No Cigar: Eight Years Out

Robin Brownlee
September 28 2013 01:09PM

When I picked the Edmonton Oilers to make the playoffs last season I was playing a hunch despite plenty of evidence I'd be wrong. I was, of course, as the Oilers made it seven straight years out of the post-season.

Picking the Oilers to miss the playoffs in 2013-14 is no such matter. It is, despite my sense there has been more optimism about Edmonton's chances from pundits around the NHL, not to mention long-suffering fans in the City of Champions, going with the odds instead of against them.

No matter which way you lean, of course, it's all crystal ball stuff. Taking hope and want – two emotions that are the very essence of fandom – out of the equation as "objective observers" should, doesn't mean you'll be right, as I proved last season, when I mistakenly thought the Oilers might excel in a 48-game sprint instead of an 82-game marathon.

Do I think the Oilers will push the playoff pace this season after fading down the stretch last season? Yes. Do I think the Oilers, with a new head coach in Dallas Eakins and a roster that's seen significant turnover – for the better – are improved? Yes.

Do I see a playoff spot? No, for two reasons – a tough schedule and injuries, and how they'll intersect at the beginning of this season. This is a team that's been dealt some tough cards on both fronts. Close, but no cigar.

THE INJURIES

Despite a 5-2-1 pre-season, one which wrapped up with a 4-0 loss to the Dallas Stars in Oklahoma City Friday, Edmonton's much discussed lack of depth at centre, a black hole made darker by the ongoing recovery from shoulder surgery of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the loss of Sam Gagner to a broken jaw, can't be overstated.

With RNH and Gagner out, Taylor Hall, making the switch from left wing as a fill-in, is the team's top center. Behind him, Mark Arcobello, Boyd Gordon and, it appears, Will Acton. Anybody who thinks that group is good enough (assuming GM Craig MacTavish doesn't bolster it), is leaning far too heavily on hope and want and ignoring the obvious.

While I think the Oilers have wisely been taking a pessimistic approach to the return of RNH, pegging it at the end of October, I suspect he'll be back closer to Oct. 1 than Nov. 1. I've said it before and I'm saying it again. Let's split it right down the middle and say he'll be back Oct. 15.

Even if that's the case, that'll put RNH out for the first seven games of the season. I don't think it's a stretch or looking for an unduly negative angle to suggest it could take him the rest of October, a total of 14 games, to get back into game shape and get his timing back.

Compound that with Gagner, the team's No. 2 centre, being out until the end of November, which translates to 27 games (plus additional time to knock off the rust), and I don't see Edmonton's paper-thin collection of men in the middle being nearly good enough against real NHL line-ups – something they saw little of during the pre-season.

THE SCHEDULE

Even if the Oilers had a full line-up that wasn't punched full of holes down the middle by injuries, the schedule-maker, as Jason Gregor has already pointed out, didn’t do them any favors.

The Oilers play at Rexall Place just six times in their first 19 games, a stretch that sees them make a six-game swing to the east in October and a four-game trip in November.

That's 13 of 19 games where opposing coaches get the last line change and the upper hand in match-ups up front and in defensive pairings against Hall, David Perron, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov. Those are match-ups, it goes without saying, already made easier by the absence of RNH and Gagner.

Take a look at the schedule and tell me how many points you see the Oilers getting out of those first 19 games, even if Nugent-Hopkins gets back after, say, seven games. Do they get 10, 12, 15? More?

MAKE IT EIGHT

What I see is a team undermanned by injuries in concert with a very tough schedule having to play from back in a re-aligned Pacific Division pack from the end of November on. How far back? I don’t know, but the start the Oilers are facing takes away much of any margin for error they have.

I expect the line-up MacTavish has assembled to improve as the season wears on, even though there's questions about the bottom six forwards and the defense, which looks better and marginally deeper on paper, but has yet to prove it on the ice against real NHL line-ups.

That said, even if the Oilers can stay relatively healthy after they get RNH and Gagner back and after living out of a suitcase for most of those first 19 games, has this team improved enough to charge from behind and earn a playoff spot after folding with the money on the table last spring?

I don't see it.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#101 David S
September 28 2013, 04:24PM
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Maverick007 wrote:

Grabovski was a free agent. He would of basically cost us the price of Jones and Grebeshkov. And we all know how good those signings were.

Well from what I've seen so far Grebs is a decent puck moving D-man, which is what we certainly needed and was identified as a need by the team - which BTW I agree with.

Jones? I dunno. Perhaps there was a thought he would be able to recover his game, but whoo boy does he look like a lost case now.

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#102 Racki
September 28 2013, 04:33PM
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I think MacT's got to jump on the horn and pick up a centerman for the team. I don't really feel that anyone replacing Will Acton is going to make that big of an impact to the team that it is necessary to pick up two Cs.. but I'd definitely go for another guy who can play up in the top six.

I'd be really hesitant to give the reigns to Mark Arcobello so quickly. The Oil already have Hall and his zero NHL games experience at center, and well, Acton with zero games experience period (even though I did say he's a small factor) and Mark Arcobello with 1 NHL gp is a recipe for disaster. I would pick someone up.

Once all bodies are healthy, you shouldn't be in a position where you've screwed yourself over if you just sign or trade for someone cheap but reliable. Jim O'Brien already passed through at a good value. The Oilers could revisit him if there are no better choices by late Monday.

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#103 pkam
September 28 2013, 05:03PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

"I think having more home games later when RNH and Gagner both in the lineup is in favor of us."

I'll say it again: starting the season without RNH and Gagner does not provide the Oilers some kind of immunity to future injuries.

I am aware of that.

Assume we are going to lose the majority of them, would you rather have 13 home games and 6 road games now so we will have more home games later?

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#104 Maverick007
September 28 2013, 05:33PM
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David S wrote:

Given how busy MacT was this summer, who's to say he didn't pitch Grabovski and he declined? There's alot of good players that won't touch Edmonton because of things like the brutal travel schedule and living in a fishbowl.

Until we know for sure that MacT pitched Grabs then we have to assume he didnt. I didnt hear no rumor that they did either.

And i dont think a public relations had anything to do with the Jones signing. The GM is running the show not the media or fans, and if he thinks that way then thats a bad, bad mentality.

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#105 DSF
September 28 2013, 05:35PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Yes, when will the six headed snake lose its head after 10?

All kidding aside I have been saying for a couple years now the team is being built to win when Rexall2 opens.

Yeah.

I'd say 10 should do it.

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#106 Maverick007
September 28 2013, 05:44PM
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DSF wrote:

It doesn't really matter when you lose games.

if you lose them, you lose them.

Its better to lose them in the beginning so you have time to make them up. If you can. At least theres a chance this way then the other way.

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#107 nunyour
September 28 2013, 06:14PM
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Spydyr wrote:

It is wayyyyyy to early to talk about trading Ebs or Yak.Perhaps when the team is closer to being a contender it might be time to trade for a missing piece. Now is not that time.

I don't think Gagner gets you what you want,but ebs or yak will.

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#108 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 06:18PM
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nunyour wrote:

I don't think Gagner gets you what you want,but ebs or yak will.

Not Gagner alone but that old three for one deal would.It would have to be a center coming back if you traded Gagner though.

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#109 pkam
September 28 2013, 06:31PM
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Spydyr wrote:

There is a home ice advantage.The last change putting your stick down last on draws and your fans. That does not change the fact every game is worth two point home or away.

Did I ever question that a win is 2 points? My argument is 2 points in some cases are easier than the other 2 points. And 2 points in some cases are more important than the other 2 points. Does it make some difference losing 2 points to a cup contender like the Hawks and Bruins, than a bottom feeder like the Flames or Sabres?

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#110 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 06:44PM
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pkam wrote:

Did I ever question that a win is 2 points? My argument is 2 points in some cases are easier than the other 2 points. And 2 points in some cases are more important than the other 2 points. Does it make some difference losing 2 points to a cup contender like the Hawks and Bruins, than a bottom feeder like the Flames or Sabres?

"And 2 points in some cases are more important than the other 2 points."

Are you talking divisional games so called four point games?This year with the cross over it would be conference games being four point games also.

If you miss the playoffs by two points does it matter what two points it was?

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#111 pkam
September 28 2013, 07:02PM
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Spydyr wrote:

"And 2 points in some cases are more important than the other 2 points."

Are you talking divisional games so called four point games?This year with the cross over it would be conference games being four point games also.

If you miss the playoffs by two points does it matter what two points it was?

No, I am talking about losing to weaker teams like the Flames and Buffalo this year. Those are the points you can't afford to lose. It hurts more when we lose points in those games than in games against top teams like the Hawks, the Pens and the Bruins.

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#112 TeddyTurnbuckle
September 28 2013, 08:07PM
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Strange feeling going into this season. I feel there is a chance to make the playoffs if the team gets heathy and addresses toughness but on the other hand I could see us picking in the lottery again if a couple more key guys go down.

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#113 bigslick
September 28 2013, 08:51PM
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pkam wrote:

I don't understand the reason why it is so bad that we'll be on the road 13 of the 1st 19 games. Assume we are going to lose all the 19 games, would you rather lose 13 road games and 6 home games, or 13 home games and 6 road games. I'll take the 13 road game and 6 home games. I think having more home games later when RNH and Gagner both in the lineup is in favor of us.

If RNH is going to miss a month and Gagner is going to miss 2 months, I'll rather it happens early than late. If we are going to miss the playoff by a few points, I'll rather we are out in March and fight our way back and miss, rather than we are in the playoff in March but hit the injury bugs then fail to protect the spot and miss by a few point.

Even We miss the playoff, it is more exciting and I feel better in the 1st case. And in case we make the playoff, would you rather having a healthir squad and winning into the playoff, or a depleted squad and surving to stay in the playoff?

And with the injury to our 2 top centres now instead of later, it is more likely that MacT will do something to help our centre depth than if we are healthy. It is also easier to get help via trade or waiver now than near the trade deadline.

It does not look good, but it can be worse.

And all the East match ups. Only 2 tough West teams; Van and LA.

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#114 madjam
September 29 2013, 06:35AM
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Crackenbury wrote:

Good point about Eakins. He must think Acton is the better option. I'd be putting my money on the 6'5" former first rounder with offensive upside. The Oilers either have another deal in the works or Eakins sees some warts on Colborne from the time he spent coaching him. The Flames sure didn't give up much to get a former first rounder.

Flames have about $13M in cap space and they get first choice over us on waiver wire . Expect Burke and Feaster to be busy adding pieces to Flames . That's something Tams and MacT. seem to have missed over the years , being so tight to the cap and contract numbers .

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#115 a lg dubl dubl
September 29 2013, 08:10AM
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So Ference is Captain eh

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#116 Crackenbury
September 29 2013, 08:12AM
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@madjam

No kidding! Burke, Feaster and 28 other teams. The point is he was available. Every team in the league would rather trade a player than put them on waivers. I'm guessing that even includes Toronto! There's nothing astute about it. Toronto made it known he was available and the Oilers either neglected or failed in an attempt to get him.

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#117 TM8Trent
September 28 2013, 02:46PM
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@Robin Brownlee

True that.

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#118 15w40
September 28 2013, 04:28PM
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A 23rd to 19th finish overall is a likely landing spot for this group. Still a soft goal here and a soft goal there......

Hall will have to be other-worldly at centre for this thing to stay out of the ditch and #94 will have to keep sippin at the fountain of youth as well.

They were still behind some other western conference teams will all of the regulars at centre so they are in a big hole. Hall may turn out to be an upgrade on Gagner but it may cost some of the production that would have been there with him on the wing. Hopefully the net difference will be positive.

Maybe something pops up on the waiver wire. The rub on that is that there are 6 teams ahead of the Oilers that have 1st crack so if its anybody of substance they may be long gone.

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#119 Quicksilver ballet
September 28 2013, 04:54PM
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@Bucknuck

It goes without saying, I really hope i'm wrong though too Bucky. There is a silver lining to that worst case scenario though. Lowe has us all hooked on crack/lotto picks these last five yrs. Nurse will more than cover being a top 10 selection. Problem is, we still need more kids who are capable of helping sooner rather than later. Gone seem the days of a GM/coach finding that kid (Grant Fuhr type,jr to the bigs) to help us now, despite his age. Like to have seen that Marco Roy kid playing with NHL'ers around him. Give kids like Nurse, Roy and maybe even one of those Russian kids (if they're not already obligated) a 9 games stint now and see what you've got. There's a really good chance the Oilers don't even know what they've got.

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#120 nunyour
September 28 2013, 05:51PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Would Gagner do when he gets back?

Yes,or ebs,or yak,it would be a tough pill to swallow,but I think it will have to be done sooner or later.But the return would be good also.

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#121 pkam
September 28 2013, 05:52PM
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DSF wrote:

It doesn't really matter when you lose games.

if you lose them, you lose them.

According to your argument, home ice advantage is just BS? And LT is wasting his time talking about the impact of tough schedule and injuries?

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#122 DSF
September 28 2013, 06:01PM
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Calgary Oilers wrote:

The Nucks are a pair of Ben Eager and Mike Brown high sticks to the faces of the Sedins from the abyss.

Nonsense.

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#123 DSF
September 28 2013, 06:09PM
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Oilcruzer wrote:

Enough of the negativity.

Who else is going to the opener?

(time to begin hype)

I need to make some kind of bet with DSF. Our bet last year was screwed by the lockout.

Oil will still be the next Canadian team to win the cup.

Ottawa.

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#124 pkam
September 28 2013, 06:13PM
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Spydyr wrote:

No the argument is every game is worth two points.Home, away ,injured team or tough opponent.The are all worth two points

So all the coaches are BS when they say the goal is to make .500 on the road and .700 at home?

So home ice advantage is also BS since a win on the road game and at home are the same 2 points?

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#125 pkam
September 28 2013, 06:21PM
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DSF wrote:

The Oilers were 9-11-4 at home last season....28th in the league.

Has something changed?

I think the past does not dictate the future, does it? And if we are discussing whether the Oilers will make the playoff, is it more reasonable to assume this has to be changed, or the Oilers is going to make 800 on the road?

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#126 nunyour
September 28 2013, 07:09PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Not Gagner alone but that old three for one deal would.It would have to be a center coming back if you traded Gagner though.

There's not to many 3 for 1 anymore.would you do a yak for lucic ?

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#127 15w40
September 29 2013, 08:05AM
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@madjam

The only way the Oilers don't take a run at Colborne is either they didn't know about it or Eakins flat out said "don't bother".

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#128 Crackenbury
September 29 2013, 08:15AM
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@15w40

I'd go with the Eakins angle. Hell, even I knew he was potentially available yesterday morning. The leafs were going to be over the cap if they didn't make some moves.

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#129 Avatarget
September 29 2013, 11:03AM
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Bucknuck wrote:

Quick, you are an enigma to me.

I thought for sure you were a troll about a year ago, but you keep saying smart things with enough regularity that I no longer hold hold that opinion. Pessimist and Lowe hater - definitely, troll... not so much. You also make me laugh once in while, which is always a good thing.

Now, to reply to your pessimistic view that the team will do worse than 25th. I do not believe that is true. When considering injuries I believe that the forward core is about the same as it was (better when RNH and Gagner return). Goaltending is about the same, and the D is much improved.

Ference > Whitney, and Schultz will be better because he's not a rookie, and Smid and Petry are better players than they showed last year. Belov and Larsen are better than our 6, 7 last year, and the callups are better if there are injuries. It can't be worse than last year... it just can't.*

*if it is you will find me sobbing in a corner somewhere during the playoffs.

The problem is that you are comparing this years Oilers to last years Oilers. The Oilers don't have to beat the Oilers. They have to beat the other teams in the conference and their division. Comparing them to LA, Vancouver, San Jose, Anaheim etc leaves me more pessimistic about their chances to qualify for the post season. Are they better than last year? Probably but that and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee come playoff time.

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#130 Mike
September 29 2013, 07:34PM
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BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull wrote:

My three questions entering the season

1. Can Ryan Smyth keep up with the play of the 2013 game? Playing him with two of the fastest Hall and Hemsky seems counterproductive.

2. Can Mr. Dubnyk steal 10 or so games for a young and fragile team going on the road for much of Oct. and Nov?

3. Why has the management of the Oilers refused to address the centerman and functional toughness in the bottom 6? Can't wait to see a tired Acton-Brown-Big Mac take on Thorton-Marleau-Pavelski

Re: Ryan Smyth - my recollection of the last couple of years is that he starts strong but runs out of gas after a month or two.

Assuming that he is the same this season, my hope is that they ride him hard in October while we are undermanned. Once we get healthy, he can rest up.

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