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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson / USA TODAY Sports

Been There, Done That

When it comes to contending for the Stanley Cup, history tells us that experience matters. Maybe not as much as having elite talent, depth throughout the lineup and staying healthy, but it matters. Teams that have been there and done that – been a part of a playoff stretch drive and gone a round or two deep in post-season — have an advantage over teams that have not.

It’s interesting, then, to contemplate how last season’s return to the playoffs after a decade out of the mix and going two rounds before losing to the Anaheim Ducks in seven games might play out for the Edmonton Oilers this coming season. Will an Oiler outfit that had 103 points last season benefit from the experience? Will they be a better team for it?

I think so. There are caveats of course. They have to stay relatively healthy after going virtually untouched at the top end up front and on the blueline last season. They’ll need another stellar year from Cam Talbot, if not the sheer volume, 73 games, they got from him last season. And, it goes without saying, they’ll need another MVP and Art Ross chase out of captain Connor McDavid.

All things being equal, or close to it, I think the Oilers should be better for the experience they gained last season. Exactly how that translates into wins, points in the standings and playoff success, will make for great debate as it plays out, but there’s no question expectations have been raised and that experience will play a part in it. It’s a matter of degree.

WHAT CONNOR SAID

Nov 23, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) and left wing Milan Lucic (27) celebrate the goal of center Leon Draisaitl (29) in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. The Oilers won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

McDavid, who’ll obviously have a more significant impact than anybody in the fortunes of the Oilers in 2017-18 and beyond, talked about expectations and the experience his team gained Tuesday with NHL.com at the BioSteel Camp in Toronto.

“It doesn’t really change much,” McDavid said of where the bar is set for the Oilers. “Last year, we were able to find a little success, but we shouldn’t change anything. Every year is a new year, and when you look at the turnover year to year, teams that made the playoffs last year aren’t a guarantee to make the playoffs this year.

“After going through the playoffs, you definitely get a sense for how important it is to go through it at least once before you win. Most teams that have won have lost the previous year or a few years before, so you have to get that experience. This might be a different answer than what we were saying going into the playoffs, but after going through it once, you definitely need that experience to understand how big the games are and how intense they get.”

I wrote about the experience angle in May. It’s here. A snippet from that: “When it comes to gaining experience and gathering what we call gamesmanship, there is no substitute for finding yourself in the middle of the fray, ready or not. That is exactly where the Oilers find themselves now. It’s not something you can study on film, that you can fully grasp based on words passed along by the handful of veterans the Oilers have in the room, although that certainly helps. You have to be in the middle of it, as the Oilers are now, going into Game 7 against the Ducks.”

THE WAY I SEE IT

Mar 30, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) celebrates after scoring a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

I understand, not that far removed from a decade of futility, why some fans wonder about the Oilers falling back a little this coming season. The most jaded (or Flames fans) might even see last season as a one-off and predict a big drop-off. I don’t see the cards falling that way. I think the Oilers will be right in the range of where they were in 2016-17 – a 100-point-plus team pushing for a Pacific Division title and in the top-four of the Western Conference.

Questions are many, of course. It goes without saying that everything changes if there’s a long-term injury to McDavid or Talbot, if the Leon Draisaitl we saw down the stretch and in the playoffs was a mirage. Catastrophic stuff. Barring that, I see the Oilers building on last season, not falling away from it. While it’s difficult to measure, I expect the been-there-done-that component to be a significant factor in that.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

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  • OilCan2

    I remember when the Oilers first went up against the Islanders in the Cup Final (and lost). Messier was injured and was watching from the Zamboni alley; you could just about hear the gears grinding he was so stoked. The next few seasons were a different story.

    None of the players will say it (on the record) but everyone knows we were ripped off by the Blind Zebras last spring. Who can forget Kessler mauling Talbot and the stupid goal was ALLOWED???!!! THAT will be motivation enough.

  • That’s exactly right. In Gretzky’s new book, he says that after they lost the ’83 Cup series 4-0, they walked passed the Isles dressing room and saw them all banged up, bruised, in pain while the Oilers weren’t. That’s when Gretz knew what it really took to win. Today, McDavid sees that and knows it’s going to take more although he’s now surrounded by players who get it because they’ve now “been there, done that”, to arc with this article’s title.

  • Hemi

    It strikes me strange that there are still folks (fans) out there whose majority of posts are negative based. We all get the decade of darkness and how bitter it may have turned some fans but Sweet Lord, lets move on shall we?

    The present management is by far (IMO), the best we have had in many years. There is no such thing as perfection so whatever warts they have, this team is still better off with the group of people, including PC, than without.

    As for the next hockey God himself, he is everything that personifies greatness. To those who will find fault with him both as a hockey player and as a person, your narrow mindedness is displayed everytime you try to cut this young man down.

    Having the best hockey player or for some, “soon to be the best hockey player” in the world combined with a very competent management group, the next 10 years or so has me as a fan of the Oil, completely pleased with how things are in Oil Town!

    Go OIL!

    • Rock11

      We are hockey fans is why. I don’t see it as all negative but as a hockey fan I have strong opinions. So do others. Without those opinions and the ability to debate them then what’s the point. Questioning decisions by GM’s and coaches and players is part of what makes it fun. It’s not that the commentary is negative its just that we all know that we would be better GM’s than any of those clowns who actually have the job.

    • VK63

      It is plausible that they view life through a singular prism of “sh*t”. Given that, they may hold similar sentiment for their job, their neighbour, traffic, the sky, big brother………

    • Serious Gord

      I will presume that you put me in the group with a majority of negative posts.

      I don’t consider it negative. I consider it realistic. I think that the concerns I express are the things that keep chiarelli awake at night: injury risk; lack of depth; cap limits; key players having season slumps or not getting to the next level.

      And robin is correct the playoff experience is very valuable – and as it wasn’t an epic collapse that saw the young team lose out – see the leafs vs bruins a few years back – they weren’t ‘damaged’ by it.

  • OldOilFan

    Building on last year: Blowouts and Must Wins

    I hope they learned [last season] how to recognize when a blowout game is unfolding -whether for/against- and try to manage their play in that game better. Many of us over the years have seen blowout wins in Game 6, followed by a loss in Game 7.
    “Must Wins” are the other type of game, imo, where the Oilers may be able to rally themselves and find a way to win. If they had picked up just ONE or TWO more regular season wins, the 2nd series vs. Anaheim would have started and ended in Edmonton…and maybe with a different result 🙂

  • madjam

    What the players learned last year was just how good they ended up being , and with a decent progression from the youth in organization the top is near and definitely in sight . Last season some of the veterans (Pouliot, Eberle and Hopkins ) had relatively poor seasons and playoffs and let the team down . Two are now gone , and overall , looks like Oilers will do better this season , but it will be tougher to garner more points in regular season , as many other clubs have improved going into this season . We appear to have an even stronger supporting caste/ supplementary base to surround our young stars this season which should pay dividends even in playoffs . Injuries the likes of the Eskimos would be hard for club to overcome , but that’s the same for every club . We avoided a lot (cut down) because of our truculence to combat other years injuries by running our soft squad . Running present squad comes with consequences now for the opposition .

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    I agree with your assessment of the Oilers for the most part, but you can’t just brush off what an injury to the three players you mentioned would mean. The fact that it would be so crippling to Edmonton’s playoff hopes…well, it says a little something about Edmonton’s depth.

    As a Flames fan, I feel we could lose, say Mony, and still be in the fight. Our concerns are-as always-in coaching and goaltending.

    With all that said, as a Flames fan, a healthy Oiler squad for the year has me very, very concerned.

    Also-this thought just occurred to me because I like Todd-I think your coach could handle an injury to a Drai or Lucic, could motivate your team out of that situation maybe.

    Oh, and yes, I’m a Flames fan, no, I’m not trolling, yes I am trying to foster peaceful discourse between us because I don’t know what it’s been like over here, but your trolls come OUT on FN and there are people on ON I actually want to talk to (whaddup, comet). But the trolls…
    you know what? Your DoD? It was the same for us. We didn’t do sh!t either, not really. Basically, everything since the eighties, early nineties has been a wash for the two of us.

    The both of us are more complete teams this year than last, and this battle actually matters, for the first time in my adult life. And trolling about what’s past and the players…it’s just bad energy.

    So I’m going to support my Flames and insult you guys only in a civil manner when should the situation warrant it.

    So yeah, I like your coach and your Big Mac, but I don’t like your depth or you long term prospects (says the man whose team has no draft picks).

    Cheers!!!

      • BringtheFire 2.0

        Harmonic might be overrated, or he could be a top four. Tough to tell after last season, but I think he can up it a notch.

        As for Smith-and Lack, for that matter-I have zero clue as to what will happen there.

        I do know that after seeing Smith in an interview, I would not challenge him to fisticuffs. He looks like an old, insane caveman.

        No thanks.

          • FuNky ANGER

            This past exchange between BringtheFire and DerpSolo is really refreshing. Fans of opposing teams engaging in a actual conversation of hockey and analyzing each others teams without any use of derogatory comments. I wish there was more of this. I love the BOA, but I really despise all the slander that gets tossed around sometimes. Some will say that is part of the BOA. I disagree. Cheer loud and proud for your team; but at the end be respectful to the other fans regardless of where their team is in the standings.

    • Oil4Ever

      Finally some grown ups in the room. I’m all for some lighthearted jabs and witty banter, but intelligent adult discussions are much preferred to the juvenile, idiotic drivel that often dominates.
      I can’t wait to see a real BofA again!