Like every other Canadian hockey fan, I was excited to see how the new North Division might shake out. Back in October my NHLTT colleagues and I created a piece on how this seven-team division might finish when such an odd season came to an end. It was a fun, but difficult task as most of the teams north of the border are generally evenly stacked. That said, this is how are three rankings turned out:
|My Picks||Jim Jr||Old Prof|
Current North Division Standings
The 56-game season is still relatively new, but also well underway and teams are starting to jockey into position accordingly. Heading into Saturday evening’s busy 12-game schedule, this is currently what the North division looks like:
Of particular note is the discrepancy between games played between several teams in the middle of the standings — specifically Vancouver’s 10 compared to Calgary’s six. One might expect the gap between those two teams will narrow as Calgary makes up a few more games.
The Oilers are Struggling
One of the teams that three of us (Jim, Old Prof, and I) had different expectations for were the Edmonton Oilers. This team is truly an enigma. It must get tiring to continuously hear that the franchise has two of the best young players in the world, but… The “but” must get old for the Oilers fans.
GM Ken Holland was reportedly ‘in’ on the Jacob Markström sweepstakes, but he eventually agreed to terms with the provincial rival Calgary Flames. This meant Edmonton would revert to its 2019-20 tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. Unfortunately, Smith was placed on the LTIR shortly after this truncated season began.
Smith’s injury put the team in a bind that has not yet been rectified. As such, Koskinen will make his 10th straight start in tonight’s rematch with the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the big Finn has hung in there, the situation is less than ideal and far from feasible over the long term.
Defensively, the Oilers lost a top pairing player this past offseason when Oscar Klefbom opted for shoulder surgery. As a result, he will be unavailable this season which means the entire D-core has had to step up and play more minutes to fill the void. The result has been nowhere near enough consistency off the back end.
This vicious cycle in turn creates either a lack of goaltending or just not good enough defensive play. Over and over.
The Elephant in the Oilers Room
Of course, the team also has the great Connor McDavid and equally brilliant Leon Draisaitl. It has always been assumed that these two can make up for the teams inability to keep the puck out of the net. Both players have enjoyed great individual starts despite the lack of team success, and this directly correlates with two more Oiler issues.
Issue #1 – as this Oiler team fails to gain momentum there becomes a greater chance that Connor McDavid could eventually make demands to be moved out of Edmonton. He’s called himself an Oiler for life but continual losing changes things for players over time.
This is the proverbial elephant in the room in regards to the franchise and pending expectations. I can’t say that I would blame McDavid, but at some point, you either have to be part of the solution or you are a part of the problem.
That brings me to issue #2 – the lengthy list of forwards that have been brought in to help the obvious lack of secondary scoring within the middle/bottom six. This season both Kyle Turris and Dominik Kahun were thought to be a solution. Those two have played in every game but have a combined total of three points so far. Last season it was Tyler Ennis and Andreas Athanasiou. The Oilers recently waived Ennis and Athanasiou is off to a hot start in LA with the Kings.
None of these players ever seem to get going in Edmonton and it begs the question, why?
I honestly have no idea why. Is the team not good enough? Is it a team culture issue? Do they like identity or character?
Again, I have no clue and never will.
Whatever the reason, the Oilers need to figure it out, and soon. The last thing this franchise needs is another season where they are out of playoff contention earlier than necessary.
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