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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to the season, question 9: Will the Oilers win the division?

The Edmonton Oilers haven’t finished first in their division since 1987. They have played 29 NHL seasons without winning their division.

They were in the Smythe division from 1988-1993 with Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, and San Jose joined them for 1992 and 1993.

Then it was the Pacific Division from 1994-1998 with Calgary, Vancouver, San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. Colorado joined the division in 1996.

Then the Northwest Division from 1999-2013 with Colorado, Vancouver and Calgary. Minnesota joined the division in 2001.

They’ve resided in the Pacific division since 2014 alongside Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary and Arizona. Las Vegas will join their division this season.

Will their 29-year division drought end this season?

No team has gone longer without winning their division than the Oilers. During this span six other franchises have won the division the Oilers played in. Vancouver won the division nine times, Colorado won eight, (they’ve won 10 overall) Calgary won six and Minnesota and Los Angeles won it once. Anaheim has won the past four seasons.

Of course winning the division doesn’t guarantee a Stanley Cup — just ask the Washington Capitals — but usually the consistent, dominant teams are near the top.

Only Nashville (18 years) and Columbus (16 years) have not won their division since 1987. Expansion teams have won numerous titles, yet the Oilers have none.

In 25 seasons San Jose has won six. In their 24-year existence the Ottawa Senators have four, while the Tampa Bay Lightning have two. Anaheim has six in 23 seasons. Florida won their division twice in the past 22 seasons, while Minnesota has one in 16 seasons in the NHL. Even the Atlanta Thrashers won one, in their seventh season, before relocating to Winnipeg. The Arizona Coyotes led their division in 2012.

Here’s how many the rest of the NHL has won since the 1987/1988 season.

Detroit 16
Washington 10
Boston and New Jersey 9.
Pittsburgh and Dallas 8.
Philadelphia, Montreal, San Jose and Chicago 6.
New York Rangers 5.
Carolina, St.Louis and Buffalo 3.
New York Islanders and Toronto 1.

As I stated earlier, winning a division doesn’t lead to a Stanley Cup, but since 2001 a division winner has won the Cup ten times. Colorado in 2001, Detroit in 2002 and 2008, New Jersey in 2003, Tampa Bay in 2004, Carolina in 2006, Anaheim in 2007, Chicago in 2010 and 2013 and Boston in 2011.

The Penguins never won their division in 2009, 2016 or 2017, but they finished second every year, and were second, fourth and seventh overall in the NHL. Chicago won in 2015, finishing sixth in the NHL. The 2012 and 2014 Kings were the only partial outlier, finishing third in their division both times. They were the eighth and sixth seeds in the Western conference and 13th and 10th overall.

I’ve heard some suggest the regular season doesn’t matter in the NHL, and while we’ve seen some teams get hot at the right time, often the Stanley Cup winner is one of the best regular season teams.

The Oilers had a solid regular season last year, topping 100 points for the first time since 1987. They are a good team, and they should remain in the top-ten in the NHL if they stay healthy.

They should make a serious push for the division title as well. The Ducks have won this Pacific Division all four years. They have a veteran team. They are deep. They have a young, very talented defence corps and they have two solid goaltenders. Ryan Kesler is 33 years old while Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are 32. Could the youthful legs of the Oilers forwards allow them to dethrone the Pacific Division Champions?

There is a massive component of randomness or luck involved in the NHL, much more than people, especially players and coaches, want to admit. So it can be challenging to predict success.

However, history has proven when you have an elite player, once his team has some success it doesn’t take a drastic drop the next season.

Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers finished 16th and 13th overall in his first two seasons, but then won six consecutive division titles and finished first, second or third in the NHL standings for the next seven seasons.

Mario Lemieux’s Penguins didn’t make the playoffs his first four seasons, which is remarkable considering 16 of 21 teams made it. Once they got in they were a force for many years, with Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr leading the way. And they did it with Lemieux missing hundreds of games due to his battle with cancer and nagging back injuries.

Eric Lindros’ Flyers missed the playoffs his first two seasons, but won their division in 1995. They remained first or second in their division for the next ten years, finishing with 100+ points eight times and the final four years they did it without Lindros.

Sidney Crosby’s Penguins missed the playoffs his first year, then totaled 105 in his second season and averaged 104 points/seasons from 2007-2012. They had 72 points in the lockout shortened 2013 (prorated to 123) and have finished with 109, 98, 104 and 111 points the past four seasons. If we use their prorated totals from 2013, the Penguins have averaged 106 points/season the past eleven years.

Suggesting the Oilers are going to take a step back in McDavid’s third season, after the team tallied 103 points, and went to game seven of the second round, is a contradiction to past history of teams with an elite player like McDavid.

We could include Alex Oveckhin and his Washington Capitals in the conversation, as well as Patrick Kane and his Chicago Blackhawks. I realize the Capitals haven’t won a Stanley Cup, but they’ve been incredibly consistent in the regular season for the past decade. Is it possible, of course, look at the 2015 San Jose Sharks — they had some really good players, but no young McDavid–. The odds point to the Oilers remaining a very competitive team this season.

The Oilers are a legitimate contender to win the Pacific Division. The core of their team is still improving and the Oilers look poised to remain a top team for years to come. They won’t win the division every year for the next decade, but they should be right near the top.

I see their Division drought ending this season as they skate to the top of the Pacific with 106 points.

Will they win the division this year? Tell me why or why not.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

    • Dan 1919

      As is the main concern for every NHL team, it is a contact sport. That being said if there was a catastrophic injury to a top player like McDavid, the argument could be made that the Oilers are deep enough to sustain it. Draisaitl and RNH should be more than capable of holding down the fort for a couple months. If not, then I’d say it was more of a poor performance/lack of effort on a player’s part like say Nuge hypothetically, rather than not deep enough.

  • OriginalPouzar

    If relatively healthy similar to last year then, yes, I can see them competing for the division.

    Problem is that is unlikley and, in fact, they already have a more material injury than they had all of last year.

    The Sekera injury is huge. If there is another injury to a top 4 d-man prior to Sekera coming back, I think the team is in danger of fighting for a wild card spot and their playoff lives.

    I like the depth and am comfortable with guys like Stanton, Auvitu, Fayne, Simpson playing 3rd pairing games but if we get two of those guys in the lineup, in addition to Gryba (or even one with Gryba), our defence will be quite porus.

      • Oilerchild77

        Yeah. If the NHL officials called plays according to the rule book, the Oilers would have won that series in 6 games. Ducks are overrated and their end of days is coming soon as Getzlaf gets too old and his play falls off a cliff.

    • 99CupsofCoffey

      Hearing that the NHL is going to cut down on the hand slashes this year which is the Ducks Speciality. So maybe we’ll get just enough extra power plays to negate some of that “great” defence.

    • Roberto

      The ducks do have good young D men…. BUT I’m not sold that they will be that great once Kessler, Getzlaf and Perry slow down… That’s 3 pretty important players to replace. Even minus Getzlaf in the playoffs last year, the Oilers probably win in 5. I think the ducks are going to be pretty decent but not great in a few short seasons, and the Oil will only get better.

    • JimmyV1965

      Ducks banged up to start the year. Big injuries too. They’re not winning the division and I don’t think they really care if they do actually. Sounds like Getzlaf will even be getting rested from time to time this year.

  • Space Pants

    They had a great record against divisional teams last year, so if they can continue that trend it is definitely possible, especially with Vegas increasing the number of divisional games.

  • Jagrbaum

    I’ve always taken a super conservative approach with this team, especially after a decade of losing, but last year has really changed my perspective. We’re a good team, and we will contend for this division right to the final game like we did last year.

    All I want to see in the season series between us and the ducks, is someone misplacing a flying elbow into Kesler’s jaw. #MessierStyles

  • TruthHurts98

    It might come down to the last week again, if the Calgary er Seattle Flames still can’t win a single game against the Ducks that might be the tipping point either way. It’s moot as long as we hoist Lord Stanley. For the next nine years as long as we have Connor and Leon I’m betting we have a really good shot at it every year.. that puts a smile on my face. I’ll take our odds of winning over the Ducks in the playoffs now.

  • Natejax97

    Not sure if they will win the division…but I would bet my paycheck they win every game against the ducks this year #somethingtoprove #duckbeatdown #playoffintensity

  • rkabyn

    Anyone else see that article that predicted we would fall 11 positions in the standings and finish with 93 points? This article is well done. Measured, but doesn’t discount the fact the Oilers have the world’s best player. That means a lot. I see the team finishing 1st in the division with 108 points.

  • OldOilFan

    Oilers are THIN:
    unfortunately, the wingers on the top 3 lines are 20-goal men at best, and the D is thin too after Larsson and Klef. Conclusion: Edmonton is betting everything on five players – McD, Drai, Larsson, Klef and Talbot.

  • Anton CP

    Winning the division is fine, just don’t win the league. President’s trophy winners have won a total of 4 cups since 2001. Besides, the new structure of the league that winning the division might be a bit more important than it used to. Now the teams have to likely play against their own division rivals for the first two rounds (might be some wild card surprises but the general chances to play against the division rival in the first 2 rounds will be about 80% or more) then winning the division has much more importance than it used to.

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    ” history has proven when you have an elite player, once his team has some success it doesn’t take a drastic drop the next season.”

    Don’t know if I agree with your police work there, Lou.

    Not sure what constitutes an elite player or a drastic drop, but the Bruins went from 1st in the Atlantic to 5th between the 2013-14 season and the 2014-15 season. The Lightening just went from 2nd in the Atlantic in 2015-16 to 5th this past year. The Canadians went from 1st in the Atlantic to 6th between 2014-15 and 2015-16, and last year the Kings went from 2nd place the year before to 5th place.

    Volatility happens, particularly in the Atlantic Division.

  • JimmyV1965

    Ducks are still probably the best team in the division, but they’re really banged up to begin the season. I can see them getting off to a real slow start and losing the division title because of it. Who the heck knows what the Flames do this year. Lots of questions on offence there. Sharks likely regress even further. Kings could be interesting with new coaching staff. I think the Oil have the edge heading in, but winning the division is frickin hard.