We all know about the Oilers struggles this year and if you don't then you haven't turned on a sports channel, a radio station or your twitter and Facebook accounts for the last month and a half. The talk is either been about their struggle to play a system being implemented by Dallas Eakins, their inability to put the puck in the net or their defensive woes, the Oilers have been considered a disappointment to this point in the season.
Well I am about to spread some sunshine in the world of the Edmonton Oiler fan with my optimism and it is mainly because of their horrid defensive play that I have this optimism.
The Oilers have given up the most goals so far this season in 83. They are only one of two teams that have given up more then 80 goals so far, the second being the Calgary Flames. If this pace continues the Oilers would have over 300 goals against by the end of the season. That is number has not been reached since the 2006-07 Philadelphia Flyers .
Why is this a good thing? It is highly unlikely that this pace will be kept. Not to say the Oilers are out of this funk but their defensive play has been better in the last 3 games, since MacT's presser. This better defensive play can be contributed to a few thing.
First the Oilers are actually doing a better job in the system. Their puck control is getting better They are starting to look more like a team on the ice and less like the ants on the ant hill you kid just kicked over. They are making better passes for breakouts and trying to dump the puck into the apposing end rater then trying to beat the 3-5 defenders that are waiting on the blue-line to stop them.
The Oilers are also starting to find their scoring touch. The game against the Columbus Blue Jackets was a blow out and partially because CBJ were really, really bad, but the Edmonton Oiler team that stepped on the ice that night was not the same team that we have seen play even just a few weeks ago. This team took advantage of a struggling and injured Blue Jackets team and kept their foot on the gas the whole game. Not letting up and allowing the Blue Jackets back into the game.
When it comes to the offense the Oilers are middle of the pack with 60 goals. This actually puts them ahead of the Eastern Conferences best team the Boston Bruins, interesting. If this struggling Oilers team who has been shutout 3 games this year yet have outscored 13 other teams in the NHL gets its confidence, look out. One would have to think that as they gain confidence the Oilers will score more.Scoring more means more time with the puck for the Oil and less time for their opponent.
The start of this possible turn around for the Oilers started just two games ago in Calgary against the Flames. The Oilers scored a few goals on bounces, bounces that to this point in the season have not gone the Oilers way. They followed that up destroying a beat up Blue jackets team. A game that had to of helped young Oilers team with their confidence and with the addition of Ilya Bryzgalov seemingly pushing Devon Dubnyk to regain the form he had last year. The grass is getting greener...
The Oilers fans should be hopeful as the Oilers are showing signs that they are heading in the right direction and a solid game tonight against the Florida Panthers who have also won two in a row will help the Oilers and their fans to get back to doing what they do. Oiler winning games and the fans cheering instead of booing.
It does not matter how the Oilers finish out the rest of this season. It does not matter who steps up and plays better defense. It does not matter how fast Darnell Nurse is ready for the NHL. The Oilers are still in need of a "stud" defense as stated by their GM Craig MacTavish.
There are always teams out there that are in need of scoring. This year you have a few teams in the East that are contending for a playoff berth early and it may be a good idea to target them as a potential trade partner but what do they have to offer. Or maybe a team that no one expects would be the best to target and for good reason.
They are the first team that pops out for me because of their struggles this year to score goals. They are last in the league with only 40 goals to this point in the season and they received news today that Alexander Semin sustained a concussion during their game on Saturday and is out indefinitely. This adds pressure to a group of skilled players who are all under performing.
A bit of the issue with trying a trade with the Canes is the fact that they don't have much to offer. The only way a trade happens here is if the Canes want to part with Cam Ward and I don't see that happening. Especially since the Oilers just signed Ilya Bryzgalov .
New Jersey Devils:
This is another team that is knocking on the door to the playoffs early in the 2013-14 season but may need some help up front to do so. They maybe in a bit of a better position then the Canes because of the success of their goal tenders. Both of them have a GAA of 1.98 and SV%'s near the .920's but do they have what the Oilers are looking for? I don't think they do.
This is a team that has been built to keep the best players on the opposing teams in check and will more then likely be looking at trading prospects to add some more depth scoring to their roster. Unless they have a good center ice prospect to offer I don't think the Oilers would look at a trade with New Jersey.
New York Rangers:
This team that has been mentioned a lot over the last few weeks in trade rumor circles and would have some pieces that the Oilers would like. Michael Del Zotto is a name that keeps getting mentioned and is in the dog house with the coaching staff in New York as he has been a healthy scratch a few times this year.
As good as Del Zotto is he may not be the "stud" that the Oilers are looking for. With the Oilers spending a lot of effort on the recruitment of Justin Schultz they already have a puck moving defenceman that has the potential to develop to be one of the NHL's top power play, puck moving D-man. That being said the Oilers would have to target Ryan McDonagh who I think is the Rangers top guy on the back end and a stud in the league.
With that being said the Rangers have won 7 of their last ten and are getting healthier everyday. They are expecting Rick Nash to be back in the line up today against Boston and with the recent play of Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot I have a feeling that the Rangers are no longer looking to make a trade but they would rather like get Del Zotto back on track.
We will see what the near future holds for the Rangers but I think they ride the team they have for a bit longer as they look to be adjusting to any changes that the hew head coach has made. If they decide a change is needed it will be at the deadline.
This team is a surprise on the list and only here because of some recent research. They are not in need of any scoring and right now may have the leagues best goalie in Tuukka Rask, the biggest "stud" of them all on defense in Zdeno Chara and no one has mentioned and rumors of Boston looking to make a trade so why are they on my list?
With depth at the D position and kids like Dougie Hamilton and 2012 free agent signing Torey Krugplaying like 10 year vets it may be a good idea for the Oilers to look at giving up some of their minor leaguer's and their 1st draft pick from 2014 for a guy like Dennis Seidenberg.
Before you go all crazy on me let me explain why. A solid defenceman in his 14 year NHL career and playing in the rather large shadow of Chara since 2009-10. He has experience at the international level already with two Olympic appearances (2006 and 2010)and including u18 and junior he as played in 7 World Championships for Germany. This type of pedigree and experience would go a long way for the Edmonton Oilers back end that has very little confidence and experience. Not to mention he plays that sandpaper game that the Oilers management talked a bit about this preseason.
The Bruins well be needing to make some big decision in the next few years in regards to their back end. Krug a RFA at the end of this year and my guess Boston will be wanting to keep the slick puck mover around for years to come. Their number two guy and heir apparent to Chara, Hamilton is a RFA at the end of next season. Trading Seidenberg, who has a cap hit of four million over the next 5 years in a package for a guy like Ales Hemsky, who is a UFA at the end of the season, would free up the cap space that may be needed to keep these two your defensive stars in Boston.
I don't expect this is a move that Boston will want to do while they are play so well but if the production slows up front maybe, just maybe the 'BOLD' new GM in Edmonton should make a call. All Oiler fans can do is hope.
I was looking at current stats for Oiler players on the season and started comparing them to stats from previous seasons and the 2005-06 regular season intrigued me. Usually stats show how a team stood out and shows you how they made the playoffs, how, in the Oilers case they made the NHL finals. Here are my findings.
The idea behind every season is to make the playoffs and the Oilers did that by posting 95 points in the regular season. Finishing 8th in the west and 14th in the league. It was their highest point total since the 1987-88 season when they accumulated 99 points. They have not gotten to 90 points or the playoff since.
How did they do this? If you look at the stats the Oilers needed everything to fall in to place for them to have a shot at the playoffs...and it did.
First the scoring. The post lock-out league average of 3.08 goals per game per team was the highest the league seen since 1995-96. 1.03 of those goals were scored on one of the 5.85 power plays opportunities per game. My findings say that could be the highest power play opportunities per game average in the history of the league...(Stat was being kept since 1977-78)
The Oilers were 13th in the league with 256 goals for with a Power Play that was 14th at 18.14% and they managed to score 6 shorthanded goals. Compared to the previous year which was 2003-04 because of the lockout, the Oilers scored only 221 goals, they had the second worst power play in the league and they scored 15 shorthanded goals...and 7 of the top 10 Oilers scorers still managed to have career years. Having their most productive season as players in the NHL to this point in their careers with none of them reaching 80 points and none of them finishing in the top 30 in NHL scoring. These players included Hemsky, Horcoff, Stoll, Torres, Pisani, Bergeron and Steve Staios.
Now the defense. As you could imagine with the scoring the way it was the defense must of been worst right. I think this was one of the toughest defenses that the Edmonton Oilers have ever put on the ice. They were big and they were lead by Chris Pronger.
In 2005-06 the Oilers were 8th on the penalty kill at 84.10%. They had 251 goals against and allowed 5 shorthanded goals while on the power play. Compared to the previous year when they had a PK that was 27th in the league and they only allowed 208 goals against with 8 of them being scored while the Oilers were on the power play...So how did this team make the playoffs and the NHL finals? Chris Pronger? This has been the only season that the Oilers had a true number one defenseman for a long, long time and they have had no one even close ever since.
The goal tending. The Average SV% in the league was .901% and the average goals against was 2.93 both of were the worst league average since, again 1995-96.
The Oilers had, what I thought to be bad goal tending and picked up Dwayne Roloson from the Wild part way through the season. He was 6-17-0-1 at the time but better then league average save percentage at .910 and a GAA of3.00. (He was one of the reasons for the playoff). He ended up having the Oilers highest save percentage at .905, better then league average and the lowest GAA of of the Oilers goalies at 2.42 in 18 appearances, 15 of those were starts. The other goalies stats were mind boggling, well for a team that made the playoffs.With save percentages that would have them playing back up in the junior leagues, but they managed wins. Jussi Markkanen was 15-12-0-6 with a .880 SV% and a GAA of 3.13. Ty Conklin was 8-5 with a SV% of .880 and a GAA of 2.80 and last but not least Michael Morrison had a .884 SV% and 2.83 GAA while going 10-4-0-2.
The only top 5 player that did not play the following season was Pronger. The Oilers finished 27th on the power play that year, scored a league worst 195 goals and finished the season with 71 points which was their worst point total since the 1995-96 season.
I guess a number one defenseman can win you championships...