Jason Smith didn't touch the Clarence Campbell Bowl, and the Oilers still lost. Will it be Horcoff who is the next Oilers captain to pose with that trophy? Or will he be retired by the time the Oilers get back there? A playoff berth in 2011-12 could fast track the progress, but is it realistic?
Once again the Western Conference was a tough one to win in. The tenth place Calgary Flames had enough points to make the playoffs in the East, but missed in the West by 3 points (and 3 wins in the event of a tie). Even more telling, only the bottom three teams in the Conference had losing records. These included the Blue Jackets (34-35-13), Avalanche (30-44-8) and Oilers (25-45-12). Next worst after Columbus were the Minnesota Wild, who finished 12th despite a record of 39-35-8. Therefore, simply to have finished 12th the Oilers would have had to win a whopping 14 more games.
To make the playoffs they would have needed around 19 more wins. Even then we are talking about the 8th seed in the West, and the Blackhawks barely made it in with a record of 44-29-9.
To suggest that the Oilers will improve in the W column by 15-20 wins is probably a pipe dream at this point. The improvements they have made will help, but the blueline is still average at best and the question marks surrounding the goaltending are collosal.
However, some of the teams in the West have fallen off this off season and there is the potential for the Oilers to pass them. Below is a list of a few of them. Will it be enough?
Phoenix: As we have seen previously, the Coyotes were average to horrible in most statistical categories, but Bryzgalov and some great coaching got them through. They have lost Bryzgalov now and replaced him with Mike Smith, who has yet to show that he can be a full time number one netminder in the NHL. In 2010-11 he posted a 2.90 GAA and a 0.899 save percentage in 22 games, which are hardly inspiring numbers. Aside from Smith, the Coyotes signed Raffi Torres and Boyd Gordon, who will help their bottom six, but won't give them much scoring punch. Dave Tippett has shown that he can coach his way out of a minefield of mediocrity, but this team is probably going to take a step back and out of the playoffs.
Anaheim: Adding a number of former Oilers isn't going to get the Ducks over the top. Much will depend on the status of Jonas Hiller and Teemu Selanne, because this team wouldn't have made the playoffs without those two. The Ducks boast arguably the best line in hockey at the moment with Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan; but the team still struggled at times last season. Without Selanne they would instantly become weaker, and Cogliano is still not Todd Marchant. Another year of age will help Cam Fowler, but it could have the opposite effect on Jason Blake and Saku Koivu.
Nashville: Another example of a team that is brilliantly coached and gets a lot out of a little. The Predators got 33 wins out of goaltender Pekka Rinne on the back of his 2.12 goals against average and remarkable 9.30 save percentage. They'll need a performance like that again if they want to make the playoffs, as the Preds haven't done much to address the fact that they finished 21st in the league in scoring and 26th on the powerplay. It's a lot to ask of Rinne, and could see them fall out of the top eight next year.
That's three teams that could realistically drop out of the playoffs. It's almost certain that Vancouver, San Jose, Detroit, Los Angeles and Chicago will all make it, and there's no chance that the Oilers will pass any of them to grab a playoff berth.
None of these teams made the playoffs last year anyway, but the Oilers will have to be ahead of them if they want to get to the post season.
Dallas: Losing Richards hurts. Between James Neal and Richards, the Stars have lost 122 points, and that's based on last season where Neal switched teams and didn't produce up to expectations. Ryder, Fiddler, Dvorak and Dowell are all downgrades. Souray and Pardy will need huge years for the Stars to make noise. They will probably miss the playoffs.
Calgary: Baffling moves in the off season see the Flames get worse by losing Regehr. They opened up cap space, but not enough to justify the move. This non-playoff team is worse, if anything, and the once powerful blueline is now devastated and arguably among the worst in the league. It's Oilers blueline bad. Calgary will miss the playoffs.
St. Louis: Finally got a pure scorer in Chris Stewart and added experience in Arnott and Langenbrunner. If Cheechoo can bounce back he could help as well. This team will fight for a playoff spot and could potentially make it.
Minnesota: Losing Burns hurts, but Setoguchi will help. Mikeal Granlund could make the team and boost the offense. If Dany Heatley can get back to his 30-50 goal form the Wild could have a decent enough attack, even with Brodziak as a second line center. Much like the Oilers, the defense may be a bit of a question mark, but Minnesota isn't starting from 30th place. Still likely to miss the playoffs.
Columbus: Perhaps the most improved non-playoff team, the Jackets now have a true number one center in Jeff Carter and a very good offensive defenseman in James Wiesniewski. Fairly potent and balanced offensive attack, combined with a decent defense. The Jackets' season will hinge on the play of Steve Mason. If Mason posts numbers that are good enough for an NHL starter, Columbus could easily make the dance.
Colorado: Erik Johnson will need to progress, but the Av's could still make the playoffs. Landeskog will almost certainly make the team, and Jan Hejda will help to improve the defense of the defense. Once again, everything will depend on the goaltending. If the tandem of Giguere and Varlamov is good, consider Colorado a playoff team. If not, consider them toast.
Three of the non-playoff teams have a good shot to make it next year. That replaces the three teams that are likely to miss. The question that Oilers fans have to ask is whether or not the Oilers are better than Colorado, Columbus, St. Louis, Nashville, Anaheim or Phoenix.
Edmonton has to be better than four of them to make the playoffs, and right now that's a bit of a stretch.
The thing to keep in mind is that this is still a rebuilding situation. While the Oilers' chances of making the playoffs next year aren't particularly high, missing isn't the worst thing that could happen to them. For instance, the LA Kings selected Brayden Schenn 5th overall in 2009, the year before they made the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02. Schenn eventually turned into Mike Richards, who is going to be a fantastic second line center for that team for years to come.
If the Oilers miss the playoffs next year and do half as well as the Kings did, it will be well worth it in the long run.