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Just a few things

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the NHL’s winter roster freeze is in effect with Christmas right around the corner, I figure it’s a good time to go over what we know, and what we can expect for the next little bit. This isn’t going to be a smooth, organized post by any means, I’m just going to briefly touch on a few topics.

The Standings

Currently the Oilers hold down the final Wild Card spot in the Western conference. Given what happened last year, this is a tremendous improvement, and is a reason to keep watching games. Instead of last year, where you’d watch games just to get mad, or because you had to.

The downside is that we’re only two points up on the Dallas Stars and three points up on the Minnesota wild, both of whom have games in hand. Do you feel safe? Do you think that’s too much ground to make up for those teams? Well, if you subscribe to the terrible interpretation about four points out by November, you should.

I’ve gone over this many times before, but I think this moment is a really good time to drive that home. Because 47 out of 58 NHL teams since 2005-2006 who have been more than four points out of a playoff spot by November 1st missed the post-season, it is likely that any of the teams who find themselves in that position will also miss the playoffs. That part is true, I don’t argue that. It’s the why with which I have a problem.

The most common excuse is that because of the loser point, and parity around the league, these teams just got off to a bad start and simply can’t make up the measly four-plus points over the next six months. If you believe that that is in fact the reason, then you would expect that number of points as an indicator would fall as the season wears on. The less games to go, the harder it is to make up smaller amounts of points, right? Do you feel safe with 2 and 3 point leads on the playoff spot right now? Or even four?

If not, it’s because you agree with me and find that that entire interpretation of the why they can’t make it to be complete hogwash. How I interpret that stat is that it isn’t all that hard to make up 4 points in six months, it’s just that the one month in October is a very good indicator that the teams who are that far back are really bad teams, and will continue to be. This is a league in which teams receive points for losing. To be down by four or more in one month takes a serious lack of winning. It’s the trend that’s likely to continue, not the loser points interfering with gaining ground.

If a team is four points back in November, the trend shows that they should be 12 or so points out by December. It has nothing to do with teams in general not being able to make up those points, and everything to do with those specific teams who find themselves in that position to be able to win more than they lose entirely. If you agree with me, you’re worried about being caught right now; If you subscribe to the ridiculous interpretation that national media spits out every November, Oilers will make the playoffs just fine because 3 points by now is a ton.

This is exactly why I hate past-results base forecasting by the way. What happened to other teams shows how often things happen, and nothing to do with the likelihood of a specific team accomplishing the feat.

Ryan McLeod

In training camp, Ryan McLeod looked fantastic. As a second round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry draft, he was never really given any expectation to make the team, nor did he. What he did do however, is show that the Oilers might have picked themselves a really good player in the 2nd round, something we need more of.

Just before he was cut, the were rumblings that the Oilers would offer him an Entry-Level Contract because he’s earned it, and he was expected to sign. Right off the get-go, I said that that was never going to happen. Because of his September birthday, it puts him in a unique position to avoid two ELC slides. If he simply waits until January to sign that contract, he’ll be out of it within three years regardless of where he plays next year. Had he signed it in September, the contract would have slid this year in Junior, and next year if he were to be sent to the Bakersfield Condors. If he waits until the calendar flips to 2019, his Entry Level Contract starts burning years next fall, regardless of what happens. Because of this, I expect him to sign his ELC within a few weeks.

Kailer Yamamoto and Evan Bouchard also found themselves in this situation. Each has a September birthday, and were slide eligible. I have to think that the reason they each signed in the summer of their draft years, was because they knew they were getting some NHL games before being sent back. If there’s real money on the table, signing that deal is worth the risk of it burning. If you’re Ryan McLeod, there isn’t a reason not to wait the few months. I’ll guess that McLeod signs prior to January 10th.

Ken Hitchcock

The Oilers fired Todd McLellan after two terrible performances against the Calgary Flames, and Vegas Golden nights — both divisional opponents. This gave me my Christmas present early — though I still wouldn’t mind a Jaguar F-Type to show up — Todd McLellan had lost the room, and far too often, we’d go down a goal and the game felt like it was over. Now we have Ken Hitchcock communicating effectively, giving fans exactly what they want to hear, and leading the Oilers to a lot more wins than losses when he arrived. As of late, and with the absence of Oscar Klefbom, we have regressed a bit, but I do feel pretty confident saying that Ken has made a major difference.

What I do find interesting, is that he only signed on for the year. Mark Spector had a Q and A with him about taking the job, and Hitchcock had this to say when asked why he hasn’t retired:

I just had coffee with (Flyers assistant) Rick Wilson, and we both said, ‘Are we friggin’ nuts?’ We were the mayors of the coffee club. I’ve got to tell you, both of us miss one thing: we both love having a stake in the game. Whether it’s a coach or as a consultant or whatever, we love having a stake in the game. That’s the fuel that is our fire. It’s not like I have to be the head coach. I know what makes me feel fulfilled. I’m part of a group that has a stake in the game.

I can’t watch hockey as a fan. When I was watching games when I wasn’t coaching, I’d watch until I had the information, then I’d turn the TV off and watch the History Channel. Or Discovery. It’s not like I need to be the boss or the head coach, but I need to be part of an organization where my opinion matters and (I’m) involved in an outcome.

I’m inferring a little bit here, but I find it noteworthy that he already had stake in the game as a consultant in Dallas, yet left that job to become the head coach of the Oilers. He has past experience working with Bob Nicholson and Peter Chiarelli with Hockey Canada, and described the opportunity as something he couldn’t pass up.

At 66-years-old, you’d have to think the end is nearing for his head coaching duties, but if he still wants to do it, why did he only sign on for the year? I think the answer is because it’s Edmonton. This is a great hockey town, and it’s where he’s lived most of his life. On the odd occasion when the playoffs make their way to the former City of Champions, I truly feel that there is no where else like it.

If he gets the Oilers into the playoffs, I’d imagine he’s going to stay on as coach for at least one year, and give up that post on his own terms; That being said, I don’t think he has any interest in leaving the Oilers organization regardless of whether or not he’s coaching. Speculate as you will.

Conclusion:

This wraps up my holiday thoughts — and I was serious about that Jaguar, by the way, bloggers accept extravagant gifts — and if you couldn’t be bothered to read all of that, I’ll give you the short version.

  • Oilers need to fight to make the playoffs because 3 points up is nothing.
  • Ryan McLeod signs his ELC in January.
  • Ken Hitchcock is not leaving the organization any time soon, though I’m not sure he’ll be coaching.