Habs Rise, Oilers Stay the Same
We've spent a fair bit of time of late extolling the virtues of this season's play by the Montreal Canadiens, and for good reason.
Not only are the Habs in first, but they've become the most entertaining team in Canada to watch, including two rollicking games against Pittsburgh and Boston on the weekend that earned the Canadiens three of a possible four points.
That nobody saw this coming out of Montreal just makes it that much more interesting.
At the other end of the spectrum, it comes as an enormous disappointment that the Edmonton Oilers have proven to be neither more successful this season nor the entertaining, offensive-minded team we'd hoped would finally emerge.
An Edmonton fan might ask; why can the Canadiens go from last to first, while the Oilers stay the same?
Right now, the Oilers sit second from the bottom in the tougher Western Conference - maybe they should ask to move east in new realignment? - and 24th overall. They're also 24th in goals scored, not quite the run-and-gun offence that many projected would materialize in the Alberta capital after the drafting of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov was complemented by the signing of flashy free agent rearguard Justin Schultz.
Spending $78 million on Hall and Eberle alone over summer increased the expectation that they were about to emerge as true NHL stars and lead the Oilers at least into the realm of serious playoff contender. Ralph Krueger was an unconventional choice as head coach, but the Oilers seemed very confident he was the perfect choice.
Well, in a season in which the Oilers hit one historic low by giving up six goals in a single period, right now none of it is really working. Last night produced a frustrating loss in Minnesota, one in which the Oilers were outshot 18-0 in the second period. It was the fourth game of a monster nine-game road trip that has already including three defeats.
Not sure Mike Brown is going to be able to change this.
Hall is a point-per-game player, but has only four goals and he's injured again (he missed Sunday's game vs. the Wild, perhaps a precautionary measure after he was suspended 10 days earlier for a dangerous hit on Minny's Cal Clutterbuck). There was and is a dream in Edmonton he can be an Alex Ovechkin-like find for the Oilers, but by Ovechkin's third season, he was scoring 65 goals. Hall shares Ovechkin's penchant for reckless play and love for speed, but not his productivity as of yet.
Eberle is a player every team would love to have, quick and creative. But he has only six goals. Yakupov is a minus-11 already with six goals, but the biggest stunner is RNH, mired in a terrible slump with just one goal in 20 games. Only eight centres play more minutes than Nugent-Hopkins, but 89 sit higher in the NHL scoring parade.
After spending a half-season in the AHL while the rest of the NHL was locked, it was hoping Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins would have a huge step up on the field, but not yet.
Schultz has been very productive, but his plus-minus is starting to slip, no surprise for a young defenceman gaining experience.
Could it possibly be that this Oiler group is made up of players who will be good NHLers, but not great ones or all-stars? An even more intriguing question is whether by putting Hall, RNH and Yakupov directly into the NHL as teenagers, did the Oilers rush them and skip valuable apprenticeship lessons along the way plus a chance to mature physically? Hall and RNH, in particular, have had a hard time staying healthy.
Still, its too early to tell. The Quebec Nordiques run of three straight No. 1 overall picks (Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, Eric Lindros) began in 1989 and it was 1993 before the Nords were back in the post-season. Three more seasons after that, the Nordiques were NHL champions, albeit in Denver as the Avalanche, and without any of Sundin, Lindros or Nolan in their lineup.
So even though the Oilers may be disappointing so far this season, they're on that Quebec time line to some degree, although Sundin was a 100-point-plus player by his second year and Lindros was converted into a package of talent that included Peter Forsberg.
So perhaps it's next year - and possibly after a significant trade? - that we should be looking at for the big leap ahead in Edmonton, not this one.