There are few guarantees in life. One of them is that if you tell people the Oilers will make the playoffs, they will call you an idiot and possibly something worse. People tend to believe that who was good last year will be good this year and that who was not good will continue to wallow in mediocrity or worse. It is the natural tendency of most people to use the most recent data as a blueprint for how they should predict the future. This is because predicting the future is not really possible. Most people aren’t going to plug thousands of variables into a computer program and then run tens of thousands of simulations to find out the different probabilities for events to occur, and even if they do, who says they’re weighting the variables correctly? That in itself is as hard to determine as the future.
So what happens, is that making an accurate prediction is so fraught with difficulties that the easiest thing to do is to look at the most recent example of something and assume that with one or two differences, it’s bound to be a somewhat accurate barometer for the future. If you notice that 95 % of the predictions of the upcoming season seem to see a repeat of last year with the only difference being that they have the Stars moving into contender status as the offseasons most hyped team, then you should start to see what I mean.
To a man, everyone is predicting the Oilers will once again be one of the worst teams in the league. Even those who thought their breakout was sure to happen last year or the year before are getting gun-shy: maybe they just built a dud and all those top picks will amount to nothing.
Maybe. But I think that’s as uncreative and uninteresting as saying they are going to win the Cup. Or “Guaranteeing” the playoffs.
Look, a guarantee from me is not worth the proverbial paper this is printed on. I can no more guarantee anything than I can travel through time or fly. All I want to do is get you to think about how there is a possibility that the massive quantities of hockey talk, podcasts, newspaper articles, blogs and tweets – while amazing in almost every conceivable way – can lead to a coagulation of opinion, a melding of the minds, so to speak. What it is, is an example of Mob Mentality, which just means that in a big enough group, things get repeated often enough until they become pseudo-facts. These pseudo facts become accepted by the majority to the point where anyone who speaks against them is often immediately outed as an idiot or an uniformed MORON who doesn’t know anything about hockey.
There are countless examples of this kind of group thinkery going on: Is it the near unanimous agreement that the Leafs, Oilers and Coyotes will be terrible teams yet again? That Tyler Bozak is not a good player? That Sam Gagner is “washed up” at 24? That Dion Phaneuf is a bad player/captain/person etc. ? That Randy Carlyle is an outdated dinosaur that is the worst coach in hockey and a severe barrier to the Leafs improving? Obviously you can and will find people who disagree, but the prevailing point here is that if you speak out against any of the above, someone will criticize you harshly.
This is not to say that anyone who disagrees with me is just guilty of group think, this is a plea for people to be more open minded. Some of those examples are bound to prove correct, but even at their best, they are only probabilities that enough people believe in that they take on the appearance of reality. It is very possible that all of those things are right, but it shouldn’t automatically discredit someone who tries to look at things from different angles. Doing so is fraught with the possibility that the person doing so is doing it only for attention or to create a buzz or otherwise troll for hits, but just because that does happen, it doesn’t follow that everyone who thinks differently is automatically trying to be shocking for the sake of being shocking.
This is meant to be more nuanced than polemic. This is not an “all or nothing” argument. It is a “sometimes this happens and it’s a bit of a problem” argument. The fact is, people are going to make leading titles and crazy predictions just to stir up trouble and group-think is an undeniable psychological fact that hockey is no more immune to than any other topic. People who do solid analysis will always get lumped into one of those two groups and it’s important to not shut out anyone down automatically because they disagree with you.
But back to the Oilers. Why do I “strongly suggest” that they will be a playoff team?
First of all, I feel the Oilers may have broken out a year ago if not for some bad luck. Their goalie went south, Yakupov fell victim to the sophomore slump, Gagner (since moved) had his jaw broken and wasn’t the same player when he returned, Schultz had a rough second year, Eberle wasn’t the same and RNH had a bum shoulder all year.
To me, that’s a lot of bad luck. This year the Oilers should be better just because it’d be rare to be so unlucky twice in a row. I like the additions of Victor Fasth in net and Teddy Purcell on the wing. The defense should improve because Shultz will be better, Klemfbom will be better and Nurse should make the team and make an impact as a rookie.
On top of which, Taylor Hall was 7th in scoring last season when his two most usual linemates had sub-par campaigns. Hall is only going to get better and with RNH sure to ascend and Eberle sure to return to form, this has a chance of becoming one of, if not the very best, lines in hockey. If Hall can score 80 points in an off season for his line-mates, it’s reasonable to think he can hit 100 if everything goes right.
Yakupov is another intriguing player. The former first overall pick will be twice, even thrice, the player he was last season. His talent is off the charts and if he improves it will be like adding a star player to the lineup for nothing. Yakupov scored only 11 goals last year and I see no reason he can’t score at least 30 this year.
Outside of the Coyotes, it is my belief that no other team in the NHL stands as good a chance to improve internally as the Oilers. With nearly all of their best players 24 or younger, the Oilers are going to explode, it’s more a matter of when than if. With some stability in the coaching ranks and a better outlook in goal and on defense, I think they can not only make the playoffs, but even win a series or two. They have the best young forwards in hockey (Sorry Tampa and Florida) and as much as I can guarantee anything, I guarantee they’ll make the playoffs. Or, at least, I strongly feel that they will.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.