Have the Oilers improved enough?

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I always go on holidays for the final two weeks of August,
because the weather is usually great, which it was, and it allows me to relax
and recharge before the sporting world explodes in September and October. It is
a great time to be a sports fan.

The NFL gets going –The Dolphins will win the AFC East — MLB
is in the stretch run and the Jays are ripping it up, the CFL season heats up
after Labour Day and NHL camps, for the rookies, start in less than two weeks.

There is no shortage of story lines heading into the NHL
season, and no team has had more major changes over the past five months than
the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers have a new president, a new general manager, a
new head coach, new assistant coaches and the most talked about prospect in a
decade, Connor McDavid.

Everyone expects the Oilers to improve, me included, but by
how much?

I’ve been asked more in the past two weeks if the Oilers
will make the playoffs, than I have in the past two years. There is a new
excitement amongst the fans, but are the playoffs realistic?

My first instinct is to say no.

I expect them to be more
competitive, but they would need to beat out the Kings or Flames to make the
playoffs. I expect five teams from the Central to make the postseason, meaning
only three from the Pacific will challenge for the Cup.

The Flames finished 35 points ahead of the Oilers and had 22
more wins. The Kings were 33 points better with 19 more wins. Many expect the
Kings to bounce back, and even if you believe the Flames will regress due to
their possession numbers last year, 22 and 19 more victories is a massive gap.

If the Oilers are to challenge
the Kings and Flames (I don’t see the Canucks being a playoff team), they will
need to stay healthy, get some lucky bounces and collectively play much more
competitively on a nightly basis.

IT HAS HAPPENED

Ten other NHL teams have improved by 35+ points from one season
to the next.

The San Jose Sharks went from 24 points in 1993 to 82 in
1994. They had a 58-point increase,
the largest in NHL history, and they made the playoffs. They allowed 149 fewer
goals and scored 34 more than they did in 1993.

The Quebec Nordiques improved 52 points from 1992 to 1993. They scored 96 more goals in 1993 and
allowed 18 fewer than in 1992.  They had
missed the playoffs in five consecutive seasons before their 52-point jump up
the standings.

The Winnipeg Jets improved 48 points from 1981 to 1982, going from 32 in 1981 to 80 in 1982. They added Dale Hawerchuk amongst others and went from -154 GF/GA ratio to -13 in 1982.

The Pittsburgh Penguins improved 47 points in Sidney Crosby’s second season. They had 58 points in
his rookie season, before tallying 105 in 2007. They allowed 70 fewer goals and
scored 33 more in 2007 compared to 2006.

The 2002 New York Islanders finished with 44 more points than they had in 2001 (52
to 96). They were -83 in GF-GA ration in 2001, and improved to +19 in 2002.
They made the playoffs in 2002 after missing the seven previous years.

The Philadelphia Flyers had 56 points in 2007, but rebounded
with 95 points in 2008 for a 39-point
improvement. They allowed 70 fewer goals and scored 34 more. The Flyers had
made the playoffs for 11 straight seasons before self-destructing in 2007, so
their improvement wasn’t that unexpected.

The Dallas Stars improved 38 points from 1996 to 1997. They allowed 82 fewer goals and scored
25 more. They lost to the Oilers in the first round of the playoffs in 1997,
but won the Cup two years later.

The Detroit Red Wings also improved by 38 points between 1986 and 1987. They went from 40 points to 78 by
allowing 141 fewer goals and scoring six fewer goals. Their offence didn’t
improve, but their team defence did.

The 1982 Edmonton Oilers finished with 37 more points than they did in 1981. They are the only team in NHL
history to improve by 32+ points and make the playoffs both years. They scored
89 more goals and allowed 32 fewer goals in 1982 compared to 1981.

The Ottawa Senators improved 36 points between 1996 and 1997. They had 41 points in 1996 and
tallied 77 in 1997. Their GF-GA ratio went from -100 in 1996 to -8 in 1997, and it
started a streak of 11 consecutive playoff appearances.

NOTABLES…

It isn’t a surprise every team had a big improvement
in their GF/GA ratio, but only the Oilers and Nordiques did it by scoring more
goals. Most teams improved by lowering the GA. The Oilers have been the worst
defensive team in the NHL over the past decade, and if they plan on making the post season for the first time in
ten seasons, the entire team needs to be better defensively.

Excluding the 1982 Oilers, all of the other teams had significant
change to their rosters and coaching.

The Sharks, Islanders, Red Wings and Jets hired a new coach during
the off-season, while the Nordiques, Penguins, Flyers, Stars and Senators fired
their coach at some point in the first season, but started the rebound season
with the coach who had taken over midway through the previous year.

The Oilers have a new coach with a new philosophy and a potential franchise player in McDavid. I’d be shocked if the Oilers don’t improve, but I don’t see them becoming the 11th team in NHL history to improve by 35 points.

The good news for optimistic Oilers fans is ten other teams
have improved by 35 points from one season to the next. So it is possible.

What are your expectations?

PUCK TALKS….

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The tour stops in Edmonton on Thursday, September 17th at the Pint off Whyte. Join me, Jason Strudwick, Mark Spector, Bob Stauffer, Joanne Ireland, Derek Van Diest and Chris Johnston for a fun night of hockey talk and stories.

You can get tickets here. Use the promo code Oilersnation and you will get a 25% discount. See you on the 17th.

Recently by Jason Gregor:       

  • Soiled Trousers

    Hey guys I just got of the phone with Hockey Jesus and the news is not good. Hockey Jesus said as long as the stench of bold moves and six rings still wafts over this team the Oilers will be doomed. I don’t like it either but who I am to argue with Hockey Jesus.

  • Playoffs for sure this upcoming season! Get ready for a deep run when that happens.

    Why you ask?

    Better: Centers, Head Coach & Staff, Goalie, GM.

    More: Depth. Lack of depth sunk the good ship Oilers the last few seasons after the injuries of Oct/Nov hit.

    Less: Poor decisions by coaches & Management.

    No: Shortage of great fans who will go bananas if we even get a sniff by Christmas.

  • stonedtodeath61

    I can’t see it as a likely possibility, but I think the Oilers do have a chance at improving by 35 or more points. How many of the teams mentioned in this article had the chance to add someone who has the potential to be a generational player, who is expected by many to produce 70 points in his rookie season? Also, the new management and coaching staff is actually of an NHL quality. The Oilers are a much improved team, and though I don’t see them making the playoffs this year, I really hope that they prove me wrong.

  • MillHoodsHockey4Life

    Any combination of lowering goals against and increasing goals for totaling 1.5 per game will all but guarantee a playoff birth.
    i.e. 60 fewer goals against and 60 more goals for will mean 35 more points in the standings.

  • walljordan

    Oh c’mon man! You’ve got to know the Dolphins are at best a 10 win team. Pats will still have 12. And with the Texans, Chargers and Ravens in the same conference, they may not even make the playoffs.

  • Wiggleswag

    Oilers went 4-21-4 against the Pacific division last year. I expect that to change.
    0-4 against arizona should be 3-1; 0-4-1 against Cgy should be 3-2; 0-3-2 against Van should be 4-1. That’s 20 pts instead of 3.
    I believe we could get more.

  • SRELIOFAN

    The rational side of me says no playoffs this year, but the daydream side of me would love to see at least one more playoff series for Rexall’s last year. DO IT FOR THE COLISEUM BOYS!

  • Reg Dunlop

    The only bright spot I see this season is McDavid, say, 75 points and top rookie award. Eberle is good for 60 points, same for Hall who will miss 20 games due to injury. Goals against will improve a bit, Yak will not be a favorite of the coach, Larionov will get involved and he will be traded. Nikitin will be on injury reserve, replaced by Reinhart, who will disappoint, while Nurse learns his trade in the minors. Talbot will be a disappointment but Scrivens will bounce back a bit. The oil won’t win a game in October but the fans will show remarkable patience with new mgmt. None of the golden core traded in season, Oilers finish 26th with 70 points. Sorry sports fans, I can’t squeeze any optimism from this version of the squad.

  • Bob Cobb

    Jason, great blog, I believe the Oilers will be 20-25 pts better, of course I thought the same last year, hope its not a case of fool me once, fool me twice….

    Question, are the Oilers in on Franson?

    Eklund, who I believe throws ideas at the wall and hopes they stick, is saying they are one of the last 4 teams in on Franson. Before I completely discredit the report, I wanted to ask a guy who is more connected to people with Oiler ties than Eklund if there was any truth to the rumor.

    • 5 Cups

      Eklund and the Hockey Buzz are the Esquire Magazine of the hockey world.

      Remeber when he was on sportsnet and would not show his face! He got zero correct that day and it was all over for the man in the tinfoil hat.

    • Jason Gregor

      When I spoke to Franson’s agent in early August he told me six other teams had expressed more interest than the Oilers. I will double back and see if it has changed. A lot can change in a month, especially because the player’s demands likely have to change. Meaning a shorter term.

      Teams like Franson, but the ones I talked to were leery of a long term deal at the money Franson was looking for.

        • Jason Gregor

          Good catch…48 points. He wasn’t only new player though.

          New head coach in Tom Watt, added Paul MacLean (great stache), two new goalies and a few D…but Hawerchuk was a huge part. I think he scored 100 points as a rookie.

  • Natejax30

    Playoffs should be the goal. To heck with lowering any expectations in this regard. If the team we are intending to ice can’t get it done, change personnel.

    I think what people are missing about the McDavid factor is that he is going to instill a work ethic in this team unlike one we have seen since probably Messier/Gretzky. The other guys will watch him work and either get with the program, or be gone by Christmas. The settling for mediocracy is over, and everyone in that dressing room knows it. Country club is closed, time to get to work.

    Book a trip in mid April to southern California to watch Oilers vs. _______, it’s happening. Anything less, they might as well wrap it up right now and sit it out. I laugh when I see that playoffs shouldn’t be the expectation.

  • bazmagoo

    I see us finishing 10th in the conference with 90 points, but we will unfortunately be out of the hunt earlier then we would all like. A late season surge will see them close out the year on several positive notes, paving the way for our beloved Oil to achieve a playoff berth in 2016-17 : avoiding a dubious NHL record.

  • Oil Vice

    Two reasons why the Oilers should win more games then they lose this year, the core have made more money or have more experience in the NHL then most teams players not including first lines, if that doesn’t breed confidence then I don’t know what does.

  • Double Dees

    Hey Jason, thanks for reminding us;

    “The Flames finished 35 points ahead of the Oilers and had 22 more wins.”

    That’s only one shy of double the wins, and after only 2 years of re-build. Thank god we don’t have to listen to the old brain trust preaching patience anymore. I’m hoping to still be alive when the BOA is back.

  • DoubleDIon

    I brought this up in another article, but you had in the 12-13 season:

    Ryan Whitney, Nick Schultz, a young Petry, Pekham, Smid, a rookie Justin Schultz, Corey Potter, and Fistric.

    They were in the middle of the NHL in goals against.

    It begs the question: Is that D lineup better or worse than the current lineup?

    Obviously, goaltending and coaching will play a big part of the defensive success of the team.

    People are way too focused on the D roster.

    That same year, the Flames were 3rd worst in the NHL in goals against. With Giordano, Brodie, Wideman, Bouwmeester, and friends. That roster shouldn’t have such horrible results, but again, defense is more than just the D roster.

    Systems, goaltending, offense buying into the system…the Flames 12-13 season demonstrates that these things matter just as much, if not more.

    The Oilers need to improve the roster, no doubt, but asking for contracts to be bought out, trading a superstar forward for below market value, or signing an above average UFA D at superstar prices…those are poor options. I believe the team can make do for one season.

    • Jason Gregor

      Dubnyk had a .920sv% that year. Oilers were getting outshot heavily. He was bigger difference than the defence.

      Oilers gave up 3.5 more shots per game than Flames. Oilers gave up 2nd most shots in the NHL. Goaltending was reason they weren’t in bottom of GA. They were 18th.

      • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

        Indeed, I think the contrast wouldn’t have been so pronounced had Kipper played his usual self. He had a dismal year and it hurt their results.

        Can McLellan get the team to play a defensive style that prevents shots on net, and can Talbot play a .910 game? I say it’s quite possible, which is why I’m not too focused on making big moves to shake up the D makeup this year. (Next year as contracts expire, sure, go crazy)

        • Jason Gregor

          I don’t see it as simply as a system to limit shots, but skill and desire of players to win battles and have the size, strength and smarts to make the right play. The Oilers have simply not had good enough D corps the past few seasons.

          They’ve added four new players potentially, and at the very least guys like Schultz will play fewer minutes, which should make him better.

  • M22

    Interesting: in the 2013/14 season, Nashville, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Calgary finished 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th in the conference standings, with only the Oilers below them. All four teams made the playoffs the following year. I doubt many, if anybody at all, predicted this.

    Also in 2013/14, Colorado, San Jose, LA, and Dallas finished 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th. All four teams, which include the SC champs, missed the playoffs the following year.

    My point? Hockey is unpredictable – anybody remember 2006?. So, let’s not get too wrapped up in the number of points the Oilers have to make up. Why? There is no gap! Everyone starts at zero. We aren’t 35 points behind anybody. And most importantly, the changes this organization has undergone since April 17th are about as big as one could realistically imagine.

    Granted, there are still moves to be made, but we have the people in place now, and the assets, to do so.

    Oilers make the playoffs.

  • sofarsogood

    You can have Weber and Keith on the blue line, but until the top six start plaibng 200 feet of the rink , there is no chance of a playoff team here.!! I am looking at Hall, Yak, Eberle.
    Could include Purcell, but he is no top six in my books.

    You have to ask the question, if Winnipeg can make the playoffs with half the talent.. whats wrong with the picture.

  • sofarsogood

    They will start at a .500 clip. Sometime it will click for the gang and they will go on a 15 out of 20 win streak. To me this .750 winning clip will coincide with Darnell nurse and Shultz stepping it up. (Mainly nurse and throw a little bit of klefbom in there also). In other words when there defensive awareness as a team picks up. If that is halfway thru the season or later then we won’t make the playoffs. If it is before the 40 game mark we will make the playoffs

  • sofarsogood

    I see the redesigning of the Edmonton Oilers as largely a two-year project that is well under way, will continue during this season, the next off season and during the following season in the new building. I see them as likely a playoff team by that point, but I think their point total this season is the toughest to call in the NHL. We have the pieces on the blueline, but they will take time to be ready and at least another year to make a significant impact. The number 82 seems stuck in my head, but I think it could slide as far as 10 points up or down. I am optimistic but have been burned so many times in the past 9 seasons that I will have to be shown we are finally on our way up.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    BAHAHAHAHAHA is this an actual thread discussing the Oilers chances of making the playoffs.

    By December they’ll already be eliminated, fans will be throwing jersey’s on the ice and the focus will once again shift to tanking for a high draft pick as per the norm…read this novel too many times.

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      I am glad you call yourself Delusional because you say we will have all the bad stuff we had before and all the changes over the summer meant nothing. Therefore we will make the playoffs and have a great year!

      • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

        Keep drinking the Kool-Aid there Sheldon

        When you actually have a real goalie with more than 60 games NHL experience and a Defence that isn’t bottom 5 in the league then people might start taking your team seriously.

        This isn’t the 80’s where all that matters is having a high powered offence

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    And had we beat the Flames twice, they don’t make the playoffs.

    We were brutal, no doubt about it. I hope the Flames get pummelled like they did against the Ducks all season long.

    They are not a secret anymore and a ton of teams out there improved so let’s wait until the season begins before we name them the darlings of the division.

    I hope expectations do them in.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    Will it make any difference to final results other than perhaps positive to incorporate McDavid , Draisaitl , Reinhart and Nurse (all of them as a new wave group) into roster right off the bat ? Cheers for positive Trash for negative results

  • Jason Gregor

    HAVE they done enough ? Fans are generally getting fed up with making excuses for poor results of players , coaches and management . The new regime will ultimately get judged by their results (positive or negative ) and what they did not do , just like MacT. and Tams before them . Fans have been overly patient on team , and I doubt they want to also have to show a lot of patience on new regime on top of that . It’ll boil down to what they failed to do , more than what they did if results are still bad . Sticking with too many failed players from last season will probably not sit to well with fans if results remain minimal . One has to ask , if MacT. and group was still in effect and this is what he did , would we judge him harshly for those things he appears not to have seemingly fixed ?

  • DoubleDIon

    The perpetual off-season optimism in Oilerland. Your latest one-dimensional forward won’t help either. Should have traded down for Eichel. He plays a 200 foot game. Should have moved Eberle+ for a defenseman.

  • DoubleDIon

    Flames fans would swap out their team with the oilers in a heartbeat. Oh yes you would haters. Jealousy,such an ugly emotion. The reality the oilers are on the way up for years to come. Flames will be lucky to duplicate last year’s total.