There are just a few weeks to go before training camps and the start of the 2022-23 NHL regular season. It’s time to start prognosticating and examine where the Edmonton Oilers will finish once the dust settles.
The Oilers led by general manager (GM) Ken Holland and assistant GMs Brad Holland and Keith Gretzky had a strong offseason. The management trio looks like they have the team in a position to pick up where they left off in 2021-22 as a top-four playoff team. With that said, they might actually be the team with the best chances to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada in 2023.
Stanley, Come Home. It’s Been 30 Years
This season marks the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup victory over the Los Angeles Kings. It was June 9, 1993, to be exact. When you think about it, that was three decades ago. Back then, Kim Campbell was voted in as Canada’s first female Prime Minister, the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series and new episodes of Seinfeld were still being created. Zdeno Chara, the oldest player in the NHL last season, was just 15 years old. Canada is due for a Cup to come back wouldn’t you say? And, the Oilers might be in the best position of all teams north of the border to bring Lord Stanley’s Mug back home.
This Could Be McDavid & Draisaitl’s Year
The Oilers are right in the prime of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s careers (two future Hall of Famers) and the supporting cast around them is the best it has been in 16 years, led by Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, Darnell Nurse and the new goaltending tandem of Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner.
Make no mistake, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a good hockey team, and Auston Matthews will no doubt have another strong year. Their forward and defensive core is as good as anyone, but the goaltending tandem of Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov could be their Achilles heel.
The Calgary Flames’ offseason was saved by GM Brad Treliving’s fine maneuvering after both Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk left for the United States. Bringing in Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and MacKenzie Weegar was a stroke of genius, the only issue that might arise for the team come playoff time might be goaltender Jacob Markström, who clearly couldn’t match the performance of the Oilers’ 40-year-old goalie Mike Smith.
Some Canadian Teams Have Improved – But Not Enough to Win it All
You can make an argument that the Vancouver Canucks will be an improved team in 2022-23, and might have the best goalie playing for a Canadian club in Thatcher Demko, but their chances of winning the Stanley Cup are not as strong as Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Jets hired Rick Bowness as their head coach and didn’t do a whole lot in the offseason to improve their team.
However, one team that did improve significantly was the Ottawa Senators. Signing Claude Giroux and trading for Alex DeBrincat easily bolstered their offense, and with the addition of Cam Talbot in net, expect the Senators led by captain Brady Tkachuk to possibly make the postseason – but maybe not make it to the final four.
The last Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup, the Montreal Canadiens, might have improved in the offseason but they’re not ready to go on a run like they did two years ago when they reached the Stanley Cup Final. They traded for Kirby Dach and drafted Juraj Slafkovský first overall, and were hoping to have Carey Price return in goal. However reports surfaced around mid-August indicating it is very likely that he will miss the entire 2022-23 NHL season with a knee injury, possibly putting an end to his career. With the goaltending tandem of Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault in Montreal this upcoming season, it’s unlikely they even make the playoffs, let alone compete for the Stanley Cup.
Oilers Should Be the Last Canadian Team Standing in 2022-23
The only thing standing in the way of the Oilers advancing to the Stanley Cup Final this year might be the Colorado Avalanche. Led by defenceman Cale Makar and forward Nathan McKinnon, they might’ve improved in the offseason, especially in goal with the addition of Alexander Georgiev who came over in a trade with the New York Rangers. They might be to this season’s version of the Oilers what the New York Islanders were to the Gretzky-led team of the early 1980s. Only time will tell.
The Oilers meanwhile go into camp with some unfinished business, including the signing of Ryan McLeod. Holland, Holland and Gretzky also have some balancing to do to keep the team under the salary cap. All minor stuff, right Oilers fans? With a team led by McDavid and Draisaitl and coached by Jay Woodcroft, things are as optimistic as they’ve been in years in Oil Country. It’s Stanley Cup or bust for the 2022-23 Oilers, and that could very well mean the Cup comes home to its native land this season. I wouldn’t bet against it.