The Hockey News began their series of 2011-12 NHL regular season predictions and have selected two Canadian teams to finish last in their respective conferences. In the East the rebuilding Ottawa Senators have drawn the short straw, and in the West they've predicted none other than the Edmonton Oilers to finish 15th for a third consecutive season. This came as perhaps a bit of a surprise considering the rebuild in Edmonton is already entering its third year, and THN is suggesting with their choice that essentially no progress has been made with this franchise.
Here's their reasoning behind not moving the OIL up in the standings just yet:
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was added to the exciting core of youth in Edmonton, but like the Senators, the Oilers still have a couple years of bumps and bruises ahead of them. While the prospects should have fans giddy with excitement, the fact is Edmonton is buried in a deep conference full of Stanley Cup contenders, so expectations have to be tempered. Once their prospects earn some experience, the Oilers will be off and running.
The Western conference has certainly become more and more competitive these past few seasons. Looking at last years standings, the Columbus Blue Jackets finished with nearly a .500 record (34-35-13) and 81 points and still only managed to place 13th. From there however, it was a large drop off in points to 14th with the Colorado Avalanche finishing with 68 points on the year. While the Blue Jackets have definitely improved this off season, the direction the Avalanche are headed this season is not as obvious. Although Semyon Varlamov is an upgrade on Craig Anderson and a full season of Erik Johnson and adding Gabriel Landeskog should yield some positive results.
So if the teams directly above the Oilers have improved, what are their chances of moving up this year? Clearly the Oilers have done some upgrading of their own this offseason, which should bring improvement assuming the injury bug doesn't bite as bad as it has in recent history. But will that improvement be enough to catch the Avs and Blue Jackets? Adding to this debate is the fact that while number of teams in the West did get better this summer, some have also managed to get worse, with the Phoenix Coyotes being the standout. The Coyotes had the 8th best offense in the Western Conference last season scoring a total of 231 goals. However, with the exit of Eric Belanger and Scottie Upshall this summer, the Coyotes lost 35 of those goals, which they will likely be hard pressed to replace. Without the offense those two players brought, the Coyotes would have been only 3 goals better than the Oilers. The biggest departure from the roster though is of course Ilya Bryzgalov. Phoenix won 43 games last year (36 from Bryzgalov) and 20 of those came in 1 goal games. The goaltending of Bryzgalov certainly played a big part in a lot of those victories. Replacing him with the tandem of Mike Smith and Jason Labarbera, who together only have just over 300 games in the NHL, is a downgrade to say the least. If Oilers fans think that entering the season with Khabibulin and Dubnyk is questionable, then consider what Coyotes fans must have on their minds. Dave Tippett will have his work cut out for him this year, and short of a stroke of genius on his part, the Coyotes are poised for a tumble down the standings in 2011-12 and are my early pick to finish 15th in the West.
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