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Edmonton Oilers Season Preview: Outlook

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SB Nation's Western Conference editors came together for a pre-season poll.  The news for Oilers' fans wasn't good:  Edmonton was voted 15th in the West and by a significant margin.  The Oilers have finished last in the league for two years straight and haven't made the playoffs in five years, but the story goes that they're adding young talent and will soon be back at the top.  A year without progress would be very discouraging, to say the least.

But there are signs of hope, no pun intended.  Tambellini finally signed Wes Walz, though three years too late.  Ryan Smyth traded himself back to the Oilers.  Taylor Hall is 100% after returning from an injury.  Linus Omark showed late last season that he was the goods.  Anton Lander might finally replace Kyle Brodziak.  Oh, and Ales Hemsky is back and in a contract year.

But the defense, oh the defense.  But the goaltending, oh the goaltending.  As strong and promising as the forwards are, the defense is weak and scary.  The goaltending somewhere between average and awful.

Are the SB Nation writers on to something?  Will the Oilers be that bad again?  To answer those questions and more, we asked our writers for their predictions for the 2011-12 season.

The Depth Chart

Ryan Smyth
Shawn Horcoff
Ales Hemsky
Taylor Hall
Sam Gagner
Jordan Eberle
Magnus Paajarvi
Eric Belanger
Linus Omark
Ben Eager
Anton Lander

Ryan Jones
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Lennart Petrell

Darcy Hordichuk

Ryan Whitney * Tom Gilbert
Ladislav Smid * Jeff Petry
Theo Peckham Cam Barker
Andy Sutton Corey Potter
Taylor Chorney * Taylor Fedun * 

* injured

Nikolai Khabibulin
Devan Dubnyk



The Predictions

By dawgbone98

  • The Oilers are going to lose someone important to the team for 40+ games.
  • At some point, Hall-Hopkins-Eberle will be a line for a few games with disastrous results.
  • Ryan Smyth won’t be the Ryan Smith from 6 years ago and a lot of fans will turn on him.
  • We’re going to be surprised by the defense this year (probably in a good way, I don’t see how we can possibly be surprised in a bad way).
  • Dubnyk is going to have a similar year to last year with a few more starts.  Dubnyk may have more starts, but Khabibulin will be the one who starts more games in a row when both are healthy.
  • I think the forwards will help get this team out of the basement.  All the kids are a year older, they have a bit more depth throughout the lineup from lines 1-4, and it doesn’t hurt that they have 2 veterans in a contract year.  The blueline is not just thin on depth, it’s thin on talent and that could hurt.  At worst the goaltending is bad, at best it’s unproven. I think Dubnyk can be a guy who is around league average and as long as he’s paid like that I’ve got no issues with it.  Khabibulin is done in my mind but like a broke boxer he’ll keep going in there and getting dummied because the pay cheque is nice.  Overall, the Oilers will be between 12th and 14th in the conference, 25-28th overall with about 75 points.

by Derek Zona

  • The growth of the young forwards will give Steve Tambellini the confidence to move Ales Hemsky for a "defender with grit" before the trade deadline.  No matter the return, the local media will declare it a giant win.
  • Linus Omark will be traded before the 2012 NHL Draft.
  • Devan Dubnyk will supplant Nikolai Khabibulin, but not because of performance, but because of injury.  Khabibulin will suffer a mysterious ailment that sends him to LTIR and provides perfect cover to allow Dubnyk to start without admitting Khabibulin is done.
  • Taylor Hall will finish with 29 goals and 54 points.  He will be fun to watch.
  • The Oilers will use 13 defensemen this season.
  • Magnus Paajarvi will surprise everyone with 22 goals. 

by Ryan Batty

  • This years version of the Oilers is not much different than the team that skated to a 30th place finish last season, at least not where it matters. Based on that there isn't any reason to expect them to be much better this season. But regardless of the reality of win and losses there will still be some very be exciting moments. Last season Hall did something almost every game that left me in awe and I not only expect that to continue this season but to happen more frequently. Paajarvi will also keep up the strong level of play that we saw at the end of last season and will be the real surprise of the season (at least for those obsessed with Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins).
  • Too often though our young stars will be over matched and the results will suffer. Somewhere in January I predict the Oilers will ice their typical January lineup complete with 4 AHL caliber players, there will be no attempt to match lines, Khabibulin will have an especially terrible night, the special teams will be awful, and the Oilers will lose a very lopsided game. This will be my breaking point. I'll turn to my wife and say "That's it. I just can't do this anymore. Until the Oilers start putting out a team that can win hockey games, or at least gives the idea that wins are possible, I'm not coming to anymore games. I'm done." And of course I'll be back in my seat for the very next game.

by Woodguy

1) Paajarvi and Omark will both have very good years points-wise.

  • Playing with Horcoff will allow Paajarvi to not be the defensive conscience of his line and he can cheat for offense a little more.
  • Both players have some experience in the NHL now, so I expect them both to get off to good starts.
  • Both players will see time on PP2 (Omark at RW, Paajarvi at D) Many expect PP 2 to actually be more prolific than PP1 with the presence of Omark and Smyth along with Eberle.
  • Most importantly, being on a team where the 2 other 5v5 wing pairs are Hall/Hemsky and Smyth/Eberle, I'd expect the swedes to see a lot of 3rd pairing defensemen. Paajarvi has the ability to make them look like plyons when blowing by them on the rush, and Omark will turn them into pretzels trying mark him down low and behind the net. I hope Horcoff works on his one timers and goes looking for garbage goals, he can get a lot of 5v5 points playing with these two.

2) The penalty kill will be better

  • Easiest prediction because its near impossible for them to get worse.
  • Having Horcoff and Belanger as dedicated penalty kill C's will go a long way to shoring up the penalty kill.
  • The penalty kill is the reason Petrell made the team out of camp, if he can stick after Eager gets healthy it bodes well for the penalty kill.
  • My least favorite Oiler, Ryan Jones, was actually a reasonable option on the penalty kill last year when they stopped playing the diamond
  • Andy Sutton is large and will eat large minutes on the penalty kill. He was on penalty kill 2 for ANA last year (20th penalty kill in NHL), so that more than qualifies him for penalty kill 1 on the Oilers
  • Dubnyk will play more games than Khabby. Last year's 4v5 Save %: DD .889, NK .815

  3) The Oilers will trade for a top 3 Defenseman

  • Tambellini was quoted the other day saying he saw a hole in the top 3 D, but knows he can only fill it via trade and wasn't looking at that option immediately
  • With Hartikainen showing very well in camp the Oilers will feel they can part with either Hemsky or Omark (wildcard:Gagner due to RNH/Lander showing well) for a top 3 Dman and NOT get too much drop off in production.
  • The fact that Tambellini acknowledged this hole publicly makes me think that they have decided to fill this hole sooner rather than later. Tambellini doesn't have a history of moving quickly, but I expect this deal to be done before Christmas.
  • If the Oilers start putridly due to bad D (a real possibility), the deal might get done sooner.