The new NHL season is right around the corner. At this time of the year, fans of all 30 NHL teams carry new expectations, new hopes and new dreams. Everyone is a contender. The Cup is a possibility in any NHL city.
However, while a new season injects passion and optimism even in the most unrealistic of places, it's important to remember that at the end of the day there's a harsh divide in talent in the NHL. Someone has to finish last.
With that in mind, Sports Illustrated recently released their NHL rankings for 2013 and it's safe to say their placement of the Edmonton Oilers will surprise you.
Did SI really rank Edmonton third because that's what they truly believe or did they do it simply to create a debate and views for their site? That point is up for debate but we'll attempt to stick to analyzing their rankings rather than the business behind them.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers check in at the first and second spots, respectively. Some fans may disagree with them being at the top of the list but you'll find few fans that will object to them being considered two of the best teams in the league. Then there's the Edmonton Oilers, sitting in unfamiliar territory in the list's third spot. When SI last ran their rankings some time ago, the Oilers were ranked 25th. Why such a big jump?
The list indicates that SI considers the Oilers among the best due to the fact several of their players have been competing during the lockout. Their young talent (Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle) should have little to no rust when the season gets rolling. This logic is reasonable but Edmonton isn't the only team that should have their stars in optimal condition due to play in the AHL or abroad. It might be a stretch to think this point alone pushes the team into the elite tier.
Is Edmonton's loaded offense enough to offset questions between the pipes, on the bench and at defense? Is the combination of Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin strong enough for the Oilers to compete? How will rookie head coach Ralph Krueger manage his club?
These are just a few of the questions that should have prevented Edmonton from making the third spot on this list. It's laughable that clubs such as the Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues and the defending champion Los Angeles Kings all enter the year ranked behind the Oilers, a team that went 32-40-10 in 2011-12. A shortened year may benefit Edmonton's young legs up front, but it's a bit of a reach to think that a team that might sneak into the playoffs in the Western Conference is somehow worthy of being ranked in the top-3.
No one doubts that Edmonton will improve this year, but let's keep our expectations based in reality until the team proves otherwise.