Oilers Should Keep Close Eye On Patrick Sharp This Saturday

The Chicago Blackhawks roll into town the hottest team in the NHL, having won five straight. Not good news if you're an Oiler fan.

Saturdays this season have already been unkind to the Oilers and the Blackhawks are loaded with talent, who each and every game are trying to make it their best game. After all, three of the biggest pieces of Chicago's puzzle are mere moments from obtaining contracts that will set them up for life.

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith are all rumored to be close to signing extensions with the Blackhawk organization. The only thing keeping them from getting this done? Tagging room under next years salary cap.

Bob McKenzie did a nice piece on tagging room on his latest TSN blog. Effectively, the Blackhawks need to clear enough space to fit under the allowable level of salary committed to next season.

While it's near impossible to tell what this means in terms of decisions coming forward for the Blackhawks, the wide assumption is that salary will be trimmed and players like Cam Barker, Brent Sopel and possibly Patrick Sharp could be casulaties of having to live by the salary cap guidelines.

Of those three, Patrick Sharp may be the one player Chicago would least like to move, but if I'm the Oilers, perhaps I'm putting together an offer that Chicago simply can't ignore.

Patrick Sharp is exactly what this Edmonton team needs. A strong, gritty faceoff center, who just so happens to have 18 points in 20 games. He plays short-handed, he plays powerplays, he's not afraid to get dirty and he's fast. In short, Sharp's that non-superstar, hole-filling player fans have been begging the Oilers to go after for years.

On a list of players the likes of Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Ducan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Kris Versteeg and others; Patrick Sharp, who would rank amazingly high on almost any other team, seems like a possible odd-man out in Chicago. It sounds odd to say of a player producing at the rate Sharp is, but it may be accurate.

All that said, Tambellini seems to have a knack for missing opportunities.

See signing Malhotra or Prospal, but letting go of Glencross and Reasoner.

I don't assume, that should an opporunity for Tambellini to make a viable offer on a player like Sharp exist, and in a time of minor crisis for the Blackhawks, that much will come of this. If we're lucky, perhaps Sharp plays too well for Tambellini to ignore.


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Oilers Interested In Kovalchuk?

Are the Oilers interested in Ilya Kovalchuk? Yes, I'm sure they would be, as would the other 29 other teams in the NHL. Does that mean the Oilers are making a pitch to get him? Let's look at the facts.

The Atlanta Thrashers need Ilya Kovalchuk. Badly.

Without him, or at least a player of similar star quality to replace him, you can pretty much kiss hockey in the Atlanta market goodbye. This tells us, and we have confirmation as much that Waddell is doing everything in his power to get this deal finished, and he'll continue to do so throwing in everything, including the kitchen sink.

Ilya Kovalchuk is poised to be the next $100 million dollar hockey player. He'll get no better offers than in Atlanta where the team has done everything to appease the superstar including aquiring a few European players to play along side him, hopefully making Kovalchuk feel more at ease.

These types of moves are not moves that get made if a team isn't confident it can reach an agreement at some point. Kovalchuk has even gone out publicly stating his recognition of the Thrashers doing as much to get him players he can play with.

Normally I wouldn't waste time on non-sense rumors like this, but as an Oiler fan, it's probably smart to tell fans not to get some false sense of hope. This deal will never happen.


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Now Who's Out for the Oilers? Will they Play Saturday?

This sounds like a broken record. How much can one team add up missing man games due to injury? The Oilers are posed to shatter records in the NHL this year if this pace continues. Here is the latest in a new string of players missing from the roster at practice.

Quinn gave the media the following news:

Mike Comrie: "has got mono. He's not going to play or practice until he's through the full phase of it."

*Oilers Insider Note: this is something that could be much worse than what fans are joking around calling the "kissing disease". Comrie hasn't been healthy since the flu thanks to complications with his asthma. This is likely just an extension of what's been ailing him and we could see Comrie miss some lengthy game action.

Ethan Moreau: "When he came this morning to the rink, our medical staff wanted him to take the day off, so he did that."

*Oilers Insider Note: Moreau will likely play on Saturday, but the staff takes no chances with head shots. It was a pretty nasty elbow that knocked Moreau from the rest of the game on Wednesday. If he makes it to practice Friday, that will tell the Oilers a lot.

Shawn Horcoff: "He tried to practice but couldn't get through it, so he left."

*Oilers Insider Note: This reminds me of the year Horcoff was on pace for 80 points and went into the All-Star game only to miss the rest of the season for shoulder surgery. Horcoff's foot and shoulder are bugging him. He's been fighting through it, but it could be a real problem.

Robert Nilsson: "He's out [with a concussion]."

*Oilers Insider Note: Nilsson has been listed as day-to-day and was ready to go a couple games ago, only to be bothered again. It's hard to give a timeline to injuries like concussions, so who knows here.

Liam Reddox: "is gone. You saw him get hit by that one shot by a player, so he's gone for an x-ray on the ankle."

*Oilers Insider Note: I've never seen a player take so much abuse since being inserted into the lineup. Reddox keeps trucking and fighting his way through games, often looking like one of the most effective Oilers. He'll fight, but if his ankle is serious, what can the Oilers do?

Lubomir Visnovsky: "needed a day. He's still suffering from being banged about four or five days ago."

*Oilers Insider Note: Visnovsky shouldn't miss any action. This is likely more a rest move with an extra day between games.

Ales Hemsky: "He's still sore from upper body stuff that's been going on with him for a while."

*Oilers Insider Note: Hemsky seems to be a one night he's fine, the next night he's hurt kind of player. He should be in the lineup, and this is a rest move again, but Hemsky has that time in every year, where he misses some important games. Let's hope this isn't it.

Sam Gagner: "went to have his hip further looked at."

*Oilers Insider Note: He should be ok and one hopes this isn't a nagging injury that eventually requires lengthy time off and/or surgery. Let's keep thinking glass half full on this one.

Denis Grebeshkov: "is still out for a period of time."

*Oilers Insider Note: Add him to the long term IR. Some possible room for the Oilers to make a move to replace his salary? Hopefull in the form of a 3rd or 4th line faceoff center.

Fernando Pisani: is also out due to issues with colitis.

*Oilers Insider Note: One can just wish the most speedy recovery possible in Pisani's case.

Taylor Chorney: continues to suffer from an ankle injury.

*Oilers Insider Note: No word on how long this is going to keep him out of the lineup, but he's quickly becoming an important piece of the Oilers team, when just weeks ago, he wasn't even technically an Oiler.


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Angles Galore Out of Wednesdays Win. What Was the Most Relevant Story To You?

After Wednesdays come from behind win over the Colorado Avs, a blogger like myself had a plethora of story lines to select from.

Should I talk about Jeff Deslauriers finally getting some game action, only to start out poorly, worry the entire coaching staff, but make up for it towards the latter half of the game? It would have been scary if the Oilers felt they had to play Khabibulin more than they're already playing him.

Maybe how Tom Gilbert, who has had a rough season to start, was so bad in the first half of the game and directly responsible for the Avs first two goals, that it forced Quinn to bench him. Gilbert received a total of 7:41 seconds of ice time throughout the night. Message sent loud a clear I would guess.

I noticed too, that Ethan Moreau, Zack Stortini and Andrew Cogliano weren't seen or heard from much. I thought Cogs played well when he was on the ice, but Quinn didn't use any of the three that often (I suppose one should account for the 17 penalty minutes served by Stortini).

I could have taken a positive spin and noted that Sam Gagner was a surprise draw in, for an absent Mike Comrie(even though we knew he wasn't 100%). Gagner had a good game scoring a goal after quite a dry spell.

The same happened for Brule, O'Sullivan and Potulny, all who in their own different ways and for different reasons, needed to provide some offense.

Visnovsky, Souray, Smid and Staios all had good games on defence, while Hemsky, Penner and Horcoff were a dangerous first line. The Oilers had some breakdowns, but overall out-shot the Avs 33 to 18 over three periods. With six powerplays, I should hope so.

Speaking of the powerplay, it's an area that still needed a lot of work for Edmonton. They simply falter when pressured by aggressive penalty killers.

All in all though, there was a lot of good to come out that game for Edmonton, who now sits just three points back of a playoff spot and needs every point on this five game home stand, against some tough teams to gain ground.

For myself, I guess I didn't have to choose a topic, it's all right there in a pretty little 6-4 win with a bow on it.


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The Quarter Poll Part II. Five Players Who've Met Colorado Before.

We did a quick study of five players and how they've been as productive Oilers in our first edition of the quarter poll rankings yesterday. All five of those players have played all 21 Oiler games to start the season.

In this edition, we'll look at Oilers who have had a good record thus far against the Avalanche, who not coincidentally the Oilers face Wednesday on TSN.

Unfortunately, doing an examination in this way actually led me down a difficult path of deciding which five Oilers to examine as Edmonton has only scored 5 goals in the two contests against the Avs. In the first meeting, the Oilers were shut-out 3-0 and the second meeting saw the Oilers actually play a solid road game winning 5-3.

That said, I think I've come up with five viable candidates.

Thinking back, it was the first time I really noticed the effectiveness of Ryan Potulny in situations I'd never seen from him before. Potulny didn't have much time in the NHL with the Oilers under MacTavish, but when he did, it was always that fourth line, shut-down and grinder type role. I'm not so sure that role suits the type of player Potulny is.

In the last Oiler game against the Avalanche, Potulny was given some time in different situations and he capitalized. He played over 12 minutes (a lot for a call up), had two points, a powerplay goal, and was an even plus/minus on the night. Pretty good.

Since then, Potulny has been steady for the Oilers in what has to be considered a temporary position. He's only plus/minus -2 in a string of Oiler losses and he's been part of line combinations that have been good energy guys for the Oilers. He's not going to be your great offensive weapon, nor your #1 shut-down guy, but all around, he's been ok.

Ryan Potulny -- B-

I called Potulny's stop temporary because I think the one player of the two who made the leap at that time and might stick is Liam Reddox. Since coming up to the team, he's been full throttle and Quinn has to like that.

Reddox doesn't have a lot to show points wise for his efforts, but a few scoring chances and powerplay goals for the Oilers have come thanks to the hustle Reddox has provided. A real bonus since his arrival, is his averaging 3 hits per game -- an average higher than anyone on the team outside of JF Jacques who at one time was in the top three in the NHL in terms of hitting.

Reddox has killed penalties for the Oilers, he's crashed the net and he took a nasty hit that would have knocked a lot of other NHL'ers out for some serious time, yet he kept on truckin'.

Liam Reddox -- B+

Mike Comrie got a goal in the last contest versus the Avs, and ironically enough, it was the last game in which he's scored this season. Let's hope he can repeat his performance on Wednesday.

Mike Comrie is hard to assess thanks to his fight with the flu and the complications it's had with his asthma. Since going down with the flu, Comrie just hasn't been the same and his last few games haven't been at all an indication of what Oiler fans should expect.

When Comrie first came to Edmonton, he had a chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove. He started strong, was a point a game player for a while, a great faceoff guy when the team needed one, and did other little things well. This after he led all NHL players in pre-season with 10 points.

Lately, Comrie's been in and out of action and when he's in, he's been slow and weaker than usual which tells us he's still not healthy.

Should Comrie get healthy, I think he'll start to pick things up, which in turn might help a player like O'Sullivan. The Oilers need it, as does Comrie still playing for a better contract. Should things not turn around, Edmonton fans can turn just as quickly as they cheer you when you get 4 points in one night and start a fight.

Mike Comrie -- C+

As of late, Lubomir Visnovsky has played well. The last game against the Avs, Visnovsky wasn't so hot, but this season, that's been a rarity as Lubomir has been the best all-around defenseman by far for the Oilers this season.

With 13 points in 19 games, a respectable plus/minus +3 and the quarter back for a ton of Edmonton's limited offense, Visnovsky has been terrific and was greatly missed in the two games for which he wasn't in the lineup.

It's no surprise as the Oilers nose-dived last season after Visnovsky went down with a shoulder injury. One he's done well to recover from.

When Visnovsky chooses to shoot he's doing so at the right time in the right situation with a cannon. It's led to a fantastic 17.2% shooting percentage, but he's been responsible for some of Edmonton's prettiest goals of the season too.

Lubomir Visnovksy -- A

Finally, Nikolai Khabibulin who made 34 saves in Edmonton's last trip to Colorado and 31 saves in their first meeting, did what he's done all season -- keep the Oilers close in a lot of games. You can't ask for much more from your goaltender.

Khabibulin came to Edmonton in a smoke cloud of controversy. He's old, he's signed long-term and he's being paid $15 million over that time. So far, he's also made Tambellini look good, which is no small feat considering how still full of holes this Oilers roster is.

If not for Khabibulin, the Oilers would be well below a .500 hockey club. Sure, he's had moments like opening night against the Flames, but he quickly picked himself back up and has been tremendous for the Oilers as of late.

The problem for Khabibulin, isn't Khabibulin. It's the rest of the team that can't score to help him, or the defense that can't get the puck out of the zone to relieve pressure.

We're starting to see more games where the Oilers are actually out-shooting their opponents, so hopefully that bodes well for Khabibulin, who despite his good play, has a pretty bad record to show for it.

Nikolai Khabibulin -- B +


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Review After 20. Where Do You Think They Sit?

It's pretty standard from what I've noticed for the NHL blogosphere to do a quarter of the way through the season team review on each respective team for which they write. They examine player by player to see how each is doing, his contribution to the team, and so forth.

We'll be doing that as well, just a bit differently. I'll be breaking each article into groups of five players, not only giving grades, but going through my earlier predictions and seeing how off base I was or whether I was on the right track.

First, let me preface this with, it's hard to judge a number of the players on this team due strictly to how injured and ill they've been. With somewhere close to 100 man games missed in just 20 games total for the team, how can we fairly suggest that each player will be getting a fair review?

All that said, let's give it a shot anyways.

We'll start with the only five players to have actually played all 20 Oiler games this season. Stortini, Gilbert, Cogliano, O'Sullivan and Penner.

Penner is an easy one. While we were pretty confident that he'd have a bounce back year (our first ever article on this site was actually about Penner breaking out), we can't lie and suggest we expected the level to which Penner has kicked off this season.

Penner leads the Oilers in a ton of categories and even when his production is limited to one goal in a contest, Penner has been the best player on the ice for both teams. A far cry from watching him last season.

Penner's pace of play has come back to reality a tad bit, but he's still highly ranked in the NHL (tied for 6th) for points, plus/minus, goals scored, and he's playing in all important situations for the Oilers. He's currently tied with Dany Heatley for points, which if you'd have predicted that before the first 20 games of the season and right after the trade was veto'd, you should have bought a lottery ticket.

Penner needs another multi-point effort here in the next couple games to hope to stay ahead of Heatley, but I don't think Oiler fans need him to out-point San Jose's 50 goal scorer to be happy with Penner's performance. 35 goals and 30-35 assists would be great. 65 points at just over $4 million would make Penner a good contract for the first time since coming to Edmonton.

Penner has been the one consistent Oiler in an otherwise very inconsistent season.

Dustin Penner -- A+

Andrew Cogliano is another piece of that Heatley puzzle who seems to be doing whatCogliano normally does, just at a slower pace (we don't mean speed, as he's still one of the fastest players in the NHL). He's on track to get about 13 goals and 33 points, which for what Oiler fans and management had expected isn't great, especially in a contract year.

The problem is, it's not all Cogliano's fault. He's been on the fourth line almost all season in more of a grinder type role. Playing with Ethan Moreau and Zack Stortini night in and night out, even in the face of injuries, either means that Pat Quinn has little confidence in Cogliano to play a bigger role or he just doesn't know where else to put him.

Once again his faceoff win percentage is awful at 39% and while he's the speediest forward the Oilers have, speed won't be enough.

Fans can expect a contract issue at the end of the season, as I expect Cogliano to feel he's worth more than he'll be offered. If things look iffy, expect Cogliano to be part of a group of players moved in a trade for something a bit more proven and productive. People wondered why his name was a part of the Heatley trade. His numbers make for an obvious answer.

All that said, I do like how Cogliano has become a much more efficient penalty killer on a team that needed some assistance in that area and he looks like a threat on any given night. He just doesn't have the linemates to assist him.

Andrew Cogliano -- C+

Tom Gilbert has been bad. I'd love to say it another way, but with a plus/minus - 4 and 4 points with only 1 goal, he's not contributed in the main area he's been paid $4 million per season to contribute.

Granted, with Souray, Visnovsky and Smid out of the lineup, Gilbert was asked to play more defensive hockey. Still, Gilbert has been so unproductive, that any trade value he had to start the season has all but vanished.

That's not good news for the Oilers who are now looking at another few years at his salary. Fans can only hope that his 45 points last season (almost all second assists) wasn't just a fluke, nor is his only 4 points this season. On pace for about 16 points, Gilbert needs to pick it up, or the albatross contract that people like to peg Horcoff with, will look like small potatoes compared to Gilbert.

Tom Gilbert -- D-

Zack Stortini hasn't really been Zack Stortini. For a while, he was surprisingly effective and it looked like my season starting prediction of 10 goals was going to happen.

After the Nasvhille game however, Stortini hasn't done a lot in the role he's expected to play to give energy to an often lazy Oilers team. One has to wonder if all of a sudden Stortini figured he'd be more of an offensive threat and forgot why he's on the team.

The good, is that Stortini is second in the team in hits with 34. The bad, is that he's supposed to be the team agitator. He's not doing it at nearly the same pace as last season and often times, the 3rd line (a line with AHL'ers and Gilbert Brule) has out-agitated the Stortini line.

For a guy known as a scrapper (so much so, he was the NHL 2K9 consultant on fighting), his fighting this season is down. Now I'm not so much about having a player that leads the league in fights like Stortini did last season. I'm more about a player finding the right time to lift the spirits of his team with a good tilt. There has been plenty of opporuntity for that this year and Stortini just hasn't been there.

Stortini has been part of one of the more consistent lines for the Oilers, so that is a good thing. I just wonder if that speaks more about the fourth line, or the lack of production from the other three lines.

Zack Stortini -- C +

Patrick O'Sullivan has the quietest 12 points I can remember an Oiler having in a while. Brought to the team as a goal scorer and on fire during pre-season, O'Sullivan his disappeared as a sniper, showing only signs of getting 20 goals for the Oilers during things like shoot-outs and 5 on 3 powerplays.

O'Sullivan does shoot. He's tied for the team in shots with Dustin Penner at 61, however; unlike Penner who has an extremely generous shooting percentage of 19.7%, O'Sullivan is finding the net at a whopping 4.9% which is good for 242 out of 276 players. This isn't counting games where he has point blank chances and missed the net completely. Last night against Atlanta was a perfect example.

As a coach you have to wonder what direction is best for a player like O'Sullivan. Is he snake bitten? If so, despite how often he shoots, you probably have to tell him to keep shooting and maybe more often. If he's just not what you thought he'd be, you have to wonder what you do over the next couple of games if the pace continues.

I still like what O'Sullivan brings. He's grittier than I thought he'd be, he's a couple goals away from having a pretty good run going, and seems to be the type of player who can add three goals to his total in one game. We're just still waiting to see that game. His effort seems to be there.

Patrick O'Sullivan -- B-

In our next quater poll rankings we'll look at the top stars of this team. At least by definition based on their salaries, those who are supposed to be top stars. Think hard enough, you can probably guess who'll we'll be talking about.


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