How much does the Oilers’ 3-6-1 start matter?

Jonathan Willis
October 23 2013 08:49AM

Has Edmonton dugs itself into a whole that will be extremely difficult to get out of? Is the team’s 3-6-1 start a hallmark of things to come?

The Last Five Years

The chart above shows every team over the last five 82-game NHL regular seasons to start with just three wins in their first 10 games played. I was surprised to find that six of the 11 teams ended up in the post-season; my assumption had been that the lousy start would have some slight predictive value but if it is there the predictive value is too slight to show up over an 11-team sample.

Put shortly, many a good team has started a year poorly. There is little to worry about inherently in a poor 10-game start.

The Caveat

The interesting item with that list is what happens when we add a category to show if the team in question had made the playoffs the year before. Of the six teams to make it into the post-season after a lousy start, five had been playoff teams the year prior and the lone exception (the 2009-10 Nashville Predators) had missed by only three points in 2008-09. Of the five teams to miss the playoffs after a lousy start, four had missed the year before and the exception (the 2009-10 Anaheim Ducks) had been an eighth seed in 2008-09.

That’s where the worry comes from. It isn’t that Edmonton has had a poor start, which shouldn’t matter much given the sample of games involved. It’s that Edmonton had a poor start and is coming off years of failure – there is ample evidence for anyone that believes this is what the Oilers really are.

Dallas Eakins had a line in training camp about rookie defencemen trying to break on to the team. After explaining that the depth chart had eight guys who were NHL defencemen, he said it was extremely hard to take a job away from players with that kind of background.

The same applies on a larger scale to teams: for any team that was on the outside looking in, it is extremely difficult to push somebody else out of a playoff position. Looking at the last two 82-game NHL seasons, three of the four teams to make the playoffs in 2010-11 made them again in 2011-12. Not that dramatic change is impossible (one of the new playoff teams was Ottawa, which went from minus-58 in 2010-11 to plus-9 in 2011-12); it’s just very difficult.

Did Craig MacTavish do enough in the summer to get the Oilers over the hump? If not, can he make a difference now? We’ll see; the early start isn’t reason enough to write Edmonton off but they’re trying to climb from a long way back.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 JohnDoe
October 24 2013, 09:47PM
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I am sick and tired of watching this team play like a bunch of f*cking bums. Oh look another loss. 4-0 caps. Oilers are a f**king joke and I am sick of it.

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#52 David S
October 23 2013, 10:57AM
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Put shortly, many a good team has started a year poorly.

The question at hand is whether the Oilers are a "good" team. I tend to believe that fully staffed and operational (Gagner, Hall, Yak at 100%, Smytty serviceable, etc.) we might be a "good enough" team. But if one of those pieces falls off the board we're hooped. Right now we're asking second and third tier (i.e. "bubble boys") players to play a notch above their abilities. They might be able to do this for a while but it's impossible to sustain that sort of level for any amount of time.

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#53 Oilers need Ogie Ogilthorpe!
October 23 2013, 12:34PM
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"Put shortly, many a good team has started a year poorly. There is little to worry about inherently in a poor 10-game start."

I see a lot of comments like this. What's different is this one is well supported by the stats. Good article J-Dub, it's nice to see some cold hard data.

As for analysis, you looked at whether a team was a playoff team the year before. To me, it's a data-based way of illustrating that

1. Usually, Two or three teams start the year with only 3 wins in their first 3. 2. Sometimes, those teams start the season that way bc they stink (10/11 Oil, 11/12 Isle). Those teams continue to suck, all the way to a lottery pick 3. Other times, those teams are good or even great (12/13 Bruins) start that way for various other reasons, but the bad start is part of the ebb and flow of their season.

So where do the Oil fit in? Based on the 'playoffs the previous year' rule, we can expect another April of cheering against the Wild, the Stars and the 'Canes.

If we look at the 'whether we're a good team or not', I'd say it's too early to say. Too many variables, too many unknowns. Is Dubs capable of winning enough games? Can we expect the Nuge we've seen in the last 2 games or the -7 Nuge of the first 5? Is Arcobello a flash in the pan or a legit top-2 center? Will belov and Petry keep getting better? How much of our early struggles can be attributed to new coach, new system, new players (incl. 1st and 2nd line centers for 2 games).

I can't say we're a playoff team, but I agree with J-Dub and many other posters: it's too early to say. I at least see (unbiasedly of course) enough to keep me from writing the team off for a good long while yet.

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#54 Hair bag
October 23 2013, 01:27PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Still some pieces to pick up but this year seems to be trending better than under Mr. Dithers. It appears they are at least trying to win now.

The usual suspect still remain:

1) Top Defensemen. Thinking that will cost one of the kids eventually.

2) Some grit , nasty and size in the top six. Perron helps but they need more.

3) An upgrade in net. This should happen next summer. This is Dubnyk UFA year and unless he finally proves he is the guy a change will be made ,bringing in a free agent goalie next summer.

I think the first 2 points might be filled from within in the next couple years without trading one of the kids. I'm with you in that I'm not sold on Dubnyk.

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#55 oilerjed
October 23 2013, 02:21PM
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Oiler4life wrote:

Question JW. Arcobello is among the leading rookie scorers. One would have to think his value has increased. When everyone is healthy how is it possible for him to stay without sending Acton down after they told him to find an apartment. It's tough even finding a spot on the wing when they trying to get bigger. So do you think an Arco, first overall and a dman/prospect will bring back a#1 dman? It's looks like Arco could save us losing one of the young guns if he stays playing like that.

Seems more liely that Acton goes down and our 4th line looks like Gadzic-Acrobello-Jones/Eager. The 4th line now is a gong show almost every shift on the ice they are trapped in their own zone. Acro and Jones may help that.

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#56 Wax Man Riley
October 23 2013, 08:47PM
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Wax man Riley wrote:

Rumour has it Anaheim pulled out too!?

Quit using my handle, poser.

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#57 Heisnberg
October 25 2013, 07:39AM
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Oilers are doomed for another high draft pick. Problem is the young guns. They are not the right mix too much same players. Time to blow it up

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#58 Wax "man?" Riley
October 25 2013, 08:32AM
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Heisnberg wrote:

Oilers are doomed for another high draft pick. Problem is the young guns. They are not the right mix too much same players. Time to blow it up

Yup.

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