It seems ridiculous to write that the third game in an 82-game season is a must win. However, when you’ve been the worst organization, by a large margin, in the NHL over the past 12 seasons, and you struggle with winning, knowing how to win or building a winning team, it is not out of line to realize how important Saturday’s game against the New York Rangers is.
In case you want to question my statement about the Oilers being the worst organization in the NHL since 2007. Here is a fun chart for you to look at.
This is the combined point totals over the past twelve seasons of the 30 NHL teams.
Vegas only played once season, so I didn’t include them, but they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. I’m confident no one thinks they should have the title of worst organization in the NHL.
The Oilers have 100 fewer points than every NHL team except Buffalo and Arizona over the past 12 seasons. That is scary bad. It must be extremely painful for Oilers fans to be reminded of how far their team is from just being average. Philadelphia is 15th (average) with 1,056 points. The Oilers are 189 points behind them, an average of 16 points per season. Ouch.
The Oilers October schedule is very difficult. Outside of the travel to Sweden, they are facing a lot of quality teams in New Jersey, Boston, New York Rangers, Winnipeg, Boston, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Washington, Nashville, Chicago and Minnesota. Only the Rangers and Blackhawks missed the playoffs last season. All of those playoff teams had at least 100 points, except for New Jersey, who had 97.
It was going to be a tough start, but after starting 0-2 and managing only three goals, the Oilers arrive in New York against the rebuilding Rangers desperate for a win.
The team isn’t bursting with confidence. A loss to the Rangers could lead to an 0-4 start and coming home to an angry fanbase and four excellent hockey clubs. Confidence is a major part of sports, and the Oilers need something to feel good about. Winning is the best cure.
The Rangers are the least talented opponent they will face this month, but that doesn’t mean the game will be easy. The Oilers will have to work smart, hopefully figure out how to pass the puck out of their zone consistently, and when they do the forwards need a plan on what to do with the puck. Dumping and chasing, because you’re scared to make a play, does not work in 2018.
A LOSS MEANS WHAT?
I realize the Oilers could lose tomorrow and still make the playoffs. But how confident are you (or they) that they can suddenly turn their season around? I believe they are fragile. They need a win to gain some confidence in the room, so when they skate on the ice against top teams the rest of the month they will have a semblance of confidence.
The organization is feeling the pressure. Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan know the situation. They won’t be around very long if the Oilers aren’t in the playoff hunt.
Now let’s say they aren’t in the hunt, and firings occur. Are you confident a new GM and head coach will make things better?
In the three seasons since Chiarelli arrived, along with Connor McDavid, only six teams have fewer points than the Oilers 251. Vancouver (217), Arizona (218), Buffalo (221), Colorado (225), Detroit (245) and Ottawa (250).
Even with the most dynamic player in the NHL, the Oilers organization is still well below average. Yes, they had one very good season, but bad trades and bad signings have made that season an outlier.
Even if they hire a new GM and coach, will the overall attitude and strategy of the organization change? I’ve yet to see any reason why it would.
I don’t believe a victory on Saturday will magically jump start their season, but after watching last season unravel quickly, I’m much more confident in saying that a loss to the weakest team on their October schedule will lead to a truly disastrous month, which could lead to a disastrous season.
A loss will weaken their already tenuous confidence. It will create an even more stressful environment. For good organizations, an 0-3 start would not cripple them, but right now the Oilers are not a good organization. They haven’t been for decades, and just like winning is contagious, so too is losing.
This team and organization knows how to lose.
They haven’t had consecutive playoff appearances since 2001.
They haven’t won a playoff series two years in a row since 1998.
A three-game losing streak shouldn’t be this magnified, but frustration and pressure is mounting within the organization. There is a lot of pressure on everyone.
Many suite holders at Rogers Place signed three-year deals when the rink opened. Some are tired of paying big money to watch a bad product. This is the final season of those deals.
The pressure on this organization is higher than I recall in a long time. Fans are tired of watching the same ineptitude year after year. This picture accurately illustrates how some fans and season ticket holders are feeling.
Seems right. pic.twitter.com/pbBP5P4fQ7
— Baggedmilk – Oilers Beet writer (@jsbmbaggedmilk) October 12, 2018
I applaud the loyalty of season ticket holders and fans who have endured the last two decades, especially the last 12 years where the team has only had one competitive season. The rest have been brutally bad.
A win will not guarantee a playoff spot, and it won’t automatically kick-start the Oilers to a lengthy winning streak. But a loss, to a rebuilding team, could send this team and organization spiralling downward again. The Oilers are the youngest team in the NHL, and I’m not sold the organization has enough leadership throughout the organization to steer this team through the troubling waters of an awful start. McDavid is incredibly talented, but he isn’t a magician. He can’t solve every problem. He needs some help from his teammates, but he needs help from the coaching staff and management as well.
They used McDavid on the left side on 6×5 situation, but then on a 5×4 they had Ryan Nugent-Hopkins there, being the main handler of the puck. RNH is a good player, but McDavid is your best player. I’d have him handling the puck the most, and he should be on the left side when you have five lefties.
Management didn’t need to sign Alex Chiasson just so they could maximize LTI space. The Oilers are struggling mightily to get the puck out of their end. Ethan Bear was very good at this throughout preseason, but management decided to maximize LTI space was more important than having Bear on the 23-man roster.
These types of decisions are made by losing organizations.
It shouldn’t be like this. The organization and the team shouldn’t be this desperate for a win this early, but I believe tomorrow is a must win.
The fact is it illustrates how flawed the organization is, and just how far they need to go to return to respectability.
A win won’t solve those issues, but it will at least give the players some much-needed belief.