While we’re still nearly two months away from the drop of the puck on October 1st, it’s never too early to start thinking about the coming season, and where our much-maligned Edmonton Oilers will finish in the standings. Can Taylor Hall and company finally make the playoffs after seven years of futility, or will they be on the outside looking in once again?
To really take a look at this, it’s best to examine their competition.
The Pacific Division (in no particular order)
In the new division format, Edmonton is fighting six other teams for three playoff spots, not including the two wildcard spots split among the Pacific and Central divisions.
When looking at this grouping, it becomes immediately obvious that to make the playoffs, the Oilers will need almost everything to break their way. Based on last year’s standings and offseason developments, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the Oilers to finish ahead of the Calgary Flames or Phoenix Coyotes- however, that’s the only easy part.
At this stage, it’s likely going to be impossible for the Oilers to finish ahead of Los Angeles or San Jose, and it will be very difficult to finish ahead of Anaheim or Vancouver. Each of these four teams has much better depth at forward, and better skill at defense- and considering the Oilers’ recent record against these teams, it will be nearly impossible for Edmonton to finish higher than fifth in the division.
However, the fat lady has not sung yet- remember when I mentioned wildcard spots? Well, it’s technically possible to have five teams in the Pacific and only three teams from the Central in the playoffs, provided the fifth-place team in the Pacific has more points at the end of the season than the fourth-place team in the Central division.
Basically, if the Oilers finish fifth in the Pacific, but finish ahead of all but three teams in the Central division, they will make the postseason.
Is this likely to happen?
The Central Division (in no particular order)
There are two teams that are completely impossible for the Oilers to catch- the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues. Both of these teams have outstanding skill and depth, and both clubs handily defeat the Oilers on a regular basis.
Beyond these two, the Oilers must beat out four of the other five teams in order to sneak in the Central division’s wildcard spot. Based on last year’s standings and offseason moves, the Oilers may be able to beat out Colorado, Nashville, and Winnipeg- however, they run into a brick wall when it comes to the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild.
The Wild are a team that struggled in last year’s regular season, but showed some incredible flashes of potential. With legitimate stars like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, combined with excellent youth in Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker, and Mikael Granlund, it’s going to be very difficult for the Oilers to pass them in points. They certainly couldn’t last year.
As for the Stars? Well, the Oilers couldn’t finish ahead of them last year, and nothing that’s happened in the offseason should really change that. True, Edmonton changed their coaching staff and made some excellent roster additions- but so did Dallas. The Stars made an excellent move in trading for young stud Tyler Seguin in a blockbuster deal, had a fantastic draft by plucking the NHL-ready Valeri Nichushkin 10th overall, and made a smart move for a third-line center when they brought on Shawn Horcoff.
In summary? Don’t hold your breath, unless MacT fleeces another GM in a major move.
The Oilers have a wealth of young talent on their roster, but it’s important to remember that this team still has a long way to go. Last year, scoring-chance metrics painted the picture of a team that struggled to gain the offensive zone, and absolutely bled scoring opportunities.
The x-factor, in my mind, is new head coach Dallas Eakins. If he can create a system that fits his players’ offensive strengths without ignoring defensive responsibility, then the Oilers may have a shot at the postseason if a team like, say, Vancouver decides to flounder. But as it stands right now, it’s just too much of a stretch for me to predict that these young Oilers are playoff-bound.