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Fending off “The Collapse:” How the ‘20-21 Vancouver Canucks can avoid becoming the ‘17-18 Edmonton Oilers

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The Oilers were Stanley Cup darlings entering ‘17-18. They haven’t made the playoffs since. How can the Canucks continue their upwards trajectory to avoid this fate?

NHL: DEC 23 Oilers at Canucks
Vancouver Canucks Left Wing Antoine Roussel (26) and Edmonton Oilers Defenceman Darnell Nurse (25) fight during their NHL game at Rogers Arena on December 23, 2019 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Devin Manky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a decade of mediocrity, the Edmonton Oilers were destined to be the NHL’s next great Canadian powerhouse.

They had the world’s most talented player since Wayne Gretzky, solid goaltending, and a handful of players who made an impact in the playoffs. Their near defeat of the Anaheim Ducks in 2017 had Oilers fans salivating at the thought of Connor McDavid carrying them to the promised land.

However, the oncoming powerhouse quickly fizzled out. So, what the hell happened?

More importantly here in Vancouver, how can the Canucks fend off a similar collapse?

Let’s focus on Edmonton’s 2017-18 season itself to see where the hell everything went wrong.

The Oilers Checklist for Success Goes Astray

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I wonder this author feels about this published piece on “How the Oilers will win the Stanley Cup in 2017-18.

Before you laugh, think back and remember all of your own bad takes. Grab a piece of that humble pie and sit back down.

I don’t blame the author for being optimistic about those Oilers, and his list of reasons about why the Oilers were going to win the Cup in ‘17-18 actually gives us a good starting point to see where everything went wrong.

Here were reasons for the Oilers winning the Cup in ‘17-18 from the author, along with what actually transpired.

1. A continuation of their healthy roster in 2016-17.

Aside from Andrej Sekera being sidelined for the first couple months of the season, they played with a mostly-healthy roster. By the time injuries hit in the latter half of the season, the Oilers were already long-gone from the playoff picture.

2. Divisional Success.

Edmonton feasted on a weak division in 2016-17, as they went 20-6-3 against the Pacific. They continued their winning record against the division in 2017-18 with a less dominant 16-11-2 mark. A lack of inter-divisional success wasn’t an issue either.

Colorado Avalanche v Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Strome was infamously traded for Jorden Eberle, a trade which did not work for Peter Chiarelli and the Edmonton Oilers.
Getty Images

3. “An Unstoppable Top Six.”

I’m quoting the author on this one. Yeah, it was easy for Oilers Nation to be giddy about their unstoppable offence with the emergence of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and to a lesser extent their playoff linemate, Pat Maroon.

However, it turned out that the Oilers “unstoppable top six” was entirely stoppable in 2017-18.

Jordan Eberle was infamously traded for Ryan Strome during the 2017 offseason, and Strome put up a measly 34 points despite being gifted opportunities alongside McDavid and Draisaitl.

Milan Lucic took a major step towards regression, as he went from 23 goals and 50 points to 10 goals and 34 points. Right there, the Oilers lost two 50 points guys from their line-up that they failed to replace.

4. Goals from the supporting cast.

Between Strome’s inability to replace Eberle and Lucic’s regression, the top six was a bust. However, the Oilers secondary scoring left a lot to be desired as well.

Jussi Jokinen was brought in to provide secondary scoring. He had one assist in 14 games before he was traded for Mike Cammalleri, who posted four goals in 51 games with the Oilers.

Mark Letestu, who had 16 goals and 35 points when the Oilers made it to the playoffs, regressed and finished with eight goals and 19 points.

Young Russian forward Anton Slepyshev was someone who was hyped in the Edmonton market after he scored three goals in the 2016-17 playoffs. He flopped in ‘17-18 with six goals and 12 points in 50 games.

Calgary Flames v Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi #98 of the Edmonton Oilers lines up for a face off during the game against the Calgary Flames on January 19, 2019 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

5. Having one of Yamamoto/Puljujarvi step up.

Every organization hypes up their prospects, but the Oilers were justified to be excited about Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto.

Yamamoto is now an impact NHLer, but he wasn’t ready for full-time NHL duty despite a stellar preseason as a 19-year-old in 2017. Puljujarvi however, was widely expected to take the next step. His failure to do so was yet another blow to Edmonton’s offence.

6. Improved defence.

Many thought that Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson were going to be an effective top pairing for the foreseeable future after the 2017 playoffs. However, both of their performances took a nosedive in 2017-18.

Klefbom’s effectiveness both defensively and on the power play vanished in ‘17-18, and he finished the year injured. Larsson wasn’t porous defensively, but he was nowhere good enough to justify his acquisition cost. Taylor Hall, for the record, would go on to be crowned the NHL’s MVP in ‘17-18.

Solid yet unspectacular might define the rest of the Oilers defence in ‘17-18. However, the group overall took a step back after their playoff appearance the year prior.

Edmonton Oilers v Winnipeg Jets
Cam Talbot was overworked as the Oilers starting goaltender, which led to his downfall in the 2017-18 season.
Getty Images

7. Continued success from Talbot.

Both the Oilers offence and defence took a step back, and the goaltending was no different. Cam Talbot went from spectacular to average following the ‘16-17 playoffs. The Oilers had the league’s 9th-best save percentage in ‘16-17. They dropped all the way down to 27th in ‘17-18.

Vancouver Canucks v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Seven
Nate Schmidt #88 of the Vegas Golden Knights pushes Tyler Myers #57 of the Vancouver Canucks in defense during the third period of Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on September 04, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta.
Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Cause for Concern in Vancouver?

For a barrage of reasons, the Oilers went from a potential powerhouse to mediocre afterthought in the matter of a couple of the months.

After taking a step back and looking at the Canucks heading into next season, you can see some potential causes for concern that Vancouver might suffer a similar fate.

Of course, the 2020-21 season will be a season like no other with makeshift divisions and a truncated schedule. That being said, the Canucks need to be aware of these potential landmines if they want to avoid taking a step back.

1. A drop-off on offence.

The Oilers got career years from players outside of their superstars, such at Maroon, Klefbom and Letestu, when they made the playoffs in ‘16-17. Unfortunately, more players regressed the following year, not to mention that their offence was hamstrung by the loss of Eberle.

You can draw parallels between the Oilers losing Eberle and the Canucks losing Tyler Toffoli. The de-facto replacement for Toffoli is Jake Virtanen, but fans in Vancouver know that Virtanen comes with more limitations compared to the guy he’s supposed to “replace.” Although Virtanen is a roster carryover, this smells a little bit like the Oilers replacing 50-point Eberle for 30-point Strome.

Where the Canucks do have an advantage is the fact that they have a more reliable core. Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser should all continue to produce. However, it’s fair to assume that when you look at secondary scoring, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Tanner Pearson, Virtanen and Adam Gaudette all fail to match or surpass their career-best offensive totals from last season.

Philadelphia Flyers v Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks players (L-R) Alexander Edler #23, Jordie Benn #4, Tanner Pearson #70, Brandon Sutter #20 and Christopher Tanev #8 leave a power play meeting before their NHL game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Rogers Arena October 12, 2019 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

2. Their mediocre defence regresses.

Hughes is a blossoming superstar, which is something the Oilers did not have entering ‘17-18. That being said, the Oilers defence went from slightly above average to slightly below average following their playoff push.

The Canucks, on the other hand, found playoff success in spite of a defence that was widely considered to be one of the least effective in the NHL. There’s a chance that their defence is even worse next year, even after the addition of Nate Schmidt. Alex Edler, Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn could decline, and they’re likely to start at least one unproven rookie on the third pairing between Olli Juolevi, Jack Rathbone, Brogan Rafferty and Jalen Chatfield.

3. The goaltending falls below “spectacular.”

Let’s face it. The Canucks probably don’t make the postseason if it isn’t for a barrage of remarkable performances from Jacob Markstrom. I’ve been on the Thatcher Demko bangwagon for a long time, but it’s fair to say there’s a small margin for error considering how bad the Canucks defence has been. Braden Holtby was an intriguing gamble, but it’s worth noting that he had a sub-.900 save percentage behind a better defence in Washington last year.

Vegas Golden Knights v Vancouver Canucks - Game Six
Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks shares his smelling salts with head coach Travis Green prior to Game Six of the Western Conference Second Round against the Vegas Golden Knightsduring the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on September 03, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Lessons for avoiding “The Collapse”

1. Start Strong

The Canucks, in part thanks to a soft schedule, we’re one of the league’s hottest teams at the beginning of last season when they went 6-3-1. Ironically enough, the ‘16-17 Oilers also went 6-3-1.

However, the Oilers in ‘17-18 started poorly and never recovered. They had only seven wins in their first 20 games, and only four of those wins came in regulation.

Once in a blue moon, you’ll have a team like the St. Louis Blues who start off poorly before winning it all. Don’t count on that being a winning strategy. If the Canucks are hungry to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke, they need to come out of the gate hot.

2. Win the special teams battle

One of the main reasons why the Oilers tanked the following year was that their strong play on special teams completely eroded. In ‘16-17, they had the fifth-best power play and the 17th-best penalty kill. The following season, their penalty kill dropped to 25th overall and their power play was dead last in the NHL.

The Canucks need to be cognizant of a similar drop-off on the power play. Teams around the NHL recognize how deadly the Canucks were with their 4th-best power play last season, and they’ll try to game plan around shutting them down. In the playoffs, when the Canucks didn’t score on the power play, they usually didn’t win.

St Louis Blues v Vancouver Canucks - Game Six
Adam Gaudette #88 and Antoine Roussel #26 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrate after Roussel scored in the second period of Game Six of the Western Conference First Round of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff between the St. Louis Blues and the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place on August 21, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta.
Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

3. Insulate your stars with a strong supporting cast

Based on the fact that the Canucks current core consists of five guys instead of two, they’re already in a better spot than the ‘17-18 Oilers.

That being said, teams that take the next step usually add to their roster after a strong playoff performance. While an optimist might say that both Nate Schmidt, and perhaps even Vasily Podkolzin will make an impact next year, the team is arguably worse on paper following the departures of Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher, Toffoli and Jacob Markstrom.

4. Don’t overwork your starter

Between 2016-17 and 2017-18, no goalie started more games than Talbot, who was the starting goaltender for 140 contests.

You can almost directly point to the fact that the Oilers reluctance to start anyone over Talbot was the primary reason for his drop in performance.

There’s a miniscule chance that the Canucks end of falling for this trap, unless one of Demko or Holtby suffers an injury. That being said, they still have some lofty standards to live up to if the Canucks aren’t going to suffer a drop-off in goal for the ‘20-21 season.

While hopefully none of you are predicting a collapse from the Canucks, do you think they improve after last season’s performance?

Poll

How will the Canucks fare in ‘20-21 compared to their ‘19-20 performance?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    They’ll improve
    (87 votes)
  • 19%
    They’ll regress
    (47 votes)
  • 44%
    They’ll be about as good
    (106 votes)
240 votes total Vote Now