Edmonton Oilers: Stacking up against other Canadian teams in the East

Edmonton Oilers. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
Edmonton Oilers. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports /
2 of 3
Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Toronto Maple Leafs

Top 6 forward

The Leafs top 6 is impressive, and it better be because top 6 forward is where the Leafs have spent almost half their cap space.  That’s right – Between Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander, they are spending $40.489 million a year for those 4 guys.  That’s just over $250K shy of the halfway mark.

Is it worth it?  Depends on how you look at it.  Kyle Dubas has been a magician and had the benefit of LTIR to keep him from cap consequences until last season, but now his chickens may have come home to roost.  He’s had to say goodbye to useful players this past offseason because the Leafs just can’t afford them – and they’re still $1 million+ over the cap at the time of this writing.

Individually, the 4 aforementioned players are impressive.  Matthews had 47 goals and 80 points in 70 games last year, while Marner had 16 goals and 67 points in 59 games last year, Tavares 26 goals and 60 points in 63 games.  Nylander had 31 goals and 59 points in 68 games.

Interestingly enough, it takes the 1st 3 of those players to tie the production of Dr. Drai and Connor Mcdavid combined.  So, you can probably see where this is going.

Rounding out the top 6 for TO is Russian Ilya Mikheyev, who put up 8-15-23 in 39 games last year.  Not super impressive, and probably about the best they could afford.  Expect about the same for him this season.  Then there’s also Zack Hyman, who put up 21-16-37 in 51 games last season.  Solid enough.  Not superstar quality, but solid enough.

With the extra guy free as opposed to TO, the Oilers have more upside.  While TO’s production is pretty much set it stone, the Oilers have some room to move.  Expect Yamamoto to improve upon last season’s 11-15-26 in 27 games.

If he can maintain the same PPG average, then in an 82 game season he’ll put up 79 points, which is pretty good – adjust accordingly for an abbreviated season during the pandemic.  Dominik Kahun should make the line with Dr. Drai even better, which is awesome considering Dr. Drai led the league in scoring last year.

Connor Mcdavid was injured part of last year, so he should get back up to 100 points himself if he can stay healthy.  Nuge and Connor McDavid have paired well in the past, and so expect them to do so again.  Can a start in Nuge playing with a superstar push the star’s boxcars past the PPG mark?  IMO, yes.

He was only 4 points shy of that last season, and remember he had to play on the 2nd line last season.  Zack Kassian will do his thing and give you another 30 point season.  If Jesse Puljujarvi comes to play on the 1st line partway through the year, expect that 1st line to get even better. Kahun himself?  IMO 20 goals is not a stretch for him this year.  This is a case of the Leafs top 6 is good, but the Oilers has better depth and more upside.

Winner:  Oilers

Bottom 6 forward

Half of TO’s bottom 6 forwards are new this year, so it’ll be tough to give them the nod in this category.  Alexander Kerfoot is a solid bottom 6 guy but when you consider he fell from grace last season as his point totals fell by ~ 25%, that’s not a good thing.  Still, 28 points is good for a bottom 6 forward.  The Leafs better hope so as $3.5 million is a bit much for a bottom 6 guy.

Jason Spezza is back as 4th line C, and at 37 he’s doing about what you could expect him to – 9-16-25 last season.  Decent, but of course he’s not the same player he used to be.  Good value for 700K.  Nick Robertson is back for the Leafs after being called up for their play-in series last season, putting up 1 goal in 4 games.  He’s in his rookie season at 19 years old, so hard to say how he’ll do at this point, he’s a bit of a wildcard.

As for the newcomers, Joe Thornton is coming to TO as a bottom 6 forward.  He was a defensive mess last year in San Jose, finishing at -19 but with 7-24-31 in 70 games.  Logic says he’ll likely be better on a better team in TO, but that’s far from certain.  Jimmy Vesey comes from Buffalo last season, where he put up 9-11-20 in 64 games, with a +12.

Is he there to clean up after Jumbo Joe’s defensive mistakes?  Probably.  Decent production from a 3rd liner.  Gritty guy Wayne Simmonds was brought into TO after playing in New Jersey and Buffalo last season, putting up 8 goals and 24 points in 68 games last year.  He’s not what he once was but he can probably still give you 25 points.  Not great defensively, though – -17 in Jersey and -4 in Buffalo – so I hope Spezza and Robertson are prepared to pick up the slack in that regard.

The extra guy will be Travis Boyd, an unimpressive AHL bubble player with 31 career points in 85 NHL games over the past 3 seasons.  Much like in the top 6, I’m going to say this bottom 6 is good but the Oilers is better.  The Oilers have more depth in their bottom 6, more firepower, and a better quality of player than the Leafs do.  Also, the Oilers bottom 6 has 30% less turnover and more experience playing together, thus fewer question marks about chemistry and meshing.

Winner:  Oilers


Both teams have very similar top 4s:  no big names on either roster, but a solid top 4.  Morgan Reilly is the guy who really holds that team together, although his GP went down from 82 2 seasons ago to 47 last season, and likewise, his boxcars nosedived from 20-52-72 to 3-24-27.  Considering he’s 26 with over 500 NHL games, it’s safe to assume that the 72 point season is an aberration rather than a new normal.  Let’s put him down for 30 points, considering the way the rest of his career has gone.

His partner is newcomer TJ Brodie, a solid signing.  He had a bad season last year in Calgary but should bounce back in TO with a 30 point season, IMO.  Jake Muzzin has regressed a bit from his days as an LA King but still a decent player.  Let’s put him down for 20 points.  His partner will be Justin Holl, a recent promotion from the bottom pairing who we could safely put down for 15 points as we don’t know how he will respond yet to extra minutes and responsibility.

On the bottom pairing, you have a bland, vanilla guy in Travis Dermott, we could safely put him down for 13 points.  Newcomer Zack Bogosian will be coming over from the Stanley Cup champs Tampa Bay and considering he hasn’t put up boxcars of any significance in quite awhile I don’t really consider him to put up much more than 5 points.

Making things interesting is the 3rd pairings of both teams.  Although the top 4 of the Leafs should outscore the top 4 of the Oilers, considering that Tyson Barrie will conservatively put up 30 points cleaning up on the Oilers potent PP and Kris Russell will likely add another 15 when you consider that the point totals are pretty close, and the difference between them is negligible.  There are lots of different factors that could tilt this thing towards 1 team or the other.

Winner:  None, it’s a tie.  The projections are close enough let’s just call it a wash.

Special teams:  Last season – Oilers #1 PP, Leafs 6.  Close, but no cigar.  Oilers #2 PK, Leafs 21.

Winner:  Oilers.  That PK is a real killer for the Leafs, and I don’t see anything that moves the needle much on it this upcoming season.


Another surprise – Koskinen beat Anderson too in sv% .917 to Anderson’s .909.  Considering how Anderson’s career has done in TO, though, let’s call last season a blip on the radar screen.  His 2.85 GAA I also expect him to improve upon.  A little higher than Koskinen’s 2.75 but nothing to be too concerned about.

Most of his career in TO Anderson has been just this side of elite, and although it’s a short sample size Jack Campbell has shown good things as a Leaf.  He should platoon nicely with Anderson, but having only played 64 NHL games is a bit of a concern.  Either way, he’s a low-risk bet at $1.65 million a year.  Certainly a better option than old balls Mike Smith, who I already made my feelings about clear when I looked at Montreal.

Winner:  Leafs

*Cue the onslaught of Leafs fans to lynch me*