Jets, Oilers hope change improves playoff fortunes
NHL clubs open 2013-14 season in Edmonton
The Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets own the National Hockey League’s two longest active post-season droughts.
They hope their first seasons in different divisions will help bring them better fortune.
Edmonton hosts Winnipeg on Tuesday night in both clubs' openers (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 10 p.m. ET).
The Oilers have suffered through a seven-year playoff drought, the longest in the league, after losing Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final to Carolina. Edmonton has hardly come close to returning, with a 182-224-52 record since 2007-08 that ranks as the league's worst.
We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk, to try and move the team forward in rapid fashion.- Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish
The organization hopes a new general manager, former vice president of hockey operations and one-time coach Craig MacTavish and new coach Dallas Eakins can help it break through as it joins Los Angeles and Anaheim in the Pacific Division.
"I think we're at the stage, in terms of the cycle of our hockey club right now, that we have to do some bold things," said MacTavish, who made a number of off-season moves, most notably acquiring St. Louis left-winger David Perron in exchange for Magnus Paajarvi and a 2014 second-round pick. Perron recorded 67 points in 105 games for the Blues over the last two seasons.
"We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk, to try and move the team forward in a rapid fashion."
Eakins comes off a four-year tenure as coach of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, earning praise for helping develop Maple Leafs prospects such as Nazem Kadri.
"We want to be in the mix every year to win," Eakins said.
Meanwhile, coach Claude Noel and the Jets were on the cusp of post-season play last year, going 24-21-3 to finish four points out of the Eastern Conference's No. 8 spot. While their move from the old Southeast Division to the Western Conference's Central Division should provide a more beneficial travel schedule, it also means stiffer interdivisional competition that includes reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago.
The Winnipeg franchise hasn't reached the post-season since 2007, when it was still known as the Atlanta Thrashers.
"I clearly see that we have to make the playoffs," Noel said. "But it's not easy to make the playoffs."
After Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler combined for 54 goals - 42.9 per cent of the Jets' 126 - GM Kevin Cheveldayoff dealt draft picks to acquire wingers Devin Setoguchi and Michael Frolik from Minnesota and Chicago, respectively.
Edmonton will be without one of its top scorers indefinitely with Sam Gagner sidelined. Gagner suffered a broken jaw during a collision with Vancouver's Zack Kassian in a 5-2 pre-season win over the Canucks on Sept. 21. Kassian received a five-game suspension for the hit on Gagner, whose 38 points ranked second behind Taylor Hall's 50.
Dustin Byfuglien has three goals and two assists over his last four matchups with Edmonton dating back to his time with the Blackhawks.
Winnipeg will try to improve on its poor special teams from last year after finishing last on the power play with a 13.8 per cent conversion rate and 24th on the penalty kill at 79.7 per cent. Edmonton was seventh with the man advantage at 20.1 per cent and ninth killing off penalties with a success rate of 83.4 per cent.
The Oilers have won five of the last seven meetings dating back to 2004, including a 5-3 final in the most recent matchup Feb. 27, 2012.