Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kerrzy’s Notebook: Oilers Last Again?

Incase you missed it this week, The Hockey News is predicting another last place finish for the Edmonton Oilers in the 2011-12 season…but did they get it right?

The Oil are coming off a last place finish in 2010-11 (which THN called last August), but the team followed that up with a busy summer of addition and subtraction that has led to a renewed sense of optimism around the City of Champions. Could they possibly finish last in the West for a third straight year though?

Before we get into it, let’s just see how accurate the folks over at THN have been over the last two seasons:

Last year, they had four bang-on predictions in the West, three teams finished within two points or less of where they said they would end up and two more teams were one spot away (but more than two points). In the East, they had five bang-on predictions and five teams within three points of where they pegged them to be.

The 2009-10 season wasn’t as good to the gurus at THN, but it was still not a bad haul: they got five right in the West and had one team sitting a spot away from where they predicted. In the East, they had four teams within five points of where they said they would finish and one team within a spot of their prediction.

As you can see, those guys do their homework! Did they get it right when it comes to this year’s Edmonton Oilers though?

Here’s what THN has to say about the team:

“Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was added to the exciting core of youth in Edmonton, but like the Senators, the Oilers still have a couple years of bumps and bruises ahead of them. While the prospects should have fans giddy with excitement, the fact is Edmonton is buried in a deep conference full of Stanley Cup contenders, so expectations have to be tempered. Once their prospects earn some experience, the Oilers will be off and running.”

While I don’t disagree completely with that assessment, I think it’s maybe a little too early to “temper” the expectations and just assume that the Oil are going to lose to everyone in the conference!

Edmonton will once again be an extremely young team up front and a fairly young team at the back, but they’ve added some key pieces since last season who will (hopefully) end up performing well and helping improve the overall product.

The team is hoping that Andy Sutton and Cam Barker help shore up things a bit on the defensive side, while Eric Belanger should provide a boost for a team that struggled to win draws at times last year. Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuck were brought in to keep other teams honest out there and provide the sandpaper in place of Zack Stortini and Steve MacIntyre. As well, Ryan Smyth is back with the Oilers and will play a huge role in mentoring this young group, which may include Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

It’s funny that The Hockey News mentions the “bumps and bruises” that are ahead for the Oil, because if there is one phrase that sums up the last two seasons, it’s “bumps and bruises.”

Here’s the thing: It has literally been years since the Oilers were able to remain even relatively healthy for an entire season!

For example, Ales Hemsky hasn’t played 50 games in a season since 2008-09, but is close to a point-per-game during that span when he’s healthy. On the blue line, Ryan Whitney has shown a ton of promise since coming over at the trade deadline in 2010 (38 points in 54 games), but he missed over half of last season due to injury. Rookies Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall both had productive seasons in 2010-11, but neither player made it to the 70-game mark, joining Sam Gagner on the sidelines. Sadly, there are more examples, but the point is this: nobody knows the damage a decently healthy Oilers team could end up doing!

Will the Oilers wind up in the basement suite of the West again in 2011-12? I honestly don’t think so. By that same token, I don’t think they’ll be winning the Presidents’ Trophy either this year, but I do think we could see them at least in the hunt for a playoff spot by season’s end.

What do you think: Is another last place finish in the cards for the Oil?

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