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What If the Oilers Aren't Terrible?

We sure do spend a lot of time on this site managing expectations (and/or making fun of optimists depending on your perspective). Derek's done it with Taylor Hall, Ben's done it with Linus Omark, even Ales Hemsky has done it when he spoke to Jim Matheson about the new rookies (most worrying quote from the article: Hemsky saying "I think they are going the right way" instead of "I think we are going the right way"). Virtually everyone has done it with the expectations for the team as a whole going into next season. There aren't a lot of people who think this team is going to be very good. Thus, I decided it might be time to manage expectations from the other side. Last place is no guarantee people!

Some fans are already looking ahead to the 2011 Entry Draft, hopeful that the Oilers will march to the podium and select Adam Larsson with the first overall pick. But, honestly, I'm not sure that's altogether likely. Sure, the Oilers are in the bottom third of the league, and maybe even the worst club on talent, but that's far from guaranteeing last place. Let's take a moment to remember that wonderful team from the 2007-08 season, shall we. At the end of January, the Oilers had 51 points, only six more than the last-place Kings, and a -21 goal differential. good for 26th overall. They'd also shut down Sheldon Souray and Shawn Horcoff for the season. Here's the lineup they iced on February 1st (players with less than 100 NHL games in bold):




Now, it didn't stay that way for the rest of the season. There were more injuries, and of course Glencross arrived in a trade, but the gist is that this team doesn't look very good, and I'm not convinced they're better than the team the Oilers will ice this winter. They've got two rookies playing defense, at least one in the top four, and another five sprinkled amongst a forward group that was Marty Reasonser centering the top line. But the team played in a tremendous amount of luck and went18-10-5 the rest of the way, with a +5 goal differential, helping Kevin Lowe to look like less of an idiot for giving Dustin Penner an offer sheet that summer. It's not something you'd bet on happening, but it's the kind of thing bad teams can muster over reasonably long stretches every now and again.

Gabe Desjardins ran a poll recently asking how many points the Oilers might earn this season. 86% of respondents thought that they'd get at least 70, and 66% bet on 75 points or more. And where would 75 points put them in the standings? Last season it would have left them in 29th. In 2007-08 they would have finished 28th. It was good for 26th in 2008-09, and would have left them 23rd in 2006-07. Likely in the top five, but probably not the worst team in the league. But if the Oilers beat expectations by five or six points, which isn't all that unfathomable, they'd certainly be out of the bottom five, and might fall out of the bottom ten. The point is, it's hard to finish last in this league unless you get unlucky or your management is willfully trying to lose. Is that what Steve Tambellini's trying to do? I don't think so.