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Tencer: On the New Season & Expectations

by Dan Tencer / Edmonton Oilers
Oilers rookies Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall pose for a picture at the NHLPA Rookie Showcase in Toronto, ON September 1, 2010. (Photo by Nyki Scheuerman / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club)
With main training camp exactly one week away and rookie camp getting underway this weekend in Penticton, ‘tis the time of year that pundits start tossing out predictions in answer to the biggest question of the pre-season: where will Team X finish in the standings?

The Hockey News has the Oilers pegged 15th in the West; TSN has them 30th in their pre-season Power Rankings; sports gambling web site Bowmans is offering odds of 125:1 that they win the Stanley Cup. In other words, there isn’t much faith that the 30th place team from last season will do anything other than repeat the same fate. And, you know what, I don’t care. There are two reasons why I don’t care and why you shouldn’t either, and I’d like to share them with you:

1) Predictions of a high finish create expectations, expectations create pressure and pressure is something you don’t want around a young team. I would love nothing more than 50 goals from Taylor Hall, 12 game winners from Jordan Eberle and a bunch of dizzy defencemen left in the dust of Magnus Paajarvi, all culminating with a Stanley Cup Parade that finishes at the site of the new downtown arena that we’re done fighting over.

But, it’s pretty unlikely that I’m going to get any of that. And that’s OK. You name me any hockey player whose name is worth repeating in the annals of history and I’ll name you a hockey player whose best season wasn’t his first one. Taylor Hall told me recently that every year since he was a kid, he has set goals for himself in terms of accumulation of points. He says he’ll do that this year, too, but not until about 10 games in. Why? Because he doesn’t know what to expect. We know so much about these 3 young players already, we’ve followed them for so long, that we forget that they haven’t played an NHL game. It will likely take some time to settle in, get comfortable and eventually start to get rolling. The less pressure we put on them to do it immediately, the better.

2) Wins and losses aren’t the most important thing when judging the success or failure of the 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers. If the young players get a healthy dose of ice time and take steps forward in their development, the season can’t fail. We all know going in that this “rebuild” has really just started. The team has a few pieces of the puzzle on its current roster, a few more on the way and undoubtedly needs to add more in the coming years. That being said, here are the scenarios that the team could find themselves in from a win/loss perspective this year:

  • Oilers make the playoffs. Good, right? Would likely signify that the team is further ahead in the build than originally anticipated and would get the players on the team some much coveted “big game” experience.
  • Oilers compete for, but miss, the playoffs. Less than ideal from a draft pick scenario, I’d still be OK with this result because the battle for a spot would give the players a sniff of the prize, a sense of what it will take to qualify and some of that aforementioned “big game” experience.
  • Oilers finish near the bottom, far from the playoffs. Last year it was Taylor vs. Tyler. This year, it would be Adam Larsson vs. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins vs. Sean Couturier.

Any of those outcomes is truly fine with me, so long as my one caveat from earlier is met: the young kids have to play. And, I’m not just talking about Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi. Throw Gagner, Cogliano, Smid, and whichever of the young goalies makes the team onto that list as well. If you’re 25 or under and you’re on the 2010-11 Oilers roster, get ready for some minutes!

Dan Tencer is the host of Inside Sports, heard Monday to Friday from 6pm-9pm on 630 CHED. He also hosts the pre-game and post-game shows on 630 CHED and the Oilers Radio Network.
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