NHL 31 in 31 Season Review: Edmonton Oilers
For the next 31 days, AFP Analytics is going to take a critical look back at how the season played out for all 31 NHL teams, starting with the last place team (Buffalo Sabres) and ending with the Stanley Cup Champions. In addition to a season recap, we will look at some major decisions the team will be facing this offseason.
The Oilers came into the season with Stanley Cup aspirations. Whether the expectations were fair or not, the team fell way short, failing to qualify for the playoffs. At the halfway point in the season some felt the Oilers could be in the running for yet another number one overall pick. The team was able to dig its way out of the basement but was not close to securing a playoff spot. Any season that Connor McDavid is not playing in the playoffs should be considered a lost season. The Oilers players and management are equally at fault for this disaster of a season.
There is no sense in wasting any time, when discussing bright spots, we can go directly to Connor McDavid. He is the most exciting player in the league and the fact that Patrick Maroon and Milan Lucic spent time as his best winger this season is a complete disservice to the skilled center. McDavid had 71 even strength points this season, 12 better than Nikita Kucherov who had 59. The Oilers were an above 50% Corsi team and as expected McDavid was one of the team’s best possession players, with an individual corsi percentage of 52.41%. There is not much I can say about McDavid that has not already been said. His speed and skill make him one of the best talents in the league and the Oilers cannot allow another season of his to go to waste by not making the playoffs.
Darnell Nurse was a highly touted prospect when he was selected 7th overall in 2013. It may have taken him a little bit longer than expected but he is developing quite nicely into an impact defenseman. Nurse’s corsi was 51.1%, one of the best on the team. He has improved each year since his debut and has become an even better puck mover as well. In 2016 he produced .4 assists per 60, in 2017 that number increased to .7. Nurse has also shown he can play physical and the Oilers are hopeful he can continue to develop into a steady option in the team’s top 4.
Not to beat a dead horse but the Oilers management team must be the first disappointment mentioned. I know it has been two years since the dust has settled on the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade, but it is impossible not to mention. Hall is one of the favorites to win MVP and Larsson will have his own paragraph in this section coming up. Hall is the player the Oilers are hoping players like Ryan Strome and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would become. Why the Oilers would trade Hall for a middling defenseman is beyond comprehension. Of course, Hall’s performance this season makes the trade look worse but for a team who is struggling to find a partner to play with McDavid, trading Hall looks like an inexcusable offense.
Another move the Oilers made that did not fetch the proper return was the Patrick Maroon trade. Maroon was playing relatively well and was one of the team’s most important players. The idea of bad teams moving contracts to acquire picks and prospects is a good idea. However, it does feel like the Oilers could have acquired more than a 2019 3rd round pick and a prospect who was selected in the 6th round. Sure, Maroon is a pending UFA, but the market was relatively dry and a player with his numbers at the deadline could have fetched a greater return.
Milan Lucic must be mentioned as another disappointment. However, I don’t know what is more disappointing, his level of play or his contract. Lucic is signed to a 7 year $42M dollar contract with a no-move clause until the 2021 season. This means Lucic cannot be moved until he is 33 years old and if he does not right the ship there will be no teams interested by the time he is able to be moved. Lucic appeared in all 82 games this past season and only registered 34 points. He did have above average possession numbers, but 34 points is not enough for a player signed to such a long-term, high AAV contract.
Another player in Edmonton who has failed to live up to expectations is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The former number one overall selection has not lived up to his 2014 and 2015 seasons where he scored 56 points. He showed signs of turning the corner this season but suffered a rib injury that only allowed him to play in 62 games this past season. He did score 48 points in those 62 games, so Oilers brass could be encouraged by his season and will need to hope he continues to improve in 2019.
The Oilers were bitten by the injury bug, but some key players were able to stay healthy and just failed to perform. Adam Larsson appeared in 63 games in 2018 and only registered 13 points. Of course, points may not be the best measure of a defenseman’s performance so let’s look at some possession numbers. Larsson had the 5th best Corsi for percentage among Oilers defensemen. When you consider the fact that Larsson was a 4th overall pick and was TRADED FOR TAYLOR HALL, his performance is not nearly where it needs to be. Larsson is locked up on a contract with a $4.16M dollar cap hit for the next three years. The cap hit is more than reasonable if Larsson can play up to the level the Oilers were hoping he would, but there have not been enough signs that he is going to be able to do so.
The Oilers will only have $10M in projected cap space heading into the offseason. Darnell Nurse is a RFA and young players like Anton Slepyshev, Drake Caggiula, Matthew Benning and Ryan Strome are all up for new contracts as well. In simple terms, the Oilers will have a very similar team in 2019. Whether that is a good or a bad thing remains up for debate. Goaltender Cam Talbot figures to be back between the pipes and the core of young players will likely remain intact.
The question Oilers management might be asking itself is, was signing Leon Draisaitl to his monster extension the smart move? If teams out there are willing to trade for him should we consider the offer? Draisaitl is an above average NHL player and dominated the 2016 playoffs but the critics could ask how much of his production is due to Connor McDavid. Realistically I don’t think the Oilers should consider moving him. The team is not going to get any younger and there is still hope for a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Talents like Draisaitl are hard to come by and the Oilers do not have a good track record of trading young, highly skilled, forwards.
The Oilers will head into 2019 hopeful their group of young players can get even better and the team returns to its 2017 luck, I mean form. Any team with Connor McDavid will have a chance to be successful so it will be up to management to push the right buttons. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen if management can push those buttons.
Please be sure to check in again tomorrow as we take an in-depth look at the New York Islanders. If you enjoyed this review, please follow us on Twitter, @afpanalytics, and share it with your friends!
Stats have been pulled from NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.hockey. Salary info from Capfriendly.com
JUSTIN WHITE is an intern AFP Analytics. Justin is a graduate of St. John Fisher College where he earned his degree in Sport Management and Statistics. He has worked with the Rochester Americans and members of their coaching staff on various analytics and statistics based projects.