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Photo Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Great Expectations

After 10 years of ineptitude and seeing the bar lowered, fans celebrated last Tuesday when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a playoff spot for the first time since their stunning run to the 2006 Stanley Cup final with a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. After the Decade of Darkness, it was overdue and to be expected.

In the wake of defeat, a carousel of coaches, untold bungling in hockey-ops, some questionable drafting and free agent signings and unquestionable failure on the ice, fans who’ve hung in with egg on their faces for what has felt like forever had every right to fist-pump. The Oilers are back in the dance. Anything can happen. Just get in, baby. Media types and bloggers alike penning “remember when” bits. It’s called enjoying the moment. It’s all good.

Having been part of that wild ride in 2006 as the Oiler beat writer at the Edmonton Sun, I was going to scribble one of those pieces myself, right here today. “My son Sam wasn’t even born when I flew out of Raleigh after Game 7 and he’ll turn 11 this August . . . I was still in my 40s then, today I’m eligible for senior’s discounts on pancakes and eggs at many restaurants . . .” That sort of thing.

For me, that stroll down memory lane went right out the window via the delete key with Thursday’s 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Place. The Oilers are 43-25-9 for 95 points with that victory and play the Anaheim Ducks with the Pacific Division title on the line Saturday. It’s a game the Oilers can win. Hell, it’s a division the Oilers can win.

So, while it’s great that the Oilers, who need five points from their final five games to hit 100 points for the first time since they had 106 and won their third Stanley Cup back in 1987, are back in the playoffs, I can’t help but think there’s more here than just a return to the post-season. I’ve got greater expectations. I’m guessing I’m not alone in that. I know I’m not. For me, that’s the story.

RAISING THE BAR

Mar 30, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) and left winger Patrick Maroon (19) and defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) and defenseman Adam Larsson(6) and center Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrate a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers long ago exceeded every expectation I had of them at the start of the season. They’ve exceeded every expectation I had when it finally sunk into my thick skull a couple of months ago that they’d make the playoffs. I watched the win over San Jose and the bar went up again. How about you? If not, why not?

“I expected us to be competitive,” GM Pete Chiarelli told Terry Jones in The Edmonton Sun today. “I think I said 83 or 85 points, but I looked at maybe making the playoffs with 87 points. We’re at 95. Maybe we get to 100. I would hope we get to 100. If you’re in the mix, you never know what can happen at the end of the season.

“I expected a lot of what has happened to happen. We made significant moves. We were getting significant players back. I expected significant growth. I expected our goaltending to come back and continue to trend toward where he is going. But in my experience, when you expect all these things, usually they all don’t happen. A lot of them happened. Not all, but a lot of them.

“I’m happy and pleased with where we are. Are we a little bit ahead? Yes. But I’ll take it because we’ll be even more ahead because we gained this experience of going through these tough games to get into the playoffs and gain experience in the playoffs.”

The Oilers have gone “through these tough games” like a hot knife through butter. They are 8-1 in their last nine games as they brace to take on the Ducks, who come in one point up on them with five games remaining. Maybe I fell down and hit my head last night without knowing it, but I don’t see one first-round match-up I think the Oilers will be outclassed in – not Anaheim, not San Jose, not Calgary. They already swept Calgary. They’ve won the last two with San Jose. I don’t sense, “We’re just happy to be here.”

THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR

The Oilers were huge underdogs when they opened the 2006 playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings finished 29 points ahead of Edmonton in the standings. Who had the Oilers winning more than a couple of games in that series? Hands up. Is there one Western Conference team you look at this time around and think the Oilers have no chance against? Chicago? Minnesota? I don’t see one.

Game by game, stretch by stretch, the Oilers keep checking off boxes for me. They beat the Sharks Thursday in a game that could have got away from them in the first 10 minutes – a game that used to get away from them in the first 10 minutes. They put away the Kings in a tight game. They can win big. They can win small. All told, the Oilers are 16-5-3 within the Pacific Division. They’re 29-10-6 against the Western Conference. They’re 23-12-4 at home where, for the first time in a very long time, they haven’t thrown out the welcome mat. There actually is a home-ice advantage.

Twelve paragraphs in and I haven’t even mentioned Connor McDavid. He’s not only going to win the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring leader – with apologies to those who believe in jinxes – he is running away with it. McDavid, on a nine-game point streak, has 91 points. Patrick Kane in next with 84. Over. Done. McDavid can hit 100 points. He can win the Hart Trophy. I think he should.

Leon Draisaitl, also on a nine-game streak, appears to be bonus-bound. Cam Talbot is the goaltender the Oilers haven’t had since Dwayne Roloson got stupid good when the 2006 playoffs began. The Oilers can play a skill game and, with Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon and Zack Kassian up front and Adam Larsson and Eric Gryba on the back end, they can play the kind of heavy game that takes teams deep in the post-season.

You’ve seen what I’ve seen for the last 10 years, this edition of the Oilers is far from flawless and, as noted earlier, I picked them to miss again last October. If you think I’m blowing wishful smoke here, I understand why. While I remain in the “just enjoy the ride” camp after the DOD, my old gut tells me there’s a pretty good chance the ride might last a lot longer than anybody thought just a few months ago – unless it’s the pancakes.

There’s more here.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

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RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • shaner

    Sure hope your right robin. Flames scare me a bit more as a first round opponent because I think there rolling a bit better now. But honestly the only team is be legit scared of out of the west is Nashville….they just seem to be krypton ore to the oilers lately

    • McDavid's Comet

      I too believe Nashville would definitely give the Oilers a run for their money. Calgary? Not so much, a ten game winning streak is great and all but they have come back down to earth since then and are playing inconsistent hockey they were playing 3 months ago. Too bad, I would have liked to see an epic BoA in the first rnd. Doesn’t look like that will happen as of right now. 😢

    • Slocan

      At this point, I could care less who we face! Bring’em on!! Look, it is highly unlikely that we run the table these next few weeks, but boy would it be fun to finish tops in the division and take on Calgary. Go Oilers!!

  • shaner

    Also, I love ON and won’t pretend to understand “page hits, bounce rates and traffic” but man…….this comment section is sure crappy compared to how it used to be. I get everything is about driving traffic and maybe the desired result was cleaning up a lot of useless trolling but it’s also gotten rid of a lot of the fun chirping between rival “hard done by” fan bases……don’t be “New Coke” with your comment section

      • shaner

        Sure hope it’s raining where you are at so no one can see you crying! An observation, but I’m sorry for ruining your week. You were doing so well having such a great day, until I completely destroyed it, with my malicious and extremely harsh assault on this website. Sorry, really sorry

        • Makaveli

          Count me as one of the people who doesn’t like the layout of the comment section. Its also evident when you look at how few comments there are on each article compared to before. For me, I’m not a fan of the all white page with no boarders or colors to separate anything. To the eye it looks like everything simply blends together and is hard to read.

          • Hemmercules

            I’m with you on the background, I don’t like the entire thing bright white. Seems like lots of sports websites are going to everything borderless though, can’t say I hate it or like it. Pretty evident that the comments sections isn’t popular around here, BM probably isnt tired of hearing about it either ;).

          • CDNinATL

            I’m with you too. I love the layout of the main page. It’s the comments section that is also an issue for me. I’m fine with doing the whole conversation thing that they’re doing but at least put the oldest comments first so I can read them in order that they were posted.

      • Redbird62

        Maybe people will stop commenting on the change when someone responsible for Oilersnation actually addresses people’s feedback. Criticism of how the comments section works (or doesn’t work) seems to be the number one reason for comments on the site currently, yet unless I missed it, people like Baggedmilk have not responded to these criticisms in any helpful way. Judging from the fact that these changes appear to have happened on all Nations pages and not just here, it is probably not entirely their doing or all within their control, but some constructive feedback would be helpful.

      • Shameless Plugger

        I don’t think giving feedback is considered whining. When are you going to stop trying to police the comment section? LOTS of posters don’t like the comment section. It’s disorganized and confusing. All the rest of the site is amazing. But the comment section leaves something to be desired. Saying so is hardly whining.

  • Where's Your Towel

    Brownlee: not afraid to say what we’re all secretly wondering. I’m well-past being unsatisfied with the Oilers in any way this year (finally) but I can’t say I won’t be a little disappointed if they don’t make some noise – pushing a good team to the brink or crushing a weaker one.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    I think maybe, in hindsight, the thing we all under-estimated – if that was even possible – was the McDavid Factor. I’m not sure if I necessarily thought, before the season started, he’d run away with the Art Ross but given that he is, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise the Oilers are contending for tops in the division. When you’ve got the league’s leading scorer (and decent secondary scoring, which the Oilers have), then what you’ve got is an ability to generate wins. I know that sounds pretty obvious, but in today’s league where scoring’s so tight, if you’ve got the best scorer, you’re going to be in … and win … a lot of games. I think we all maybe underestimated that a bit. Offence doesn’t happen in a vacuum – and it’s not just “its own reward.” It generates wins and chances-to-win.

  • Spoils

    We’ve come so far from so low, and the team includes a lot of young young players we watch with an eye to the future (Klefbom, Nurse, Larsson, Puljujarvi, Draisaitl, McDavid…)

    So, it is easy to check the box and look to next year.

    But if 2006 taught us anything (besides the value of a #1D and a hot goalie), it should have taught us that any team can make noise in the playoffs.

    How far can this team go?

    One word – McDavid

  • ubermiguel

    After many years of “reasonable expectations” is refreshing to talk about “great expectations”. I think the Ducks will give us problems with their size and checking, and Chicago, Washington and Pittsburgh are still a different class of team though. I think one year of playoff experience is still needed to reach elite.

  • Space Pants

    The only thing not to love about all the winning…..and what’s that word….playoffs?…. is that KLown and WacT will be high fiving each other in the backroom thinking they are responsible for turning this thing around.

    • Hemmercules

      I would guess they don’t feel responsible for turning it around since neither guy really did anything roster wise in the last two years and there is only like 5 guys on the team that they had anything to do with. Part of me hates those guys for how terrible they did trying to build a team but both guys are Oilers and I’m still happy for them. I would guess they want the Oilers to win just as much or more than any of us do. I almost blame Katz more than them, he took way too long to put his foot down.

  • PlayDirty

    I ain’t skeered o’ nobody! Really though, we are seeing a professional team go about their business and they seem to be really focused. The playoffs can be a long-haul and the trick will be able to maintain that focus. They’re not a perfect team but they are good at a lot of things; a lot of things that win hockey games. It blows my mind how well they’ve done but gawd it’s good to see how it’s come together. Who knows how far they can push it, but I can’t wait to watch.

  • 99CupsofCoffey

    “The Hart Memorial Trophy, originally known as the Hart Trophy, is awarded annually to the “player judged most valuable to his team” in the National Hockey League (NHL)”

    That is the definition of McDavid. Not Crosby, not Bobrovsky, not Kane. But voters are weird with the Hart. They LOVE most points. I hope the guy who deserves the Hart gets it this year: Captain Connor.

  • Johnnyo

    Good golly Robin, I haven’t been this excited reading something since stumbling upon “Dear Penthouse” in my youth.

    Like I’ve been doing all season, I find myself believing more with every game, though tempering my expectations. This is going to be a fun ride!

  • Gravis82

    Oil need to: 1) upgrade one of Nuge or Ebs, 2) Upgrade the 3C and 3R, 3) Add offensive D. I would seriously think about playing nuge at 2R on his offwing is we could find a bigger, badder more effective 2C through an Ebs+ trade.

    I like nuge, but I think he would honestly be a more effective winger than a center.

    • Shredder

      This is old school thinking from the DOD. Every year around this time we’d be thinking about how to upgrade the team. I’m not going to say you’re right or wrong, but it’s time to start living in the present, and not for the next chance to build this team. Time to get out of that mindset. Ebs could score clutch goal after clutch goal, just like the Canadian Juniors. Maybe he won’t. Either way, let’s save the evaluations until the end of the year, which hopefully doesn’t come till June this year.

  • Shredder

    As you raise expectations, you set the bar, and subsequently raise potential. If you don’t believe you can run a marathon, you never will. If you think you can not only run one but do it in X hours, you’ll not only finish but also push yourself to a new limit. Once you hit that limit you set a new bar and raise the expectations again. That’s what this article is doing – setting a new expectation. We made the playoffs. We can win the division. Then…we just go round by round, 1 at a time with goal setting. If we can take the Stanley Cup champs to a shootout, we have a chance at beating them in the final round, and take the best hardware home. It’s too early to predict that, but from now on, we have one goal: Win that CUP!

  • Colin M

    I’ve heard many times thoughout the season that in many of the games, “the Oilers bent, but they never broke”. It’s like the kiddies toy “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down”. The Oilers overcome adversity, which is a big factor entering the playoffs. BELIEVE!

  • Oiler Al

    There has to be more……its apparent, but will it happen?Looking at last nites game, the “more” better come from the second line, and even the third line. They were both missing in action, big time!!!Nuge and Eberle didnt play nor act like they made the play offs.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    It’s true. This team can compete with anybody. I fear no matchup for this group. Now, this doesn’t mean they win it all or even win a round, but it feels good to have a team that is to be taken seriously as a contender and not just “happy to be here.” The McDavid effect, folks. Hart Trophy for sure. It’ll make up for the loss of the Calder last year.

  • Gravis82

    McDavid for Lady Byng? Just wondering. Hart, Art Ross, Byng, Conn Smythe, Stanley Cup? Can it all happen in one year?

    Lets also not forget that I think hes the best defensive forward on the team. No Selkie this year, but does have a staggering plus minus while playing against the best competition. Get that faceoff percentage up and he could win that too.

  • foureyedmike

    For what it’s worth, I think this is a better team than 2006. The backup goaltending concerns me, and the defence does a little… but looking around the league, the only really ‘complete’ team I can see is Washington.

    I think they’ll get at least into the second round.