After posting a strong 37-25-9 record through 71 games this season, the Edmonton Oilers expected to be preparing for a playoff run right now. Instead, the NHL paused the regular season indefinitely on Mar. 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Any hope of the NHL resuming play in April was quickly dashed, and it now appears the best players in the world won’t be back on the ice until July, if at all. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported on Tuesday that a group of NHL players have proposed a potential schedule for the remainder of the regular season, playoffs and offseason.
The plan would be to open training camps in early July. Players aren’t fond of the idea of jumping right into the playoffs, so one idea is to begin a truncated conclusion to the regular season that wraps up by the end of July. That would give teams with an unequal number of games played a chance to make their final cases for the postseason, while also providing “warm-up” contests for teams firmly in playoff position. Then a two-month sprint for Lord Stanley would begin in August, with the Stanley Cup awarded by the end of September. A three- to four-week transition period would follow in October with the draft, free agency and training camps. Then the full 2020-21 regular season – a condensed, 82-game schedule – would commence in November with the Stanley Cup awarded again in late June, 2021.TSN senior hockey reporter Frank Seravalli (Mar. 17)
Here’s how the Oilers could benefit from the proposed NHL schedule.
Time to Recharge
While the Oilers have improved their depth since Ken Holland took over as general manager, there are still obvious holes in the lineup. Thankfully, the team has two superstars in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who are both capable of playing major minutes. Draisaitl averages 22:37 of ice time per game, which leads the league among forwards. McDavid is not far behind at 21:52, which ranks third in the NHL.
They are the most lethal duo in the league, but when asked to play that many minutes game after game, they are bound to get burnt out. But the extended break should give McDavid, Draisaitl and the team as a whole time to recharge their batteries over the next three months.
In addition, the Oilers have lost a staggering 241 man-games to injury this season. Most notably, Adam Larsson missed 21 games with a fractured fibula, Oscar Klefbom was sidelined for nine games due to a shoulder injury, McDavid was on the shelf for six games with a quad injury and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was out for six games with a hand injury.
With the extra time off, the Oilers should be able to ice a completely healthy lineup in July and give themselves a real shot at a deep playoff run.
Favourable Playoff Format
Following the free-agent period in early July, the NHL typically moves into the quietest part of the hockey calendar. However, this summer could be most exciting in the game’s storied history thanks to the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The players clearly want an abbreviated training camp in July before returning to game action. The question is do they finish the remaining regular-season games on the schedule, jump right into the playoffs, or hold play-in games for teams on the bubble? We probably won’t have an answer for at least two months, but there are many possibilities.
If the league decides to cancel the rest of the regular season and immediately begin the playoffs after they are cleared to return, playoff seeding would likely have to be determined by points percentage due to the unequal number of games played. This scenario would not only secure a playoff spot for the Pacific’s second-place Oilers, but it would also give them home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Based on points percentage, the Oilers (.584) would face the Vancouver Canucks (.565), who currently sit in fourth place in the Pacific Division and just outside of the playoff picture. And while many Oilers fans have been hoping for the first Battle of Alberta playoff series since 1991, this scenario would knock the Calgary Flames (.564) down to a wild card spot.
While hockey fans are anxious to have the NHL return as soon as possible, the health of everyone is the top priority. There’s no guarantee when the players will be back on the ice, but it seems unlikely that the NHL would cancel the playoffs.
The Oilers were well-positioned to qualify for the playoffs for just the second time since advancing to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final when the NHL paused the season, making their extremely loyal and patient fans wait a little longer to see their team back in the tournament.
Still, the Oilers will almost certainly have an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup this summer. They’ve earned it.
Eric Friesen is a freelance sports broadcaster and journalist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Eric has diplomas in Broadcasting from Mount Royal University in Calgary and Sports Journalism from Centennial College in Toronto. A lifelong hockey fan, Eric has followed the Edmonton Oilers for more than 20 years. He cheers for the Oilers because of his hockey hero Wayne Gretzky, who played his more productive seasons in Oil Country.