The Oilers were the second-worst team in the NHL last season by point total… which represented a slight improvement from the previous season, when they were dead last. So now that the NHL is back and we’ll actually get a chance to see how the team will progress this year, now that they’ve got a
second (UPDATE: third, actually) straight No. 1 pick (Nail Yakupov) to work with: what’s a reasonable expectation for the Oilers in the 2013 season?
Well, according to Sports Illustrated’s preseason power rankings: third. Not third-worst in the league (which, remember, would still be an improvement). Not third in their division. Not third in their conference. Third in the entire NHL. Three spots higher than the defending-champion Kings. Seems a little crazy, right? If you think so, you have company. Company like… Oilers players themselves. Specifically, veteran defenseman Ryan Whitney:
Pretty pessimistic there, Ryan*. Even when you gave lip service to the “it’s a goal of ours” idea, your heart didn’t really seem to be in it. Your heart was definitely in it, though, when you pretty much said anyone who thought your team had a chance to be third-best in the league must be really, really high. And maybe the worst part (for the Oilers) was the “He’s totally right, that SI guy is nuts, this team will clearly still suck” laugh the entire room shared when you said it. Not that we blame you – jumping from 29th in the league to third is asking a lot, after all.
If you haven’t read SI writer Adrian Dater’s reasoning for putting the Oilers so high, here it is:
Why the reason for Oil optimism? Because Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and newcomer D-man Justin Schultz all played regularly during the lockout in the AHL and will be that much further along than the players who were limited to informal skates or shinny matches for charity.
That could help. And in a lockout-shortened season like this, something weird is bound to happen – see ’94-’95, when the Devils posted a nothing-special 22-18-8 record and wound up winning the Cup. Or take how the Nordiques (R.I.P.) rocketed from 11th to first in the Eastern Conference (then wound up bombing out in the first round of the playoffs). Maybe the Oilers will be this year’s “boy, the lockout sure made some weird stuff happen” team.
Or… maybe this is a Time/Newsweek moment. Newsweek, late in its printed life, became famous for covers it seemingly put out to troll everyone, and Time’s done some of the same (that means you, kid-sucking-on-boob cover), and season previews are a great time to make weird, attention-getting predictions. If indeed the Oilers’ amazingly favorable rank was to get people talking, it succeeded, and it seems likely that was at least part of the motivation.
Well, either that, or someone got real high.
*Just as an aside, did anyone see Whitney in this video and notice a resemblance to actor John C. McGinley? Because we sure did – and the weird part is that generally, Whitney doesn’t remind us of McGinley at all. Gotta be the hair.