According to former NHL GM, former player agent for Octagon Sports and analyst for the NHL Network, Brian Lawton, the Edmonton Oilers are his bold prediction to win the Stanley Cup this season. While other insiders and prediction polls have the Oilers as a much-improved team, Lawton believes the Oilers have the pieces to contend for it all.
We should preface this by saying Lawton isn’t suggesting the Oilers are his odds-on favorite to win. That distinction still goes to a team like Tampa Bay or Vegas. That said, in response to his colleague Mike Johnson calling the Oilers not very good and a club that lacks the horses on defense and has too many questions in goal, Lawton responded that Edmonton could, in fact, compete for the Cup. Furthermore, if he had to make a bold prediction for the year, the Oilers winning, was it.
What Has Lawton So High on the Oilers?
Lawton argued that the Oilers have a lot of pieces that make for a championship-contending team. He noted: “I do think that Connor is the best player in the world…I do think they have the coaching. They have the management. They have improved their depth. There’s a lot of things I love about the Edmonton Oilers.” He’s not wrong in that there is a lot to like.
The Oilers have arguably the two best players in the NHL in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They’ve improved their depth at forward and have arguably the best top-six group in the league. They’ve got a third line that can mix it up and grind and they’ve got some skill on the fourth line and players who can play in multiple situations, including special teams.
The Oilers added veteran leadership with players who have won before and they’ve changed the makeup of their team to be able to play more than one style of game. The team isn’t hoping unproven depth players can make an impact, they’re asking guys who have done it before in different places to do it again. In other words, players are in the right roles and the roster is balanced.
What Might Be Holding the Oilers Back?
Lawton did add, “But I don’t want to mislead Edmonton fans. I’m not saying if I had to pick them over Tampa or some of the other quality teams that I have ranked ahead of them, I would. I’m just saying that was my one bold prediction.” The reason they aren’t a favorite is the same reason some might suggest the Oilers aren’t legitimate contenders: goaltending and defense.
A combination of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen in net still means question marks, but Lawton didn’t actually think that was the Oilers’ biggest problem. The blue line is where he’s most concerned, noting that Evan Bouchard needs to take a massive step forward and Duncan Keith needs to be the Duncan Keith of a couple of years ago. Lawton isn’t suggesting those two players can’t do what’s needed, but it’s certainly not a guarantee.
When you add the uncertainty surrounding Cody Ceci and whether or not he’ll be able to replace what Adam Larsson brought, that’s where Lawton gets a bit concerned.
Oilers Finally Getting Love from the Analytics Community
What’s interesting is that the Oilers are finally getting noticed among a group of fans that are typically critical of Edmonton’s moves. While the analytics community still hates the Keith deal — calling him the third-worst defenseman in the NHL among certain categories — they love the pickups of Zack Hyman, Derek Ryan, and Warren Foegele. Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic — who writes heavily based on analytics — has the Oilers ranked at No. 6 in the league this season. He’s got them pegged for 101 points this season.
The argument has been that the Oilers were a team that didn’t heavily believe in analytics. This offseason’s additions have some changing their tune. We’ll see if adding those elements makes a difference or if the numbers aren’t entirely accurate since things can change based on teammates and deployment from year to year or team to team.
In the end, Lawton makes clear he sees Edmonton ranked sixth-to-ninth in the NHL. He believes they’ll contend with the Golden Knights for the Pacific Division title and once in, you never know. Where do you have the Oilers? Can they win it all?
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”