Oilers offseason grade 2019: New GM, new coach but a long road ahead in EdmontonSporting News — firstname.lastname@example.org (Sporting News)
The Edmonton Oilers had two players who scored over 100 points in the 2018-19 season with one of them being the NHL's most electric offensive forces in Connor McDavid. However, Oilers fans have now seen the team go through seven different head coaches and five general managers since 2010, all for just one postseason appearance — a second-round exit in 2017.
In an effort to finally stop the bleeding, Edmonton named Ken Holland general manager and president of hockey operations in May . The very first move the former Detroit Red Wings GM made was to officially part ways from Ken Hitchcock, who had succeeded Todd McLellan as head coach in November 2018.
Holland hired former Arizona head coach Dave Tippett to man the team's bench.
Holland inherited a litany of roster and salary cap problems to resolve , including finding a scoring right wing, a defenseman to play a top-four role, and depth at forward and goalie. Holland also saw a need to ship Milan Lucic's $6 million contract out of Edmonton after the forward produced only 20 points last season.
Jesse Puljujarvi, the Oilers' 2016 first-round draft pick, formally requested a trade in June as he approached restricted free agency.
Coaching staff: Head coach Dave Tippett , associate coach Jim Playfair, assistant coach Brian Wiseman
Edmonton's most bold splash this offseason was trading Milan Lucic to the Flames in exchange for forward James Neal . Neal and Lucic's contracts were nearly worth the same amount of money against the salary cap (Neal $5.75 million, Lucic $6 million), but the Oilers retain $750,000 over the rest of the rugged winger's contract. The deal also involved a conditional third-round draft pick should Neal score at least 21 goals and Lucic nets 10 fewer .
The trade can be viewed as two teams swapping overpaid and over-the-hill forwards, but Neal's awful 2018-19 is the only season of his career in which he scored less than 20 goals. Lucic, in comparison, has shown underwhelming offensive production for two seasons in a row. Should Neal find his scoring touch again in Edmonton, alongside talented forwards Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the trade will have been worth it for the Oilers.
Holland also signed goalie Mike Smith, who played for coach Tippet's Coyotes from 2011-17, to a one-year contract to platoon in net with Mikko Koskinen. Smith, much like Neal, is coming off the worst year of his career (42 games, .898 save percentage) but could still prove serviceable at an affordable price for the Oilers. Beyond that, Edmonton opted for depth signings at forward in Archibald and Granlund, who project to fill out the team's bottom two lines.
Edmonton drafted six players in June, including eighth overall pick Philip Broberg , a defenseman out of Sweden. TSN's Bob McKenzie ranked Broberg 15th among all skaters before the draft , and while the Oilers chose him instead of higher-ranked forwards like Trevor Zegras or Cole Caulfield, he should fill a much more drastic need on their depth chart.
It's been a long time since the Oilers employed a legitimate top-tier defenseman, and Broberg already owns an impressive physical frame at 6-3, 198-pounds and an "elite" skating ability, according to The Athletic 's Corey Pronman . If he can adjust to the competition in North America, it's likely Oilers fans could see him at Rogers Place sooner rather than later.
Holland also made notable draft picks in Raphael Lavoie, a 6-4 forward who Sporting News' Steve Kournianos described as a "steal" in round two as well as Ilya Konovalov, who achieved a .930 save percentage in 45 games in the KHL last season.
Farm system ranking: No. 14 Edmonton
Offseason grade: C+
Holland is in charge of Edmonton's front office now. That's a step in the right direction — he oversaw the Red Wings for a large portion of their 25-year dynasty — and free of any meddling from the Oilers' ownership or cohort of legendary former players, he has the mind to set the team in the right direction.
It's going to take a while, though; Holland was able to swap one bad contract for another with a potentially higher value in Neal, but it's still more money than needed, wrapped up in a veteran forward.
The team's depth forward signings should prove small additions over the team's bottom lines in recent years, but Holland still needs to continually acquire better defenseman to rely on beyond Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson and Darnell Nurse. The team added a few quality prospects at the draft, but Oilers fans want to compete now, and the team can't expect any to make major contributions this season.
2019-20 season prediction:
Edmonton will improve on last season's conference finish if the supporting cast around McDavid and Draisaitl improves its play.
Neal's addition could bring the team more goals and Smith's addition in net could improve defensive play — but those possibilities rely on veterans making a bounce back from exceptionally poor seasons. The Oilers otherwise return a similar defensive group, tied for sixth-most goals allowed (271) in the league last season. Adding forward depth in former Red Wings Sheahan and Jurco, as well as Archibald and Granlund who netted 12-goals apiece last year, could help turn Edmonton's depth forwards into more formidable foes.
It's hard to imagine the Oilers leapfrogging their way back into the playoffs in one of the Pacific's top three division spots, ahead of Calgary, San Jose or Vegas. If Edmonton performs as well as possible, they could find themselves in the battle for a Western Conference wild-card spot. But with teams like Vancouver, Minnesota and Chicago eager to compete again, it's hard to see the Oilers as a playoff lock this season.
There is a future where McDavid and the Oilers charge toward the Stanley Cup. Under Holland's supervision, it's possible. But it's going to be a process, and there are too many conditional statements required to guarantee Edmonton a playoff spot in April 2020.