Connor McDavid is the best hockey player in the world. But much work remains to be done by the Edmonton Oilers management to surround him with enough talent to make a serious Stanley Cup run. Here's everything you need to know about the the Oilers heading into the 2019-20 NHL season:
The big question: Can Dave Tippett plaster over all the holes on Connor McDavid's team?
When Tippett was the head coach of the Coyotes, he was famous for taking reedy rosters and molding them into respectable playoff contenders, usually by solidifying their defense. He replaces Ken Hitchcock after the Oilers finished 25th in goals against in consecutive seasons. Edmonton does not have a playoff-caliber roster, despite having the best offensive hockey player on the planet on it. Can Tippett get more out of this group than Hitchcock and Todd McLellan could?
Offseason comings and goings, cap situation
The Oilers actually found someone to take Milan Lucic's contract off their hands in the form of province rival Calgary, who shipped over James Neal after the disastrous first season of his five-year, $28.75 million free-agent deal. He could potentially see time with Connor McDavid to start the season.
New GM Ken Holland also made a series of smaller moves, signing forwards Alex Chiasson, Tomas Jurco, Markus Granlund and Riley Sheahan along with 37-year-old goalie Mike Smith. The Oilers bought out defenseman Andrej Sekera, who signed with Dallas. The Oilers have just over $1.5 million in cap space currently, but only have 10 players under contract heading into next summer. Holland will have some room with which to play.
The Oilers trade Jesse Puljujarvi, who is currently playing in Finland after handing the team a trade ultimatum, before Dec. 1.
Breakout candidate: Evan Bouchard
The 19-year-old defenseman, selected 10th overall in 2018, will begin the season in the AHL as the franchise's top-rated prospect. Without anyone on their blue line having the power-play quarterback potential Bouchard has, one wonders if the Oilers elevate him to the show if he has a strong start in Bakersfield.
McDavid, and it's not even close. He's posted consecutive 41-goal seasons and established a new career high of 116 points in 2018-19, becoming the rare Hart Trophy finalist on a non-playoff team. In the last two seasons, he's third in the NHL in wins above replacement (7.3) for his team.
There's no greater malpractice in professional sports than the Oilers' failing to get McDavid onto the NHL's biggest stage, as he has one playoff appearance in four seasons.
McDavid's supporting cast. Leon Draisaitl is fantastic, although it would help if he could anchor his own line. Same with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a perfect complementary center on a winning team. Darnell Nurse had 41 points last season. Oscar Klefbom is an effective all-around defenseman. After that? Middling talents, unrestricted free agent patchworks and questionable prospects. Thinking about how much talent was jettisoned by the Oilers, or didn't pan out, during the McDavid years is staggering. But it's put them in the spot they're in today.
Oilers in NHL Rank
1. Connor McDavid, C
20. Leon Draisaitl, C/RW
Despite the presence of McDavid, the NHL roster finished No. 25 according to our panelists, in the same neighborhood as the owner/GM/coach (No. 26). The prospect situation is a tad brighter (No. 14), while the cap/contracts yielded a No. 18 ranking.
Pipeline ranking: 14
28. Evan Bouchard, D
36. Philip Broberg, D
72. Tyler Benson, LW
73. Kailer Yamamoto, RW
81. Raphael Lavoie, LW
93. Dmitri Samorukov, D
Fantasy facts to know
Up front, there are elite fantasy assets Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, followed by Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, who serves as a valuable mid-tier forward, then a large gap, and then everyone else. After a dud of a year in Calgary, veteran James Neal is looking to make good on his trip up Alberta's Highway 2 in resurrecting his goal-scoring touch, by way of a top-six role and spot on the club's top power play. The 32-year-old sniper's potential for 30 goals in Edmonton isn't to be ignored.
On defense, Oskar Klefbom has a fantasy edge on fellow defensemen Darnell Nurse and promising rookies Evan Bouchard and/or Ethan Bear by holding a spot on the Oilers' dangerous top power play, which also includes McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins. If he can stay healthy, a reasonable worry considering recent history, Klefbom could be in for a breakout season.
Veteran Mike Smith is looking to boot Mikko Koskinen from his perceived No. 1 perch, after failing to wow anyone in his final campaign with the Flames. The 37-year-old netminder, armed with a solid-to-exceptional career résumé built through seven previous seasons, split between Arizona and Calgary, is signed to a one-year contract with the Oilers. Such inspired hunger and determination should appeal to fantasy managers who are willing to take a wait-and-see view to how it all shuffles out in Edmonton's net. -- Victoria Matiash