- My Own Creation
Despite ending the season in 29th place, there are a number of good things that we can take from this season for the Oilers. Let’s start with the Special Teams. The Oilers finished the season with the third ranked power play over all, compared to 27th from last season. This can largely be attributed to the arrival of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, which gave Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle someone who could get the puck to them no matter where they were. The emergence of Jeff Petry also helped here and a finally healthy Ryan Whitney helped this later in the season as well. On the second unit, once Ales Hemsky shook off his injures he was able to quarterback the other line alongside with guys like Ryan Smyth, Sam Gagner and whoever else got plugged into the lineup. Of course having the third best power play is somewhat pointless when you’re not getting the correct calls on the ice, but by now you’ve all read enough of my articles that I won’t go any further into that. Now looking at the Penalty Kill, the Oilers again made a significant increase if not quite as dramatic as on the Power Play. The Oilers went from 29th last season to 14th this season. I’m going to largely attribute this to two guys who for whatever reason aren’t very popular with Oilers fans this season and they are Eric Belanger and Shawn Horcoff. Both men are over 50% in face offs and Belanger in particular takes a large percentage of defensive draws both on the Penalty Kill and at Even Strength. Other guys have contributed as well like Ryan Smyth, Ryan Jones and defensively guys like the newly added Nick Schultz, Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid have all helped the Penalty Kill be more effective. Aside from the Special Teams, other areas showed some improvement even if it was only slightly. In Goals against per Game, the Oilers went from 28th last season with an average of 3.17 goals per game. This season the Oilers were 23rd with an average of 2.83 goals per game, not a big increase granted until you look at the difference in the average of Goals Scored per Game. Last season The Oilers had an average of 2.33 goals per game where as this season they had an average of 2.52. As you can see the difference is much smaller than it was last season, meaning the games were generally closer in overall scoring. Of course we can’t forget that the Oilers went up 12 points over all going from 62 to 74 points. All things considered a 12 point increase over one season is pretty good, if we can do that again next season we could get close to or even get a playoff spot. Not to mention the fact that the Oilers get another top 3 draft pick at this year’s NHL Draft which can only help the team going into next year. The play of Devan Dubnyk in the final 15 games or so helpe
Now of course there has been more than our share of bad this season too, starting with the fact that we are once again near the bottom of the league. The Oilers had a phenomenal start to the season and then had a catastrophic collapse largely due to injuries centered on our defensive core. The defense for a good portion of the year was essentially a revolving door, making way for a large number of call-ups from our Minor League team the Oklahoma City Barons. This led to a lack of familiarity and cohesion on the defensive side of things as defensive pairings were continuously changing throughout most of the year. Of course our goaltending was an issue for most of the season too with neither Nikolai Khabibulin, who had a great start, nor Devan Dubnyk, who had a great finish, were playing all that well in the middle 30-40 games of the season. There were other issues too, particularly the play of our veteran players like Eric Belanger, Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth to name a few. Ryan Smyth really didn’t do too badly I suppose but he didn’t get to his 20 goal mark and had several lengthy stretches without a goal. Belanger and Horcoff while having ok to good seasons in the face-off circle did very poorly otherwise, Belanger only having 16 points while Horcoff barely managed to get over 30. Line combinations were somewhat erratic this season too, which admittedly was partly due to the 241 man games the Oilers had lost to injury this season, but even when fully healthy some of the combinations were just mind baffling. This is the one reason why I think Tom Renney would be better off as an assistant or associate coach instead of a head coach.
The ugly is pretty limited as the Oilers season while mediocre, wasn’t horrible. Therefore I am going to go with one example for ugly. Nikolai Khabibulin was horrible this season just like he was in the games he played last season. He had a great start in the opening nine games but aside from that he has steadily gotten worse as the season went on. Below is a graphic from an article Jonathan Willis wrote for the Edmonton Journal, which illustrates my point perfectly. As you will see Khabibulin is on a steady decline whereas Dubnyk showed growth throughout the season.
This is also without showing most of March or the one week of April as well, but sufficed to say the trends continued for both goaltenders. The way I see things the Oilers have three options with Khabibulin since he still has one year remaining on his current contract, 1) They decide to keep Khabibulin as backup for Dubnyk and ride Dubnyk for minimum 50-55 games next season, 2) They buyout his contract and try to sign another goaltender to either work in tandem with (41 games each) or to just backup Dubnyk, or 3) Trade Khabibulin to a team looking to gain a veteran goaltender and get a goaltender back that is either young like Dubnyk or in his mid-30’s to continue to help mentor Dubnyk and back him up. I firmly believe that it has to be option two or three as I doubt Khabibulin has it in him to do another season with the workload he had this season.
Other Things of Note
*None of the coaching staff or most of the management staff have contract renewals as of yet, despite the fact that several months ago it was reported that Steve Tambellini was supposed to be getting one.
*Leadership roles should be switching next season as the “kids” should be taking over from the veterans next season. Taylor Hall will likely end up with a “C” on his jersey, while Jordan Eberle will likely end up with an “A” on his. This is similar to the Pittsburgh situation when Sydney Crosby was given the “C”.
*The trade of Tom Gilbert for Nick Schultz was one that the Oilers clearly won, despite the fact that Tom Gilbert was a good Oiler for many years. This should be credited to Steve Tambellini in my opinion, as Schultz will likely be a cornerstone for the Oilers defense for years to come.