How much does the Oilers’ 3-6-1 start matter?

Has Edmonton dugs itself into a whole that will be extremely difficult to get out of? Is the team’s 3-6-1 start a hallmark of things to come?

The Last Five Years

The chart above shows every team over the last five 82-game NHL regular seasons to start with just three wins in their first 10 games played. I was surprised to find that six of the 11 teams ended up in the post-season; my assumption had been that the lousy start would have some slight predictive value but if it is there the predictive value is too slight to show up over an 11-team sample.

Put shortly, many a good team has started a year poorly. There is little to worry about inherently in a poor 10-game start.

The Caveat

The interesting item with that list is what happens when we add a category to show if the team in question had made the playoffs the year before. Of the six teams to make it into the post-season after a lousy start, five had been playoff teams the year prior and the lone exception (the 2009-10 Nashville Predators) had missed by only three points in 2008-09. Of the five teams to miss the playoffs after a lousy start, four had missed the year before and the exception (the 2009-10 Anaheim Ducks) had been an eighth seed in 2008-09.

That’s where the worry comes from. It isn’t that Edmonton has had a poor start, which shouldn’t matter much given the sample of games involved. It’s that Edmonton had a poor start and is coming off years of failure – there is ample evidence for anyone that believes this is what the Oilers really are.

Dallas Eakins had a line in training camp about rookie defencemen trying to break on to the team. After explaining that the depth chart had eight guys who were NHL defencemen, he said it was extremely hard to take a job away from players with that kind of background.

The same applies on a larger scale to teams: for any team that was on the outside looking in, it is extremely difficult to push somebody else out of a playoff position. Looking at the last two 82-game NHL seasons, three of the four teams to make the playoffs in 2010-11 made them again in 2011-12. Not that dramatic change is impossible (one of the new playoff teams was Ottawa, which went from minus-58 in 2010-11 to plus-9 in 2011-12); it’s just very difficult.

Did Craig MacTavish do enough in the summer to get the Oilers over the hump? If not, can he make a difference now? We’ll see; the early start isn’t reason enough to write Edmonton off but they’re trying to climb from a long way back.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Not sure if everyone’s aware, but Oiler insider Anonymous broke the news of a major trade that will be announced before 10 this morning. 3 way multi player move with close to 8 players changing teams.

    This will certainly affect the course of the coming season. We best sit tight and wait another 20 games to see how the 3 new Oilers fit into this team.

    You wouldn’t be bullshipping us, would you Anonymous? We await this Gretzky’esque type announcement.

  • Ducey

    Meh. They are 5 points out of a wild card spot. A little early to get excited.

    Interestingly they are in 24th right now – right where they wound up last year.

    I expect that they will get stronger. There are a lot of factors that contributed to a slow start – new coaches and system, multiple new players, Belov missing most of camp, Nuge learning to use his bionic shoulder, Gagner being out (although Arcobello has replaced him nicely) and DD’s early struggles. Hall’s injury is a concern, but they should be able to play .500 for the rest of the way.

    I still don’t think they are a playoff team, but an improvement to around 18th to 19th overall should be possible.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Almost every single team on the chart that
    had a noted “yes”, had a solid or outstanding goaltender in the line up or at least a goalie that stood on his ahead that year. Not so, with the current Oiler team.

    To the point , “did MacT” do enough this summer. Simple answer is NO, but is wasn’t for the lack of trying. He came back from his fishing trip without a top-2 D man, a better goal tender and a top six center man.

    Not sure that Ference and Gordon, while good are not up to par on his shopping list.

  • Spydyr

    Still some pieces to pick up but this year seems to be trending better than under Mr. Dithers. It appears they are at least trying to win now.

    The usual suspect still remain:

    1) Top Defensemen. Thinking that will cost one of the kids eventually.

    2) Some grit , nasty and size in the top six. Perron helps but they need more.

    3) An upgrade in net. This should happen next summer. This is Dubnyk UFA year and unless he finally proves he is the guy a change will be made ,bringing in a free agent goalie next summer.

    • Hair bag

      I think the first 2 points might be filled from within in the next couple years without trading one of the kids. I’m with you in that I’m not sold on Dubnyk.

        • Hair bag

          I agree, but patience will be the key for the whole team. In the next 3-4yrs the core group will be in their mid-twenties which will be their prime and hopefully when they can start making runs at Championships – the painful part will be now until then. They might not make the playoffs this year but if they can be close and progress to the point where they make it next year and go a little deeper the year after that I think it is a reasonable expectation. Oiler fans are passionate, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and no matter how much we want success it is still going to be a while yet…

          • Spydyr

            Hey, I think most of the fan base are good with waiting a while longer. As long as they compete every night. They have to stop playing like they did the first period in Montreal last night. Bring it every game , every period , every shift. This fan base will forgive youthful errors but not lack of intensity and try.The time to start building a winning attitude and habits is now.

          • Hair bag

            Agree, I was swearing at the tv when Eberle, Nuge were trying to make fancy passes out of the d-zone and getting picked off. Not long after Jones made his stupid cross ice pass and it ended up in our net. But these are mental mistakes – they need to have better game awareness about what plays can be attempted at what times in the game – sometimes you just need to relieve pressure and get it out or dump it in and go get it again. Unfortunately the boys try to make skill plays all the time and that just doesn’t work, sometimes you just have to outwork you opponent rather than outskill them.

    • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

      I kind of like Dubnyk but if he has another year where his SP ends up at .920, I think the oil are in tough.
      -He won’t have proved himself
      -He won’t be worth a big raise
      -Looking at the UFA list for goalies next year,there is nothing that I see as a sizable upgrade on DD, without overpaying.
      -We need a #1 D more than an upgrade in the net.
      Looks like a bit of a rock vs hard place.

      • Ducey

        If he has another year with a .920 save % he will likely be in the top 15 goalies. The thing that save % doesn’t tell you is where the shots come from. I would guess that DD’s quality of shot is much higher than someone who plays in BOS or NSH.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    At least Dubnyk looks like he’s back. Hopefully Bunz and Roy can recover from the off years they’ve had, a couple seasons ago the goalie prospects looked like one of the strongest areas organizationally.