2017-18 team-by-team NHL season outlook: Previewing the Edmonton Oilers
Depth is a concern, but Edmonton is all in on its young, speedy stars with Stanley Cup potential
As October creeps closer, another NHL season creeps with it.
In the 24th of a series of team-by-team summer reviews and season previews, here's a glimpse at the ...
A year after a seventh-place finish in the Pacific Division, the Oilers sprung to life at their new Rogers Place arena in 2016-17, riding the offensive tidal wave that was 30-goal, 100-point scorer Connor McDavid, who went on to take home just about all the best NHL awards in his second season, into the playoffs for the first time in a decade. A strong finish (13-4-1 in March and April) gave them momentum heading into the postseason, where their top-eight offense cruised past the San Jose Sharks and then took the rival Anaheim Ducks to seven games for a shot at the conference finals. The Oilers (46-26-9) went home with a plus-35 goal differential, sixth best in the league behind only the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and four other playoff teams.
Revealed as high-octane contenders with McDavid's MVP season and a triumphant destruction of the franchise's longstanding playoff drought, the Oilers entered the summer with sky-high expectations, pouring out the big bucks to ensure they will be in the mix for a title as early as 2017-18.
Even at 34, Jokinen seems like a nice low-risk depth addition. Outside his arrival, there isn't much to get excited about when it comes to new pieces of the lineup. Strome is still only 24, but he was underwhelming in New York, scoring more than 30 points just once with the Islanders after coming into the NHL as the fifth overall draft pick in 2011. Eberle might have cost more and saw his production dip from back-to-back 60-point campaigns, but sending him to the Big Apple was all about preserving salary cap space at the expense of proven scoring depth.
Thankfully for Oilers fans, that salary cap space went to use right away in the hands of general manager Peter Chiarelli, whose real impact this offseason came in locking up McDavid and fellow forward Leon Draisaitl. The former, whose recent months have solidified him as the new face of the league, got the historic extension -- a $100 million pact that will kick in after 2017-18. And Draisaitl, after a little bit more back-and-forth, hauled in his own hefty deal, an eight-year, $68 million contract. For just two guys, of course, that's a whopping amount of cash, but from Edmonton's perspective, the only route forward -- the only reasonable path not only to more playoff berths but legitimate Stanley Cup runs -- was putting a dent in its own wallet to secure a long-term foundation.
Partly because of McDavid's hot finish to a 100-point Hart Trophy-winning campaign and partly because of how often McDavid has embraced the spotlight as the face of hockey's future this summer, the Oilers seem like they're almost unanimously expected to at least be in the Western Conference finals in 2017-18. And don't get it twisted: The speed and raw skill of McDavid alone make this Edmonton team as dangerous as anyone, and when you factor in that Draisaitl will still be around, as will free-agent find Milan Lucic, there's no telling how quickly the Oilers might be able to replicate -- or top -- their high-scoring numbers from a season ago. The reliability of Cam Talbot in net at the other end of the ice gives Edmonton a rock on which to lean defensively, too.
The question marks are mostly concerning depth. We know McDavid is for real. We know Draisaitl is a talented sidekick. We know this team is going to be lightning fast and fun to watch. What we don't know is whether injuries on the blue line, particularly to Andrej Sekera, who , will present some early speed bumps, and whether increased or newly filled roles like that of Jokinen and 2016 first-rounder Jesse Puljujarvi will take some getting to used to. Are those concerns big enough to write these Oilers off? No. It remains to be seen whether Edmonton has the "it" factor to get past an always-tough division -- Anaheim should be in the Cup hunt once again, and both San Jose and the Calgary Flames are primed to be back in the playoff picture. What is clear, however, is that the Oilers are all in on their young leaders, and those young leaders should -- or better -- have this team nipping at a championship by season's end.
Bottom line: If McDavid and Co. aren't in the conference finals this time around, we'll all be a little surprised, and Oilers faithful will surely be disappointed.
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