What should fans expect out of the Edmonton Oilers this upcoming season? Here are the top nine questions that need to be answered in 2019.
The Edmonton Oilers are a team surrounded by question marks, especially after last season finishing 11 points shy of a playoff spot. Among the issues exposed were a goaltender who ended up shining a spotlight on a great flaw to the entire league and was incredibly inconsistent, insufficient bottom 6 supplementary scoring, insufficient top 6 scoring outside of the big 3, and a defense that at best is still a work in progress and suffered injuries to key players – not to mention, of course, the team turning over the GM and the coach for the 3rd time in the last 2 seasons.
Did Ken Holland do enough to fix the problems of the team? It’s tough to say at this point, but on paper at least the team is improved from where they were last season. Did he fix all the issues? No, but expecting him to fix everything wrong with this team in one offseason was a fool’s way of thinking – even he has admitted as much publicly.
That being said, IMO he had a pretty solid offseason considering the cap space he had to work with.
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There was the James Neal trade, which in my opinion, the Oilers will come out on top of. Lucic was a boat anchor contract that I think most of us would’ve loved to see gone but were resigned to perhaps thinking it was unmovable.
He remade the bottom 6 over the summer with a series of free agent signings, and from what I can see only 3 out of 7 players at most will retain their spots in the bottom 6 from last year – I’ll give you my best guess at line combos later.
The Oilers defense as it is now I would describe as solid if unspectacular – tying in with being a work in progress. It will get better organically largely from within, in my opinion. Goaltending? Let’s just say I’ll let you know later on. 🙂
That being said, how do I expect the team to do this year? Bottom end? More of the same from last year finishing in the 10 worst teams in the league. Top end? A wildcard playoff spot. Most likely? Somewhere in between – an improvement on last year but falling just short of the playoffs, setting up 2020-2021 to be the year the Oilers get back into the playoff mix for years to come.
Let’s see what’s standing in their way right now.
1. How will James Neal take advantage of his fresh start?
On paper, Neal will be a huge upgrade on Lucic. He’s been a consistent 20 goal scorer for 10 of the last 11 years, and Neal admitted that after playing for two cup finalists in two seasons it had worn on his body which might account for his performance in Calgary last year. Lucic, meanwhile, has been struggling for two seasons straight, so yeah Neal is much more likely to rebound than Lucic.
With the chemistry Zack Kassian has shown on the top line with Connor and Dr. Drai, in my opinion, it makes sense to give Nuge a top flight player in Neal at 2nd line RW and move last year’s breakout Alex Chiasson to the port side, making – for the first time in more than a decade – two lines that are a threat to score every night.
Chiasson and Nuge played together for most of last year so they know each other. There was really only one question mark in the top six and Neal was probably the best they could do considering the player they traded and the lack of everyday availability of top-six wingers in the trade market. Neal could easily struggle again, but on paper, this appears to have been a good deal.
Even if Neal struggles, unlike Lucic he has no special clauses in his contract so he’ll be much easier to get rid of than Lucic ever was.
2. Will Zack Kassian pick up where he left off last year?
I don’t remember when but as we had a team that was struggling to score at some point in last season, one of our coaches put Kassian on the top line with Connor and Leon and some chemistry was born – and there Kassian stayed for the rest of the season, more than doubling his goal scoring production in the process from 7 to 15. If he picks up where he left off last year and stays on the top line for the whole season, it’s not inconceivable that Kassian could score 20 next year – a career first for him.
Last season’s 15 was a new career-high for him, and with the obvious firepower of his two linemates – not to mention the opposition keying in on them night in and night out – will leave Kassian open more times than not allowing them to dish him the puck and hopefully he puts it in.
And this after we thought Kassian’s days as a top-six player were done. What a great story.
But, we’ve also seen this script play out before. Ty Rattie and Patrick Maroon both failed in their encore years playing on the top line with Connor. Hopefully that doesn’t happen with Kassian.
3. What will the bottom-six forward group look like?
I can’t remember when the Oilers have had this much competition for spots in the bottom six. By my count, we have 16 players vying for six regular spots and an extra guy spot. Holland put a lot of time into remaking the bottom 6, and rightly so. Let’s see if it pays off.
Chances are, it will. All the players in question have varying chances at making the team.