Heading into the 2013 NHL season, the plan for the Edmonton Oilers was to take that next step in their re-build. In some minds, that meant a post-season berth. In others, a marked improvement on their 30th, 30th and 29th place finishes would have been more than enough.
That all changed when NHL and NHLPA decided to not start the season on time. When the two sides finally came to their senses and decided to end the Lockout, they agreed upon a forty-eight game abbreviated schedule for the 2013 campaign. From that point on, everything changed in Oil Country.
A shortened schedule made the playoffs look like a real possibility for the Oilers and thirty-eight games into the season, Edmonton find themselves just four points out of eighth place in the Western Conference standings.All things considered, it would be hard to look at this season as anything other than a success for the organization.
The plan all along, was to get this young group some of those so-called meaningful games under their belt. Has the forty-eight game schedule played a role in allowing them to compete for a playoff spot? It most certainly has but an organization will generally catch a break or two along the way and this year has been Edmonton’s big break.
There have been some negatives along the way, most notably the decrease in production from Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a somewhat ineffective bottom six, as well as the organization’s reluctance to address the lack of size within the club’s top nine forwards. That being said, the positives have certainly outweighed the negatives.
Sam Gagner and Devan Dubnyk have both answered their critics with strong seasons, while both still have work to do, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for the former first round picks. Ditto for Magnus Paajarvi, who in recent weeks, has started to show what all the hoopla was about when the Oilers decided to select him with the tenth overall pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Rookies Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov have shown flashes of brilliance that Oilers fans should expect to see for years to come, while both Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid continued to make strides in their overall game. Add to that, the level to which Taylor Hall has raised his game on an almost nightly basis and suddenly things look far brighter.
With Hall on the verge of possibly cracking the top five in scoring by season’s end and this core group of youngsters seemingly getting better by the minute, it would seem rather difficult to not be somewhat impressed with Edmonton’s climb up the standings and back into playoff contention for the first time in ages.
Yet coming off back-to-back regulation losses in Vancouver and Los Angeles, some were less than thrilled with what they saw from the Orange and Blue in either outing. Could they or even should they have been better? Possibly but with all due respect to Ralph Krueger’s crew, they were simply fed their lunch by superior squads.
In the minds of some, the chance at a playoff spot seems to be all but gone. While that could very well be the case, the NHL schedule tells a different story and to be quite honest, that is all that matters. After finishing up their final road trip of the season on Monday night in Anaheim, Edmonton will play seven of their final nine games on home ice.
Does that guarantee them anything? Hardly but it certainly should keep them in the race for the remainder of the year...outside of the club self-imploding on Rexall Place ice. Should the latter occur, the Oilers brass will have some answers as to just how far they really are from competing, moving into what will be a critical off-season for the franchise.
General Manger Steve Tambellini and President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe have both gone on at great length, to how important meaningful games will be the development of players such as Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Schultz and Yakupov. With the current National Hockey League campaign be what it is, those players are going to be getting exactly that over the next three weeks.
At the end of the day, regardless of whether or not the Edmonton Oilers make the playoffs, the fact we are even mentioning the post-season play as a real possibility, speaks volumes about what this group has accomplished over the past two and half months. There are few who believe this management group has gone about this re-build in a proper fashion but as of right now, it is following its course...albeit on a bit of a bumpy road.