Welcome back to the nitty gritty of the regular season. Over the summer projections and expectations can take on a life of their own, the focus expanded to the bigger picture. Needless to say that this reality has quickly changed across Oil Country as a few ugly losses to start the season have been a stiff wake up call. As much as our analysis consists of “coulds” and “shoulds”, the games are decided by much slimmer margins, split seconds, half inches, and strange bounces.
With that in mind we polled our readers on their thoughts early on in the season, a heat check amidst a slow start.
With the way the Edmonton Oilers have started their season, have you pushed the panic button yet?
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Too early to panic
Finishing second in our poll, showing that the majority of our voters are feeling patient, relatively calm amidst a start filled with some less than inspiring efforts. Even the singularly focused captain of the Oilers, Connor McDavid, conceded that it was “just four games” before regaining his usual composure, stating how important each game can be.
Admittedly two of the games have been ruined by visibly poor efforts from the team as a whole. More than the Oilers losing because their best is not enough, they are losing because they aren’t giving anything close to their best effort. Regardless of talent, the will to win is a necessity for those looking for success, and the Oilers won’t get far without it.
We do know that this team is capable of finding that level, in fact, as early as September at the “optional” Captain’s Skates nearly the entire team was present, ready to hit the regular season in stride. Somehow the team has come out of the gates quite flat, though everything we have learned about the Oilers tells us that they should be able to get back on track.
Call me in December
Leading our poll is a recognition that the early season is inherently volatile. In fact, much of the NHL calendar does revolve around this idea. Those watching the standings often express that the truth of which teams are for real can only begin to reveal itself after at least 20 games. Conventional wisdom from the league’s General Managers involves waiting until American Thanksgiving to make significant roster moves.
The reality is that the NHL season is much more a marathon than a sprint. What’s more is that the Oilers didn’t really begin to round into form until January of last season. It is frustrating to see the team underperform, but many feel that it has been far from long enough to make a judgment on the Oilers at this point.
Panic mode activated:
Finishing third in our poll are a group of fans who are pushing the panic button. Though the NHL regular season is long, the differences between playoff spots or home ice advantage are often by a point or two. For one reason or another these voters represent a portion of the fan base that is a bit shocked by how poorly the Oilers have played so far.
Despite the short sample size, fans might have a legitimate complaint about the quality of play across several key areas of the game. Perhaps the feelings of these voters are visible in Coach Jay Woodcroft, who broke his usual standard of curse-free post game media availability after a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Some might even be going far enough to rethink their thoughts on the Oilers and the season as a whole, feeling the bottom falling out. Perhaps we can’t be too surprised, as the Oilers have given little reason to feel anything but underwhelmed so far.
Been worried all summe
In a not too distant fourth in our poll is a group of hardcore naysayers. Clearly there is a significant number across Oil Country that have held doubts about this team throughout the summer. Are these fans seeing old ghosts, scarred from years past? Most likely there is a serious doubt about the team’s goaltending, but is there anything to be worried about beyond that? Perhaps they see some fatal flaw that most across the NHL have missed?
Under the salary cap it is virtually impossible to find an NHL team without flaw, and the Oilers have several. Voters here might have valid reasons or not, but somehow they remain thoroughly unconvinced in their viability. Perhaps it is Darnell Nurse’s contract or Evan Bouchard’s defensive game. Perhaps it is a lack of faith in secondary players such as Evander Kane or Cody Ceci. Perhaps it is something that goes even deeper, like a lack of faith in Woodcroft or GM Ken Holland, that informs this negative appraisal.
In all likelihood it is the play of Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner that have this group of voters up in a knot. Of course, it is a worthy counter argument to point out that the Vegas Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup with Adin Hill, who was thought of as a career backup until last season. In fact, outside of Andrey Vasilevskiy and Jonathan Quick, none of the Cup winning goalies have been thought of as truly elite options since the epic 2011 final between Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins and Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks. While it might be reasonable to doubt the Oilers current tandem, to think the situation is not one that can be overcome is a bit misguided.
Still, this group of fans might be onto something. They are worried, but not surprised at all by the Oilers slow start to the season. Only one team per season can win a Stanley Cup, meaning 31 teams will go home disappointed, and these fans will have to use some other barometer before claiming clairvoyance.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire