CAN THE OILERS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?

The Oilers are one month away from announcing their second consecutive first overall draft pick, but after that pick will they realistically be any closer to making the playoffs for the first time in six years? Another first overall pick will likely give the Oilers another solid prospect in the system, but a playoff appearance shouldn’t, and likely won’t, rest on his shoulders regardless of who they take on June 24th.

Can the Oilers go from 30th to a playoff spot? Surprisingly it might not be that far-fetched.

Before we look at what the post-lockout bottom feeders have done the year after finishing 30th, I took a quick peak to see what the Ottawa Senators did in 1997 after finishing 30th in 1995 and 1996. The Sens were awful in the strike-shortened 1995 season going 9-34-5, and then they followed that up with an equally inept  record of 18-34-5 in 1996. In 1997 the Sens shocked the league, and improved a whopping 36 points, going from 41 to 77 to finish 7th in the East.

If you do a quick glance you don’t see many drastic changes player-wise. Their young offensive players had another year of experience, and scored more, while management made a few small moves that paid off. The Sens traded Trent McCleary and a 3rd rounder (Eric Naud) for Shawn McEachern;  who’d scored 24 goals in Boston in 1996. McEachern had a bit of an off-year in 1997, but he was a veteran presence in the room, and then scored 30+ in two of the next four seasons. Wade Redden tallied 6-30 (goals-points) as a rookie, and they signed unrestricted free agent Ron Tugnutt. Tugnutt was the backup for most of the year, but he got hot down the stretch and led them to the post-season where he played all seven games in their first round loss to Buffalo.

Here’s a quick glance at the numbers of their top-five scorers and goalies.

1996                                                                              1997
Alfredsson         26-61                                               Yashin           35-75
Yashin                 15-39 (46GP)                                 Alfredsson   24-71
Cunneyworth     17-36                                              Daigle             26-51
Duchesne           12-36                                              Duchesne      19-47
Bonk                     16-35                                             Cunneyworth 12-36  

Rhodes was 10-22-4, .906 SV%, 2.77 GAA          Rhodes 14-20-14, 0.898 SV% and 2.72 GAA
                                                                                       Tugnutt 17-15-1, 0.895 SV% and 2.80 GAA

Their top-five scorers went from 86 goals to 116, while their goalie numbers weren’t that much different from year-to-year. Outside of Tugnutt and McEachern they didn’t add any other veterans, just some average players like Sergei Zholtok and Andreas Dackell. The Sens only had four players over 30, and most importantly they were fairly healthy with 15 players playing at least 65 games. In 1996, the Sens had 31 players play at least 10 games, and last year the Oilers had 30.

The Sens improved by 36 points, and if the Oilers come close to that they would be in the 90-point range and in the playoff hunt.

I should note that the Quebec Nordiques, who finished 30th three years in a row from 89-91, didn’t make the playoffs in 1992, but they made a staggering improvement of 52 points jumping from 52 points in 1992 to 104 in 1993. So it possible for a last place team to make a significant improvement.

POST LOCKOUT COMPARISONS

The league has changed a lot since the Sens great turnaround in 1997, so I decided to look at the 28th-30th place teams since 2006 and see what kind of strides they made the following season.

2006

  • Chicago, 28th with 65 points
  • Pittsburgh, 29th with 58 
  • St. Louis, 30th with 57

The Blues drafted Erik Johnson, he didn’t play, but they improved 24 points and finished 10th in the west.

Pittsburgh took Jordan Staal, he scored 29 goals, and they improved a mind-blowing 47 points to 105, and finished 5th in the East. Of course they had Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Ryan Whitney as sophomores.

The Hawks took Jonathon Toews, he didn’t play, and they improved a mere six points and finished 26th. Of course they got lucky, won the draft lottery in 2007, and took Patrick Kane and then won the Cup in 2010. 

2007

  • LA, 28th with 68 points
  • Phoenix, 29th with 67 points
  • Philly 30th, with 56 points

Hawks won the lottery, so the Flyers drafted James Van Riemsdyk second, he didn’t play, but the Flyers improved 39 points and finished 6th in the East with 95 points.  The Flyers made drastic moves that off-season though, trading for and signing Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen. They also signed Daniel Briere, dealt Joni Pitkanen to Edmonton for Joffrey Lupul and gave Martin Biron the starting job ahead of Antero Niittymaki. No other celler-dwellar has been able to sign as many big-names as the Flyers did that off-seasono they aren’t fair comparable.

Phoenix took Kyle Turris third, he didn’t play, and the Coyotes improved to 83 points in 2008, but that was only good enough for 12th in the West. The Coyotes couldn’t spend any money and they never made the playoffs until 2010.

The Kings took a flyer on Thomas Hickey at number four, he didn’t play, and the Kings only improved by three points in 2008, and actually dropped to 29th in the standings. The Kings had two more top-five picks before finally making the playoffs in 2010.

2008

  • Atlanta, 28th with 76 points
  • LA, 29th with 71 points
  • Tampa Bay, 30th with 71 points

The Lightning took Steven Stamkos, he tallied 23 goals, but the Lightning actually got worse dipping down to 66 points, and they ended up getting the 2nd overall pick again in 2009. The Lightning had the 6th pick in 2010 before finally making the playoffs this season.

The Kings gladly took Drew Doughty, he tallied 27 points, but the Kings only improved eight points and ended up with another top-five pick in 2009.

The Thrashers took Zach Bogosian, he only played 47 games, yet hescored nine goals and 19 points, but the Thrashers finished with exactly the same amount of points, 76, and ended up 27th. They’ve yet to make the playoffs since drafting Bogosian.

2009

  • Colorado, 28th with 69 points
  • Tampa, 29th with 66 points
  • NYI, 30th, with 61 points

The Islanders took John Tavares, he had a solid 24 goal-54 point campaign, and the Islanders improved by 18 points, but still finished 26th and got another top-five pick in 2010.  

The Lightning took rearguard Victor Hedman, and he had some growing pains as an 18-year-old D-man, while the Lightning saw some progress with him and Stamkos and jumped up to 80 points, which earned them the 6th pick in 2010.

The Avs took Matt Duchene and he surprised many with a solid 24 goals and 55 points, and the Avs improved by 26 points and made the playoffs in 2010. Duchene was a key cog, as was the addition of Craig Anderson, however, the Avs came back to reality in 2011 and finished 29th. 

2010

  • Florida, 28th with 77 points
  • Toronto, 29th with 74 points
  • Edmonton 30th, with 62 points
     

The Oilers took Taylor Hall and he tallied 42 points in 69 games, but the Oilers didn’t improve in the standings and finished with the same 62 points. The Oilers lost in 2010 with a much younger group and they are hoping that getting some NHL experience for so many young kids will pay off in 2011.

The Leafs had traded their pick and the Bruins happily took Tyler Seguin. Seguin didn’t play a lot as a rookie, but has been excellent in playoffs. The Bruins are the exception in this experiment, because they were a playoff team before getting hte 2nd pick and now  they are one game from the Stanley Cup finals. 

The Panthers took Erik Gudbranson, but they couldn’t agree on a contract so he stayed in junior. The Panthers followed in the Oilers footsteps and lost with a young team and finished in 28th again. It will be interesting to see which team progresses quicker, the Oilers or the Panthers.

SUMMARY

While the Ottawa comparison proved it was possible to make a big jump after two consecutive 30th place finishes, the success, or lack thereof, of teams post-lockout makes it seem likely the Oilers are a year away from the playoffs. If they stay healthy they might be able to mirror the surprising Avs of 2010, but realistically I could see them making a 20-point improvement that sees them stay in the playoff hunt until late March.

***I know there are many variables to consider outside of just the top-pick, but it seems to take at least two, or sometimes, three years of getting top-seven picks before a team starts to see some improvement, unless you are the free-spending Philadelphia Flyers.** 

NEWEST ADDITION TO PACKAGE

I added the next prize to the Ultimate Sports Fan Package. A signed TAYLOR HALL stick. On June 11th,  I am riding in the 190km MS Bike Tour. To win the awesome package, CLICK HERE type in Jason Gregor and donate $100 and you will get an entry. We only have 45 entries left. If you donate $200 you two entries and so on. The winner will win a prize pack that includes:

  • Edmonton Eskimos season tickets
  • Edmonton Rush season tickets.
  • A beer fridge and beer for a year from Big Rock Brewery.
  • A man-date with Ryan Rishaug
  • You and two buddies golfing at the Ranch Golf and Country Club with BROWNLEE
  • Signed Taylor Hall stick.
  • More great prizes that will include Oiler home opener tickets, other sporting events, and other cool things. 

You can help find a cure for MS and win a great sports prize pack. Thanks for your donations to the cause.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    I could deal with that 20 point improvement and playing meaningful games late in the season. Beats the heck out of the alternative of these past few seasons. Our big thing is that we can’t afford any sophomore slumps. We will need everybody to be “all in” to have any chance at the playoffs.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Will the Oilers realistically be any closer to making the playoffs for the first time in six years?

    I believe this is dubious for a number of reasons:

    1) Incompetency of double-headed hockey management group of Lowe/Tamblinni. Can they recruit the necessary NHL-calibre replacements? Haven’t so far.
    2) Ineffective coaching group (maybe Renney is capable, but what of the assistants?)
    3) Missing a first and second line NHL centre.
    4) Defence has been a disaster (the addition of Souray would be a miracle, but not for the wrong reasons).
    5) Khabibulin, seen as team’s MVP by Tamblinni.

    8 of 15 teams make the playoffs in each conference. The Oilers would have to beat out 6 bottom feeders to make it to 8th place. Unless a miracle happens and water is turned into wine, very unlikely with the present usual suspects.

  • Chris.

    Can the Oilers make the playoffs?

    Hmmmmm. Well, last year the Hawks backed into 8th spot on the last day of the regular season. Are the Oilers going to be better than the Hawks?

  • Clyde Frog

    There is so much that goes into a season beyond the simple players on the ice.

    To highlight the two that comes to my mind:

    Can they stay healthy? The healthy Oilers team of the past 2 seasons has been much different than the injury riddled one…

    Will the players buy into the system? Most of the teams still playing have pretty defined systems and roles for everyone on the ice.

    If the answer to the above questions is yes, I would give us a better than 50% chance to be right in the playoff mix come next February.

    Add in someone to set a veteran tone with this team and I think that chance only goes up. But really getting the injury bug out of the dressing room will go a long way to icing a “new” team.

  • Ender

    1 of 2 senarios need to happen next year.

    First the Oilers get a top 3 pick in 2012, look good doing it and then never look back…playoffs 2013.

    Second…the Oilers do make the payoffs for 2012, our young guns get a round of playoff hockey. RNH plays the next season building on 2012 and the future never looked so bright.

    Anything in-between would feel like kissing your cousin (hypotheticaly…lol).

    I think the Oiler management has made losing deliberately an art. We will be able to tell 1 month in how they plan to end the season.

    Personally though, I am hoping against hope the Hall puts this team on his shoulders in his softmore season and beats the Oiler’s management, dragging us to the trade deadline in contention for a playoff run and forces Tambi’s hand to make some trades that get us there this season.

  • Ender

    @ OB1 & Arch

    I agree that adding some depth through free-agents or trades is a good plan. Rookies winning positions because they’re ready is absolutely a superior strategy than forcing them onto the ice before they’re ready.

    We completely agree that bringing in some outside talent is a good plan. We just disagree on who that talent should be. I suggest that you can buy some pretty damn fine hockey players for $5M and that quite a few could be young enough to be around for some Oilers playoff hockey in the bargain. You’re looking to pay a premium for memories in my view. If I’m putting in that kind of investment, I want some long-term results for my money and not a one-season stand for old-times sake.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Ah their it is, you’re hung up on the salary.

      When we discuss trades, UFA’s and various other transactions I think it’s safe to say the specific topic of the day is placed in a vacumm, essentially disscussing if we’d do that deal on its own, yet I’m pretty confident all of us realize the big picture would need to be looked at when it actually came time to pull the trigger.

      Hey, if we somehow can land Hartnell without sending too much over to the Flyers AND convince Upshall to sign on without giving him a massively inflated contract, then sure pass on Smyth.

      Now I don’t buy into the “no one will sign here” rhetoric when excuses for Tambillini start flying, however I am well aware that we are one of many teams looking for these types of players, I’m also well aware that we are probably near the bottom of those players lists of places to go.

      So with that said, IF we were able to land Smyth (which is the basis of this whole discussion) it would be pretty silly to pass on him just because we HOPE we can land someone better/cheaper/a longer term fix, when reality is the odds of that happening probably comes in under 1%.

      Get over the $$$’s, it isn’t your money. If Katz is willing to spend it then let the man spend.

      • VMR

        I agree with Ender and it’s not about salary. I dont give up any prospect or draft pick for Smyth if I can get him a year later as a UFA. Why the rush to bring Smyth in for this season and give up assets we could use to build a team?

        We’ve got plenty of holes to fill yet, Smyth doesnt really fill any. He’s a veteran but he’s not a physical guy and not great defensively. He’ll go to the wall for you and take a licking to stay in front of the net and deflect shots, some nice skills but I think we have bigger fish to fry.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          He fills a pile of holes

          Crappy PP – check

          No one to stand in front of the net – check

          Vetran leader – check

          20+ goal scorer – check

          The rush would be:

          – We need that type of player for next year

          – If we didn’t secure him now he’d again have access to any team in the league

          Again, like I said the question is: What would it cost to get him out of LA. If it’s a major prospect who is in the long term plans then you nix the deal. That’s the beauty of Smyth though, being that overpayed means he likely would cost very little in a trade.

  • Ender

    The only way the Oil make the playoffs with their current crop of assets is if they make a course correction and get a GM in here with some balls and creativity. That is the organization’s Achilles Heel in my opinion and will continue to be with the toxic combination of KLowe and Tamponelli at the helm.

    All of these high draft picks will go to waste without a solid supporting cast. Tamponelli has shown virtually no aptitude for trading, signing and adding players so far. Maybe some of this years late signings will have an NHL future but we need some solid veterans who can play like they have a pair.

    Tampo’s strategy seems to be to rely way to heavily on the jr. draft and is a total flop at doing his job on the pro side.

  • For the last four years, I’ve gone into each new season saying “well they can’t possibly be worse than last year, so they have to be better”.
    That has been a false statement each of those four years.

    Having said that, the Oil were so bad in ’10-11 that they have to be better next year… Right? Right?

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      Why I hate the Canucks – their aggrieved self-pity, their sense of being hard done by, their constant whining when it is obvious to any casual observer that the they have received no fewer (and probably a few more) gifts from the hockey gods than any other team. For Christ sake, their fans were chanting “Referees Suck!” in the overtime when a high sticking call was missed. After they tied the game on an obvious blown icing call? Give me a break. Come on Bruins! Please, please, please restore justice to the hockey universe!

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      I waffle between both sides feeling sorry for them and wishing they would win. Then “I feel shame”(See Slapshot) and wish that they would run in to the Big Bad Bruins and get swept.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    As for contributing to the actual discussion…..I’ll be shocked if the Oilers even contend, let alone secure, a playoff spot next season.

    Oh, and WPG to the Smythe, er, NW; MIN to the Norris; and NSH to the Southeast. Do the right thing for once, NHL. If you’re going to keep WPG in the SE temporarily, no reason why you can’t put NSH there for one year instead. Just financially, it makes sense.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    The Oil will have to overpay for legit NHL vets/grinders to have any hope of making the playoffs next season. Three forwards and probably 1-2 d-man. NK will need to be in jail instead of the nets as well.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    @D-Man

    Smyth would do nothing but help this team. This team definitely needs some more leadership I mean we have one guy over 30 on our team besides Khabby. If we were to draft RNH or Couturier I could see Smyth being put in a mentoring role much like he was for Wolski and Statsny in Colorado. It may not make a lot of difference on the point sheet but he can show the guys what it means to be professional and to be an Oiler!

    Hall-Gagner-Eberle
    Smyth-RNH-Hemsky
    MPS-Horcoff-Jones
    Hartikinen-Cogs-?

    • D-Man

      Sure Smytty could show the guys what it means to be an Oiler… But so could Horcoff, Whitney, Hemsky, Gilbert, Jones, etc. And as I recall, we have a president in our organization (whether we like him or not) who has five Stanley Cup rings to share with our youth as well…

      Like I said before – I appreciate the ‘bring back Smytty’ viewpoint, but adding that expense and not improving the ‘point sheet’ or product on the ice and getting older in the process, makes no sense to me with a rebuilding organization…

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Smyth alone probably doesn’t make a huge difference, but Smyth along with a couple 3/4 dman and a FO winning bottom 6 center probably does make a HUGE difference.

    And no, any of those other guys alone probably doesn’t make a huge difference either.

    • D-Man

      Of course – but you’d see a huge difference without Smyth too… If we add two 3/4 defensemen (shedding mostly likely Foster and Strudwick) and a faceoff winning bottom six center (shedding Fraser) – we’re probably close to competing for a playoff spot…

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        You missed the point.

        Non of those players *on their own* would make a huge difference…. just like Smyth wouldn’t.

        It’s the collection of players that would make the teams better.

        If we added Smyth, just one 3/4 dman and a FO bottom 6 center we’re probably close to a PO spot as well.