When you’re a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, there’s always plenty to fear, whether it’s Halloween or not.
Sure, the team has looked good through the first 10 games of the National Hockey League (NHL) season. They’ve compiled a 6-3-1 record against some tough competition and deserve credit for turning around a scary 0-2 start. And when you have generational talent Connor McDavid in your lineup, there is a reason to be optimistic.
A fanbase as rabid as the Oilers’, however, will always find a few black cats on their path, which is understandable considering the team has missed the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 seasons. Here are three terrifying scenarios the Oilers are facing this season.
1. The Oilers Do Not Add Another Defenseman Soon
The Oilers’ defense was scrutinized during the offseason, especially after Andrej Sekera suffered a serious injury. Edmonton surrendered the fifth-most goals in the NHL last season, and they entered the 2018-19 campaign banking on Oscar Klefbom’s return to form after shoulder injury, and an improved Adam Larsson, whose primary purpose in 2017-18 was to remind hockey fans that the Oilers traded away a Hart Trophy winner (Taylor Hall) for a capable but unspectacular blueliner.
To their credit, the Oilers defense has stepped up this season. They are giving up an average of three goals per game, which ranks middle of the road compared to the rest of the league but is impressive considering the strong opponents the Oilers have faced.
There is a clear divide in ice time between the top four defensemen and the bottom pairing. Klefbom is averaging 26 minutes per game, followed by Darnell Nurse, who is putting in just under 23 minutes a night. Larsson, meanwhile, is logging over 22 minutes of and shot-blocking ace Kris Russell is skating more than 20 minutes. Those who’ve served on the bottom pairing – including Matt Benning, rookie Evan Bouchard, Jason Garrison and Kevin Gravel – are averaging under 13 minutes of ice time per game.
This is not surprising given the calibre of teams the Oilers have played against thus far, and their plus/minus stat indicates the need for more reliable blueliners. Of the top four minute-munchers, only Nurse is a minus player at minus-1. The fifth and sixth defensemen, however, are all minus players, with Bouchard’s minus-5 registering as the worst on the team.
If the Oilers hope to stay in the playoff hunt and have a lengthy postseason run in 2019, they’ll need to add another blueliner, preferably a top-four defender with a booming shot. Perhaps that role can be filled by
Ian Wilson is a life-long hockey fan who was initially drawn to the sport by the Edmonton Oiler dynasty of the 1980s. He brings decades of journalism to the table as a former editor and reporter with the Calgary Sun.