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.


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Should the Oilers Consider Jamie Lundmark?

As per TSN and Jonathan Willis' Hockey or Die, Jamie Lundmark has been placed on waivers by the Calgary Flames. Willis suggests the Oilers might have their eyes on Colin Stuart, but to me Jamie Lundmark makes a lot of sense.

An Edmonton native, Lundmark is no spring chicken. Having played bits and pieces in the NHL since 2002, Lundmark knows the kind of work it takes to stick with an NHL club. He was finally able to do that quite well in Calgary last year, which makes his being placed on waivers somewhat of a surprise.

Lundmark in 27 games with the Flames had 8 goals, 8 assists for 16 points. He did it not playing with elite talent which means he should be relied upon to produce in a third or fourth line type role with the Oilers. He's never been a high point producer, but he's been able to hold his own on lesser lines and he brings much of what the Oilers lack in terms of on-ice skills.

He's not small being listed at 6 ft and almost 200 pounds. He can win faceoffs (51.7% last year and 47.6% with LA and above 53.4% in Calgary again the year before.) He also finished last year above sea level at a +/- 2.

The question is whether or not Lundmark makes it as far as the Oilers in terms of waiver wire status. A #9th overall first round draft pick gets noticed when being placed on waivers. If he doesn't get claimed and the Oilers successfully move both Schremp and Reddox, Lundmark should get serious consideration. It might be nice to see a Calgary player come to Edmonton and be a Flames killer instead of the other way around.


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Schremp Headed to NYI and Reddox Next?

Looks as though the New York Islanders have put a claim in to pick up Rob Schremp off of the waiver wire. Schremp looks to be getting that long awaited shot with a team in the NHL, but by no means does this guarantee that he'll stick with the big club.

It is also going around that the Oilers have possibly put Liam Reddox on waivers. This tells me that if true, the deal for Pisani isn't happening that's been rumoured as Reddox would have been placed in Pisani's old role.

This wouldn't mean the deal is dead, more than any trade involving Pisani should net a return of a player that fits some of the skills Pisani is known for including smart two-way hockey, penalty killing and a possible offensive role.

Today could be an interesting day for Oiler fans.


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So Which Oilers Should You Take in Your NHL Draft?

It is that time of year. Preseason is coming to a close, friends and co-workers are getting together to make their draft picks and for some of us, a few Edmonton Oilers will be thrown into our selections. So if you're going to take an Oiler, who do you take?

It is very likely based on the rules of your particular draft, that none of the current Edmonton Oiler roster will go in your top 10. For that matter likely not in your top 20. Your Ovechkin's, Crosby's and Malkin's will obviously take top billing, but there are at least 20 other players I can name that should produce more points than any Oiler if your going almost solely on assists and goals. If you're one of those poolies that has to take your home team, wait for a while; a few of them will still be available later in your draft.

If and when you get to that point in the draft, the obvious number one pick should be Ales Hemsky. This probably isn't news to most of you. Hemsky has had a slow preseason, but this last game he came on strong and showed that maybe he's one of those guys whose not eager to burn out his jets in preseason. You can count on him missing about 5-10 games with some kind of minor injury each year and that always hurts his final numbers; but for the most part he'll get you 65-70 points if he's healthy for any major length of time.

Zack Stortini -- If it's not only scoring that counts, keep your eye's on a couple Oiler players - one being Zack Stortini. He's reliable in the PIM's department and should net you about 150-190 PIM's a year. My gut tells me he'll also have a much better offensive season and should get around 10 goals and 15 assists. Could be a lethal combo just behind guys like Lucic, Carcillo and Steve Ott, so if you need a PIM's guy and he's around, he's a safe choice.

Sheldon Souray -- Someone who should also help there but a good pick if you need a defenceman might be Sheldon Souray. He's not ranked in my Top 10 in terms of offensive production, but if you combine it with his ability to pound a couple guys into the ground and his willingness to do so, he could net you some valueable PIM's points along side the 20 goals he seems good for each year. This is especially important if you take into consideration power play goals since as always, he'll get first line powerplay time to take that bullet of a shot.

Other Oiler notables:

Mike Comrie -- I don't expect him to keep up this pace, but Quinn is using him on the powerplay and he's my sleeper pick this year. He had 10 points in 5 preseason games (I know, I know)..., but he's playing for another contract, even if it's with the Oilers. For players like Comrie, Tanguay, Sykora and others, that always means something. He'll get lots of opporunity to score in Edmonton and I expect a possible 50 point season from the smaller but skilled veteran.

Patrick O'Sullivan -- Expect him to get 20 goals this season with his eyes closed. He shoots that often. He had some great chemistry with Comrie and he's focused on having a rebound year. He's not necessarily a top 50 pick, but could be close and if you get closer to the 75 player mark and he's still around, he's worth taking. He'll play on the powerplay and short handed which is a good combo if those types of stats count.

JF Jacques -- You might be tempted to take him if a) you're an Oiler fan and you take a lot of Oilers in your pool or b) you watched a lot of preason. My suggestion is not to jump the gun. He's not a lock on the first line and if he doesn't play there, he won't do much for you. If he does play there, he still may not do much... at least not consistently. It's hard to tell where Jacques will go in terms of production this season and for that reason he's too risky a pick. Unless he's one of your final picks in a deep draft, there are better players out there.

Tom Gilbert -- I have a feeling he'll produce more offensively than people are giving him credit for. He's easily a top 20 defenseman in a pool if you need scoring and you need a defenceman. He's got that look this season like he's prepared to get closer to the 13 goals he had his first year vs the 5 he potted last season. He's the king of second assists too if assists count in your draft and he should get lots of powerplay time.

Shawn Horcoff -- If his stats tell us anything, this is one of those years Horcoff plays well. He seems to have one good year, one ok, one good, one ok... The problem is, that this year, unless he's given some help in the faceoff dot and/or defensively, he may have trouble also putting up points. He may not stick as your top line centre either and if that's the case, his offensive production would drop off the face of the earth. Take Horcoff at great risk and consideration.

Sam Gagner - Something tells me this will be another year that Gagner has a slow start. If preseason says anything, he's slated to start on the 3rd line and he'll have to earn his way up. That doesn't bode well for anything but possibly getting Gagner at a better contract when the season ends. I see a 40 point season, but no better this year.

Andrew Cogliano - Similar to Gagner, Cogliano should have a similar, possibly slightly better year than last. Where he may be a bonus is if you count short-handed goals. I'm willing to bet Cogliano leads the team in short-handed goals this year. His speed alone warrants he play that role and he could get you some extra points with that in mind.

What Not To Do:

Dont' use an Oiler if you have to take a goaltender. Neither of the Oilers duo will get you many shut-outs this year, and I think it's still a big question mark for Edmonton. I can imagine the Oilers not winning many games 2-1 or 3-2, but losing or winning in high scoring affairs. That's never good if you need a goalie.

Don't bust your early picks just so you can get Hemsky. This is a note to all the die-hard Oiler fans who just have to take an Oiler with their first pick. Hemsky will be around at least two rounds in most pools. Be patient and he'll still be there.

Good luck and feel free to leave your choices in the comments below. I'll be making my selections on Tuesday.


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So Now What?

Straight from the Edmonton Oilers official website, a list of cuts came Sunday night immediately following the 5-4 overtime win over Vancouver in Edmonton's final preseason game. Being sent down were forwards Jordan Eberle - who was assigned to the WHL's Regina Pats - and Rob Schremp, who was placed on waivers. In addition, forward Kip Brennan was sent to the Falcons as well as blueliner Taylor Chorney and goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

These moves leave the following list of players on the Oilers current 27 man roster:

Injured (4) - Ethan Moreau, Theo Peckham, Fernando Pisani, Marc Pouliot

Forwards (14) - Gilbert Brule, Andrew Cogliano, Mike Comrie, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, J-F Jacques, Steve MacIntyre, Robert Nilsson, Patrick O'Sullivan, Dustin Penner, Liam Reddox, Ryan Stone, Zack Stortini

Defencemen (7) - Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, Ladislav Smid, Sheldon Souray, Steve Staios, Jason Strudwick, Lubomir Visnovsky.

So what can fans expect?

Either Monday or fairly early this week, a few more cuts will come. Liam Reddox, Robert Nilsson, Theo Peckham and Steve MacIntyre are the most likely to go. What may delay such moves are any options that might exist for the Oilers to make changes prior to a final roster announcement or the injury status of players like Peckham himself, Pouliot and Pisani (Pouliot being the only possibly more serious and lengthy injury).

We've heard that tire kicking has taken place between Nashville and Edmonton involving Robert Nilsson and others. Could a move be made before a decision to keep or demote the skilled but frustrating forward is?

The Oilers are in desperate need of a right handed third line faceoff style centre and they are well aware of it. They may also desire a bit more grit that can last a full 82 game schedule since most of the "dirty" style players the Oilers look to be adding to the roster have yet to play a full season in the NHL.

With other teams in the same boat Edmonton is and roster and/or waiver cuts coming, would the Oilers wait all the way up until the deadline to decide? By no means are the Oilers the only team faced with difficult decisions and a player that suits their need, but doesn't fit on the team from which he's being cut could fall into their laps knowing they sit in a fairly strong position it terms of waiver positioning.

So too, now that teams have had a good look at their rosters, some smaller scale trades in the NHL could start popping up based solely on teams identifying players that fill smaller holes, but don't fit in their current location.

Hence a player like Rob Schremp. While he won't be traded unless he clears waivers, for the fourth year he's failed to make the Oilers roster. Could a team like the Islanders, Predators, Lighting or another NHL squad find a use for Schremp where the Oilers couldn't? If so, do the Oilers quickly fill a removed contract with someone who is more suited to fill the void(s) in some very lacking areas? The next couple of days will provide some answers. The same could be a similar future for Robert Nilsson.

A while back I wrote that Nilsson would be someone to keep an eye on terms of making the news. It's taken some time, but I think this is the week Nilsson gets a lot of press time from Oiler media and fans. Whether he stays or goes, opinions are strong and we'll hear much from both sides I'm sure. At $2 million for the next two years, he's not nearly as attractive on the waiver wire, but there is a possible team or two willing to take a chance.

What about players on the roster that might likely stay on the roster?

Many are suggesting Jacques is a lock for the top nine forwards. I think they're riding the fence pretty hard trying not to go out on any kind of limb about a player that has literally surprised everyone. Is there any reason to suggest after his play in the preseason and how public Quinn has been about wanting some size on each line that Jacques wouldn't get the start with Hemsky and Horcoff on October 3rd? His two point effort tonight only solidifies my thought that this is exactly what we'll see.

Did anyone else notice he gave more room for Hemsky and Horcoff to do what they do? I was surprised that while the skill was evident, Vancouver was significantly less gritty than I was expecting. It only makes sense that it's tougher to play that style when on every line, someone is willing to answer the bell. Gilbert Brule proved that on Sunday.

Speaking of Brule, he seems to understand just what he needs to do to earn his spot. He knows what the coaches and management need to see and he's delivering. Placed on the ice in OT with only 3 other faceoffs to his credit during the game, they wanted to see if he could win the big one. He did, the Oilers scored and came away with the victory. He also needed to show an edge to his game, so he got into a fight. He didn't necessarily win it, but he didn't need to. His goal was to show he wanted to be physical and he did that too. Expect to see Brule in the opening lineup when the regular season begins.

With preseason done, a lot of work still needs to be attended to in terms of the Oilers final roster. Some steps were taken Sunday, more steps will come; but at least there are a few positive notes and the Oilers finish with a win over an extremely strong Vancouver team.


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