After practice on October 6, Mike Smith sat down with the media and gave us great insight from a goalie and veteran’s perspective on the new look for the Edmonton Oilers this season. He discussed the positives Ken Holland did, the new forward acquisitions and what a hard time they cause for goaltenders, and the revamped defensive unit in front of him.
Smith Compares Veteran Blue Line to Former Cup Winners
Smith was asked his opinion on the significant changes that have been made regarding the back-end.
He is very keen on the veteran players added to the defensive group. Seeing as he’s a veteran in this league as well, you can see where the confidence in players being around and having experiences can provide to a group, especially a young one like the Oilers’ have.
“We’ve added some veteran players, and you look at the teams that have won in the past, they’re veteran teams who know how to play in high leverage situations.”– Mike Smith
This statement makes it seem like Smith is confident in the regular season for the Oilers, but when it comes down to it, they need help from players who have been around long enough to know what it takes to win when it matters. After consecutive first-round exits from the Oilers to the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets, they are looking to break through and advance further into the playoffs.
Smith is correct with his evaluation of needing veterans of the league on the team if you are hoping to compete for a Stanley Cup. If history tells us anything, it’s that players need to learn to lose before they win. In the salary cap era until after the Pittsburgh Penguins won their second Cup in a row, the average age of the Stanley Cup winning teams were analyzed. Of the teams to win the Cup once, from 2006 until 2017, only three teams that had an average age of less than 27 have gone on to win it all, while half of them averaged over the age of 28.
No Cup winner in the salary cap era has gone into the playoffs without a former winner in their lineup either. This is where the addition of Duncan Keith comes in very handy. He is a three-time Cup winner in Chicago.
Smith continues about Keith and Cody Ceci, the other veteran defenceman the Oilers brought in this offseason.
“Bringing in Keith and Ceci, both are well-established guys in this league who know how to win.”Mike Smith said.
Along with Keith’s experience down the stretch to playoffs and in the postseason, Ceci brings a bit of a winning pedigree. Sure, it isn’t three Stanley Cups like Keith, but he was part of that Ottawa Senators team that went on that amazing run and came up one game short of the Cup Final in 2016-17. Ceci played over 23:30 minutes a night during that run and was crucial to the team’s shorthanded success.
Where’s the difference in this group that he believes they’ll take a step forward? It goes back to the experience for Smith. This group on the back-end has a lot. Not only do Keith and Ceci come in with all the years they have battled through, but Tyson Barrie is going into his 11th season in the NHL. Not the most playoff experience with only 30 games, but he’s itching to get out of the first round after exiting four out of five years he has made it there. Kris Russell and Slater Koekkoek will also be around on the roster. After moving on from Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones, it may be just what the Oilers need when games start to really matter.
Holland Shows Oilers are Confident in Winning
While talking about the additions on the back-end, Smith was quick to mention the effort that Holland put in to try to get this team to a level where they are legit contenders.
“It’s nice to see that Ken (Holland) has gone out and put some pieces in play that shows the rest of this group that we’re really serious about winning.”Mike Smith
Not that the Oilers haven’t been serious about winning this past couple of years since Holland has taken over, it’s just that they’ve been held back by bad contracts on players that need to contribute a little more. Examples included Milan Lucic or James Neal. Though hard-working or skilled, they are just a little slow and old for the direction the league is headed. Holland has used the money available after contracts ended and a buyout ensued to fill gaps in, not only the on-ice, but off-ice as well.
“… we’re really excited about having guys like that in our locker room.”Mike Smith
It could be Smith seeing the light in the situation after losing a guy like Larsson in front of him. But it could also be a huge vote of confidence in knowing the way Keith and Ceci play in front of their goalies that leads him to believe it’s an upgrade and will help him out.
Oilers’ New Forwards Create Chaos Around Net
Who better to get a perspective on what players can do to a goalie around the net than a goalie himself. Smith is asked about three players, in particular, Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele, and Jesse Puljujarvi. He had this to say about their net-front presence from just experiencing it in practice this season and getting glimpses in previous years.
” I think our identity definitely changed up-front this year. With those acquisitions we got this year in Foegele and Hyman, and Jesse’s (Puljujarvi) success he had last year. But they’re big, strong boys who can go to the net and pick up the garbage.”Mike Smith
This speaks to the tenacity that all of these players have in their game. Sacrificing the body and fighting for position in front of the goalies to help their team get advantages. They go into corners and come out with pucks and head right back to the front of the net for the dirty goals. But goals are goals, and each of them should be rewarded as Smith says.
“Last year we were driven a lot by Leon (Draisaitl) and Connor (McDavid). When you add pieces like that, it kind of changes the dynamic of our forward group and gives us a lot more depth, and maybe some work ethic we lacked in the past. Those guys are big powerful guys who should get rewarded for going to the paint this year.”Mike Smith
Smith definitely believes that the new additions, as well as Puljujarvi, can create an environment around opposing nets that will generate more scoring chances and cause chaos. This should take the pressure of the top players a bit who have been carrying the Oilers’ offence for years now. With depth like this added to the mix, scoring threats can come from more places and possibly push the Oilers’ over the hump.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. As a fantasy hockey veteran, he will be informing you on the best weekly options for your matchups to begin the week and mid-way. He will also keep you in the loop for weekly news and updates on the Oilers & Flyers.