April 12 2012 08:58AM
Is it always darkest before the dawn?
For the Edmonton Oilers it is. Although not reflected in the year end standings, there was improvement.
Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins all proved they are or will become top flight players in the NHL. Smid really embraced his role as a shut down dman and battled every night. After the All Star break Whitney began to return to his high level of play. In net, Dubnyk has earned the opportunity to be the starter next season.
Looking at the team as a whole, the dramatic improvement on both the special teams was a huge step forward. Third best on power play and fourteenth spot on penalty kill are a solid sign of the direction the team is heading.
I think that if the percentage of pk and pp add up to 105%, a team is really clicking. The Oilers finished right around 102%.
Now for the bad medicine....
Two issues the Oilers need to address are consistent secondary scoring and the defense corps.
Outside of the young trio, who will score on a more regular basis next year? I expect Hemsky to return to his normal point producing ways next year. That is one. Jones has become a solid player who can chip in close to twenty.
After those five there are some question marks. A reduction in minutes for some veteran forwards will help keep their legs fresher through the whole year and result in higher point totals. Gagner must find a way to produce at a steady pace throughout the year. With his drive and skill level this is within his ability to accomplish. He can get closer to sixty points a year.
There needs to be more production from the other players than just the first line. This is a challenge Oiler management must overcome.
There is a need for an additional top end dman on the back end. That being said it isn't easy to get them. Take a look at the top teams in the league and compare to the Oilers top four.
- New York Rangers: Staal, Del Zotto, Girardi and McDonagh
- Pittsburgh Penguins: Letang, Martin, Niskanen and Orpik
- Vancouver Canucks: Edler, Bieksa, Hamhuis and Salo
- St. Louis Blues: Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, Jackman and Polak
- Edmonton Oilers: Whitney, Smid, Schultz and Petry
All four guys for the Oilers are solid NHL'ers. Whitney is a top end player who should return to form and Petry looks as if he will develop into an all around player. The other two are steady horses who will battle.
I just feel that an additional top four dman is required to add depth when injuries occur and to take some of the work load off these four.
All the top teams in the league have top end dman and solid depth behind them. Getting to this point is very important for the Oilers. You simply cannot win in the NHL without a very good defenseman corps. I strongly feel the sun will rise very soon over Oil Country.