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The Oilers Will Make the Playoffs

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Photo credit:Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
2 months ago
Despite an ugly 7-12-1 start in the first quarter of the season, the Edmonton Oilers will make the playoffs. In other years it might have been a bit more difficult to overcome the sluggish start, but the Oilers’ talent, combined with so many other Western Conference teams also having unproductive starts, makes me see the Oilers as more of a playoff certainty than a longshot.
Dallas, Colorado and Winnipeg are in a good position in the central, while Vegas, Los Angeles and Vancouver are eight+ points ahead of every other Pacific division team, and the odds are in their favour they will make the playoffs. That leaves two wildcard spots, and right now it is more of a turtle race than a sprint.
St. Louis is the only team in the wildcard race with a points% above .500, but none of the teams below them have won even half their games. The Sharks and Blackhawks aren’t making the playoffs. They were never considered a contender, so now we are down to eight teams. Anaheim had a good start, but they’ve lost six consecutive games and are looking like the team many expected them to be. They have some good young players, but their blue line isn’t playoff material.
Minnesota has lost seven in a row. But they have talent, and I think their season hinges on their next eight games. They play St. Louis, Nashville, Seattle and Edmonton once, and they play Calgary twice — six games against teams battling for a wildcard berth. Do well and they are in the mix, struggle and I think they will be too far out, with too many teams to pass to get in.
Arizona has improved from last season, but can they maintain a .564P% and reach 90 points? Possibly, but I’d lean towards unlikely.
Nashville has won five in a row to get to .500. They are the most difficult to project, because they have the biggest wildcard in Juuse Saros. He is the best goalie among these 10 teams, and he can steal games. Filip Forsberg has 9-4-13 in his last eight games. He’s a legit threat. I think the Predators will stay in the mix.
Calgary has a solid roster, but if they are on the cusp of a playoff spot, or slightly in, when the trade deadline approaches, what will they do? Noah Hanafin, Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov are all pending UFAs. Zadorov has already asked for a trade. Hanafin’s contract negotiations were put on hold after a slow start, and can the Flames afford to keep those defenders for a playoff push and lose them for nothing in the summer? Doubtful. They are in a tough spot, and I wonder if we see them make a trade earlier than the trade deadline, rather than wait until the final moment.
Seattle had incredible production from all four lines last season, but their fourth line players all left in free agency and their top guys aren’t having great years again. I had them missing the playoffs at the start of the season, and I will stick with that. They will be close, and they might sneak in depending on what St.Louis and Calgary does leading up to the trade deadline.
St. Louis is in transition as they turned the team over to Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas last year. Former Edmonton Oil King Jake Neighbours is starting to find his way, and they still have a solid blue line. In an interview with Frank Seravalli a few weeks ago, GM Doug Armstrong mentioned he feels his team is still looking to gain more assets. I could see them moving out a few UFAs, who aren’t key pieces, and still trying to get in the playoffs. I could see them replacing Minnesota, who made the playoffs last season.
Which leaves Edmonton. The Oilers’ first 18 games ranged from horrific to ugly to inconsistent to “we can dominate when we set our mind to it.” The latter didn’t happen very often, however, but I don’t think there is much debate Edmonton has the most talent among the current teams battling for a wildcard berth. Unfortunately for the Oilers, and their fans, a bad defensive stretch for 1/4 of the season has been the norm the past few seasons.
In the first 15 games of shortened 2021 season the Oilers were 27th in GA/GP at 3.47. They proceeded to play the final 41 games with the sixth-best GA/GP at 2.49.
From December 1st to January 16th during the 2021-22 season, they went 16 games with an ugly 4.00 GAA. In their final 47 games they posted the eighth-best GA/GP at 2.85.
Last year in the first quarter of the season they ranked 29th in GA/GP at 4.00. They were 14th over their final 62 games at 2.97.
This season they sit 30th in GA/GP at 3.70. 
It is interesting to note that through 20 games last season the Oilers were 10-10. They allowed 3.60 goals/game and scored 3.30.
This year they are 7-12-1 allowing 3.70 goals/game and they’ve scored 3.30/game.
Their offence only scored 31 goals in the first 12 games, but it has woken up with 35 in their last eight including 13 in their past two victories.
None of the teams in the Wildcard race underachieved, based on the skill of their rosters, more than Edmonton in the first quarter, and the Oilers have started to play better the past eight games. Their best offensive players are producing more, and in their five victories they allowed a total of seven goals. Like previous years, they are rebounding after a dreadful stretch of defensive hockey. Eventually they need to figure out they can’t have stretches of 15-20 games where they are porous defensively. There will be the odd game, maybe even a few, but it can’t stretch into a month like once in each of the four recent seasons.
Edmonton has rebounded from bad stretches before and they will again. However, trying to earn home ice advantage in the playoffs might be too big of an ask. And that could be a problem if they want to go deep in the playoffs, but the first step is making the playoffs, and despite their ugly start, you should expect them to start climbing the standings.

Second Quarter…

The Oilers need to be very good in the next quarter, because they play 37 games in the final 73 days of the season. St. Louis, Calgary, Arizona and Minnesota play 33, Anaheim and Seattle 32 and Nashville 31. And the top-three teams in the Pacific division also play fewer games down the stretch with LA (34), Vancouver (33) and Vegas (32).
Here is a look at the schedule for the eight teams in the mix for the Wildcard up to the halfway point of the season.
Black is home game.
Red is road game.
Bold is when they play back-to-back nights.
* is when they play an opponent on second half of BTB.
Edmonton plays BTB twice and three of their next five games are against a team playing the second half of a BTB. Edmonton plays 11 games v. teams currently in the playoffs. Seattle plays the fewest (8), while St. Louis, Minnesota and Anaheim each play 13. The Blues also play the most games (5) v. an opponent on the second night of a BTB.
Arizona plays 14 games at home and has two separate five-game homestands.
Edmonton has a six-game homestand to start December, but then they have a six-game roadie (split up by Christmas) at the end of the month.
Calgary plays their first of six consecutive home games tonight v. Vegas.
Anaheim has a tough eight-game road trip that starts December 21st and ends on January 7th where they play in the Mountain time zone, then Pacific, back to Mountain, then Eastern, Central and Eastern. Brutal.
It might sound strange to say, but Oilersnation don’t fret: The Oilers will be in a playoff spot, maybe before Christmas, and then remain there.

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