Monday, August 1, 2011

On the 2013 or 2014 Edmonton Oilers

Kevin Allen of USA Today (@kausatoday) recently posted his 10 early projections for the 2011-12 NHL season and had an interesting one that involved the Edmonton Oilers. Here's what he had to say:

"Whether the Edmonton Oilers are close to competing for a playoff spot is unknown, but they will be exciting. It's easy to project them as an elite Pittsburgh Penguins-style contender by 2013 or 2014. There are a good number of general managers who gladly would trade their team for the Oilers' roster." While a number of OIL country writers and bloggers have been writing the same things about the direction this Oilers rebuild is heading in, it's nice to hear it from a writer who is on the outside looking in. It's even nicer when it comes from a hockey writer who is as respected as Kevin Allen is.

One thing that is for certain in Mr. Allen's bold prediction is that this season's Oilers will be exciting. With Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Linus Omark all one year smarter, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Whitney both one surgery stronger, and the roster itself one Ryan Smyth, a first overall draft pick, and four free agents better, it should make for a much more impressive showing than Oilers fans have seen in recent years. Over at OilersNation they often talk about the Oilers and playing ELPH, or Exciting Last Place Hockey, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the LP dropped this coming year. That is, of course assuming that the Oilers can avoid the massive injury bug that has plagued them for the past few years.

With regard to becoming a "Pittsburgh Penguins-style contender" by 2014, that is definitely what fans across OIL country have been dreaming of, but are they really that close? The 2008-2009 Stanley Cup Champion Penguins finished the regular season 2nd in the Atlantic Division and 4th in the Eastern Conference with 99 points that year. Their roster boasted a great deal of depth on offense, including 2 players that reached triple digits in scoring, 4 forwards that scored 20+ goals, and 7 other players that scored 10-20 goals. The Penguins also had 4 forwards score 46 or more points that season, the Oilers didn't have any this past year. But while the Oilers may not currently be the high powered offensive force that the Penguins are, the depth on offense is starting to appear and should only improve as the current crop continues to develop, and promising prospects graduate to the next level. It is interesting to note though, while the Penguins forwards scored a lot that year, there was still quite a disparity among them with Crosby and Malkin both scoring more than double the points of third leading scorer Jordan Staal. While no one is expecting Hall and Nugent-Hopkins to become Art Ross and Hart trophy winners like Crosby and Malkin, if they can both become offensive leaders that will drive the Oilers night in and night out, then perhaps the comparison to the Penguins might not be that far off.

Where the Oilers are lacking in comparison to the Penguins though is in the goal crease and the depth on defense. While the help on the blue line is coming for the Oilers thanks to strong drafting in recent years, the goaltending situation is not that clear. With Nikolai Khabibulin struggling to show that he is still a number 1 goalie in the NHL, the Oilers have had to rely on Devan Dubnyk more than they had hoped they would need to this early in his career. While Dubnyk played very well last season (35gp, .916 SV%, 2.17GAA), whether he is ready to handle the physical and mental rigors of being a starting goalie is to be seen. Marc-Andre Fleury may not be a Vezina caliber goaltender, but what he does is give the Penguins a chance to win every night. If the Oilers can find his type of consistency, either in Dubnyk or someone else, then their chances of becoming a solid contender in the coming years will be greatly improved.

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