The Oilers Silver Lining: Ryan Potulny

This is Ryan Potulny. He's only played 10 games for the Oilers, but during those 10 games, he's been argueably one of the Oilers top 3 players.

In 10 games, Potulny has 5 goals and 2 assists for 7 points, yet still, a lot of fans and media think he'll be heading back to the AHL when some of the Oilers key players come back from illness and injury.

I might suggest not so fast.

Hemsky will be undergoing surgery to repair his shoulder and is done for the season. Comrie is still a lengthy time away from returning, and players like Patrick O'Sullivan, Robert Nilsson, Sam Gagner and others are just not providing a consistent enough effort to warrant removing someone like Ryan Potulny, who is.

Potulny has been brought on to play in all situations. At a strong plus/minus +1, he's done it successfully despite little NHL experience. On the powerplay, he's been one of Edmonton's more consistent threats and short-handed he's ranked in the top seven players for time-on-ice per game.

Potulny is quickly moving up the shot total ladder as well with a total of 24 shots in 10 games and a team leading 20.8% shooting percentage. He's taken 108 faceoffs, which is seventh on the team, but in only 10 games and while his percentages aren't great, they're better than a whole lot of other players on this team at 41.7%.

A rash of injuries got Potulny his shot at the NHL. It's a safe bet, that even when the injuries lessen, Potulny's play is what will keep him there.


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How Much Does Heatley's Debut in Edmonton as a Shark Really Matter?

(I felt so strongly about writing this piece, and how big this game is for the Oilers, that I posted it twice on two sites I write for... this and

On Friday night at Rexall Place, Oiler fans will jam-pack the building with fans who have one thing on their mind. Thousands of people who watched the summer roll by and couldn't help but hear about the Oilers and their inability to land one of the NHL's best snipers, are prepared to make it known that Dany Heatley's antics weren't greatly appreciated.

Every time Heatley touches the puck, fans will yell. When he enters the ice surface, fans will boo. When his name is announced should he score a goal, fans will lose their lunch. However, in the grande scheme of things, I wonder... does it really matter?

In reality, Dany Heatley is old news. The Oilers tried to make a move to improve their first line and the superstar status of their team. It didn't work and the Oilers looked foolish waiting as long as they did, literally begging one player to come change the fortune of a 23 player hockey team. The end result is that Edmonton Oiler fans are still watching Dustin Penner, Ladislav Smid and Andrew Cogliano in Oiler uniforms.

It's easy to understand why Oiler fans feel snubbed. I too, am no longer a Dany Heatley fan (to be honest I never was one since the accident that killed then fellow Atlanta Thrasher Dan Snyder. Something about Heatley's lack of punishment still irks me).

But, for the same reasons I see no point in losing sleep over the success of Chris Pronger, the double-signing of Michael Nylander -- heck, even the failure to lure Marian Hossa, I find any attempt to make one players experience more important than the result of the game itself, a waste of time and energy.

But, I am not an NHL hockey player. If I were, and I played for the Edmonton Oilers, I might suspect there are plenty of reasons for me to have motivation. Heatley in my building, the last game at home before a lengthy road trip, to beat a team that is clearly head-and-shoulders better than we are, or, for three players who had their names in the NHL headlines for weeks as unwanted assets that stayed put. Specifically, I'd find motivation for Andrew Cogliano, Ladislav Smid and Dustin Penner. If I'm an Edmonton Oiler, there is a lot on the line in terms of pride and respect and somebody must pay.

So when I ask, when Heatley makes his debut in Edmonton as a San Jose Shark, does it matter? Hell yes. For three players, all of whom will be in the lineup, Heatley's presence against the Edmonton Oilers makes all the difference in the world.

Hockey players are a prideful group. The Edmonton Oilers, despite not possessing the most skill or talent to win on a nightly basis, are a team that care a great deal for each other. As good friends and close teammates, Friday night, they have reputations to fight for and allies who need vindication.

Cogliano didn't take being traded well and his lack of point production this season undoubtedly has something to do with it. Cogliano is close to many players not missing action on Friday. Those players have a friend to defend.

Dustin Penner was ridden hard by MacTavish. He was counted out and was a throw-in as part of a trade that would have brought Heatley to Edmonton. Unlike Cogliano, who is having troubles adjusting, Penner has something to prove and is lashing out in a positive way.

He's not just the guy that pulls pranks on the Oilers roster during road games or team-building exercises (although he's known for it). He's a guy that has plenty of friends on the Oilers squad and is currently the Oilers best player. Penner along side close teammates and friends will be gunning to show everyone, he's not just a throw-in and that Heatley can stay in San Jose than come to a team he didn't want to play for.

Ladislav Smid is quickly becoming one of Edmonton's better shut-down defencemen. If there was ever a time to have a good game, sticking it in the face of a player you were going to be traded for, this is it.

Dany Heatley coming to Rexall and Edmonton means a lot for the Oilers, or at least it better. If it doesn't, one has to wonder what could possibly pump this team up. They're struggling and they need an excuse to win when they shouldn't. This is that game. It's the tide-turner of the season.

Fans will make noise against the player that treated the city like garbage. My hope, is that fans make more noise for the players that are still here. That they use their energy to root on the three players who are actually a part of this team, and players who will care about the reaction of the fans far more than Dany Heatley does.


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Are the Oilers and Blackhawks Talking?

Despite the fact that there were some 14 games in the NHL, only a couple relevant things happened on Wednesday night if your an Oilers fan.

First, is that the Oilers lost a stinker 3-1 vs the L.A. Kings. We knew they'd need to be stronger than they were against Phoenix. They weren't, so they lost.

The other possibly relevant news if you're an Oiler fan is that Marian Hossa returned to the Blackhawks and made a splash.

You may be asking why that might be relevant. If so, here's my theory.

Rumors are all over the place that Chicago is poised to make a move or two to clear cap space to get Kane, Toews and Keith all signed to the long-term contracts coming their way. To do so, Brent Sopel and Patrick Sharp have been brought up as possibles on the way out.

Marian Hossa coming back and playing well gives the Blackhawks a green light to make a move.

Brent Sopel would be Chicago's obvious first choice, but that all depends on possible takers. When it comes to Patrick Sharp, there are plenty of NHL teams that would jump on that train. I would include Edmonton in that list.

One such other team has been rumored to be the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is being reported that while other teams would have interest in Sharp (including Edmonton), Burke would make a strong push in an attempt to land a first line one-two punch with Phil Kessel. Burke would be right in assuming that Sharp and Kessel together would immediately bolster the Maple Leafs first line.

In return, Burke might be willing to part with Alexei Ponikarovsky. For all intensive purposes, Ponikarovsky could be gone from Toronto next season as a pending UFA. So, while Burke will undoubtedly attempt to land a bigger fish if he's unsuccessful in his bid to get Patrick Sharp, he might as well move Ponikarovsky now if he intends not to keep him.

Ponikarovsky, would solve the cap issues for Chicago as it allows the Blackhawks to shed enough salary to sign all three big name players. What it doesn't do, is leave room to re-sign Ponikarovsky long-term, which means he could be flipped for younger contract expiring talent, prospects or picks. Edmonton has those to give.

One rumor has Edmonton willing to part with Cogliano and a pick for the big goal scoring left winger.

While I'd do so for Patrick Sharp in a heartbeat, Ponikarovsky begs to ask a few more questions and might not be a move I'd jump into quickly if I'm Tambellini.

The positives are that Ponikarovsky is a big left winger. At 6 ft and 220 lbs, he offers goal scoring that Edmonton lacks outside of Dustin Penner who has size. In 22 games so far this season, Ponikarovsky has 8 goals and 3 assists for 11 points. Not great when you consider his total point production, but pretty good for goals as he's on pace to hit 30 markers this year.

Add to that, is that Ponikarovsky leads Toronto in hits with 45. That would put him second behind only JF Jacques on the Oilers.

He's also second in Toronto with time on ice on the powerplay. It's no secret the Oilers could use some assistance in that area. Relying on Dustin Penner every night to be that presence in the goal crease can be taxing.

The most obvious plus, is that Ponikarovsky is a career 20 goal scorer. He's reliable in that area and the Oilers need reliable goal scorers.

The downside, is that Ponikarovsky doesn't address the Oilers faceoff needs. The thing is, I'm not convinced the Oilers care.

All signs leads to the Oilers seeing that with 3 or 4 players right near the 50 percent rate in the dot, Edmonton centers on this team (including Penner whose been undeniably strong for a winger in faceoffs) are capable of handling the load.

The other problem, is that Ponikarovsky (while not similar in play, but more in terms of contract status and perceived value) reminds me of Ales Kotalik.

The Oilers can use him now, but will they keep him? If they don't intend to, because he'll expect a $3 million contract, why move Cogliano to obtain him?

While the possibility exists that this is all wild speculation and just another team added to the many rumored to be in on any action Chicago chooses to take, I don't mind the idea of either Sharp or Ponikarovsky.

If it's Ponikarovsky, I'd be more hesitant on who goes the other way. When it comes to Sharp, I'd move almost anyone.


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Leaders Respond and Losers Sulk: Edmonton Improves Effort Against Phoenix Coyotes

When a player or player(s) in this case are called out, there are two ways in which they'll respond. Either taking the subject of the issue to heart and putting in the extra effort to improve, or pouting, which in turns provides the team with a less efficient player.

When Pat Quinn called seven players into a closed-door meeting on Sunday morning, the Oilers could have gone two ways. Their effort against Phoenix could have plummeted showing everyone the Oilers are a group of underachieving cry-babies, or, and was the case on Monday, the Oilers could have come out with a much better effort taking the play to the Coyotes.

This is an issue that surrounds this team in spades. The skill on the Oilers is obvious. It's the want or desire to put in a sold effort per 60-minute game. Mondays game goes a long way to showing that if nothing else, the leaders on this team give a crap.

All four goals were scored by players in that closed-door meeting. Moreau, Hemsky, Souray and Horcoff needed to show the rest of the team not part of the open forum that they were prepared to listen to their coaches.

Had they not, it would have been a horrible lesson for the rest of the team just 25 games into a still young NHL season.

Hopefully the team responds on Wednesday vs L.A. and Friday vs the Sharks where a 100% effort might be the only thing that gets the Oilers back above the .500 mark.


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Do the Oilers Have Any Untouchables?

You can't go far on the Oilers blogosphere these days without reading about the impending moves that must be coming to an Edmonton Oilers team that has struggled.

Pulling off their first shut-out of the season last night against the Coyotes, the critics might be silent for a couple of days, maybe even a week; but it won't take long before the rumors once again begin to swirl.

With that in mind, if a big trade is coming, which members of this team above all others should stay?

In any trade negotiation, there are players that a GM might deem "untouchable". Many might argue that the Oilers don't have any of those players. Some might argue only Ales Hemsky. Others might now add Dustin Penner to that list, even though last year fans prayed at night to see him moved.

I'm of the impression, that while this Oilers team needs a lot of work, there are some key pieces I would be very sad to see go:

Ales Hemsky

I selected Hemsky for two reasons. Despite how frustrating it can be to watch him fiddle around and act as if he'd rather be playing cards than hockey, he's still the most skilled forward the Oilers have. In fact on many NHL teams, he'd be the most skilled player.

He's not yet hit his peak in terms of point production and this could be the year we see the first real signs of what Hemsky could be for this team. With coaches like Renney and Quinn, I think this is the right place for Hemsky to push past that hump he's yet to reach, developiong a more overall game.

I also love his contract and how it's one of the few on the team that actually helps a salary cap situation. You don't give that away without a tremendous return. Hemsky is complete value for his dollar and that doesn't often happen in todays NHL.

Dustin Penner

Despite how fairweather this sounds, I've liked Dustin Penner since he came to Edmonton. Like many of you, I've been frustrated with his lack of production, but I saw it more as a mental issue and the wrong environment as opposed to Penner lacking the skill-set needed to be effective.

I believed that Penner would struggle at first as a player who'd been told he wasn't worth the contract he was given by almost everyone. He was under immense pressure in one of the most crazy hockey markets in the NHL and on a team that badly needed him to contribute. It was a recipe for disaster.

This year, he seems to have put the expectations behind him (being that no one really expected much) and he's playing like the player people thought he was when offered that big time contract.

He's a big body with great hands. He's faster than people give him credit for and he's willing to go to the hard areas (not too many people willingly stand infront of a Souray slap shot 5 or 6 times a game). He's been a strong two-way presence even when his offensive numbers were lower and when told to add elements to his game like penalty killing and faceoffs, he's done it... and successfully.

This year, Penner has added a play-making side to his game few knew he had. He's quickly making the statements Kevin Lowe said when he obtained him accurate. "We feel we're paying in part for potential with Dustin. He might not be fair value this year at $4 million, but we see him as a great deal in the next couple of years and worth more than we're paying him towards the end of his contract." (or something along those lines...)

Who'd have thunk that might actually have turned out to be a fair statement.

Lubomir Visnovsky

This was one of the better trades the Oilers made in the last few seasons. Saying that, I'm a fan of both Jarrett Stoll and Matt Greene.

Visnovsky is a fantastic all-around defenceman. He moves the puck well and while not a stay-at-home type, he's sound positionally on the defensive side. He's possesses a canon of a shot and the best part is, knows when to fire it.

Visnovsky has been about a dozen points shy of a point per game pace in a few seasons and this year, coming off shoulder surgery, he's poised to do it again.

He's a veteran presence, that makes the power-play and five-on-five situations better, but he also works hard to be a good teammate and leader with a great attitude.

He's paid well, but when he's on, the Oilers are a much better team. When he's not in the lineup, they can be outright lousy. That makes him worth his paycheck any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Gilbert Brule

Gilbert Brule has the potential to turn into one of the best trades the Oilers have made in a decade,when you consider what was given up to obtain him. Moved for Raffi Torres, it was a trade in which both teams involved had somewhat given up on the players they moved. Torres had proven and shown what he could do. Brule was a diamond in the rough, but somewhat of a gamble.

It's gamble that is starting to pay off for Edmonton as Brule is doing the things most players won't, but contributing on the offensive side as well. When it comes to physical play, he's third on the team in hits with 37. In terms of players who have taken more than 100 faceoffs this season, he's the team leader at 51.2%. He's not a minus hockey player, he has 13 points with 6 goals and he's getting stronger and stronger every night.

Brule has a tendency, as many young players do, to lapse in judgement which can lead to turnovers. With that comes his insatiable willingness to make up for it by doing two positive things for every negative.

For some reason, he's yet to convince the coaching staff that he's that go-to-guy, but it won't take long.

JF Jacques

You can't say enough about a player that knows his role and does everything in his power to exceed expectations in that role. Jacques leads the team in hits with 62 (amazing considering he's only played 17 games).

He's got better hands than people think, but he knows he's not a scorer. He's willing to throw down with almost anyone and his presence can change the course of a game, despite the fact that he's not a heavyweight.

I get the impression that JF Jacques is one of the few players on this team that would resign for less than he's worth, but I think the Oilers will find he has great worth and will make him a priority even though it shouldn't take a lot to get it done.

Of course, past experience with players like Glencross and Reasoner suggest otherwise, but perhaps this time, the Oilers get it right.

Ladislav Smid

This kid is going to be a great defencemen. He's got the potential to make the Pronger trade not look like a total disaster. That along side his reasonable salary put him on this list.

Sheldon Souray

This should be Edmonton's team captain. He's not, because the Oilers don't know how to remove it respectfully from Ethan Moreau while he's still an Oiler.

Sheldon Souray should be a lock for 50 points every year and while he's older, here's to hoping his injuries are behind him. Fans consider his salary to be up there in terms of money spent on defence, but when you consider or compare the elements he brings to an Edmonton roster, like a Chara in Boston would or a Pronger in Philadelphia does, he's up there.

No, he's not on the same level as those two defencemen are. What he is though, is as valueable to Edmonton as those players are to their teams. He's just a whole lot less expensive in the grand scheme of things.

Outside of those players, the Oilers can move anyone on this team and I wouldn't mind. Granted, it would be nice if the return justified the moves, but if a shake-up is coming, some players will be moved just to move them.

I'm not holding onto the urgency to get Gagner, Cogliano or Grebeshkov to long terms deals because I feel, in todays NHL, there will be contracts out there every year that are bargains. Each of those contracts should be able to match the production those names will bring the Oilers..


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How Bad Is Khabibulin's Injury?

Nikolai Khabibulin is not in good shape. His back has been nagging him on and off for the last few days and the flare-ups are enough that the Oilers have decided to call up Devan Dubnyk from the AHL team.

Dubnyk, 23, has been sharp in the 18 games he has appeared in this season with a 9-8-1 record, 2.77 GAA and a .924 SV%, but he's no Khabibulin. Apparently, neither is Jeff Deslauriers, whom after speculation that he wasn't getting enough time to shine has been shaky in his last two performances.

News that Khabibulin may not be ready for Mondays game doesn't help matters much. Especially when victories for the Oilers seem hard to come by and every point in this difficult five game homestand count big time.

The good news, is that Khabibulin seems to think his back problems are not serious. Still, no official news has come out to the severity or an estimation about how much time he could possibly miss. Calling up Dubnyk tells us that the Oilers are concerned it could be a bit more serious than they'd hoped.

Is it long enough that the Oilers would consider trade possibilites to fill that number one position? No. Is it a major concern for a team that is now 9-11-3? Of course.

Deslauriers is expected to get the nod on Monday. I would guess that is the case even if Khabibulin says he's ready to go.


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Somebody's Getting Moved: Oilers Have to Do the Dirty Stuff to Win.

The Oilers were terrible on Saturday. We posted in a recent article that Saturdays this season haven't been kind to Edmonton; but what was a brutal loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, was not only embarrassing and more than a streak of bad luck Saturday games, but the foreshadowing of something big coming.

You don't have to watch very closely to see that all evidence or body language seems to point to a team that has given up hope. Yes, I said it and only 20 plus games into the season. The fact that I feel I have to is sad.

On their way to shattering NHL records for man games missed in a single season, it's as if the Oilers have decided that no amount of hustle or hard unskilled work to make up for the losses of key working-man's type players will make a difference, so why try?

It's a common theme in the "City of Champions". "We need to wait until the team is healthy before we assess what we really have." or "This team is more capable than it's showing." The problem is, this team will never be fully healthy and they are not as good as many fans might like to think.

Take a look at players like Patrick O'Sullivan. On more than one instance, but one in particular that caught the ire of CBC analysts Kelly Hrudey and Mike Millbury, O'Sullivan completely bailed on plays that would have resulted in more than a little extra effort to turn the tide of a sequence.

Unwilling to take the hit or block the shot, O'Sullivan and others on the Oilers roster simply aren't putting forth the type of effort that will win them hockey games with a depleted lineup. Even with a healthy roster, it's the style of play they want, but just not bad enough.

This fact, is something the coaching staff has noticed.

A coach and personality known to speak his mind, Pat Quinn laid into the team in a post-game presser calling the effort unintelligent. The kind of thinking that makes a team play like lambs instead of lions. "We can go out on the street and get lambs", Quinn added.

One has to wonder, if the same voices (Quinn and Renney) that press on players like Ales Hemsky and Mike Comrie, for their skilled but idiotic plays in important game situations and practices, let their opinions be known to the folks that can make decisions within the Oilers organization -- namely Steve Tambellini and Kevin Lowe, if something will get done.

Tamebellini has a great amount of respect for what Pat Quinn brings in terms of hockey smarts. So much so, that if a choice has to be made between the players or the coach, Tambellini may side with the coach. Something rare in todays game of superstars and egos.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Oilers don't really have any superstars, so anyone is fair game.

Sure, fans will be quick to suggest that an article like this is just evidence of a "sky is falling" mentality after a bad loss, but look closely into the comments Quinn made before season began and the team he chose to ice when the season started.

Would you have expected JF Jacques and Ryan Stone to be in the starting lineup playing significant minutes? Nope. No one did, except Pat Quinn who seemed to know his team wasn't nearly gritty enough.

Perhaps the sheer amount of losses that are piling up along side a team that has abandoned the style of play that got them their terrific start is enough to suggest that Tambellini needs to start shipping players down, up, or out.

The fast and skilled approach of the Oilers past isn't enough. Especially in a league where injuries and concussions seem to be more relevant. Perhaps the players feel it too and O'Sullivan's reaction is not something we're going to see for the last time.


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