The Edmonton Oilers season ended just under a week ago in Anaheim, a 2-1 loss to the Ducks in Game 7 of their second round Stanley Cup Playoff series.
By all accounts this season was a success for the Oilers who clinched a playoff spot for the first time in 11 years, won a six-game series in the first round against the San Jose Sharks, and fell one game short of the Western Conference Final.
Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli spoke to the media to give his thoughts on the Oilers season, he says like many he felt the team exceeded expectations.
“You know I had us in and around the playoffs,” Chiarelli said. “What happens is that the team starts developing a real identity and starts feeling really good about themselves and that’s what you saw at the end. That was a leap that I hadn’t projected but it carried into the playoffs. I thought we had a good series against San Jose. We had a good series against Anaheim, there’s a couple of results I didn’t like. That up tick at the end, that was a bonus.”
The Oilers finished the regular season in second place in the Pacific Division. They experienced a 33-point improvement from the previous season, their 103 points and 47 wins were the most since the 1986/1987 season. Chiarelli says while he feels his team exceeded expectations this season his players and coaches will need to be ready for higher expectations next season.
“Next year we can’t fall back, now the bar is set higher and we’ve seen instances where other teams make the playoffs and have a little bit of success and then drop and it’s tough to recover,” Chiarelli said. “There’s that kind of get to work mentality that we saw throughout the (exit) meetings, not satisfied. They we’re the most positive meetings I’ve been a part of in two or three years but you still have to scrutinize and examine parts of the their specific game that have to be improved. To a man they’re looking forward to next year.”
One area of improvement Chiarelli says he needs to see for next season is face-offs. The Oilers ranked last in the NHL in face-offs at 47 per cent in the regular season and last in the playoffs at 44 per cent. Chiarelli feels that area will improve as his centres get stronger.
Leon Draisaitl spent much of the season on Connor McDavid’s wing giving that line plenty of scoring punch. In the playoffs head coach Todd McLellan split the pair up to create more offence and Draisaitl responded recording 13 points in the Oilers second round series with the Ducks. Chiarelli says he and the coaching staff need more time in deciding on the best fit for Draisaitl.
“We saw him without Connor, we saw him with Connor and I still don’t have the answer,” Chiarelli said. “My instinct knows where he should be at some point but I can’t tell you that he’ll be at that spot to start so we still have to figure that out. We’ve had pro meetings and will continue to mull through that as we move forward.”
Draisaitl is a restricted free-agent however Chiarelli says his first order of business following July 1 is to sign Connor McDavid to contract extension, McDavid will be in the final year of his entry level deal next season. Draisaitl is next on Chiarelli’s do to list followed by trying to retain some other players on their roster. Zack Kassian is also a restricted free-agent while Matt Hendricks and David Desharnais are unrestricted free-agents. As far as the expansion draft is concerned Chiarelli says the Oilers are a middle of the pack team as far as the impact of the player they will lose to the Las Vegas Golden Knights on June 21.
Chiarelli says while his team exceeded expectations he feels the Stanley Cup window is open for his team.
“Absolutely we are in that spot.”
Chiarelli has been named a finalist for the NHL’s G-M of the Year award. Chiarelli is nominated with David Poile of the Nashville Predators and Pierre Dorion of the Ottawa Senators.
Chiarelli joins Connor McDavid (Hart Trophy) and head coach Todd McLellan (Jack Adams Award) as finalists for season-ending NHL awards which will be handed out June 21 in Las Vegas.