This year was supposed to be different for the Edmonton Oilers. The franchise that had fallen on hard times since the dynasty run of five Stanley Cups from 1984-90, was poised to return to the playoffs. The fans of Edmonton haven’t seen so much as a single postseason appearance since a surprise run to the Finals in 2006, and it looked like an improving young team would make this the year. Instead, Edmonton is nowhere close. What’s the problem?
Edmonton only has 29 points, and is seventeen points back of the final playoff berth in the Western Conference, so the short answer to that question is that everything is wrong. Certainly though, some problems are worse than others, and the biggest disaster has been where it often is on a bad hockey team and that’s between the pipes.
Devan Dubnyk has been a train wreck as a goalie, with his 89.6% save rate ranking 46th in a league that only has 30 teams. Essentially, half the teams in the league have a backup goalie better than the Edmonton starter. With numbers like this maybe the relevant question isn’t why Edmonton is in last place, but how they ever managed to get 29 points in the first place.
Edmonton acquired a veteran backup in Ilya Bryzaglov, which would be heartening if not for the fact that Bryzaglov was last seen getting chased out of Philadelphia after consistently destroying the postseason hopes of a team that was talented everywhere else on the ice.
All of this adds up to situation where a team that is already shaky in its team defense—they rank in the bottom third of the NHL in shots allowed—ends up as the absolute worst in the bottom line of goals allowed.
The Oilers have talented young forwards on offense in Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall. While neither one is going to conjure up images of Wayne Gretzky any time soon, they’ve both been respectable at lighting the lamp and Hall has been an outstanding passer on top of it. Sam Gagner and Nia Nakupov are good supplemental offensive players.
Edmonton’s #18 ranking in scoring might be a little subpar, but in the context of this team, it makes them seem like an offensive machine. They do struggle with getting shots consistently, ranking 24th. We should note though, that when you give up goals and fall behind, opposing teams can fall back defensively, clog the ice a little more and go into the NHL equivalent of a nickel defense, denying an open ice atmosphere for the young forwards to operate.
Even though the Oilers’ recent history has been barren, the oddsmakers priced their Stanley Cup chances in line with teams like Anaheim, Washington, the New York Islanders, Ottawa and Toronto. All of the above were playoff teams a year ago, and the Ducks were the #2 seed in the West.
That tells you that the hopes of the Edmonton fan base for this season were shared by objective observers. Instead, it will take an overwhelmingly strong post-New Year’s performance to even make the playoffs a viable discussion topic. The problems start on the defensive end and have their apex in awful goaltending. You aren’t going on an extended hot streak unless you can win a lot of games with scores like 2-1 and 3-2 and Edmonton isn’t that kind of team. Wait ‘till next year.