We all know how bad the Oilers have seemed of late. What I’d like to know is how much ground it has cost them in the Western Conference playoff race, so I made a list of teams who have been “on the bubble” for most of the season:
5. Vancouver – 81 points
6. Columbus – 78 points
7. Nashville – 75 points
8. Dallas – 74 points
9. Edmonton – 73 points
10. St. Louis – 72 points
11. Minnesota – 72 points
12. Anaheim – 70 points
13. Los Angeles – 68 points
The next step is to put up these teams record over their last ten games:
5. Vancouver (7-2-1) – 15 points
6. Columbus (6-4-0) – 12 points
7. Nashville (7-2-1) – 15 points
8. Dallas (4-5-1) – 9 points
9. Edmonton (3-2-5) – 11 points
10. St. Louis (7-3-0) – 14 points
11. Minnesota (2-5-3) – 7 points
12. Anaheim (4-5-1) – 9 points
13. Los Angeles (3-6-1) – 7 points
Edmonton has a funny record. If they lose tonight, they’ve lost four straight and six of their last seven. On the other hand, if they win they have recorded points in five straight games and seven of their last eight. The three point game has, like the tie before it, allowed the beat writer to put down whatever narrative he choses.
Whatever the problems with the “loser” point (and some would argue that it “does nothing less than compromise the competitive integrity of the game”), it has certainly kept the Oilers alive through this latest stretch of – well, of whatever this is.
Right now we can cross Vancouver off the list of bubble teams. After an initial slump caused at least in part by Mats Sundin’s need to find his legs, they’ve performed at the level they should be performing at, and may very well overtake Chicago for home ice advantage in the playoffs. With a strong group of forwards and great goaltending, they could very well be a Stanley Cup contender this season.
Columbus too seems likely to make the playoffs; they added a needed piece at the trade deadline and Steve Mason is playing incredible hockey. I’m happy to see this, because this is a fanbase that stayed committed despite the comedy of errors that marked Doug MacLean’s tenure as general manager, and they deserve to see playoff hockey.
Nashville and St. Louis are playing over their heads right now, and despite the recent slump in Dallas they can’t be written off (particularly with Brad Richards looking to return to the lineup before the end of the season). Any of Minnesota, Anaheim or Los Angeles could still surprise, but those teams made it clear at the trade deadline that they did not expect to be in the postseason, so they’ll probably drop out of the picture entirely as April nears.
The Oilers have hung in there so far with overtime losses, and that may or may not be enough to keep them in the race for its duration. One thing is for sure – a win tonight over St. Louis would not only help keep the Oilers in the playoffs and the Blues out, but also allow some positive press for a team that probably deserves it; they haven’t lost near as much ground as the prevailing pessimism would have you think.