Oilers can clinch top spot in West for first time since Gretzky left

Apr 12 2023, 10:44 pm

The Edmonton Oilers could accomplish something that they haven’t done since they traded Wayne Gretzky in 1988.

The battle for the top spot in the Pacific Division and Western Conference will be settled on Thursday, as the Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights each play their final game of the season.

The Oilers are hosting the San Jose Sharks, while the Golden Knights have a tougher test, playing on the road against the Seattle Kraken.

Trailing Vegas by two points in the standings, Edmonton must win to give themselves a chance at the Pacific Division and Western Conference crown. If the Oilers accomplish that, and get help in the form of a Golden Knights loss in regulation, Edmonton will top the division and conference, as they hold an advantage in the regulation-wins tiebreaker.

Winning the conference would set up a first-round playoff matchup against Winnipeg. If Edmonton finishes second in the Pacific, they would play either Los Angeles or Seattle.

nhl standings apr 12 2023

According to TSN 1260’s Tom Gazzola, the Oilers would begin the playoffs on Monday if they play the Kings, or Tuesday if they face the Jets.

While the Oilers have won a Stanley Cup and been to another Cup Final since Gretzky left in 1988, they haven’t won their division or conference without the Great One.

The last time the Oilers topped their division and conference was in 1987 — the year they won their third Stanley Cup in four years. Edmonton not only had the best record in the Smythe Division and Campbell Conference that year, but it also won the Presidents’ Trophy.

Perhaps it stands to reason that the Oilers are doing things not seen since the Gretzky era, as Connor McDavid has put up Gretzky-like numbers. With 152 points, McDavid has already posted the 15th-highest single-season point total in NHL history. With three more points, McDavid will equal the highest-scoring season ever by someone not named Gretzky or Lemieux.

McDavid isn’t the only reason for the Oilers’ success, of course. The Oilers are the first team to have three 100-point scorers in one season since the Pittsburgh Penguins had a trio of century-club members in 1995-96 (Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis). Leon Draisaitl is second in NHL scoring with 125 points, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (103 points) eclipsed the century mark for the first time in his career.

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