While things are certainly going well as of now for the Edmonton Oilers, thanks to three straight victories, the first half of the 2022-23 season was far from smooth sailing. Expectations were the highest they had been for this team in some time after advancing to the Western Conference Final last season, but they’ve since been tempered due to inconsistent play.
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Having played in 45 games so far, the Oilers are just slightly past the midway point of the 2022-23 campaign. Through those 45 games, they own a pedestrian 24-18-3 record, which has them outside of the top three in the Pacific Division, though it’s still good enough for a wild card position. Here are the main three takeaways from what led to their somewhat disappointing first half and what can be done to improve down the stretch.
New Surroundings Take Time to Adjust to
For the first time in a long time, it seemed the Oilers finally had a legitimate No. 1 goaltender after signing Jack Campbell to a five-year, $25 million deal this offseason. That said, the contract did have some detractors, as many pointed to the now 31-year-old’s lack of experience as a potential cause of concern.
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Fast forward to where we are now, and those concerns have been validated. Campbell has really struggled with his new team so far and has often played second fiddle to rookie goaltender Stuart Skinner. His 3.43 goals against average (GAA) and .883 save percentage (SV%) through 22 games are worse than even his biggest detractors could have imagined when he signed his deal.
As bad of a start as it has been to his Oilers tenure, however, Campbell has shown signs of improvement as of late. In six appearances during the month of January, he has recorded a rock solid 2.02 GAA and a .915 SV%. On top of that, he has won each of his past four starts and is looking more like the goaltender who tore up the league with the Toronto Maple Leafs through the first half of the 2021-22 season. If this recent stretch is a sign of what is to come, the Oilers could quickly see themselves propel up the league standings.
Kane an Extremely Valuable Asset
Back when the Oilers chose to give Evander Kane a shot on a one-year deal during the 2021-22 season, many were skeptical. After all, the now 31-year-old had worn out his welcome in a number of destinations in prior years and was coming off of an unceremonious departure with the San Jose Sharks. Nevertheless, Oilers general manager Ken Holland took a gamble, and it has paid off in spades.
Kane took no time to adjust on a line with Connor McDavid, as the two formed instant chemistry and made life miserable on opposing teams. His success in his short time in Edmonton resulted in Holland giving him a four-year extension this offseason, one which seemed to be working out brilliantly in the early going.
Through Kane’s first 14 games of the season, he had managed five goals and 13 points and was in line for a potential career year before a gruesome wrist injury took him out of the lineup in early November. Since that time, this Oilers team has not only missed his goal-scoring abilities, but also the physical presence he brings on a nightly basis. The entire lineup seems to play with more confidence when he is in it. Thankfully, it sounds as though a return is nearing.
Oilers’ Blue Line Gamble Failing to Pay Off
Heading into the 2022-23 season, there were plenty of questions as to whether or not the Oilers’ blue line was good enough to help lead this team to a Stanley Cup. After all, they were losing a great mentor and reliable top-four option in Duncan Keith, as well as a key contributor to their penalty-kill unit in Kris Russell.
Those losses would have been okay if they had replaced them, but Holland didn’t have the cap space to do so. Instead, he chose to re-sign Brett Kulak and bring in a cheap option in Ryan Murray. It hasn’t been up to snuff, as Kulak hasn’t been the player he was in his short stint with the Oilers a season ago, while Murray has played in just 13 games due to injury.
On top of that, Holland had also hoped that his young blueliners, Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg, would take big strides this season. The good news on that front is that Broberg has been playing strong hockey as of late, but he’s appeared in just 19 games this season. Meanwhile, Bouchard has really struggled from both an offensive and defensive perspective, something few had envisioned.
As for the remainder of the blue line, Cody Ceci is having another solid season, while Tyson Barrie is doing what is expected of him. Darnell Nurse, however, has struggled immensely, which has made an already limited blue line appear that much worse. It is clear that Holland betting this blue line would work out has been a bad call, and he will need to make a deal ahead of the trade deadline to try and fix it.
Oilers Remain a Serious Threat
Despite their somewhat sluggish first half of the season, the Oilers remain a major threat in the Western Conference and are a team who could very well advance as far as they did in the playoffs a season ago, if not further. Yes, they are a roster with flaws, but having the two best players in the world in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl gives them an opportunity to win any game they are in. Pair that with great offensive support from players like Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kane, and you have a team that could cause serious damage moving forward.