I'm not going to give my predictions for the upcoming NHL season, although I suppose it has already started officially since there's been a couple of games have been played over in London. I am, however, going to rant a little about the predictions of other "experts". It seems that hockey experts agree that the Oilers have no shot at making the playoffs this year. I have one thing to say: why do these so called "experts" always sell the Oil short?
It doesn't seem all that long ago when the Oilers were pushing for the 8th and final playoff spot a couple years ago. They were a team that was fighting it's own potential. I knew the team had a lot of talent, but it seemed that every couple of games, they'd lose a you-should-win-this-game type scenario and they'd slip back a notch. They did it, but barely. In the first round that year, they were up against the high powered Detroit Red Wings. Everyone wrote Edmonton off and had them down in out quickly. Surprise, surprise when the Oil suddenly became the team they were capable of becoming and took down not only Detroit, but San Jose, Anaheim, and almost Carolina en route to the stanley cup final.
Last year was a painful year for the average Oiler fan. The team struggled in mediocrity for most of the season and then got hit by a terrible injury streak that took most of the regulars out of the lineup. As a result, the team skidded to a halt and failed to win most of their remaining games.
The offseason was a high-drama period where the Oilers made a large number of moves and almost completely re-tooled. Powered by the new blue-liners of Pitkanen and Souray, they have far more power on defence than they had last year. Penner adds some size and some scoring punch and Sanderson is a wily veteran who should contribute as well. The real exciting thing for this upcoming season though is the chance for some of the youth to shine. The Oilers have several young players, in addition to Ales Hemsky, who all have a shot of hitting it big this year. These guys include Gagner, Nilsson, Brodziak, Pouliot, and Cogliano. To me, this is super exciting ... and I have a hard time believing that the Oilers are going to have trouble making the playoffs.
But lets take a look at what the experts think. One of the oft-quoted stats from last year is +/-. I'm not sure how they can compare player's +/- stats correctly when these numbers are so very biased on the team they were playing for. For example, Souray and Pitkanen both played on teams that didn't make the playoffs last year. This typically means that those teams got scored on more often than they scored (duh). So take two important defencemen who play big minutes for their teams and put them on clubs that are losing. What happens to their plus minus? It plummets. Whoop-dee-doo. I'm not saying the statistic is meaningless. I'm just saying that you need to make sure you keep in mind what you're trying to compare.
A lot of analysis seems to compare how a team has changed from the previous year. Unfortunately, this also is a problem. How do the experts know that the "winners" of the free agency craziness (the rangers and the flyers) are going to gel and mesh the star players they signed? Who's to say that teams with a bunch of young talent are going to not mesh and start winning games? The past doesn't necessarily tell the future, folks - especially when so much has changed from last season.
One of the things I think many people forget is that the new collective bargaining agreement is giving teams some level ground to play on. It's not completely level, that's for sure, but teams are much more evenly matched than they used to be. Remember the Oiler's heyday way back when they were winning cups every year? That team was so stacked that you had to expect great things from them. Fast forward to today - there are far fewer teams that looked that stacked in comparison. Maybe the penguins look a bit awesome at the moment ... but the division from them to the next closest team is far smaller than for the Oilers back in the day. The salary cap helps balance out the skill players among the teams, and as a result, nearly any team has a chance to do well enough to hit the playoffs. So I don't think last year means nearly as much as the experts seem to think. I also don't think they have ever given the Oilers enough credit.
So I think the Oilers have a good chance of doing well this season, and we'll just have to see how it turns out.