Did you ever think you'd be looking back on a riot with longing? The way that fans celebrated the Oilers' march to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 was not the city's finest hour, but the team was winning. Many die-hards would gladly trade a Vancouver-style riot for another trip to the Final. It's worth noting that fans got their act together for the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, and celebrations (and misery) never got out of hand. Perhaps next time the Oilers win a playoff round they can do it without risking damage to public property. But will it be next year, or will the people in the picture above be old and grey by the time it happens?
For the Oilers to have made the playoffs last season, they would have needed an improvement of 35 points, which is roughly 18 wins, or 15-17 wins with a few OT losses mixed in. Like all teams, the Oilers played 6 games against each of their division rivals, for a total of 24. That's more than a quarter of the season, and respresents a possible 48 points in the standings. Last year the Oilers won just 6 of those games, and lost 5 of them in overtime. They therefore pulled only 17 of a possible 48 points out of their division.
The long climb back to the playoffs is going to have to start with some improved results against division rivals, especially because they are essentially 4-point games when it comes to battling for position. So what chance do the Oilers have of beating up on the Northwest?
Minnesota: The Wild won every game against the Oilers last year, and that trend probably won't abate much in 2011-12. The Hockey News projects them to finish 11th in the West, but they will be working with a much improved offense. Right wing should be an area of strength for Minnesota with the addition of Heatley and Setoguchi, but losing Burns will hurt the backend. The defense is not good, but it's no worse than Edmonton's. If the Oilers want to win they'll have to hope that their balanced offensive attack will carry them. Potential wins: 3 or less
Calgary: That first game against the Flames was the Oilers' only win over Calgary last year, even though they got close a couple more times. Two of Calgary's wins came in shootouts and one was a one-goal game. The Flames didn't make any major improvements in the off season, and trading away Regehr should give Ales Hemsky and/or Jordan Eberle more room to operate. If the Oilers can convert those three close losses into wins they will be in good shape against their arch-rivals. Potential wins: 3 or more
Vancouver: The Canucks are still the darling of the Western Conference, and they should have no trouble running roughshod over the Northwest Division. Aside from Vancouver the entire division is still either a few years away, or trending downward. The Oilers won two games against the Canucks late last year, despite an injury-riddled squad. If Vancouver is sitting in a comfortable lead late in the year, the Oilers might have a chance to surprise them again, but expect the Canucks to come out of the gate like gangbusters and annihilate their weaker opposition. Potential wins: 2 or less
Colorado: It'll all come down to goaltending and defense. Colorado lost Liles and Foote on their blueline and replaced them with Hejda and O'Brien. Erik Johnson is the wildcard on the backend. The Avs have good centers and a solid attack, but it won't mean much if Giguere and Varlamov aren't stellar in goal. The Oilers have more than kept pace with Colorado offensively, but the two teams may have similar struggles on defense and between the pipes. Last year the Oilers beat the Avalanche 3 times, and when they lost it was in the shootout (twice) or in overtime. Both teams were ravaged by injuries last year, so it will be interesting to see two healthy teams square off. Potential wins: 3 or more
To ask for the Oilers to win half of their divisional games is still asking for a lot at this point, but they will need exactly that if they want even a sniff of the post season. Even if that happened, it would only produce a bump of around 12 points in the standings. As we have seen, the Oilers need closer to a 35-point improvement. However, if the kids take a step forward and the Oilers take advantage of the division's weaker teams, it is possible that they could win even more in the Northwest. If that same improvement carries on against the rest of the league, the playoffs could be a possibility.
As with anything in sports, it could happen. It's just not overly likely.