The time for rebuilding is over. The Oilers need a Cup now.
As we approach the start of the 2021-22 season, the expectations for the Oilers seem to be the same as they have been for the past few years. A mediocre team that has two of the world’s best players so they’ll probably make the playoffs, but not much more. For a little while, that was fine. Oilers fans were so used to being at the bottom of the league that any semblance of success was great. But things have to change now. The Oilers seemingly went all in the offseason, trading away young pieces like Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones and bringing in guys like Zach Hyman and Duncan Keith, shows that the Oilers are expecting to be contenders this year.
Let’s not mince words. The last few seasons have been pathetic. After looking like one of the league’s best following their 2017 playoff run, the Oilers failed to reach the postseason in the following two years. That coupled with getting upset by the 12 seed Blackhawks in the bubble and a sweep at the hands of the Jets this past season, Edmonton has had nothing to show for what should’ve been their best years. Oilers fans had been willing to wait for success during the rebuilding years but this is no longer a rebuild. So what need to change?
The Oilers bolstered their top six with the addition of Zach Hyman but that isn’t where they need the most help. Offensive depth has been an issue for what seems like forever now as the Oilers have consistently struggled to find production from their bottom six. Vets like Zack Kassian and Kyle Turris will have to show up to play this year and prove that they deserve the money they’ve been given. The players to watch in here though would be Warren Foegele and Brendan Perlini. Foegele, who’s entering his age 25 season, came over from Carolina in exchange for Ethan Bear and is expected to provide some solid two-way play on the third line. Perlini, a former first round draft pick, has yet to live up to his potential thus far but has shown his goal scoring ability with five goals in the preseason and should hopefully provide some much needed scoring in the bottom six. These guys are going to need to perform this season if the Oilers want to succeed because as we’ve seen in the playoffs, Mcdavid and Draisaitl can’t do it all on their own.
Defense is another question mark heading into the season. We know what we have in Darnell Nurse, a solid, minute munching, strong skating, offensive minded defenseman who’s not the strongest on the backend, but is someone you’re happy to have. The same can’t necessarily be said for his partner, Tyson Barrie. Despite leading all defensemen in scoring, Barrie was a liability in the defensive end and he absolutely must improve that part of his game if he wants to continue to play meaningful minutes for the Oilers. Another player who has to prove himself is newly acquired vet Duncan Keith. The former two-time Norris winner is far from his former self and is years removed from his prime. The Oilers have invested quite a bit into his “leadership” but that won’t help if he’s useless on the ice. Both Keith and Barrie will have to step their game up and help provide some much needed stability on the back end if the Oilers hope to become a more complete team.
Despite finishing seventh in Vezina voting this past year, many fans were hesitant about the Oilers bringing back Mike Smith. Smith is set to turn 40 in march and is likely to regress to the mean this season which means the Oilers will likely have to be goaltending by committee. Mikko Koskinen played more of a backup role last year but will likely see more of a 1B to Mike Smith’s 1A position this season. Koskinen himself is already 33 so both goalies will have to rely on each other to stay fresh throughout an 82 game season. Stuart Skinner has torn up the AHL the past few seasons so expect to see him getting some starts if either of these guys goes down but the Oilers are going to have to rely on a consistent rotation of solid play in net if they want to make a deep run this year.
The time for rebuilding is done. From now on, as far as any Oilers fan is concerned it’s Stanley Cup or bust. The pieces are in place to make it work. It’s just about performing when the pressure is on. With two of the world’s best players and a ton of added support, there are no excuses. The 2021-22 season has to be the one where they put the pieces together. It’s been 31 years since the “city of champions” won a cup. The quest to bring it back starts next Wednesday. Buckle up.