When the best player in the world is on your team, the expectations are naturally going to be elevated. The Oilers got further than they ever have in the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl era, but it was not enough thanks to the juggernaut that is the Colorado Avalanche. The many sides of Mike Smith showed once again in the postseason, as he looked like a fool in game one against Calgary, but also dominated at times in all three of Edmonton’s series.
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By the Numbers
Power Play: 26% (3rd)
Penalty Kill: 79.4% (17th)
Goals For: 285 (7th)
Goals Against: 251 (18th)
To the surprise of no one, McDavid was awesome again this year. He scored 44 goals with 79 assists for 123 points in 80 games, winning another Art Ross Trophy. Draisaitl did not slouch either, scoring 55 goals with 110 total points. Only McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau, and Jonathan Huberdeau had more points. Only Auston Matthews scored more goals. The duo took a lot of the blame for last year’s season-ending sweep from the Winnipeg Jets. While this season also ended in a sweep, it is impossible to blame them. McDavid had 33 points and Draisaitl had 32 in 16 games! The next closest player in playoff points is Mika Zibanejad, who has 24 in 17 games.
To be clear, Darnell Nurse‘s season was good. But with his 9.25 million dollar AAV extension kicking in next year, it did not inspire hope for the eight-year term of that deal. Nurse was extended after scoring 16 goals with 36 points in 56 games. He scored just nine times with 35 points in 71 games this year. Plus, the defense was not outstanding. Among the 209 defensemen with at least 500 minutes of ice time this season, Nurse ranked 105th in goals-for percentage. His xGA/60 was 132nd. While his xGF/60 was 17th among defenders, the Oilers need Nurse to be better overall given his hefty contract.
Bench the Bench Analysis
The Oilers swiftly fired Dave Tippett midseason, giving the helm to Jay Woodcroft, who had been coaching their AHL team. Woodcroft took the opportunity and ran with it, racking up a pair of playoff series wins as a rookie head coach. Woodcroft was able to break the constant trend of re-cycling coaches, an impressive feat in today’s NHL. He had a prior coaching relationship with Evan Bouchard, the defenseman who took a big leap this year, finishing 9th in xGF% for defenders. Woodcroft should stick around in Edmonton.
Front Office Analysis
Veteran General Manager Ken Holland continued to make risky moves last offseason. Some of them paid off, like bringing in Zach Hyman. Evander Kane was effective on the ice, although he of course brings a troubled past. Holland’s efforts to revamp the defense last offseason were heavily criticized, as he brought in the aging Duncan Keith, kept a defensive liability in Tyson Barrie, and gave Nurse the huge aforementioned extension. Between all of that, Holland’s signing of Cody Ceci, a player with a poor analytical reputation, to a multi-year contract slipped under the cracks.
2022 NHL Entry Draft
After their first-round pick, the Oilers will start to get bored, barring a trade. Thanks to deals for Keith and Brett Kulak for this season, as well as getting Dmitry Kulikov last year, Edmonton does not have a pick in rounds 2-4. Their opening pick will also be pick 29, so getting a blue-chip prospect is unlikely. Defense is once again the focus for the Oilers, as well as a winger.
Kane is going to ask for a ton of money following his 13-goal postseason performance. Bring him back, or at least another scoring winger will be huge for this team. Of course, goaltending is an issue to look at. The 30-year-old Smith has one more year left on his contract. Backup Mikko Koskinen is also a free agent. Young Stuart Skinner looked good in minimal playing time this year, so he could rise a spot on the depth chart. But does Edmonton want to enter a prime season of McDavid and Draisaitl with Smith and Skinner as their tandem? Acquiring a more stable option could be in the works.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images