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
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
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.
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