Winners of 10 of their past 13 games, can the young Oilers squeeze into the playoffs? (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Could they? Would they? Should they?
Sure. Doubtful. Heck yes.
Of course, we’re talking about the playoff chances of the hard-charging Edmonton Oilers (winners of 10 of their past 13, don’t you know?).
The Oilers sit in 10th place in the wild Western Conference, five points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. But surely, a team that’s won 10 of 13 games can win six of its final seven, right?
If the Oilers manage to pull off an anti-finish of last season – when they won two of their final 20 games after Ryan Smyth’s body, heart and soul left at the trade deadline – and, say, collect 12 more points in their final seven games, they’ll be right in the thick of things.
For starters, their final seven contests are all against Northwest Division foes – two games each against beloved Calgary, Colorado, Minnesota and one more against Vancouver – so if the Oil wins, it means one team immediately ahead of them does not.
Short of a 7-0-0 run to close the season, the Oilers don’t control their own destiny – but they can sure shape their fate with a fantastic finish.
So…yes, Edmonton could make the playoffs.
But here’s something to mull. The team ahead of the Oilers in ninth place, the Nashville Predators, has one more point, the same number of games remaining – and a much easier schedule.
While Edmonton battles the Flames, Avs, Wild and Canucks – all of whom are vying for the No. 3 seed that comes with winning the Northwest, as well as fighting to stay ahead of the Preds and Oilers – Nashville has six games against Chicago, Columbus and St. Louis (two each, plus one against Detroit).
The Hawks and Blues are playing for the draft lottery, and if the Blue Jackets are smart, they will be, too. That means the Preds have a legitimate chance to win at least four or five of those games, and if they can pull off a win against the Red Wings, they’ll be in that 90-92 point range that will likely earn the eighth playoff spot.
So…no, Edmonton would not make the playoffs.
Finally, there’s the philosophical question of whether it’s in the Oilers’ best interest to even qualify for the post-season. If they get in, they’re gonna be a tired – if ecstatic – bunch.
They’ll have expended a tremendous amount of energy in the past couple months – overcoming injuries to several key players and winning every shootout this side of the OK Corral – all for the honor and glory of facing (probably) Detroit in the first round, the team that has been in first place in the NHL since November.
An unfavorable matchup, to say the least. If the Oilers still held their own first round draft pick (they don’t; it belongs to Anaheim due to last summer’s Dustin Penner signing), they probably shouldn’t make the playoffs.
In the long run, they’d have been better off entering the draft lottery and hoping for a pick in the top seven or eight so they could nab one of several enticing prospects. But, they don’t own that first-rounder, so…
…yes, Edmonton should make the playoffs.
But, for a reality check, go back to the would (not) section of this column.
TOSKALA FOR (LEAFS) MVP
If you own a television and predilection for sports programming, you’ve seen the bad-bounce goal surrendered by Toronto netminder Vesa Toskala in Tuesday night’s game against the Islanders.
Most likely, you’ve seen it many, many times. (For the record, Isles defenseman Rob Davison – a teammate and “good friend” of Toskala’s when both were in San Jose last season – cleared the puck while New York was killing a penalty, and it took a crazy hop in front of the crease and eluded the Leafs goalie for an embarrassing 178-foot goal against.)
The last-second bad bounce - and Toskala’s falling-over reaction when he realized what happened - has been played to death on the cable sports networks.
A lesser-reported fact is the fluke goal – Davison’s third career marker in 187 NHL games – was the only one Toskala gave up in the game and Toronto scored thrice in the third for a 3-1 victory.
It can be argued Toskala hasn’t received as much attention at any other time this season. This, despite the fact he has been Toronto’s most valuable player throughout 2007-08. (And no, that’s not a backhanded compliment.)
Yes, Mats Sundin has turned in another exemplary season, once again leading the Leafs from Day 1 in goals, points and intensity. But Toskala, night in and night out, is Toronto’s most important player.
And it’s a good thing, too, because on a team whose commitment to defense wavers from decent to disaster, he hast to be. Toskala has singlehandedly kept the Leafs in the playoff hunt; at least, on the fringes of it.
He’s started 31 of the past 32 games, including the past 27 in a row, and when the Leafs win, he’s almost always one the game’s three stars (or should have been).
John Ferguson, who was fired in January, made several questionable (a nice way of saying bad) signings and trades in his few years as the Leafs GM. Trading for Toskala, though, was not one of them. It was the best move Ferguson made and stands alone as the sole reason the Leafs aren’t in last place right now.
Sam McCaig’s From The Point appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at email@example.com.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.