There was a lot of handwringing out West about the Edmonton Oilers loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday night. It was the final nail in the coffin of the 2013 Edmonton Oilers, who were knocked six points back of a playoff spot with just seven games to play and four teams to jump. It’s not insurmountable, but every star in the galaxy will have to perfectly align for the Oilers to hop back into the race.
It’s a shame. A career season from Taylor Hall wasted. A career season from Sam Gagner wasted. A breakout campaign for Devan Dubnyk wasted. Jordan Eberle and Hall have seven games left each on their entry-level deals, and they’ll have no playoff games to show for it. Next year will be the last one for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and unless there’s a dramatic shift in the management it’s likely he’ll get through his first three seasons without a playoff game.
Sunday, it was crazy. Not only did Edmonton Sun columnist Terry Jones call for the head of general manager Steve Tambellini, but so did the wise sage of the Oilogosphere Lowetide. Tambellini has lost Cronkite.
Oh, on Sunday, the Nashville Predators also lost 3-0 to the Detroit Red Wings. With six games to go, they have to make up seven points and five teams, one of them being the Edmonton Oilers. Their demise isn’t as noticeable as the Oilers’. Despite being in the same spot in the standings, there are no news columns running Monday morning calling for the heads of longtime faces of the franchise David Poile and Barry Trotz, running with the team since the beginning.
Just to show just how well the Predators have done over the last six seasons or so, here are the bottom of the standings after Sunday:
I cut it off at teams with a reasonable shot of reaching the Bottom Five. Can we even call the Bottom Five “lottery teams” anymore with the new draft rules allowing all 14 non-playoff teams a shot at No. 1? That said there’s an 80 per cent shot that a team in the Bottom Five will get the No. 1 pick, so we’ll have that as our definition.
Not bringing this up because I’m cackling with glee about the Predators misfortunes. Au contraire. I think what the Predators did during the last six years is amazing and it doesn’t seem like anybody has really noticed it. The Preds have built up a good local following, have an impressively loud building and noticeable arena traditions audible over a generic TV broadcast. It’s on my list of NHL arenas to visit.
I’m bringing this up because when, do you think, was the last time the Predators even had a Top Five pick at the NHL draft? In 1998, the Predators as an expansion franchise were given the 3rd overall pick (later traded around and they wound up with No. 2 and took David Legwand) and since then the Preds have drafted 6th, 12th, 6th, 7th, 15th, 18th, 56th, 23rd, 7th, 11th, 18th, 38th and 37th. There’s obviously been some wheeling and dealing there, but this year could mark the first time in 15 seasons that the Predators draft in the Top Five. Not many teams can claim that.
Playoff appearances in the seven seasons since Gary Bettman Lockout II, a good starting point:
|Appearances since 2005|
|Detroit Red Wings||7|
|San Jose Sharks||7|
|New Jersey Devils||6|
|New York Rangers||6|
Their payroll in that span hasn’t been all that much. According to Capgeek, last season they made the playoffs with the 24th highest payroll in the game. They made the second round of the playoffs (other second round teams? 1st, 2nd, 7th, 10th, 12th, 22nd, 23rd). In the 2010-2011 season they made the playoffs and the second round with the 21st highest payroll. The other 2nd round teams that season? 2nd, 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 23rd.
Somewhere between a budget that falls between the salary cap midpoint and the salary floor lay a real good hockey team that was built very efficiently. I’ve learned from columns in the past where I speculated that the Predators built on some sort of mythical foundation that included looking at puck-possession metrics and the like.
The Predators did a lot of good things. They took risks on discarded stems like J.P. Dumont and Sergei Kostitsyn, squeezing whatever hockey juice was left in them. They found useful players in the later rounds of the draft: Martin Erat, Jordin Tootoo, Patric Hornqvist. They made some free agency acquisitions that turned into gold: Joel Ward and Jerred Smithson (I ripped Smithson a few weeks ago but in Nashville he was a very useful centreman).
Can’t overlook the goaltending they got. Tomas Vokoun turned into Pekka Rinne and it seemed like for years the Preds would always have a goalie who could get hot. They shuffled around defencemen and always seemed to have one guy to replace the next. Dan Hamhuis, Kimmo Timonen and Marek Zidlicky turned into Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Kevin Klein.
That’s the reason, though, why you can forgive a season or two of losing. The writing was on the wall for the Predators last year. I wrote about their real iffy possession numbers, and no longer being able to shoot pucks in the net at an absurd rate has crushed the team this season.
Roman Josi, while he’s playing 23:27 a night, isn’t Ryan Suter. Only three players had 20 points so far this season with the Preds after 42 team games. All of them are on the wrong side of 27 and the third has been traded to Washington. That was Erat, who was traded for Filip Forsberg who made his NHL debut on Sunday. Hopefully him and whoever the Predators get in the summer can help ease the scoring burden placed on Patric Hornqvist, Gabriel Bourque and Colin Wilson.
But hey. Sometimes the stars just don’t align. That’s more the case for the Predators this year than it is for most of the teams competing against them for a good draft pick. The fun thing about the short season is that it throws out of whack the final standings so teams that don’t belong in the bottom third of the standings will get a crack at top prospect this season. Carolina and Nashville are two teams that fit the bill. I accepted midway through the season than you can’t even use PDO to predict which teams will crash and burn this season because the season is just too damn short for the bounces to even out.