Yesterday in part one we focused on goaltending and team defence. Today let’s look at the offence and where this team can improve. Remember my assessment is focused on the Oilers simply being average (16th) in offence. This past year they finished 20th in goals with 229. If they score 14 more then they would have been 16th.
The is one obvious glaring weakness and I’d argue it is virtually impossible for the depth scoring to be as shallow and unproductive as it was last year.
The good news is Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are all back and McDavid and Draisaitl are entering their prime years. Those three combined for 290 points. Barring injury you should expect similar production from them.
The most glaring weakness from the Oilers last year was their depth scoring. The Oilers top-five goal scorers: Draisaitl, McDavid, RNH, @Alex Chiasson and Zack Kassian produced 156 goals, the rest of their forwards produced a measly 43. It was pathetic, to put it politely.
Let’s see how the Oilers scoring compared to the rest of the NHL.
TEAM Top-5 FWD Goals REST OF FWDS TOTAL GOALS
Tampa 178 98 319 (1st)
SJ 160 101 289 (2nd)
CHIC 160 67 267 (8th)
EDM 156 43 229 (20th)
BOS 155 73 257 (11th)
FLO 153 73 264 (9th)
CGY 152 92 289 (2rd)
TOR 151 90 286 (4th)
CBJ 146 73 256 (12th)
COL 145 74 258 (10th)
WSH 144 95 274 (5th)
WPG 143 93 270 (7th)
PITT 141 98 271 (6th)
PHI 126 80 241 (18th)
DET 124 67 224 (21st)
MTL 123 81 246 (13th)
BUFF 120 66 221 (23rd)
STL 115 83 244 (15th)
NSH 115 78 236 (19th)
NYR 114 75 221 (23rd)
OTT 114 87 242 (17th)
VEGAS 113 95 246 (13th)
DALL 113 55 209 (29th)
CAR 111 84 243 (16th)
NYI 110 83 223 (22nd)
VAN 108 84 219 (25th)
MINN 98 68 210 (27th)
NJ 98 90 219 (25th)
LA 88 83 199 (30th)
ANA 88 85 196 (31st)
ARI 83 95 209 (28th)
The Oilers depth scoring forwards were the worst in the NHL, and well below the league average of 81. Every team, except Dallas, had 23 more goals from their depth forwards. The Oilers ineptitude of depth scoring was really an outlier. It will be very difficult to duplicate, almost impossible in fact, when you look at recent history.
TEAM Top-5 FWD Goals REST OF FWDS TOTAL GOALS
2010 92 82 206
2011 94 74 191
2012 116 68 207
2014 113 56 199
2015 95 74 193
2016 100 75 199
2017 129 79 243
2018 117 80 229
In the Oilers previous eight seasons (82 game seasons) their depth forwards averaged 74 goals/year. Keep in mind seven of those teams finished with fewer points in the standings than last year’s Oilers. They were not good teams, yet their depth scorers were close to the league average during that time which varied between 71-77 goals.
Now look at teams with the lowest scoring depth forwards since the 2014 season.
TEAM Top-5 FWD Goals REST OF FWDS TOTAL GOALS
2014 Sabres 77 45 150
2015 Sabres 72 55 153
2015 Coyotes 69 56 165
2017 Avs 84 60 165
2015 Devils 83 67 176
2017 Canucks 89 67 178
2017 Devils 93 57 180
2016 Devils 104 58 182
The Buffalo Sabres scored a measly 150 and 153 goals in 2014 and 2015 and their depth scorers still produced more goals than the Oilers this year. Incredible. And going back to 1990, when the league started to expand the lowest goal total from any team’s depth forwards was the 2002 Blue Jackets with 57 while the 1998 Lightning, 2001 Wild and 2012 Wild each scored 59. Expansion teams had more productive depth. The 1998 Lightning scored 151 goals, but still managed more depth scoring.
It is unbelievable when you crunch the numbers to see how badly Peter Chiarelli and company destroyed the depth of the Oilers forwards. But I digress.
The Oilers depth scorers were the least productive since the NHL expanded to an 80-game season in 1975. So essentially the worst in the past 44 years.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised considering Tobias Rieder set the NHL record for most shots by a forward without a goal last season. He was a major cog in the wheel for a historically bad season for depth scorers. It wasn’t just Rieder, however, because had he scored ten goals the Oilers would have still had the second lowest total over the past 44 seasons.
It was ugly. It was horrific, but I’d argue it is virtually impossible Oilers fans will witness the same listless production this season.
The depth scorers fired 700 shots on goals, but only produced 43 goals for a combined shooting percentage of 6.1 Take out Drake Caggiula’s seven goals on 49 shots and the remaining group had a 5.5 SH%. It was amazingly bad.
Rieder’s new NHL record of ineptitude, 92 shots, no goals, will not be repeated. No chance. None. And the 7th-12th forward positions will not have a combined 5.5 SH%.
Who will produce more?
Markus Granlund has averaged 13 goals over the past three seasons with 19, 8 and 12. He should score ten goals.
Jujhar Khaira only had three goals in 60 games after scoring eleven the year early. Previous two year average is seven. Let’s go with that.
Milan Lucic is actually working with a skills coach this summer. He will be on the ice more. Can he jump from six to ten goals?
Sam Gagner produced five goals in 25 games with the Oilers last year. He has averaged 13 goals/season over his 12-year career. Is ten goals reasonable?
Colby Cave and Kyle Brodziak combined for eight goals. How about seven goals from the players who fill the 4C role.
That is 44 goals from five positions, and I don’t believe any of those projections are overly optimistic.
If you look at NHLe (NHL equivalency) for @Gaetan Haas and Joakim Nygard. Nygard’s numbers project to be 19-13-32, while Haas comes in at 10-13-23. I highly doubt both players reach that, mainly because I’m cautious. How about Nygard produces 13 goals. I think Nygard has a really good chance of playing regularly. Haas I’m not as bullish on.
The other player to consider is Tyler Benson. In Bakersfield, Benson scored 66 points, the 2nd most points by an AHL rookie in the past eight seasons, and I believe he makes the team. I base that on how the roster looks today. If Ken Holland acquires a few veterans before training camp, that might change, but Benson is a really smart player. He is reliable and very good from the boards to the dot. He is 21 years old and being a rookie at 21 is very different than at 18 or 19. I wouldn’t consider it rushing him if he makes the team.
Benson is my wildcard and I have him penciled in for 14 goals.
What you witnessed last season from the depth forwards was something we hadn’t seen in 44 years of NHL hockey, so expecting them not to improve is the ultimate Eeyore-like outlook. I will be surprised if they produce the league average of 81 goals, but 60 should be the low mark. Only two teams were below 66 that last season. If they only hit the low mark they improve by 17 goals.
OFFENCE FROM THE BLUELINE…
The Oilers defenders scored 30 goals. The league average was 36. Only Anaheim (23), Vancouver (27), Los Angeles and San Jose (28) had fewer goals from the backend. Carolina led the NHL with 48 goals from defencemen.
Darnell Nurse scored ten, while Matt Benning and Oscar Klefbom had five each for Edmonton. I don’t see a major uptick in goals from the backend. They produced four PP goals, and while that could rise by a few I don’t see it going up much because the Oilers powerplay runs through McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins.
A quick look at the top-ten powerplays in the NHL reveals a different philosophy.
Tampa Bay had the best PP, but only three PP goals from the blueline. Colorado was 7th and had two PP goals, Toronto’s PP was 8th and had four PP goals along with Edmonton who was 9th.
Florida had the 2nd best PP and had 12 PP goals from defencemen. San Jose’s PP was 6th and the St.Louis was 10th and they had ten PP goals from the blueline, while Boston (3rd)and Pittsburgh (5th) each had eight goals and Winnipeg (4th) had seven goals from the backend.
I expect Edmonton’s powerplay to remain in the top-ten, but maybe only two or three more PP goals from defencemen.
Where Edmonton’s blueline can improve is at 5×5. Jim Playfair outlined how he wants his defenceman to get more involved in the rush, and if the Oilers forwards can be harder to play against in the offensive zone like Alex Chiasson said they need to be, then that should lead to more offensive zone time, and potentially a slight uptick in goals.
Realistically though, unless someone has a major breakout season the Oilers blueline is likely to produce 30-34 goals.
Can you expect more goals from McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins? Nine teams had three players with 28+ goals.
Tampa and Florida had four, and Tampa’s stop three produced 127 goals, followed by Chicago (120), Edmonton (119), Boston and Colorado (106), Calgary (104), Winnipeg (102), Florida’s top-three had 101 and San Jose’s trio produced 95 goals.
Expecting 50 from Draisaitl is unrealistic, because since 2000 the only players to score 50 goals in consecutive seasons are Pavel Bure (2000, 2001), Dany Heatley (2006,2007) and Alex Ovechking (2008-2010 and 2014-2016). I’d expect Draisaitl to reach 40 and I could envision he and McDavid swapping totals and still combine for 90 goals. We could see a slight dip, but I don’t expect a massive drop off from this trio, unless one of them misses significant time.
You probably won’t see 156 goals from the Oilers top-five goal scorers next season, but they will come in well above last year’s average of 127.
I also expect the Oilers powerplay to remain in the top-ten. They have the same coach, Glen Gulutzan, overseeing it and their main contributors remain on the team.
After dissecting last season’s numbers from goal, to defence and forward I don’t think it is unrealistic to think this team can improve in their glaring areas of weakness. And if they just shoot for the league average on the PK, depth scoring and sv% among starting goalies then the Oilers should be in the playoff hunt all season.
Will it be enough to make the playoffs? Honestly, I’m still skeptical, but a few bounces and a healthy lineup are often the reason a team grabs a wildcard spot while others miss by a few points.
Even though general manager Ken Holland hasn’t made any major moves, which I didn’t expect, I still think this team improves, based solely on it being impossible for the depth scoring to be that lethargic and for the PK to be that bad again.
What areas do you think they improved or regressed?