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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.