How I Spent My Summer: Edmonton Oilers

Shawn McKenzie along with NHL insider Chris Johnston discuss the Edmonton Oilers expectations heading into this season, after a disappointing 2017-18 campaign.

With school now back in session, and before training camps officially open next week, over the course of the next few days we’ll be bringing you up to date on how each of the seven Canadian NHL teams have spent their summers.

How I Spent My Summer series: VAN | CGY | WPG | TOR | OTT | MTL

Current cap space: $3,978,834
GM: Peter Chiarelli
Head Coach: Todd McLellan
Assistants: Glen Gulutzan, Trent Yawney, Emanuel Viveiros
Unsigned players: Darnell Nurse (RFA)

Signings/PTOs:
– Kyle Brodziak, two years, $2.3 million
– Ryan Strome, two years, $6.2 million
– Tobias Rieder, one year, $2 million
– Drake Caggiula, two years, $3 million
– Matthew Benning, two years, $3.8 million
– Jakub Jerabek, one year, $1 million
– Kevin Gravel, one year, $700,000
– Mikko Koskinen, one year, $2.5 million
– Scottie Upshall (PTO)
– Jason Garrison (PTO)

Free Agent departures:
– Mike Cammalleri

Biggest Summer Splash

When your best player’s AAV rises from $3.775 million to $12.5 million, it inhibits a team’s ability to make the “Big Summer Splash.” So Edmonton went after the coaching market instead, replacing their assistant coaching staff after finishing last in power play and seventh from the bottom in penalty killing in 2017-18.

Out went Jim Johnson, Jay Woodcroft (to AHL Bakersfield), and Ian Herbers, who returned to coach the University of Alberta Golden Bears. In came ex-Flames coach Glen Gulutzan, veteran PK specialist Trent Yawney from Anaheim, and Emanuel Viveiros, who will run the Oilers’ power play after an impressive stint behind the bench of the WHL champions in Swift Current.

The Oilers ranked 11th in five-on-five goals last season. The plan is to add some more power play goals, cut down on some goals against on the PK, and make the playoffs.

Other notable additions and subtractions

How about giving backup goalie Mikko Koskinen a one-year, $2.5 million deal — despite the fact he is 30 and has exactly four NHL games under his belt?

If Chiarelli is right, and Koskinen can challenge Cam Talbot for the starter’s job, the Oilers GM will look like a genius. Chiarelli has never been afraid to make a controversial trade/signing, but his problem is he’s on a losing streak. Now, he’s capped out, his completely unproven backup is making about $1.5 million more than most people feel he’s worth, and signing Nurse appears problematic.

With little cap space, Chiarelli nibbled around the edges with guys like Tobias Rieder on a one-year deal, and veteran centre Kyle Brodziak, who returns to the team that drafted him in Round 7 a full 15 years ago. He’s someone the Oilers can use, and a guy whose familiarity may help Upshall get a contract.

Other Summer Headlines

• “I’ve always said I want to score more. That’s what I want to do.” Those words, spoken by Connor McDavid at the BioSteel Camp, should send shivers through the NHL goalie ranks. McDavid’s 84 even strength points last season were the most by a player — this century. And he wants more. Yikes!

• Second pairing D-man Andrej Sekera blew out an Achilles tendon while training this summer, the Oilers said. After missing half of last season with a torn ACL, it’s hard to see Sekera coming off Achilles surgery and helping in any meaningful way this season. His NHL career is in jeopardy.

• With the Sekera injury, some feel like 10th overall pick Evan Bouchard will have a better chance to make the team. That is fair.

But the Oilers, who open with a game in Sweden, then get Boston, the Rangers and Winnipeg on the road before their home opener, are in dire need of a strong start. We believe McLellan has little interest in wasting many minutes on breaking in a teenager on his blue line this fall, thus the addition of Jerabek, Gravel and Garrison on a PTO.

• McLellan knows this project has reached critical mass in Edmonton. He has to find a way to win with the players his GM has under contract, with both the coach and Chiarelli entering Year 4 of five-year deals. “The off-season is not necessarily about acquiring a bunch of different players, it’s about getting more out of the players we have,” he admitted.

Key questions heading in to training camp

The big question is simple: Are the real Oilers the 103-point team from 2016-17? Or were they imposters, and in fact the real team is the one that had 78 points last season?

With their roster virtually set contract-wise, we’ll get to see predominantly the same group take a third run at things this fall. After two Art Ross Trophies, we are confident McDavid will carry his share of the load. But after that, the questions are many:

Can Cam Talbot register a save percentage closer to his career mark of close to .920? Or was last season’s .908 a sign that his game has fallen off?

What about Milan Lucic? He’s got five seasons left at $6 million per, and is coming off a brutal, brutal season (10-24-34). He needs to show the game hasn’t left him behind, because another 10-goal, chase-the-play season, and they’ll be talking buy-out in Edmonton.

Oscar Klefbom has shown us he is a pretty good defenceman when he is healthy. The problem? He has been injured far, far too often in his young career. Exacerbating that is the Oilers are light on the blue line, and Klefbom — despite not being a legit No. 1 — is Edmonton’s No. 1. Another injury-plagued season for Klefbom could crush the Oilers. He HAS to stay healthy.

It’s decided: Leon Draisaitl will open the season as Edmonton’s No. 2 centre, and if the late season chemistry between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid holds up, that alignment will not change. Draisaitl needs to dominate without McDavid as his centreman. He needs to drive his own line for the Oilers to be dangerous.

What Vegas is saying about the Oilers…

Stanley Cup odds: +1800

Hart Trophy odds: Connor McDavid +333

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