That is the number of back-to-back games on the 2020-21 regular-season schedule for the Edmonton Oilers released on Wednesday, a number exceeded by only the San Jose Sharks out in the Pacific Division.
The Oilers, like most teams, were prepared for a high percentage of back-to-back games through a compressed National Hockey League schedule. But it is of particular interest to an Edmonton team that knows its core weakness is on the defensive side of the ice, and in particular between the pipes.
A high percentage of back-to-back games will put an increased burden on the Oilers’ goaltending tandem – a burden that isn’t exactly shared equally across the league. The New York Rangers, as one example, will play just six sets of back-to-back games this season:
On one hand, the Oilers are a victim of circumstance. The closing of the U.S.-Canadian border, a highly compressed 56-game slate, and a degree of scheduling inflexibility the league hasn’t seen before created a difficult situation for all 31 franchises. But it comes at a dangerous time for the Oilers.
Compressed by the salary cap and with limited backup options available, the Oilers decided to run their goaltending tandem back for another season. Last year, Mikko Koskinen Jersey (.917 save percentage in 38 games) and Mike Smith Jersey (.902 save percentage in 39 games) were good enough to get the Oilers into the playoffs, but their performance – Smith’s in particular – predictably eroded over the second half of the season.
Making matters worse, Edmonton’s goaltending duo was abysmal in their qualifying-round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Oilers goalies stopped just 87.2 per cent of shots in the series, and gave up five goals more than expected based on the quality of shots faced.
If head coach Dave Tippett was hoping that the 38-year-old Smith would take a back seat this season – well, that’s no longer the case. Teams across the National Hockey League have opted to balance starters in back-to-back situations for years now, partially motivated by a desire to keep starting goaltenders fresh and healthy, and partially motivated by compelling data-driven arguments about performance degradation observed in goalies when forced to play two games in 24 hours. (Oh, and goaltender prospect Olivier Rodrigue will be spending this year playing overseas, so other internal options are quite limited.)
At any rate, it is safe to say that the pressure has been dialled up for an Edmonton goaltending duo that was already going to be under the microscope. Should they get off to a rocky start, expect general manager Ken Holland to be aggressive on the trade market.
A number of veteran goaltenders – including Tuukka Rask, Pekka Rinne, Antti Raanta, Devan Dubnyk, and James Reimer – see their contracts expire at the end of the year, and depending on how their respective regular seasons play out, may be available come the trade deadline.
The ’12 Days of Christmas’ is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
Today is Dec. 21, meaning we have just four more days until Christmas. The number four relates to the Edmonton Oilers in a number of different ways. They were able to win four Stanley Cups in five years during the Gretzky era. Another example is a defenceman on those teams in Kevin Lowe Jersey, who wore the number four and was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Kevin Lowe Edmonton Oilers
Kevin Lowe, Edmonton Oilers, Nov. 24, 1990 (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)
However, in more recent years of this team, the number four is very significant. It represents the number of first-overall picks the Oilers had during the 2010s. While they were a very bad team who had next to no luck on the ice for a large part of the past decade, their luck was at the complete opposite end of the scale when it came to draft lotteries. Three of those first-overall picks came in three straight years from 2010-2012, while the other came in 2015.
In all sports, the one positive of having a bad team is the high draft pick you will receive, as the top players in drafts are often players who can turn around a franchise. Unfortunately for the Oilers, they proved this is not always the case. Despite being able to select the talented players, teams need to be sure to add complementary pieces as well, something the organization struggled to do throughout most of this decade.
Thankfully, things seem to be heading in the right direction for this team, in large part due to the 2015 first-overall pick who will be discussed later on. Here are those four picks, starting from the earliest.
The 2009-10 season was horrendous for the Oilers, as they finished with a league worst 27-47-8 record for just 62 points. While many in the hockey world soon became irritated with Edmonton receiving so many first-overall picks, everyone agreed at the time there was no team more deserving of the 2010 first selection. Though it was a tough year for the organization, fans were hopeful that losing games would land them Taylor Hall Jersey who they believed would turn their team around. As a result, they started using the phrase “Fall for Hall.”
Edmonton Oilers left wing Taylor Hall (4) during the NHL game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes at the PNC Arena.
Despite the majority of fans thinking the Oilers would select Hall, there were also rumors they could take now Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin. Of course, that never ended up being the case, as Hall went first and Seguin was taken immediately after by the Boston Bruins.
At the time, Hall was coming off of a fantastic season with the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in which he had 40 goals and 106 points in just 57 games. He also played in 19 playoff games that year, registering a ridiculous 17 goals and 35 points while also leading his team to their second Memorial Cup win in as many years. On top of his incredible skill, he was viewed at the time as a true winner.
Hall made the Oilers the very next season, and had a promising rookie season with 22 goals and 42 points in 65 games. From there on, his numbers continued to get better and better, and were capped off by his career high in an Oilers uniform with 27 goals and 80 points in 75 games during the 2013-14 season. Despite his impressive numbers every season, the team was not improving, and fair or not, Hall was being blamed by many. The same player who was viewed as a winner coming into the NHL was beginning to be labelled as selfish and a team cancer.