Hey you. Commenter who calls everything clickbait. Relax. I said RELAX. The Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs? It’s not the most harebrained question in the world.
The Oilers have a mountain to climb in the Western Conference, though it’s more bunny hill than K2. Edmonton sits eight points back of the Anaheim Ducks for the last Pacific Division playoff position, and the Ducks have three games in hand. The Oilers’ more realistic target is the Nashville Predators, who lead them by nine points in the final West wild-card spot but at least have no games in hand. Hockeyviz.com gives the Oil a five percent chance at qualifying for the big dance. TSN’s Frank Seravalli, who woke up this morning with the same thoughts on the brain as I had, estimates Edmonton has to go 21-5-4 for the rest of the season and points out the miraculous Ottawa Senators closed last season 23-4-4 to get in.
So maybe the Oilers have to scale more than a bunny hill after all. Still, seeing what they’ve accomplished since Mr. Connor McDavid returned from a broken clavicle, it’s suddenly worth asking if they’re primed to make a run. Edmonton dismantled the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators by a combined score of 11-3 this week, with McDavid racking up five points in that span. Sure, it was just Columbus and Ottawa, but those two teams looked like they didn’t belong in the same building as Edmonton. The Oilers continue their road trip with, guess what, another team as sturdy as a wet paper bag right now: the discombobulated Montreal Canadiens. The Oilers play 16 of their final 30 games at home in 2015-16. They play 16 of their final 30 games against teams currently out of playoff spots, too, with most of the other games versus teams they’re chasing for the lower seeds.
Remember way back in October when I suggested on THN.com that in order for the Montreal Canadiens to become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders they needed to upgrade their skill and depth at the forward and defense positions?
And how I believed it would be a critical error for GM Marc Bergevin to rely so heavily on all-world goaltender Carey Price to carry his team to the Promised Land?
Well, even though the column was mostly complimentary about the Canadiens, a few Habs’ fans didn’t view it as such.
It would be a little presumptuous to expect the Stanley Cup to take up permanent residence at 1901 West Madison in Chicago for the foreseeable future, but it might want to check out the schools and amenities in the area just in case.
With the signing of GM Stan Bowman to a three-year extension that will take him through the 2020-21 season, there is no franchise in the NHL set up better for long-term success than the one that is best set up for short-term success. It’s a great time to be a Chicago Blackhawks fan, an era which people will look back on as the golden age of this franchise. You’d have to think there are a handful of players on this team – Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith for sure – who will be the last ones to wear their sweater numbers before they’re hoisted to the rafters of the United Center. And those wonderful statues of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Michael Jordan outside the building will undoubtedly have company someday.
When the calendar turned to the month of December, the Montreal Canadiens were in first place in the NHL standings, a full 12 points clear of the last playoff spot. The Carolina Hurricanes, on the other hand, were tied for last place in the Eastern Conference and pretty much where everyone predicted they’d be, battling hammer and tong for the right to draft Auston Matthews first overall.
So here we are a mere 52 days later and the Hurricanes flew into the eye of the storm – they’re due for six inches of the white stuff in Raleigh tonight – Thursday night after a sluggish 1-0 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs tied with the Canadiens with 50 points. That has more to do with the Canadiens ineptitude over the past month-and-a-half to be sure, but to chalk it up to that exclusively would be to ignore the fact that the Hurricanes are indeed a group that is coming together a little quicker and a little more dramatically than everyone thought they would.
Okay Washington Capitals, you sold me.
In a season when no team – until now, that is – has separated itself from the rest of the pack as a serious Stanley Cup frontrunner, the Capitals have made a believer out of me. Not going to bet my house or vast fortune on a single bet in Las Vegas at this point – there’s far too much hockey yet to be played – but I could very well envision the Capitals parading the Stanley Cup around the ice next June.
Yeah, yeah, yeah I know it is easy to single out a team that recently reeled off nine straight wins, but the Edmonton Oilers won six straight between Dec. 2 and 14 and I didn’t hear anybody anointing them as legitimate Cup threats.
Year in review: The Top 10 stories of 2015
The 2015 calendar year was a unique one. By some accounts it was quiet, given there were no major events, like the Olympics in 2014 and World Cup to come in 2015. But both on and off the ice 2015 had several memorable moments and storylines.
Here is the top 10:
10. Anaheim Ducks struggle
Back in May the Ducks looked primed for another Stanley Cup. They tore through the first two rounds of the playoffs, sweeping the Winnipeg Jets and needing just five games to beat the Calgary Flames. They also led the Western final against the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2. But the Blackhwaks, of course, rallied to win games five and six and went on to win the Cup.
Despite the Game 7 loss, the Ducks appeared to be a team on the rise. They were a popular pick to win the Cup in 2016 (including by The Hockey News). But the second half of 2015 has been a nightmare. The Ducks have scored by far the fewest goals in the NHL to begin the 2015-16 season, and sit last in the poor Pacific Division, and second last overall.
As 2015 comes to a close you have to wonder which Ducks team shows up in 2016.
This all starts two weeks ago, during Hall of Fame weekend. The legendary Scotty Bowman is on hand since, at one time or another, he has coached three of the four inductees. Bowman is asked how many Hall of Famers he coached in his career, so he starts with the St. Louis Blues, who had Doug Harvey and Dickie Moore at the end of their careers, along with a goaltending tandem of Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante.
“They put up big numbers,” Bowman says. “They had 13 shutouts and only 157 goals against in 76 games. We had 22 one-goal games that year.”
With almost every team at the 20 game mark, it’s time to start thinking about Stanley Cup contenders. Okay, maybe it’s a little early for championship talk, but with a quarter of the season in the books the sample size is just large enough to get a decent read on some teams (most analysts find that looking at 20-25 game averages is best for predictions).
Things will likely change throughout the season, but it’s an interesting discussion to have as those things change, especially if the underlying numbers remain consistent. This is about who’s got the best chance right now, who’s playing over their heads, and who could sneak into the conversation with some good bounces.
Most people will point to the standings and say “Boom! There’s your contenders,” but with the randomness that comes with hockey it’s not that simple because the standings can lie, especially early on. That’s why many have begun looking towards the NHL’s advanced stat movement to get a better understanding of which teams are the real deal and which teams aren’t.