Predicting Point Totals for the 2021 Oilers

Simple premise: How many points will each Edmonton Oilers skater end up with this season?

This isn’t some fancy mathematical model or scientific conclusion. It’s probably not even a realistic expectation. It’s just my gut feeling based on the past production of each player. I’m going to work my way up from lowest to highest scorers.

Also, I am going to assume that each player plays 56 games. I know that three games into the season that’s already impossible, but bear with me. Also also, I’m just going to go through who I believe to be the best 18 skaters Edmonton has. The guys that I think will play on a regular basis. Alright, enough qualifiers. Here we go:

18. Adam Larsson: 2 goals, 9 assists (11 points)

82 Game Pace: 3 goals, 13 Assists (16 points)

Adam Larsson missed a good chunk of last season due to injury, which is why he only managed 6 points. Larsson is an excellent passer in my eyes, but will be relied upon as the team’s best shutdown defenseman. Expect all 11 points to come 5-on-5.

17. Slater Koekkoek: 3 goals, 8 assists (11 points)

82 Game Pace: 4 goals, 12 Assists (16 points)

Koekkoek won’t get anywhere near the amount of ice time Larsson does, but it looks like he could be paired up with Tyson Barrie most of the season on the third pair. Dave Tippett probably wants to shelter Barrie as much as possible from high-leverage defensive situations while also pairing him with a guy like Slater who can cover for him. Both guys move the puck really well, and should have no problem getting it to the big boys.

16. Gaetan Haas: 8 goals, 7 assists (15 points)

82 Game Pace: 12 goals, 10 Assists (22 points)

In 58 games as a rookie, Haas managed five goals and five assists. Now that he’s secured a role on this team as their fourth-line centre, I imagine he will only get more and more comfortable as the season rolls on and he plays more games. He’s got the tools to be a driver on the Oilers’ fourth line, so I expect an increase in his production.

15. Caleb Jones: 7 goals, 9 assists (16 points)

82 Game Pace: 10 goals, 13 assists (23 points)

I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Caleb Jones in the first couple games of the season. In the first game vs. Vancouver, he had two shot attempts from the slot and another from the low point. He’s not afraid to work low, and I believe that is a fine complement to his defensive game. He should have no problem adding to his nine points in 43 games last year.

14. Zack Kassian: 8 goals, 11 assists (19 points)

82 Game Pace: 12 goals, 16 assists (28 points)

I believe that this is the year we see Zack Kassian decline – from an offensive perspective. It’s not due to age (this is his age-30 season), but rather the options the Oilers have on the wings. In the past, it didn’t matter if Kassian stuggled – he was McDavid’s winger by deafult. Now the Oilers have added Ennis, Kahun, Yamamoto, Puljujarvi and Neal, among others. Kassian will have a short leash and if someone else gets hot, expect them to replace Kassian to play with Connor and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

13. Jesse Puljujarvi: 8 goals, 12 assists (20 points)

82 Game Pace: 12 goals, 18 assists (30 points)

This is easily the hardest Oiler to predict for two reasons: First, we haven’t seen the kid play for two years; second, no player on this roster as as big of a range in terms of where they could slot in. I don’t think anyone would be particularly surprised if Puljujarvi ends the season on McDavid’s wing and as the net-front guy on the top Powerplay unit, but we are not really expecting that from him either. I think a 30-point pace is a fairly conservative estimate for the fourth-highest scorer in Liiga a year ago. We shall see.

12. Josh Archibald: 11 goals, 9 assists (20 points)

82 Game Pace: 16 goals, 13 assists (29 points)

The only reason I have Archibald so high is because Dave Tippett will, at some point this season, play Archibald on the top line with Connor McDavid. He loved the pairing last season, so don’t be shocked when he goes back to it. I’d expect Gaetan Haas numbers, aside from a week where Archie puts up five points in two games. But let’s not forget that Josh Archibald finished 6th on the team in scoring last season despite only playing 62 games.

11. Ethan Bear: 4 goals, 17 assists (21 points)

82 Game Pace: 6 goals, 25 assists (31 points)

Every time I watch Ethan Bear move the puck, I am more and more impressed. Nobody on this team is more calm under pressure. Playing with Darnell Nurse both 5-on-5 and on the Power Play should offer Bear every opportunity to improve on his 21 point campaign last season. He will match his total, only in 15 less games.

10. Darnell Nurse: 5 goals, 20 assists (25 points)

82 Game Pace: 7 goals, 29 assists (36 points)

Darnell Nurse was one point behind Oscar Klefbom for the team’s defenceman scoring lead in 2020, and should find himself in a similar competition this year with Tyson Barrie. Nurse saw a slight dip in production last year, but this is a player whose best asset is his ability to jump in the rush. Expect a bounce back in a big way.

9. Tyler Ennis: 12 goals, 13 assists (25 points)

82 Game Pace: 18 goals, 19 assists (37 points)

This prediction will be wrong if Tyler Ennis spends significant time on the fourth line. Obviously. However the reason the team went out and acquired Tyler Ennis was because he is a skilled player who has the speed to play with Connor McDavid. It’s why they re-signed him this season. Even if Ennis spends most of his time with Jesse Puljujarvi and Kyle Turris (you may have noticed I haven’t mentioned him yet) and only gets a few looks with the big boys, he is too good not to produce.

8. James Neal: 20 goals, 9 assists (29 points)

82 game pace: 29 goals, 13 assists (42 points)

This is a weird one. James Neal is, of course, the player that scored 58 points in 2015-16 with Nashville. He is also the same player that scored only seven goals in 2018-19 with Calgary. All I will say about this prediction is that last season, in 55 games, he managed 19 goals and 12 assists. I expect him to park his rear end in front of the net and stay there while pucks bounce off of him. It worked for Ryan Smyth.

7. Kyle Turris: 9 goals, 21 assists (30 points)

82 Game Pace: 13 goals, 31 assists (44 points)

It didn’t work out in Nashville. I’d argue that his “lack of success” had more to do with his contract than his actual play, but sure. It didn’t work out in Nashville. Kyle Turris has hit 40 points four times in his career, most recently in 2017-18. Yes, I’m expecting a very dramatic comeback. But the third line of Ennis/Archibald – Turris – Puljujarvi isn’t getting enough love, even from Oilers fans. They will be getting some favourable matchups and once they get rolling, they will be very fun to watch.

6. Dominik Kahun: 15 goals, 21 assists (36 points)

82 Game Pace: 22 goals, 31 assists (53 points)

I think that Dominik Kahun has finally found a home. The Oilers are his fourth team in his 3-year NHL career despite being quite productive for a man his age. The Oilers only signed him to a one-year deal, but he will be a Restricted Free Agent at its conclusion, so they will be free to lock him up long-term. We all know about the chemistry he should have with his childhood friend, Leon Draisaitl. Kahun could very well be the missing link that forms the best second line in the game. Personally, I think this estimate might be on the safe side.

5. Tyson Barrie: 12 goals, 38 assists (50 points)

82 Game Pace: 18 goals, 56 assists (74 points)

OK, now we are getting to the big boys. This is easily my most outlandish projection. I don’t think Barrie will get this high, but it is absolutely possible. This is a guy who was considered one of the league’s elite offensive defensemen until he got to Toronto. It was a bad fit. Edmonton is a dream scenario for Tyson Barrie. He gets to run the point on the best Power Play in the league with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl while not being expected to be a top pair shutdown guy. This is one of the best puck movers in the game, and he will definitely improve on last season’s numbers. Consider this: Barrie’s best season from a production standpoint was 2017-18: 57 points in 68 games. Over a full season? 69. While unlikely, the 50 point plateau is definitely doable for Barrie.

4. Kailer Yamamoto: 20 goals, 36 assists (56 points)

82 Game Pace: 29 goals, 53 assists (82 points)

Not much to say here that hasn’t been said. Kailer has been a point-per-game player since he was called up last season, and revealed himself as the perfect winger to play with last year’s Hart Trophy winner. What I will say is that even if Yamamoto scores zero points (impossible, he already has three), he is still a very valuable member of this team, thanks to his relentlessness on the forecheck.

3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 19 goals, 45 assists (64 points)

82 Game Pace: 28 goals, 66 assists (94 points)

On the YEG Sports Podcast Season Preview show, I said that one of Nugent-Hopkins or Yamamoto would finish in the Top Ten in league scoring. I don’t doubt Kailer’s ability to do it, but Nuge is the safe bet here. Ryan (27) is the first of the Oilers core to be entering his prime years, and a full season on McDavid’s wing should be enough to propel the product of Burnaby, B.C. to superstardom. His production has improved in each of the last four seasons and I don’t expect it to stop any time soon.

2. Leon Draisaitl: 34 goals, 51 assists (85 points)

82 Game Pace: 50 goals, 75 assists (125 points)

Hard to believe that a 125-point pace is a decrease, but it is a drop of about two points. I expect Leon to follow a similar pattern to his first breakout year – 2016-17. The next season, his goal-scoring remained the same while the assists took a slight dip. Leon is 100% capable of repeating his success last year, but that was downright historic. I think that 85 in 56 is a much more reasonable and down-to-earth prediction.

1. Connor McDavid: 37 goals, 58 assists (95 points)

82 Game Pace: 54 goals, 85 assists (139 points)

Only in Edmonton can a 125-point pace land you second on the team’s leaderboard. Let’s start with the obvious: Connor McDavid is the best player the world has seen since Ovechkin/Crosby, he’s still three years away from his prime, and he’s playing in a league where scoring is increasing. Not to mention that he had an offseason to train and improve rather than rehab an injury. Plus he centres the best Power Play in the League. And now he’s reading articles saying he’s not the best player in the world (see: Michael Jordan). If you are a fan of a Canadian team not named the Edmonton Oilers, cover your butt.

I think that Connor McDavid would be the first to tell you how disappointed he was in his 97-point campaign a year ago. And he will be back with a vengeance.

For the record, 139 points would be the 25th highest single season mark in history, edging out Wayne Gretzky’s first NHL season by two points.

Maybe it’s just me: Helmet Ads

As long as I’ve watched NHL games I only ever remember seeing advertising on the boards. I can say without a doubt that I’ve never paid that much attention to the ads on the boards but if they’re not there man do the boards stick out like a sore thumb. As we plow through the delay in starting the new season we’ve seen classic games shown on the tv and a lot of those games have boards without ads on them and to me they just don’t seem right. I imagine that when teams started selling ad space on their boards there were a lot of purists out there claiming this would be a travesty to the sport. That the selling out of board space to billionaire clients would be the beginning of the end. “Where does it end? Do we replace the names on the back with ads for beer companies?” Well we haven’t hit that point yet thankfully, but there’s a reason we have ads sold on the boards, those superstars we all love to see streaking up the wing and scoring goals don’t come cheap. Also paying to staff a team and a front office, doctors, trainers, buy equipment, pay for travel, hotel costs, etc doesn’t come cheap as well. So with costs rising in the 80s particularity in the salary department owners turned to selling the blank pristine boards to advertisers. As I said earlier I don’t remember watching any games without ads on the boards, but I’m sure the detractors of board advertising today would be happy to know the quality of play has only gotten better and hasn’t affected the on ice product.

On ice though is where the next stage of open space for advertising transitioned. Again the big anti money generating fans couldn’t wrap their heads around why these billionaire owners needed to sell ice space to other billionaires to advertise on! “We won’t be able to follow the puck! It takes away from the purity of the sport…….baaaaahhhhh humbug!” Again I point to the rising cost of employing a fully staffed team to put out on the ice. I’ve noticed the ice ad spots seem to be standard, Centre Ice circle. 4 in the neutral zone, and now 4 outside the trapezoids in each end zone below the goal line. Apparently having a sports team in the top league in the world isn’t cheap so we continue to see advertising put wherever owners can find the place to put them. This upcoming season sees the largest revenue generating source for each team not in the building. Yes that’s ticket holders, so the NHL has allowed owners to seek out companies that wish to advertise on the teams helmets. “Ok now this is going to far!” Our intrepid protectors of the purity of the game are saying. “We allow this on helmets then they’ll be pasting ads on the jerseys next, then the socks, and the pants, then the front of the jersey!” Ok. I get you all worry about the over abundance of advertising on the players as they skate around the ice. I’m here to say it won’t matter. You’ll still cheer for your favourite team just as passionately as you did any other season without ads all over the place. You’ll continue to watch the games on tv or at the rink and yell at the top of your lungs when your team scores. Not one of you will cheer less loudly because there’s more advertising out there because we cheer for our teams no matter the advertising on the front, back, shoulder, pants or anywhere else they get money from a company to advertise themselves.

Look no further than over the Atlantic. Football teams all have a major sponsor that pay a lot of money to be front and centre. Let’s take a look at the jersey of Man Utd. The current sponsor on their jersey is Chevrolet and they are paying the team a measly 64 million Great British Pounds for the 20/21 season alone. That’s about 110 million Canadian dollars, HELLO! Here’s the amount Chevrolet spent to sponsor the jersey each of the past 6 seasons since taking over as the premiere advertiser on Man Utd jersey.
19/20 64 Million GBP
18/19 47 Million GBP
17/18 47 Million GBP
16/17 47 Million GBP
15/16 47 Million GBP
14/15 47 Million GBP
(From: Statista)

Including this season that’s 363 million GBP to have the Chevy logo emblazoned across the front of the Man Utd jerseys! Wow! There is a search underway for next years sponsor as Chevy extended this year for this one season, I can only imagine what that sponsor will pay going forward. Note that the Chevy logo far outsizes the team shield, the team is more noted for the colours then the logo on the front. The change of sponsors also drives jersey sales as when a team changes sponsors every 4-6 years all the fans have the desire to get the newest kit. Millions of fans shell out money and buy the newest jersey, which is a great way to always keep the jerseys flying off the shelf. The same happens in my beloved sort of rugby, the teams have advertising on the jerseys, shorts, socks etc, all in the name of increasing revenue for the team and therefore the owner. Now hold your horses! You’ll say I’d never shell out for a New Jersey every 4 years! Right that’s why at every Oilers game I go to 90 percent of you are wearing the new silks! If we could go to games this season how many of you would be rocking the slick new white reverse retro’s. (There’s a reason each team has four jerseys this year, so you’d buy them to increase revenue)

I get it, we’d hate to see our little NHL league “sell out” but if we want to continue to see our little league first survive, then thrive, we have to accept adverts on helmets for now, and eventually elsewhere on our favourite teams uniforms. We shouldn’t forget that the owners of sports teams are businessmen and businesswomen that have other companies that make money for them and the sports team ownership is just their shiny toy. If the shiny toy loses its shine, well crazy things happen, like the sale of a really good player, or the relocation of a team, or it up and folds. All things none of us fans of the NHL or any sport would like to see happen. So we need to come to terms with more and more advertising on our favourite teams and players as the years move on so that the teams we love stay profitable. I’m not afraid to say that I’m perfectly fine with the direction the NHL is taking in the advertising department but maybe it’s just me?

Nels Nelson is an occasional guest on YEG Sports, he also is a playwright, podcaster, referee of hockey and Rugby, fan of a lot of sports, a proud husband and proud father. He also works tirelessly cleaning up the streets of YEG.

NELSON: Maybe its Just Me?

PHOTO: Calgary Flames (nhl.com/flames)

GUEST AUTHOR: Nels Nelson

Ok first things first. I’m a fan of sports! I get angry (irrationally or rationally) when my teams don’t do well or get shafted by professional officiating. I yell with joy when my teams do well!(even if it wakes my wife and kids) I’m a huge fan of stats, when I understand them, and a huge fan of observation too. In this article I’m going to try and incorporate both stats and observation to put forth a point and ask you the reader if you see it to or maybe it’s just me?

What is irking me at present is the whole Jacob Markstrom signing in Calgary and my fellow Oiler fans and pundits worrying over our current goaltending duo here in Oil Country. I get the concern over Smith, he’s going to turn 39 in a couple of months, his save percentage is in the range of Grant Fuhr’s in the 80s, and his reaction ability isn’t going to get better with age. As for the big Finn Mikko Koskinen, well his glove hand is suspect (actually he improved last season and will this season) he doesn’t have a lot of NHL experience (basically two years) and his save percentage isn’t as good as Markstrom’s. All concerns and comments I hear from people all over the capital region but I’m ok with Ken Holland betting on these two in net for the Oilers this shortened season. I mean they were the goalies of record on the highest place team in the NHL last year. Edmonton had 83 points to Toronto’s 81 points as the second best Canadian team. Edmonton’s win percentage .542 was significantly better than Toronto in second at .521. Wait you say? That’s only 2 points in the standings and .021 points better that’s not very much. (More on not very much in percentage later) Also the Oilers had that horrible December! That’s right that December was atrocious in a variety of spots but even with that the Oilers topped the Canadian teams. As for that minuscule points percentage people are pointing to, well let’s dive into percentages between the Flames new starter and who we are all pretty sure will be the starter for the Oilers Mikko Koskinen.

Jacob Markstrom posted a save percentage of .918 and Mikko Koskinen posted a .917. That’s about as close as you can get to being even in my opinion. Let’s look at it this way, if you were going to go on a trip in your vehicle and needed gas, you whip your car into your favourite gas station and pay .918 per litre and as you’re pumping the gas you see across the street it’s .917 per litre, you’d live with that and continue on your trip not worrying about the thousandth of a cent per litre you could’ve saved right? I know I’d be travelling worrying about other things. Or if you took a penny which is 1/100th of a cent and cut it into 10 equal pieces and gave me that penny minus one piece and said here’s a penny for your thoughts, I’d just look at you and say “you can’t afford that last 1/1000th of a dollar for my wisdom?” That’s the difference of the hairs people are splitting in the Ken Holland missed out on the goalie market debate! I’ll take Koskinen over Markstrom for the cheaper contract and less term. I think every fan of the Oilers should sleep well on the eve of training camp knowing we have the better end of the starting goalie debate. WAIT Nels what about Goals against average? Really? Well they both posted 2.75 GAA last season. But the playoffs, the Canucks did better then the Oil? Yes well you’re right there except I think the Canucks liked Demko better and that’s why Markstrom went to Calgary. A brief aside, I think Vancouver may not do as well this year as everyone predicts. (Remember the excitement over the Oilers little run in 2017 this sounds the same as it did back then) Ken Holland took a swing at Markstrom and when it didn’t work he grabbed Smith and moved on to a very successful signing period for the Oilers. Proof that when one door closes five or six others open.

So to all the readers reading this article I ask you now, are the Oilers not better off without Markstrom? Or maybe it’s just me?

Nels Nelson is an occasional guest on YEG Sports. He also is a playwright, podcaster, referee of hockey and Rugby, fan of a lot of sports, a proud husband and proud father. He also works tirelessly cleaning up the streets of YEG.

Breaking Down the 2021 Edmonton Oilers Schedule

EDMONTON, AB – FEBRUARY 06: Edmonton Oilers Center Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his goal with line mates Edmonton Oilers Defenceman Darnell Nurse (25) and Edmonton Oilers Defenceman Ethan Bear (74) in the first period during the Edmonton Oilers game versus the San Jose Sharks on February 06, 2020, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, AB.(Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire)

Let’s do that hockey.

The Edmonton Oilers will kick off their 41st National Hockey League season on January 13th with a back-to-back against the division rival Vancouver Canucks. What follows is 56 total games in 115 days (approximately one game every other day) against Edmonton’s other division rivals, both traditional and otherwise.

With the closure of the Canada-United States border due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, the NHL decided to re-align their four divisions so that as many teams as possible were able to play out of their home rinks. The Oilers will partake in the brand new North Division, where they will see the usual suspects – your Canucks and your Flames – but will also see plenty more of the other Canadian teams.

The Opponents

Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, because the re-ignited (pun intended) Battle of Alberta between your beloved Oilers and the evil savages to the South will occur TEN TIMES this season. 18% of Oilers games in 2021 will be against Calgary. The highlight of this series is a pair of games on back-to-back nights in February with the latter scheduled for Saturday Hockey Night in Canada. Expect blood.

The Vancouver Canucks are the other team the Oilers will square off with ten times, starting with the back-to-back curtain raiser on January 13th and 14th in Edmonton. While Vancouver-Edmonton pales in comparison to the Battle of Alberta, the Canucks are still a rival, and these are two teams that will be right in the thick of the playoff race. Besides, any time you play a team ten times in less than six months, it will get heated. Expect blood.

As for the other four Canadian clubs, the Oilers will play each on a total of nine occasions each. Again, I don’t care what team you’re playing, if you play them this many times in a season, it will get out of hand quickly. Expect blood.

The Format

I really like the decision made by the NHL to construct the schedule the way they did. To explain what I mean by this, let’s take a look at the Oilers’ schedule in the month of March:

To start the month, the Oilers play the last two of a three game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs at home. Then Calgary makes the three hour drive north for a single game, followed by three against the Ottawa Senators. After two weeks at home, the Oilers take the short trip to Vancouver to play a single game. Then two in Calgary. Back home for two against the Winnipeg Jets. Then they travel east of Lloydminster for the first time in over a month. Three in Montreal, two in Toronto, and then it’s back home for the Oilers.

In a month, the Oilers play seventeen games, but they only get on a plane five times, and three of those trips can be completed in an hour and a half or less.

That’s the first reason I really like this schedule from the NHL. In the COVID Era, you want to limit travel as much as possible because it eases the strain on the players, and it reduces the risk of a potential outbreak. If a player in an Edmonton-Montreal game tests positive, it won’t affect the Ottawa-Winnipeg game because you’ve isolated the incident. We are less likely to see MLB-esque cancellations of games because of this schedule.

The second reason I really like the schedule is related to the first section of this article. It builds hate. Sure, the Oilers might not have any hard feelings towards the Canadiens now, but you can’t tell me that playing Corey Perry three times in a week doesn’t end with a spear job. Expect blood.

How Does it Affect the Oilers’ Chances?

I’m not going to get into the “Which Division is the Best” argument here, because I don’t want to waste your time. I just want to look at how the Oilers might fare playing Pacific Division teams vs. their new division opponents. (I’m using Regulation Win Percentage to measure the quality of each team. The reason boils down to the fact that overtime is essentially random.)

Regulation Win %, 2019-20

PacificRW%NorthRW%
ANA.282CGY.357
ARI.371MTL.268
CGY.357OTT.254
LAK.300TOR.400
SJS.314VAN.391
VAN.391WPG.423
VGK.423
TOTAL.348TOTAL.348
Statistics from NHL.com

There you go. The overall quality of teams that the Oilers are facing are exactly the same that they would face in the Pacific Division (obviously this is a very crude measure. It doesn’t take into account offseason additions or internal development). If these numbers seem low, the league high RW% last season was the Boston Bruins at .543.

You may be wondering what the Oilers sat at. By this metric, the Oilers were the best team in the Pacific last year, and the best of the Canadian teams. Their regulation win percentage was .437.

If they’re the best team, then should strength of opponent matter? Perhaps not. Still, I want to compare how well the Oilers play against these teams head-to-head over the last three seasons (for a larger sample size):

Edmonton Oilers Head-to-Head Regulation Win%, 2017-2020

PacificRW%NorthRW%
ANA.300CGY.385*
ARI.250MTL.833*
CGY.385*OTT.400*
LAK.583*TOR.167
SJS.167VAN.333
VAN.333WPG.111
VGK.364*
TOTAL.341TOTAL.353
Statistics from hockey-reference.com and Stathead

Asterisks indicate teams that the Oilers have played well against (RW% above .336, which is Edmonton’s RW% against all teams during that span).

Despite struggling against Toronto and Winnipeg, the Oilers are roughly as successful against the Canadian teams as they are against the Pacific teams. The difference is .984 regulation wins over an 82 game season (.672 over 56). This is to say that the Oilers were a good team last year, should be a better team this year, and that the schedule isn’t offering much to change that. In fact, you could say that the Oilers were granted a very slight advantage from the schedule.

Facts & Figures

While diving deep into the Oilers schedule, a few interesting tidbits presented themselves:

  1. The Oilers are scheduled to play 11 back-to-backs, tied with Ottawa for the most in the North Division, and second in the NHL only to San Jose (According to Travis Yost of TSN). They played eight in 2019-20.
  2. 12 Oilers games are scheduled on Saturdays, compared to 17 that were scheduled over 82 games last season. We won’t know how many will be part of Hockey Night in Canada until the game times are released, but one can only assume that a lot of games in the North Division will be nationally televised.
  3. With divisional playoffs in effect this season, we could see a maximum of SEVENTEEN Battles of Alberta if the two should meet in the first or second round.

The NHL has set the stage for what should be the most entertaining regular season of NHL hockey we have ever witnessed.

The NHL is Going to Play this Year

I know, I’m crazy.

With all the balls up in the air and the reluctance from both sides to negotiate, you might be wondering how I can be so confident that the National Hockey League is going to complete the 2020-21 season. Well, dear reader, let me elaborate.

While the NFL started their season on time because they’re the NFL and nothing was going to stop them, the NHL is operating from a position of desperation. The damage that could be done to the sport if they don’t play (read: financial losses), will be ten times worse than any damage done if they do play.

To put it simply, they can’t afford not to play.

So here it is, my list of reasons why I am confident the NHL will commence and complete some semblance of a season.

1. Gary wants to play

I know this sounds contrary to my previous article in defense of Gary Bettman, but recent history has shown that what Gary (really majority of NHL owners) wants, Gary gets. He has a knack for getting a vocal minority of owners on board with whatever the Board of Governors is pursuing. So when Gary says that all 31 teams are going to play, it means we are more than likely getting a season.

2. Legally, they have to play

The owners and players have already signed a legally binding agreement that prevents a labour stoppage until at least 2026. Check out this beauty of an excerpt from the Collective Bargaining Agreement:

Neither the League nor any Club shall engage in a lockout during the term of this
Agreement
.” – CBA between NHL and NHLPA, Article 7.1 (b)

Obviously the NHL was able to shut down back in March to protect the health of it’s players. But the current negotiations aren’t about health, they’re about money. This means that if the owners decided to call it a day and go home, they would be locking out the players – a clear violation of the agreement they extended, regardless of whether or not they read the details.

If the owners choose not to play, the Players’ Association has clear grounds for legal action against the league.

3. The TV Contracts

The NHL (based on incredibly rough estimation) makes about 10% of its revenue from its two national TV contracts with Sportsnet and NBC. This number gets magnified when the NHL has lost about half of its total revenue in the form of ticket sales. If the 2021 season doesn’t happen, the TV money will be in danger as well.

The NBC deal expires at the end of the 2021 season. A contract with the NHL looks like a good investment right now, but that’s only because hockey was played this summer. If the NHL isn’t present on televisions at all this winter, no TV executive in their right mind is going to want to hand the league a bag of cash.

I wouldn’t count on the Canadian deal being safe, either. The rumour is that Sportsnet was regretting their $5.2 billion deal before hockey disappeared from our screens. Imagine how they feel after the 61% decline in ratings for the Stanley Cup Final.

I’m not a legal professional, so I can’t speak to whether or not Sportsnet has a way to get out of that contract. What I do know is that if the upcoming season doesn’t happen, the NHL should expect a call from Sportsnet’s lawyers.

4. Future Ramifications

This leads into my final argument, easily the most significant. Let’s say we get the nightmare solution: No season, no new TV deal. All that growth they’ve seen in the U.S? hasta la vista. The NFL’s in full swing, the NBA has their plan in place, MLB got their season in, and soccer hasn’t missed a beat. Aside from Canada and a handful of northeastern American markets, the fans might not come back this time. They will spend that year watching sports that are on TV.

Not playing this season could mean the death of hockey as a major sport.

When the NBA was struggling in the late 70’s, the players and owners came to the negotiating table with one goal: forgoing short-term minor revenue increases for significant, long-term growth that ensured there would be a league in the future.

The NHL needs to change the way they think about money. Instead of screwing over your partner and taking a larger share of the current revenue, let’s focus on creating revenue and ensuring there is a league to profit from in 20 years.

The Oilers are scary good.

Remember back in February, when the Taylor Hall rumours were flying? Reliable sources indicated that Hall may have wanted to play in a Canadian market. Because of the COVID-19 situation that brought along the flat salary cap for 2020-2021, many believed that he’d take a one-year deal from a Cup contender, and then get paid next offseason. Some folks in Edmonton thought that there was never a better time for Hallsy to make his return to Oil Country.

That obviously didn’t happen, as Hall inked a one-year, $8 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres. While there are many reasons I was relieved the Oilers weren’t in on him, the main one was that the Oilers could spent that $8 million much more wisely, and fill more than just one hole in the lineup.

Essentially, my argument was this: Who would you rather have on the Edmonton Oilers: Option A – Taylor Hall ($8 million cap hit) – or Option B – Kyle Turris, Jesse Puljujarvi, Tyler Ennis, Dominik Kahun, and Tyson Barrie ($8.55 million cap hit). For an extra $550k, the Oilers nabbed themselves 26 more goals and 60 more assists than Hall put up last season, PLUS a fill-in for Klefbom as the team’s power-play quarterback, PLUS whatever Puljujarvi can contribute.

I’ll say that again. For less than the equivalent of league minimum salary, the Oilers got two and a half of Taylor Hall.

And for a team that finished second in the Pacific Division last season, on pace for 96 points, this is a scary team.

Top-Loaded

Let’s start with the fact that the Edmonton Oilers have on their roster two bona fide top five forwards in the league. They are the first team to have two Hart Trophy winners in the same lineup since the 2012-13 Pittsburgh Penguins (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin). Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid finished first and second, respectively, last season in the Art Ross race. Connor was three points short of a hundred, which would have meant back-to-back seasons in which each player hit the century mark. These guys are studs.

The player that seems to get lost in this conversation is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Nuge quietly had himself quite the season, chipping in 22 goals and 61 points, while also being one of the team’s best defensive forwards and a lock on both the power play and penalty kill.

In Draisaitl, McDavid, and Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers have one of the best group of top three forwards in the NHL.

Depth Scoring

If this was the NBA, the Oilers would be a lock for the championship. Unfortunately, three superstars are not enough to win a Stanley Cup. In prior years, “depth scoring” has been a repeated cry from Oilers fans. The idea is that McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins cannot be expected to carry the entire offensive load.

I’ve never really subscribed to this theory, because I believe that the players I mentioned are just so ridiculously good at hockey. Their bad nights are usually two assists. But for those readers who kept praying for the Oilers to add depth, your prayers have been answered.

Let’s start with Kyle Turris. 31 points last season made his $6 million contract look awful, and thus the Nashville Predators bought him out just two seasons after the deal was signed. But for $1.65 million, the Oilers signed a player who is two seasons removed from a 51-point campaign, and who averages 38 per full season. Look for him to bounce back.

Speaking of bounce back candidates, Jesse Puljujarvi is back in Edmonton. While he was away, he finished fourth in Liiga scoring with 53 points in 56 games. This season so far he has recorded five goals and two assists in eight games. Safe to say he has his confidence back, and numerous reports indicate a whole new attitude from the 22-year old. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he locked down a role in the Top 9 and put up a 30 point pace.

Tyson Barrie is in a very similar spot as Kyle Turris. A very good player who had a down year last season, and who the Oilers got for pennies on the dollar. Barrie is a guy who averaged 49 points per season in Colorado, and whose lack of production with the Toronto Maple Leafs might be summed up as a bad fit system-wise. It looked as though Barrie turned a corner when the Leafs replaced Mike Babcock with Sheldon Keefe. Thanks to the Oscar Klefbom injury, there is an opening for Tyson on the league’s best power play a season ago. 70 points from this guy is a possibility – I don’t expect anything less than 50.

The Defense

I consider Tyson Barrie to be more of an offensive upgrade, and thus the Oilers made no cupgrades to their back end. They are hindered by the fact that their number one defenseman, Oscar Klefbom, is going to miss significant time with a shoulder injury, and by the loss of Matt Benning, one of their most underrated defensive defensemen.

This absolutely does not mean that the Oilers will not improve defensively next season.

For starters, Adam Larsson is still Edmonton’s best shutdown defenseman. He is still going to play the big minutes against the opponent’s top forward lines and do just fine.

Plus, aside from Larsson and Kris Russell, the Oilers’ D-core is young. Darnell Nurse is 25, Caleb Jones is 23, Ethan Bear is 23. Evan Bouchard and Phillip Broberg are waiting in the wings to make their debuts as impact players in the NHL. I fully expect all of these guys to make improvements this year, especially on the defensive side of the puck.

We should also talk about the Oilers’ bottom six forwards. Now that the team has a solid scoring third line, their fourth line will not be expected to produce anything offensively and can really focus on shutting down the opponent. It’s too bad that the Oilers didn’t bring back Reily Sheahan, because he was a fourth line centre who played well enough offensively to earn a spot on the third line. This year’s iteration of a fourth line would have been a perfect fit.

I project the fourth line to be some combination of Jujhar Khaira (elite penalty killer), Gaetan Haas (team’s best defensive forward other than Nugent-Hopkins), Josh Archibald (great penalty killer, decent speed), and Zack Kassian (great wheels, more of an old-school-play-defense-by-bashing-the-other-guy’s-brains-in). I think Haas is going to take a step forward as he gets more comfortable in the NHL. I also think that the pressure is going to be off of Khaira and Archibald to contribute offensively so they can settle into that defensive role. I know a lot of people want to see Kassian on the top line with McDavid, but he doesn’t have the scoring touch of a James Neal or an Alex Chiasson.

Now seems like as good a time as ever to bring up the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s: options. Flexibility. If a guy in the top six falls into a slump, the Oilers have three different guys who can slot in.

I’ll wrap up with this neat stat: Thanks to JFresh, EvolvingHockey, and @AdnacOil on Twitter, according to the WAR stat, the Oilers are projected to finish with 101 points next season, an improvement of five points from this year’s pace, and good enough for eighth in the NHL this year.

This is far from a perfect team. The Oilers have plenty of weaknesses (Hello, Goaltending!). But if things go right, this is a team that has the potential to make some serious noise.