The 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers are...tougher? While the beat writers are really happy with the prospects of playing Ben Eager, Mike Brown and Steve MacIntyre in the same game, and really unhappy about Ryan Jones in Oklahoma City, those aren't particularly intriguing storylines. We asked our writers about their thoughts on the most interesting aspect of the upcoming season.
We asked our writing staff: What is the most intriguing aspect of the team to start the 2013-14 season?
dawgbone: I think it has to be the front office. Did Craig MacTavish do enough to improve the team enough to make the playoffs? How quick will he be to make changes if he sees holes in the lineup that the guys he currently has available can't fill. For instance, if Lander/Acton/Arcobello struggle as the 4th C and on the PK, will he go out and get some help? I realize it takes two to tango and you won't always be able to find a deal to be made, but when talking about your bottom 6 you should be able to make those kinds of moves quickly if you need to.
Ben Massey: Did not answer.
Michael Parkatti: I'm most interested in how the systems under yet another new head coach impact the shot differential of a similar core of players from a year earlier. We saw shot metrics tumble under Krueger with almost the same lineup. If our 1st-4th line performance increases substantially, I'll be more comfortable in saying that systems and tactics do play a major part in creating shots. Related to this question is how they construct the 3rd line: will it use the best hockey players, or use the best "checkers"?
Jake Pringle: For me the most intriguing aspect of the team is the defence. I'm not a fan of the Ference contract, but how much will he improve the team over Ryan Whitney? We know that just subtracting Whitney will make for an improvement, but how far will it swing? I'm also interested to see how Grebeshkov adjusts to his NHL return and how Belov's game translates after being so highly regarded in Russia. There's a lot of depth on the back end, but a great many question marks as well. This area could make or break the season.
Ryan Batty: Michael already touched on this, how the third and fourth lines are built. That is what I'm most interested to see. Before Omark made his rather unexpected return it looked like Ales Hemsky would be playing somewhere else and the only option available to the Oilers was going to be a business as usual approach with Ryan Jones on the third line and grit/toughness on the fourth line. Now though there is an option to build three scoring lines, and even the fourth line doesn't have to have a designated face puncher. I'm not sold this is what will happen, but I think it could, and that's interesting.
Jeff Chapman: It's likely to change as the season progresses, but I'm most intrigued by how well (or not) the Hall-to-centre experiment goes. I'm hopeful it lasts for just a few games. If it lasts for a month, I'll be interested how Hall stacks up as RNH's temporary replacement, and if Hall gets any more work at centre in the future.
Scott Reynolds: I think the most interesting thing to watch for over the first few weeks of the season will be what changes, if any, there are in Edmonton's tactical approach, especially in areas that were actually measured a year ago. The concrete example that I'll be keeping an eye on for sure is how often the Oilers try to carry the puck into the zone compared to how often they try to dump it in. Dallas Eakins has talked about wanting to maintain possession, and I'm interested to see whether or not that impacts the team's offensive approach. With incredible puck skills possibly present on the team's top three lines, it's certainly a change that would fit the roster.
Derek Zona: There are a couple of points of intrigue that are worth following like Linus Omark becoming a regular, Ales Hemsky's redemption, Belov and Grebeshkov making an impact, and Devan Lubnyk solidifying himself as a top-level starter in the league. However, if I had to point to a single story to pay attention to, it's the rebound from the Krueger effect. Dallas Eakins can be a mediocre coach, but as long as he isn't as bad as Krueger was, the Oilers are going to bounce back significantly. If Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky are their old selves again and Ryan Smyth isn't shackled to the middle of the ice, the Oilers are going to be better for it and coupled with the improvement of a young group of players, it wouldn't be a shock to see them in the playoffs.
Alan Hull: I think there are two prevalent storylines to start the season and those jerks Batty and Parkatti (which sounds like it should be a variety show by the way) already took both of them. I think the first one is how the new coaching and management personnel will go about making their decisions about which players make this team and which don't. If we see them rushing guys like Klefbom or keeping face-punchers around, then you have to question how much things have really changed. But, if a guy like Ryan Hamilton can steal earn a roster spot and they rightly decide that the odd man out is Mike Brown, then I will be impressed. On the blueline, they have some tough choices to make. I'm interested to see if they let contract status make their decisions or pick the 7 or 8 best Dmen, no matter who they are.
The second item is seeing how Dallas Eakins' teams perform on the ice. He talks like a stats guy in that he preaches the virtues of possessing the puck. In recent years, the Oilers have been brutalized in terms of shot attempt differential and I'm interested to see if the roster changes MacT (combined with continued development of existing players) has made and the changes in systems Eakins implements can make the underlying numbers for this team resemble those of a team that should legitimately be part of the playoff picture down the stretch.
Did we miss anything? Did anyone make an impression on you?