Friday, September 5, 2014

Tipping Point

I spent sometime mulling over the upcoming Oilers season this morning trying to identify when the Oilers will turn the corner. I have thought for a while that it will be next year, the 2015-16 season. However I wanted to look at if its possible that it happens this year. I started by looking at some of the recent scorched earth rebuilds and focus on the ones that were successful because in order for the Oilers to make the playoffs this year, they will need about a 30 point increase. In doing this post I look at 3 items.

1) the year they made the leap
2) how big the jump in the standings was
3) the age of their core players at the time of the jump

The teams of interest are the Blackhawks, Penguins and Kings. While its very optimistic to compare the Oilers to these teams, at this point I'm looking at successes and what it will take for the Oilers to replicate that.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks were bad for a long time. Maybe longer then the Oilers have been. They finally made the playoffs in 2008-09 jumping from 88 to 104 pts. The previous year they went from 71-88 pts. So they jumped 33 pts in 2 seasons. At the beginning of the year, their core players.

Sharp - 27
Keith - 25
Toews - 20
Seabrook - 23
Kane - 20

Of note, the Blackhawks won the cup in 2009-10 and made the very significant addition of Marion Hossa. One of the more underrated players of the past 20 years.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins had less 1st overall picks as the Oilers but landed Evgeni Malkin with the #2 pick in 2004 and Jordan Staal with the #2 in 2006. But they also won the Crosby sweepstakes. A prize of a top 10 all time player is stunning. They also picked Ryan Whitney with the 5th pick overall in 2002 who never really amounted into anything but did eventually turn into Chris Kunitz the year they won the cup. In 2006-07 the Penguins went from 58 pts to 105 a jump of 47 pts in 1 season!

Crosby -19
Malkin - 20
Staal - 18
Gonchar - 32

Kris Letang was a non factor when the Penguins made their jump and Ryan Whitney was 23. He was an impact player until his foot injuries derailed his career.

LA Kings

LA was a different case. They were bad for a while but never really bad enough to "win" the top picks except Drew Doughty. The other lottery pick they had ended up being Thomas Hickey who would be considered a wasted pick. The Kings went from 79 pts to 101 in 2009-10. A jump of 22 pts in 1 season. Again, their core is smaller and they piled up so many assets they were able to trade well picking up assets like Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. They made their jump without these players however and perhaps I should include Ryan Smyth as a player who helped them make the step.

Kopitar - 22
Doughty - 20
Brown - 25

Which leaves us to the Edmonton Oilers. A team that has collected a ton of top assets through the draft. Entering this year the Oilers are an interesting team. It seems that they are Tayler Hall and the rest.  Hall is an elite player on an island of his own. Conventional wisdom is that most players become legit at or around their 4th NHL season. But the elite prospect the Oilers are acquiring aren't your typical players. Assuming Leon Draisatl makes the team as well as Nurse I identify their core going forward as:

Hall - 23
Yak - 21
Nuge - 21
Draisatl - 19
Eberle - 24
Nurse - 19
Schultz - 24

I shouldn't really include Justin Schultz here as he hasn't proven anything to this point in his career. But his UFA status and belief from Oilers management indicate that he has the potential to be a core piece of the Oilers moving forward.

So I leave with 4 observations.

1) All of the "successful rebuilds" made significant leaps forward in a short period of time. The Penguins did 47 pts in one year which is ridiculous but Kings did 22 points and the Blackhawks did 33 although it took them 2 years.
2) The size of the Oilers cluster is larger then any of the "successful rebuilds" (although largely unproven). Its also unlikely they all develop into part of the core.
3) The Oilers lack a legit top pairing D. All the other teams that took the step had one. In LA's case, Doughty was the difference maker. I believe Doughty to be a unique case. The Oilers did make a nice acquisition in Mark Fayne this offseason who with Petry could form a top pair. I still believe the Oilers lack in this department.
4) All of the "successful rebuilds" made significant trades that improved the team as they approached the elite teams. Hossa, Kunitz, Carter and Richards all impacted the team when they were acquired and made them contenders.

Can the Oilers made a significant jump? The evidence here suggests its possible. But that's just it - its possible. As Lowetide often ends his posts, we wait.
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