I usually don’t get into the whaling about wasting the career of a generational talent. Connor McDavid will hardly be the first truly great player to not get to play in too many games that matter. This list could go forever. Off the top of my head: Dan Marino, Don Mattingly, Joey Votto, and Mike Trout will probably soon be on this list. Fuck, baseball fans don’t complain as loudly about Trout being on a go-nowhere team in a go-nowhere place, and Trout is like two of McDavids. BUT THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED.
Anyway, the Oilers continue to fuck up having the best player of his generation on their team through surrounding him with basically nothing, and that seems like it’s going to continue for another season. Let’s see just how desolate it is.
2017-2018: 36-40-6 76 points 234 GF 263 GA 50.6 CF% 50.8 xGF% 7.4 SH% .917 SV%
Goalies: So when the Oilers faked being a relevant team two years ago, it was basically because Cam And Magic Talbot was really good. .919 overall and a .927 at evens. And he did that while basically starting every game. But you can’t do that to a goalie these days. The game is too fast and takes too much effort. Sure, Grant Fuhr or Martin Brodeur could do it back in the day when your defense was allowed to tackle, rope, and suspend any forward coming through the neutral zone from the rafters without a penalty. You had to make 25 low-pressure saves a night. Not so much anymore.
Talbot paid for that workload last year. He still made 67 starts but dipped to a .908 SV% overall and a .916 at evens. Talbot also saw his medium-danger and high-danger chance SV% drop, perhaps because he was just a tick slower than what he’d been in the past.
And Talbot is 31 now, so it’s not really clear how he’s going to bounce back from 140 combined starts the past two years. 31 isn’t past it as a goalie, but with that workload it just might be.
Backing him up is KHL refugee Mikko Koskinen, who spent the past four seasons backstopping what was clearly the best team in Russia in St. Petersburg. The numbers there are ok to good, but he’s going from a superior team in that league to being behind Kris Russell and Adam Larsson. At least the climate of Edmonton will be familiar to him. Seriously, why would you leave Russia for somewhere just as cold? That’s bad advice right there.
Defense: And this is obviously where the problems start. The Oilers were able to get Darnell Nurse into camp on a two-year bridge deal, so they don’t have that headache. On the flip side, as much as we love his potential and have pined for him on the Hawks for about four years now, he still hasn’t proven to be much more than a second-pairing guy yet. The foot-in-the-ass-of-the-world mercenary that he at times flashes hasn’t materialized full-time yet.
Which leaves the Oilers without a top-pairing d-man. Larsson will never live down “THE TRADE IS ONE-FOR-ONE,” which really has nothing to do with him. He’s a sort of fine middle-pairing guy. So is Matthew Benning. So’s Oscar Klefbom. Kris Russell is a fine second pairing guy on your beer league team. It’s not a complete disaster here but it’s far from good either. There are puck-movers and I suppose if Todd McLellan were inclined he could get-up-and-go through Klefbom, Nurse, and Benning, But his style has always been more conservative than that, and this unit just isn’t going to suppress chances enough to get away with it.
Forwards: Well, in theory this would be the best center-depth in the division. It’s really hard to better McDavid-Draisaitl-RNH down the middle. But the Oilers are so bereft at wing that they usually have to punt one of these guys to the top line wing spots so that Run CMD has anyone to pass to instead of seeing Milan Lucic‘s ogre-gape 50 feet behind him. They’ve added Tobias Rieder and Ty Rattie to the ranks, which is like seasoning your food with compressed air. The best winger on this team might seriously be Drake Caggiula. I don’t know what to tell you. This is a team with the best player in the league and we have to say they’re not going to score enough. How’s that even possible?
Outlook: McLellan generally gets the most out of what he has, though his offensive strategy is a bit boring and plain. It’s a lot of blasts from the point. In a division with the Sharks and Knights and possibly a spikier Flames team, the Oilers need to get out and run, basically. McDavid will get his 100+, Draisaitl will be really good, and RNH will continue to score points no one cares about.
But much like the local outfit, there’s a lot of ifs here. If Talbot can regain the form of two years ago, and if two or more of their young d-men make a huge leap, and if one of their wingers pops off for no reason other than the sense of humor of the gods, the Oilers can scratch out a wildcard spot in a bad division. But they need all of those, and that’s a big ask.
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