Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Lisa McRitchie on 08/17/11 at 01:00 AM ET
A story that has made a lot of noise with the Edmonton sports media was The Hockey News saying that the Ottawa Senators could finish last in the east, and the Edmonton Oilers finish last in the west. The funny thing is that it has just created noise and even chatter with most writers and even fans having a hard time disputing that this may be a likely scenario. I am a little late to the party, but shockingly, I also have thoughts on this list.
Watching the video put out by The Hockey News, one comment that stood out to me was that the Edmonton Oilers “don’t measure up” despite the changes the team has made to their roster. I agree that there are still concerns with the Oilers’ roster and there is a lot of player development that needs to happen, but I don’t agree that all other teams in the West has stayed the same, or even improved.
The Oilers’ last place finish for the 2010-11 regular season was 6 points behind the Colorado Avalanche and 10 points behind the Florida Panthers. The next western team was a mile away with a 19 point margin between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Oilers. This year, I am not convinced that the Avalanche have done enough during their off season to vastly improve upon their finish from last year. The Phoenix Coyotes were ranked 14th in the west by The Hockey News, and appear to me to be one team who has gotten worse over the off-season and could have easily been chosen to finish last in the west. Another two teams that may have gotten worse this off-season are the Dallas Stars with the loss of Brad Richards, and the Calgary Flames are sadly overall another year closer to retirement for many players. The Minnesota Wild remain a question mark of their own. I know that any statement against Calgary can be seen as any easy stab at the Oilers’ geographical closest rival, but perhaps there will be a new rivalry between the Alberta teams at the bottom of the standings or perhaps this is the year where the Oilers [finally] finish ahead of the Flames once again.
Last year, the Oilers were hit hard by injuries, and had several rookie players on their roster. Before the season began, I didn’t see how the team would begin the season with three first year forwards in addition to the young defensive core and young goaltenders in Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Deslauriers. I was convinced that Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle would start the season in Edmonton, but one of my favourite Swedes, Magnus Paajarvi was a pleasant surprise. There were several factors that added to the last place finish, youth being a very important one.
There are a considerable number of components that will help to decide the outcome of this season for the Oilers; the sophomore performances by their young stars, the potential rookie years of other Oilers’ prospects, the play of other teams, injuries, the trades and free agent moves this summer and of course the question of goaltending. There are so many factors going into each team’s seasons, and there is so much possibility to each season’s outcome. It cannot be a foregone conclusion that the Oilers will be another basement team. What if not only one, but two teams in the west suffered from as many injuries, or more than the Oilers have as of late? Suddenly a last place in the west finish may not be as sure despite the fact the Nikolai Khabibulin is still on the Oilers’ roster.
Ultimately, someone has to be picked to finish last, and a last place finish in the west does not necessarily make for a 30th place finish but the Oilers appear to me to be the easy target in this situation. The point spread between 12th and 8th or even 7th will likely be extremely close with the teams separated by only a few points, but I think that the Oilers stand a better chance of being one of those teams in the mix than others seem to want to give them credit for. Robin Brownlee at Oilers Nation wants to disagree with the Oilers finish last story, but doesn’t feel that there is much to argue; “I have difficulty mustering much outrage regarding THN’s prediction, probably because I don’t think they’re far off in terms of how the Western Conference stacks up.” Ryan Batty at Copper and Blue also thinks that The Hockey News’ assessment is correct; “Predictably, some fans can’t understand how anyone could pick the Oilers to finish last. I might be alone in this opinion, but I don’t see how anyone wouldn’t.” The only ray of sunshine out there, well besides my own opinion may be from David Staples of the Edmonton Journal’s Cult of Hockey; “I don’t see the Oilers finishing last, but I don’t see them challenging for a playoff spot either.”
When making predictions before training camp, anything is possible. Once reality sets in, things start to change. Right now, in August, I feel bold. I don’t blame The Hockey News writers for predicting a 15th place finish and in fact if I were in their place I would tend to agree, who is going to argue with you? Last year not everyone at the Hockey News thought the Oilers would finish 15th in the west, but we all know how that really turned out. To me, the Oilers are not destined to be the worst team in the west. The changing attitude in the locker room from two years ago will likely have some impact too. According the the poll at the Cult of Hockey, only 7% of the respondents agree with the Hockey News and 10% of the readers of the Copper and Blue fall into the same category. Perhaps I am not as bold as I think I am for disagreeing.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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