Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Process

In past comments I have referred to what I call The Process in reference to the steps a team takes from being a babe in the NHL woods to a Stanley Cup contender. The Oilers are going to have a great opportunity to see where they are in this journey starting on Friday when they play a team that is a perennial contender.

There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth as the Oil, on paper a far more talented team then in years past, were life and death to get to the playoffs again this year. I for one feel pretty good about this year and am of the mind that it has been a successful year and a step forward for the organization already, regardless of what happens next. Here's why:

1/ They made the playoffs this year. Last season they did not. As simple as that. That's a step forward.

2/ There will be no ripping apart of this team this summer, as there was when they traded Doug Weight. Players will leave. Samsonov and Spacek may not resign. Peca will be gone. But going into next season there will be a talent pool similar or stronger then at the beginning of this season. Pronger will be here. Hemsky will be here. Smyth will be here. If there are trades made it will be to strengthen the team not to dump salary. Now this is not the Oils' doing as much as it is the reality of the new CBA but it still counts.

3/ This is the biggie. While in years past this team had to max out just to get to the playoffs the truth of the matter is that with good goaltending this team probably is around ten points better which means they are in the top half of this conference and likely division champions. In other words a true contender. And this is the difference between last season and this season. Lowe knows what has to be done to take the next step and CAN address it. Can Vancouver point at one issue as the solution to their problems? Can LA? No. Does it mean that next year will automatically lead to what I am projecting? Of course not. But when is the last time that the Oilers could say 'ok here's our flaw - lets fix it' and that would potentially mean contender status.

4/ Improvement of youth. Hemsky and Stoll both posted impressive numbers. Torres, despite his slumps, scored 27 goals. Bergeron and Greene made some strides. Pouliot, Winchester and Jacques made appearances and we'll likely see Pouliot and Jacques fulltime next year would be my guess. In a league where having good young players will be needed to have success there are some nice signs in Edmonton.

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