Last week, the NHL offered a 24-team tournament that would allow the NHL’s 2019-20 season to conclude with the awarding of the Stanley Cup. The plan was offered by the NHL’s head office and then voted on by the NHLPA, which agreed to continue to discuss the enactment of that plan – assuming all the issues (and they aren’t small issues) can be solved.
As part of that plan, based on points’ percentage accrued during the regular season, the Edmonton Oilers were pitted against the Chicago Blackhawks in the play-in tournament. It will be the first time in several seasons that the Oilers have come this close to the playoffs, which has been more than frustrating for fans.
Will this season be different? In this post, I want to look specifically at what the Oilers bring to the postseason and suggest why the team has a great chance of making a nice run toward the Stanley Cup.
I am aided in my insights by a post written by NHL.com’s senior hockey writer Dan Rosen and deputy managing editor Adam Kimelman who shared their insights about the two teams. Although the Blackhawks bring pedigree and experience – really there are few better forwards on one team in the NHL than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane – I don’t believe the Blackhawks can match up or stay with the offensive firepower the Oilers bring to the ice.
The Background to the Series
Although a plan has been created, it’s a big if whether it can be completed. However, should the NHL season be able to move toward the eventual completion of the Stanley Cup Finals and the awarding of the Cup, the first-round, best-of-five play-in series between the Oilers and the Blackhawks could be a great “Qualifying Round.” In the NHL.com post, Rosen makes the case why the Oilers should win and Kimelman supports the Blackhawks.
However, because I’m focusing more on the Oilers here, Rosen’s thoughts are more relevant and I’ll focus on them. He notes that the numbers speak volumes to the changes head coach Dave Tippett made to the Oilers lineup. Specifically, he believes the Oilers became a more dangerous team and a legitimate playoff threat the moment they separated their two prolific stars and scorers – winger Leon Draisaitl and center Connor McDavid. Each player now centers his own line. And, that party first happened on New Year’s Eve.
As Rosen points out, Edmonton’s line-up now mirrors the plan the Pittsburgh Penguins have carried out for a few seasons with the team separating the great Sidney Crosby and the pretty-great Evgeni Malkin so the two strong players might center their own lines. However, the Penguins also bring Crosby and Malkin together to play on the same power-play unit.
The Differences Between the McDavid and the Draisaitl Lines
The McDavid line has a bit of everything. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is at left-wing and he’s a good player in his own right. He brings with him the strong playmaking skills that come from his playing center now once-upon-a-time ago. On the right side is the troublesome Zach Kassian who has only the aroma of those on-ice skills, but who ramrods around the ice just looking for trouble and sticking up for his teammates without much provocation needed at all. If Kassian can keep his head on his shoulders and not completely lose his cool, he can be a playoff force.
The current Draisaitl line also is interesting. Draisaitl is both the size and the scoring on that line. At 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds, he’s a load. For his partners, he’s playing with two virtual munchkins. The left-winger is 5-foot-9, 161-pound Edmonton-native Tyler Ennis who’s been skilled wherever he’s been but really hasn’t had much of a chance (outside of a few successful seasons with the Buffalo Sabres) to play regularly. Interestingly Ennis is the best scoring bang-for-the-buck in the NHL. That is, he scores more goals per dollar on his paycheque than any other NHL player – even more than the likes of Auston Matthews or Draisaitl himself.
Kailer Yamamoto is even smaller at 5-foot-8 and 153 pounds, but for him, size matters little. He’s come into his own on the Draisaitl line and offers additional speed and firepower. In short (no pun intended), the Blackhawks will be hard-pressed to contain the matchup problems the Oilers present with McDavid and Draisaitl leading their own lines at even strength and playing together on the power play.
Why the Numbers Back the Oilers
Since New Year’s Eve (2019) through the suspension of the NHL season on March 12, 2020, when the two lines became their own entities, the Oilers record was 17-8-5 and the team scored 107 goals (for an average of 3.57 per game). Draisaitl scored 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists) in those 30 games. And he wasn’t alone. Nugent-Hopkins, who partnered with Draisaitl, scored 41 points (15 goals and 26 assists) himself in those 30 games.
McDavid missed a number of games with a quad injury during that stretch, but he too had 34 (12 goals, 22 assists) points in 23 games. The Blackhawks simply cannot defend the Oilers.
And the Winner Is?
The Blackhawks give up tons of shots and don’t have that strong a defense. Just before the season was suspended, former two-time Stanley Cup champion goalies Corey Crawford had started to play well – with a 2.35 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage during the last 17 games the Blackhawks played. However, the Oilers offense can be overwhelming – and I suggest it will be.
Plus, the Oilers have been waiting for this chance at playoff redemption since being ousted from the playoffs by the Anaheim Ducks in 2017. It’s been a long time for one of the NHL’s great franchises. When the team won the first round of the 2017 playoffs against the San Jose Sharks, it was their first playoff series win in more than a decade (11 seasons to be exact).
I believe it’s time for the team to step up and become one of the better teams in the Western Conference; and, with the elite players the Oilers can ice, I think this won’t be the last time fans will see this group on a Stanley Cup run.
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