It’s not a lock, but the Edmonton Oilers making the 2017 NHL Playoffs seems all but assured. Questions are beginning to surround the placement of teams in the Western Conference while scenarios begin to shape themselves out as postseason-bound teams solidify their spots. Where will the Oilers land? Who will they be facing in the first round? Is the matchup that awaits them one that benefits them or hurts their potential to advance?
Over the next week, I’ll examine each potential first-round matchup. The first of the series takes a look at the mighty Chicago Blackhawks.
The Odds: Not Likely to Play Each Other
Of all the potential matchup possibilities in the first round, this one seems the least likely. Chicago is first in the Western Conference and one of only two western teams to have already clinched a spot in the postseason. With 102 points and a nine-point cushion on the next closest team, it doesn’t look like anyone will catch Chicago and they’ll be facing the eighth-seeded team.
The Oilers currently sit fifth in the conference. They are one win away from moving up to second and the Oilers would have to struggle the rest of the way to end up in the eight-hole. Still, it’s all mathematically possible and as such, worth taking a closer look at.
The Chicago Blackhawks have to be viewed as the most prolific team in the Western Conference. It’s been that way for years. Winners of three Stanley Cups in the previous five seasons, once again they sit atop the conference standings in 2017 — the only team in the west to have 100-plus points in the regular season.
Ironically, they were, in a variety of ways, similar to the Oilers. A team who struggled for many seasons, Chicago didn’t make the playoffs between the years 2002 and 2008. In some of those campaigns, the Blackhawks were amongst the worst teams in the NHL. It wasn’t until a victory by the Oilers over the Calgary Flames in the final game of the 2006-07 season — resulting in Edmonton overtaking Chicago in the regular season standings — that the newly 26th-place Blackhawks were the recipients of a lucky lottery win, moving up to draft first overall and earning the right to pick dynamic superstar Patrick Kane in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
Chicago missed the playoffs one more time after that 2007 draft, but starting with the 2008-09 season and for each season afterward, the Blackhawks began to dominate and never looked back. That first playoff-bound season Chicago moved up 14 spots in the regular season standings, had a handful of young and talented draft picks playing feature roles and free agents began to look at their club as a destination of preference.
It’s almost eerie how the similarities between these two teams can be drawn. Chicago spent a lot of time out of the playoff picture. So did the Oilers. Chicago got a lucky draft lottery break and moved up to draft an offensive weapon in Kane. Edmonton won the lottery and earned the right to draft, what could be, the NHL’s next megastar in Connor McDavid. The Blackhawks hurdled their way up the standings in one season after missing the playoffs with their new star the year before. The Oilers are doing the same this year after missing in McDavid’s rookie-campaign.
For the sake of the Oilers, they can only hope to see similar success as they continue on their journey as a playoff contender.
The Oilers meeting the Blackhawks in the first round would be a showcase of incredible skill. Two of the most dynamic offensive performers in the NHL — McDavid and Kane — would battle it out over what could be a lengthy series. To say the least, it would be a fun and exciting series and one that would catch the attention of a wide audience.
Both clubs are ranked in the top-five of the Western Conference in scoring and only two goals currently separate their total goals for. Oddly enough, only one goal separates these two franchises in goals against.
Their head-to-head matchups over the regular season this year have gone the way of the Oilers. In three contests, the Oilers hold two victories over Chicago and Edmonton has taken home-ice advantage from the Blackhawks by going fifty percent at Rogers Place and by winning the one and only game in Chicago.
Edmonton’s power play is currently clicking at a much better rate by almost four percent and the Oilers have the penalty-kill advantage by almost three percent. Where it looks really positive for the Oilers is in respect to their success with the starting goaltenders in net. In two contests against Corey Crawford, the Oilers have seven goals. Conversely, Chicago has scored only five goals on Talbot in three games.
Chicago has a more balanced offense with more production coming from the blue line, but both teams are deep and have some secondary scoring they can call upon.
Despite having success against the Chicago Blackhawks this season, this is not a matchup the Oilers probably want in the first round. Where Chicago really out-classes the Oilers is in playoff experience. Edmonton matches up well but Chicago clearly knows how to get the wins when it counts the most. So far, the Oilers don’t have the track record to say the same — at least not yet.
I think it would be a fun series, but based on playoff experience and how evenly matched the two teams are, I have to give the edge to Chicago. Edmonton would put up a massive fight, perhaps taking the wind out of Chicago’s sails, but the Blackhawks would squeak out the victory and move on to the second round.