there wasn’t another way to get Larsson and — other than McDavid — Hall was Edmonton’s most valuable asset.
Basically, Peter Chiarelli went to the store and bought a $70 item he desperately needed — but then he paid for it with a $100 bill and just told the cashier to keep the change.
Jesse Puljujarvi (drafted: No. 4 overall in 2016)
In a stunning turn of events, the Oilers did not win the draft lottery for once. But then Puljujarvi — once considered just a slight notch below Auston Matthews — fell to them anyway. So now they add a big, talented playmaker who has the sort of positive attitude that could make him a great locker room guy as well.
That’s a real nice consolation prize to mix in with their impressive crop of skilled young forwards. And since most of Edmonton’s other recent first-rounders are already playing at the NHL level, Puljujarvi immediately becomes the top prospect in the system.
It’s not inconceivable that he could play right away either, so competition for forward spots in this lineup should be intense when camp starts later this month.
BIGGEST CAP HIT
Milan Lucic, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ($6 million each)
We’ll just focus on Lucic since he’s the new guy. Well, that, and he’s signed until 2023.
Lucic has become a polarizing figure in the hockey community — not because he toes the line with his physical play at times, but because he’s sort of a throwback player in today’s game. He’s not built in the mode of the smaller, speedier forwards that seem to be taking over the NHL in 2016. Instead, he’s a tank.
Of course, that will be even more evident in six years, when the Oilers are still paying him $6 million. Putting that very relevant aspect of his contract aside for a second, it will be interesting to see what he can do for this group right now. Lucic has cracked the 20-goal barrier four times in his career, even hitting 30 back in 2011. If he were to line up alongside McDavid, their contrasting styles could feasibly play off each other and make for an explosive top line. So we’ll focus on that here, instead of worrying about that pesky contract.
2017 FREE AGENT TO KEEP AN EYE ON
He’s sort of Edmonton’s forgotten No. 1 overall pick — which is bound to happen to someone on the roster when you win that many lotteries.
Yakupov was impressive as a rookie back in 2013, and has shown flashes when playing in the right situations. But he’s never seemed to fully fit in with this organization. Maybe that’s changing with the newer regime, but his eight goals from last season are a reminder that we still haven’t seen his best hockey yet. Perhaps he gets going this year — or maybe he becomes an intriguing trade chip if the right offer comes along.
All he has to do is be perfect to take the fans’ minds off the departure of Taylor Hall. No pressure or anything.
Realistically, if Larsson can block out all the noise and just play his game, he should instantly upgrade the blue line. He’s not a flashy player though, so people are going to scream and yell on the nights when Hall puts up three points in New Jersey and Larsson quietly goes about his business slowing down the opposition in Edmonton.
In the end, it’s really tough to justify trading away a young talent like Hall — particularly without getting an elite guy back. But it’s entirely possible the Oilers end up with a better record this year anyway. And they’ll need Larsson at his best for that to happen.