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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 1.0: Playoffs or Bust (8pm MT, SNW)

Ken Holland made it clear yesterday that making playoffs is his main priority. While many across the hockey world have predicted another playoff-free spring in Edmonton, Holland made it clear his plan is to make the playoffs, while simultaneously letting his young players develop in the American League.

The latter is a strategy that hasn’t been connected to the Oilers in a very long time, so I can understand the confusion. Many look at a roster that doesn’t have a player aged 18, 19, 20 or 21 and assume the Edmonton Oilers are simply looking ahead to next season. Holland was adamant that isn’t the case.

“What I said from day one is that our goal is to compete for a playoff spot,” said Holland. “We have some elite players and we have to surround them with better players. The short term look was to add some veterans in the bottom six, and while that is going on the long-term look is we need to develop players. I’m not talking rebuild. We have to compete for a playoff spot. Did we make the right moves? The answer will unfold over an 82-game season.

“Somewhere along the line you have to win big games. You have to position yourself so those big games and big wins mean something. We have to play well in the first 60-65 games so when we get to March we are in it. To make the playoffs you have to win big games. The goal is to be in the playoffs. But it is October 2nd — I’m going to worry about the playoffs in March. We have to put ourselves in a position before then. Today any mention about the playoffs is just talk. We have to worry about Vancouver. Then the next game and so on,” said Holland.

A good start will help, but as we learned last season a good start doesn’t guarantee you a playoff spot. The Oilers were 6-3-1 in their first ten games, but were only 16th in the standings on October 28th. They were 16-12-2 in their first 30 games which had them 15th overall in the NHL. They only won 19 of their final 52 games and that ruined their season.

A good October is a must for the Oilers, as I don’t believe they have enough skill to play catch up all season. A good start will help in the standings, but, more importantly, it could give them the confidence boost they need to remain in the race all season.

Dave Tippett elected to go with Mike Smith for game one. “I have a history with him… I just went with a different look. We have a lot of new players and I thought a different look might help,” said Tippett. He followed it up mentioning how their goalies have to be league average or better. I think he is challenging Koskinen and Smith, but Koskinen a bit more. I have no issue with it, and I presume Koskinen doesn’t either. He has been challenged before and now we will see how he responds in game two on Saturday. I assume he will start against the Kings, unless Smith gets a shutout tonight.

LINEUP…

Oilers

Nygard-McDavid-Neal
Draisaitl-RNH-Kassian
Granlund-Haas-Chiasson
Khaira-Cave-Archibald

Nurse-Larsson
Klefbom-Bear
Russell-Benning

Smith

For the past few days Dave Tippett experimented with some different looks, but tonight he will go with the lineup many expected. The bottom six wingers are what you’d expect — veterans who Tippett expects to be reliable defensively and chip in offensively, and excluding Chiasson, be good on the PK.

The top six players will be on the powerplay and looked upon to score points. Tippett has made the roles very clear. Now it is up to players to accept their role and take pride in it.

Gaetan Haas will make his NHL debut tonight. “It is just exciting,” said Haas smiling and laughing. “I have waited 27 years to play my first NHL game. It was a long way (path), a hard way, but worth it. I’m very excited and there is some nervousness. Yesterday I was pretty cool, but today I woke up and I felt it. Today is a special day.”

He didn’t know he was playing until yesterday and then he had to quickly call his parents, siblings and his girlfriend and arrange flights from Switzerland. His girlfriend is working and won’t be able to make this trip, but his parents, brother and an uncle are on a flight right now. They land in Edmonton at 4:30 p.m. and will be in the rink tonight.

It is a big deal for Haas and his family. “It is great they were able to come,” said Haas. “It was a bit hectic arranging all the flights, but they have always supported me and it will be great to see them. I’ve been here alone for a month, the first time in my life, so it will be great to see them.”

It was apparent during our conversation how much tonight means for Haas. Good for him.

According to our friends at OddsShark, the total has gone UNDER in 4 of Edmonton’s last 6 games against Vancouver.

Canucks

Ferland-Pettersson-Boeser
Pearson-Horvat-Miller
Eriksson-Sutter-Leivo
Schaller-Beagle-Virtanen

Edler-Myers
Hughes-Tanev
Benn-Stecher

Markstrom

Tyler Myers was the major off-season addition for the Canucks and he improves their right side. Quinn Hughes is a fantastic skater and puck mover and will be an exciting player to watch. Like most young defenders, how well can he defend will be the question.

SEASON PREDICTIONS…

We all love predictions. Who makes the playoffs and which 15 fanbases will be upset on April 7th?

East Conference:
Tampa Bay, Toronto, Buffalo, Florida and Boston in the Atlantic.
Washington, Carolina and  Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan.

Tampa and Washington in conference Final.

Western Conference:
Colorado, St. Louis, Nashville and Dallas in the Central.
Vegas, Edmonton (99 pts) San Jose and Calgary in the Pacific.

Colorado and Vegas in conference Final.

Tampa Bay wins Stanley Cup.

Point projections:

Connor McDavid scores 127 points. Elite players continue to improve when they are only 22. Crosby’s only 50-goal season came when he was 22. Mario Lemieux had 168 points when he was 22 and then 199 when he was 23. Wayne Gretzky had 205 points when he was 22, in only 74 games. The next two seasons he had 208 and 215. McDavid is just entering his prime. He will be better than last season and he will win the Art Ross Trophy and score 50 goals.

Leon Draisaitl scores 102 points and has another outstanding campaign.

The Oilers score 257 goals. They allow 248 goals.

James Neal scores 20 goals for the 11th time. The surprise offensive surge comes from Joakim Nygard who scores 18 goals.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From CanucksArmy:

  • Goals came at a premium last season against the Oilers and of the nine players that scored for the Canucks in the season series, one of them now plays for the orange and blue, Tyler Motte and Antoine Roussel are both injured, but thankfully Edler, Pettersson, and Boeser all put up two goals apiece in four games played. Ice time will be managed much better this season it’s possible they score more than 12 goals against Edmonton this season.
  • Elias Pettersson had an amazing rookie season that finished with the Calder trophy in his possession. This year, it seems like anything is possible and even Elliotte Friedman thinks it could be a special season:

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers improve to 19-7-4 in home ice openers with a 4-2 victory.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid and Draisaitl each score two points.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: It took until game seven last year for a veteran depth forward to score a goal. Alex Chiasson scored twice in the Oilers seventh game, but it was only his second game of the season. The Oilers don’t have flashy bottom six forwards, but they will produce much more offence this season. The bottom six scores a goal tonight courtesy of Josh Archibald.

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