The Edmonton Oilers have more questions than answers right now as the team’s struggles continue into January. Heading into a weekend where four points were on the line, Edmonton came up empty-handed. They find themselves inching further outside the playoff picture and are now eight points out.
It’s now looking like it could take at least 94 points to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, Edmonton is on pace for a dismal 74 points, and the likelihood of being a playoff team is quickly fading away. For the Oilers to make the playoffs they’ll need a miracle and pick up 55 points in their final 39 games.
For quick reference that’s close to a 27-12-1 record the rest of the season or a .705 winning percentage. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights are playing better than .700 hockey this season, so you know it’s a tough task. For Oiler historians, this team hasn’t been in back-to-back playoffs since 1999-00 and 2000-01.
The present-day Oilers are playing some of their worst hockey of the season right now, and that’s really saying something. How bad are things right now? The team is 1-5-1 in their last seven games and have been outscored 28-9 during that stretch. In their previous five games, they’ve had significant losses with scores of 5-0, 5-0, 5-1 and 4-1.
2017-18: A Lost Season for the Oilers
There’s been incessant talk about this team quitting on each other, especially in the last two losses this weekend. To say Edmonton’s season might already be lost may be an understatement. It’s now coming to fruition that maybe last year was an aberration or smoke and mirrors. This Oilers team has come back down to earth after overachieving in 2016-17.
Last season, Connor McDavid led the league in scoring with 100 points and took home plenty of hardware. Leon Draisaitl had a breakout performance and scored a career-high 77 points. Even Patrick Maroon surprised people and finished third in goals scored with 27. Oscar Klefbom emerged as a legitimate top-pairing defenseman and put up 38 points.
Cam Talbot broke Grant Fuhr’s long-standing single-season win record with 42 and was a stud. The special teams were spectacular. At this point, last season the Oilers power play was operating at 20.9% which was good enough for ninth in the NHL. Their penalty kill was average at 81.1.0% for 18th overall. Where was the team in the standings? Fifth in the Western Conference.
This season has been as opposite as you can be regarding the special teams. The power play has been atrocious at 16.1% (24th), and the penalty kill has been the league’s worst at 71.5%. Where’s the team in the standings? Fifth, in the draft lottery seedings! If that doesn’t tell you how vital special teams are to a team’s success, I don’t know what will.
Oilers Have Regressed After Surging Last Season
There are very few positives for Oiler fans to take away from 2017-18. McDavid might be on pace for 90 points and finish the year as a Top 10 scorer in the league. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has had a resurgence and is flirting with 30-goals and a 60 point season. Nothing could go wrong for last year’s Oilers who caught every break. This year Draisaitl’s also on pace for nearly an 11 point dip with 66 points.
Maroon will be lucky to break the 20-goal mark let alone match the 27 goals he scored last year. Klefbom’s had his fair share of challenges and hasn’t been the dominant defenseman he was last season. Talbot has been inconsistent and has a 3.12 goals against average (GAA), and a .902 save percentage through 33 games.
Add that, and everything else in between, up and it’s been a disappointing season for Edmonton. The Jordan Eberle trade hasn’t panned out as hoped for general manager Peter Chiarelli and this hockey club. Ryan Strome is currently pointless in his last six games and has just 17 points in 43 games.
He’s on pace for just 32 points after some high expectations that he would get his career back on track after a trade. You don’t have to remind Oiler fans that Eberle is enjoying a successful year with the New York Islanders and has almost as many goals as Strome has points.
Where Do We Go Now?
Chiarelli’s been under fire from fans after failing to address the Sekera void on defense this summer. He knew full well the defenseman would be out for at least three months of the season, and had opportunities to acquire a band-aid solution but rolled his dice. It’s not a bad thing to bet on your team to take a step forward after finishing the previous year just one win away from the Conference Final.
Chiarelli lost significantly on this bet, and the failure to address the glaring holes on this roster hasn’t gone over well with the fanbase. The consensus is that the Oilers caught a lot of teams off guard, and this year teams have been better prepared for the Oilers. Now, can the Oilers find a solution to their problems on the trade market?
Sure, but they don’t have a lot of assets to move that’ll bring value to this team unless they trade Nugent-Hopkins. Edmonton can’t go on much longer without finding a solution, but it might already be too little too late. If we’re genuinely looking towards next season already, the Oilers have few assets that’ll bring in a return. The question now becomes who will be the core pieces for this team moving forward.
Do you actually pull the trigger on a Nugent-Hopkins trade? Do you move pending free agents like Maroon and Mark Letestu at the trade deadline? How about the coaching staff led by Todd McLellan? Are they safe? However way you slice it, the 2017-18 season has been a falling to earth for the Oilers. Can it be fixed? Sure.
Can they return to the playoffs in 2018-19? Yes. But in between all of this, the Oilers are facing some hard decisions. For Chiarelli, he best hope he makes the right decisions, otherwise he too could be next on the chopping block.
Edmonton Oilers regular contributor providing insight on all things Oilers including club history, prospect profiles, trade breakdowns, and everything else in between. Check back regularly for new and exciting content. Follow on Twitter @SanderTHW.