In part 1, I talked about the improvements that the Oilers made over the summer. In part 2, I’ll focus on the competition that the Oilers will face for a playoff spot in April. For a more in depth discussion on the Western Conference, check out the latest OILERSLIVE podcast where I joined Michael to talk about the upcoming season.
The Oilers can make the playoffs by finishing in one of the top 3 spots in the Pacific Division, or by earning a Wild Card spot. Here’s a look at the competition in the Pacific Division:
Vegas: They are a true contender in the West. They have a ton of speed in the lineup. They have guys that can put the puck in the net. Their defence is mobile, and they continue to get elite goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury. I can’t imagine a scenario where they don’t get one of the top three spots in the Pacific.
SJ: The Sharks lost a key piece of their roster when Joe Pavelski signed with the Stars. However, they are deep enough to overcome that loss. Joe Thornton is back for another season, but he is not the player he used to be. This is Logan Couture’s team now. Couture is not a game breaker, but he’s the best they have. They will get plenty of support scoring from Kane, Meier, Hertl, and Labanc. They still have two of the best offensive defencemen in the league in Burns and Karlsson. They will get decent goaltending from Jones as well. Like with Vegas, I can’t see the Sharks not getting a spot in the top 3.
ANA: The Ducks had a brutal season last year. They dealt with a lot of injuries, but the quality of their play was simply not good enough. Ryan Getzlaf is 34 years old. He’s still got some gas left in the tank, but he’s not the player he was 10 years ago. There are some intriguing players in Anaheim though. Rakell, Silfverberg, Kase, and Henrique are good, but they lack a certain amount of pop that is needed to compete in the Pacific this season. Tyler Benson’s old friend Sam Steel could be a breakout candidate, so keep your eyes on him. Their defence is average. While Fowler, Lindholm, and Manson are all good, they have no real game breaking skill on the back end and there isn’t any depth to speak of there either. If they make the playoffs, John Gibson wins the Vezina.
LA: The Kings haven’t done anything of note to address their need for scoring. They are still reliant upon their aging veterans. Kopitar is still an elite player in the NHL, but he needs help. Kovalchuk didn’t do much last season, Carter is starting to break down, Brown only has so much production in him, Toffolli doesn’t move the needle, and that’s about all they have to work with. On defence, Doughty is basically on an island. Martinez is decent, but they have absolutely nothing beyond those two. Quick will have to be amazing for the Kings to even have a chance this season. They’ve been passed by younger, faster teams.
With the fates of those 4 teams sealed, that leaves 4 teams to fight for one of the top 3 spots in the Pacific.
Calgary: Our neighbours to the south had a fantastic regular season last year. They couldn’t carry that over to April though. Which Flames team will we see this season?
The Flames were carried by big offensive seasons by Gaudreau and Monahan in 2018-19; but the bigger surprises were two players that went from career highs in the high 40s for points to the high 70s last season. Lindholm got 78 points (previous best of 45), and Tkachuk got 77 points (previous best of 49 points). They also got a Norris Trophy season from Giordano. Is that level of play sustainable for those players? We shall find out, but my bet is no.
All of that was for not once they saw the speed and tenacity of the Avs in the playoffs. They had no answer for Mackinnon and Rantanen. They did not look like a playoff team last spring. The Flames also have this thing where they alternate good and bad seasons. Since 2014-15, they have made the playoffs every other season. Last year they made it, so the pattern suggests that they will miss out this season. That’s what they’ll get for trading for Lucic and signing Talbot!
ARI: The Coyotes made a big splash this summer by going out and getting a game breaking talent, something they haven’t had since the days of Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick. Phil Kessel was an elite point producer in Pittsburgh. The question is can he be THE GUY on a winning team? He couldn’t do that in Toronto. I’m curious to see if his 2 Stanley Cups from the Penguins have given him the tools he needs to lead a team, or if the fact that his differences with coach Sullivan and Malkin are evidence of greater off-ice issues with Kessel. Time will tell.
Kessel joins an exciting group of young forwards including Keller, Dvorak, Fischer, and Schmaltz. They are anchored by Stepan and new acquisition Carl Soderberg. They have a star defenceman in Ekman-Larsson, and they have a reliable group of veteran defenders Goligoski, Demers, and Hjalmarsson. If they get a healthy and productive season from Raanta, Arizona could surprise a lot of people this year.
Just think, they almost got a Wild Card spot last year. They were one of the most injured teams last season. They iced AHL quality rosters on a lot of nights, and they still won games…. and they just got Kessel.
VAN: The Canucks honestly remind me of the 2010-2013 Oilers because of they way they are built. The difference is they have a better defence and better goaltending than those Oilers teams did.
They have a group of young kids leading the charge. Pettersson, Boeser, and Horvat are the engine of the young Canucks. They added JT Miller this summer, which is a nice complementary addition. It gives them two legitimate scoring lines. They’ve got a large veteran presence in the bottom six with Eriksson, Sutter, Roussel, and Beagle on board.
Their defence was a significant weak point last season, but the signing of Tyler Myers and the addition of rookie Quinn Hughes should help bolster that group. They didn’t lose Edler or Tanev either. Markstrom quietly gave the Canucks solid goaltending last season. This is another team that could surprise some people this year.
Then there’s our Oilers.
Here’s how I see the Pacific shaping up:
Yeah, I’m calling the Coyotes earning a top 3 spot in the Pacific.
That leaves the Oilers competing for a Wild Card spot against Vancouver, Calgary, and 4 teams from the Central division.
I assume the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blues will earn a playoff spot in the Central. I also assume the Predators will be there as well since they are there every year. The Avs made a bunch of moves to add support scoring. They got Burakovsky, Donskoi, and Kadri to go with Mackinnon, Rantanen, Jost, and Compher. They lost Barrie, but Makar will be a more than capable replacement for Barrie. I think they will take the other spot in the Central.
That leaves the following 4 teams in the mix for a Wild Card spot:
DAL: Dallas could easily end up in the top 3 in the Central as well. They have an elite scoring line in Benn, Seguin, and Radulov. They improved their 2nd line by adding Pavelski. Hintz is quickly becoming an impactful player for them. Oh yeah, they got Corey Perry too.
They have two smooth skating offensive defencemen in Klingberg and Heiskanen, and they have an elite goalie in Bishop when he’s healthy. They are a dangerous team!
CHI: They’ve stumbled the last couple of years, but they have a more promising outlook this season. Kane is just a stud, and Toews is as solid as they come. DeBrincat is a 40-goal scorer now, and Dylan Strome broke out in the Windy City last season. They still have Saad and Anisimov in their top 6 as well. They brought back Andrew Shaw, who was always effective in his role in his first stint with the Blackhawks.
Keith and Seabrook still lead the Hawks on defence, but Erik Gustafsson was a big surprise for them last season. Stan Bowman added depth to their group by trading for Maata and De Haan this summer. The big question for Chicago will be if Corey Crawford can return to form. If so, they have a good chance at a playoff spot. They’ve got Robin Lehner as insurance now as well.
WPG: The Jets are loaded up front. Wheeler, Scheifele, Connor, Laine, and Ehlers up front is pretty damn good. They have size and speed in their bottom six. The forward group is going to be tough to play against.
However, their issue is on defence. Byfuglien is mulling over his NHL future right now, so he’s not with the team for the time being. They also lost Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers. That’s the whole right side of last season’s defence!! Josh Morrisey just got a new deal, and they have Kulikov on the left. They’ll bank on Pionk and rookie Sami Niku on the right side. The group that replaces the departed Jets defenders is not as good as their predecessors, which is why I think Winnipeg will be in tough this season.
MIN: The Wild are a team in flux. They are led by a group of older veterans, just like the Kings. Staal has had a renaissance in his mid-30s. Parise grinds and puts up points when he’s healthy. Koivu is just a solid, complete player. They added Zuccarello this summer as well. Zucker isn’t as old as the others, but he’s a strong player for them.
Their problem is that ex-GM Paul Fenton traded away a lot of the team’s depth up front! He traded Coyle, Niederreiter, and Granlund for Donato, Rask, and Fiala. That’s a significant drop-off in skill! Fenton was fired this summer after only a year on the job. He was replaced by rookie GM Bill Guerin. Guerin will be a fine GM I’m sure, but I don’t see this season going well in Minnesota. A strong season from Dubnyk could push them over the top, but I’m not seeing it given their competition.
So how do the Oilers stack up to the teams in the Central? They would need to be better than at least 3 of the 4 Central teams to get a Wild Card spot.
I think the Oilers are better than the Wild for sure. I think they are on equal footing with the Jets at this point. The Stars and the Hawks are just straight up deeper than the Oilers. I think they will earn the Wild Card spots in the West.
With that being said, ultimately, it means that while we should get some meaningful games in March, the Oilers will once again fall short of the playoffs. I have them finishing in 10th spot in the conference with 88 points.
Like I said before, the Oilers only have 10 players signed for next season. I expect a big summer of change on the roster in Edmonton because missing the playoffs in 2021 won’t be an option.
Enjoy the season everyone!