EDMONTON — Bold moves.
Oh boy, you’ve heard about those before in Oil Country.
That old Craig MacTavish chestnut — “We have to do some bold things” — boomeranged pretty hard when the Oilers failed to make the playoffs in either of his seasons as the team’s GM. But the following bold predictions, well, there is no way they could fall as flat as that, right?
We bring you three bold predictions, Edmonton Oilers edition:
1. Neither Connor McDavid nor Leon Draisaitl will win the Art Ross
This is the season that McDavid and Draisaitl switch focus a bit.
Last season, Draisaitl won the Art Ross Trophy (and the Hart), while McDavid finished second in league scoring. The year before, McDavid was second, Draisaitl fourth. The two seasons before that McDavid won the Art Ross each time.
But after winning three of the past four scoring titles, and having one official playoff appearance to show for it, we sense a change is in the wind when it comes to priorities among the Oilers leadership group.
“From a team standpoint we’ve always talked about keeping goals out of our own net. This year … it is of the utmost importance that we do it right off the bat. That’s a goal of mine,” defenceman Darnell Nurse told us earlier this month.
Will that be everyone’s goal? Or just his?
After that four-game, embarrassing loss to Chicago in the Qualifying Round, it sounds like it will be everyone’s goal.
“(I can’t) make a definitive answer for each and every person,” Nurse said. “But I do think that the taste was bad enough in everyone’s mouth that it will definitely be a goal of everyone’s.”
Look, McDavid and Draisaitl could preside over a substantial fall in goals allowed by Edmonton and still vie for the Art Ross Trophy. That’s how elite they are as offensive players. But that’s why this is a bold prediction.
The two Oilers offensive leaders will still be among the top five NHL scorers, but will rise to a new challenge of leading a better defensive team. Last season, Draisaitl and McDavid finished a combined minus-13. This season, that changes.
2. Ken Holland will acquire a goalie
Holland telegraphed his opinion of his goaltending tandem when he went hard after Jacob Markstrom at the trade deadline, only to watch the big Swede choose Calgary in free agency. Holland’s Plan B — Tyson Barrie, Kyle Turris, Dominik Kahun — looks like a pretty strong fallback position, but what those acquisitions did not do is help a goaltending tandem that the GM himself was not satisfied with.
Holland will watch his team for a couple of months, then find a fix.
Mikko Koskinen is a decent netminder who had a .917 save percentage last season. But his M.O. is that he can only be as good as he was last season if he plays roughly half the games. With two years left at $4.5 million per, Koskinen isn’t going anywhere.
Mike Smith turns 39 in March, and is on a one-year deal with a base salary of $1.5 million. If there is an upgrade to be found, it will be here.
Our bold prediction: Before the trade deadline, Holland moves Smith and a sweetener for a goalie who will become the No. 1 for a playoff run.
3. In round 2, Smith fights in his own weight class
Last season, Smith coaxed a game Cam Talbot out to centre ice at the Saddledome for the most intriguing scrap of the NHL season. That fight was a metaphor for the fact that the Battle of Alberta had returned in earnest, and if there is one thing for a hockey fan to really hate about this pandemic it’s that it robbed us of what was destined to be a first-round meeting between Edmonton and Calgary — their first playoff matchup in 30 years.
But that fight was also a mismatch, with Smith (six-foot-five, 220 pounds) winning a decisive decision over the six-foot-three, 196-pound Talbot.
This season, the Flames’ new gardien is six-foot-six, 206-pound Jacob Markstrom, and he is every bit as fiery as Smith. We predict that after some Matthew Tkachuk/Zack Kassian shenanigans, Markstrom will seek revenge on behalf of Flames crease jockeys, dropping the mitts with Smith during one of the many meetings between the two Alberta teams this season.