Nag, nag, nag

Robin Brownlee
October 03 2008 01:15PM

After suggesting Craig MacTavish had done a flip-flop on the value of employing an enforcer this week, I find myself doing likewise when it comes to how I think the 2008–09 season will unfold for the Oilers.

Before training camp opened, I was as optimistic about the Oilers as I've ever been. And why not?

With the way the Oilers roared through the final 20 games of last season at 14-5-1 and after seeing Kevin Lowe jettison Joni Pitkanen, Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene and Raffi Torres for Erik Cole, Lubomir Visnovsky and Gilbert Brule, what wasn't to like?

Factor in the return of Sheldon Souray, Ethan Moreau and Shawn Horcoff from long-term injuries, and I was among many who not only believed a return to the playoffs after two years out was a lock, but that the Oilers might challenge for the Northwest Division title and a guaranteed top-three seed in the Western Conference.

Going into tonight's tilt with the Calgary Flames, I'm not as sure about this edition of the Oilers as I was. Questions nag me—questions that began before the Flamers hung a 4–0 licking on them Tuesday.

Without some answers before the puck drops October 12 against Colorado, I'm not nearly as confident as I was in September the Oilers will simply pick up where they left off last spring and waltz back into the playoff picture.

Answers, please

1. With just ten days until the season opens, why are the Oilers still flirting with a Three-Headed Monster in goal, aka Mathieu Garon, Dwayne Roloson and Jeff Deslauriers?

Keeping three goaltenders doesn't work. It has never worked. It never will work. You'd think the memory of Ty Conklin, Mike Morrison and Jussi Markkanen would be burned into Lowe's brain, so why hasn't the situation been sorted out by now?

I get it that Roloson isn't easy to move, given his age and contract, but wasn't there somebody, anybody, willing to take him this summer? If there is a real belief Deslauriers is ready to make the step up to being the Number Two guy here, Roloson had to me moved by now.

If there's doubt Deslauriers is ready to be Garon's back-up, assign him to the minors—even with the risk of losing him on waivers. If the Oilers aren't sold on JDD, how much real risk is there somebody else must have him?

Using a roster spot for a third stopper is already causing Craig MacTavish grief in setting his 23-man roster, and it will cost somebody like Brule or Rob Schremp a chance to crack the line-up to start the season.

2. Who's on third?

How long will MacTavish give the mismatched and underwhelming trio of Moreau, Fernando Pisani and Dustin Penner to show something?

I don't see a fit here, and I'm not necessarily buying conventional wisdom that this threesome will somehow just flip a switch and get it going once the Oilers are playing for points.

I haven't liked Moreau's game a bit. And Penner? He calls himself a complementary player. Fair enough. But if he's a 23-goal man as a sidekick for Horcoff and Ales Hemsky, what numbers will he put up for his $4.25 million as a complementary player to Moreau and Pisani? For what it's worth, I'd rather see Andrew Cogliano or Brule between Penner and Pisani to start the season.

3. What about the Kid Line?

I'm not of the mind that Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson and Cogliano are going to fall victim to the sophomore slump in unison—although odds are one of them will—but anybody expecting them to score at the pace they did in the final 20 games last season is on dope.

I can see Gagner in the 55-point range and Cogliano and Nilsson hitting 50 points. That's not bad, but it's not so prolific that it allows Cole, Horcoff and Hemsky breathing room on a team that scored 235 goals last season.

4. Who's Souray now?

Until we're 30 games into the season and Souray hasn't skated to the bench doubled over holding his shoulder or some other malfunctioning body part, the question of his durability still makes me toss and turn.

With so much invested in him—in salary and the hopes of a power play that has to be way better than 21st if the Oilers are to contend—he's a question mark after playing just 26 games last season.

Even healthy for, say, 75 games, I don't see Souray approaching his career-high 26 goals of 2006–07 with Montreal.

5. Are statistics really for losers?

Two sets of numbers claw at my cranium. The first is 15–4, the Oilers NHL-leading mark in shootouts last season. The second is 12-of-15, as in the Oilers playing 12 of their first 15 game on the road.

No way the Oilers win 15 games via shootouts again and no way Garon repeats that once-in-a-lifetime 10–0 record. Somebody smarter than I can probably come up with the odds of repeating that feat, but the bottom line is they won't.

As for the schedule, who is the genius at NHL head office who came up with this Dirty Dozen? It's like Brian Burke hacked into the Gary Bettman's database. Given the other questions I've got, this first 15 games has 4-9-2 written all over it. And these first 15 come after the Oilers get six days off between their last pre-season game and the opener against Colorado?

Second thoughts and questions. I have a few.

—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 The Towel Boy
October 03 2008, 01:27PM
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Yeah...I have to admit, I sat down to watch Tuesday's game with my foam puckhead hat, a cool brewsky and a cardboard cutout of Sam Gagner sitting next to me...I was quite underwhelmed at what I saw.

Nobody was prepared. Wayward passes, trying to skate thru two defenders - the me vs. them syndrome, garbley breakouts with forwards leaving their d men out to dry, no speed thru neutral zone, whiffing on passes and shots, brutal giveaways (Grebs...seriously dude)...just awful.

MacT I guess sort of took some of the blame for that in his post game presser (Read: weekend off). But yeah...I just have to keep reminding myself that it's only preseason,they haven't been practicing as a complete team yet, things will shape up before the season starts. Do I just have my copper and blue glasses on? Will we shape up? Sure hope so.

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#2 Rick
October 03 2008, 01:33PM
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I would assume that questions #2 and #3 will be easily solved when MacT breaks up the kid line.

And I would expect that to happen about 6 minutes into the first period in game #1.

When he does that I would think we will end up seeing Cogliano moved down, Gagner moved over and Penner moved up.

....

As for the shoot out, why would we have to hope they can repeat what they did last year? If the Oilers are truly better than they were last year like so many people are predicting, one of the results should be that they close out more games in regulation. As far as that goes, the same thing should happen if they are worse as well.

Either way, as much as their record in shoot outs stood out last year, so did the number of times they ended up there.

As for the schedule...nothing left to do but cross our fingers but there is no doubt it is an ugly way to start the season. Hopefully they can catch some of these teams while they are still sorting out the post camp rosters.

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#3 Gord
October 03 2008, 01:59PM
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I'm sure K-Lowe did try to unload Roloson and I am sure there was absolutely ZERO interest. If Burke had to give away Bryzgalov, the Canadiens got basically nothing in return for Huet at the trade deadline last year and the Hawks can't even give away Khabibulin this year, I can't see how anyone would have been interested in Roloson. If we don't want to lose JDD then send Rolli down to Springfield - you can be sure no one will pluck him off waivers. Seems simple to me, but then there must be some reason Tambellini got the GM job over me. ;)

As for Souray, my concern is if he does re-injure some part of his body, who do we have for a shooter on the point? Without Stoll around, we are short a big shot that can (occasionally) hit the net from the blue line.

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#4 Tyler
October 03 2008, 02:13PM
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That’s not bad, but it’s not so prolific that it allows Cole, Horcoff and Hemsky breathing room on a team that scored 235 goals last season.

220 goals. The 235 number includes the 15 "goals" that they scored winning shootouts. I figure that they're in the upper half of the WC again but all things being equal they aren't going to score that many more goals - Dallas, the #2 team in the WC scored 237. The problem isn't scoring goals, it's keeping them out of their own net. I don't necessarily think that the three headed goalie is a huge issue (I'd send JDD down, myself) but I don't think that they've got good enough goaltending.

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#5 Chaz
October 03 2008, 02:24PM
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I agree Robin. There's definitly reason to be pesimistic, as you make clear with this article. I think the main reason a lot of people are overly optimistic about this year is based mainly on the strength of the last 20 games in the spring. Here's my two cents as to why we shouldn't start planning the parade just yet based on those 20 games (in my humble opinion):

1. Teams were not 'getting up' to play the Oil during this stretch becasue we were a basement dweller with no real shot at the playoffs for the vast majority of those games. This is especially true for the home games, considering most teams were often also playing Calgary and Vancouver either right before, or right after us. Calgary and Vancouver were both playoff teams for most of these games. The Oilers demanded the least attention and repect out the three for teams making a Western Canadian swing.

2. Once the first 62 games had gone so poorly, the guys could play with a little more gusto and reckless abandon because they didn't have much to lose. Mac T played the kids more and they responded well, mainly I think because there wasn't a lot of pressure. Expectations were very low (infinitly lower than they will be this year).

3. If you look at some of the loses in the final 20 games, they tended to be real back-breakers. IE: The Oil would be on a real roll, and then would mail in a real stinker in a "Must-win" tilt. I don't remember the exact games (as I'm not really very cleaver), but I clearly remember them mailing it in at the worst possible times. (Correct me if I'm wrong here Nation).

All that being said, I'm cautiously optimistic about this year, and I'll be cheering as loud as anyone. I also love the offseason moves and have great hopes for an improved PP. That alone may get us into the post season, but let's not forget about the first three quaters of last year before we get ahead of ourselves, if for nothing else because I'm superstitious and don't want to jinx the boys!

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#6 Rick
October 03 2008, 02:34PM
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Chaz; Regarding your #1

I've never been able to follow this logic. Maybe the Oilers didn't command the respect that the better teams do but many of the teams they played had a lot on the line for themselves.

There was a playoff race happening and wether the Oilers were in that race or not many of those teams surely had to respect the position they found themselves in. There should have been no issue in regards to teams taking the Oilers lightly.

If that run happened in October/November, then I could see it but I don't see it in the last 20 games of the year.

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#7 Chaz
October 03 2008, 02:56PM
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Rick;

It is a tough one to defend, I know. I guess the point I was after is that the games for the opposing teams were not as crucial as they would be if the Oilers were higher in the standings.

For example, if a team like Minnesota is playing Calgary one night, then the Oil the next, and Calgary is the team they are battling for the top of the division with, Minnesota may lay it all on the line for that game, and then come into Edmonton a bit spent. We also probably saw more backup goalies than we would have if our record at the time was stronger.

You're right in saying most teams had a lot to play for, but not as much as a four-point game in certain circumstances against teams higher in the standings. I doubt this all had a significant effect, just something to take into consideration.

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#8 RobinB
October 03 2008, 03:35PM
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Tyler: You're right about the 235 total including the 15 goals "awarded" in the shootout, but the NHL is using that total in its stats package so I am as well. As you point out, the Oilers scoring was adequate. My point is they still aren't loaded with offence. If they have the second-worst GA in the conference again they'll be screwed, but I didn't list that as a nagging question because I'm confident Garon can help better that number if he comes out of the gate as the clear No. 1 guy instead of having to wait several weeks like he did last season while MacT stuck with Roloson.

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#9 Kevin
October 03 2008, 03:46PM
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Its probably a given Penner will move up & Cogs down. You would have to expect Mac T would keep the kids together for at least a couple of games just to see if the results are still there. We all know he has no qualms about switching his lines each SHIFT let alone after a couple of games. Penner gives the 2nd line more size and will allow Nillson & Gagner the room to move. Can't wait for Oct 12!!!!!!!!!

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#10 R-Gib
October 03 2008, 04:22PM
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Even if (when) Souray is injured, we still have a decent point shot in Lubo: not counting last years #s (as he was positioned on the left side and only scored 3 ppg) he had 18 goals in the previous two seasons on the PP. Not too shabby.

Speculation of what to do / who to move is tough. Who knows if there is even a market for a Roly or a Schremp. I would hope that we could pull off a swap for a 3C... someone with faceoff skills would be nice.

I like Penner on Gagner's line. Don't know how they will mesh tho... but provides a bit of faceoff support and toughness.

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#11 jdrevenge
October 03 2008, 05:01PM
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Gagner played with Penner last year while Horc was out.They are very different players and didnt seem to sync well at all.

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#12 Ender the Dragon
October 03 2008, 05:43PM
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Is the market for goalies so saturated that we couldn't swing a third-round pick for JDD? Maybe a prospect isn't quite the compensation the Oilers would like for what they've seen in him, but surely a pick is better than nothing if you're just going to lose him on the waiver wire anyway. I think the writing is on the wall, like it or not, that JDD can't stay up for much longer.

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#13 Dennis
October 03 2008, 10:43PM
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Is this the closest anyone has come to questioning the Souray contract?

You're growing up, Robin.

Right before our eyes!!!

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#14 Doogie2K
October 04 2008, 10:52AM
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Even healthy for, say, 75 games, I don’t see Souray approaching his career-high 26 goals of 2006–07 with Montreal.

Well, no. I would expect something more in line with the three previous seasons -- 12-15 goals, most of them on the PP.

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#15 Antony Ta
October 04 2008, 01:04PM
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Steve Staios!! Risky pass in overtime (that was considerably less than tape to tape) to a guy who was not being pressured either. To be fair, there was't much puck support. But also, he wasn't under any pressure, either.

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#16 Gamefreak
October 04 2008, 09:31PM
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Is the market for goalies so saturated that we couldn’t swing a third-round pick for JDD?

That's pretty bad asset management. Deslauriers was a first rounder only four years ago, Roloson is likely retiring at the end of the season, and there's no guarantee that Garon won't leave either.

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#17 Hammer
October 05 2008, 04:11PM
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Yo fellow Oil freaks... I say the expectations for this year will be met and exceeded after a slow start... here's the dealio yo...I fully expect a slow start, and also some shuffling of the lines. I don't see the kid line staying together and thus Goggles Pisani won't be taking too many faceoffs this year unless Cogs gets the boot from the dot. Penner will move up to the 2nd line and don't be surprised if Brodziak gets moved up as well... I say they break up Souray and Lubes too before all is said and done...

If I could ask for anything, can we please have Jason Smith back??

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#18 RobinB
October 05 2008, 06:50PM
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Doogie2K: "Well, no. I would expect something more in line with the three previous seasons — 12-15 goals, most of them on the PP."

I'm guessing you figured I was being Captain Obvious with my comment on Souray's goal totals for the season, even if you left out "duh!" I actually think Souray will have his second-best season in terms of goals -- I'm thinking 15-20 with 12-15 of those on the PP -- if he gets in 75 games. Even paired with Visnovsky, I can't see the 26 though.

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#19 milli
October 06 2008, 08:42AM
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I hate how we always seem to be slow starters and then burning down the stretch.

After the second calgary game, I think JDD stock went up, he was solid, but again, where is the TEAM?

Great fight by big MAC.

I think I hate GlennX even more.

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