Are the Oilers actually better than last season?

WINNIPEG, MB - MAY 24: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates with teammates on the bench after scoring against the Winnipeg Jets in Game Four of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 24, 2021 at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by David Lipnowski/Getty Images)
After a 4 game sweep in the first round at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets, the Oilers had obvious holes to fill.

In what may have been the most important offseason in Edmonton Oilers history, did Ken Holland make the Oilers better than last year? Entering the prime of McDavid and Draisaitl’s careers, the time to win is now. With big names to re-sign and needs to be met, the use of the extra cap space this offseason was crucial for future success.

Forwards

The biggest hole in the lineup was the lack of depth scoring from forewords. The Oilers had a very hard time getting offence from players not wearing #97 or #29. It was nice to see a little complementary scoring from Puljujarvi, RNH (signed 8 year 5.125m AAv) and even from the back end from Nurse and Barrie (signed 3 year 4.5m AAV), but it wasn’t enough. The team lost depth forwards like Haas, Nygard and Kahun who all signed overseas in Europe but also shed cap space buying out veteran James Neal.

Easily the biggest addition this summer was Zach Hyman. A gritty, two-way forward that can play powerplay, penalty kill and slide right into the top six forward group. Along with McDavid’s dominance, Puljujarvi’s excellent defensive game and Hyman’s ability to retrieve pucks, the top line may never give the puck up.

Adding to the forward depth was key. That’s why Ken Holland went out and got guys like winger Warren Foegele via trade for defenceman Ethan Bear and centre Derek Ryan via free agency to solidify the third and fourth lines respectively. Foegele is a big power forward who I believe can move up and down the lineup but will most likely help the third line scoring the Oilers have desperately needed the last few seasons. Ryan is an excellent defence first centre that will bolster an already top 10 penalty kill and give the team that right handed faceoff man they’ve been missing.

While also re-signing Josh Archibald and Devon Shore to go along with youngster Ryan McLeod and veteran Zack Kassian, the bottom six looks better than it has in a long time.

Defencemen

On to the defencemen. Losing youngsters like Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones does hurt a little but like stated before the time to win is now and sometimes giving up pieces for the future is the price to pay. The biggest loss on the back end was Adam Larsson leaving in free agency to Seattle. Right handed shut down d-men are hard to come by but obviously Larsson needed a change of scenery and it was more of a personal decision for him.

To replace the above three mentioned Holland acquired Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith, with a bigger role given to Evan Bouchard. Ceci was signed to a 4 year contract with an AAV of 3.25m via free agency. A right handed defencemen brought in to likely “replace” Larsson, who has much more of a two-way style of play. Keith was acquired in a trade with the Blackhawks (along with minor leaguer Tim Soderlund) that involved Caleb Jones and a 3rd round pick in 2022. Keith, a 3 time Stanley Cup and 2 time Olympic Gold Medal winner brings obvious experience to an Oilers team which is lacking just that. Having Keith to mentor the young players especially top defence prospect Bouchard will help more then people believe.

Also re-signing Barrie and Slater Koekoek the Oilers defence is much more of a puck moving core than seasons prior.

Goaltending

Goaltending has been an issue for the Oilers probably since the days of Dwayne Roloson and the 2006 Stanley Cup run that ended in a game 7 defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes. Ken Holland missed out on Jacob Markstrom in last summer’s free agency and lost the bidding war for Darcy Kuemper as he was traded from Arizona to Colorado instead. Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen seem to be the tandem the Oilers are going to start the season with again, unless Alex Stalock can win the backup role over Koskinen.

Both Smith and Koskinen both had seasons in 2021 that were somewhat of anomalies. Smith (now 40 years old) is coming off a Vezina caliber season which will be difficult to repeat. While Koskinen hopefully won’t be as bad as he was and will bounce back to his 2019/2020 form where he had a respectable 2.75 GAA and a .917 SV%.

In Summary

The Oilers have the most solid forward depth that they have had in a long, long time. Depth to go along with two top 5 players in the world will have the team scoring a lot of goals this season (which they will most likely need).

The defence isn’t worse but it probably isn’t better either. Ken Holland made more of lateral move this offseason and the defence has more veteran presence and will be a much more puck moving unit.

The goaltending will most likely be the same with Koskinen hopefully playing good enough to give Smith a few more games off and be more of a tandem. The biggest need at the deadline will be a solid goaltender that can help the team go on a deep playoff run but to get that, Holland must find a team to take Koskinen’s contract which does expire after this year.

Holland had all the right ideas this offseason to make the team better (which I think he did), but lost a lot more cap space then what fans expected. The Edmonton Oilers are coming into the 2021/2022 season as “worse” on paper but I believe that they are going to be a fun team to watch and will surprise a lot of people.

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