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Know your Enemy: The Edmonton Oilers

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The Leafs got better, did the Oilers?

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 06: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against Tyson Barrie #94 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on January 6, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Oilers defeated the Maple Leafs 6-4.
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

We are exactly one week out from opening night for a Toronto Maple Leafs season that will hopefully end in a division win and a good chance at the Stanley Cup. The Leafs will be in the North (Canadian) Division this season so they’ll be playing a few teams more than two times. The Edmonton Oilers will be coming to Toronto four times this season, with the Leafs travelling to Edmonton for five games.

Let’s get to know them before we really get tired of knowing them.

Edmonton’s 2020

The Oilers were technically Canada’s team when you look at the standings at the end of the season. However, they — like the Leafs — were taken out in the play-in round by #12 seed Chicago. The Vancouver Canucks ended up being the longest-lasting Canadian team with a short jog to the second round before getting eliminated.

The Oilers finished best of the rest in a really weak Pacific division last year, with a young Vancouver team and fragile Calgary team their only real competition; Vegas was at the top, winning the division quite easily.

The Oilers were a power play team last year. They were first in power play conversion percentage and in goals/60. They did this with a 20% on-ice shooting percentage on the power play. Leon Draisaitl really cleaned up there. The Leafs, by comparison, was about 16% as was most of the top-five in the league. I don’t anticipate those results to decrease one year later since they got shots from genuinely good areas and they have two elite scorers on it.

The power play is a really good thing going for the Oilers, which helps because the rest of their game is pretty atrocious. Along with the power play, the penalty kill got good results out of some surprisingly good goaltending, which indicates they are good at limiting dangerous passes. However, Edmonton was bottom-10 in terms of shot share, expected goals, and actual goals at 5v5. As things stand, the Oilers are not a playoff team without their power play.

At least the Leafs can play at 5v5.

The boys on the Back to Excited podcast talked a lot about the Oilers at 5v5, particularly about Connor McDavid and whether his poor defense has taken him out of consideration for best player in the world. Because genuinely, much of what he provides, he gives up at the other end. McDavid might give the Oilers about a goal and a half a game with his offense, but he gives up a goal and a half on defense!

I digress, because there’s a lot else that has hurt the Oilers. According to Dom L (I spelt his name once this year, that’s enough), the Oilers have a 21st and 23rd ranked third and fourth line. The first pair with Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear is the 30th ranked first pair in the league. Last year, Nurse and Oscar Klefbom shot about as much as Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin, they’ve since added Tyson Barrie who shoots more than all of them.

In net this year is once again Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. Koskinen was about a league average goaltender last year per goals saved above average, and Smith was completely washed. Guess which one played more games?

Edmonton’s Offseason

The Oilers are going to be running the same roster from 2020, with the notable swap from Klefbom to Barrie. The former is out for the season after needing surgery for arthritis in his shoulder caused by years of playing through it. He had to look tough in Alberta, okay? The latter spent last season with the Leafs, a period I may never emotionally recover from.

Klefbom was an important penalty killer for the Oilers last season, a job I think I’m safe in saying Barrie has no business in replicating. Heck, he has no business in replicating +2% isolated defense!

Barrie has perceived value on the power play — the most many can say is that he doesn’t hurt one. The Oilers power play seems about as saturated as one can make it. It honestly can’t get any better, they just need to maintain that production. Barrie might do that, but he also might look off Draisaitl for a point shot. It’ll definitely be interesting to see him on a more offensively skewed team than the Leafs. Whether that helps the team or just him is unclear.

Edmonton’s 2021

This season, the Oilers are going to try and compete with the Leafs for first in the Division. However, due to a lack of depth at offense, defense, and suspect goaltending, they’ll probably end up somewhere in the group of five teams not named Toronto or Ottawa. When you sum out all their positives and negatives, there’s not much separating the Oilers from the Canadiens, Flames, Canucks, or Jets.

The defense has gotten worse — and it will stay worse if fans get their wish and prospects like Broberg and Bouchard play — and the offense doesn’t have much room to improve any further. McDavid needs to be better defensively, he needs to be able to take on some of those minutes, succeed in them, and give his more dependent teammates an easier time. Because at the moment, Riley Sheahan is drowning in defensive zone starts on the third line.

I think the big difference between the Leafs and Oilers is that the Leafs have the mechanics to improve their offense (reliable 5v5 shot share) and a personnel-driven way to improve their defense (TJ Brodie).

The Oilers are what they are during McDavid and Draisaitl’s peaks: a mediocre team propped up by two elite players. They haven’t added any scoring talent around them — most of what they have is young, not very good, or washed. Salary cap mismanagement has been a big hindrance to their improvements. The defense is very spotty with no pairing you can really feel comfortable with, I guess it’s good then that no one on their defense is on the books for more than two seasons.

The Oilers have to spend a lot of time and make a lot of changes in order to get any better. Having this scenario during McDavid’s peak isn’t exactly ideal.

The Leafs play the Oilers first on January 20th. There will be four games between the two sides in January. The last game between the two will be at the end of March, over a month before the season ends.