And It Begins...The Oilers Have a Lot of Needs

No one seems to think the Oilers will amount to much. Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News and many others have not been kind to the Edmonton Oilers in terms of standing rankings in the West and amidst the 29 other NHL teams. Realistically, it's not a surprise. Compared to many of those 29 other teams, the Oilers just don't stack up. But the news is not all bad. Despite being ranked somewhere around 22nd overall; a low expecation can often equal a pleasant surprise.

Last year everyone from Kevin Lowe, to Craig MacTavish to the fans to some of the players, got way ahead of themselves and wrongly assumed contention for the Northwest Division title. To say the least, that didn't turn out very well. This year, the Oilers won't be making the same mistakes again.

Coaches Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Wayne Fleming and Kelly Buchberger have taken a different approach. The glass is half full here in Edmonton, but were not sure with what type of drink. Quinn has continually pounded out to any of those who'll listen that he and his team are not yet sure what they have to work with in Edmonton and they'll be finding the right fit all the way up to opening night on Saturday.

This makes a lot of sense if you take a quick glance at the top lines comparing them to other NHL squads. Do that and the Oilers don't look so hot -- or at least less solidified in their roles. Going into this season, Edmonton had too many small forwards in their top six. Well that's not necessarily the case now, but would any of us have guessed before preseason that Jacques and Stone would be listed as top forwards on this team? To counter for the lack of size, the Oilers have given up as many as 30-45 goals this season in proven scoring. Time will tell if that strategy pays off.


Goaltending? Average at best with a 36 year old Khabibulin and unproven back-up. Everything from dehrydration to stamina and simply poor showings have been the story for goalies so far. The Oilers can only hope those things work themselves out.

Defence? While a topic of debate, the blueline is a stronger area for the Oil, but not fantastic and definitely not consistent.

To say the least, the Oilers are a far cry from winning any division title and everyone involved is making sure that the message is clear. The Oilers will have to work hard. No free rides, no sense of entitlement, just the suggestion that to win, it will take everything the Oilers have including finding things they don't.

There's no proven history for JF Jacques, but he'll need to be worthy of top line minutes to stay there. That means 20 goals and 35 points, which if we look at his track record outside of preseason, is a monumental stretch. Penner will quickly fill that role if Jacques doesn't keep the pace he's set so far in preseason and the odds of a change less than 5 games into the season are good.

From a player that has been deemed the next big thing in Edmonton, there's no reason to think that Sam Gagner will have a good start to the season. In two seasons past he hasn't and his preseason and camp efforts thus far have found him on the 4th, possibly third line at best. He's going to have to be better than that. His reckless lengthy carries into the neutral and offensive zones, will have to decrease; because more often than not, his attempts go unsuccessful. On the 4th line, he won't have the luxury of quick chemistry with another forward, so he'll have to make the improvements to his own game.

Speaking of Sam Gagner chemistry, Robert Nilsson needs to make the most of the opportunity he's been given with the Pisani and Pouliot injuries. He's been a plus player with the Oilers, so he's going to need to show that he can be relied on defensively and on the penalty kill if he wants to keep his job. His offense in preseason has been ok with 4 points in 4 games, but he's shown times of abscence on the ice and he'll need to be focused for 60 minutes every night to come close to living up to his potential.

Cogliano, Brule and Gagner need to win a stinking faceoff. Ok, maybe not win, but they can't lose them all clean. If they don't, Horcoff is set for a long year and the Oilers top line can't afford to lack offense. A newbie in Jacques, a injury prone Hemsky and Horcoff taking 1800 faceoffs, is not a recipe for success. 2 or more 1 goal losses at the hands of faceoff stinkery will call for quick and immediate change.

O'Sullivan and Comrie have to continue their success. The likelihood that the 2nd line for the Oilers being more productive than the first line is high, so they'll need to pick up any slack in the absence of an Oilers "big three". O'Sullivan will need to shoot about 8 shots a game and Comrie will need to get him there with someone like Penner picking up rebounds. This line, if it starts the season, is the one I have the most hope for.

Stortini and MacIntyre can fight, but can Stortini get 20 points? He'll need to since MacIntyre will be lucky to get 5 all year.

The blueline needs to show they are worth the whopping $22 million they take of the $56 million cap. That means Souray has to pot 20 goals and be the #1 shutdown defensive defenceman all at the same time. This also means unfortunately, bringing Staois back to the days where he was a reliable shutdown guy.

Smid and Grebeshkov have to limit their turnovers and Visnovsky and Gilbert need to account for 85-95 points between the two of them. It's a tall order, but very possible if both stay healthy and get the powerplay minutes it looks like they'll get.

While the hockey will be fun to watch and players bound to break-out. Fans can expect asn many frustrating and heartbreaking moments as they can sheer glee. They'll be growing pains with a team that lacks many of the tools needed to win games. Can they do it? Of course. Will they? Not according to the NHL media-type experts.


My hope, is that the Oilers will be looking to prove people wrong.

2 comments:

Good review - but I think you are a bit low on the scoring from the defense. I would suggest that Visnovsky and Gilbert are worth more than 100 points - of course, they need to stay healthy.

Jim
October 1, 2009 at 8:12 PM comment-delete

After watching all the sport channels reviews, MacT was the only guy to put Edmonton in the playoffs. Pierre "Douche" Mcguire almost had a stroke.
Thanks Mac.

Martin
October 2, 2009 at 7:32 AM comment-delete

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