The Edmonton Oilers kicked off the 2019-20 season with a bang. They had a 7-1-0 record in their first eight games, and the franchise’s current successes have helped to propel their Stanley Cup odds upwards, too. It should be an exciting time in Edmonton, but fans, thanks to the decade of darkness (extended version), know to hold the tissues nearby.
And for good reason. Ever since the hot start that had fans daring to daydream of a playoff berth, Edmonton’s winning ways have fizzled —slightly.
Almost any onlooker, fan, third-party-fan-who-half-listens-to-their-spouse-rant-about-hockey, or expert knows that amid the Oilers’ many exciting successes of the 2019-20 season sit three hard-to-ignore worries worth addressing.
Worry One: The Oilers Went From Hot to Average
Yes, the Oilers started the season with a we-are-going-to-prove-all-you-naysayers-wrong attitude. Yes, the franchise sat comfortably in a playoff spot at American Thanksgiving. Yes, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl continue to rack up points. Yes, the Oilers’ special teams have excelled. Yes, the Oilers have been able to string three consecutive wins since their hot 5-0-0 start… Oh, wait, no, they haven’t.
Yes, you read that right. The Oilers, who now hold the number two spot in the Pacific Division, haven’t strung together three consecutive wins since their scorching (hotter-than-the-Calgary-Flames) start. Some games they come out looking like a Stanley Cup contender, while other nights they look like the basement-dwelling team that fans have come to know—and fear—so well.
The Oilers may have started the 2019-20 season 7-1-0, but their record has dropped to an average 10-9-3 ever since (current record: 17-10-3). They are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. Meanwhile, two division rivals, the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights, have a 6-2-2 record in their last 10 games. And the Flames — unfortunately for their rivals — are starting to warm up.
It’s safe to say that the Oilers need to add another top-six forward who can help ease the load off of the Dynamic Duo, or provide scoring when McDavid and Draisaitl are having a rare off-game. As of now, they have combined for 37 of the Oilers’ 91 goals. My more-than-obvious point? The Oilers need more depth scoring.
Worry Two: When the Oilers Lose, They Lose Badly
It’s normal for a team to lose, but the way the Oilers lose is worrying. In the franchise’s 13 losses thus far this season, the opposition has outscored them 54 to 21. And they’ve lost some games badly. The franchise’s most notable losses?
1. Their most recent 5-2 loss to the 28th-place Ottawa Senators. After the game, Draisaitl said, “Probably not going to beat an AHL team (playing) like that.” He’s right. And they definitely won’t make the playoffs if they play like that, either.
2. Their 5-1 loss to the 29th-place Los Angeles Kings. Must I get into this one? I’d rather not.
The Oilers have let their opponent score five-plus goals in seven losses this season. And how many losses do they have? 13. Let me reiterate:
They’ve let in five or more goals in seven of their 13 losses so far this season. Yikes. When they lose, they lose badly. You never know which team will show up to play—the basement-dwellers of the past or the playoff contenders of the future.
Worry Three: Nugent-Hopkins’ Injury Has Left a Gaping Hole
It’s always reassuring to watch your team succeed when a key player suffers an injury. But when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins suffers an injury, the Oilers suffer, too. You want to believe you have a complete team, but it’s easy to see what’s lacking in your lineup when a top-six forward or a top-four defenseman gets injured.
The Oilers have lost three out of five games since Nugent-Hopkins’ hand injury. And the losses weren’t pretty, either. They lost 5-2 to the Senators, 5-2 to the Vancouver Canucks, and 4-1 to the Colorado Avalanche.
Nugent-Hopkins may not be the flashiest player in the NHL, but his ability to contribute to secondary scoring, play a smart, defensive game, quarterback the power play, and kill penalties make him an integral, necessary component of the Oilers’ lineup.
The last five games have shown that the Oilers don’t have enough effective bottom-six players to replace him (and recently injured Zack Kassian) within the top-six. If anything, Nugent-Hopkins’ injury highlights the Oilers need to find another 20-goal scorer.
When most fans think of an available 20-goal scorer, they likely think of the once-lauded saviour of the Oilers, Taylor Hall. But recent musings and mumblings have shown that the Oilers are not interested in meeting the New Jersey Devils’ asking price for the sought-after Hart Trophy winner.
Thankfully, Oilers fans know that the 82-game season will bring a stark combination of despair, hope, and if they’re lucky, joy. Surprisingly, the 2019-20 season has brought more joy and optimism than one can remember, but Oilers fans know to keep the comfort food in close proximity, just in case.
Sure, the Oilers hold the second spot in the Pacific Division, sit at fourth place in the Western Conference, have a lethal second-best-in-the-league penalty kill (we’ll ignore the fact they are tied for the most shorthanded goals allowed in the league—for now), and the number one ranked power play. But the franchise’s recent winning record poses a little more worry than hope.