Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.
You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.
Key subtractions: Ralph Krueger, Ryan Whitney, Shawn Horcoff, Magnus Paajarvi, Nikolai Khabibulin
The Oilers are Going to be Good
The Edmonton Oilers could be nearly impossible to handle this season. The years of frustration paid huge dividends for this group, as they now find themselves with some of the best offensive talent in the league. Taylor Hall finished in the top-10 in NHL scoring last season, and he’s still 21. There’s no reason to believe he’s not going to be even better this campaign. He was accompanied to Team Canada’s Olympic Orientation Camp by fellow superstar Jordan Eberle, one of the league’s slipperiest players. They also have #1 overall Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a kid who put up NHL numbers during his teen years that rival some of the greatest superstars hockey has ever seen. And oh yeah, they also have Nail Yakupov, one of the game’s most electric players, who threatened 20 goals as a rookie in a shortened season.
That young group is complimented by show-stopper Ales Hemsky, another supremely talented offensive player. Sam Gagner is another young stud who finished second on the team in points last year with 38 in 48 games. They’ve ensured they’ve got guys who can win draws and play responsible defense by grabbing Boyd Gordon in the off-season. Last year rookie defenseman Justin Schultz poured in 27 points in a 48-game season after damn-near leading the AHL in scoring during his time there. He’s a star. And these guys all play in front of one of the league’s most – if not the league’s actual most – underrated goaltender in Devan Dubnyk (he pitched a .920 last year, for those wondering).
If the supporting cast is even average this year, this team is going to push the play so much in the offensive zone they’re going to break teams. And with that youth, good luck keeping up for 60 minutes. This team is going to be good.
The Oilers are Going to be Bad
Okay, so Justin Schultz was the only d-man that dude above found worth mentioning (and even Oilers diehards would call him average in the d-zone, meaning he’s a nightmare), did you notice that? After that it’s a defensive tire fire, assuming there’s a way to make tires out of pure gasoline. Petry, Grebeshkov and Potter, oh my! I can’t imagine what happens if a “I dunno, he’s fine” d-man like Ladislav Smid gets hurt and one of those guys has to play real minutes? Their offense won’t ever get a chance to play offense because they’ll be hemmed in their own zone the whole game. Not to mention that all those great offensive talents aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts themselves. They almost gave up 33 shots a night last year? Shocked. Hell, they’re not even where they might be offensively one day, which is no guarantee. Guys like RNH and Hall may end up playing 50% of their potential career games thanks to shoulder sockets made of wet cardboard.
RNH scored four times last year and is missing the first month of the season, their offensive depth is an insult to wading pools everywhere and this team still employs a wounded animal like Ryan Smyth. But at least they’ve recently decided it’s important to have a goon or three in the lineup.
Man. This team is going to be terrible.
Flippant barstool prediction:
They’ll threaten playoffs, and probably score/allow a pretty crazy amount of goals along the way.
The Edmonton Oilers hold the promise of much offense, and that occasionally came through in rout form last year. But overall, they were pretty offensively unimpressive: they were 18th in the league in goals-per-game (2.56), largely because they generated the 26th-most shots in the league (26.8 per night). They weren’t great 5-on-5 (0.90 goals for/against ratio, 21st overall), but on the upside their powerplay was solid – 7th overall, operating at a 20.1% success rate. Special teams as a whole were good actually- they killed 83.4% of their penalties, good for 9th in the league. Their two ugliest numbers: they gave up the second-most shots-per-game in the league (32.8!), and while some deem it unimportant, the fact remains that they were comparatively useless in the faceoff circle, winning only 46.1% of their draws.
Okay, but seriously:
This team has the biggest range of any team in the NHL. There’s enough gaps in the lineup that you could see them struggling, especially with so much of their talent being basically infants, but at the same time, if you saw that they were a few spots above eighth at midseason your jaw wouldn’t exactly hit the floor because the talent is there. Like most teams, they need those top-end guys to stay healthy. If they can get solid, reliable play out of d-men like Smid, Ference and Nick Schultz all year, I think they (barely) crack the post-season for the first time since 2006, when they went to the Cup Final.