More than a few teams have reached the 20 game point of the season, a time when you can begin to suss out winers, losers, also rans or the lucky/unlucky.
1) Let’s start with chances of making the playoffs which is, after all, the point of all this.
Some teams will try and sell their fans on “process” or “progress” but that’s just nonsense since any perceived improvement in those areas is very serendipitous and often does not carry over to following seasons.
As things stands now, there are 4 teams with a better than 90% chance of making the playoffs…Pittsburgh, Nashville, Tampa Bay and St. Louis. It would take an act of God for them to miss out on the post season.
Then there are another 5 teams with a better than 80% chance…Detroit, Calgary, Anaheim, Los Angeles and the Islanders, who will make it if they keep playing well. The surprises there are Calgary and, perhaps, the Islanders and most observers believe the Calgary Flames will fall out of that group based on their inflated scoring percentages. It’ll be interesting to watch.
At the other end of the spectrum are the teams whose seasons have already gone in the dumpster…Buffalo, Columbus, Edmonton, Dallas and Colorado who all have a less than 10% chance of seeing any playoff action this season. Buffalo (in the middle of a scorched earth rebuild) and Columbus (suffering from one of the worst runs of injury I’ve ever seen) can be forgiven but the other 3 teams really have no excuse. The Oilers (dreadful management and coaching decisions) Colorado (letting Statsny walk and bringing in a couple of warhorses) and Dallas (not addressing their D and backup goaltending) are getting pretty much what they deserve.
2) Much has been made in the past couple of days about the woes of the Toronto Maple Leafs and I won’t belabor the Toronto situation since analysis of their woes is everywhere but it’s only today that the mess that is the Edmonton Oilers is beginning to get a lot of attention from the national media.
There was so much focus on Toronto yesterday in the aftermath of the embarrassing loss to the Predators, but I suspect we need to keep just as close an eye on Edmonton, where the Oilers dropped to 0-9-1 against Western Conference teams this season with the loss to Vancouver. Simply unacceptable.
I know management in Edmonton was not going to sit on its hands and let another debacle of a season roll by without any action. They’re craving a trade for a center, although that’s easier said than done. And you wonder about the job security for Eakins if the losses continue. Not sure exactly which direction Oilers management will go, but if the losing continues, I’ll be shocked if something doesn’t happen in the next month or two.
The reality is that Wednesday’s loss gives them the 28th-worst winning percentage in the league at .368. While teams like Winnipeg and Calgary are being rewarded for their organizational patience with strong first quarters of the season, the Oilers are exactly where they’ve been for most of a decade, which suggests it’s not so much patience they’re displaying, but incompetence.
Not to pile on the Oilers here, but I’m with Pierre and Scott. Edmonton can’t sit around while the losing continues. There are definitely flaws on the roster, but the time to trade a major piece — like Jordan Eberle — is probably in the offseason when your options are highest among potential trading partners.
I’ve been blaming Kevin Lowe from about 2000, and I’m not stopping now. He’s the one who built this organization and directly or indirectly hired every person in it. Say what you want about a guy like Brian Burke – he knows exactly what he wants his team to look like and he sets out to put his vision on the ice. I have never been able to understand what Lowe is trying to do. If Lowe is incompetent – and I think he is – the organization is incompetent while good organizations win.
Every player has individual strengths and weaknesses. The problem with the Oilers is the collective strengths. The Bruins are the Bruins because they have lots of players who are big and bad. Team speed is probably a weakness, but the Bruins don’t go out and try to find a speedster to address it. They want more big, more bad because they win with grinding, not with speed. There are different ways. You start with what you have and you build upon the strengths.
Other than Firing Kevin Lowe and cleaning house (which is exactly what the team needs to do) I’m not sure where the Oilers go from here. Changing coaches now won’t result in any appreciable difference this season and it’s too late for Craig MacTavish to do the work he should have done in the past two offseason but, as I’ve been saying for years, the Oilers need a true #1C (RNH does not produce offence at the level of a #1C) TWO top pairing defensemen and above average goaltending.
The Oiler brass in all versions of their rebuild, have ignored the need for a winning NHL team to be built from the back end out and down the middle and no amount of fiddling around the edges is going to change that. I guess an Oiler fan can hope that the Oilers draft McDavid or Eichel and that Darnell Nurse someday turns into a top pairing D but, at some point, I expect another roster teardown is going to be required to turn this thing around. Unbelievably, the Oilers are going to face cap issues as early as next season and adding another high first round pick with maximum bonuses is going to make that problem worse, not better.
3) One team that I’ve been keeping an aye on is the Minnesota Wild. The Wild have only played 17 games and with as many as 4 games in hand can be expected to rocket up the WC standings. The Wild has a 7-2-0 record agains the WC and a solid record in almost every statistical category. They have outshot their opponents by nearly 10 shots per game, have a 1.19 EV F/A record and their PP has finally come alive. By the half way point in the season, I expect they’ll be solidly in a playoff position likely bumping Winnipeg out.
4) The Vancouver Canucks are not as good as their 13-6-0 record would indicate. They only have a +2 goal differential despite playing the Edmonton Oilers 4 times already, they’re basically even in shot differential and they are only at 0.80 in 5V5 F/A better than only Buffalo (0.56), Columbus (0.60), Edmonton (0.72) and Colorado (0.79). They won’t continue winning at their current rate if they don’t turn that around.
5) The Nashville Predators should serve as an example to teams like the aforementioned Maple Leafs and Oilers that a smart GM who knows what his team needs and goes out and gets it while shedding under performers can have a lot of success. Both the Oilers and Leafs needed a veteran centre in the offseason but David Poile, with the same need went out and signed 3 to add to his roster and, despite losing Mike Fisher to injury early, the Preds have never looked back. The Predators have been a revelation at even strength with an astounding 1.95 5V5 F/A compensating for a PP that is running at only 14.6%. If they ever get that PP cranked up, watch out! And, of course there is 2012 1st round draft pick leading the team in scoring and making both Washington who traded him and Edmonton, who picked Nail Yakupov in that same draft, look downright stupid.
6) Scoring 50 goals in the NHL is a very difficult thing to do….it’s only been done 6 times in the past 5 full seasons. But there are 5 or 6 players with a shot at it this season based on pro-rated projections:
Tyler Seguin – 60
Rick Nash – 56
Steven Stamkos – 49
Phil Kessel – 47
Vladimir Tarasenko – 46
Corey Perry – 45 (despite missing games because of a case of the mumps).
7) Speaking of Tarasenko…here’s a top 10 update on the Russians Are Coming:
Tarasenko 10G 11A 21P
Malkin 7G 13A 20P
Kucherov 1G 10 17P
Ovechkin 8G 8A 16P
Datsyuk 5G 6A 11P (in only 10GP)
Kulemin 3G 6A 9P
Yakupov 3G 6A 9P
Markov 1g 8A 9P
Namestnikov 3G 4A 7P
Kuznetsov 1G 5A 6P