MY GUT SAYS OILERS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS

As a sportswriter, I’ve been guilty of letting my gut overrule my head more than once, with decidedly mixed results. I find myself rolling the dice again as I contemplate the possibility of the Edmonton Oilers making the playoffs this season – assuming the NHL gets around to playing one in January.

Such a prediction flies in the face of common sense and the odds, of course, but as the lockout has dragged on I’ve become more convinced the Oilers will put an end to six straight years out of the post-season if the NHLPA and Gary Bettman can come to their senses in time to squeeze in a 48-game schedule.

Having finished 21 points out of a playoff spot in 2011-12 with a 32-40-10 record for 74 points, it’s a sucker’s prediction, but it’s one I made live on the air with Jason Gregor during his show at On The Rocks Wednesday — without having sampled a single beverage. I feel the same way today.

Reasons why? A few, aside from that gut-feeling thing – the same gut that had me convinced Jeff Deslauriers would one day be a regular NHL starter. There is, in other words, considerable margin for error when ignoring one’s brain. It goes something like this.

NO REST FOR THE BEST

Much of my optimism hinges on Edmonton’s best forwards hitting the ground running if Bettman and Donald Fehr sort things out after ringing the New Year because they’ve been playing at a relatively high level as opposed to sitting around or taking a casual twirl in their local beer league to stay busy.

As everybody knows, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have been tearing it up in the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons. RNH is taking a break to captain Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.

Ales Hemsky, as Gregor noted earlier today, is having his way with the opposition while playing with Pardubice in the Czech Republic. So far, no signs of the shoulder and confidence issues that plagued him last season.

Sam Gagner, who will slot in behind Nugent-Hopkins at centre in Ralph Krueger’s line-up if there is a season, has also stayed busy and productive. Gagner is playing in Austria with Klagenfurt, where he’s scored 10-8-18 in 18 games. He’s also been added to the Team Canada roster for the Spengler Cup.

Factor in rookie Nail Yakupov playing in the KHL and Ryan Smyth about to join Gagner for the Spengler Cup in Switzerland, and Edmonton’s offensive top-end should be primed and ready to go.

I have no way of accurately measuring what that’ll in terms of wins and losses to start the season, but if it contributes to a reasonable facsimile of the start the Oilers put together a year ago, it’ll weigh heavily with a shortened schedule.

THE SCHULTZ FACTOR

Free agent snag Justin Schultz has had gums flapping during his pro debut with the OKC Barons, and with good reason. The former Anaheim prospect is tied atop AHL scoring with Eberle at 38 points on 14-24-38.

Schultz, who has drawn favorable comparisons to everybody from Paul Coffey to Scott Niedermayer – even if that seems overly optimistic at this early stage of his career – looks like the puck-moving defenseman and power play catalyst the Oilers have been lacking. What will he do at the NHL level? I don’t know, but a lot of people can’t wait to find out.

The other key component impacting Edmonton’s blue line is the other Schultz, Nick Schultz, who came over from Minnesota in the Tom Gilbert trade last season. Lost in all the fuss over his namesake, I’m convinced Oilers fans will soon understand just how quietly good Nick Schultz is, and what he means to the group as a whole, the longer they see him play.

THE WILDCARDS

The most important wildcard for me is the extra time the lockout has given Ryan Whitney to heal and rehab after two very difficult seasons battling foot and ankle injuries. While there’s no guarantee Whitney will ever be as good as he looked before his ankle came apart, the time away has provided him time to recoup. We’ll see what he’s got left.

With all the uncertainty, and rightfully so, about Edmonton’s goaltending, fans have to be happy with Devan Dubnyk’s inclusion on the Team Canada roster for the Spengler Cup. It’s not the NHL or the World Championships, but the tournament gives Dubnyk the chance to knock off the rust.

The other wildcard for me is impact of a shortened season. My sense, and again, I can’t put a finger on anything to prove it, is a shortened season will favor the youth and energy of a young roster while helping to mitigate questions of depth and experience that might be more glaring in a long haul.

Add it up, and the gut says playoffs in 2013.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Oilertown

    Franky, I Should Think that Robin won’t let that “Fist” slide.

    For It Should Totally be creative, or maybe less obvious

    Fortunately, Iwas Second To type something, so my post will probably stay

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    On the shorter season…

    Smaller sample size allows for greater diversions from the mean, right?

    So, while the prevailing assumption seems to be that diversion will benefit the Oil (i.e., a short season will cover over weakness and allow for bursts of enthusiasm/cohesion/greatness to define the season)…

    shouldn’t we acknowledge the equally likely scenario that a shortened season will lead to a greater diversion in the opposite direction?

    i.e., couldn’t the Oil just as easily sputter disastrously across a shortened time-frame, whereas a longer period of time would allow for those failures to be evened out?

    • BlueMile

      Yes, a shorter season could lead to an equal or greater deviation from the mean in a negative direction, if this could be considered a normal, symmetrical model that is, I think it is far more skewed than you believe.

      I’ll chime in with the typical Oiler blinders on because I absolutely agree with Brownlee here, the regular practice about 1/3 of the team, primarily the kids obviously, allows them to hit the ice close to speed.

      Yes, there are plenty other NHL’ers playing in alternate leagues right now so don’t get me wrong, if there is an abbreviated season we are not going to absolutely dominate, but I think a pleasant surprise is more in order.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        I wasn’t really challenging the points Brownlee was making.

        I think the Oil has a solid advantage in having their forward core playing together all the time in a competitive league.

        I just thought I’d note that in my (admittedly limited post draft hockey reading) I don’t recall anyone noting the possibility that a shorter season might cost the Oilers’ Playoff chances…

        it seems everyone assumes a short season is an automatic boon to their chances (I’m sure I’m overstating the case that’s been made)…

        whereas it seems worth noting the opposite seems at least as likely.

  • We still have Horcoff and the Belanger triangle so there are a few snags to worry about.

    On the bright side Schultz is a monster and is that a Pee-Wee’s stick he is using? Man that’s short. Must be his trick of the trade.

    My gut says they can make it on a shortened season and I’m interested to see what Krueger can do with setting up the core of our team moving forward.

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  • I have been predicting the Oilers make the playoffs every year since 2007. Welcome to the Insane Asylum Robin, I hope we get rooms next to one another!

    *goes back to rocking back and forth*

    • Yes, but my prediction is a gut-feeling based on decades of experience and is suported by volumes of advanced statistical analysis (G-A-PTS) provided by the Bronte 5000.

      On the other hand, your they’ll-make-it-every-year prayer is the product of blind fan-boy faith, a bag of Jordan Eberle’s hair and too much Mescal.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Isn’t the real issue with the Spengler Cup the fact that the Canadian Press still can’t figure out how to spell Ryan Effing Smyth’s name right?

    The Edmonton Oilers have a healthy presence on the Spengler team, with Devan Dubnyk, Sam Gagner, Ben Eager and Ryan Smith all wearing Canadian colours. Defenceman Cam Barker is a former Oiler.

    http://sports.nationalpost.com/2012/12/21/canadas-spengler-cup-team-gets-gift-from-nhl-lockout/

    ps. shouldn’t we be rejoicing that there’s more hockey around the corner… and hockey with an Oiler touch, no less?

    pps. I’d totally eat at “China Wang” delicious and hilarious!

  • Time Travelling Sean

    Why wouldn’t Gags get top line minutes? Who else is on the team that could/would/should bump him?

    Also lines aren’t always your best players playing together, they might want balanced scoring, or maybe Gags and Taveres have good chemistry.

    Seriously DSF, you aren’t the coach so how would you know?

  • Good Read Brownlee.

    I can consider myself a big Oilers fan; even admit to being bias on occasion; however I just can’t share your optimistic gut feeling that the Oilers will make the playoffs.

    My gut tells me Tambellini will soon be out of a job when the Oilers are still a lottery team. My gut tells me our next GM will be Mac-T.

    I can’t get my head around all the points that you already mentioned plus the many unknowns that go into a season, I don’t believe I’m being pessimistic but being out of the playoffs watching this team play, one can’t help to be a little reserved in judgment, not to mention this is almost the same team that finished 29th.

    My bold prediction is 5th overall and last lottery spot on the low end, 8th overall on the high end.

    There is just a lot of work to get done in such a short time for a short season, even if the Oilers get a couple top defensemen, some new bottom six blood as well as another body or two, the time to develop and find that chemistry in such a small time frame would be a herculean effort.

    Would the Oilers be better off waiting till next year to make any significant moves? I know my answer.

  • Oilertown

    Doesn’t it make sense that a healthy Oilers squad should be in the playoff hunt? We have three budding superstars. And two fantastic rookies. Look at what the past years first overall picks have done in their rookie years. Healthy Hemsky, Sam Gagner, a couple decent depth players : Jones, Smyth, Horcoff, Hartikainen. Smid and Petry are very good. Healthy Whitney maybe, Schultz the older and the younger, I think the deciding factor whether we make the playoffs will be injuries and goaltending. To quote Lowetide, this team has a lot of good arrows.

  • Oilertown

    Actually I will give you Williams for stats right now but Williams is how much older then Gagner? Gagner will be putting up 50-60 points here very soon he would have done it last year if he didn’t have such a poor start.

    • DSF

      Seasons above 30 goals:

      Williams – 2

      Gagner – 0

      Seasons above 20 goals:

      Williams – 4

      Gagner – 0

      Seasons above 50 points

      Williams – 4

      Gagner – 0

      Yeah, this is really close.

      • Oilertown

        Good grief Gagner is a PLAYMAKER who will have a few 20+ goal seasons. He is only just passed legal drinking age in the states. Give it a rest dude your way outta your element.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        I tend to find these forced comparisons frustrating, unnecessary and (most irritatingly) designed with unnecessary malice.

        I can’t find a good reason why I should compare Williams and Gagner with any serious scrutiny, nor why I should compare the two to the obvious discredit of either.

        At any rate, even forgetting that Williams is nearly ten years older… I think some of these numbers are off

        http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php?pid=25856

        http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php?pid=93938

        looks to me that Williams has 0 30 goal seasons at pro level (ahl or nhl… It’s unclear what your marker was, nhl or pro)

        He has 1 20 goal season in the NHL.

        and 1 50 point season in the NHL.

        the same one season.

      • otter2233

        You fellas debating whether Williams is better than Gagner may want to make sure you’re referring to the correct Williams. It’s JASON Williams not JUSTIN Williams who is on the roster.

        EDIT: Nevermind! I see someone has beat me to the correcting!

  • otter2233

    What a refreshing read! Robin, you’re in mid-season form with this article. No team in the NHL has benefited from the lockout more than the Oilers. Sure the Oil lose a year of entry level contracts with the youngsters, but our top line is playing together in the AHL, RNH gets a chance to lead a national team to a championship, it allows the fragile guys to heal and it gives 4, 93, 14, 64 and 19 a year to bulk up.

    Robin, I have the same gut feeling.

    • Cervantes

      Mid-season form? No, I’m one of those vets who’ll take some time to get going again . . .

      There’s obviously still questions about the make-up of this team, even with the addition of Justin Schultz and the possibility of a healthy Hemsky and Whitney.

      I just have a hunch the cards might fall their way this season. If the Oilers can get off to the start they had last year, I don’t see them falling off the map like they did in 2011-12.

  • Cervantes

    I think the key to an Oil playoff run is a short season and our veterans.

    Almost always, we run good out of the gate, slump a bit during the break, run strong through the back half, then choke in the stretch. Because we shelter our kids with our vets, and our vets tire out. Horcs and Smytty were running over 20 minutes a game almost the whole season, that’s just ridiculous for anyone, especially guys in their 30’s.

    A short season means the vets still have plenty in the tank. Horcs and Smyth were killers the first half of the season, Mullet was running over ppg. The kids playing 30 games together already means they’ve got solid chemistry and good confidence. Add in the emergency of Smid/Petry as a Top4 unit last year, Whits having more rehab time, Hemmer feeling good, and our only solid question is how Dubs/Danis will do as our goalies, and what kind of depth we can pull together for D injuries.

    I think we’ll have trouble against strong teams, and we’ll mop up weaker teams. Given that a 48 will be entirely conference games, I don’t think that’ll work in our favour. But I’d sure like to see.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    To be honest, I don’t see any way there’s actually going to be a season. The owners side was clearly ticked after the players response to their last offer, and they’re determined to get the “last laugh.”

    Am I wrong? Because I would love to be wrong.

    Brownlee? Thoughts?

  • Kevrock

    The real problem with the Oilers coming fast out of the gate in shorten season is that all the teams will be, which will make for an intense hard hitting 48 games All the optimism will implode if (choose one) RNH, Hall Hemsky have shoulder issues from a physical pounding. Who is riding shotgun on this team, Eager?, lets hope mngt has been feeding him nails for breakfast or our hearts will be destroyed.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    cohesive/battle hardened, I guess that can be the glass half full suggestion, another might be harden veterans will be more rested and healed ready to punish, ie clutterbuck and all.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Love the optimisim assuming we have a new CBA in place. Yes the Oilers are poised to finally look good but we will never know until next year.

    The only problem with that is there is only three guarantees in life death, taxes, and Unions doing exactly the wrong things!

    I have never met collective intelligence and never will…………the season is as good as over.

    Sorry to be scrooge…….bets anyone?