What has happened to the Edmonton Oilers?

That’s the question around Oil Country right now, and for good reason.

The Oilers, who grabbed the National Hockey League’s pole position in the early part of the season, are struggling of late.

The team is 4-6-0 in their past 10 games, losers of five straight, now tied for 12th in full-season goal differential. The team is still well-positioned in the Pacific Division, but with the Vegas Golden Knights getting healthy and baseline improvement in the California teams, tougher questions are being asked.

Coming into the season, the Oilers knew that if they could check three key boxes, they would be positioned for a Stanley Cup run. In no particular order:

– The team needed to see defensive improvement with their big guns on the ice. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are perhaps the two deadliest attackers in the league and have been for some time, but it hasn’t amounted to the type of net-goal dominance you would expect. By way of quick example: McDavid, inarguably the best player in the world, had a trailing three-year goal differential of +24 at even strength. That’s 70th percentile across qualified skaters.

– An extension of the same point: the goaltending department is vulnerable and has been for a few years. The organization, invested at other positions heading into this season, opted to run it back with veterans Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. Stuart Skinner, in Smith’s absence, has seen rotational time as well. The plan here wasn’t for greatness but rather respectability.

– Edmonton’s depth players needed to be a factor. Perhaps the most exhausted discussion of the last decade, the Oilers have never been able to figure out a lineup that doesn’t get killed when its best players are on the bench. It’s an area the organization attacked the past two summers.