Heading into the 2020-21 season, the Edmonton Oilers are surely a favourite to come out of the tough Pacific Division. The Pacific presents various obstacles ahead of the Oilers, with established contenders such as the Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks, not to mention the Calgary Flames, who just added Jakob Markstrom this offseason, vying for the top spot in the division.
Oilers fans, though, are still left with more questions than answers. Is this the season? Will the team finally get over the hump? Will the supporting cast finally step up? If the last couple of seasons have told the fans anything, it’s that they shouldn’t get our hopes up, but with the best pairing in the NHL up front, it’s hard not to be optimistic heading into the 2021 season.
The success of the Oilers relies heavily on their two star forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Edmonton easily has the top two players in the division, and the best duo in all of hockey, after Draisaitl’s 2020 campaign, which saw him take home the Hart Trophy. If McDavid and Draisaitl can repeat their past success, the Oilers will without a doubt be in the playoff race this upcoming season.
McDavid and Draisaitl have put up historic numbers throughout their tenures in Edmonton, as they both have numerous seasons with 100-plus points to their names. The duo will continue to terrorize the Pacific Division for years to come, as they are both still in their early 20s and are locked up under contract through the 2024 season.
Despite their recent success, there is a lingering problem that could potentially halt their playoff push this upcoming season; McDavid’s recent diagnosis of COVID-19. Oilers Senior Vice President Tim Shipton spoke about McDavid’s diagnosis in a statement sent to CTV News.
“He’s feeling well, fully recovered. He’s taking all the precautions, of course,” Shipton said.”(McDavid) went into the 14-day quarantine to take care of himself and his loved ones, and of course the folks that he’s training with.”
It sounds like McDavid is doing well based on the statement provided, what we don’t know however is what potential long-term effects this may have on McDavid. The best-case scenario is that Connor will return to his normal self and continue to dominate the league. We’ve seen other athletes bounce back quickly from COVID-19, so there shouldn’t be any major concerns regarding his performance, and we should expect McDavid and Draisaitl to continue to dominate the league for years to come.
It’s no secret that the one glaring problem this club has had is filling out the roster surrounding McDavid and Draisaitl. While there are a few solid pieces they can work with, the main goal for next season should be for the supporting cast to step up. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has solidified himself as a reliable option on the offensive end, while Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom provide a steady pairing on the back end. Kailer Yamamoto should also continue to develop next season, and will provide a much-needed scoring punch on the wing. Besides these four pieces, the rest of the roster seems underwhelming to say the least. A goal the Oilers should set for themselves come trade deadline season is to shore up their group of bottom-six forwards, especially on the wings.
The club has made a point of adding depth this offseason, signing Kyle Turris, Tyson Barrie, and Kris Russell to short-term contracts. Turris should provide a solid third-line centre up front, while Barrie and Russell will provide much-needed depth to a mediocre defensive unit. While these signings will certainly have a positive effect next season, they are still in need of reinforcements.
The Pacific Division is slowly becoming one of, if not the most competitive division in the NHL. Vegas has been a perennial contender since their inaugural season in 2017, led by a cast featuring Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone upfront. This team is looking scary good heading into 2021, with the addition of star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo only hurting the Oilers chance at winning the division.
The Canucks seem to be getting better with each passing season. A core of young talent featuring names like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Bo Horvat leads the way. The signing of Braden Holtby this offseason could potentially push them over the top, as he provides a veteran presence and a championship pedigree to an inexperienced team. Another team that could potentially stir up problems for the Oilers are the Flames, who added star goalie Jacob Markstrom this offseason.
These three clubs are the only real competition the Oilers have in the division. The only way Edmonton will come out on top is if their supporting cast, which has been shaky to say the least, steps up in a big way next season.
The question of whether the Oilers make it out of the division next year revolves around how the supporting cast performs. The road to the playoffs will be a tough one, with Pacific Division rivals only getting better this offseason. If the Oilers can find a way to get the supporting cast going, we should be in for a competitive season and potentially, a deep playoff run.