Before I begin, let’s make a communal vow to not rule out the 2019-20 Stanley Cup champions as real winners since it’s the “COVID Cup” or the “Pandemic Cup.” Once the play-in round concludes, there will be a viable, entertaining playoff run that sees the same amount of best-of-seven series as regular playoffs—the winners will earn their prize.
Don’t get me wrong—this argument can be rendered as complete bogus if the Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, or teams far out of the playoffs at the time of the pause end up winning. (I’m kidding.)
Currently, the NHL seems to be trending in the direction of introducing a 24-team model, which would see the Edmonton Oilers playing a best-of-five series against the Chicago Blackhawks for a play-in round. Keep in mind that this is a team that sold at the trade deadline. While I’m all for the NHL returning and awarding the Stanley Cup, it would have been nice to see more divisional rivalries unfold in the proposed format.
Either way, Edmonton faces a collection of pros and cons if the season does return.
Pro: The Oilers Came out Flying in October, Hawks Had a Slow Start
Players will be rusty when the season returns—it’s inevitable. Yet, the Oilers’ hot start to the 2019-20 season provides a glimmer of hope that they can step out of the gate with speed. They went 7-2-1 in their first 10 games, while the Blackhawks went 3-5-2. I hate to point out that Chicago’s first win was against Edmonton, which was also the Oilers’ first loss.
The best players on the Blackhawks have more playoff experience than the Oilers superstars, but Edmonton has youth on their side in this category. The youth spanning Edmonton’s best players—Connor McDavid, 23, Leon Draisaitl, 24, Oscar Klefbom, 26—compares well to Patrick Kane, 31, Jonathan Toews, 31, and Duncan Keith, 36.
Mark Spector points out: “in a situation where everybody is fresh and healthy, I’ll take youth over experience. Edmonton’s best players are in their mid-20s, while Chicago’s are in their young 30’s.”
Pro: Oilers’ Special Teams, Forwards Pair Nicely Against Hawks
The Oilers came out of the pause with the second-best ranked penalty kill in the league, while the Blackhawks had the fourth-worst power play. The odds of Chicago succeeding on the power play are low.
Edmonton’s power play would go up against a ninth-ranked penalty kill, but Chicago gave up a lot of shots this year. According to Hockey Reference, the Oilers gave up 2,274 shots this year (which is slightly over the league average of 2,192), but the Blackhawks let 2,458 pucks through.
TSN’s Team Stats show that the Blackhawks posted the worst Shots Against Per Game (SA/G) in the league. Therefore, the Oilers’ power play and talented top-six forwards (which includes two of the highest-scoring players in the NHL) should have a heyday against Chicago’s blueliners. When considering these stats, the Oilers look pretty good.
Yet, you never know what Patrick Kane will pull out of his sleeve against Edmonton’s young defensive core. Oilers may have youth on their side, but you can’t deny Kane’s lethal combination of skill and experience.
However, it’s vital to note that the three-time Stanley Cup winner Kane and Toews had a total of five game-winning goals (GWG), while Draisaitl and McDavid had 16. I’m not meaning to disregard No. 19’s and No. 88’s undeniable talent, but it’s neat to see that the Oilers superstars may steal the “clutch” role over Kane and Toews if it comes down to it.
Related: Top 5 Captains in Blackhawks History
For all those naysayers who claim that only No. 97 and No. 29 can score GWG’s, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had four, which is one less than Chicago’s top players combined.
Con: Oilers Did Not Do Well Against the Blackhawks This Season
We can talk about how these two teams compare for ages, but how did they fair against one another throughout the 2019-20 season? Not great. The Oilers lost two out of three contests against their potential play-in opposition. And even when Edmonton won, Toews scored a shorthanded goal against the second-best penalty kill in the league. In one of Chicago’s wins, head coach Dave Tippett pulled Mike Smith and put Mikko Koskinen in net. Not good.
I never thought I’d say this, but let’s hope the Oilers show up against the Blackhawks like the 2011-12 roster did. They won three out of four of the games in the season series and produced a total of 24 goals. Remember when Sam Gagner got eight points in one game? Good memories.
Con: Oilers Second Place in the Pacific Division Feels Useless
Sad. It’s confusing thinking that the NHL would push the division-centric approach aside, which was just introduced in 2013-14, to a more old school conference-based model. To be honest, I wouldn’t be so upset if the Oilers weren’t currently in second place in the Pacific Division. It just seems strange that the league would neglect the approach they’ve used for six previous playoffs.
And cue Matt Larkin’s tweet:
Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to have hockey return, but it’s sad thinking about the lack of divisional rivalry in this proposed model. There’s only one divisional rival at the moment: the Carolina Hurricanes vs. the New York Rangers.
Pro: We Get More Hockey
We can complain all we want, but in reality, we might get to watch hockey in the summer. Plus, if the season resumes, Draisaitl will likely receive his hard-earned trophies: Hart, Art Ross, and possibly the Ted Lindsay Award. Not that this is super important, but he deserves to be recognized for his crazy amazing season.
Right now, we await the vote of the players, which will unveil what comes next and if they approve of the proposed 24-team model.