Okay, so training camps are underway and there is tremulous anticipation about which Alberta hockey team will be the dirtiest floor mat in the NHL’s Western Conference.
Oiler fans, thinking their team has added some significant pieces, and can finish 8-10 in the conference.
Of course, they haven’t made any reference to reality and are projecting their team to finish that high based on ether and vapours.
Last season, the Oilers finished 31 points behind the 8th place Dallas Stars. The Stars added Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky to their roster and any sane punter would give the Stars a bump in the standings next season so let’s just put that idiotic notion to bed right now.
The Minnesota Wild, already a team on the cusp of elite status, added Thomas Vanek to their arsenal and they have a prospect pool equal to or better than almost any WC team. They are NOT going backwards. They finished with 98 points last season and they ARE going to be better,
Just ahead of the Stars and Wild in the standings were the Los Angeles Kings at 100 points. Good luck with that.
So, the Oilers and Flames are in the 3rd division of the WC with Phoenix, Winnipeg, Nashville, Vancouver (in theory) and Calgary.
The Canucks had a season from hell based all most entirely on a terrible decision to hire a fossil as their head coach. I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable for them to rebound to the point where they can come close to a 100 point season. That would be 33 points more than the Oilers garnered last season.
That leaves us with Nashville, Arizona, Winnipeg and Calgary and Edmonton in the WC 3rd Division.
Nashville is almost a complete wild card. They have elite goaltending, elite defense but very questionable forward depth all led by a new coach. Who the hell knows?
Like Nashville, Arizona has a tremendous D corp, great goaltending and a bunch of question marks at forward but they do have one of the best coaches in the league.
Winnipeg has some very nice pieces and a newish coach so, unless they goaltending gets even worse, they should be around 85 points again.
Which leaves us with the Battle of Alberta.
The Oilers finished last season 14th in the WC, 10 points behind the Flames.
Have they done enough to make up that 10 points?
Will the Flames have improved enough to make that a difficult task for the Oilers.
I think the answers are NO and YES.
Good teams are built from the back end out (G and D) and down the middle (C) and the Flames are better in every one of those criteria.
So, lets take a look at some of the realities:
Coaching: Hartley vs. Eakins – no contest. Advantage Calgary
Goaltending: Jonas Hiller is a more proven goaltender than Scrivens or Fasth. Advantage Calgary
Defense: Giordano and Brodie are bonafide top pairing D who will play close to 30 minutes a night. The Oilers have a shitload of second pairing D but no contest. Advantage Calgary.
Centre: Backlund, Stajan, Monahan, Colborne, Bennett. Advantage Calgary.
Wingers: Hall, Eberle, Yakupov, Perron, Purcell, Pouliot. Advantage Edmonton.
Having said that, I think Hudler, Raymond, Glencross and, especially Johnny Hockey won’t be as far behind the Oiler group as you might think.
I expect to see Johnny Hockey and Johnny Florida duking it out for the Calder Trophy this season.
The Flames will finish ahead of the Oilers this season.