As we crawl forward inch by inch to the first game of the regular season I wonder what the writers at The Hockey News are talking about. They have begun their predictions for the season and are releasing one team per day from each conference. I know that the Oilers finished 6 points back of Colorado and 19 points back of Columbus for 13th and 14th in the Western Conference respectively. 20 points is a staggering amount of points for an 82 game season, but is definitely a possibility and I guarantee it won't be Columbus in the bottom three of the West as well.
Looking at the additions this off season we can look at Eric Belanger as a great improvement on Andrew Cogliano even though I loved Cogs work ethic and ability to adapt to a secondary role. There is alot more grit in the line up as well with Eager and Hordichuk added. They are not upgrades in fighting over Big Mac, but they will play more than 3 shifts per game. Also, adding Ryan Smyth may not be an upgrade over a young player playing top minutes, but he will make the Oilers significantly deeper on the wings. Finally Cam Barker has joined the blue line. He is no doubt an improvement on Foster on the powerplay even if he does not progress like I think he will. There is also Sutton on the blueline, but I do not think he is a great upgrade over Strudwick.
I like to think that these additions are not the only additions the Oilers have made. Last season we saw the Oilers call up many young NHLers including Linus Omark, Jeff Petry and Teemu Hartikainnen. The franchise only got to see these players in an extended audition because of the injuries that afflicted this team. During the first 20 or so games last year the Oilers were in the hunt for a playoff spot. I know the season is 82 games. Don;t worry. During those first 2 months though, Taylor Hall was still looking for consistency and Ryan Whitney and Ales Hemsky were carrying the load offensively. The loss of both players marked the end of the season for the Oilers. I know there are no guarantees that anyone will play a full season, but full seasons from the top players at their position would contribute greatly to the point totals at the end of the year.
Finally, I think that the kids will take another step forward and move into their roles much quicker than they did last year. I expect Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi to increase their points totals by as much 50% due to full second seasons. Hall will not be dropping the gloves, Eberle only had one appendix and Paajarvi will score more during his second full season on smaller ice.
The Hockey News might be right about the Oilers growth as much as I think I am right. However, I think that Colorado, Minnesota and especially Phoenix will all be taking steps backwards with the Oilers moving forward. I don't expect the Oil Typhoon to be swirling in the playoffs, but we will not be spinning balls in the lottery this time around.