March 11 2009 12:40PM
Not since Bob Stauffer and I attempted to propel our fat asses over 40 yards in a foot race without taking the twister at Edmonton Eskimos training camp a few years ago has there been a sight as sorry as the Western Conference playoff race the Edmonton Oilers are involved in.
Stauffer and I had an excuse. First, we're not very smart. Second, we were bored after watching countless days of drills. So, Bob and I decided it would be a good idea to provide comic relief for the players toiling under a blazing sun and embarrass ourselves by lining up for an, ahem, sprint.
We accomplished both in spades. Better still, we got to see the lowlights of the race -- Stauffer beat me by a stride despite catching his toe in his pants and cart-wheeling across the finish line -- on Global TV, complete with Chariots of Fire soundtrack, because Kevin Karius wasn't going to pass up a chance to make us look like the jackasses we are.
But what of the Oilers, who have clicked it into overdrive -- which I didn't know you could do in reverse -- and are racing backwards toward the playoffs like a runaway train?
Despite Tuesday's 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Oilers today sit in seventh place with 71 points despite a 3-4-3 record in their last 10 games. Can you feel the momentum?
While a 14-5-1 run in their final 20 games wasn't enough to get it done last season, it's beginning to look like playing .500 the rest of the way might do the job this time. I can only imagine that the Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks hope it is.
With Detroit, San Jose, Calgary and Chicago locks in the top four spots and Vancouver having the inside track for fifth place, the final three playoff berths are being contested, so to speak, by Columbus, Nashville, Edmonton, Minnesota and Dallas.
Aside from the Predators, 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, and Columbus, 6-4-0, the rest of the field is making like the Italian Army. Minnesota, which will do an impersonation as road-kill for most of the rest of the season, is 4-4-2 in its last 10. Dallas has staggered to a 2-7-1 mark.
Despite picking the Oilers to finish ninth and miss the playoffs in pre-season, I can see them making it. As Stauffer proved, if your competition is bad enough, there's hope. If the Oilers are in a post-season spot today despite their last 10 games and a power play that's 1-for-31 the last nine games, maybe they can get it done with their toes caught in their cuffs, too.
Dog days still
I've always believed if it walks like a dog, barks like a dog and craps all over the yard like a dog, it's a dog.
And Dustin Penner, despite some reasonable statistical arguments to the contrary by Jonathan Willis before Craig MacTavish sat his lazy backside in the press box against Montreal, is a dog.
I'll concede Penner might be the most effective left winger, at least statistically, the Oilers have. Big deal. That doesn't change the fact he's an under-achieving, unmotivated player who has the physical attributes and skills to be better than he is. But nooooooo. He can't be bothered. That shouldn't be a revelation to anybody.
If you look hard enough, which some people have, you can find numbers that show PDP (Poor Dustin Penner), still lugging that $4.25 million annual salary and all those unreasonable expectations like a millstone around his neck, isn't really THAT bad. Well, yes he is. PDP is in MacTavish's doghouse again because, well, he's a dog. He's a big player who plays small and who plays only when he feels like it. PDP is a player, it's obvious, incapable of consistent commitment, be it to an off-season training regimen or the pursuit of pucks, opponents and excellence on the ice. PDP is in the doghouse because he's not really interested in being the best he can be and because he doesn't play with the fire in his gut that many players, most of whom would give their left gonad to have his physical tools, do. PDP is playing in the NHL. He's wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. What? There's more?
Dollars and Sense
Now, I understand that it's not Penner's fault the Oilers unwisely chose to throw a stack of money at him via an offer sheet. I don't begrudge the big fella that dough. Anybody with half-a-brain would have grabbed that stack and run with it. Envy over Penner's wad has zippo to do with what drives me nuts about him.
I'll say it again: What grinds me is Penner shows no consistent inclination to earn a contract that was offered with the expectation he'd do his best and work to provide value in return, when I can think of dozens of players I've met over the years who'd do anything just to get a cup of coffee in the NHL at minimum wage.
So, forgive me when I feel the contents of my stomach rushing up my throat when I hear people trying to mitigate Penner's indifference or make it sound like he's somehow got a raw deal or has been picked on.
Sorry in Springfield
You know the situation sucks in Springfield when the Oilers are apologizing to fans of their AHL affiliate for an abysmal product even before the season is over. Such was the shame-faced admission this week.
“We are in the business of winning hockey games and we failed miserably in Springfield this season,” Oilers assistant GM and vice-president of hockey operations Kevin Prendergast said in a news release.
“On behalf of the Oilers we apologize to the fans in Springfield who have supported this team through a very difficult year. We will begin plans immediately in addressing the problems on the ice this season and promise that we will do everything we can to put a more competitive and winning team on the ice next year.”
One would hope those "plans" include providing talent capable of playing at the AHL level through the Entry Draft, which would fall to Prendergast and his scouting staff.
As it stands, the 19-37-7-2 Falcons don't have nearly enough of it. Thin to start with, call-ups by the Oilers, injuries and brutal seasons by the likes of Rob Schremp have made for a long season for the local faithful.
Pity Rob Daum, saddled with this gaggle of grunts since parachuting in for fired Jeff Truitt Feb. 10. Going into action against Hershey Wednesday, the Falcons have lost six straight and are 3-10-1-1 under Daum.
Fact is, Scotty Bowman couldn't coax this ECHL roster into the playoffs. I trust the Oilers brass will keep that in mind before laying any of the blame for what's been an unmitigated failure at Daum's feet.
I'm thinking somebody should get the proverbial can tied to their backside over the Springfield mess, but it isn't Daum.
Isn't it time Schremp and agent Scott Norton asked to be traded so they can get a second opinion?
With 7-32-39 in 54 games with Springfield, Schremp hasn't only stalled on the development curve, he's losing ground. In his first pro season, 2006-07, Schremp produced 17-36-53 in 69 games with Wilkes-Barre Scranton. In 2007-08 with Springfield, he had 23-53-76 in 78 games.
Schremp's seen limited duty in just seven games with the Oilers since draft day, including four this season, and produced 0-3-3.
How long will it take after the Oilers back into the playoffs with a 7-10-3 record in their final 20 games before I get the first e-mail: "Brownlee, you IDIOT, didn't you say they'll miss the playoffs?" I'd say the over-under on that one is about six minutes. How could I not believe?
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.