The Law of Averages: The more time you take action, the more times you are rejected, the more times you find success.
Where is the Glen Sather cigar, the John Muckler scientific dissection of a roster, the timely goal of a Glen Anderson, the leadership of a Mark Messier or who can forget the impossible Grant Fuhr save in the glory days of the 80s Oilers. The Wayne Gretzky era (arguably the best player ever) produced four Stanley Cups for Edmonton. A fifth for the Messier lead Oil, while Wayner was hanging on Sunset Boulevard and building rinks in southern California. For today’s standards, I knew the Oilers were going to create problems for the rest of the NHL when they brought in Ken Holland and Dave Tippett. Some minor tweaking and some stabilization in the organization will work wonders when you have the best player in the world on your roster. Outscore teams and learn how to play a little defence combined with some timely goaltending is the formula. Sound familiar Charlie Huddy? Don’t believe me? See the Lemieux Penguins of the 1980s or for that matter the still lead Crosby Penguins of the 2000s who all eventually went on to win the Stanley Cup. This is what usually happens when by shear luck you somehow draft the best player of his era on your roster every twenty years. For the record that’s twice for the Oilers (though Gretzky wasn’t drafted by them) and twice for the Penguins. Just to be clear, I’m not saying the Oilers are winning the cup this year but history does tell us that this type of player usually finds a way to hoist Lord Stanley’s grail, eventually. So my long winded opening begs the question. When does the “Law of Averages” kicks in? A stretch maybe but let’s look at some key factors for playoff success.
Helleybuyck vs Smith: Goaltending is always the number one item required to win the Stanley Cup. How is this even a question? The reigning Vezina trophy winner against a 39 year goaltender in Mike Smith that the Oilers didn’t even want at the beginning of the year. For the record Smith has clearly outplayed Connor Hellebuyck in the season series, which could mean that this will not last. Law of averages you say? Smith has clearly exceeded expectations. Connor 2 or some might say Connor 1 now needs to do his part. He was not good last year against the Flames and let in some very weak goals in crucial points in the Blues march on to win the cup in 2019.
McDavid and the Jets: Clearly McDavid must be stopped. But can he be? In the 1980s people used to say at playoff time Messier would step up because of all the attention on Wayne. Would never win without their true leader. Maybe, but Wayne was always the real threat. There was no way to stop him it was just a matter of trying to contain him. I know we have heard this before. Our take is this is done in three major ways. One: he must be slowed up in the neutral zone. Be it being physical, agitating and clearly annoying to play against. You need to play dirty and cheap against the best player in the world to have a shot. Two: Obviously stay out of the penalty box. No explanation required. Three: This is the most important and that is the other Connor. Hellebuyck has to be unreal and make the impossible save (See M. A. Fleury in 2018 vs the Jets).
Coaching Match Up: They always say players win games not coaches. “Hogwash” as Cornel Potter used to say in some great MASH episodes. See Jacque Lemaire and the New Jersey Devils of the past. You still need the players but in game adjustments are crucial to winning. We feel Paul Maurice will need to improve this in his game. We know he has the pulse of the team and he seems to get them ready to play but in game adjustments are the difference between winning and losing at the top levels of sports. No different on what differentiates top athletes. The slightest of edges can make the difference. Besides Dave Tippett is 34 and 44 in playoff appearances to Paul Maurice’s 37 and 47. No real edge here in past playoff experience so we feel this may be a crucial area that many previews are not touching on.
Underdog/Favourite Mentality: The Oilers of the 80s never seemed to have this problem. A confident bunch that grew together and always played well as the favourite aside from the odd situation (See the Steve Smith goal against vs the Flames in 1986). The best thing about clearly being the underdog is you play without pressure. This week I heard Blake Wheeler refer to this on the regular season expectations and how no one expected them to make the playoffs. Not sure about that but the chip has been squarely put on the shoulder of the captain. Expectations are a huge pressure cooker. This clearly is on the side of the Jets. Also keep in mind the core of the Jets have been to the conference finals so should be ready for the playoff crunch. The McDavid’s are clearly being picked by the majority of the media and in my opinion this is never a good thing.
Roster Depth: Playoff depth is important. Center depth mainly. Top 6 and bottom 6 all in favour of the Jets. But you need to capitalize on this. Scheifele, Stastny, Dubois, Lowry, Copp, Thompson, the many centers that the Jets can throw out there need not only to produce offensively but shut down the McDavid and Draisaitl combo. Bottom 6 production has been mostly there all season and needs to be there in the playoffs. We really like this match up. If McDavid outplays whoever he faces which is likely, this is the area the Jets need to capitalize on. Third and fourth line goals are always key in the playoffs but especially in this series. We actually really like the additions of Thompson and Lewis (see previous trade deadline columns that we make these suggestions). As the Oilers seem to have the edge on defence I’m not sure it’s that one sided. Was this the case at the beginning of the season? I think the Oilers defence is a tad overrated. This is more about Tippet’s team defensive strategy than individual greatness.
History NHL/WHA: This one means the least but I thought it was important to note. The Jets have never beaten the Oilers in the playoffs. At least not in the NHL. Don’t forget that the WHA Jets defeated the young Gretzky lead Oilers to capture the AVCO cup in 1979. But I digress. This year the Jets are 2 and 5 against the Oil. The only note I have here is how long can you keep losing to the same team? Don’t the odds eventually turn in your favour? See the definition at the top of the page.
So who are we picking? It seems we pick the Jets every year in this space. Always crushed by the pressure of expectation. I’m of course taking about writing this column. Nonetheless we feel there is no better time for the current Jets roster to pull that cigar out of that smug Glen Sather’s mouth and stomp out the reminiscing of bad Oilers/Jets memories. The heritage game was not enough. Somehow maybe Dale Hawerchuk is overlooking this series. The Jets should not win this series especially how they have been playing down the stretch. The Oilers are better defensively and of course have McDavid and Draisaitl. This one was a tough one. The law of averages tells me that the Jets need to even up. Two wins in seven games against the goalie Smith lead Oilers team doesn’t make a lot of sense. Besides the law of averages also tells us that by picking the Jets every year in this column, we should be right one of these times. Why stop now? Jets in 7
For comments @spinohockey or @frankzappia1
NHL first round Playoff Picks:
Florida over TB in 6
Car over Nsh in 5
Pit over NYI in 7
Bos over Wash in 6
Col over STL in 7
Vegas over Min in 5
Tor over Mtl in 5
Jets over Oilers in 7
@Mass_Insight Playoff Picks
TB over Fla in 7
Car over Nsh in 6
Pit over NYI in 7
Bos over Wash in 6
Col over STL in in 6
Vegas over Min in 5
Tor over MTL in 6
Edm over Wpg in 6