In our Wednesday round tables over the last couple of weeks we covered whether or not the Oilers will make the playoffs and where they'll finish in the Pacific Division. That more or less covers any sort of season prediction that I had planned, but I wanted to revisit the topic one more time to expand upon it just a little, and to provide some insight into how I'll react and what I will expect from the Oilers depending on where the team finishes.
For the record, I think the Oilers will finish around 85 points and will end up in fifth place in their division. And I think that should not be seen as a success. In a league where half the teams make the playoffs, the season of any team missing the playoffs is not, in my mind, a success. Even as intentionally losing as a means to rebuilding your team has gained popularity around the league and losing has in turn become acceptable to some, I wouldn't confuse that acceptance with success. For me it’s simple, making the playoffs is the lowest possible bar for calling a season a success.
Of course the doesn’t mean that every season that ends without payoff hockey is an equal failure. For example, if by some miracle the Oilers missed the playoffs by two points this season that wouldn’t be the same as if the Oilers missed the playoffs by 30 points, and shouldn’t be treated the same way. So, what happens if the Oilers finish with [insert number here] points?
Less than 80 points
Fire everyone on April 10, 2017. And I do mean everyone. Todd McLellan and his staff. Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the front office. Even Hunter. They all have to go. If the Oilers don’t get to at least at 80 points this season it should be a giant red flag that this team is not steered in the right direction and there is no excuse for anyone who had a hand in building the team to be kept around. That’s not to say that everyone is equally responsible, they’re not, but I think the prudent course of action would be to fire them all just to be safe, and start fresh again next year.
Disclaimer: Injuries. I know, they’re not an excuse and every team has to deal with them, but they have a tremendous impact on a team and they are largely uncontrollable, so you can’t ignore them completely. If the Oilers play another season missing a top-six forward and a top-pairing defenceman we can have a chat about how to relax that 80-point barrier for this season. People can keep their jobs, but expectations for the 2017/18 season should be set based on this season’s pre-injury scenario though, not the artificially low total resulting from injuries.
80 to 90 points
How happy you are with the Oilers finishing in this range likely has a lot to do with where you think the team would have finished last year had they suffered the injuries that they did. In the end, I won’t look at an 85-point finish as the Oilers being a team that is 15 points better because had they done nothing other than stay healthy they would have improved on the previous season’s total of 70. For my money the Oilers should have finished last season 78 to 80-point range, so I really only see the Oilers as being a team that’s four or five wins better this year.
Like I said earlier, that isn’t good enough but I can live with it. In this range the team would appear to be steering away from the rocks and that’s always a good sign, something we’re not too familiar with in Edmonton. This is likely the last time that the fans will accept a tiny step forward and another season where the team misses the playoffs, the pressure will be on to get this team over the hump in 2017/18.
More than 90 points
The Oilers are still probably not a playoff team, not if they just squeak into the 90s, but I suspect that there will be dancing in the streets if the team hits the 90-point plateau for the first time since 2005/06. Connor McDavid might have to break 100 points for this happen - he’s currently on pace for 246 so 100 points seems like a given - and Milan Lucic, Adam Larsson, and Kris Russell will likely all have to outplayed expectations as well. And if that happens I’ll be faced with the prospect of eating a little crow, something which I will do happily.
Disclaimer: If it’s a numbers driven bump I will have serious reservations about where the team actually stands. We’ve seen it plenty of times in recent years where a team comes seemingly from nowhere to make the playoffs, the coach wins the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach, and then the team takes a big step back the next season. I’ll still enjoy the wins, I always enjoy the wins, but I won’t be able to shake the nagging feeling that it’s not real.