For me, the first two to three weeks of the NHL season to be the hardest to handle. There is the initial rush of a new season which is great; opening night, the hope of a new season, all of that, but then that goes away and I find myself waiting for the middle of November. Seriously. As an Oilers fan you might think that this sounds weird, after all what about the last three months, you know as the season drags on and on and on and on. And you’d have a good point because those have admittedly been some tough stretches of hockey to watch as well, but, in theory at least, that will someday come to an end, whereas the first few weeks of the season will always be difficult for me.
The problem for me is that the early parts of the season can be very misleading. Like the Oilers winning seven of nine games in October, for example. What do you take away from that? I don't think anyone believes that the Oilers will continue to play at that kind of pace for another 73 games, as great as that would be. I also think most would agree that the Oilers are a better team this year than they were last year. But who are the "real" Oilers? Are they the team we thought they were before the season started? Are they better than that? Good questions and ones I look forward to trying to answer, but I just haven't seen enough hockey yet to give you that answer.
Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy watching the games. Being a season ticket holder if I didn’t enjoy watching the games that would be a very weird way to spend several thousand dollars a year. Nor does it mean that I’m hoping for the Oilers to start losing so that my preseason predictions will be proven right. But whenever I watch hockey I’m always keeping an eye on the numbers behind the game too – I’m an engineer, that’s just how my mind works – and until there are 10, 12, or even 15 games in the rearview mirror those numbers can, like the results, be misleading. And so I sit and wait for more games to be played and for more data to be available before I spend too much time trying to dissect what’s going on.
Was Adam Larsson worth the price the Oilers paid? What about Milan Lucic? Kris Russell, should he be part of the plan for the defence moving forward? Has the Oilers seemingly infinite rebuild finally turned a corner? All questions that need answers and not a single one that I’m going to waste my time trying to answer definitively right now.
This is a big part of why there has been so little analysis on this site in recent weeks, not because I don’t have something to say, but because I’m waiting until I’m a bit more confident in my conclusions before I say it. Better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt, right?
And I don’t mean this to be a criticism of those who want to try and draw conclusions from the small sample of games that we have to draw from, whether it be Kris Russell proving that analytics don’t tell the whole story (a fine strawman argument if I ever saw one) or that the Oilers start has left the critics of the Taylor Hall trade silent. To each their own, and if you have to produce content for a living I can certainly understand the desire, or need, to try and make something out of a handful of games, it a dangerous road to travel though, and one where you’re likely wrong more often than you’re right.
I remember the 2011/12 season vividly, when the Oilers started out the season with an 8-2-2 in their first 12 games. And I also remember the “who’s smarter than Tambellini now?” comments. Now I don’t know Steve Tambellini, and I don’t care if I’m smarter than him, but in that case what I, and many others, saw as flaws in how the team had been constructed proved to be right as the team went 24-38-8 after game number 12 – a record that would have put the Oilers on pace for 64 points over a full season.
I’m hopeful for a different outcome this season - Connor McDavid being a big reason for that - even if it means I have to eat a little crow when all is said and done. In fact, I’m a little more bullish about the Oilers today than I was two weeks ago, even after losses in back to back games, but that change has been small rather than sweeping. And if that means that I’m the last person to think that the Oilers are the real thing, so be it. When I say it though, I know that I’ll be sure of it.