The Edmonton Oilers 2014-15 season kicks off on October 8th against provincial rivals the Calgary Flames in what hopes to be a season the Oilers look to finally break out of the NHL basement.
The Oilers enter the 5th year of the infamous rebuild carousel that never seems to end with each holding a little more optimism and a little more frustration than the last year. Tempers are at an all-time high in the City of Champions as the Oilers haven’t made the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2005-06, the longest active non-playoff streak in the NHL going on to what could be a 9th consecutive season.
A new arena in Rogers Place is on its way for the 2016-17 season. The same year the Oilers hope to be a contending team in the powerful Western Conference but the present and past haven’t been as bright causing the future to look bleak at best.
That said there is plenty of excitement to start the season as Taylor Hall is coming off a career 80-point season that quietly put him in 6th place overall in league scoring behind the likes of Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Claude Giroux, Tyler Seguin and Corey Perry. The year prior Hall was 9th with 50-points in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Edmonton has a star leading the team out the charge but for the Oilers to have any success in 2014-15 someone needs to break out of the pack and be a 1B star alongside Hall.
Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are the front-runners at the moment but Eberle has yet to replicate a 76-point sophomore season and Nugent-Hopkins has yet to break the 60-point barrier.
All in all the Oilers have a better roster than they have had in all of the former years in the rebuild to give them the best shot at making a run for the playoffs of the last nine seasons.
Here are five predictions for the Oilers 2014-15 season.
5. There will be a goalie controversy…
Viktor Fasth will wrestle the crease away from Ben Scrivens for an extended period this season.
Scrivens who proved capable of being an NHL starter is going to start the season as the defacto number one in Edmonton. Don’t count out Fasth who is one of the reasons Jonas Hiller was proven to be expendable in Anaheim. Yes it was Frederik Andersen and John Gibson who had the last push of Hiller out the door but Fasth was the one who gave the biggest push of all.
Fasth had a rough go of it last season in Anaheim and even after his trade to Edmonton as injuries left him to play just 12 games last season.
The head-to-head numbers prove as solid comparables.
Scrivens finished the season with a 2.55GAA and 0.922SV%. Fasth, in his last full season, rolled with a 2.18GAA and 0.921SV%, last year 2.95GAA 0.903SV%.
The Oilers scouted Fasth for years before he ended up in Edmonton via trade. They went after him hard for two seasons before the Ducks eventually signed Fasth.
This will be the first time Oilers fans can actually be excited for the goaltending battles this season in years as they finally have a formidable 1-2 punch in goal.
4. Leon Draisaitl will make the Oilers this season…
Draisaitl will play a 9 game stint then become a regular this season. Currently for the preseason games Draisaitl is centering a line with his potential regular season linemates Benoit Pouliot and David Perron. The Oilers biggest weakness is Draisaitl’s biggest strength.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Boyd Gordon and Anton Lander are likely to hold down the first, third and fourth line positions leaving Arcobello and Draisaitl to battle it out for the second line spot. Draisaitl has the size not only Arcobello lacks, but the size that the Oilers overall lack at center. Edmonton was pushed around in all three zones last season and having a center with some size is a variable the Oilers have lacked since having Jason Arnott in the mid-1990’s.
Even then everyone knew the Oilers needed to improve at center this off-season and one of the answers came to fruition when the MacTavish moved Sam Gagner after selecting Draisaitl. It was either going to be Sam Bennett or Leon Draisaitl and the latter ends up ready to go on opening night.
Fans can’t get caught up in the “rush him” or “don’t rush him” conversation, when you’re ready you’re ready. Draisaitl has an NHL frame at 6’1 210lbs, he’s come off a stellar year dominating the WHL with the Prince Albert Raiders and there is nothing else left to prove. The same can be said for Nurse, but the situation is different because all the spots on defense are essentially accounted for. The same can’t be said for Draisaitl.
3. Darnell Nurse will be THE final cut in training camp…
“If I come in ready and play myself into a spot they’re not going to take it away from me.” – Darnell Nurse on making the Oilers
— Rob Tychkowski (@Sun_Tychkowski) September 12, 2014
Nurse will be a final cut along with Oscar Kefbom. The point can be made that Nurse could possibly captain the 2014 WJC team for Canada, but how can the Oilers best prospect not make the 2014-15 parent team but the second best prospect can? Competition. Draisaitl has a huge opening, Nurse however doesn’t. The Oilers went out and addressed their catastrophic weaknesses on defense by bringing in Mark Fayne, Nikita Nikitin and Keith Aulie. Justin Schultz, Jeff Petry, Andrew Ference and Martin Marincin return. Add in the fact that Oscar Klefbom’s status is up in the air, Nurse is walking into a very crowded group. So even though the Oilers addressed their weaknesses the argument can be made that Eakins group on defense would be stronger with Nurse than a Nikitin, Ference or Aulie. However it just isn’t in the cards, that said don’t rule out a 9-game audition to start the season when Nurse rounds out training camp firing on all cylinders. Another year in the waiting.
2. Dallas Eakins will still be the coach at the end of the season
The last time the Oilers had the same coach for two straight seasons was two seasons ago when Tom Renney took over for Pat Quinn. Since then the Oilers platooned Ralph Krueger and Eakins. The Oilers weren’t entirely horrible under Krueger and were playing 0.469 W% hockey, the best since the rebuild began.
Unfortunately MacTavish didn’t see Krueger as a viable option and wanted to bring in a rising star in the professional coaching ranks when he hired Eakins. Well year one didn’t go so well for Eakins who was paraded around town as the saving grace that would guide the Oilers back to the playoff promised land. The goaltending unravelled with Dubnyk’s inconsistent play, along with the defense’s struggles to play defense and the forwards inability to shoot the puck instead costing the Oilers essentially any momentum. Because of this the Oilers weren’t even playing meaningful hockey in December let alone the stretch drive in April.
Well it’s a new season and one of the things the Oilers lacked last season was depth. They finally have some depth now. MacTavish addressed several weaknesses this off-season which hindered any playoff chances last year. Gone is the inconsistent goaltending as it’s been replaced with a platoon of goalies who have proven in the short-term to be viable number one options in the NHL. The defense got better with the addition of Fayne alone, there’s also the option of rotating in the youth in Nurse, Klefbom, Marincin and Dillon Simpson among others. Pouliot, Purcell are good additions to give the Oilers scoring options outside of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, something David Perron proved to do last year.
This roster resembles something more of an actual NHL team now instead of its AHL-like counterparts it has rolled out in years past. MacTavish knows that and he’s also proven to be very loyal giving his players and staff plenty of chances to prove themselves.
There is no way Eakins can let the season get away from him this year like he did last year. He came into the season a little overconfident before realizing his work was cut out for him and it wasn’t going to be smooth sailings (we all remember the now infamous water bottle incident last season between Eakins and Hall).
Expect plenty of bumps along the road this season but Eakins will be in a better position to handle those bumps this time around.
The Oilers will improve this season and Eakins will have some hand in that.
1. Oilers will narrowingly miss the playoffs
The Oilers will finish 10th in the Western Conference this season, narrowingly missing the playoffs in the final week.
This is finally a huge improvement for the Oilers since the rebuild started in 2010 with the drafting of Taylor Hall. Since they’ve struggled to move out of the NHL basement. This is finally the year they make a big jump, unfortunately it won’t get them into the playoffs.
The Pacific Division will lead off with Los Angeles and Anaheim as powerhouses, San Jose is the tweener then you have Vancouver, Calgary and Arizona as the others. Edmonton will have a better group than Arizona and Calgary but will compete with Vancouver for 4th in the division.
Regardless the Central Division is brewing a few powerhouses in Chicago, Colorado and St. Louis. Dallas and Minnesota are rising teams that are almost guarantees to make the playoffs. This leaves only three spots for the Pacific Division to make the playoffs, barring a complete breakdown in San Jose it’s doubtful the Oilers can crack the top 3 in the Pacific. That leaves them to battle the likes of Nasville, Vancouver and Winnipeg for positioning as the best of the worst.
Not only that but the Oilers went out and hired Tyler Dellow (the artist formerly known as MC79Hockey) who ripped on the Oilers analytics almost on a daily basis to help them out.
Fans can be upset with another long summer in Edmonton but can making a major step forward be enough to satisfy the appetite or is it playoffs or bust in Oil Country?