With Ryan Whitney out of the picture for two months, the Edmonton Oilers’ already strong chance at a lottery finish just got a little stronger. The reality is that this team has had a stranglehold on a lottery position since the get-go, and this is just a little extra insurance to get them over the line.
As of today, the Oilers’ record projects them to finish 28th in the NHL, or alternately as the third of five teams with a chance at moving up into the first overall position in this summer’s NHL Draft Lottery.
Projected Lottery Teams
|1||New Jersey Devils||21||56||5||47|
|2||New York Islanders||22||46||14||58|
|4||Toronto Maple Leafs||30||42||10||70|
Interestingly, if we step back to the start of December (before the Oilers were hit with injuries to Horcoff and Hemsky) we see the same five teams projected to finish in the lottery.
Projected Lottery Teams, December 1
|1||New York Islanders||19||44||19||57|
|2||New Jersey Devils||27||48||7||61|
|5||Toronto Maple Leafs||29||39||14||72|
Naturally, the Oilers were hurt by the loss of Horcoff and Hemsky, but a turnaround in net prevented a free fall. Hemsky was lost to injury on December 1; on December 2 Nikolai Khabibulin returned from injury to post a shutout against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a victory that marked the beginning of a very solid stretch of hockey for the Russian goaltender (from Dec. 2 – Dec. 26: 4-3-1, 0.935 SV%).
Fortunately for fans of the rebuild, while the Oilers have taken solid steps forward this is still very much a lottery team, particularly with injuries to Whitney (the team’s best player to date) and Horcoff (arguably the most important centre to the current roster). The defence is a bit of a mess even with Whitney, the depth forwards (particularly the third line) are a disaster, and the goaltending is hit-and-miss. This is actually positive news, overall: though one wouldn’t know it based on the post 2005-06 Oilers, it’s a lot easier to find a third-line centre than it is to find bona fide top-six forwards, which Eberle and Hall show every sign of being.
A lottery finish is an important part of the rebuild this season. Whether the Oilers choose to add a stud defenceman or a star centre – and I’m convinced that they’ll address one of those two needs with their first round pick this summer – they will be acquiring an important piece of the long-term puzzle, the last piece they should need before moving back towards playoff contention. Between this summer’s first round pick, the trio of rookie forwards presently on the roster, the established NHL’ers on the team, and the prospects already in the system, the Oilers should have the nucleus of a playoff team. It will be up to Steve Tambellini and his staff to flush out the roster with useful veterans up front and on the back end.
This is a team built for lottery contention, and their finish this season should reflect that. But I’m hoping that this is the last time we can say that for a long time.