January 19 2013 09:40AM
Everywhere I go I get stopped and asked about the upcoming season for the Oilers. People ask me if the goaltending will hold up. They want to know if the tight schedule with increase the likelihood of more injuries for a team that has had issues in this area in the past. Is Yakupov as good as he looks? On and on.....
After they ask their question, they all get the same look in their eyes. The look is one of pleading...they want to know if it is ok to believe in this team. They want me to tell them that yes, now is the time, the Oilers are back.
This is the same look that Wanye gives women when he asks them out. He isn't sure of the answer but he hopes his prayers are answered this time. He knows he can't take many more let downs. Just like Wanye, Oiler fans want to let their guard down and not get hurt again this time. They want something good to believe in again. They want the Oilers back in the playoffs.
By nature I am a very conservative person. I don't have the desire to wear crazy clothes like Gregor. I tend to dress too warmly in the winter rather than being underdressed and cold. I always overestimate the time or distance a drive across town may take. I get to movies before the previews start or earlier so I can get a good seat.
When it comes to the Edmonton Oilers my prediction for their finish in the western standings this year is the same, conservative. 11th place.
Before I lay out my reasons for my placement of the Oilers in the standings, I want to mention the many reasons to be excited.
My OPTIMISTIC view of the Oilers
1. Eberle, the Nuge and Hall.
These three are only beginning to find their way in the NHL. Eberle and the Nuge put up a very nice point total last year. There is no reason to believe that won't continue. Taylor Hall was having a good season last year until the shoulder injury. With the surgery behind him, he is poised to continue to develop into a top player for the team.
With the addition of Nail, the Oilers have another weapon in their top six. Top teams always have more than one line that is a threat to score. He can provide that. Hard to predict what to expect from him this year but a goal total somewhere around thirteen to sixteen would be very respectable in this shortened season for a rookie.
3. Justin Schultz
Do I even have to say why this is a good thing?
4. Ralph Kreuger
I expect him to demand the accountability from all the players in the lineup. If you are performing well you will play more and the opposite will occur if you do not produce. Seems like a simple formula to follow but often coaches need to juggle egos. Now is not the time to juggle egos, now is the time to demand your team climb the standings.
5. The Defence
With the addition of Mark Fistric the defence corps is starting to become pretty good. A healthy Ryan Whitney for a full season will help eat the minutes up. Petry, Smid and Justin Schultz need to continue to develop and grow as players. As that happens this back end could have the makings of something very solid looking down the road. I would be pretty comfortable having Potter and Peckham as my 7th and 8 th defencemen. They are complete opposites so you can change the look of this group with either one.
My PESSIMISTIC view of the Oilers
I have many questions about this team and areas of concern that I just can't place them in a playoff spot come the end of April. Let me share them with you all.
Skill is needed to win games. Sometimes skill just takes over a game. It is a beautiful thing to watch when that happens. We all love it. Then there are games that are wars. Battles all over the ice, the corners, in front of the net and along the walls. These are rough games to play in and the hardest to win. You need to be able to win these types of games. You will find these games the last twenty percent of the season when teams are fighting for every point and during the playoffs.
When I look at the top two lines for the Oilers I have a hard time seeing the heavy lifters in that group. There is great skill in all six spots - but are there any Andrew Ladd, Brad Marchand, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richard, Johan Franzen or Ryan Callahan type of players?
On the line of Gagner, Hemsky and Yakupov who is going to separate the defencemen from the puck? Who will backcheck? They will be great when they have the puck but will they be as great when they don't?
For whatever reason this has been a big issue for the Oilers. Injuries have decimated the team over the past few years. Whose fault is this? If I knew I would be the richest trainer in the world. Without a line-up that is healthy for most of the year, success will be difficult. I need to see a change in this before I take this off the question list.
The Oilers and Devan Dubnyk have done everything right in his development so far in his career. He has worked his way up the organizational depth chart to the point where he is today, poised to be a starting goalie. He has a great attitude and work ethic. The team likes to play in front of him and believes in him. So far all this sounds very positive and it is. Now is the time for him to take the final and hardest step......actually becoming that NUMBER ONE.
It is different than being a backup, there is always the safety net of the starting goalie behind you to catch you if you fail. Not when you are the number one. You are the guy. That is why I have questions about Dubnyk. I have the same issue for Cory Schnieder in Vancouver and Tuukka Rask in Boston.
I think Dubnyk is a number one goalie but until he grabs hold of the spot, the position remains a question mark for me.
Of the three questions two are going to be pretty easy to figure out after the year. Did the team stay healthy? Yes or no. Did Dubnyk take the next step as a goalie? Yes or no.
I already know the answer to the question about grit on the top two lines and quite honestly through much of the team. There isn't enough.
I predict the Oilers finish 11th but they will be very close to making the playoffs. Maybe just a few wins shy of the playoffs. That will be a big improvement for the group. That being said they could just as easily get those wins and make the playoffs. But making the playoffs and having success in them is two totally different things. Without more grit worked into the lineup, any playoff appearance will be very brief.