Fans and media types alike love making predictions. If we’re right, whether we’ve made your bold pick after running spreadsheets or reading tea leaves, the inclination is to crow, “I called it.” If we’re wrong, as we most often are, well, crickets and on to the next one.
In an off-season that’s generated more optimism about the Edmonton Oilers than I recall during nine straight years out of the playoffs, Hockey Night In Canada host Ron MacLean set the bar higher than anybody back in July when he was asked about the addition of Connor McDavid and what that might mean to Edmonton’s return to respectability after spending so many years stuck in the muck.
“Fantastic. I think for sure playoffs,” MacLean told Sportsnet. “I tell you who’s going to be lights-out this year is Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall . . . you watch Eberle take off. He’s already been great in international hockey, but I think this is going to be his year, Taylor Hall’s year.
“And Connor McDavid and Darnell Nurse will fit in. Gimme a glass of wine or a beer, and I think in two years they win the Cup. That may be a little eager, but I don’t think more than four.”
Playoffs for sure? Stanley Cup within two years, no more than four? Even with four five glasses of wine or beer, I think MacLean is being even more optimistic than when I picked 11 Oilers to finish with at least 40 points several years ago in a hockey pool here at Oilersnation. That said, even if he’s wrong, it’s a welcome change-up from the doom, gloom and ineptitude fans around here have endured.
FIVE FEARLESS PREDICTIONS
CONNOR MCDAVID. I’m not as bullish as a lot of people are about how many points McDavid will amass as a rookie. Over at The Hockey Writers, for instance, scribblers have McDavid pegged for 80 points and they have him winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. That’s here.
I wrote earlier this off-season that I see McDavid finishing with 69 points and I’m sticking with that. That’s based on scoring at a rate of .89 PPG with him playing 78 of 82 games. As for the Calder? Yes, McDavid wins it.
THE NEXT CAPTAIN. I don’t think who wears the C is nearly as important as a lot of people do. I’ve always believed leaders will lead regardless of who has the letter. That said, the optics of having Andrew Ference continue as captain, as good a pro and citizen as he is, aren’t great if he’s in and out of the line-up. If the change is made before the start of this season, it’ll go to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. If it happens next season, the letter will go to McDavid.
LEADING SCORER. If Taylor Hall plays left wing with McDavid and the rookie performs as I think he will, I see Hall leading the Oilers in scoring and surpassing his career-high of 80 points (2013-14). Hall had that total in a season in which his centre, Nugent-Hopkins, had 56 points.
REINHART OR NURSE? What I’d like to see and what I think will happen are two different things. What I’d like to see is a job competition based solely on merit where Reinhart and Nurse could both start here if their performance dictated, but it doesn’t work that way. I think Reinhart gets the early push and starts the season here while Nurse goes to the minors.
PLAYOFFS? No. The Oilers had 62 points last season. I see a 20-point improvement as acceptable progress. I see a 30-point gain as the absolute upper limit if everything falls their way, which will still leave them short of the post-season. They’ll split the difference and be better by 25 points.
On May 5, I wrote an item about the possibility of a return to the good old days when the Battle of Alberta really was a battle – when both the Oilers and Flames had terrific teams at the same time and went at each other like there was no tomorrow. The BOA has been anything but that in recent years.
I think we’ll see a big step toward a return to that this season, not just because the Oilers will be better but because I expect the Flames to be every bit as good as they were last season, when they finished eighth with 45 wins and 97 points, 35 points ahead of the Oilers.
The Flames fooled everybody last season – I had them finishing behind the Oilers in the Western Conference in my pre-season picks. Even when it was clear the Flames were better than most of us thought they were, a lot of the advanced stats crowd had them falling off because many of their underlying numbers were less-than-impressive. They didn’t. A lot of people predict that decline will come this season. I don’t see it.
GM Brad Treliving is a sharp guy. He was as aware as anybody that the Flames beat the odds to win as often as they did in 2014-15. Treliving couldn’t stand pat and expect the same results — a run to the second round accomplished without Mark Giordano – and he didn’t. Treliving has had as good an off-season as any of his peers, inking Giordano to a long-term extension, stealing Dougie Hamilton from Boston and adding forward Michael Frolik.
Barring an unforeseen calamity of injuries, I don’t see the Flames falling off a bit. I see them right in the 95-98 point range again – and I see the Oilers finishing within 15 points of them. The BOA is on its way back.
WHILE I’M AT IT
- A must-read item posted by Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy this morning: What NHL players are told about rape, domestic violence. Find the entire item here. There are several links within the story worth following, including the “Read the list” link.
- Good to see former Oiler assistant Craig Ramsay land another NHL gig. Ramsay, fired along with Keith Acton in June, will be a coaching consultant with the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs announced his appointment earlier this week.
- Sorry to hear about the passing of Al Arbour. The Islanders were my favourite team as a kid because of all the players they drafted out of the WHL and Arbour was the man who made them what they were. A true leader of men. RIP.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.