mailbag, there was a question about the Edmonton Oilers playing down to
their opponents, failing to capitalize on opportunities to knock out bad teams.
In fact, that isn’t even a little bit of a problem for
Edmonton. The Oilers have gotten quite efficient at thrashing the dregs of the
NHL. The problem is that Edmonton routinely gets hammered by good teams, even
As a quick way of determining the Oilers’ performance, I
decided to break the league into three tiers. The Oilers are currently in the
top tier, ranking 10th overall in points/games played this season. Here’s how
the club fared by record and goal differential against each group:
- The 10 best teams (excluding Edmonton): 3-7-3 record, 44% of
- The 10 middle teams: 6-5-4 record. 41% of goals scored
- The 10 worst teams: 17-3-1 record, 62% of goals scored
Edmonton destroys the weaker siblings of the NHL. Unfortunately,
the Oilers are less impressive against the rest of the league. That’s a problem
for at least two different reasons.
The first is that the schedule gets a lot tougher the rest
of the way.
So far this season, Edmonton has played 43 percent of its
games against the 10 worst teams in the NHL. That’s not quite as lopsided as it
sounds—after all, the Oilers winning record has helped push Calgary and Winnipeg
into the bottom-third of the league. Nevertheless, Edmonton plays less than
one-third of its remaining games against those lesser teams.
Instead, they’ll play 40 percent of their remaining games against
top 10 teams, including six against division rivals Anaheim and San Jose.
The second issue is that when the playoffs roll around, the
Oilers won’t have the option of torching bad teams. They’re only going to be
playing top-20 teams, and their 9-12-7 record against those clubs does not
Given those problems, two things stand out to me.
The first is with regard to the games coming up. Over the
next two days, Edmonton will play Anaheim and San Jose in their own buildings.
These were already seen as important games because of the battle for the Pacific
division title, but they’re also a chance to get a read on what the Oilers can
do against the most successful teams in the league.
If Edmonton can play convincingly against the Sharks, Ducks
and then the Wild next week, it will do a lot to improve their record against
good teams. I don’t generally go in for so-called “statement games”, but that’s
what these are.
The second, related point, is with regard to the trade
deadline. The Oilers are in a tough spot approaching the deadline because it’s
not clear to what degree they should mortgage the future on rental players. The
West is wide open and Edmonton’s record this year is impressive, but at the
same time it wasn’t all that long ago that the Oilers were a pretty bad team
and there are still some significant holes on the roster.
Right now, I’d lean toward a conservative approach,
something that’s been reinforced by digging into the Oilers work against the
best in the league. If Edmonton can knock off their top divisional opponents,
however, the idea of picking up some talent in the hopes of putting together a
playoff run will be a lot more tempting.