January 13 2013 05:45PM
If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it probably it is a duck, so those convinced that the Edmonton Oilers played their outdoor game of shinny at Hawrelak Park today as a PR stunt intended to placate fans who had to wait out a 113-day lockout probably have it right.
Planned and staged it was -- as if the Oilers were responding to an edict straight from NHL offices that every one of the league's 30 teams should do what it can to make amends and welcome fans, and their wallets, back into the fold. We've seen much the same plan in play in recent days as teams prepared to open camp: free this here, free that there. In Edmonton, site of the Heritage Classic, the win-them-back edict meant shinny outdoors.
That said, even as calculated as it is, giving frozen-toed fans a glimpse of their favourite players up close and personal the day before camp opens is a token of good faith, a decent gesture and one that will no doubt at least be the start of smoothing things over – it's not like fans in this city need their arms twisted to show up at Rexall Place, even for a 48-game season.
But, if today's game was a one-off in terms of reconnecting with fans – opening the first three days of camp and providing free popcorn doesn't count as a meaningful follow-up – and there's nothing more to come, then the Oilers aren't doing everything they should.
If the Oilers are serious about mending fences, I'd like to think they're planning a series of events this season that will allow fans to connect with the team – events that don't involve turnstiles and selling tickets or merchandise to pad the bottom line. Events like, but not necessarily the same, as today.
And about ticket prices . . .
THIS AND THAT
. . . So, we'll start camp at Rexall Place with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins playing between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner at the pivot between Nail Yakupov and Ales Hemsky with the third line being Shawn Horcoff in the middle with Ryan Smyth and Teemu Hartikainen. I'd like to think coach Ralph Krueger will start the season that way, too. Makes sense to me.
. . . There's nobody on the roster as polarizing as Gagner, so I'll be interested in hearing takes from fans on what he might do this season. The way I see it, we're likely going to see the top-end of Gagner's game, his ceiling or close to it, this season, his sixth with the Oilers. How that translates into points, I don’t know, but I'll bet a buck he betters his career average of .60 PPG.
. . . Jason Gregor already touched on it and I'm in full agreement that the Oilers aren't going to be able to mount any kind of legitimate playoff push unless they get a big year from Ales Hemsky. Hall, RNH and Eberle get most of the headlines, and that's understandable, but how effective Krueger's top-six forwards will be as a group hinges on Hemsky (and his health).
. . . I'm as eager to see Justin Schultz as anybody – not at camp Monday but when the season begins in Vancouver against the Canucks against actual NHL players. Schultz, obviously, had his way in the AHL, but it's not going to go that way when the puck drops here. I like Krueger's decision to start him alongside Nick Schultz. Safe call. As for points? Fans should be doing handstands if Schultz gets 20.
AND . . .
. . . Momentum is an over-used cliché in all sports that doesn't really apply most in its true definition, but I'll be interested to see if there's any carryover from the Spengler Cup with Devan Dubnyk to start the season. I do believe confidence is a more important aspect than the M-word and Dubnyk has plenty of it right now.
. . . That nine-game road swing (while The Brier takes over Rexall Place) is a killer, especially when you consider the Oilers are playing basically every second day with 48 games in less than 100 days, but I think it's the final 10 games that'll tell the story. The Oilers play seven of their final 10 games at home. I think the Oilers will be in playoff contention going into that stretch and I'm guessing, given recent seasons, fans can live with that.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.