The Edmonton Oilers are just one point out of the playoffs with 13 games to play.
If that wasn’t enough of an indicator they weren’t going to unload players at Wednesday’s trade deadline, captain Shawn Horcoff has all but made it official.
“We’ve pretty much established that we’re not going to be sellers,” Horcoff told the Edmonton Journal on Tuesday. “It would even be nice to add for once. But even if we don’t do anything, we’re comfortable with what we have in here.
“We’re really starting to find our stride as a team.”
The Oilers have won four straight and seven of 11, with a number of victories coming against teams they’re chasing for the final playoff spot.
Recent victories over Nashville, St. Louis and Columbus have gone a long way in getting Edmonton back into the mix — the Oilers were sitting 14th in the Western Conference on Mar. 8.
As such, the club could be deadline buyers for the first time in a long time.
Last year, the team made a “hockey trade” — flipping defenseman Tom Gilbert to Minnesota for Nick Schultz — and the year prior, they dealt Dustin Penner for a prospect (Colten Teubert) and a first- and third-round pick.
This year, the Oilers have already taken Ladislav Smid, a potential deadline target, off the market by signing him to a four-year, $14 million deal — a move Smid saw as a positive sign.
“I hope they are going to keep this team together. We are extremely close to the playoffs,” Smid told The Journal. “I think we have something special going on here — and we haven’t been in this situation for several years now.”
Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.
Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.
“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per NHL.com. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”
The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.
Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.
But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.
“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.
“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”
Lost in the various controversies (see here and here) of last night’s game in Los Angeles was a pretty dismal performance by the Kings, a team that should’ve been especially motivated to start the season after missing the playoffs last year.
The Kings were hammered, 5-1, by the visiting Sharks. They were outshot, 32-20.
“If you don’t check, you don’t have the puck enough,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “If you don’t have the puck enough, you can’t score.”
“We were pretty sloppy. Sloppy on our rushes, sloppy in our D-zone,” said forward Dustin Brown. “That’s probably most of it, but the other part is compete – in the corners and making hard plays coming out of our zone, going in. We didn’t play very well.”
Obviously, much credit has to go to the Sharks. Like the Kings, they missed the playoffs last year and came into 2015-16 looking for redemption. But the Sharks haven’t won two Stanley Cups in the last four years, and they weren’t the home team.
“Gotta check,” said Sutter. “You don’t check, you can’t score. We had a lot of guys, especially top guys that weren’t interested in that part of the game.”
The Kings get a visit from the Arizona Coyotes on Friday. If they don’t dominate that team…