For those of you who care what The Hockey News thinks, the scribes over there are picking the Edmonton Oilers to finish dead-last in the Western Conference in 2011-12.
While that doesn’t necessarily mean the staff at THN is predicting a third consecutive 30th place finish for the Oilers — we don’t get a breakdown of overall NHL standings in their predictions in the item — writers at the publication, at one time considered the Hockey Bible, obviously don’t see Edmonton improving enough to escape the conference basement.
The item reads:
"Why: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was added to the exciting core of youth in Edmonton, but like the Senators, the Oilers still have a couple years of bumps and bruises ahead of them. While the prospects should have fans giddy with excitement, the fact is Edmonton is buried in a deep conference full of Stanley Cup contenders, so expectations have to be tempered. Once their prospects earn some experience, the Oilers will be off and running."
There’s also a link highlighting off-season changes forecaster.thehockeynews.com/hockeynews/hockey/teamhome.cgi
LONG WAY DOWN
Truth be told, I have difficulty mustering much outrage regarding THN’s prediction, probably because I don’t think they’re far off in terms of how the Western Conference stacks up.
At 25-42-12 for 62 points last season, the Oilers obviously have a long way to climb. Last season, Colorado was 14th with 68 points and Columbus finished 13th with 81 points.
So, even allowing for a 20-point improvement in the standings, and that’s hardly a given, realistically, how many teams in the West are the Oilers likely to pass in the pecking order? One? Two?
While I think a 20-point improvement is possible — if Ryan Whitney and Ales Hemsky play something approaching full seasons and if Ryan Smyth, Cam Barker, Ben Eager and Eric Belanger represent the upgrades I think they do — it’s not going to vault the Oilers many places up the standings.
My best guess is the Oilers will overtake more teams from the Eastern Conference in overall standings, bottom-feeders like Ottawa, the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers, than they do teams from the West.
Still weeks from training camp, my first inclination is they finish right on the cusp of a third straight lottery pick, or 24-26th overall.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.