The Edmonton Oilers
With a lineup that has superstar Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers were considered a top-five preseason contender to capture the Stanley Cup.
The 2022-2023 postseason saw them bow out to the eventual Cup champion Golden Knights in Round 2. With that respectable result, more was expected entering the 2023-2024 season.
The Oilers responded by falling flat on their face. They bumbled their way to a 5-12-1 start and the second-worst record in the NHL. A coaching change, along with improved play, helped them win 10 out of 13 games before the break to return to the periphery of the playoff race.
Interestingly, despite the slow start, only 7 teams currently have shorter odds than the Oilers to win the Stanley Cup.
The Oilers greatest strength is the presence of McDavid. He is capable of dominating a hockey game like no other player on the planet. A slow start (for him) to the season was followed by his usual excellence. It's not a coincidence that wins followed.
The Oilers traditional stats are underwhelming. They rank 5th with a 3.45 goals-for-per-game average and their power play ranks 5th at 26.2%, but their penalty-killing ranks 25th at 78.0% and their goals-against-per-game average of 3.42 is 25th.
A close look at the Oilers analytical numbers reveals superiority in many areas. Encompassing the most important analytical categories at 5 vs 5, the Oilers rank 2nd league-wide. This is higher than the Leafs (10th), Canucks (11th), and Jets (13th).
The numbers show that the Oilers are well above the league average in many areas. They generate more chances and much more high-danger chances than their opposition.
The analytical dominance of the Oilers has not manifested itself in the standings. Part of the reason is that they have a below-league-average shooting percentage and the opposition capitalizes on their high-danger chances at a much more successful rate.
Despite close to a plus-100 advantage in high-danger opportunities for and against at 5 vs 5, the Oilers are -2 in high-danger goals for and against.
That segue ways nicely to the Oilers greatest weakness. Their goaltending has been atrocious. Big-ticket free agent Jack Campbell was demoted after he cleared waivers. He is trying to find his game playing in the AHL.
Stuart Skinner and Calvin Pickard are currently trying to give the Oilers some semblance of capable NHL goaltending. Combined the trio has a .885 season save percentage in all situations and .905 at 5 vs 5, well below the league-average of .918.
Overall Oilers Outlook Moving Forward
The Oilers are a team no one will want to face should they make the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. Should they get average goaltending from their incumbents for the rest of the year, or find the solution on the trade market, the Oilers could be the next wild-card team that goes on a run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Toronto Maple Leafs
For all of their confounding and indifferent play over the first thirty-plus games of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in second place in the Atlantic Division, trailing the first-place Boston Bruins by only 4 points with a game in hand.
There has been much talk about their inability to win in regulation over the first few months of the season. Until recently, they languished in the bottom five teams in regulation wins.
Contrary to this, the Toronto Maple Leafs have proven very difficult to beat during regulation time, with only 8 losses. Only the Bruins and Kings have fewer.
The Leafs have also had a penchant for comeback victories, and scoring game-tying goals with their goalie pulled for an extra attacker.
Toronto Maple Leafs Strengths
The Leafs ability to score remains upper-level. Their goals-for-per-game of 3.58, is third in the league. Their power play percentage of 26.4 ranks 4th.
Despite the Leafs decline in some analytical areas at 5 vs 5 (Corsi-For percentage, expected-goals percentage), a closer look at the numbers reveals a significant distinction in one area.
The Leafs generate slightly more high-danger chances than their opposition at 5 vs 5, but they make good on these opportunities. The Leafs have scored 36 high-danger goals while giving up only 22 high-danger goals. The league average for both is 28.
NHL goal-scoring leader Auston Matthews and his current shooting percentage of 21.4 have certainly helped in this area. As a team, the Leafs shooting percentage is above the league average.
The skillset of Matthews, Mitch Marner, and a career year from William Nylander has kept the Toronto Maple Leafs near the top of the standings while they have acclimated new players into their lineup.
Ilya Samsonov has struggled in the net, but the play of Joseph Woll, before he was injured, and Martin Jones, filling in for Woll, should not be overlooked. Their play has earned points for the Leafs on nights they were undeserving.
Toronto Maple Leafs Weaknesses
The Toronto Maple Leafs defense has been their biggest area of concern since the season started. The first thirty games have done nothing to alleviate the problem.
Morgan Rielly is the Leafs most important player. Without him, the team's blue line would be a disaster. The gamble on John Klingberg did not work. Timothy Liljegren and Mark Giordano were injured.
William Lagesson and Simon Benoit have provided short-term relief for the Leafs on defense, but they are not long-term solutions for a Stanley Cup contending team.
Overall Leafs Outlook Moving Forward
It is hard to envision the Leafs winning a title without an addition or two on the blue line, but at what cost? The promise shown by prospects Fraser Minten and Easton Cowan should give general manager Brad Treliving pause when trade deadline discussions begin.
The Leafs, with their stars, are capable of winning any playoff series. Woll looks promising in goal, but he is inexperienced and has an injury history.
The Toronto Maple Leafs can cause damage in the playoffs and an extended run is possible, but they still have too many questions with their defense and bottom six forwards to go all the way.