EDMONTON — They can change the dates, and they can alter the playoffs.
What they can not do, however, is take Groundhog Day away from Edmonton Oilers fans, who gather tonight to see if their team will be awarded the No. 1 over pick, as predictably as they ask every February if the rodent saw his shadow.
The Oilers finished 12th in the National Hockey League in points percentage this season, but like seven other clubs they have a 12.5 per cent chance of winning the right to draft left-winger Alexis Lafreniere. Should the Oilers win the lottery, we would suggest the Canadian National Seismograph Network be on alert.
The collective feet-stomping by hockey fans would be measurable.
And who can blame them?
This season, an Oilers team that has enjoyed four of the past 10 No. 1 overall picks lost out in the qualifying round to the Chicago Blackhawks, with a tepid, four-game effort that — technically speaking — left Edmonton out of the playoffs for the 13th time in the past 14 seasons. This, despite having drafted first overall four times in a six-year span: Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), Nail Yakupov (2012) and Connor McDavid (2015).
In Lafreniere, the Oilers would have a second top-six left-winger to go with the converted Nugent-Hopkins, which means one top-flight offensive LW for each of their elite centremen, McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That one team could have three No. 1 overall draft picks in its top six is testimony to a lot of things, though you can bet that general manager Ken Holland would not turn the pick down.
In his first year at the helm, Holland watched his team fall flat in the playoffs. Edmonton never found the intensity level or physical game required to beat a Chicago team led by veteran Jonathan Toews, who put on a clinic on how to play post-season hockey in the NHL.
The Oilers lacked in goaltending, showed poor discipline in a parade to the penalty box, and were negligent in their own zone throughout the series. McDavid piled up nine points in the five-game series, but at 5-on-5 the shots were even (34) for and against while he was on the ice, a sign of how much the Blackhawks had the puck vs. McDavid.
Draisaitl had six points in the four-game series but lost crucial draws and assignments on game-winning goals. It showed that, even though Edmonton has the top-two scorers in the NHL’s regular season, they still do not possess an ability to do the little things required to win in the playoffs. Or even the qualifying round.
In goal, Mikko Koskinen posted an .889 saves percentage and watched as Corey Crawford (.891) made all the memorable stops in Game 4, becoming the first goalie since 2014 (Jonathan Quick) to win a series with such a low saves percentage.
How do you lose three out of four games to a goalie with an .891 saves percentage?
In the end, the Oilers simply did not “bring it.” Had the qualifying-round version of the team somehow played against the Oilers from around Feb. 1, the series would have been a sweep for the regular season team that had hopes so high in this bubble city.
In fact, no team had more to complain about, being forced to take part in the extra best-of-five round, than Edmonton. The Oilers finished fourth in the Western Conference in points, but because they played two more games than Dallas, the Oilers were placed behind the Stars on percentage points, .585 to .594.
They were among a group of teams that were certain to make the playoffs, but forced to play the extra round in this strange, pandemic-forced post-season. And they lost.
The reward for teams like the Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets, among others, was that they would have an outside chance at the No. 1 overall pick, a payback of sorts. Well, that horse came in when the draft lottery selected “Team E” as the draft-lottery winner back on June 27.
“Team E” was the No. 12 seed. The problem was at the time of the lottery only seven teams had been eliminated from Stanley Cup contention. So, in the second phase of the draft lottery, the Oilers find themselves among a group of eight who each have a 12.5 per cent chance of becoming “Team E.”
Surely, it can’t happen again. Can it?