Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Farewell, Robbie

As Oilers fans have surely heard by now, Robbie Schremp was claimed off waivers by the New York Islanders today.

For a team sorely lacking in front-end offensive talent, Schremp will almost certainly play on one of the top two lines -- perhaps even on the top line with Doug Weight and Jonathon Tavares.

For some Oilers fans, the loss of Schremp will seem like no big deal. After five years of trying and failing to make the big club, something eventually had to give for a player of Schremp's talents. For Oilers fans who remember Schremp's spectacular skill level, the loss is a bitter one indeed.

If Schremp is successful playing for the Islanders, many Oilers fans will justifiably be left wondering what could have been.

Now that Schremp has packed his bags for Long Island, the Oilers would do well at this point to rid them of another player who has failed to earn himself a spot in the lineup this year. In all the preliminary line combinations being tested in practice at this point, Robert Nilsson isn't in any of them.

It's time for the Oilers to cut their losses with the player and trade him. Garth Snow not only has a roster spot for the Islanders draft pick, but may even remember the potent combination Nilsson and Schremp made when they played together for the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins in 2006/07.

Oilers fans should wish each player the best, but the time for each player to move on from the Oilers has clearly come.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Four Words: Assistant Coach Adam Oates

After last night's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Oilers' most glaring deficiencies should be immediately apparent to head coach Pat Quinn:

Faceoffs and the power play.

The Oilers had two power play opportunities in over time to win the game -- at that point tied at 3 apiece -- only to fold on a Tampa Bay powerplay with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game.

There was, however, a bigger story behind it. While the Oilers gave up two power play goals -- both to Martin St Louis -- they also gave up two goals off of clean faceoff losses.

To say that the Oilers were atrocious on face offs would be an understatement. It would be difficult to remember a draw that the Oilers did win, as opposed to just the many, many, many that they lost.

The Oilers faceoff numbers are as bad as they've ever been. But they haven't always been this way.

When the Oilers made their march all the way to the Stanley Cup final in 2006, they did it partially on the back of faceoff domination. Shawn Horcoff, Mike Peca, Jarret Stoll, and (prior to his deadline trade) Marty Reasoner had the faceoff dot on lockdown that season.

The Oilers' faceoff domination was no coincidence. During the previous 2003-04 season (the 04-05 season was scrubbed due to lock out) the Oilers made a mid-season addition in form of the now-retired Adam Oates. Oates' addition to the team proved to be a revelation for the team's core of centremen. Over the next year Horcoff and Stoll, in particular, made huge strides toward being first- and second-line centres (the late-season addition of Petr Nedved certainly couldn't have hurt, either).

The Oilers' current crop of centremen -- in particular Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule -- have the potential to become excellent face-off men in their own right. In particular, many players have remarked on Cogliano's improved strength -- a real asset in the face-off circle.

Adding Adam Oates to Edmonton's admittedly already-crowded coaching staff could be a big help in this regard.

But if Pat Quinn and Steve Tambellini are thinking about making this addition, they need to move fast. Oates has been working the Tampa Bay Lightning training camp as a power play coach, and has expressed interest in staying with the team if he gets an offer.

If he gets an offer to come to Edmonton and step behind the bench with the Oilers first, they just might be able to lure him away.

There's little question that they desperately need the help.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Last Chances

When the Oilers face the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight, Robbie Schremp and Jordan Eberle will skate on the second line with Dustin Penner.

After a strong pre-season (and in particular a strong performance in a game given by the referee to the Calgary Flames), Dustin Penner has very likely punched his ticket to be on one of the Oilers' top six lines.

Neither Robbie Schremp nor Jordan Eberle have done that, realistically.

Eberle has certainly played strongly. He's set up magnificent scoring opportunities, and earned some opportunities of his own.

His problem is that he has yet to finish on any of them, suggesting that he may not be quite ready for prime time just yet -- but watch out when he is!

Even with this being the case, he may have earned a spot to at least stay with the team, but the playing time in Regina would likely benefit him much more, as opposed to sitting in the press box waiting for Ales Hemsky or Patrick O'Sullivan to get hurt.

This being said, tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning will be Joran Eberle's last chance to show Pat Quinn and Tom Renney that he deserves to stay with the team, but only for this season. He'll get another chance next year.

Likely no so for Robbie Schremp. Schremp has been trying and failing to make the Oilers for six years now, and in recent seasons his case has seemed utterly futile -- despite being given good opportunities by the coaching staff, Schremp has been largely invisible all through this year's training camp.

He seemed to have turned a corner in four games with the Oilers last season, posting three assists in that stretch, but that promise seems like it has yet to return. If Schremp can't post a strong performance in Winnipeg tonight the time has certainly come to cut him loose.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lubo's Back

As the Oilers get set to take on Jonathon Tavares and the New York Islanders for the second time this pre-season -- this time in Saskatoon -- Oilers fans are finally hearing the big news they've waited for since February:

Lumbomir Visnovsky is back.

Visnovsky is expected to play against Tavares and the Islanders tonight. He may even be playing alongside Taylor Chorney once again -- Chorney, as some may recall, played on a pairing with Lubo during the 2008-09 pre-season.

Jordan Eberle returns to Saskatchewan once again, to play up the highway from his hometown of Regina -- where he also played the last three seasons for the Pats.

The Credit Union Centre, home to the Saskatoon Blades, should prove to be a more familiar setting for Eberle. This may have come at just the right time for Eberle. Although Eberle has played strongly during this pre-season, he's clearly running out of chances to show head coach Pat Quinn that he belongs on this team.

By the time the Oilers play their final pre-season game against the Vancouver Canucks on September 27th they'll be icing close to their full lineup.

And while Eberle can count on being among the final players deliberated on by Quinn and Associate Coach Tom Renney -- Chorney and Robbie Schremp will likely be among them as well -- there's no time like the present for Eberle to solidify his place on this team.

Also returning to familiar territory is Brock, Saskatchewan's Steve MacIntyre. One can expect the admittedly-unlikely NHLer to receive a resounding welcome, perhaps even with a significant contingent from his hometown.

But there's little question that the big story for Oilers fans tonight is the return of Lubomir Visnovsky.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Now to Not Beat the Canucks

There is generally considered to be a way to beat Roberto Luongo and a way to not beat Roberto Luongo.

The former is shots. Lots of them. Quality shots.

The latter is the course the Oilers followed tonight, and the results largely speak for themselves.

The Oilers managed only 24 shots on Roberto Luongo tonight, with only one of them -- a wrist shot by Sheldon Souray -- making it into the net. There was no shortage of shot attempts, but far too many of them were fired wide.

In particular, if Jordan Eberle wants to be a full-time Edmonton Oiler this year he'd better start cashing in on more of his opportunities. Like in his last game against the Islanders, Eberle missed the net on two glorious opportunities. Pre-season jitters or no pre-season jitters, players who pass up their scoring opportunities don't get many to play.

It's as simple as that.

As for other players quickly playing themselves out of a roster spot, Robert Nilsson took an early penalty on the Canucks blueline which resulted in a goal by Alexander Edler.

With the Oilers top six looking awfully crowded, Nilsson may have effectively played himself out of a job by now. There appears to be significant chemistry between Mike Comrie and Patrick O'Sullivan and with Shawn Horcoff looking as if he may return to offensive form, Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner and Dustin Penner just might squeeze Nilsson out off the top lines.

Once one considers playing Nilsson on the third or fourth line they can safely rule it out -- Nilsson's defensive play doesn't justify playing him ahead of Fernando Pisani or even Zach Stortini.

Even if Eberle makes the team at this point it will likely be as a spare forward. This simply leaves Nilsson without any role on this team -- and perhaps, very quickly, a spot on the trading block.

Jeff-Drouin Deslauriers' full 60 minutes of play (minus whatever time the Oilers played with an empty net) may indicate that he's edged out Devan Dubnyk to be the Oilers backup goaltender.

The Oilers power play tonight was as bad as its ever been. The old habit of being handed an extended power play only to waste it chasing the puck around in their own end seems to have reemerged -- the tuteledge of Pat Quinn seems to have done little to end this particular habit.

At the very least one can hope that when the two rosters are merged and the wheat separated from the chaff that a full complement of offensive players will make for a better power play.

On With the Show, This Is It

The Edmonton Oilers will face their first real test of the pre-season tonight as they face off against the Vancouver Canucks.

The Oilers will deploy a lineup featuring Ales Hemsky, Ethan Moreau, Dustin Penner, Ladislav Smid, Sheldon Souray, Robert Nilsson, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Denis Grebeshkov against a Canucks lineup loaded up with Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Mark Parrish, Ryan Kesler, Alex Edler, Darcy Hordichuk, Mikael Samuelsson, Brad Lukowich, Kyle Wellwood and Roberto Luongo.

In other words, the pre-season shoe may finally be on the other foot. The Oilers are facing a lineup loaded with more regular NHLers, not to mention the man who could be the best goaltender in the NHL in any given season (Luongo's playoff collapse against the Chicago Blackhawks notwithstanding).

Whether the Oilers win or lose tonight, this game will finally give Oilers fans a better indication of wether or not Pat Quinn's presence behind the Edmonton bench is making a difference for this team so far.

To date the Oilers have enjoyed the luxury of playing teams featuring mostly AHLers and third- or fourth-line NHLers. Tonight marks their first foray against serious competition in the Pat Quinn era.

Hopefully, they're up to the challenge.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Keep It Up

To pretend that tonight's game against the Florida Panthers was about much of anything other than Mike Comrie re-earning the respect and adulation of Oilers fans would be purely foolish.

If Comrie continues to play the way he did tonight he will win Oilers fans back in spades. Notching four assists in a shutout over the Panthers, Comrie left Oilers fans chanting his name.

Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising.

Part of the anger Oilers fans felt after Comrie's holdout (and subsequent trade) was derived from the fact that, as a hometown boy, Comrie is a player Oilers fans wanted to love. That Comrie could so casually make the decision that playing for the Oilers wasn't worth putting his pride second to the team certainly left a sour taste in many Oilers fans -- like a smitten high schooler embittered because the object of his affection won't date him if he isn't on the football team.

If Comrie maintains this blistering scoring pace -- six points (all assists) in two games -- Oilers fans will come to adore him again. Nothing wins over the Heartland like a winner.

Patrick O'Sullivan also continued his rehabilitation as an Oiler, Scoring a goal and assisting on a tally by Jean-Francois Jacques. With three goals and an assist in the preseason, his total through two games of play nearly matches what he accomplished in 19 games last season, when he scored six points throughout the crucial stretch drive.

Shawn Horcoff and Taylor Chorney had the other two goals for the Oilers. Ryan Stone had two assists and Tom Gilbert also chipped in a helper.

Next to Comrie's sparkling play, the other big story in tonight's game was the debut of Nikolai Khabibulin in the Oilers net. While not nearly as busy as Tomas Vokoun was for the Panthers -- Khabibulin faced 18 shots while Vokoun stared down 34 of 38 shots -- a shutout is precisely how one has to imagine Khabibulin wanted to start his career as an Edmonton Oiler.

If Comrie hadn't been so dominant tonight -- although the Panthers iced a lack-lustre lineup featuring only Brian McCabe, Jordan Leopold, Cory Stillman and Steven Reinprecht as notables -- Khabibulin's shutout likely would have been the big story. But, as has to date become thematic this preseason, the Oilers have shown they can emerge victorious over less skilled and experienced competition.

Tomorrow night's game against the Vancouver Canucks will likely be very, very different. Ales Hemsky and company will now face the task of continuing a (to date) undefeated preseason.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pat Quinn's Promise to Oilers Fans

The following is the text from Pat Quinn's pre-game speech aired before the Oilers/Islanders game last night:

"Hello, I'm Pat Quinn, head coach for your Edmonton Oilers.

This is your team, and everything we do we do it for you -- our fans.

I can't sit here and make any promises about the post-season, but I can promise you this: we will play tough. We will show grit. And we will highlight the skill on this team.

And on every night, even when we're tired and it's cold, I promise you this:

This team will compete.

And when we do this, everything else will fall into place.

We will be taking on the world, starting October 3rd.

Hopefully, Oilers fans will be able to say a definitive "amen" to that.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Oilers Pull It Out in Third Period

The first 48 minutes of tonight's game didn't look especially good for the Edmonton Oilers.

Certainly, there were some good things about it: for one thing, Jordan Eberle's play. He didn't score any goals or rack up any assists, but he did create several quality scoring opportunities -- including an early shot that rang off the goalpost.

The first 6:39 of the game were especially bad, as the Oilers were severely out-played by the Islanders. Perhaps the Isles were energized by the long-awaited presence of Jonathon Tavares in their lineup (playing alongside Doug Weight), or perhaps the Oilers -- icing many more veterans and stars than their opponents -- simply came to the rink with a false sense of security.

The play of Islanders goaltender Nathan Lawson was certainly a factor, as he turned away a golden opportunity by Ales Hemsky, and stoned the Oilers power play on four separate occasions throughout the first two periods.

When the Oilers finally tied the game it game on a goal by Dustin Penner. A few minutes later Sam Gagner smuggled a backhand shot behind Lawson to pull ahead.

The Islanders would tie the game again on a wrist shot, only to have Sheldon Souray chug into the slot and score the game winning goal on a backhander.

Gagner and Souray both also notched assists to have a two-point night, and Andrew Cogliano, Robbie Nilsson and Hemsky also put up assists.

This Oilers squad -- the only two players to compete in last night's game were Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers -- at least doesn't seem to have the penalty troubles that the road squad seems to have.

Souray dominated the puck, firing several heavy bombs off the point (including one almost directly into the Islanders' Richard Park). If he maintains his pace tonight throughout the season, Souray may eclipse the 26 goals he scored for the Montreal Canadiens in 2006-07.

But, again, the competition tonight was far from NHL-calibre. Jordan Eberle managed to outshine Jonathon Tavares as the best player on the ice -- better even than Hemsky -- but one shouldn't necessarily expect that to continue as the Oilers face tougher and tougher competition as the pre-season progresses.

One should remember also that the Oilers will face the Islanders again, in Saskatoon, later in the preseason. That will be a big game for Eberle, as it's just up the highway from his hometown of Regina.

Welcome to the NHL, Jonathon Tavares -- Hope You Survive the Experience!

The Edmonton Oilers will welcome 1st overall draft pick Jonathon Tavares to Rexall Place tonight, as he plays in his first ever NHL game.

Alongside Tavares will be Doug Weight, the highest-scoring active former Oiler in the league today, as well as the last Oiler to amass more than 100 points in a season.

Absent from the lineup will be Dwayne Roloson, who signed with the Islanders in the off-season, and will be duking it out with Martin Biron to decide who will play more games behind Rick DiPietro -- and who replace him if (more likely when) he gets hurt.

Richard Park, Andy Sutton and Jon Sim are the other Islanders of note in the lineup. This may allow an Oilers lineup stacked with Ales Hemsky, Sheldon Souray, Sam Gagner, Robbie Nilsson, Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner, Ladislav Smid and Fernando Pisani to drum up some illusions of dominant grandeur before facing more serious competition later in the pre-season.

Also dressing for the New York Islanders will be Robin Figren. Some may remember Figren as the Edmonton Oil King who dazzled for Sweden at the 2008 World Junior Championships.

But unquestionably all eyes will be on Jonathon Tavares tonight. Big, big things are expected of Tavares in Long Island, as they look to rebuild their franchise around him and try to recapture the heady glories once enjoyed there by Mike Bossy and Denis Potvin (among others).

It will be a long and arduous rebuilding process for the Islanders, who seem to abandon the "Oilers 2.0" theme of the past couple of seasons when they employed Weight, Bill Guerin, Miroslav Satan, Marc-Andre Bergeron and current Oiler Mike Comrie with their team.

Tavares may be the first realistic shot the Islanders have had for a while of developing a superstar all their own, and launching an "Islanders 2.0" program that is sorely long overdue.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Patty O's Big Night

Pat Quin and Tom Renney's debut behind the Oilers bench has come off perfectly, as the Oilers claimed a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames.

To be fair, the Flames regulars in the lineup were limited to Dustin Boyd, Jamie Lundmark, Kyle Greentree and David Moss. Meanwhile, the Oilers iced a lineup featuring Patrick O'Sullivan, Steve Staios, Shawn Horcoff, Mike Comrie, Zach Stortini, Tom Gilbert, Jason Strudwick and team captain Ethan Moreau. But every win in the Battle of Alberta counts.

In particular, Patrick O'Sullivan had a big night with two goals.

Tom Gilbert had a power play marked for the Oil and Shawn Horcoff finished the game with an empty netter.

Jason Jaffray responded for Calgary.

Mike Comrie had two assists, and Gilbert had a helper as well. Alex Plante, Robbie Schremp and Ryan Stone rounded out the other assists.

Mike Comrie seemed to have winning back Oilers finds on his mind as he worked hard, produced several scoring opportunities (and arguably scored one of O'Sullivan's goals).

If the Oilers had any problems tonight, it was the number of penalties they took. Playing against a lineup of minor leaguers and third- and fourth-line players, the Oil had no business giving up seven power plays.

O'Sullivan's two goals tonight equal what he scored in 19 games with the Oilers last season.

Then again, hopefully Pat QUinn and Tom Renney will wait to see how O'Sullivan plays against more NHL regulars later in the preseason before committing to giving him a spot on the top line alongside Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.

Comrie to Re-debut in Cowtown

Oilers fans tuning into the webcast of tonight's preseason opener against the Calgary Flames -- streamed on the Oilers website for those not in the know -- may be disappointed at the absence of Nikolai Khabibulin in net.

But for those few who have awaited the return of Mike Comrie, tonight's game will certainly hold some interest. Comrie will centre Patrick O'Sullivan and Ryan Stone on the Oilers second line, just behind the top line combination of Shawn Horcoff, Robbie Schremp and Jean-Francois Jacques.

Comrie -- who has been wearing #91 in training camp after seemingly having wisely chosen not to fight Sam Gagner for #89 -- could even see some power play icetime with Robbie Schremp. Schremp is one of the players the Oilers selected with the draft picks they received for Comrie when they sent him off for some Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia.

Many, many eyes will be on Comrie to see if he picks up where he left off before the trade.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Hometown boy back in hometown

It's been a long six years for the Edmonton Oilers and Mike Comrie, but it seems like by-gones have finally become by-gones.

At least, so far as the team management and player are concerned.

In those six years the Oilers have made the playoffs but once, while Comrie shuffled his way through the Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders organizations, himself appearing in the playoffs only once.

One can imagine that the weeks between his signing today and the start of the pre-season -- when we'll get the first big indication of how Oilers fans are taking the return of the old number 89 -- will be tense ones. Oilers fans were unforgiving of Comrie during his contract hold out (which was actually precipitated equally by both sides of the dispute).

However, Comrie's return will make questions about who will play in the Oilers top six more pronounced -- particularly as it pertains centre.

As the rookie training camp winds down with tomorrow night's game against the Golden Bears at the Clare Drake Arena and regular training camp gets set to open, Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Mike Comrie and Andrew Cogliano will be competing for two spots at centre, with Gilbert Brule and Robbie Schremp looking to crack the lineup.

Ales Hemsky, Patrick O'Sullivan, Robert Nilsson, Dustin Penner and Jordan Eberle will be fighting over the remaining spots in the top six. That's a crowded pair of lines for Pat Quinn to decide.

Quinn's dilemma should be made easier by the fact that Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner can both also play on the wing -- although Horcoff will certainly be taking faceoffs nonetheless.

As the only Oiler centreman in the lineup to have cracked the 30-goal mark before (he's done it twice in his career, once as an Oiler), Comrie may even usurp Horcoff's spot as top centre (but no one should count on that).

If Oilers fans can get over the acrimony of 2003-04, Mike Comrie should prove to be a welcome addition to the Oilers.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

For Now, This is Our Playoffs

Horcoff, Roloson to lead on Team Canada

With the Edmonton Oilers on the outside looking in -- for the third year straight -- the attention of Oilers fans should now be shifting toward the World Championships.

The World Championships have long been treated as Oilers brass as a stand-in for playoff hockey. And perhaps for good reason. The World Championship of Hockey are as close as hockey offers to a best-on-best format outside of the Olympics or the World Cup.

Horcoff and Roloson are two of just nine veteran team Canada hands on this year's squad, which favours youth over experience, yet somehow left Sam Gagner off the team.

Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff will certainly be looking toward Horcoff and Roloson to play leading roles on the team. Roloson is the most experienced goaltender in the tournament. For now he shares the crease with Josh Harding of the Predators and Chris Mason of the St Louis Blues.

While the World Championships may lack the glitz and glamour of the Stanley Cup playoffs, national pride is still on the line, which makes it all the more important for Canadians to watch, even despite the early-morning time slots of the games.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Garth Snow, Are You Listening?

According to Johnathon Tavares, one of his favourite players growing up was Patrick O'Sullivan.

If New York Islanders General Manager Garth Snow decides to hold on to the first overall pick and draft Tavares, a trade for O'Sullivan seems like a good way to welcome his new superstar to town.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Who's Next?

With Craig MacTavish clearing out his desk at Northlands Colliseum, it would be incredibly unjust if he were departing the team alone.

Some of the players should, like MacTavish, be finding themselves with new teams next season. Unlike MacTavish, some of them may not be fortunate enough to land on their feet.

Player to leave - Robert Nilsson

After spending two seasons on the Oilers' second line, Robert Nilsson has yet to exceed 10 goals in a season. That would be acceptable from a third-line player. Not from someone with ambitions to play on the second line.

Nilsson has a tremendous skill set. What he sorely lacks is a work ethic to compliment it. Like his father Kent Nilsson, Robbie Nilsson is best described as a "floater" -- someone who would rather give up the puck than take a hit to make a play.

With no Mark Messier on the team to coerce him into playing the gritty, hard-working style that is so necessary for NHL success, Nilsson should be considered a lost cause.

He's a cheerful guy -- he always seems to be smiling, and seems to really enjoy life. But in the NHL you don't reach the 30- or 40-goal plateau -- something Nilsson should be aspiring to, given his skill set -- by grinning your opponents into submission. Players have to be willing to grimace a little bit and fight their way into the slot.

If Nilsson isn't willing to do this, the Oilers need a player who will.

His ideal replacement - Jordan Eberle

Jordan Eberle will do precisely that, and he has a World Junior Championship gold medal that proves it.

When Sam Gagner arrived on the Edmonton Oilers last season, he did so in the wake of a dominating performance at the Canada/Russia Super Series.

Jordan Eberle is coming of a dominating performance of his own at the Juniors, and 74 points (36 goals, 39 assists) for the Regina Pats. To round off his list of accomplishments for the year, he briefly joined the Springfield Falcons and scored nine points (three goals, six assists) in the same number of games.

As his already-legendary goal against Russia in the dying seconds of the semi-final game against Russia demonstrates, Eberle is a clutch player the likes of which the Oilers haven't had at forward since the departure of Mike Comrie.

Player to leave - Dustin Penner

As Don Cherry noted in a recent coaches corner segment, the Oilers have lacked one important thing: grit. The Don argued that the Oilers haven't been a hard team to play against, and it would be hard to disagree with him.

When it comes to grit, it's hard to overlook the presence of a big player who all too often declines to play physically. One of the knocks against Penner is that he doesn't have a pronounced enough mean streak. It's been said that Penner should be the kind of player that an opponent thinks twice about going into the corner with because no one knows what he's going to do.

(In actuality, players should think twice about going into the corners with a player like Penner because they know what he's going to do -- hit them very, very hard.)

Penner was supposed to be the Oilers' prized new power forward -- they certainly gave up enough to get him, and paid him amply. Penner was supposed to be a big-bodied, hard-working player with excellent hands to boot. Instead, Penner turned in one good season -- 25 goals in 2007/08 -- before turning into an extremely disappointing player.

While another chance shouldn't be ruled out based on past success -- that 25-goal season shouldn't be forgotten, nor should his Stanley Cup ring -- a question remains regarding whether or not the Oilers would be able to find a trade partner willing to take Penner off their hands.

His ideal replacement - Ryan Smyth

If the Oilers need more grit from a skilled player, Ryan Smyth fits the bill.

Smyth will do absolutely anything necessary to win a hockey game. And while his will to pay the price to play where ugly goals are scored is his greatest strength, many people all too often forget that Smyth is very skilled player as well. He doesn't do so nearly as often as a Hemsky, but Ryan Smyth can score pretty goals, too.

It would take a very attractive package to convince the Avalanche to part ways with Smyth. Although with Joe Sakic probably set to retire this year, the Avalanche will probably be in need of some skilled forwards, particularly centremen.

While Robbie Schremp has never cracked the NHL as an Oiler, it's hard to believe that a team like the Avalanche wouldn't take a look at his skill set and think he might be worth gambling on.

A Penner-Nilsson-O'Sullivan-Schremp package would provide the promise of a blockbuster, and the Oilers would at least secure considerable insurance should Ales Kotalik decide not to return to the Oilers.

But for the likelihood of this particular deal being possible without requiring a significant portion of the Oilers future in return -- something along the lines of Sam Gagner or Andrew Cogliano -- this is probably just wishful thinking. For all the good it would do, the Oilers would be better off pursuing the Islanders' first-overall draft pick.

At least then they'd be making Brian Burke mad.

Player to leave - Patrick O'Sullivan

O'Sullivan will be a Restricted Free Agent this summer. But with only six points (two goals, four assists) in 19 games with the Oilers, he may not be worth re-signing.

At 5'11" at 190 pounds, O'Sullivan doesn't bring any of the grit to the team that the Oilers sorely need. This is a player who simply has to score, but failed to deliver.

As part of a package deal, O'Sullivan could bring a considerable return.

His ideal replacement - Todd Marchant

With the departures of Marty Reasoner and Jarret Stoll, Shawn Horcoff was left alone as the Oilers' lone reliable face-off man.

One look at the Oilers' face off numbers this year reveals this particular glaring inadequacy in their game.

By adding the 35-year-old Marchant the Oilers would certainly be taking on some age -- generally not the best idea if it can be avoided. But the Oilers would also be adding a surplus of experience (including the Stanley Cup experience they'd be giving up in ditching Penner), and bringing back a player who remembers what it's supposed to mean to be an Oiler.

It would also add another player with clutch play credibility. Marchant's Dallas Stars-killing goal in game seven of the 1997/98 opening playoff round remains the stuff of Oilers legend.

He can probably get back to the 20-goal plateau again if reunited with Ethan Moreau.

Player to leave - Marc-Antoine Pouliot

Pouliot has a tremendous skill set, but seems to be missing something. It's becoming increasingly evident that Sidney Crosby amplified Pouliot's playing ability to a significant degree during their time together in Rimouski. Perhaps the Penguins would be willing to consider a Pouliot/Crosby reunion, or the Wild may want to see if he can help spark the long-expected emergence of his brother Benoit.

But the Oilers shouldn't expect too much in return for this player. He's simply too marginal to be worth making a long-term investment in.

His ideal replacement - Dean McAmmond

A capable face-off man who excels in defensive-zone faceoffs, McAmmond could come in handy for a team with a bad habit of giving up the puck in the D-zone. At 36 McAmmond would continue a trend of adding more age to this team -- himself, Marchant and Jason Strudwick could form something of an old mans' club -- but his solid defensive skills have long been incredibly unappreciated.

In fact, McAmmond has bounced around the NHL as a player who was often probably unnecessary to make the deal. Calgary sent him off to Colorado as a bonus in the Morris/Dury deal, just as the Oilers paired him with Boris Mironov as part of their deal for Dan Cleary and Chad Kilger. He was also victimized by a rule forbidding teams from re-acquiring players they'd too recently traded when the Flames picked up back up at the 2003/04 trade deadline, only to be forced to bench him during their memorable playoff run.

Currently earning $900,000, McAmmond can be secured relatively cheaply. He's also another player who should remember what it's supposed to mean to be an Oiler. With the team in the state it's currently in, that may be as good a reason as any to bring him back.

Player to leave - Robbie Schremp

Parting is sweet sorrow. For many Oilers fans, seeing Schremp depart to another NHL club would be fairly sweet. For those who can appreciate his stellar skill set, it would be sorrowful.

Schremp will be 23 on the day the 2009 free agency period begins. Under the current CBA, Schremp can delcare himself an unrestricted free agent at age 27.

If Schremp hasn't made the Oilers for a full-time gig yet, it may be better to ship him away to a team that will play him. At least then the Oilers will receive something back for this considerable asset.

Oilers fans probably shouldn't be nearly so eager to see Schremp depart, but this is a matter of simple pragmatism. Having an unbelievably talented player like Schremp languish in the AHL doesn't do the Oilers any good. Seeing as how the club apparently won't play him, they may as well trade him.

Regardless of who stays and who goes, Oilers fans should expect the team to look very different next year. More toughness, passion and defensive reliability are sorely needed to temper the team's youth up front.

The Oilers will likely be slightly older next year, but hopefully they'll be ready to reestablish the team identity that has been sorely lacking this season.

Whomever is suiting up for the Oilers next season, fans have the right to expect those players will be willing to work hard for the privilege.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It Had to Happen

Oilers need a change

"We both agree that it is time for a change," said Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini today, as he explained why the Oilers have chosen to fire head coach Craig MacTavish.

"This is the right thing for Craig, and the right thing for the Edmonton Oilers," Tambellini explained. "This does not absolve the players and their performance, or lack thereof."

This should set the laundry list of Oilers who have yet to live up to expectations of them -- Dustin Penner, Robert Nilsson, and Marc-Antoine Pouliot chief among them.

And while MacTavish's firing has been seen on the horizon since the Oilers' disastrous home loss to the Buffalo Sabres, when Oilers fans chanted "fire MacTavish", Oilers fans should be less than jubilant about MacTavish's departure.

Oilers fans have enjoyed a surprlus of say into the personnel of the team over the past several seasons, with questionable results. Oilers fans demanded the removal of Marc-Andre Bergeron, and wound up with Denis Grebeshkov. Oilers fans demanded Joffrey Lupul receive his walking papers, and the Oilers briefly enjoyed the services of Joni Pitkanen before experiencing disappointing experiences with Erik Cole and, now, Patrick O'Sullivan. Oilers fans demanded to be rid of Mike Comrie and have yet to see much in return -- Jeff Woywytka was traded to St Louis in the eternally disappointing Chris Pronger deal, and Robbie Schremp continues to languish in the minors.

If Oilers fans continue to make demands regarding the team's personnel and management continues to grant them, Oilers fans will, at some point, have to face up to the reality that they've been given the team they wanted. If that team turns out to be less than successful, Oilers fans will have to share in the blame.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Don Sinclair - "Oilers Let MacTavish Go"

All Oil... All the Time! - "Craig MacTavish is Out!"

Jonathon Willis - "Craig MacTavish Relieved of Coaching Duties"

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

An Exercise in Self-Deception

Contrary to what the Oilers website may have to say about the matter, the Los Angeles Kings did not kill the Oilers' playoff hopes.

The Oilers themselves did.

In a game in which the Oilers were fighting just to keep their very narrow playoff hopes alive, the Oilers did the precise opposite of what Craig MacTavish had told them to do. Instead of coming out flying, they came out ill-prepared and gave up the goal that effectively ended their season before the game was even four minutes old.

As they have all season, the Oilers killed their own playoff hopes.

They killed their playoff hopes all season long when they followed numerous winning streaks with losing streaks that were often the same number of games in duration, if not longer.

They killed their playoff hopes when they responded to the knowledge that their fate vis a vis the playoffs was very much in their own hands by posting a three-game losing streak, and losing (to date) seven of their last ten games.

They killed their playoff hopes when they failed to learn how to win the ever-crucial one-goal game.

They killed their playoff hopes with their atrocious penalty killing, and when their key offensive players -- among them Shawn Horcoff, Robert Nilsson and Dustin Penner -- failed to pull their own weight.

This in a year when the Oilers were expected to contend to possibly win their division.

The sense that something is missing at the core of this Oilers hockey team can no longer be overlooked. Steve Tambellini and Kevin Lowe will have some serious questions to be answered this off-season.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Does This Look Familiar?

Sam Gagner, April 4, 2009:

Ales Hemsky, October 24, 2006:

One can only imagine what kind of player Ales Hemsky would be today if he'd had the shoot out to build confidence in his rookie season. Gagner has scored more points during his first two seasons in the league (41 and 49 to date, respectively) than Hemsky did in his first two NHL seasons (30 points in 2002/03 and 34 in 2003/04).

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Coming into tonight's game against the Vancouver Canucks, many Oilers fans probably could have been forgiven for viewing the Oilers season with an overwhelming sense of futility.

With the Oilers dropping three straight with a playoff position on the line -- and particularly, only needing to win to maintain a 7th place finish in the Western Conference -- Oilers fans had very little reason to continue to be patient with this team.

No doubt this is one of the many things that led to the planning of an anti-Craig MacTavish rally today, demanding his termination of head coach.

Accustomed to getting their way in regards to players they become disenchanted with -- Mike Comrie, Cory Cross, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Joffrey Lupul have all felt the sting of this tendency -- Oilers fans seem genuinely perplexed by Darryl Katz's recent declaration that firing MacTavish is not on his agenda.

Even if keeping MacTavish is, arguably, a bad decision fans have to admire Katz's will to stand up to the fans.

With the Oilers chances of making the playoffs extremely slim and their fate no longer in their own hands, many Oilers fans likely expected very little going into tonight's game.

But the Oilers themselves knew what was on the line in this game tonight: the chance to prove that this season, and the two seasons previous, were not futile.

That task isn't over yet, and won't be over until the Oilers deliver on an inspired, passionate playoff drive. But tonight's game was an important first step. Three more wins -- better yet, a playoff spot -- and they have an opportunity to make an important statement.

But they have to play with the passion and determination that they played with tonight.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Hit the Post - "A Love Letter to the Edmonton Oilers"

Friday, April 3, 2009

Going Nowhere

Darry Katz insists Craig MacTavish isn't going anywhere. The problem is the Oilers may be going nowhere with him

As another NHL season wraps up, it's becoming evident that the Edmonton Oilers will not qualify for the playoffs. Again.

No Oilers fan needs to be reminded that this is the third consecutive season the Oilers will spend their postseason playing golf rather than playing for the Stanley Cup. Few Oilers fans need to be reminded that this season was supposed to be different, for various reasons.

When the Oilers failed to make the playoffs in the 2006/07 and 2007/08 seasons many rushed to credit this on two things: lack of quality players and injuries.

The 2006/07 season began amidst optimism despite the Chris Pronger trade that had left a sour taste in the mouths of so many Oilers fans. The long sought-after Joffrey Lupul had arrived and was expected to be an offensive dynamo for the club.

(Lupul had previously been the subject of an aborted trade for the notoriously-disliked Mike Comrie. Lupul, it seemed, was doomed as an Oiler from the very beginning.)

While Lupul, Petr Sykora and Daniel Tjarnstrom were joining the club, Pronger certainly wasn't alone in departing. Sergei Samsonov, Mike Peca and Jaroslav Spacek all joined the exodus of players leaving for other teams.

The injury bug bit the Oilers hard.

Only seven games into the season Ethan Moreau badly dislocated his shoulder and was gone for the season. Tjarnquist, who seemed to be a promising addition to the already-thin Oilers blueline, played only 37 games for the Oilers.

Hampered by poor defensive play, the Oilers seemed to be going nowhere by the time they traded first Marc-Andre Bergeron and then Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders. Coming in return were Denis Grebeshkov, Robbie Nilsson and Ryan O'Marra. One of these players has exceeded his billing, while one has fallen far short and the third seems unlikely to make the NHL anytime soon.

The Oilers limped their way through the remainder of the 2006/07 season, winning only a handful of their remaining games.

But many Oilers fans were willing to swallow the uninspiring finish to the season under the pretenses of better things to come.

The 2007/08 season was expected to be better.

Lupul was shipped, along with captain Jason Smith, to the Philadelphia Flyers in return for Geoff Sanderson and Joni Pitkanen. Sheldon Souray was signed away from the Montreal Canadiens, and Sam Gagner had such a fantastic showing at the Canada/Russia Super Series that his performance demanded a better look in the big league. Andrew Cogliano had been signed to an entry-level contract, and the Oilers' goal crease was burgeoned with the addition of Mathieu Garon. Dick Tarnstrom returned from Europe to join an Oilers roster that seemed to be ready to make some noise. To top it all off, Dustin Penner was picked off the Anaheim Ducks roster by virtue of an offer sheet that would have been unprecedented were it not for the offer Lowe also made to Buffalo Sabres RFA Tomas Vanek.

Even Anson Carter was signed to a professional try-out, but had his season terminated by a concussion suffered in a pre-season game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It was probably a sign of things to come.

Sheldon Souray was injured early in the season, and would eventually opt for surgery on his shoulder. Shawn Horcoff, despite being on pace for at least 40 goals -- maybe as many as 50 -- had his season ended just after the all-star game when he, too, opted for surgery. Pitkanen would also suffer lengthy injuries that would keep him off the ice for a quarter of the season, and Moreau would also be sidelined for most of the season. Again.

Despite this, the Oilers, bolstered by the late-season addition of Curtis Glencross (who was traded to Columbus in exchange for Tarnstrom) would make a rousing playoff push, and would wind up a mere three points out of the playoffs.

With the promise of new ownership on the horizon, the Oilers traded aggressively in the offseason.

Traded away were the disappointing Jarret Stoll and ever-promising Matt Greene to the Los Angeles Kings for Lubomir Visnovsky. Joni Pitkanen was shifted to Carolina in exchange for Eric Cole. Raffi Torres was shipped to Columbus for Gilbert Brule. Jason Strudwick was signed to a one-year contract.

The Oilers would strike again in the pre-season, picking the 6'5" Steve MacIntyre off waivers from the Florida Panthers.

But Curtis Glencross was allowed to skip across province to join the Calgary Flames, and one of the key components of the Oilers' late-season push -- the dynamic fourth line of Glencross, Kyle Brodziak and Zach Stortini -- had been disassembled.

Edmonton was considered by many to have improved their club so drastically that not only were they expected to make the playoffs, many considered them a contender to win the Northwest Division.

With three defensemen -- Visnovsky, Souray and Tom Gilbert -- who could play up to 30 minutes a game, and the Hemsky/Horcoff/Cole line backed up by the kid line of Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson, the Oilers were expected to be able to hold their own at each end of the rink.

Instead what unfolded was a badly streaky season marred by poor defensive play, atrocious penalty killing and uninspiring offensive play. Eric Cole floundered on the first line while Dustin Penner, demoted to the third, struggled as well.

Both players had been moved to their off-wing.

Visnovsky shone on defense as four Oilers blue-liners -- Visnovsky, Souray, Gilbert and Grebeshkov -- ran up more than 30 points. The lack of offensive support from the blueline that had hamstrung the Oilers in the 2006/07 season seemed to have been rectified.

But by the time Lubomir Visnovsky went down with a torn labrum, the Oilers were expected to be contending to lead the Northwest division. Instead, the team was languishing on the bottom end of the playoff cut, struggling to even maintain their prospects of drawing a first-round match-up against the Detroit Red Wings or Chicago Black Hawks, two teams that had dominated them all season.

Mathieu Garon, who had struggled for the Oilers despite leading them to a shimmering shootout record in 2007/08, had already been traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Danny Sabourin and Ryan Stone -- neither players who would crack the roster this season -- by the time it became evident that Dwayne Roloson would play almost the rest of the season unrelieved.

To make matters their utmost worst, the Oilers had absorbed a series of humilating defeats -- 10-2 at home to Buffalo, 9-2 at home to Chicago, and 8-3 to the Red Wings in Detroit -- that clearly demonsrated that this team was not yet ready to join the elite echelons of the NHL.

This season had been expected to be so much different. With player personell and injuries (for the most part) removed as a factor in this season, it's only natural that the eyes of Oilers fans would start to scrutinize the organization more closely to try and determine what's wrong.

Many Oilers fans have looked no further than the head coach, Craig MacTavish.

When given the personell necessary to succeed and given a season mostly devoid of roster-obliterating injuries, this is a year fans should have expected the Oilers to live up to its billing.

When a team comes out and embraces mediocrity as the Oilers have, coahing is a natural place to start the scrutiny.

Which is why it's so difficult to understand Darryl Katz's reaction to some of the speculation about MacTavish's future with the team. Prior to last night's game against the San Jose Sharks, Katz sent a text message to Bob Stauffer informing him that "Craig MacTavish isn't going anywhere."

"He said he was extremely disappointed and somewhat frustrated with the fact we're in the middle of a playoff race and all the discussion and focus was on the future of our head coach," Kevin Lowe would later add. "He found that somewhat odd. He just wanted to suppress that once and for all. It's as simple as that."

As the billionare owner of a successful pharmacy chain, one would expect the realities underlying the situation would be evident to him. If a coach, given all the tools to be successful, can't seem to find success, it's clearly time for a change.

Fans have been soured on MacTavish all season long. Very few individuals face the ire of Oilers fans and remain in place with the organization. Joffrey Lupul, Mike Comrie and Marc-Andre Bergeron stand as examples of how quickly individuals can be shuffled out of Edmonton once the fans turn on them.

Firing MacTavish because so many Oilers fans seem keen to run him out of time would be the wrong reason to fire MacTavish.

The right reason to relieve Craig MacTavish of his coaching responsibilities is that, for three seasons, the team has been going nowhere under him.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Truly Special Find

But Oilers jersey on the cover of Spider-Man comic is the least of its treasures

While attending this past weekend's Edmonton Comic, Toy and Collectible Show, I managed to procure quite the find.

Way back in 1990, Marvel Comics partnered with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to produce a comic series entitled "Skating on Thin Ice", which was given away to kids for free to teach them about the dangers of drug abuse.

Issue #1 of that series has proven to be quite popular amongst Edmonton Oiler fans due to the depiction of an Oilers jersey on the cover (it's also worn by Allan, the lead supporting character of the story, throughout the book).

However, the Oilers jersey is actually the least of the book's treasures.

Also featured in the story is a true hockey legend -- and one of the unrecognized greats of hockey history, Herb Carnegie.

As a member of the Quebec Aces, Carnegie proved to be a promising young star.

He once garnered an invitation to the New York Rangers' training camp, but didn't make the team despite a fantastic performance. But the year was 1948. Despite Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's colour barrier the year before, hockey just wasn't ready to follow suit.

Carnegie would rebuke an offer to play for the Rangers' farm club, and instead returned to the Quebec Aces where he posted hall-of-fame worthy numbers. He would, at one point, play on a line with a young Jean Bealiveau, who would later describe Carnegie as "superb".

In years more recent, Carnegie founded the Future Aces, a group that helps develop young people and helps them make a difference in their communities.

A comic book seems an unlikely place for Carnegie to receive his due, and truth be told, he still hasn't. Unfortunately, Carnegie will join a legion of hockey figures -- individuals such as Golden Bears coach Clare Drake -- who will never be properly enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame merely by virtue of never having played in the NHL.