Sunday, 22 April 2012
04/22/12 Pre-Season Prediction Recap Part Two
We continue our look back at some 2011-12 pre-season predictions with three more questions and answers:
What expectations should fans have of the Oilers this year?
If the team doesn't meet those expectations is anyone's job in jeopardy? And
Which Oilers will score at least forty points? Who will get the most?
I answered the first question this way:
"Fans should expect the Oilers to be a lot like they were in 2010-11. They will be ridiculously good at times, and ridiculously bad as well. There will be nights when the Oilers catch teams off guard when they aren't taken seriously, and there is enough firepower to do some damage to the unprepared. Still, the Oilers will be digging a lot of pucks out of their own net this season unless the goaltending is outstanding. If the team stays healthy they should hover a few games below .500 for much of the year, but that's nowhere near good enough to get a sniff of the playoffs. On the other hand, it's good enough to keep things interesting into February and it should be a season where the fans don't want to claw their own eyes out quite so much of the time."
There were improvements in the goals against department, but the Oilers still finished 23rd with 232 pucks getting by their goalies. That's 28 goals better than 2010-11, when Edmonton was 28th in the NHL in goals allowed. They improved by a modest 16 goals for as a team, but offensive outbursts from Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins put exclamation points on it in much bolder fashion than in 2010-11, when Eberle led the team with just 43 points.
The Oilers scored five or more goals in a game nine times in 2011-12, which is up slightly from seven occasions in 2010-11. They scored at least four goals 15 times, which is actually down from 19 times in 2010-11. The 9-2 and 8-4 shellackings of Chicago qualify as games in which the Oil did serious damage to a team that didn't take them seriously (and didn't get good goaltending).
The team basically hovered below .500 as expected, but that wasn't enough to keep things interesting into February. Their early winning streak was erased in a December 15th loss to Phoenix, after which they fell to .500 for the first and only time at 14-14-3. After that game the Oilers went 18-26-7, which is a few losses poorer than anticipated but still within tolerance. That mark is a little misleading, however, as the Oilers lost 25 of 33 games from November 10th to January 21st. That's a heck of a lot worse than a few games below .500 and it was a streak of almost half the season.
As to whether or not anyone could lose their job if the Oilers don't live up to expectations, I had this to say:
"For the moment everyone's job is secure. Pretty much everyone who could be fired already has been, and the replacements each deserve some time to make it work. There aren't a lot of expectations wrapped up in this team, and the only way that the Oilers will fall completely flat is if they are overwhelmed by injuries. If that happens it won't really be the fault of anyone who could lose their job. If things go south next season, it will be a different story."
A 29th-place finish is lower than what most were expecting, and it now appears that Tom Renney is in real danger of not being brought back. The coach has been on board for 30th, 30th and 29th-place finishes, so it may be time for a new voice behind the bench; especially if early playoff exits result in other coaching options becoming available.
The Oilers were indeed struck hard by injuries once again, as Taylor Hall, Tom Gilbert and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins missed significant chunks of time. Most damaging, though, was the fact that Ryan Whitney was never 100%. Whitney is unlikely to be a 60+ point player every year as he was on pace for before being injured in 2010-11, but his ability to move the puck, be capable defensively and eat up 25:20 of ice time was sorely missed even when he was in the lineup.
Oilers management is no doubt aware of the need to start winning pronto, and they may see changing the coach as the jab in the ribs the team needs to get going. Despite improvements in virtually every facet of the game, Tom Renney may have needed more wins to keep his job.
Which Oilers players will score at least 40 points? Who will lead the team?
"Hall, Hemsky, Gagner, Paajarvi, Eberle, Smyth and Whitney will crack the 40 point plateau; provided that each stays relatively healthy. Taylor Hall has Hemsky or Eberle on the opposite wing, which means he'll rack up a load of points. It works both ways, which is why it's tempting to pick Hemsky to lead the team in scoring, but at 35 Ryan Smyth is not quite the same linemate that he once was. Hall will lead the way."
Not quite. Jordan Eberle had a monster of a season and led the team in scoring by a mile. Had Taylor Hall played the same 78 games as Eberle did, he was still on pace to be eight points back of the former Regina Pat. The last Oiler to score 34 or more goals was a 29 year old Ryan Smyth back in 2005-06. Hall, Gagner, Smyth, and Eberle did indeed reach 40 points, and Hemsky was just shy at 36 in 69 games.
Notable here is the lack of production from Paajarvi and the aforementioned Whitney. Before this past season Whitney posted 0.58 points per game over his career, but his hobbled ankle saw him get into just 51 games and score 0.39 points per game with 20. The lack of a true offensive contributor on the back end really hurt the Oilers in 2011-12.
Paajarvi fell off a cliff rather than taking a step forward offensively. The former 10th overall pick finished behind names like Petrell, Eager, Sutton and even Ladislav Smid in goals and points with just 2-6-8 in 41 games. Statistically speaking, there's no evidence to suggest that his rookie season was a fluke, but by eye he seemed to attack the net far less in 2011-12. He'll need to get some of that fearlessness back if he wants to be successful offensively at the NHL level, and his totals in the AHL (7-18-25 in 34) suggest that he might be coming around. As it is, he always has his defensive tools to fall back on and should still be a useful role player if the offense never comes.
Which player with less than 30 NHL games will play the most?
Which of the PP and PK is most likely to improve?
How many games will Yann Danis start?
Will Khabibulin spend any time in OKC?