The Edmonton Oilers should head into the Stanley Cup playoffs next week with lofty expectations internally, and externally. They’re the hottest team in the NHL right now and are taking down every team in their path; they will be an extremely difficult out this season, and should be a unanimous pick for the Western Conference Finals at the very least, with the Cup as a very attainable goal.
Based on what we’ve seen from them through 99% of the season, we break down the best and worst possible paths for the Oilers to reach the Stanley Cup.
Round 1 – Western Conference Quarterfinals
The Oilers will either finish first or second in the Pacific Division. This means they’ll have home ice no matter what, and will match up with either a wild card team, or the third team in the Pacific. At this point, there is a fairly even chance that either scenario happens.
In the case where the Oilers finish first in the Pacific, there is also a fairly equal chance they will match up with the first wild card team as the second. So, the potential opponents they would have in the first round are the Seattle Kraken and the Winnipeg Jets. Yes, the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators are technically still in the mix for a wild card spot, but the math is significantly tilted in favour of the Jets, and it’s probably safe to assume they will make it in despite what the diehard fans down the highway may think.
In the second scenario, the Oilers would match up with either the Kraken or the Los Angeles Kings. So, all in all, there are three possible teams the Oilers could realistically face in the first round: the Kraken, Jets, and Kings. Here’s how the Oilers have fared against these teams so far:
|Los Angeles Kings||2–2–0||0.500||9||10|
The Oilers actually only have a winning record against one of these three teams, the Kraken. The Jets, despite their recent struggles, look to be the worst matchup for the Oilers in the first round, whereas the Kings would be a very hard-fought series that both teams would probably prefer to avoid.
Best case: Kraken
Worst case: Jets
Round 2 – Western Conference Semifinals
The second round obviously depends on how the first round goes, and since it’s possible for the Oilers to play the Kraken in both first round scenarios, the options for the second round grow.
In the Pacific Division final, the Oilers would have to face either the Vegas Golden Knights or the Kings in the second round. Here’s how the season series has gone between the Oilers and Golden Knights:
|Vegas Golden Knights||3–0–1||0.875||18||14|
|Los Angeles Kings||2–2–0||0.500||9||10|
The Oilers have fared extremely well against the Golden Knights this season. Outside of the San Jose Sharks, in which the Oilers have a perfect 3–0–0 record, they have matched up the best against Vegas. If their regular season record is any indication, the Golden Knights would be, by far, the best opponent for the Oilers to face in the second round.
But, even the Kings wouldn’t be the worst opponent for the Oilers. They may only have a .500 record against them, but they will enter the playoffs with a two-game winning streak against the Kings, outscoring them 5–1 in their previous two meetings.
Best case: Golden Knights
Worst case: Kings
Round 3 – Western Conference Final
The third round is where things could get significantly more difficult for the Oilers. With the Central Division champion entering this round, it could be any of the four teams in the Central: the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, or Jets.
Here’s how the Oilers have done against each of these teams so far this season:
The Avalanche would be the worst matchup for a multitude of reasons. No Oilers fan needs to be reminded that the Avalanche swept the Oilers in the Conference Finals last season, and that losing streak has continued into this season. The Oilers may have a .500 points percentage against Colorado, but they have done so off of two loser points and haven’t been able to beat the Avs even once.
However, the teams at the top of the Central haven’t been very kind to the Oilers this season in general. The Wild and Jets both have a winning record against Edmonton, and the Oilers only have multiple wins against one team, the Stars.
This is a tough choice considering the Stars have been a solid team all year round, have the pieces to match up with Edmonton in almost every aspect, and surpass them convincingly in goal. The Wild are a well-built team too, so this is a tossup.
I’m going to choose the Jets as the easier option out of the Central, however. If they do end up in the final four, they will have had to overcome two very difficult series, and even though Connor Hellebuyck is an all-world goaltender, the Jets’ defense is porous enough that the Oilers should be able to overcome him.
Add in the fact that the Jets have been sliding for the better part of two months, and you’ve got a vulnerable team the Oilers can take advantage of.
Best case: Jets
Worst case: Avalanche
Round 4 – Stanley Cup Final
Matching up against teams in the East is a complete tossup. Any of the eight playoff teams in the East could end up in the final, which makes things extremely hard to predict. Still, here’s how the Oilers have fared against each of the East teams that could be in the playoffs, including those fighting for the wild card spots right now. The Buffalo Sabres have been omitted because their path is significantly harder, and it’s extremely unlikely they will be in the postseason this year.
|New Jersey Devils||0–2–0||0.000||5||9|
|New York Islanders||1–1–0||0.500||4||5|
|New York Rangers||1–0–1||0.750||8||8|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||2–0–0||1.000||8||5|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||1–1–0||0.500||9||9|
The Boston Bruins are the team to beat in the East with their record-setting season, but the Oilers have matched up quite evenly with them this season. Based on the records, the New Jersey Devils pose the biggest threat to the Oilers in the final, having beaten Edmonton both times and outscoring them 9–5 in the season series. They are the only team the Oilers have not managed to pick up a single point against, let alone defeat.
On the other side, there are a few teams the Oilers have perfect records against: the Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Tampa Bay Lightning. From this group, the Panthers are the obvious pick; by now the hockey world has realized that it’s foolish to bet against Sidney Crosby, and that the Lightning are far from favourable. As much fun as it would be to have a Stanley Cup matchup between Connor McDavid and Crosby, this would not be in the Oilers’ best interest.
Best case: Panthers
Worst case: Devils
Best and worst paths
The best path for the Oilers would be the Kraken in round one, Golden Knights in round two, Jets in round three, and Panthers in round four.
The worst path for the Oilers would be the Jets in round one, Kings in round two, Avalanche in round three, and Devils in round four.
That being said, the Oilers are an extremely good team this season with the capability to beat anyone and everyone. Buckle up, it’s going to be a fun ride as the Oilers have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup this season.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire