December 04 2008 03:28PM
Is Erik Cole destined to fall into the dubious ranks of good players who've been failures with the Edmonton Oilers, names fans file under the category of "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time"?
With just 24 games in the books, it's likely a touch too early to relegate Cole to the Fraternity of Failure inhabited by the likes of Jiri Dopita, Adam Oates and Joffrey Lupul isn't it?
Still, it’s fair to say the usually reliable and sometimes spectacular winger has been underwhelming since the Oilers jumped at the chance to get him from Carolina for future Norris Trophy winner Joni Pitkanen.
With just 3-4-7 and a minus-2 rating, the 30-year-old right winger -- at least when he's actually played on the starboard side by Craig MacTavish -- is on pace for his worst NHL season in terms of points. That, for the record, was 2002-03, when he had 27 points in 53 games.
Cole's off to the worst start of his career and hasn't looked anything like the player MacTavish thought had the skills to play first-line minutes on left wing alongside Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.
"It's tough to feel real positive about things when you're not contributing as much as you'd like," Cole said. "Hopefully, it's just around the corner."
When he's on, Cole's a good -- not great -- winger with decent hands and a good shot who skates better than many guys considered power forwards. With seasons of 30, 29 and 22 goals, he can score.
Just not here. Not so far. Not a sniff in the past four games has Cole, despite being moved back to his more favoured right side, most recently on a line with Ethan Moreau and Kyle Brodziak.
"I've talked to Mac a little bit privately in the past two weeks and I feel a little more confident in my game," he said. "If I keep doing the right things, I'm hoping it's a matter of time."
With a ticket of $4 million this season, Cole's an unrestricted free agent next season. As was the case with Dopita, Oates and Lupul, there was a fair amount of buzz when he joined the team.
And, like that trio, Cole's failed to live up to it and been deemed, at least by some, a bust short of the halfway mark of the season. Of course, there are differences. The dour Dopita was bought out in December. Oates actually offered to give some of his contract back. Lupul? He didn't have a big fan in MacTavish and never did much to win the coach over.
Cole still has the skills and the time to turn things around, of course, but I can't see that happening with Moreau and Brodziak. The question, then, is simple: where does he fit?
It was obvious from the first time Jim Matheson and I cornered Rob Schremp at the 2004 Entry Draft he had the brass and the confidence to play in the NHL. If I recall correctly, he told Matty and I he looked forward to making the team the following season.
The question was his commitment to getting faster and stronger and to shoring up the holes in his game.
Schremp, 22, gave us a glance at his work in progress in Wednesday's 5-2 win over Dallas on a line with Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, showing the kind of game to back up the gab he had way back on draft day.
Mac likes it
"I was ecstatic with the way he played," MacTavish said. "I thought it was a mistake-free game.
"He added a lot. We talked about it at the morning skate. It's about what you create minus what you give up. He didn't give up anything. He created at least two goals -- jumping up on Cogs' goal and a good past to Poulie (Marc Pouliot), so mission accomplished for him."
I find myself pulling for the kid because, despite the bad rep he got in the OHL as a bit of a hotdog and a cocky, me-first player, he's kept a bit of that old strut while paying his dues with MacT cutting him no slack. A poser would have folded by now. He's hung in.
The question I have is: Can Schremp prove over the next couple of games he's ready to stick? If so, does that make Robert Nilsson or somebody else expendable in a trade?
-- From the sounds of MacTavish today, expect Ladislav Smid to draw in against Los Angeles, possibly alongside Steve Staios.
"We've got to get him in," MacTavish said. "He's going to play very shortly, maybe as early as tomorrow."
Smid's been in limbo for weeks as MacTavish has sat him or played him as a left winger. This isn't the point in Smid's career to be doing that. Find out if he's a keeper or move him.
-- Tough guy Steve MacIntyre could be medically cleared to play within a few days, but he's not OK to fight because his broken left orbital bone still needs more time to heal.
In other words, it'll likely be January before he returns. He could play earlier if he wore a visor and didn't fight, but I'm guessing MacTavish will resist the urge to use him on the power play and will opt to keep him out.
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.