1) Will The Oilers Make The Playoffs?
There are a wide range of predictions when it comes to the Oilers' finish this year. Connor McDavid changed the perception of the team in a big way, but let's not put the cart before the horse. Of the eight Western Conference playoff teams last year, I could see the Oilers jumping ahead of only Calgary and Vancouver. Unfortunately, they still have to contend with Los Angeles, Dallas, Colorado and San Jose. The Oilers were 27 points behind the worst of those teams last year (SJS), so when the music stops I don't see them having a chair. Put another way, a 30 point improvement to 92 points would still only have been good for tenth place last year. It's a huge leap to get all the way to the post season.
2) How Did Peter Chiarelli Do?
Connor McDavid doesn't count when it comes to evaluating front office performance this off season, because it was a no-brainer pick that the Oilers got for being incompetent. However, Chiarelli did some nice things in my mind. He identified an available goaltender who was probably the best bet to become a starter and didn't overpay for him. He was in on Dougie Hamilton but didn't overpay for him, and those two things somewhat offset his overpayment for Griffin Reinhart. Reinhart is just slightly too young to be what the Oilers really needed, but he fits the age range. Even if he tops out as a #3 it's a good addition, especially because this team will be so top-heavy in salaries up front. Even if you lack a true number one, you can win with a bunch of twos and threes. I like the addition of Sekera too, of course, but he only replaces Petry. That's not a knock on Chiarelli though, because when you take over from incompetent people you need to start by undoing what they have done. Adding Sekera seemed to be the start of that.
3) How Many Points Will McDavid Get?
Here's another one with a wide range of theories. McDavid may be a Crosby-like talent or better, but scoring is down in the NHL and the Oilers haven't exactly set the world on fire offensively of late. There was a pretty large spike in power play opportunities and goals per game across the league in Crosby's rookie reason, due in large part to rule changes. Both numbers have since dropped off. Even more interesting, league average save percentage in 2005-06 was just 0.901 and has gradually risen to 0.915 last year. The Penguins scored 243 goals in Crosby's rookie season, which was 18th in the league. Last year, the highest scoring team was Tampa Bay with 259 goals. The Oilers had just 193.
Crosby was involved in 42% of Penguins goals in 2005-06, but he also played over 200 minutes more than the next-highest forward on his team, and almost 500 more minutes than the fourth-highest forward. We know that the distribution of ice time will be different in Edmonton because of the number of weapons the Oilers have. I'm going to be somewhat generous and assume the Oilers will jump to 220 GF, even though league average scoring has been stable for the last four years. Let's also assume that McDavid will get plenty of opportunity, while acknowledging the other players that will need to get ice time. Could McDavid be involved in as much as 30% of Oilers goals? In this scenario McDavid would finish with around 66 points. I'm guessing that's the range we should expect.
4) How Many Games Will Darnell Nurse Play?
The Edmonton Oilers have been one of the NHL's most injured teams since the 2009-10 season. If that trend continues, and we have no reason to believe that it won't, then it won't be long before the Oilers are forced to use all the best players they have. Even if Nurse doesn't make the team out of camp, I'd say he'll be in the lineup before November ends and there's a good chance he'll stick after that. I'm going to guess that he gets into 60 games and is among the league's top ten rookies.
5) How Many Games Will The Oilers Win?
Last year the Oilers won their tenth game on January 9th, 42 games into the season. They lost 20 of 21 games from November 11th to December 27th. That's a quarter of the season with one win. If they can simply avoid going sideways for an extended period, as they have been prone to since 2009-10, they should be able to eke out a few more wins. The new coaching staff is going to make a big difference here. Even though the players would say otherwise in public, they seemed to tune out Dallas Eakins' tyrannical regime in a hurry. Also, the players aren't fools. They must have known the dysfunctional way that the team was being run. Change and stability will go a long way in not letting a few losses break them down mentally. Much will hinge on the goaltending as well. If everything breaks right, I could see 35-38 wins being realistic.