2019 American Thanksgiving Check-In

American Thanksgiving is here. I’ve talked a lot about the importance of being in a playoff spot today if the Oilers hope to make the playoffs this season.

I will refer you to my article about why November was hugely important for the Oilers for more details on the numbers pertaining to teams in playoff spots on American Thanksgiving actually going on to make the playoffs that season, but the conclusion is that we can expect about 4 out of the 16 teams in playoff positions today to miss the playoffs. It’s approximately 75% likely that the Oilers will make the playoffs in 2020 based on that reasoning.

Oilers fans woke up this morning to see their beloved team sitting atop the Pacific Division with 35 points, even after an ugly loss to the Avalanche last night.

Not only are the Oilers in a playoff spot on American Thanksgiving, they are leading their division!

In my previous article, I referenced a piece done by Sportsnet’s Rory Boylen about the likelihood of making the playoffs based on the standings on American Thanksgiving. Boylen presented the standings on American Thanksgiving from 2015-2018, and indicated whether or not those teams went on to make the playoffs that season (with the exception of 2018 since he wrote the article at that time).

I wanted to take a look at how division leaders at American Thanksgiving specifically have fared in that time frame.

In this four year sample, there were 16 division leaders. Only 2 of those missed the playoffs: Montreal in 2015-16, and St. Louis in 2017-18.

Based on that, the Oilers are 87.5% likely to make the playoffs in 2020!

Things are looking extremely promising in Oil Country right now. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are tearing the league apart with 47 and 48 points respectively. Both of them are on pace to surpass 140 points!! What they are doing this season is absolutely incredible.

Ken Holland’s approach of trying to fix some of the ills that plagued the Oilers last season with bargain contracts appears to be paying off. Their PK was atrocious last year, and it is 2nd in the league this year thanks to guys like Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald, among others.

The bottom 6 still isn’t providing much in the way off offence, but Markus Granlund and Jujhar Khaira have started to produce lately. It isn’t AS big of a concern because of what they are getting from McDavid and Draisaitl along with Zack Kassian, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and James Neal; but it’s still something to keep in the back of our minds.

The powerplay was good last year, but it has been spectacular this season. I still think there’s room for improvement there, but I can’t complain about the results that I’ve seen so far.

The defence was porous last season, but it has been much improved this year. The only real change has been the emergence of Ethan Bear. His poise with the puck has kept the play moving north more often than not. He has been reliable defensively as well.

The other factor on the blue line is health. Last year, Andrej Sekera was out until late February, and both Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell went down with injuries on the same night in December. I was worried when Larsson went down on opening night this season, but Joel Persson and Brandon Manning were serviceable when called upon. The Oilers didn’t get that level of play from their depth defencemen last season.

The goaltending was questionable last year, and Holland went out and got Mike Smith to be a reliable back-up that can handle a little bit of volume. There are two goalies benefiting from not having to carry the entire load, and it is paying dividends in the standings thus far.

Lastly, Dave Tippett has been holding up his end of the bargain. He has handled his goaltenders well, and he has the team playing with sound structure. I’m not going to pretend to know what his X’s and O’s look like, but the team is doing a noticeably better job of giving each other support away from the puck.

There’s a lot going well right now. However, there’s still a chance that the team could miss the playoffs.

One injury could send the team flying off the rails. We could see some regression in the special teams that could start costing us games. I haven’t loved Mike Smith’s game recently, and Koskinen hasn’t proved that he can sustain this type of play for an entire season yet. Maybe Neal stops scoring on the powerplay, which would likely mean that he stops scoring all together because he hasn’t done much at evens. Maybe Kassian’s hot start turns into just that: a hot start.

Those of you that have followed me for any length of time know that I’m a pretty positive writer. The odds are definitely in the Oilers’ favour in terms of making the playoffs. I really didn’t think they would at the start of the year, but I am now a believer! I do think they will make the playoffs; but there’s one trend that is a little bit concerning.

Since 2015, a division leader at American Thanksgiving has missed the playoffs twice. The pattern has alternated years. Last year, all 4 of them made it. According to the pattern, one division leader will miss the playoffs this year.

This year’s division leaders at American Thanksgiving are the Oilers, Blues, Bruins, and Capitals. The two Stanley Cup Finalists from last year, the 2018 Stanley Cup champions, aaaaannnnnd the Oilers. Which one of these things is not like the other?

If there’s one division leader that COULD fall out of the playoff picture, it’s the Oilers. I say that because there is still a deficiency when it comes to depth scoring, and the Pacific Division is REALLY tight. There are 5 teams within 7 points of each other. The Oilers only have a 2-point lead on the Coyotes for the division today.

The Central Division has 5 teams within 10 points of each other. The Blues have a 4-point lead over Dallas right now. The Metropolitan Division has 5 teams within 8 points of each other, but the Caps have a 5-point lead on the Islanders for the division lead. The Bruins have a 10-point lead on the Panthers for 1st in the division, so they’re pretty safe.

This is how many points that each division leader is ahead of the last playoff spot in each Conference today:

Bruins: 8
Capitals: 8
Blues: 8
Oilers: 7

Like I said, I do think the Oilers will make the playoffs at this point, but it is certainly not a guarantee that they will. A division leader on American Thanksgiving missing the playoffs is not unprecedented, and the Oilers are the most vulnerable of the four division leaders right now.

The good news is that the Oilers also led the division on American Thanksgiving in 2016, and they made the playoffs in 2017. I certainly hope for more of the same in 2020!

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