Taylor Chorney In, While Grebeshkov or Gilbert Are Out?

Taylor Chorney wasn't expected to play for the Oilers this season. Thanks to some un-timely injuries and illnesses, he's been called upon to do a lot more than just play. He's been expected to play a lot.

With the Edmonton Oilers, Chorney has been averaging over 14 minutes per game since his arrival. Before joining the club, his less than stellar plus/minus in the minors gave reason for strong concern; but he plugged himself right into the fold, playing key minutes in all situations and now sits at an extremely respectable even plus/minus. In fact, Chorney has been such a pleasant surprise, he's been asked to take criticial shifts in games where both Denis Grebeshkov and Tom Gilbert have warmed the bench.

The problem is, in the absence of Sheldon Souray, Steve Staois and Lubomir Visnovsky, the Oilers are still riding heavily on both Grebeshkov and Gilbert to play unfamiliar and more defensive roles. It's in Grebeshkov's and Gilbert's inability to be strong defensively, that the Oilers have struggled in their own zone and much like Gilbert and Grebeshkov, Chorney is more offence than defence, thus the Oilers are hanging on by a thin thread.

As Edmonton's missing veteran defencemen start to return, Grebeshokov and Gilbert will move back to more familiar duties, the Oilers will have too many defencemen, and Chorney would have naturally been sent back to Springfield to complete his season.

The key term being "would" have.

In a salary cap driven NHL, Chorney is a great weapon. He's proven to be a NHL calibre blueliner and essentially made one of Denis Grebeshkov or Tom Gilbert expendable -- especially considering their inflated salaries.

Taylor Chorney will earn, $735,000 this year, and $785,000 next season, before becoming a restricted free agent in 2011/2012. For an Edmonton Oiler team pushing the cap, contracts similar to the one Chorney has, is one that the Oilers cherish going forward. To become successful and retain the services of a Sam Gagner or to attract other often expensive free agents, the Oilers need Chorney to do what he's doing at an affordable price.

The question becomes, where do the Oilers go from here?

Denis Grebeshkov has been known for a couple things over his NHL career. He has unbelievable offensive skill and an equally unbelievable knack for turning the puck over. What has kept Grebeshkov so valueable, is the need around the NHL for offensive defencemen and his ability to provide more offensive upside than he does defensive downside.

Grebeshkov makes $3.15 million this season and becomes an RFA at seasons end. Every year the Oilers struggle to fit him into the fold at the right dollar amount and every year, the whispers of the KHL tend to get a little louder.

Grebeshkov is the type of player you can't build around (even if he has the talent to do so), because you have no idea what your future will be with a player who refuses to sign more than a 1 yr term. I don't see that as a direction the Oilers should aspire to go.

While Tom Gilbert provides much of the same skill set as a Denis Grebeshkov would, his future with the Oilers is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Edmonton knows exactly what they have for the next 5 years in Tom Gilbert. They also know exactly what they'll be paying him over that term.

Taylor Chorney's numbers compared to Gilbert's numbers, make Tom Gilbert immediate trade material if another NHL team comes knocking with a fair offer. For a defencemen who gets you 40 points a season, another team will.

Despite Gilbert's slow start, he has GM's in many cities keeping an eye on his progress and some have expressed interest. Don't be surprised if Edmonton considers a few of them. Drew Stafford from Buffalo was the latest in a series of rumours that often pop up.

One thing seems certain. When Sheldon Souray, Steve Staois and Lubomir Visnovsky return, one of Chorney, Gilbert or Grebeshkov will be leaving.

With Chorney's plus/minus, his ability to not only pass the puck from the zone, but skate effectively with it, and all under a salary that works in terms of Oiler dollars spent, it makes him what the Oilers wanted in Grebeskov and Gilbert, just at a cheaper price. Chorney's in... somebody else it out.


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Kid Line or No Kid Line?

Some recognizeable faces made the trip to Boston as the Edmonton Oilers get set to take on the Boston Bruins in an early game match-up on Saturday. Fernando Pisani, Lubomir Visnovsky, Steve Staois and Mike Comrie all tagged along with the expectation they could be asked or might be ready to play.

Steve Staois is doubtful. His concussion is giving him on and off effects too widespread to label him ready to return without further review. He's been skating with the team and looks good, but he could be another couple games away.

Lubomir Visnovsky, while also doubtful, is getting past his bout of the flu more quickly than expected. Great news for the Oilers who almost gave away 2 points in a massive meltdown against the Red Wings and could have used Visnovsky's veteran presence and steady hand in the Oilers own zone.

Fernando Pisani wants a couple practices to make sure his back will hold up, but could be set to go if the Oilers are missing pieces and Pisani's presence helps fill out the otherwise depleted roster. Should Pisani play, it would be interesting to see where Quinn would choose to place him.

Mike Comrie who is also considered day to day, may be the most likely of returning players and could be reunited with O'Sullivan and Horcoff (or Gagner) depending on what Quinn chooses to do after the first line of Horcoff, Penner and Hemsky tallied 10 points between them in Thursdays game.

No matter what the combination, fans can expect that the "kid line" reunion is all but dead. The trio of Gagner, Nilsson and Cogliano were low on the plus/minus scale and were heavily out-checked by the Red Wings, resulting in a handful of goals that brought Detroit back to life in an otherwise Oilers offensive blow-out.

Good riddance. Putting that line together was a mistake, but with few other options, I can see why Quinn tried it. That said, he's not likely to try it again with other offensive options available and his formula of a little "crust" on every line seemed to suit the Oilers well.

No reason to change that if it can at all be avoided and should some of the familiar Oiler faces return, it can easily be avoided.


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If Only Individual Success Was Contagious

Going into the Edmonton Oilers vs Detroit Red Wings game, I would have been excited if the Oilers had escaped with one point.

Edmonton was sick, getting sicker, and injured, while Detroit sans Johan Franzen was relatively healthy and posed ready for a break-out game. It would have taken a total Oilers team effort to escape alive.

So when Edmonton hopped out to an early 5-1 lead, excitement to escape the game with a point, became enthusiasm for a possible offensive spanking. That would have been exactly what the Oilers had needed to break a seven period scoreless funk.

Shawn Horcoff had a goal and two assists (up to the Detroit game, he'd been horrid offensively), Ales Hemsky was terrific with two goals and a helper, and Dustin Penner was his reliable (never thought I'd use that word coming into this season) self, with another multi-point night, netting a goal and three assists.

The Oilers were looking good like a team should. Not to be outdone and also like a team, the Oilers became the Oilers.

Missing Lubomir Visnovsky and still without Sheldon Souray and Steve Staois, the young blueline got tired and panicked. The first line stopped producing and any depth that might have existed, disappeared.

Detroit jumped all over it and within a twenty minute time period, had clawed all the way back to tie the game at 5 goals a piece. In short, despite Edmonton's 6-5 win, the Oilers got whipped for a good 35 minutes.

Hopefully the entire Oilers team learned a lesson.

Is it true, that Dustin Penner is third in the NHL for points with 19? Yes. Is Hemsky fifth in the NHL for assists with 11? Yes. Is Ladislav Smid quickly making a case the that Pronger trade was not a total disaster? Perhaps.

Let's take it a step further.

Taylor Chorney is auditioning for a permanent job on the blueline and he may have earned it. Gilbert Brule is posed to become a reliable NHL forward and he's earned that too. All the while, Jacques continues to rank high in the NHL in terms of hits at 4th. I can't remember the last time an Oiler did that.

Are these things enough? No.

For the Oilers to do more than escape with a win, they'll need to figure a way to piece some individual success stories together to make a total solid team effort. They'll need to leave the zone together, retrieve the puck together and win together. Relying on 10 point nights from your top line won't cut it.

If they don't, the Oilers will continue to be out-shot, out-scored and out-played.

They also won't keep winning.


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No Visnovsky Could Mean Open Season for Red Wings

It's something all NHL teams will have to deal with. The H1N1 virus is bound to hit teams harder and harder as the season passes, the Oilers being no exception.

On Tuesday, the Oilers released confirmation that Ladislav Smid had been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus after a number of other players had missed significant ice time due to flu symptoms. Gilbert Brule, Mike Comrie, Dustin Penner, Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid, Taylor Chorney and others were amongst just some of the players who'd admitted having issues breathing, skating, and finding the strength to play as their normal levels.

Some might take this as an excuse, but it could explain why the Oilers went from being among the league leaders in goals for, to lacking any scoring ability whatsoever. One would need to look no further than a 5-2 loss to Calgary, a 2-0 loss to Vancouver and a 2-0 loss to Colorado in the Oilers last three games.

To make matters worse, it sounds as though Lubomir Visnovsky has unofficially been listed as the latest flu victim and is questionable in the Oilers Thursday game versus the Detroit Red Wings. This is about the worst news the Oilers could be getting at a time where one win, against a suprisingly mediocre Red Wings team, could snap them out of a three game losing streak.

Despite Dustin Penner's tremendous start, Lubomir Visnovsky has been Edmonton's most valueable player. 12 games into the season, the Oilers weakness in their own zone is evident and teams are scoring goals in bunches when the Oilers fail to clear the puck from their own end. Visnovsky, seemingly the only help left in that area, now leaves the Oilers vulnerable at a time where things seem to be going from bad to worse.

The Oilers now go into that game down not only Visnovsky, but Sheldon Souray and Steve Staois, Edmonton's two other most veteran defencemen. As a result, Edmonton will look to Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, Jason Strudwick, Taylor Chorney, Theo Peckham, and Ladislav Smid to provide the defence against a Red Wing team just looking for the right opponent to break out against. Detroit must be licking their chops at the thought of playing six blueliners, who have struggled in many ways so far this season.

In the first nine games of this young NHL season, the Oilers managed to out-score the opposition by a margin of 35-24. Not a coincidence that two if not all three missing defencemen dressed for a chunk of those games. In contrast, the Oilers last three games saw Edmonton out-scored 10-2. Visnovsky was a huge factor, having scored 8 points in 12 games.

Typically any team with forwards able to score more often than their defence and goalie lets in, will win the game. Fundamentally, it's the equation all teams go by. For the Oilers, when one significant variable is missing, thus making the equation unbalanced; somehow, another variable needs to be added to compensate.

It will be up to Pat Quinn and the remaining pieces on the Oilers otherwise depleted team to figured out what that variable is. If they can't, Oiler fans can only hope, that Detroit is hitting the same flu bug at about the same time the Oilers are. Should they get past the Red Wings, the Oilers might wish -- as sad as it is to wish illness on anyone -- they get to take on a few depleted teams to get back on the winning track.


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Any Truth Behind the Edmonton/Montreal Trade Rumors?

With rumors swirling the Kevin Prendergast has been spotted at a few Montreal games, speculation quickly grew about Edmonton making a trade with Montreal. Immediately the rumor gained a bit more street credibility when Brian Wilde over at a CTV affiliate in Montreal posted the news and fans jumped on board as if something was bound to happen. Here's what we've heard.

The latest news revolves around the Canadiens asking for a forward, a prospect and a defencemen in return for both of the Kostitsyn Bros. No official word has come about the pedigree of any of the positions the Canadiens might be asking for, but that the trade is mostly for forward Andrei with his brother Sergei as a throw in.

From what we're understanding, the Canadiens are not too keen on the fact that Andrei would continue to enjoy his role in Montreal if his brother were shipped off and the Canadiens see no future in keeping Sergei on board. In short, if Montreal can find a return that is even worthy of moving Andrei Kostitsyn, they'll take the opportunity to do so.

The Oilers involvement has centered around two positions of thought. One is that they are still in a position that moving contracts is important. What that means, is that a three for two or four for two deal makes sense if they can shore up money and roster space to make other moves, while removing pieces they'll likely never use.

The other frame of thought is that Gagner has some experience playing with Sergei Kostitsyn, when the two formed a line with Patrick Kane for the London Knights of the OHL. At that time, Kostitsyn was an alternate captain and didn't carry the reputation he seems to have built for himself in the NHL. Some are suggesting that perhaps reuniting Sergei and Sam could make Sergei Kostitsyn a valueable pick-up at the right deal, while Andrei has proven to be a more reliable and valueable player and goal scorer.

For me, the option of Tomas Plekanec is much more appealing and I'd prefer the idea to a 3 for 1 trade over a 2 for 1 deal, but something has to be said for the Oilers and Canadiens both wanting to move spare parts.

As of now, we've heard no indication that offers or any kind of serious talks have taken place beyond what might be considered normal phone calls amongst NHL GM's. Take any rumours regarding this with a grain of salt.

I believe the Oilers are more interested in seeing where the team sits when they have a healthy roster, since most injuries and illnesses are temporary, with the exception of Sheldon Souray who could be out another 3 weeks.


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Are the Oilers Headed for A Tailspin?

Every year without fail, the start of the season looks the same for the Edmonton Oilers. Most "hockey experts" choose not to include the Oilers in any of the contending 16 teams that will make the playoffs. Reasons vary, including a lack of size, skill, superstars or just the lack of being able to size up against the stronger division teams; but there is never a shortage of opinions about just how poor the Oilers will be.

Then on cue, the Oilers traditionally come out to a strong start. 6-2-1 this season, (now of course 6-4-1 after Sundays loss to the Canucks) and 4-0 last season to start, they make everyone start to second guess themselves. Of course like clockwork, it doesn't last as they tailspin into less than mediocrity, finishing out of the playoff picture and when all is said and done making the "experts" once again feel a sigh of relief that they weren't going crazy.

Along with all that, come the up and down Oiler fans, who as excited as they tend to be when the Oilers come flying out of the gates, notice the sky starts falling when a couple losses start to pile. It's right about now, after losses to Calgary and Vancouver, that Edmontonians start to look upward. Perhaps, it's easy to understand why.

The Oilers now take a 6-4-1 record back to Rexall Place to take on the red hot Colorado Avalanche. Not to be outdone, they'll then move on to face the always dangerous Detroit Red Wings, where if things don't change for the Oilers, they could easily finish a .500 hockey club.

Like the Oilers, both the Avs and Red Wings teams are missing notable pieces from a full roster, but the Oilers can't take that for granted thinking their play of late is going to be enough to get them by either team. In the case of Colorado, no NHL team is hotter. An unbelieveable goaltending display from Craig Anderson, and some fire and determination from a group of young Avs rookies, Edmonton's is just hoping something's got to give.

Since the Oilers seem ice cold (by the way these hot and cold references are not intended to describe the flu bug that's hit the Oilers), something will need to change on the Avs side for Edmonton to try to snap a two game losing streak. Perhaps that something, is the degree to which Colorado is a beat up and dwindling Avs team. Or that the Avs are likely hotter than they should be considering their youth and lack of skill while now on the road and in Edmonton where the Oilers have been terrific so far.

Should the Oilers make it past Colorado, they'll need to be much healthier than they are now to face Detroit, who traditionally has Edmonton's number.

It could be a rocky road in Oil Country. If the sky starts falling, around here it doesn't take long before it hits the ground.


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