Going into summer 2016, the Oilers had a few holes they needed to fill.
They needed to improve the right side of the defense and they needed more goaltending depth. They somehow managed to grab not only one of the best players in the draft in Jesse Puljujärvi, but also fill a major organizational weakness (right shot skilled forward).
Immediately after the draft I had our forward lines looking like this:
Patrick Maroon - Connor McDavid - Nail Yakupov
Taylor Hall - Leon Draisaitl - Jesse Puljujärvi
Benoit Pouliot - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Matt Hendricks - Mark Letestu - Zack Kassian
Now that's a pretty impressive forward group. 2 lines with guys who can really carry the load (McDavid and Hall), and a 3rd line that has had some chemistry in the past that would really be able to see some pretty cherry minutes given the focus on both McDavid and Hall.
There are some arguments against this configuration, namely Yakupov's struggles, it's not a big enough lineup for some people's liking, etc... My reasoning basically boils down to the following:
Practically anyone can play with McDavid provided they can skate and handle the puck. You surround him with players like this and he can still produce. He's an instant line on his own. If Yakupov gets 25 goals you can then say "Well do we want to pay him market or has his trade value increased?" This lineup gives you an immense amount of flexibility in case of injury, performance and game situations. Need to run 2 lines late in the 3rd? You can condense down to 2 pretty easily.
The killer part of this lineup? You don't have to do anything. You have all the pieces sitting on the team already. It doesn't cost you an asset to fill a hole or anything like that. You can still offer Versteeg a PTO and start Puljujärvi in the AHL as a quality call up.
Instead what we added Lucic and despite paying him similar money to Hall, he can't carry his own line and is going to ride shotgun with McDavid. Think about that for a minute. Lucic is a complimentary player (albeit a good one), but he's not going to drive a line on his own. He'll produce, but I'm not convinced he'll produce better than other options relative to salary.
Based on a few of the things we've seen this preseason, the Oilers could be looking at these combinations:
Milan Lucic - Connor McDavid - Jordan Eberle
Benoit Pouliot - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Leon Draisaitl
Patrick Maroon - Drake Caggiula - Kris Versteeg
Matt Hendricks - Mark Letestu - Zack Kassian
It starts to get dicey on the 3rd line. I know Caggiula was highly sought after, but can he step into this role in the NHL for a full season? If he can't and the Oilers need to run Draisaitl up the middle, it creates some issues. This requires a lot of things to go right, while the lineup above provides lots of options in case things go wrong.
This brings us to the blueline. Yeah, it was a dogs breakfast. It was painfully weak on the right side (Fayne was really the only one) and a handful of question marks on the left side (Klefbom's health and Davidson's experience).
The thing is, you have a decent pairing of Fayne and Sekera. I know Fayne isn't the most popular, but those two combined to form a duo that both suppressed shots and goals against. Who cares if it's sexy, the results (the ones that mattered anyways) were there.
One of the free agents I targeted was Jason Demers. Maybe he comes here, maybe he doesn't. I don't think the Oilers seriously considered him once they decided on Hall for Larsson. Still, if you can get him you've got someone who can probably play with Klefbom. Neither of those 2 pairs are world beaters, but they are decent. You can build a good club with a bunch of 2nd pairing blueliners.
Oscar Klefbom - Jason Demers
Andrej Sekera - Mark Fayne
Darnell Nurse - Brandon Davidson
Let's be honest, it's a weak group. It gets better if you can move Davidson over and Nurse down by bringing in a RHD that can chew up 15 minutes per night. the Kelfbom and Sekera pairings are pretty interchangeable. Overall though, it needs some work and without knowing what players are saying, it's tough to say if even this was possible.
Instead we add Larsson, which helps this group. The Oilers then made the bizarre decision to add another LHD to a lineup full of them when they signed Kris Russell. Who moves over? Who moves down?
Oscar Klefbom - Adam Larsson
Kris Russell - Andrej Sekera
Brandon Davidson - Mark Fayne
The top pairing has few issues, it's quality. Kris Russell has had some struggles recently. Can he fill this role? Can Sekera plays his off side with success over a full year? If not, can Davidson if Sekera moves over and pairs again with Fayne? The numbers suggest that in the cases where there's enough data, that the answer is no.
The real issue comes down to whether you think either team is good enough for the playoffs. I'm not sure either is. All I know is that the forward heavy roster with Taylor Hall is significantly better (it drops to merely slightly better if you can't get Demers). Could a good season with that forward group then be enough to entice players and start addressing the blueline next summer?
Goaltending is a bit of a tire fire. Cam Talbot is a quality goaltender, but he struggled at the start of last year. He's going to be like a lot of goalies (in other words ones not named Price or Lundqvist) and have stretches where he struggles. The Oilers need a quality backup option who can soak up some starts and potentially be relied upon for up to 30 starts. Unfortunately for the Oilers, Jonas Gustavsson most likely isn't that guy. He's basically a sub-replacement level goaltender at this point in his career. It's not a wise gamble, especially when a guy like Jhonas Enroth (who has a much better track record) signs a similar deal to play a similar role in Toronto.
It's worrisome that the Oilers might have stripped away the one true potential strength of this team and only marginally addressed it's main weakness. Goaltending wasn't addressed as well as it should have been.
You might want to forgive some Oiler fans for not having the sunniest disposition after these moves.