Can We at Least Look Forward to Next Year?

Dale MacMillan

If Ben Eager won that battle, it's clear now that Mike Brown won the war.

At the end of last week, I wrote about Edmonton's poor shot differential, and why that was a bad sign for the team's playoff chances this season. Before writing that article, the Oilers had compiled a 5-1 record over their last six games, and fans were excited to be in a playoff race for the first time in several seasons. Unfortunately, my article proved timely as the Oilers followed with three consecutive regulation losses, and fans are now finding comfort in their annual tradition of looking toward the entry draft in April.

Today, I'll look a little farther down the road than that. In the comments section of that earlier article, SkinnyFish (who outed himself as a visitor to the site by writing something in the subject line) wrote the following about his chosen team, the Toronto Maple Leafs:

Toronto is on pace to make that list (SD of -4.5) and also make the playoffs as a 5th/6th seed... Where do you think they finish next year? 12th in the East sounds about right.

The Maple Leafs are right on the bubble, so they may or may not join the list of teams who have been outshot by at least 4.5 shots per game over an entire season when all is said and done. Of course, with a shot differential of -5.7 per game and just eight games to go, the Oilers almost certainly will, which makes the question about how these kinds of teams do in their next season an interesting one.

By way of reminder, here is the list of teams that have been outshot by at least 4.5 shots per game since the NHL expanded to 30 teams for the 2000-01 season (playoff teams highlighted in blue):

Shot_differential

And now this is how these teams fared in the following season:

Shot_differential_2

As you can see, SkinnyFish made an excellent prediction. The average team does in fact finish about 12th in the Conference in their next season. Teams generally improved, but only two teams were able to get their shot differential above par (and Minnesota may not stay there by the end of the year), and just six of thirty-three made the playoffs. That's not particularly encouraging, but the Oilers do have some reason to believe that they'll be at or near the top of this list in 2013-14.

Next season will represent the fourth year of their rebuilding plan, and I have no doubt that they'll be looking to make the playoffs. Several of the teams at the top of this list were in a very similar situation, making a move out of an acknowledged "rebuilding" into the "competing" stage of their life-cycle. Washington and Pittsburgh are the two obvious examples because they've gone on to have so much success, but less successful stories like the 2006-07 Blue Jackets and the 2005-06 Panthers (a team I wrote about in some detail earlier this year) also fit into that category.

My hope, of course, is that the Oilers follow Washington and Pittsburgh. To get there, the cycle of terrible seasons needs to end, and as far as I'm concerned, that hasn't yet happened. There will be some who say that this season has been a big step forward for the Oilers, a kind of intermediary step between being a horrendous team and being a playoff team. The team's shot differential this season suggests to me that that's simply untrue. I can only hope that next year's team actually takes that step, and that if they don't, we finally see change at the top of the organization.

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