So, will the Edmonton Oilers snap a five-year drought and make the playoffs again? Or, is it more likely that, coming off back-to-back 30th-place finishes, they’ll be a lottery team for a third straight year?
They way I see it, the answers are no to a playoff spot and a definite maybe to another lottery pick, although I don’t see the Oilers being bad enough to make it three straight first overall picks.
With the NHL schedule opening Thursday with three games and with the Oilers facing the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday at Rexall Place, predictions are already out there and many more will appear in the next 72 hours.
Without the benefit of seeing other teams up close and personal like I did during pre-season while on the beat with the Oilers, I don’t have the first-hand information I used to, but that doesn’t stop anybody with a laptop from making predictions these days, so I’ll take another run at it.
Here’s how the conferences shape up to me, with 2010-11 points totals listed in parenthesis.
1. Washington (107). The addition of Tomas Vokoun in goal returns the Caps as the class of the conference.
2. Philadelphia (106). If Jaromir Jagr still has game, they should edge Pittsburgh in the Atlantic. If not, may be fourth.
3. Boston (103). Cup hangover? Not enough of one to give up the top seed in the Northeast Division.
4. Pittsburgh (106). No Crosby to start the year but Malkin is ready to roll. A coin flip with Philly in the Atlantic.
5. Buffalo (96). Additions of Ehrhoff and Regehr on the blue line and a bounce back by Ryan Millar make the Sabres formidable.
6. Tampa Bay (103). See the Bolts slipping ever so slightly, but Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier provide punch. Roloson?
7. New York Rangers (93). Addition of Brad Richards to a solid blue line and Lundqvist in goal will have ’em cheering on Broadway.
8. Montreal (96). The Habs could slide unless Carey Price provides an encore in goal. Need a healthy Andrei Markov.
9. Toronto (85)
10. Carolina (91)
11. New Jersey (81)
12. New York Islanders (73)
13. Winnipeg (80 Atlanta)
14. Ottawa (74)
15. Florida (72)
1. Vancouver (117). Canucks lost some grit and will start without Ryan Kesler, but they’re plenty deep.
2. Chicago (97). Core is talented enough to carry the Blackhawks past the fading Red Wings in the Central.
3. Los Angeles (98). Bit of a flyer here, but a healthy Kopitar and a happy Doughty make the Kings contenders.
4. San Jose (105). A lot of people will have the Sharks ahead of L.A. in the Pacific. Just a hunch here.
5. Detroit (104). The back end is thinner without Brian Rafalski. Slip a bit, but still in the hunt.
6. Anaheim (99). A healthy Jonas Hiller is the key here. Ageless Teemu Selanne to complement Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan.
7. Nashville (99). Don’t know how the Preds will score enough goals, but Pekka Rinne doesn’t allow many. Weber and Suter.
8. St. Louis (87). If Halak holds together in goal, the Blues have enough to move up one or two spots.
9. Minnesota (86)
10. Calgary (94)
11. Dallas (95)
12. Columbus (81)
13. Colorado (68)
14. Edmonton (62)
15. Phoenix (99)
ABOUT THE OILERS
If I was starting a franchise with players on the rosters on opening day, I’d happily take Edmonton’s collection of talented, young forwards ahead of six or seven teams I’ve got picked ahead of them — I just don’t think that translates to a significant jump in the standings in 2011-12.
I think the Oilers will be considerably better than they were last season if they can avoid the injuries to key players they endured in 2010-11, but they’re coming from so far back it’s difficult to imagine them vaulting up the standing more than a place or two.
The biggest questions marks, as has been duly noted, come in goal with Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin, and on the blue line, which is not nearly deep enough, even if Ryan Whitney gets back in the line-up and his ankle holds up.
A healthy Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner will help. So will the addition of face-off man Eric Belanger and Ryan Smyth. I don’t see a fall-off by Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle or Magnus Paajarvi and I’m eager to see Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Anton Lander.
All that said, the Oilers can and might be 20 points better and they still won’t climb many places in the conference.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.