The Edmonton Oilers Just Won, But I Didn’t Recall Anyone’s Name Being Mentioned. an article by "The Prof"

Well, the Oilers are one game under 500. I just finished watching the game between the Oilers and the Stars, and here is my dilemma. I don’t know who led the Oilers to victory. Honest. I heard Dustin Penner’s name often – but perhaps I am biased. I really want him to get points – something to do with that Heatley “thing.” But Penner got no points and looked dis-jointed in the shootout. Cogliano seemed to be leading the charge up and down the ice, but he too had no points.

I did notice that Souray blasted some shots on goal during the power play. I see from the box score that Brule and Gagner had lots of time on the ice – and Horcoff had almost 22 minutes; but, I barely heard their names. Honest. The only Oiler’s name I heard consistently was Jeff Deslauriers – who, according to my ears, was the best Oiler today.

So the Oilers got a victory in Dallas – a place where they have only won 4 times in their last 26 games. But, what really am I to make of the game? That the Oilers don’t need Hemsky all that much? That their goal tending is workable – except for an odd off game or two? That a TEAM – not a group of individual stars – can actually win games? I have a lot of questions, and perhaps it will take a couple games to actually see a pattern.

Even the person who named the game’s Three Stars picked Neal, Smid, and Benn. Obviously, he didn’t hear many Oilers’ names either; and, like me, got caught up in the fact that Ladislav Smid – and how can you not love this young guy, really – got his first goal in like 150 games. I got caught up in that!

Anyway, knowing the Oilers, my guess is that they will break my heart over the next week or two by going into the dumps. Then again, there is a chance that I might be wrong – just this one time. Perhaps the fact that I didn’t hear any Oilers’ names is a good thing. Maybe everyone is beginning to play with some spunk – and specific Oilers are not named – either in a good or bad way.

I did notice the play in the Stars’ end a lot today – especially during the last two periods. By the end of Period One, I was thinking – here we go again. But during Period Three, I somehow just expected the Oilers to score – they were playing in the Stars’ end that much.

Ok guys! You are making me think that something good might be starting to happen. I hope I don’t hear any more of your names over the next week – and you keep winning. I know these are games on the road – but Florida, Tampa Bay, and St. Louis at least give you a shot at being above 500 when you come home!

Could this be the start of a run? GO you No-Names, GO!


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Oilers Shoot from 15th to 12th in the West. What's Next?

The sky is falling in Edmonton, or at least that's what fans, writers and popular opinion around the city seems to suggest.

That is until the Oilers laid a beating on last year Stanley Cup finalists the Detroit Red Wings.

Edmonton was simply a better team, out-shooting the Red Wings in every period, out-working the Red Wings and their players, especially their goaltending, was better. This looked like a Detroit team that is currently sitting on the outside of the playoffs looking in. But this did not look like an Oiler team a the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

So what gives?

How can a team full of injuries, lacking superstars, and full of AHL players beat a team with elite level talent like that of the Detroit Red Wings? "Crust".

It's been a long time since the Oilers can say they produced the kind of "crust" Pat Quinn said this team would have. With the return of Ryan Stone, JF Jacques and the emergence of Ryan Potulny and Gilbert Brule, the Oilers finally seemed to come out with the attitude that to win this game, they'd have to do the things Detroit wasn't willing to.

For Edmonton to be successful in spite of the hurdles facing them, that attitude will not only have to continue, it will have to become their montra.

Players like Robert Nilsson, who returned to the lineup after missing significant time with a concussion, will have to play more than the skill he was gifted with. He'll need to use that skill (which he did, scoring one of the prettiest goals so far this NHL season), and find a second gear in terms of overall teamwork and effort and bring it to the rink every night. He did that against Detroit and it showed.

Patrick O'Sullivan will have to continue to get lucky bounces to get him off of the snake-bitten path. Even lousy goals can boost a players confidence and overall output. Thursdays game showed just how much. He showed effort which was virtually invisible over the past five or six games.

Others will need to continue to step up aswell, because despite how little it would take to go from 15th to 12th, and then say 12th to 8th, with a 5-1 or 6-2 run, the Oilers with lacking games at hand could see the opposite happen if they stand-pat and others develop streaks of their own.


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Realistic Options for Next Season: Is a Team Blow Up Easier Said Than Done?

David Staples brought to attention an interesting scenario should the Oilers decide that a rebuild becomes priority #1. I'm not sure I'm necessarily ready to write-off this season yet, but in all reality, one has to notice that the Oilers chances of a post-season spot get slimmer and slimmer each passing day.

Staples talked about how, should the Oilers choose, to move contracts the average fans seems to call impossible to move. Most think that high-priced, long-term contracts in todays NHL are something each team will be stuck with. Staples makes a case that we may be assuming too much.

What I found most interesting about David Staples "expired contract" theory, is that in his list of players for each team whose contracts are coming due, there are a number of players that might be possible, if not easier more attractive targets for the Edmonton Oilers next season than what this season offers.

Most of us shutter at the thought of moving Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky, Nikolai Khabibulin or others, simply because on an Edmonton team full of rookies and inconsistencies, they seem the most stable.

Staples did an excellent job at explaining how it would be possible to move those names, so I won't get into it here, but would you feel more at ease with their exits if players like Joe Corvo, Adrian Aucoin, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Anton Volchenkov, Evgeni Nabokov, Martin Biron or others became available to take their place?

I'm not suggesting by any means that these players are shoe-ins as available to Edmonton, nor will their respective teams not do everything in their power to keep some of them. In fact, I'll be honest, many of them are not really options here in Edmonton.

That said, some of them are bound to find new homes and for Edmonton to be more successful than they are now, they don't need to attract all of those players. They need one, maybe two at best to compliment a group of young prospects that could be close to making the jump to the NHL, while at the same time making salary space for the many expiring contracts the Oilers currently see coming due.

Consider what happened this past summer with teams who filled their rosters with what many considered "spare parts" after the initial crop of big name free agents moved. Phoenix, Colorado, Atlanta and others have made the practice of waiting not only feasible, but successful.

Consider too that a lot of those teams that made big splashes over the past couple years no longer have the room to make splashes again. Those teams that drafted well are now paying for the skill they've drafted and other teams can't afford to keep expiring contracts because they have too much tied up in their current rosters.

Case in point in San Jose. Unless either Marleau or Nabokov are willing to take larger pay-cuts to stay with the Sharks, the potential for San Jose to afford both players becomes difficult. They have Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, Rob Blake and others they'd either have to work out deals with, let go or trade to make it work. Of course, Marleau and Nabokov are having stellar years so they'll be worth top dollar on the open market.

There are other teams in a similar situation, but my point is more if they Oilers can clean house or at least move one or two big money contracts at the deadline for expiring deals, who might I consider a good pick for Edmonton once the dust settles?

Ray Whitney

He's a short-term solution at his age, but that's exactly what Edmonton needs at this juncture. While the young guys develop their game, who better than a local veteran like Ray Whitney, who might be allowed to slip away from a team in Carolina far worse off than the Oilers are.

A local product, it might make sense that Whitney spend the last one or two years on of his career in his home town. The team that picks up Whitney should get him at a discount if he doesn't stay with the Hurricanes and he's bound to net you 15-20 goals a season easily.

Carolina won't make the playoffs and they'll be a seller at the deadline. Pick up a player like Whitney and convince him to sign for one year at an affordable rate.

Tomas Holmstrom

I made a case a while back that it would have been nice to see the Oilers make a play to trade for the grizzly forward. Holmstrom was coming off a poorer season and might have been had for a good price thanks to Detroits desire to make Johan Franzen that guy.

However, with the injury to Franzen, Holmstrom has stepped up and proved how valueable an asset he can be.

Still, with a returning Franzen and a crop of young kids in Detroit's farm system, Holmstrom may choose to either a) finish his career in Detroit at a discounted rate or b) go for one or two more good years of revenue with a team willing to pay something for what he brings.

Detroit seems to be a team that takes on short-term inexpensive contracts to compliment a core of long-term players. At Holmstrom's pace, he'll get offers higher than $2.25 million and it won't likely be Detroit offering it. Edmonton could pony up $3 million per and for a guy with the size of the heart Holmstrom has, he'd be worth it.

Holmstrom won't be going anywhere at the deadline, but at the start of free agency, he could be one of those surprises that takes a while to get signed.

Marc-Andre Bergeron

No one seems to want to keep this kid, yet every year he proves that in the right situations he can be a real asset to a team. He was good in Edmonton on the powerplay and he's been good there in Montreal since they picked him up last minute thanks to injuries.

People seem to think Bergeron is a terribly horrid defensive player, and it might be true that he's not considered a shut-down guy, but he's a respectable plus/minus -1 on a Montreal team that gets scored on frequently.

Frankly I find Bergeron a better investment for my money at $750,000 than I do Gilbert at $4 million and Grebeshkov at $3.2 million. When Bergeron signs again for less than $1 million for whatever team he's shipped to next, I'll still feel that way knowing a reliable offensive d-man at his price allows for investment in other areas.

Martin Biron or Evgeni Nabokov

If the Oilers can successfully move Khabibulin, perhaps they can get the goalie situation right this time around. It's not that I don't like Khabibulin. I have to admit, much like Roloson before him, he's done his job and then some to keep the Oilers in games.

However, by next season the Oilers should know if either Dubnyk or Deslauriers are items you keep or items you discard. If they discard both, make your big splash in net with a tender like Nabokov. He turns 35 literally 24 days after free agency opens, so his cap hit won't hurt the Oilers if he retires early and he's still good for a 4 or 5 year contract. Offer more money than San Jose can afford and he might be attainable.

If you keep one of Deslaurier or Dubnyk, go with another starter/back-up who can compliment who you keep but at a less expensive rate than $3.75 million per season.

Staples mentions Vesa Toskala, Marty Turco, Dan Ellis, Chris Mason, Jose Theodore, and Biron as potential goalies to hit the market. Like this past summer, there may be more goalies available than there are spots to put them and while many of the goalies on that list haven't played the amount of games Khabibulin has, their numbers are as good or better in many cases.

Other Notables:

Robert Lang and Manny Malhotra - Should have been offered a try-out by Edmonton at the very least. Perhaps Edmonton will realize that ignoring a need to start next season isn't wise. A partial blow-up to give them room to even do that is a valid reason.

Doug Weight - Seems to like NYI, but might make a move for a few extra bucks. He's still extremly valueable and a great mentor with a team first attitude.

Adrian Aucoin - Veteran d-man who can play defence, but has a rocket of a shot from the point. Great example for others in the lockerroom too. Potential captain if the Oilers could move Moreau and Souray.

There are a lot of options out there to end this season and start 2010. Should the Oilers not unload some players and big money contracts, options won't exist in Edmonton.

But then again, what do I know. The way Edmonton currently runs this team and how I would are two completely different things and have been for a long time.


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Did the Oilers Keep the Wrong Piece of the Cole Trade?

At the deadline in last seasons race to the playoffs (which the Oilers missed), Erik Cole was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for Patrick O'Sullivan and a 2nd round pick.

That 2nd rounder was then moved to Buffalo for Ales Kotalik.

During the offseason, the Edmonton Oilers had some tough decisions to make. With too many contracts, not enough salary cap space and a team in the New York Rangers who were willing to offer up more for Kotalik than the Oilers figured he was worth, Edmonton chose to keep Patrick O'Sullivan for his skill as a shooter, versatile style and two-way defensive play.

By all accounts, moving Cole was the right thing to do even though it fell under some harsh criticism. Cole was becoming a UFA, there was value for him on the trade market and he was having a less than stellar year for Edmonton.

Take a look at his numbers in Carolina this season, and you'll quickly realize dumping Cole for what the Oilers were able to obtain was impressive.

The problem is in Patrick O'Sullivan's play. To say the least, he's been less than what the Oilers expected from a shooter, having scored to date only 4 goals and 13 points in 27 games. To boot, for a defensive specialist, O'Sullivan's plus/minus - 11 is cause for concern.

O'Sullivan looked to be ready for a great season having sparked chemistry with Mike Comrie in pre-season, but Comrie has run into illness issues for most if not all of the regular season, so that chemistry never carried over. O'Sullivan has been unable to find that kind of chemistry with any other current forward on the Oilers roster and Edmontonians seem to be just waiting for something positive to come from O'Sullivan's game.

Meanwhile, over in New York, Kotalik is making a case that the Oilers made an error in judgement. Kotalik, who took off on a tear to start the season, and while he's since slowed along side the rest of the Ranger (less of course Gaborik, who's been a stud) still has 6 goals and 18 points in 26 games.

Those numbers themselves are not all that impressive and an argument can be made that Kotalik's 0% faceoff percentage can gladly stay in New York as can his plus/minus - 12. The difference I suppose being that Kotalik was never seen as a strong defensive presence, while O'Sullivan was to provide that style of smart two-way hockey.

Knowing what the Oilers seem to see now, would they have been better served to keep a proven one-trick pony in Kotalik?

It's a debate that likely wouldn't find many people in agreement, but it strikes an interesting question.

What is it about tracking back the pieces of that trade, that make everyone involved in it's plot-line a much worse player for having been connected to it?


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What Does Savards Contract Tell Us About the Oilers?

As is being reported by TSN, The Boston Bruins and forward Marc Savard have agreed on a seven-year contract extension with an annual cap hit of around $4.2 million per year.

By all accounts, that is a terrific deal for the Boston Bruins, who now have on a long term deal, one of the top set-up men in the league. Savard has averaged 67 assists and almost 90 points per year over the last four seasons.

If we can switch gears and use this news to read into the Oilers roster, what does a signing like this tell us?

One, it seems as though Savard likes it in Boston and wanted to stay there. He must know, that this contract is valued lower than he could have received on the open market. We'll keep that in mind as we look a little closer.

Two, it tells us, that in an NHL that is leary to continue to hand out bigger contracts, Savards deal may be more the furture of the NHL, than the Pronger, Gaborik or Ovechkin type deals.

With the sheer amount of contracts coming due for the Edmonton Oilers, should the Oilers be happy that Savard signed at such a low rate? Unless they wanted to grab Savard off the free agent list this next summer, absolutely.

Edmonton doesn't haven't have a single player at the level of skill that Savard provides the Bruins. With every player that signs a contract with a team at a lower rate, Edmonton's chances of keeping players like Brule, Gagner, Cogliano and others within the organization and at affordable rates increases.

When in the past keeping a Brule would have been like keeping a Nilsson, perhaps now a reasonable number might be $1.3 - $1.6 million a season. When keeping a Gagner would have been like keeping a Patrick Sharp (I'm not comparing these two players, just possibly their importance to their respective teams), what would have cost the Oilers $3 million a season, might only cost them $2.4-$2.6.

All of this is of course guess work and depends a lot on the seasons that these players in question have through the rest of this year. It also matters how other contracts around the league are handled (ie. Chicago and Kane, Toews and Keith), but for every Savard contract that comes to the forefront, the Oilers should be able to negotiate a much fairer value for the players they would like to keep.

Of course it makes trading the crappy contracts harder, but that's another story for a different day.


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When Do The Oilers Look at Their List of RFA's?

Jay over at brought up an interesting point that I was already starting to wonder about. With the rash of injuries to some of the Oilers top players, new faces will be playing major roles in any success the Oilers might have.

As Tambellini said at practice on Monday, this is an "opportunity" for some of the young core. But at what cost does this opportunity come?

Players like Gilbert Brule, who after coming to Edmonton in a trade with the Blue Jackets, was given time to progress his game in the minors at an acceptable rate. It's a good thing he did, because as we can all see, having Brule at the top of his game is now of critical importance for the Oilers to have any success and turn a sinking ship around. No Hemsky, Comrie and a weak Horcoff, make Brule much more important offensively.

The problem becomes Brule's contract status at the end of the year. Excellent offensive numbers breed a big fat juicy contract and this relationship isn't something the Oilers are new to.

If Brule gets key ice time in important situations and first line time on the powerplay, it's bound to show an improvement in his final season offensive statistics. Much higher than he would have if players like Hemsky and Comrie who'd have taken his place in those roles weren't injured.

Brule seemed to be the type of player that might get Edmonton 20 goals this season on the third line. If he stays top line with Penner, he could get 30-35. Look around the NHL and you'll start to get an idea of what a 30 goal scorer might make.

Of course, with one good 30 goal season, a $3 million player isn't a given. At least not in todays tightly wound salary cap NHL. Even better, at least not anywhere but Edmonton.

Fernando Pisani got 14 goals in the playoffs after an 18 goal season. Even though he had never scored more than 16 goals in any other season previous, the Oilers rewarded him with a fat contract. We wish Pisani the best in his recovery, but the Oilers are likely waiting to get that contract off the books.

Shawn Horcoff provides a lot more than offense. I understand that when I say the following, yet Horcoff had one season where he was almost a point-per-game player. He also had one half a season along the same lines until he went down with a massive shoulder injury that still plagues him. Instead of playing it cautiously, the Oilers went ahead and rewarded Horcoff with a massive overpayment that is of course, still topic of conversation around Edmonton.

Tom Gilbert had one 13 goal rookie season as a defenceman. He was rewarded with a six-year $24 million contract.

These and others could be examples of either bad management decisions, or they could be a sign that all of these players play in a city that has trouble keeping players. Whatever the case, even with a blatantly obvious NHL that is scared to death of the salary cap, the Oilers overpay.

What should we expect for players like Gilbert Brule, Ryan Potulny, JF Jacques, Sam Gagner and others who are all RFA's at the end of this season and finding the perfect timing to earn bigger money contracts?

To this point, only Andrew Cogliano seems to be going at a slower pace than in previous years, but his play has started to pickup a bit too. There is no way, that with what the Oilers have committed to players currently on the roster, they can keep all of these RFA's should they have career years. And, career years are exactly what almost all of them will have.

Injuries aren't just bad timing in terms of wins and losses. They can be terrible timing in terms of players progressing at a typical NHL rate if they play where they should play on their teams depth charts. With the Oilers depth charts all out of whack, the salaries players will "earn" are headed in an odd direction.

The Oilers are going to quickly need to decide which of the many contracts they'll want to keep and which they can afford to let go. Which should be priority and which will not. Which players currently under contract can go and which must stay.

The Oilers have been faced with these decisions before and players with the success of a Curtis Glencross, have come back to bite Edmonton in the keester.

More importantly, the Oilers will need to decide when to get these contracts signed so as best to get good value for their dollar. If they do this incorrectly, players like Svennson, Eberle and others, who in 3 years will be worth something, are going to be looking at the same situation.


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Time to Think and Back to the Drawing Board for The Edmonton Oilers

While the shot counter was deceivingly close, the Oilers were bombed in a 7-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on the first of a long road trip. This loss, puts the Oilers at an embarassing third from last in the Western Conference above only Anaheim and Minnesota, both of whom have 3 games at hand on Edmonton.

This has not been the best of times, as the Oilers are now 4-11-3 in their last 18 games. Add to that, in those last 18 games, the Oilers have lost the services of Ales Hemsky, Nikolai Khabibulin, Fernando Pisani, Mike Comrie, Denis Grebeshkov and others who are important pieces to most Oiler victories.

So what can Edmonton do? Well they can take 5 full days before they head into Detroit (a team they were able to get two points against), to take stock of what this team is actually made of.

This isn't just a time for the players to reflect and look at just how much each individual will have to step up their game to pick up the slack left by the missing ingredients, but a time for management and coaches to really have a good talk about what this team isn't.

The Oilers, even without key injuries are not a complete team. They lack major pieces that allow them to be a competitive squad.

Even in some of the few hard fought victories the Oilers have managed to squeeze out, they continue to get out-shot, lose faceoffs, get out-chanced and play catch up in terms of special teams. Management did very little to address those needs over the summer and 5 days, is a long time to make a lot of phone calls to see if that can be changed.

Where do the Oilers look for solutions? Is it there goaltending? Deslauriers is now playing as many games as a starter would and he's showing he may not be able to handle the load. There are viable goalies out there to be had that weren't scooped up over the summer and a few teams like the Islanders who picked up one too many, knowing that at some point a team might come calling.

How about the team depth? The Oilers are made up of half a team of proven vets, many of whom are either too old or too highly paid, the other half is an AHL team getting an opportunity to show their stuff in the bigs. Good for the kids, but maybe some of that veteran depth has to go. If you're forced to go youth, go youth all the way.

Maybe, the team takes stock of their long term injury situation and judges how far they can possibly climb up the standings once those injuries heal. Will it be too little too late? If so, does a team plan for a high draft pick by making subtle moves to ensure it's a lottery pick?

I hate the idea of tanking a season, but you have to examine the reality of a situation.

Or, perhaps the Oilers take 5 days and get themselves pumped to turn this sinking ship around.

There is still plenty of hockey and a 12-4-2 type roll, which is close to how a young, injured group of players finished a couple of seasons ago isn't out the question and would put the Oilers back in the mix.

There are some positives. Penner hasn't stopped being this amazing turn-around story. He's still a point-per-game player and he's bringing up players like Brule to his level. Gagner could shine in a more involved first line role and their are subtle trades that exist in todays NHL that could make a world of difference.


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