SPECIAL REPORT: Facets of family violence
What you need to know about COVID-19 today
Daily forecasts and weather facts from Cindy Day
Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Continuing coverage: Mass shooting in Nova Scotia
Business Tool Kit 2021
IN DEPTH: Covering a contentious lobster fishery
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
It’s time. And it’s there to be achieved.
The goal for the Edmonton Oilers heading into the historic and highly anticipated 56-game season against the six other NHL teams in Canada should be to finish first or second.
When Ken Holland took the job as general manager, he said he intended to build a team that would compete for the Stanley Cup on an annual basis. And while Holland has had to begin wearing handcuffs because of a predecessor and a pandemic, it’s time for this team to become that team.
Yes, maybe their Quest for the Cup goaltender isn’t here yet.
Yes, there’s definitely development to be done on defence.
Yes, the way they played in the qualifying-series loss to the Chicago Blackhawks during the Hub City bubble expanded edition of the Stanley Cup playoffs in Rogers Place suggested they don’t have it all together under their helmets.
But it’s prime time for Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Holland has done a remarkable job in putting people in place to play supporting roles.
Head coach Dave Tippett didn’t take the team from pretender to contender last year. But he coached them into a position to make that move this year.
“We felt like we took steps last year. We went from 25th to 12th in points when we finished,” Tippett said in a one-on-one interview to set up this fascinating Canadian-division season, which opens with back-to-back games against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday and Thursday. “We feel like we took steps last year. But there are more steps to take. In the qualifying series, we didn’t play as well as we would have liked, so we know we have to get better.
“We took steps forward. Now we don’t want to take steps back. It’s easier to go from 25th to 12th than it is to go from 12th to fifth.”
Fifth overall in a normal NHL season would mean opening the playoffs at home and to open the playoffs at home in the Canadian division would be to finish first or second.
That should be the goal.
“It’s not about the other teams. It’s about your team,” said Tippett. “I like that our depth is better. Adding Kyle Turris gives us better depth at centre. There were some things on special teams that were excellent last year but I’d like to see us improve five-on-five. Our goals-against was alright, but a lot of it was due to an excellent penalty kill.
“The goal is to maintain our special teams and improve our five-on-five. If we do that, you’re going to be around the playoffs every year and give yourself a chance every year and that’s where you want to be,” concluded Tippett.
Connor McDavid came to training camp — or whatever you wanted to call that brief gathering for the previous week without playing pre-season games — not having spent the entire off-season in rehab, as was the case the previous off-season and there are those who believe he’s even found another gear.
But the Oilers captain also claims to have found a new perspective.
I’m predicting that McDavid will win the Art Ross, Hart and Rocket Richard trophies this year and, at the same time, do it in a way that leaves no doubt about him being a complete player on every inch of the ice.
You definitely get the sense that he also intends to prove himself to be an even more complete player and to captain a more complete team.
“I like where we’re at. We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of options. Yes, they led the league in special teams with the power play and penalty kill. But there’s more to the game than that,” he said during a video conference Monday. “A ton of focus has been put on five-on-five. We brought in a couple of guys but I think it’ll be the guys who have been here maturing and figuring out the game a little bit better, myself included.
“It’s definitely something we needed to do. Scoring goals isn’t an issue. We have to keep it out.”
Holland, to the extent he had the finances to do so, did his part. Some of his acquisitions are reclamation projects, but they’re being put in position to succeed.
He didn’t get the world-class goalie this team needs to totally reach for the top but if they play the game the way they need to play it, winning battles and keeping the puck in the other team’s end, they can overcome a little leakage in their own goal crease.
One thing they know is they have the skill to outscore their weaknesses and mistakes, if they have to on an occasional basis.
With the Canadian division, it’s going to be a compelling season but if the Oilers can use it to become all they can be, it can also be a season to remember for historical reasons beyond the obvious.
I’m predicting them to finish second only to Toronto. I’m predicting Toronto-Montreal and Edmonton-Calgary playoff series. I’m expecting a season to remember forever.
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @byterryjones
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021