October 02 2009 06:03PM
Of course the Edmonton Oilers are going to make Western Conference playoffs. It just won't happen this season, contrary to what Jason Gregor, Wanye Gretz, Amber McCormick, Jonathan Willis and Bingofuel, their lips stained with Copper and Blue Kool-Aid and their hearts once again swollen with the hope October brings, would have you believe.
I'm not sure how my, ahem, colleagues have come to the conclusion the Oilers, a team that adorns their bed sheets, pillow cases, pajamas and lunch kits, deserve the benefit of every doubt and will finish anywhere from fifth to eighth, but I guess faith and wanting it to be so really, really badly is enough.
Please, please, please, plus the addition of three grey-haired geezers named Pat Quinn, Tom Renney and Wayne Fleming, Nikolai Khabibulin, who was absolutely outstanding in the pre-season, and a penalty-killing unit that is obviously vastly improved, will apparently get it done.
Nag, nag, nag
Sorry to be Mr. Poopy Pants -- I'm actually not, but it's the polite thing to say -- but there's a lot of questions I haven't had answered through eight pre-season games. They nag me.
-- What have the Oilers done to address the need for a defensive centre who can win face-offs? Is Gilbert Brule that guy? What about Marc Pouliot, assuming at some point his pubic bone stops feeling like somebody dropped a can of lighter fluid and a lit match down his pants?
-- Barring the addition of somebody who can approach 50 per cent on the dot, is Shawn Horcoff going to have to take 93,056 face-offs again this season? And what will that do to Horcoff as he tries to bounce back from a 53-point campaign?
-- What marked improvement have we seen in penalty killing units that finished 27th last season? Can the PK, with the "new systems" in place and overseen by Kelly Buchberger, improve 10 spots? That would be 17th.
-- Is J.F. Jacques really a first-line left-winger? Really? While I liked what I saw in four of the five pre-season games he played, the 60 regular season games on his resume tempt me to reserve judgment he's the answer.
-- Khabibulin, 36, has played more than 55 games once in the last five seasons. Are you comfortable that Jeff Deslauriers is ready to play 25-27 games this season after getting into 10 in 2008-09?
-- If you've listened to Quinn the past couple off days, it's clear he's preaching patience when it comes to implementing new systems, seeing the team blend into a cohesive unit and develop an identity. How long will that take? Two weeks? Two months? And the Oilers record when this takes place will be . . .?
-- What team is going to drop out of the playoff picture so the Oilers can get in? St. Louis, which made it last season despite being riddled by injuries and played most of the season without Paul Kariya? Columbus, which has Derick Brassard and Nikita Filatov for a full season? Anaheim? Maybe Dany Heatley will bugger up the Sharks good and plenty.
Obviously, the Oilers can address some of the above questions by making personnel moves between now and trade deadline day, assuming they can create some salary cap space by then.
How, by the way, does a team mismanage its money and contracts so badly that it spends to the cap limit and remains a fringe contender looking to slide into the post-season in eighth-place? I digress.
Could the Oilers make the playoffs? Yes. They aren't so far off that it's inconceivable, if they get some breaks. The problem, obviously, is that having all the breaks fall your way seldom happens.
And if things work against them -- if Lubomir Visnovsky's shoulder isn't 100 per cent, if Khabibulin isn't a marked upgrade on Dwayne Roloson and Deslauriers isn't ready to pick up the slack, if Dustin Penner, Horcoff and Sam Gagner don't have bounce-back seasons, if it takes a month to get the hang of what Quinn is pitching -- what then?
There is always, I suppose, faith.
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.