I don’t want to get too many hopes up (?) but the Oilers are
absolutely capable of dethroning the Buffalo Sabres for the title of “Worst
Team In The NHL” in the final stretch of the season.
Now I know everybody has already crowned Buffalo the worst
team in modern history, but I still think there’s a combination of events that
can absolutely conspire to put the Edmonton Oilers into guaranteed McEichel
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN?
There are already eight points between Edmonton and Arizona so the
real competition for suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked is really between
Craig MacTavish’s Oilers and Tim Murray’s Sabres.
The Oilers, as I write this piece, are just two points ahead of
the Sabres with 37 points to their 35. Buffalo has one fewer game which means
the advantage is theirs in terms of remaining opportunities to accidentally win
games, but this Oiler team has been mismanaged and out-coached all year and they
aren’t about to let a little thing like more opportunities to win games get in
the way of a good tanking.
The first thing they need to do is ditch their best player.
And, as luck (Karma?) would have it, Taylor Hall has already left this road
trip to return back to Edmonton. The Oilers without Hall lack a creative
offensive weapon. Even in this poor season (by his standards) he is the engine
that drives the Oilers. The Oilers rushed him or allowed him to rush himself
back into the lineup before he was actually healthy, and they were instantly
repaid with a worse injury.
Combine that with their hottest player (Pouliot) also going
down and you get a recipe for disaster. Pouliot was riding an unsustainably
high shooting percentage of 20% to help inch the Nelson Oilers towards
respectability but he was nonetheless getting the job done. He plays a very
North-South game and has the reputation of being a great possession player. He’s
fast and forechecks very well.
Since both Hall and Pouliot went down the Oilers have lost
the elements of their top 2 lines that bring the most speed and as such have
looked painfully slow. Being dominated by the Penguins is one thing. Being
dominated by the Leafs is another altogether. That team that laid an egg
against a tired Leafs club is a 30th placed hockey team.
Damn it, Oilers. Even Glen Healy knows Petry is the team’s best Defenseman. This is embarrassing.
— Matt Henderson (@Archaeologuy) February 8, 2015
The second thing that needs to happen for the Oilers to
catch and surpass the Sabres as the worst team in the NHL is that Jeff Petry
needs to be traded for middling picks. Somebody is going to get a perfectly
serviceable second pairing defender who has been forced to be a first
pairing defender for the past two seasons for almost nothing. The Oilers,
meanwhile, will be forced to watch Andrew Ference with the bar lights turned on
for the rest of the year.
Ference will likely be the one to flip to the right side
while Aulie takes a spot with Fayne. Nelson will no longer be able to shelter
the Klefbom/Schultz pairing as he has either. It will most likely be the case
that the Oilers’ defensive depth chart will look like this post-Trade Deadline:
MacTavish thinks the Klefbom/Schultz combo is the first
pair already (for…reasons), but when Petry is gone they likely will be due to a
major usage change. That’s going to be a treat.
The last thing that needs to happen is that Oiler
goaltending just has to stay the same. Fasth has been mostly good since Nelson
took over but he’s still a wreck every three games or so. Scrivens still hasn’t
actually recovered, either. Fasth might end up traded, however unlikely that
seems, which means there’s a pretty good chance that Scrivens and his .894 save
percentage could start 15 or 16 of the last 20 games.
It’s a scary proposition but entirely plausible.
WHAT STANDS IN THEIR WAY?
The Sabres will fight tooth and nail to be the worst team
this year. They are already the worst ever possession team in the history of
the Advanced Stats Era. Their 37% Corsi For is 6.6 points lower than the second
worse possession team in the league and Toronto’s 42.9% from last year was the
lowest ever previously recorded.
They are historically bad at preventing and generating shots,
shot attempts, and chances. At even strength the Sabres create just 21.8 shots/60 and give up 34.0 shots/60. They are, effectively, hopeless.
Except for in net.
While their skaters are doing their absolute best job to
hang their goalies high and dry this year, the goalies have given Buffalo their
fair chance to be in the games they play.
For goalies it isn’t particularly praiseworthy to be over
.900 and under .910, however in relation to the poor job the Buffalo skaters
are doing, the goalies are knocking it out of the park. That’s still just faint
praise, but the Oilers can only dream about having goalies with save
percentages in the .900’s, so there’s that.
The Sabres have the inside track and the ability (or lack
thereof) to keep 30th place, but the Oilers are still capable of
catching them. It can still happen.
It’s a simple fact that the Oilers have the fewest wins in
the NHL with just 14. As such they also have the most losses even if they
picked up a bunch of loser points along the way. Craig MacTavish just has to
keep up the stellar job he’s done so far and dead last can be Edmonton’s once
He must be so proud.