The Edmonton Oilers have little hope of making the playoffs in 2014. With 22 games to go they find themselves last in the NHL’s Western Conference with 47 points and 17 points out of a wild card playoff spot.
Anything is possible, however the odds are certainly stacked against them making a miraculous run.
That doesn’t mean the team will not be worth watching over the last quarter of the season and there still remains a number of interesting storylines to watch.
1. Is Ben Scrivens the Real Deal?
Goaltending has been a position of much concern and discussion for the Oilers this season. A main factor in the team’s disastrous start to the year was subpar goaltending.
The duo of Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera that started the season are now gone, replaced by Ben Scrivens and Ilya Bryzgalov. Certainly an upgrade, but what does it hold for the future?
Both netminders are unrestricted free agents, with Bryzgalov all but a given not to be resigned by the team. Scrivens on the other hand is a different story. The question for the remainder of the year will be whether the team believes he can be a legitimate No.1 for the team going forward.
He has certainly made a case for himself in his short time with the Oilers and even coming from a strong defensive Kings team, his numbers have not suffered in Edmonton.
2. Trade Deadline – Who Goes, Who Stays?
It’s hard to imagine the Edmonton Oilers roster being the same following the March 5 trade deadline. Many Oilers have had their name churned in the rumour mill.
Names like Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov have been mentioned as trade bait due to inconsistency. Pending UFA Ales Hemsky is a safe bet to be moved, and there are players like Nick Schultz or Ilya Bryzgalov who are also UFA who could be valuable depth additions for a playoff team.
The real interesting story though, will be is if one of the big three, namely Jordan Eberle, is moved. Eberle is one of the Oilers top players and elite young offensive talents. Many feel for the Oilers to truely rebuild, they will have to give up one of their big three.
True number one centres are a hard commodity to find, which means Nugent-Hopkins is staying and Taylor Hall is the team’s best and most dynamic player, which leaves Eberle as the potential odd man out.
Craig MacTavish won’t give him up easily and will need a deal he can’t say no to. With a week to go, we’ll see if that deal materializes.
3. Who are the Real Edmonton Oilers?
Is it the team that had an abysmal start to the year and put themselves in the cellar of the Western Conference, or is it the team that went 5-1-1 going into the Olympic break?
The last seven games are a small sample size to be sure, but there are some signs that point to the Oilers being a very improved team.
They are healthier for starters and have made some significant, albeit under the radar additions. Players like Matt Hendricks and Mark Fraser have complemented players like Andrew Ference and Boyd Gordon brought in earlier in the year in an attempt to change the culture and make them harder to play against. There are some signs that the vision MacTavish and Dallas Eakins had is starting to show.
The biggest change though, is the addition of Scrivens. No longer are they giving up a weak goal every night or worried that their goaltender will never be able to bail them out. Scrivens has given some stability to the position.
The hope is that the team will continue along that progression and build some momentum and have better habits in place going into next season.
Oiler fans are apprehensive to be sure as they have been fooled before.
4. Will the Oilers be Looking at Another Top 5 Pick?
It would certainly seem so, based on where they sit in the standings at this point.
The team is in a precarious position though, as they have had so many lottery picks they are at the point where they need to show their fans, and themselves, they can take the next step in their progression. Another season which finishes with them at the bottom of the standings will continue to put morale in Oil Country at an all time low.
On the other hand, wouldn’t a future top pairing of Darnell Nurse and Aaron Ekblad be enticing?
Granted the words rebuilding and patience are ones that are hard to stomach in Edmonton anymore, but with the playoffs being all but a pipe dream at this point, would finishing near the bottom be the worst thing?
If they had a shot at a playoff race that is an entirely different story, but since they don’t, a chance to draft Aaron Ekblad with a number two or three overall draft pick might be the best thing for them.
Dear Edmonton Oilers: Aaron Ekblad.
— Brian Wilde (@BWildeMTL) December 20, 2013
5. Will There be an Oscar Klefbom Sighting?
The Oilers desperately need hope on their blue line. The position is in need of improvement and an influx of top end talent. MacTavish is no doubt diligently working the phones to acquire a much needed top pairing defenseman, and maybe two.
Should that not happen, or really even if it does, they will also need some impact from one or two of their top prospects. The top two at the moment are Nurse and Klefbom, and since Nurse is still in junior, that leaves Klefbom as the one eligible to make an NHL debut.
Expected to be up sooner than now, he has not started his pro career as hoped. Injuries and inconsistency have kept him in the AHL. Now healthy, if he improves his play, many are hoping a callup is imminent and a look at what the team hopes is a future top four defenseman.
Carl covers the Edmonton Oilers for THW as well as providing additional prospect coverage. Follow him on twitter @carlTHW, connect on Facebook or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions, comments or if you’re interested in him writing for you.