2012-13 season started I did a little thinking about how many points it could take to make the playoffs in an abbreviated season. Together all the eighth seeds in the Western Conference since the 2004-05 lockout have averaged 94 points, which is 57.3% of those available. In a 48 game season, that's around 55 points or so for the final playoff spot in the West. Right now, the eighth place St. Louis Blues have collected 57.1% of the points that were available to them and are on pace for about 55, so the original guess is not unreasonable.
So what does that mean for the Oilers?
With a loss to Vancouver on Thursday night the Oilers would need to have a record of something like 7-2-2 to reach 55 points. If we're going to be generous and assume that it will take 53 points to make the playoffs, they could have a record of 6-3-2. If we're going to be UNICEF generous, then maybe they could make it with a 5-2-4 record. No matter how you slice it, the Oilers can't lose a lot of games in regulation if they hope to make the playoffs. That kind of puts Steve Tambellini's comments about "liking our chances" in perspective, but I digress. First, let's look at the Oilers' schedule.
The Edmonton Oilers have just three more games against teams that are below them in the standings at present (Phoenix on the 10th, Calgary on the 13th, Colorado on the 19th). Aside from that, it's all teams that are way ahead (Anaheim three times, Chicago once) or teams that they're chasing (Los Angeles on Saturday, Minnesota twice, Vancouver on the last day of the year). Because we're all so happy-go-lucky at The Copper & Blue, let's assume that the Oilers beat the teams that are currently below them in the standings.
That means they've already won three of their final eleven games! That's good for 45 points with ten more to make up in eight games against LA, Vancouver, Chicago and Minnesota.
Before you accuse me of being too cynical, let's have a quick look at the teams the Oilers are facing and the ones that they are chasing but do not play against.
For the first time in a long time (ever..?) the Oilers have a realistic chance at catching the Detroit Red Wings in the standings, and to do it they'll need to stay clear of a few other teams as well. The Red Wings are no longer the powerhouse that they once were. They're currently below the Oilers in Goals per Game, PP% and PK%. Jimmy Howard is leading the way with 15 wins and a 0.915 Sv%, and the backups are unproven, to put it mildly. Probably the best bet to be catchable in the top eight (Jay Bouwmeester Curse notwithstanding), especially since St. Louis has two games in hand on the Oilers and three more wins as well. Experience probably wins the day, but who knows.
Phoenix, Nashville and Dallas all sold off some significant pieces at the deadline. Given their circumstances one would think these three teams will be happy to get close, but it's unlikely that any will do more than that. Columbus, the ugly duckling who got a partial makeover, is strangely the greatest threat from below to Edmonton's playoff aspirations. With identical records and Columbus having added someone called Marian Gaborik at the deadline, there's every chance that Jarmo Kekalainen's team will spoil the party for Edmonton this spring.
But the Blue Jackets don't exactly have the easiest schedule to close out the season, and it's highlighted by a six game road trip and 7 of their last 11 away from Nationwide Arena. Including their win on Thursday, the Jackets are just 5-10-2 on the road this season.
Though it's probably unrealistic to assume that the Oilers will make the playoffs, and taboo to even contemplate it, there's something to be said for being in the conversation... along with Columbus. Don't mistake this for a hat-tip to management as it's still the same group that everyone wanted fired a month ago; but who can help but enjoy the natural progression of the team? In the end I'm going to predict a tenth place finish for these Oilers because I really am cynical after all, but I'd be more than happy to be wrong.