Counting down the final 30 days to puck drop on the 2014-15 NHL season, Sportsnet previews all 30 NHL teams in reverse order of how we believe they will finish the regular season.
A dozen reporters and analysts from Sportsnet’s hockey brain trust — Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Chris Johnston, Damien Cox, Mark Spector, et al. — submitted a list ranking all the teams in order of how they think the NHL season will shake out. We crunched the numbers and will be unveiling our consensus standings prediction from worst to first.
Edmonton is our 24th-ranked team.
2013-14 finish: 22-44-9, 67 points, 28th overall; missed playoffs
Leading scorer: Taylor Hall (80 points)
General manager: Craig MacTavish
Head coach: Dallas Eakins
Captain: Andrew Ference
Opening night starter: Ben Scrivens
Key acquisitions: Benoit Pouliot, Teddy Purcell, Nikita Nikitin, Mark Fayne, Keith Aulie
Key departures: Sam Gagner, Ryan Smyth, Ryan Jones
Off-season grade: B+. As a rebuild-in-progress, Edmonton shops from the B list of UFAs — and must overpay to get even those players. Management is smart enough to realize that, and landed some much-needed depth in Pouliot and Purcell up front, two bigger bodies on the wing. They added Fayne, Nikitin and Aulie on the back end — all 6-foot-3 or better, with the first two being legit top-five NHL D-men. Edmonton badly needs size and depth to support a young core. That’s exactly what a realistic MacTavish went after on July 1.
Greatest strengths: Potential — still. Hall is the NHL’s top-scoring left winger over the past two seasons. He is an all-star from here on in. Jordan Eberle disappointed some with 65 points after 76 in 2011-12. Which of those is he going to be? After that, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and defenceman Justin Schultz are both high-potential skill guys who appear ready to take a step in 2014-15. Nail Yakupov is in his third season and turns 21 on Oct. 3. What of him? Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth are two goalies who might be No. 1s but have never been given the opportunity. They have all arrived at the Show Me State. Passports, please.
Greatest weaknesses: Centre ice. After RNH on the No. 1 line, there is no legit No. 2 here. And Nugent-Hopkins has done nothing in his young career to suggest he’s ready to enjoy success against the likes of Ryan Getzlaf or Henrik Sedin. In the No. 2 hole might just be 2014 draftee Leon Draisaitl, if the 18-year-old proves at camp that he is a more viable option than the slow-developing Anton Lander or the tiny Mark Arcobello. Boyd Gordon is the No. 3 centre here — a real good No. 4 on most teams. In this conference, against the centres peppered throughout the West, faceoffs, experience, and defending down low are all major weaknesses in Edmonton.
Biggest storyline to watch: Goaltending and coaching. The start by Devan Dubnyk in 2013-14 sewered Edmonton’s season. Scrivens comes in as the No. 1, with Fasth behind him, and the theory is that — between the two of them — the Oilers should get legitimate NHL goaltending every night. If this team is out of it by Dec. 1 again, it could get ugly in Edmonton, which holds the longest current playoff drought of any NHL team (eight years). As for Eakins, he’s in his second season here and needs some signs of success to go with his air of confidence. He needs to get this franchise moving. Not now, but right now.
2014-15 prediction: Edmonton will take a step this season, but not a big enough one to become a playoff team in the difficult West. They are better from the goal line out, and it will show as they keep realistic chances alive into March.