Consensus Wrong: Oilers Should Be Favoured Over Maple Leafs

Most betting sites have the Toronto Maple Leafs as the most favoured Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup in 2022-23 and the second or third most likely in the NHL (from ‘NHL Stanley Cup Odds: 2022-23 Winner Futures Betting’, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/21/22). Considering what the Edmonton Oilers accomplished last season, making it to the Western Conference Final, I beg to differ.

The Oilers have two of the best players in the world. They are coming off two playoff series wins and stellar performances by many players on the team, while the Maple Leafs can’t seem to get out of the first round. Edmonton also got better this offseason, while you can argue that the Maple Leafs got worse this offseason. Here’s why the Maple Leafs being widely favoured to win the Stanley Cup over the Oilers is wrong.

Top Players (Advantage Oilers)

The Oilers may have the advantage in terms of top talent, but the Maple Leafs still have some excellent players. Connor McDavid is the best player in the world. He may not have won the Hart Trophy last season, but that’s because it has been a long time since a player has scored 60 goals in a season, and the honour went to Auston Matthews.

Comparing McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to Matthews and Mitch Marner, the Oilers have three Hart Trophies, five Art Ross Trophies, and four Ted Lindsay Awards between them. The two Maple Leafs have a combined two Rocket Richard Trophies, one Hart Trophy, and one Ted Lindsay, all coming from Matthews.

McDavid and Draisaitl also have a combined eight 100-point seasons, six 40-goal seasons, and two 50-goal seasons. Matthews and Marner have one 100-point season, four 40-goal seasons, and one 60-goal season. Again, that’s all Matthews. Taking into account his track record of missing a handful of games each season, that leaves the Maple Leafs much more vulnerable than if one of the Oilers stars misses any games. That being said, Draisaitl has missed six games in the past six seasons and has played in every game in four of them.

Leon Draisaitl Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Though Matthews and Marner get more credit for their defensive play, neither of them has ever finished higher in Selke Trophy voting than 10th. McDavid and Draisaitl have each received votes in multiple seasons, although voting always gets blurred after the top three to five players.

If you were to pick a supporting cast of players behind each team’s top two players, who would you go with?

  • Oilers: Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto, Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard
  • Maple Leafs: William Nylander, John Tavares, Alex Kerfoot, Michael Bunting, Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin

Considering the contracts and production during the regular season and playoffs, the better choice is the Oilers’ group.

Playoff Chances (Advantage Oilers)

It doesn’t matter whether the Oilers or Maple Leafs finish first in the NHL or are the last team to reach the playoffs; a team can win from any seed. The Florida Panthers were last season’s Presidents’ Trophy winners, struggled in Round 1, and got swept in Round 2. Then take the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings, who finished eighth in the Western Conference and dominated the playoffs, winning the Stanley Cup. We know the Maple Leafs are a dominant regular season team year in and year out but can’t win when it matters.

The Maple Leafs have lost in the first round six seasons in a row. No matter what opportunity they have or which team they face, they continue to lose the series-clinching games (five in a row). They have fallen victim to the Boston Bruins twice, Tampa Bay Lightning, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, and Washington Capitals, so one team isn’t just constantly beating them. They have also been the underdog in just one of those series.

The Oilers had a 10-year-long playoff drought and finally earned an appearance and series win in 2021-22. They missed the following two seasons but have now qualified for three consecutive postseasons. The difference is they actually took a step forward last season and won two playoff series. That’s more than the Maple Leafs have won since 2001-02.

As for the players, most of the Maple Leafs seem to disappear in the playoffs, while records were broken last season by multiple Oilers. McDavid led the postseason with 33 points in 16 games, and Draisaitl also put up two points per game. Kane scored 13 goals in 15 games, while Hyman recorded six more goals and three more points in one playoff run (half of the games) than he did in five series with the Maple Leafs.

The Oilers have now proven they can show up when it counts in the playoffs. The Maple Leafs have yet to prove that, and the process is gradual on the way to winning a Stanley Cup.

Additions & Subtractions for Each Team

The Oilers made a few additions to their team, but the big win came from bringing back 2021-22’s mid-season additions. That includes Kane and Brett Kulak, who were signed to team-friendly deals to stick around for four years each. In addition to that, goaltending has a new look with Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner. Campbell comes over from the Maple Leafs after being an All-Star last season, and Skinner has been pushing for a spot on the team for a while now.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell former Toronto Maple Leafs goalie (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Oilers also had some players retire and made an important trade to dump salary for two rookies to challenge for roster spots this season. Philip Broberg will very likely be in the opening-night lineup, while Dylan Holloway has also had a very impressive showing and is primed to make the roster as well. The team also added Mattias Janmark and is still looking at Jake Virtanen, who is on a professional tryout contract (PTO).

Related: Oilers Biggest Training Camp Battles Heading Into 2022-23 Season

The Oilers lost both of last season’s sub-par goaltenders and traded Zack Kassian at the NHL draft. Goaltending is expected to be much better and younger in 2022-23, while Kassian’s physicality will be absorbed by Kane.

The Maple Leafs also swapped both of their goaltenders who hurt them in the second half of last season for Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray. Both are big question marks coming into this season as Samsonov wasn’t qualified by the Capitals, and Murray was sent down to the American Hockey League (AHL) at one point last season.

Other additions include Calle Jarnkrok, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Zach Aston-Reese, Adam Gaudette, Jordie Benn, and Victor Mete. None of these players are key additions after the team lost Ilya Mikheyev to the Vancouver Canucks. The Maple Leafs will also start the season without Tavares and Timothy Liljegren.

The Oilers once again continued the trend of acquiring former Maple Leafs. What’s interesting about this is that these players tend to struggle in Toronto before either rebounding or playing even better in Edmonton. The list of current players includes Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Hyman, and now Greg McKegg and Campbell. Barrie, Ceci, and Hyman played big parts in the Oilers’ playoff success last season, and Campbell is expected to do the same in 2022-23.

Goaltending (Advantage Oilers)

The Maple Leafs couldn’t get a deal done with Campbell this offseason and chose to go with two reclamation projects in an important season for general manager Kyle Dubas. Samsonov is coming off a .896 save percentage (SV%) and 3.02 goals-against average (GAA) for the Capitals last season. Murray played only 20 games because he was demoted to the AHL for a part of it. During his time with the Ottawa Senators, he was night and day. He finished the season with a .906 SV% and 3.05 GAA. A below-average SV% and GAA like that is not a recipe for success, even if the Maple Leafs can score a lot of goals to balance it out.

Matt Murray Ottawa Senators
Matt Murray, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Oilers can keep up in the goal-scoring department, especially given their forward group and the production of their defensemen. That being said, head coach Jay Woodcroft completely turned the Oilers’ defensive game around, which helped Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen to perform much better. Now transfer that to Campbell and a hungry Skinner.

Campbell, despite his struggles at times, finished last season with a .914 SV% and 2.64 GAA. He has been very good his entire career, considering he has a career SV% of .916. He is the clear number one in Edmonton, but don’t count Skinner out to steal starts as he did with the Oilers last season. His starts are more comparable with Murray, as Skinner played just 13 games for a .913 SV% and 2.62 GAA, much better as a rookie than both goaltenders the Maple Leafs have this season.

Not only is the Pacific Division much weaker than the Atlantic Division, season after season Toronto is one of the most favoured teams to win the Stanley Cup. When will oddsmakers learn that the odds should be based on more than what a team looks like on paper? The Oilers have gotten over the playoff hump and are looking to push further with a bolstered lineup. The Maple Leafs will try to make it out of the first round after six consecutive failed attempts. Edmonton has leapfrogged the Maple Leafs in playoff success and expectations should have them winning the Stanley Cup first.

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