The regular season is over, so nothing that happened over the last 7 months mattered. All that matters now is vibes, and the Oilers have some good ones.
To say the Oilers 2021-22 season was a rollercoaster would be an understatement. As recently as February it really looked like the team might miss the playoffs, but the firing of Dave Tippett and subsequent hiring of Jay Woodcroft has completely changed the trajectory of this organization. So here we are, with the playoffs about to start, getting ready to have home ice in the first round. Sound familiar? It should, because that’s exactly where we found ourselves the past two seasons, and I think you all remember how that went. Despite all that, despite all my harsh criticisms of the team, despite how little faith I have in Ken Holland, I’m cautiously optimistic about this year’s playoffs. Why is that you might? Let me tell you.
This would be a perfect time for me to pull up some cherry-picked stats about how great Mike Smith has been over the last month, or how insane Connor McDavid is, but honestly, that isn’t why I like the Oilers in these playoffs. As much as I love numbers, a Cup run for the Oilers is dependent on vibes, and vibes alone. This team just has the vibes of a team that could make a run. Over the last decade and a half, the Oilers have just had bad juju, there’s no other way of putting it. They should’ve beaten the Ducks in 2017, but they didn’t. They should’ve beaten the Hawks in 2020, but they didn’t. They should’ve beaten the Jets in 2021, but again, they didn’t. The reality is, that more often than not when it comes to the playoffs, the better team on the stat sheet doesn’t necessarily have any real advantage on the ice. The team that wins is almost always the team with the best vibes, and let me tell you, the Jay Woodcroft Oilers have good vibes.
Just look at Connor McDavid. If you showed someone who knows very little about hockey a stat sheet, they would probably look at it and say “Wow, Connor McDavid is really good at hockey”. If you were to actually watch him play hockey and based your opinion based on vibes alone though, you would think “Holy s**t, this is the best hockey player to ever have graced my television”. I mean this man has absolutely zero personality because he’s dedicated every fiber of his being to being good at hockey. Those are good vibes. The same goes for Leon Draisaitl. If you watch him play you would have no choice but to conclude that this guy is just really good at hockey. That wasn’t an issue in the past though. Those guys always had good vibes, it was just the rest of the team that was slacking. They had bad vibes. This year they don’t.
I think there are two perfect examples of this year’s good vibes. Jesse Puljujarvi and Mike Smith. For the Bison King, it’s not as evident as it is with McDavid and Draisaitl, but if you really watch him play it’s so clear that when he’s on the ice, whether he’s scoring or not, the other team is having a bad time. I think this is emblematic of the team as a whole under Jay Woodcroft. They’re playing with a grittiness and urgency that just didn’t exist before. They don’t look like they want to win every game, they look like they need to win every game, and that approach has made them a tough team to play against from top to bottom.
Mike Smith is another story completely. I have no evidence to back this up, but I feel like every Cup-winning team has this elite but erratic presence that everyone knows is unsustainable, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s working in the moment. The HBK line and Jordan Binnington are great examples of this. I don’t think anyone really thought they were sustainable in the long run, but it didn’t matter, because they won the Cup. Mike Smith’s presence is just that. He plays with this insane, balls-to-the-wall recklessness that is so evidently unsustainable and could never be replicated over multiple years, but he just keeps winning, so it doesn’t matter. These are the vibes that the Oilers need to make a run at the cup.
Finally, I think the biggest piece of this is Ben. I have no way to describe it other than vibes. The Oilers are 9-0 with him in attendance, and have won some games they had no business winning. Ben brings good vibes, that is simply a fact.
I won’t lie to you, the Oilers are not the best team in the playoffs, far from it in fact. If they make a run it won’t be because they play a sound two-way game, or because of great defense, it’ll be because they have good vibes. It’s playoff time baby, nothing else matters. Get ready to hopefully hear plenty of La Bamba in the coming months.