5 Things: The case for the Oilers’ playoff hopes



Playoffs? We’re talkin’ playoffs.

1. Acknowledging reality

Okay so we all know the Oilers have not been good on the balance of the season. This much is obvious. Tough to put lipstick on being last in a rotten division with the second-worst point total in the league. Well, yes, technically they’re tied with four other teams, so maybe you say it’s fifth-worst, but I’m not too inclined to give anyone with only two more points than the Blue Jackets too much of a benefit of the doubt.

The good news, though, is that as was alluded to earlier, their division is rotten. Much has been made of the fact that there are currently no Canadian teams in the playoffs. “Which one can rescue the Great White North from a national nightmare?” and so on. It’s something people have been thinking about a lot at this point, and if I’m going to be bullish on one of them doing so — it’s hard, but I’m trying! — I believe I’d have to pick the Oilers. I think.

The Canadiens have the most obvious talent but they’ve been in such a death spiral all season that I’m starting to think even a return for Carey Price, whenever that may be, won’t be enough to rescue them at this point. Likewise, the Maple Leafs are finished and that is broadly acknowledged, because Peter Holland has been getting top-line minutes in recent games and, well, that tells you a lot. Ottawa has one great player and a few okay ones and a bunch of bad ones, and they’re not that far ahead of Toronto. So that’s the Eastern side sorted.

The Jets are done, because not even top-flight goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck (.924 in 23 games) can save a club this mediocre in a division this tough. Calgary and Vancouver are in the same position as the Oilers insofar as their division is the same and still really bad, but the talent levels on those teams, and the coaching they get, is clearly lacking.

So that really leaves just the Oilers. Not that I’m super-stoked about their chances or anything, but there is one X factor.

2. Of course it’s Connor McDavid

Okay yeah, he has a game-breaking talent that maybe only a handful of others possess. It’s incredibly difficult to be a point-a-game player in this league at any age, let alone as a rookie on a mediocre-at-best club.

I mean look, the kid comes back for his first games in three months and scores five points in about 20 minutes of ice time. That’s bananas. And sure, it’s Ottawa and Columbus, but I don’t think it’s telling tales out of school here to say that the Oilers look like a completely different team when he’s in the lineup than during the long, long stretch for which he was out.

Let’s just look at the basics here: The Oilers are 7-8-0 when McDavid is in the lineup, and 14-18-5 when he’s not. We’re dealing with small samples at this point, obviously, but one has to keep in mind that all eight of those losses came when the entire team was learning a new system from a new coach — their sixth since 2009-10 — so things weren’t exactly supposed to go smoothly. Or at least, they weren’t expected to.

McDavid has 17 points in his 15 games, and one has to imagine that even in his limited usage he’s having a big impact throughout the lineup. With him in, that moves every center down a rung on the depth chart, so it becomes easier for, say, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to deal with the opponents he’s facing and so on.

3. What’s McDavid’s impact?

In furtherance of this point, I will also say that of the 20 or so Oilers games I’ve watched this year — mostly McDavid’s but also several when he was out — you can see a substantial difference in the team’s overall play with and without McDavid. Again, tough to judge based on these small samples, but I was curious what these numbers would look like, so I ran them just for fun.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 6.09.59 PM

So like I said before, I’m not sure that you can take these as necessarily being face-value. Even with score adjustments, you have to acknowledge the Oilers brained their opponents in the last two games by a combined score of 12-3, so let’s not make too big a thing of how ugly things like high-quality chance differential. But at the same time, it’s like, “Well there’s not much different there,” and none of the data is particularly encouraging overall.

That certainly doesn’t feel or look like a playoff team, process-wise or indeed, in terms of results.

4. HOWEVER!!!

But what I think is interesting if you go deeper into that data is the fact that goals — which are, admittedly, more random than other numbers, especially in the small samples we’re dealing with — follow trends you might expect with and without McDavid.

With McDavid in the lineup this year, they’ve been outscored 30-32, but without him it’s 58-75. That works out to this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 6.24.50 PM

Is McDavid worth about 0.6 goals per 60? Maybe not, in and of himself. But again, if you’re adding him to the lineup instead of the standard AHL call-up, and then also shuffling all of Edmonton’s other forwards down the lineup, I buy that level of individual impact. That, I think, makes sense. The Penguins’ goals-related WOWYs vis a vis Sidney Crosby over the course of his entire career drops 10 percentage points — from 59.2(!) to 49.1 — so I believe it’s reasonable to make a similar claim about McDavid’s goalscoring impact.

And I also buy the improvement in their goals-against numbers because, again, the team is seemingly playing better defense right now than it did at the start of the year, and I’d be willing to attribute that to the continual learning of Todd McLellan’s system. They’ve improved substantially in this regard over the course of the year, largely in McDavid’s absence.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 6.34.01 PM

Will that continue? I’d have to guess the answer is in the affirmative.

5. Acknowledging reality, again

This isn’t any sort of great team, obviously, but you don’t have to be great or even particularly good to make the playoffs these days. Can Edmonton be a team that sneaks in? I’d have to put the binary odds at “no,” but there’s room for this team to go on a run moreso than just about anyone else in Canada.

McDavid is such a game-changer, and combining his superior offensive impact with a coalesced and altogether better defensive approach could — or rather, should — result in a better record down the stretch.

He’s not going to score 2.5 points per game every night for the remainder of the year, but any time you’re providing even one point a night you’re bringing such value to your team that it becomes harder to be pessimistic about a team with a player like that. Especially in a league with teams currently scoring just 2.65 goals per game.

With the Oilers playing tighter hockey and McDavid providing more offense, a late-season run isn’t out of the question. And I really can’t believe I’m saying that about the Oilers, but here we are.

  • Simpsonite

    “He’s not going to score 2.5 points per game every night for the remainder of the year…”

    I mean sure it seems unlikely he’s going to score 2.5 every game but it’s no less unlikely that the Oil make the playoffs. He can do it. I believe!

    Also I haven’t had coffee yet this morning so this thought is probably a little wiggy yet…

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Things have to line up just right for the Oilers, but a few 3-4 win streaks, maybe just maybe, Ottawa did it last year…. Until the blue and orange are mathematically eliminated, there’s still a chance, plus this still beats being out of it in November!

    I do hope PC is a “buyer” at the deadline to show the team he’s doing his part to push for a spot, and I’m not talking about a Jared Smithson “buy” on February 29th. Do what it takes to get Byfuglien if the Jets keep diving like they are. Even for a few months getting a player like him would do wonders for the teams psyche.

    • Spydyr

      I hope they don’t trade players for useless draft picks – anything after 2nd round.

      For example if they trade Purcell for picks in round 3 or 4 I would sooner keep Purcell so Oilers continue to have a chance to win. Deal with his situation in the off season.

      I also hope they buy and give play meaningful games down the stretch.

      The last time the Oiler were in a playoff push and acquired Smithson the Oiler players were disappointed that management didn’t have much faith in the group. the group wanted management to acquire rentals. If I remember the Oilers lost 8 of next 10 and were out of it.

      • a lg dubl dubl

        I hear ya. I’d like to see Purcell stick around after the deadline as well. He’s impressed me this year, and I was a Purcell hater last year. I’m tired of trading decent players for futures, the time to push the river(as LT says) is now!

  • lucky

    Before Oilers won lottery, I got tired of hearing Connor this and Connor that. I thought jeez the world doesn’t revolve around one hockey player. Happy to admit I may have been misguided.

  • Rhettimus1

    You acknowledge in the article that you’ve only watched 20 games or so. You shouldn’t be allowed to write an article on here and shame on oilers nation for allowing it.

  • Spydyr

    Playing meaningful games and learning to win down the stretch are things this team has never done. That learning experience, seeing what it takes to win down the stretch can only help them for future playoff drives. Like next years.

  • Rhettimus1

    Talbot deserves a bunch of credit for the team’s defensive improvement. I don’t see playoffs but I’m just looking for something to cheer for. Put the Habs away!

  • You just got LITT up!

    hahahaha! ok, I’ve read some really dumb articles / comments over the years on this site, but to claim the Oilers are Canada’s best chance at the playoffs, WOW! I’m so embarrassed that after 3 1st overall picks, a number 3 and a number 7 in the past couple of years that the Oilers are still just terrible. Think about it, all of our high end fire power and three scoring lines … and what do we do, we rely on the newest 1st overall and claim the season was lost because McDavid was injured. Why don’t we hold our team accountable? (and don’t tell me we’ve been injured all season – every team goes through injuries). Hall is good, but we will NEVER win with Hall in a leadership position. Hall is the best player in the league at scoring the 4th goal in a 7 – 2 victory, Yak is a bum! (enough said about him) and Nuge is good, but I don’t believe he is a piece of this team moving forward. Honestly think about, Nuge is too good for the 3rd line (where he plays next year – admit it ON), but he’s not good enough for the top 6.
    my 2cents and the end of my rant!

  • Dawn

    Thanks Lambert. Hope might spring eternal, but it’s usually taking a break in YEG by February. Nice to hear a hopeful word from from an out of market source.

  • Ever the Optimist

    Can’t say I am in favour of adding rentals. I just hope that Chia focuses on moving out the stale contracts. If Fayne (a mil in salary held by oil), Schultz, Ference (buy out) and Purcell.

    That would leave around 21 mil to sign a back up goalie, resign Kassian, Davidson and Pak then add another top 9 winger then fix the Defense with 2 RHD. That will lure some nice players here to compliment Connor.

    I personally hope to see

    hall-Backes-Drai

    Pou-McD-Ebs

    Kassian-Nuge-Yak

    Hend-Letestu-Pak

    Sekera – ???

    Klef – ???

    Nurse – Gryba

    extras being Davidson, Lander and Korpikoski.

    Seeing this line up with 2 good RHD inserted will make us all smile for a lot of games.

  • cityofchampions

    Why is everyone still on the “gotta get 3rd in the lousy Pacific Division” bandwagon? Its simply not true. The Oilers have a better chance of catching Colorado or Nashville for a wildcard than they do of catching Anaheim or San Jose for third (unless San Jose suddenly collapses, but anaheim will likely give LA a run for first). San Jose has 58 points and Anaheim 57 points in just 50 games. Colorado has 58 points in 54 games, and Nashville has 56 points in 52 games. If the Oilers make the playoffs (very unlikely), it’ll be as a wildcard, not as 3rd in the Pacific.

  • You just got LITT up!

    i am so pissed off being an oiler fan. Our invisible defense is laughable, powder puffy, no wonder teams love playing the oilers.
    Why or why do we keep going with Schultz, it seems he has no compete, never wins a battle, loses the puck all the time can’t think of anything or any reason he should be on the team , we had years of failure with him on the team its time he is out of here.
    Come on Chareli lets do something with the defense, maybe start with getting a good or better defensive coach, i don’t understand why our defense is coached to keep backing up give up the blue line, never make a play for the puck or the man, if the forwards don’t come back the d aint doing nothing because it seems they are too weak to take anybody out.