We’re past the halfway point of the NHL season, and it’s becoming clearer by the day: the Edmonton Oilers are almost surely going to be returning the post-season after over a decade away. Anything short of that would require a monumental collapse, and this version of the Oilers has shown no sign of hitting the extremes of the previous generation.
Vindication for Peter Chiarelli.
Chiarelli received heavy criticism for a number of his moves, most notably the Hall/Larsson deal that has been covered ad nauseam, but nearly all of his moves have played out somewhere between defensible to shrewd.
Pat Maroon has been a Godsend. Milan Lucic, while underachieving, has helped the Oilers change the culture and ensured it’s not open season on their stars. Adam Larsson is not an eye-catching player, but he’s slotted in and the Oilers defence now makes sense. The same can be said for Kris Russell, and it looks more and more likely that Nail Yakupov simply isn’t that good. His only clear-cut mistake appears to be Jonas Gustavsson, and as far as mistakes go, a back-up goalie isn’t that bad.
Regardless, Chiarelli made the bold moves the Oilers so obviously need, and moved the team from perpetually rebuilding to competitive. Finally.
The ability to win ugly.
The Oilers four game winning streak is about as unimpressive as a four game win streak can be; they’ve played below average opponents at home (New Jersey, Calgary, Arizona, and Florida), been taken to overtime three times, failing to play their best. Connor McDavid, bless him, has looked human lately.
The Oilers of the past would have blown a few of these games, citing “bad bounces.” This version of the Oilers took care of business, moved nine points up on a playoff spot, and gave themselves breathing room with a more difficult schedule ahead. Well done.
A supporting cast that actually provides support.
For years, the Oilers have been a team that was void of pleasant surprises. They relied disproportionately on their young stars, and we saw how that turned out.
Even with the noted struggles of Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, the Oilers have continued to excel, in no small part to some depth players. Maroon could easily score 30 goals; Mark Letestu has put up a stat-line nearly the same as Nugent Hopkins (RNH: 47 GP, 9 G, 14 A, 23 P; Letestu: 44 GP, 9 G, 12 A, 21 P); Tyler Pitlick looked to be a regular NHL player before his injury; and Matt Benning and Brandon Davidson suggest the Oilers have finally learned how to develop some defencemen.
If the Oilers can get anything out of the aforementioned struggling veterans, who knows how well this season could turn out.
While the Oilers have improved; the West has regressed.
As with any major improvement, a healthy dollop of luck can’t be ignored. Arizona and Colorado are two of the worst teams the NHL has seen since… the Oilers; Los Angeles and Anaheim are on downward trajectories, in particular the Kings; Dallas and Nashville have been massive disappointments, likely freeing up a few playoff spots; Calgary and Vancouver are both limited teams that the Oilers get to face regularly.
Craig MacTavish appears.
We’ve often wondered what Craig MacTavish and the Old Boys Club are up to, and the Oilers finally explained Craig’s role in the organization. I’m glad he finally found a job he’s qualified for.