The Oilers have been notorious for their slow starts to the campaign in recent years. Just last season, they were 10-10-0 through their first 20 games.
However, this season's start was particularly bad, especially for a team which was touted as Stanley Cup favourites during the preseason. In fact, their 5-12-1 record through 18 games, was the fourth-worst start in team history.
Considering this, the fact the Oilers enter the Christmas break with a 15-15-1 record should actually be considered a positive. How much of one though is open to debate, given they are still fourth-bottom in the Western Conference and five points out of a playoff spot.
Last season offers festive hope
If nothing else, this isn't the first time the Oilers have had a less than inspiring record entering the mini Christmas break during the Connor McDavid era. Consider last season as an example.
The Oilers lost four of five -- albeit they did pick up two 'loser' points -- going into the Christmas break. This included a 5-2 defeat to the Canucks in their final game, resulting into heading into the festive holiday with a 18-15-2 record.
However, as most fans know, the team would then go on a phenomenal run. Overall, the Oilers went 32-8-7 the rest of the way, to clinch their first 50-win season since 1986-87.
Back in 2019-20, the Oilers gave significant cause for concern at the Christmas break. While they did have a winning record of 20-16-4, they endured a run of seven losses in the nine games leading up to the annual festivities. (There did also pick up another point, with the first loss in the sequence coming in overtime.)
In the end though, the Oilers went on to again qualify for the playoffs, albeit with a qualifier. That's because this was the campaign when the regular season was suspended on Mar. 12 due to COVID-19, and 24 teams subsequently qualified via a modified playoff setup. (In fairness though, the Oilers did have a 37-25-9 record when play was suspended, which projected to 96 points over a full regular season.)
Not as much reason for Christmas optimism
The 2017-18 season was a similar one to the current campaign for the Oilers, in that they also entered the Christmas break with a .500 record, at 17-17-2. However, serving as a warning for what could lie ahead this season, they were unable to ever really get on track, as they missed the playoffs with a 36-40-6 record.
The final season worthy of note for a less-than impressive record at the Christmas break was 2015-16, which was McDavid's first campaign with the Oilers. They were never able to recover from a 15-18-2 record heading into the festivities, as they finished 31-43-8 and did not qualify for the playoffs.
Overall, how hopeful Oilers fans want to be about the team at this time of year, really comes down to personal mindset and perception. For example, if you want to just go on the four seasons referenced above on a surface level, the chances of making the playoffs in 2023-24 are a straight 50-50 proposition.
Or maybe you're encouraged, by the fact the previous two times the Oilers looked in a tough spot at Christmas they went on to make the playoff, alluding to the growth, experience and talent of McDavid and company. Ultimately though, whatever a fan's mindset is, while a .500 record isn't terrible, it does make it that much tougher for the team to deliver, no matter how experienced and talented they might be.