Are the Oilers Better or Worse Now than Last Season?

Today, within about an hour of each other, two columns came out from the Cult of Hockey, a segment of the Edmonton Journal, from two different writers, with two opinions on the Oilers. The first one, which can be read here, suggested that the Oilers, despite their poor record, are showing visible signs of improvement. The second, which can be seen here, declared that this years’ edition of the Oilers are no better than that of last season. I enjoy well written observations. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion. And in this case, they’re both right.

The Positives and Negatives of the Oilers.

Interestingly, the Oilers record after ten games played is actually worse this season (3-7), than it was last season (4-6). The most improved stat is that they’re giving up an average of less goals per game, which should be attributed to improved goaltending, but they’ve also given up more scoring chances, which is due to their lackluster defensive play. But there are some positives, mainly the excitement surrounding Connor McDavid, the improved play of Nail Yakupov and the better goalies. And because of the new coach and the new system, it will take a little more time for things to gel.

But the negatives regarding this Oilers team is evident. This article from The Oilers Rig accurately describes the biggest problem with the team, and that is their defence. The team just called up Darnell Nurse (and he scored his first NHL goal), but he wouldn’t be around right now if it weren’t for injuries. I don’t know how long he’ll stay, especially considering the mystery surrounding Justin Schultz’s health issue. Nurse is extremely skilled, and definitely better than most of the other options, but should he be starting his NHL career right now? He wasn’t exactly dominating in the AHL, and obviously my concern is for his development. But unfortunately, there isn’t much choice at this current time.

The Defence is a Real Problem

The Oilers traded away a first round pick to get Griffin Reinhart from the Islanders. He’s on injured reserved right now, and while he looked good in what we saw of him, the reality is that the Oilers couldn’t have known exactly what they were going to get from Griffin, and yet they put a lot of their eggs in his basket. Their other main defensive acquisition was Andrej Sekera, who isn’t terrible, but he isn’t a front line guy. And so far his play has been uneven. Mark Fayne and Brandon Davidson have struggled, and the other newcomer, Eric Gyrba, has been pretty bad at times as well.

Andrew Ference is the other option to bring in, but, he showed last season that he can’t quite keep up with the pace of the game. Oscar Klefbom is a lone bright spot, but he’ll become the next Jeff Petry if he’s expected to play over his head all the time. Even with everyone healthy, does this team have a legitimate top-pairing? The Oilers have a lot of low-level defencemen, most of whom aren’t consistent enough to count on. Management knew this going in, but I’m sure if there was a better option, they would have gone after it (and who knows, maybe they did try).

Is There Any Reason for Optimism in Edmonton?

The second article from the Journal used advanced stats to explain the shortcomings of these Oilers, and showed that in some ways they are in fact worse than last season. But, as mentioned earlier, a lot of that could be attributed to the growing pains of a new system. The power play is slowly improving, and will even more so with the return of Jordan Eberle. The penalty kill on the other hand, hasn’t shown many signs of promise. But special teams takes the most hits when there is a new coaching staff in place, and the injuries aren’t helping the matter.

If we’re looking at the stats, and the numbers, this seasons’ Oilers don’t look better than last seasons, in fact they look worse. But the differences in the two squads are there. They need to get healthy, and they need to settle into the coaches system. Those things hopefully will eventually happen. And no one can deny what a boost the presence of Connor McDavid is providing. Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson are already better than last year’s goalie, and if you’ve followed the Oilers for a long time, that’s huge. As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, there is every reason to have hope in Edmonton this season, because the losing culture is getting snuffed out. But for the fans, I know it can’t be easy watching the same thing over and over, and wondering if all the so-called potential will ever come to fruition.