January 18 2013 02:23PM
On the eve of another lockout-shortened season, there are many questions surrounding the Edmonton Oilers. How good will Justin Schultz be in the NHL? Is Devan Dubnyk ready to be an everyday starting goalie? Can Ales Hemsky and Ryan Whitney have bounce back seasons? Who will lead the Oilers in scoring: Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? How much of an impact will new head coach Ralph Krueger have?
All great questions, but the most important one is, will the Oilers make the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons?
Predictions can be difficult at the best of times, but in a short season there seems to be even more variables in play.
Will the Oilers capitalize on the perceived advantage of having all of their two top-line forwards in game shape? In theory they should, but with their starting goalie and only two of six defenders (I have Potter #7)in game-shape does that negate that advantage?
Thankfully we will finally see the answers unfold on the ice starting Sunday night in Vancouver.
But before we see some games, we need to look into our crystal ball and find out where the Oilers will finish.
Predictions are in interesting animal, and sometimes they seem to contradict themselves.
Earlier this week TSN submitted a list of the top-50 players in the NHL. The Oilers had three on the list, with Jordan Eberle ranked the highest at 25th. He was ranked 19th amongst forwards, so you'd think when TSN released their projections for the top-300 scoring leaders that he'd be ranked between 15-30.
There is some miscommunication going on at TSN, because Scott Cullen clearly disagrees with the rest of his TSN colleagues and had Eberle finishing 55th overall in scoring, and 54th amongst NHL forwards.
|3||Steven Stamkos||Tampa Bay||C||48||32||23||55||2||37||20|
|6||Joe Thornton||San Jose||C||47||12||37||49||8||23||18|
|7||Ilya Kovalchuk||New Jersey||LW||46||22||26||48||-7||20||15|
|10||Martin St. Louis||Tampa Bay||LW||47||15||30||45||-2||8||17|
|14||John Tavares||N.Y. Islanders||C||47||18||25||43||-6||20||15|
|15||Brad Richards||N.Y. Rangers||C||46||15||28||43||-1||13||17|
|21||Marian Gaborik||N.Y. Rangers||RW||44||20||21||41||8||20||14|
|24||Rick Nash||N.Y. Rangers||LW||46||20||20||40||-1||25||13|
|27||Patrick Marleau||San Jose||LW||48||19||21||40||4||13||15|
|32||Logan Couture||San Jose||C||45||19||19||38||4||12||13|
|41||Joe Pavelski||San Jose||RW||45||15||21||36||7||16||12|
|43||Mike Richards||Los Angeles||C||46||14||22||36||4||42||12|
|46||Patrik Elias||New Jersey||LW||45||12||24||36||-1||11||13|
|53||Matt Moulson||N.Y. Islanders||LW||48||19||15||34||-2||8||12|
|56||Vladimir Tarasenko||St. Louis||RW||44||15||19||34||5||14||6|
|58||Anze Kopitar||Los Angeles||C||37||12||22||34||7||9||12|
|65||David Backes||St. Louis||C||47||15||18||33||11||58||9|
It's also interesting to note that he had Eberle dropping from 16th in goals down to 45th. Cullen is evidently in the camp of those who feel Eberle won't be able to produce at a rate similar to last season. I've said before it would be a major accomplishment for Eberle to score 46 points this year, (pro-rated to equal last season), since very few players have back-to-back 76+ point seasons, but I don't expect him to fall as much as Cullen or others do. I see Eberle scoring 40-43 points if he plays the majority of games.
HAVE TO SCORE AT EV
If the Oilers want to make the playoffs they need to score more 5-on-5. The Oilers were 22nd in goals for/goals against ratio. It is no surprise that the excluding a few exceptions, LA and Florida and New Jersey, the teams who made the playoffs scored goals EV than they gave up.
Florida is the exception based on a few blowouts, 7-0 and 8-0 losses, but also because they had a whopping 18 OTL. They only won 32 games in regulation last year, yet the made the playoffs. They weren't that good, but when you look at the best and worst teams in the league EV gives you a good indication of where teams stand, with a few exceptions of course.
OILERS PP WILL WIN THEM GAMES
It seems many people feel the Oilers PP will be carry them to the playoffs, but that is only true if they take fewer penalties and their PK improves.
I'm not sure the Oilers PP can get much better.
They had the 3rd best PP, 20.6%, and scored the 5th most PP goals with 54. Their PP was good, and likely should be in the top-7 again this year, but can they be better than 23%?
If they Oilers have as many powerplays as last season, 262, they will have 153 this year. And in order to click at 24% they'd need to score 37 PP goals. It is possible, but if they scored 31 they'd sit at 20.4%, which is almost identical to last season.
If you told Krueger right now that he could have a 20% PP he'd take it in a heartbeat. Last season only 3 teams cracked the 20% mark with the man advantage.
As good as their powerplay was last year, it was basically negated by their penalty kill.
The Oilers were shorthanded 296 times last year, good for 5th most in the NHL. And it's not like the Oilers were an aggressive team, they took too many obstruction and sticking penalties.
The Oilers surrendered 52 goals when down a man last year, so essentially they needed a 20.6% PP just to be +2 on special teams. The Oilers were 14th in PK efficiency at 82.4%, but when you take that many penalties it impacts your ability to win the special teams battle.
The Oilers have a lot of areas to improve on, but if they improve their EV play they will have an excellent shot at making the playoffs.
NATION WRITERS CHIME IN...
I asked fellow Nation contributors, Brownlee, Wayne, Lowetide, Willis and Strudwick to
close their eyes and pick give me their informed opinions on who makes it in the western conference, who plays in the Cup final and a brief explanation of why they slotted the Oilers where they did.
1. St. Louis
3. Los Angeles
5. San Jose
A lot of people think picking the Oilers to make the playoffs is taking a big flyer.
It is, but when I look at Edmonton's top-six forwards and the defense with a full year of Nick Schultz and the additions of Justin Schultz and Mark Fistric, I see a playoff team IF -- isn't there always at least one? -- Devan Dubnyk doesn't implode as the clear-cut No. 1 goaltender and IF Ryan Whitney stays healthy.
Rangers down the Hawks and sip from the Stanley Cup.
1. Los Angeles
2. St. Louis
6. San Jose
"The Edmonton Oilers are my favourite hockey team and I think they are great and will make the playoffs and I love recess." - Wanye, Age 8
There is only one option for the Cup...Oilers crush Sidney and the Penguins.
1. 1. LAK: Continuation of last season, too much talent, very balanced.
2. 2. VAN: Despite the injuries, strong club with depth on defense and quality goaltending.
3. 3. STL: Remind me of LAK of one year ago.
4. 4. CHI: Possibly the strongest line-up in the conference, goaltending puts them here
5. 5. NAS: Amazing hockey club, seem to have a plug and play for every need.
6. 6. PHX: Lots of turnover but similar to Nashville in that they’ll get it done.
7. 7. MIN: Off-season dream additions and young talent carry the day.
8. 8. EDM: There’s just too much offense to keep them from making the second season, and Dubnyk is better than many believe.
9. 9. DET: Retirements and defections heavily outweigh additions.
10. 10. SJS: This is the year they begin to fade.
11. 11. DAL: Some nice things, but a bizarre off-season leaves them outside the playoffs.
12. 12. COL : Strong young team has enough holes and will struggle.
13. 13. ANA: A team in transition.
14. 14. CAL : The bottom falls out.
15. 15. CBJ: Defense and goaltending remain a mess.
Cup finalists will be Vancouver and the Rangers, with Vancouver winning their 1st Stanley. I know. I’m already mad at myself.
1. Los Angeles
3. St. Louis
5. San Jose
On Edmonton: For the first time in a long time I see them as a legitimate playoff contender. I think one team besides Vancouver will make the post-season, and Colorado/Minnesota/Edmonton are all neck-and-neck-and-neck at this point. An injury or an unexpected absence - such as Ryan O'Reilly staying in the KHL - could change the balance of power, as could a sharp move by any of the general managers in charge of those clubs. I see the Oilers falling just short but staying in the mix until the bitter end.
Stanley Cup Finals: Pittsburgh over Vancouver.
1. St. Louis
3. Los Angeles
5. San Jose
The Oilers will improve in the standings, but there are still questions they need to answer before they become a playoff team.
1. Can the team stay healthy?
2. Can their goaltending become playoff calibre?
3. Are they a hard enough team to play against?
Rangers beat the Kings and win the Cup.
1. St. Louis
2. Los Angeles
5. San Jose
My brain says the Oilers won't make the playoffs, I say they actually finish 13th because they aren't that good, but the Nation has never experienced a playoff run and the Oilers luck has to change eventually. Injuries are my main concern, because the Oilers aren't a big team. Many of their skilled players like Hall, Hemsky and Yakupov will get hit often since they don't play on the perimeter.
The Oilers have a mixture of young, hungry players and some veterans in Hemsky, Whitney, Dubnyk and Whitney with lots to prove. Krueger says they won't play a passive game, and the Oilers will be better defensively, but my biggest concern is that this team isn't tough enough. They don't know how to compete hard enough every night, yet. I'm not talking fighting or hitting, because they don't have many bangers, but just being battled tested. If they can learn that this year, I think they have the skill to make a serious run for the playoffs, but I don't expect them to. However, since you had to endure no hockey for four months, I'm going positive and picking them to make the playoffs.
But if the Oilers don't improve, I don't see any reason why GM Steve Tambellini keeps his job. They don't have to make the playoffs, but they need to show significant improvement. If they don't, then ownership has to look at the architect of the team, Tambellini.
I haven't picked them to make the playoffs in six years, so it's time for a change. And speaking of change the Detroit Red Wings won't enjoy life without Nick Lidstrom.
The Rangers defeat the Blues in six to win the Cup.
WHAT SAY YE...
What do you think Nation? Let's see who ends up with the closest prediction on April 27th.
Bianca Beauchamps just adds to the Positive Friday vibe. At around 12:00 this morning we will unveil the Nation's 2013 hockey draft. First place will win a $5,000 shopping spree. It costs only $20 bucks to enter and a portion of the proceeds will go to charity, because it's the right thing to do. We will have over 100 prizes. It will be awesome.
Do you want to go to the Home Opener on Tuesday?
If you LIKE the Jason Gregor Show fan page you can win. It is the easiest way to track people down. If you don't want to that is fine, just don't complain that I should give tickets away on here. It's a hassle tracking down people. On facebook I can direct message the person right away. It is simple.
I'll give away tickets to the home opener on Monday. Good luck.