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Thoughts on the upcoming 2018/19 season

NHL: New York Islanders at Edmonton Oilers Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

There’s going to be a lot of pressure on the Edmonton Oilers this upcoming season.

After a dreadful 2017/18 season, largely sunk by poor special teams, goaltending and a lack of scoring depth, the franchise desperately needs to have positive results. Expectations of winning a Stanley Cup may not be there, which is unfortunate and frustrating, but they do need to contend for a playoff spot. It’s what management needs. It’s what the head coach needs. And with the best player in the world on the roster, it’s what the league needs.

To recap, the Oilers finished the 2017/18 season with a -29 goal differential (all situations), finishing 6th in the Pacific and 12th in the Western Conference.

At even-strength (5v5), they posted a -13 goal differential scoring 163 goals and allowing 176. The number of goals-for was actually pretty good – they finished 11th in the league and only three away from their total in 2016/17. It was their goals-against that was the issue, largely due to their 23rd ranked team save percentage (91.79%). Had they received league average goaltending (92.26%), they would’ve allowed 10 fewer goals.

On the powerplay (5v4), they scored only 30 goals running at a league-worst rate of 5.12 goals per hour. They only converted on 9.09% of their shots, well below the league average of 12.69%. Had the Oilers team shooting percentage been league average, they would’ve scored 11 more goals on the powerplay – a goals per hour rate of 7.15 – which would have been right around the league average last season (6.96).

And on the penalty kill (4v5), they were one of the worst teams in the league allowing 56 goals at a rate of 8.47 goals against per hour, thanks in large part to a 30th ranked team save percentage of 82.72%. Had the Oilers received league average goaltending (87.14), they would’ve allowed 14 fewer goals.

In short, a -29 goal differential would’ve improved to an estimated +6 goal differential had the Oilers special teams and depth been better and if the goaltending was league average. Those were the key factors keeping them out of a playoff race in 2017/18.

Due to some of the questionable moves management has made since the new regime arrived, the Oilers are in a spot now where they may not be the worst team in the league, but they don’t have enough proven talent to be in the championship contender discussion either. The team has glaring holes up front and on the blue line, and are hoping – for the second off-season season in a row – for their younger prospects to emerge as productive NHL players.

This leaves us with a 2018/19 regular season that may end up being a lot like this off-season: low-key, quiet and just good enough to get to the finish line without any self-inflicted wounds.

The team has tried to address their special teams by making significant changes to the coaching staff. And they’ve tried to address their goaltending by potentially reducing Cam Talbot’s workload. However it remains to be seen what the Oilers have in Mikko Koskinen, an expensive backup option and unproven talent at the NHL level. Up front and on the blueline, they’ll need more than a few of their younger players and possibly even prospects to step into significant roles – a risk that the Oilers can afford to take since they’re not contending for a championship this season.

The club is going to hope that the core players stay healthy and productive, the goaltending bounces back to league-average levels and that the younger players continue to develop at the appropriate levels. The end goal is a playoff spot – whether it’s clinched in January or April – and that the team shows enough progress to put themselves in the championship contender discussion next off-season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick