Another season, another train wreck.
For the first time in the four-decade history of the franchise, fans of the Edmonton Oilers face being out of the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year. For the second time in that "storied" history - and for the second season in a fricken row - Oiler fans are looking down the barrel of a DFL finish. Six points out of second-last place, unlikely to even get six points total in the ten games that remain, let alone make up six on anybody, given how the Injured Reserve crew could whip the squad that is actually taking to the ice for the copper and blue these days.
So why watch? Here are ten reasons:
#10 - Can the Oilers complete the "double" of being neither the league's worst offensive team nor its worst defensive squad? Right now they rank 28th and 29th respectively, if not exactly respectably.
#9 - Can Colin Fraser complete his quest to not be a minus player? When Fraser was saddled with a -1 in Pittsburgh last week, it was his first minus game since January 7, a stretch of 22 games of even (19) or plus (3). He has had just 6 minus games all season, which is fairly remarkable when you consider the quality of wingers he's had. Fraser brings absolutely nothing to the table offensively, but doesn't get near enough credit for his defensive game. His PDO of 1.006 is pretty good but hardly off the charts (6th best among Oiler forwards). "Mister Zero" currently sports a plus/minus of Even, which seems a pretty logical place for him to wind up.
#8 - Can Liam Reddox score a goal? Everybody loves the little pissant for his many attributes, however "finishing" is indubitably not among them. 34 games into his fourth NHL season, or should I say fourth partial-season, the Muffin Man has yet to light the lamp even once. He's had a respectable 63 shots, and no more than fifty of them have been muffins. Surely he's due?
#7a - Can the Oilers powerplay unit get out of last place? A recent surge of 2 goals in 14 opportunities (a whopping 14.3% !) during the two-game homestand has "raised" the team's conversion rate to an even 13.0% on the season and a mere 0.6% back of the perennially-pathetic Panthers. I guess that gives us reason to follow Both teams, eh, Derek?
#7b - Can the Oilers penalty kill unit stay out of last place? After a woeful start that had them 30th with a (silver) bullet, the Oilers have rolled all the way to 28th in PK "efficiency" rating, at 77.4%. The 1.2% lead over the ever-woeful Thrashers seems like it should be safe, but in reality is only about one Khabibulin away.
#7c - Can the Oilers complete the perfect season of no five-on-three goals, either for or against? The latter is particularly improbable, given the sorry overall state of the PK this season. Perhaps the team is better off when numerically incapable of employing the "diamond"!
#6 - Can Devan Dubnyk make it back to .500? We realize of course that these days .500 means nothing like what it seems it should mean, as DD's current mark of 10-11-7 is actually 10 wins in 28 decisions. Still, by Bettman math, he's been hanging around the .500 mark all year. At one point he was a noteworthy 6-6-6, which is the number of this season's beast.
#5 - Who will be the Oilers' minus leader at season's end? Jason Strudwick (in an impressive 34 games) and Sam Gagner are currently tied for the team lead at -17. Gagner is safe unless Strudwick somehow manages to post a plus down the stretch, which seems unlikely given Struddy's current rate of -0.5 / G. Also in frame are Linus Omark (-15), Tom Gilbert (-14) and Andrew Cogliano (-11).
#4 - Can Ryan Jones win the Cy Young? Of the 332 NHL players with 20 or more points, Jones' 5 assists are 3 fewer than Kevin Porter, 4 behind Kristian Huselius. The other 329 guys are all in double digits. Bubbling underneath however is Nikolai Zherdev, who's 15-4-19 mark represents a higher G:A ratio (.789) than even our Tubthumper's impressive mark of 16-5-21 = .762. Jones' best chance is to continue with that apple-free diet.
#3 - Will Tom Renney make it through the entire season without taking a single fine? That's a firing offence right there in the opinion of one hot-blooded Oiler supporter.
#2 - This is old-fashioned, but supporting a team means supporting it through thick and thin, even when "thin" has entered late-stage anorexia. Gallows humour is essential. (See: above) But through the toughest of times, one has to believe the roots of The Next Great Or Even Pretty Good Oiler Team are taking hold. Eberle, Paajarvi, Omark, Hartikainen, Petry, Peckham, Dubnyk are growing before our eyes. The team may be horrible, but (some of) the players give us reason to watch, and to hope. Or should I say with my best Newfie accent, reason to 'ope, Hall being on IR and all. That said, "Härski" does start with an H, eh?
#1 - It's still winter FFS. And from all appearances, never mind what that lying bastard of a calendar has to say, it's going to remain winter for the foreseeable. What the hell else are we gonna do?