April 14 2011 01:07PM
I'm flattered the question I put to Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini Wednesday produced all that quotable stuff about expecting to make the playoffs next season, but that's not what I was asking about.
The end of, I'll admit, my rather rambling question -- OK, it bordered on a Bryan Hall query in terms of duration -- went like this: "Progress without playoffs is still a possibility?" The question coaxed a 40-second answer from Tambellini that included, but wasn't limited to, the following:
"There's no thought, and I know speaking to Tom (Renney), that we don't want to make the playoffs next year. Of course we do," Tambellini said.
"There's no one that was told inside that dressing room that our goal was not to make the playoffs. There should be that pressure every year, every night, every season regardless of new players, veteran players. There's no excuses in the NHL to think you can't make the playoffs.
"I expect our team to make the playoffs next year . . ." On and on went Tambellini. Fine. Good. Sound bite delivered. Now, about the progress part . . .
LONG WAY BACK
In terms of points totals and placing in the Western Conference, I believe the Oilers can make substantial progress without making the playoffs next season. At 25-45-12 for 62 points, the 15th-place Oilers finished 35 points behind eighth-place Chicago.
With that as a starting point, next year's team can improve by 30 points -- good luck with that -- and still not get a real sniff of the post-season. A 30-point increase this season would have left them 11th.
Tambellini never did answer my question about progress, so perhaps our readers can take up that train of thought here. In your opinion, how much improvement in points and placing represents reasonable progress?
Is it playoffs or bust after five straight years out of the post-season? Does playing meaningful games in late-March get it? You tell me. I get into games for free. When the story is done, I hit the send button and get a cheque, win or lose. People who buy tickets, the fans who pay the freight, have a different stake in this.
Is there a placing or a points total that triggers it for you? What will it take to make you to say, "OK, this thing is on the right track?"
DOWN TO BUSINESS
Progress, obviously, involves more than a specific points total or placing in X-spot. It could be argued Tambellini could do nothing with this roster and have the team improve by 20 points, no?
Take away, or at least limit, injuries that ended the seasons of Taylor Hall, Ryan Whitney, Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner. Might Kurtis Foster and Colin Fraser have better years? Could they be worse?
What will a season of NHL experience mean to the likes of Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Devan Dubnyk and Theo Peckham? Will any of them be better. How about Teemu Hartikainen and Linus Omark?
I'm not advocating Tambellini stand pat after he calls the name Ryan Nugent-Hopkins June 24. Not by any stretch. I'm just saying Tambellini could dither all summer and this team could improve by 20 points.
He won't, of course. Tambellini has Ryan Jones to sign. He has Sheldon Souray to jettison. Tambellini recognizes, as he pointed out Wednesday, the need to add depth on defence and down the middle. Find a face-off guy, please. Free agents to pursue, etc etc.
What represents suitable progress? You tell me.
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