After suggesting Craig MacTavish had done a flip-flop on the value of employing an enforcer this week, I find myself doing likewise when it comes to how I think the 2008–09 season will unfold for the Oilers.
Before training camp opened, I was as optimistic about the Oilers as I’ve ever been. And why not?
With the way the Oilers roared through the final 20 games of last season at 14-5-1 and after seeing Kevin Lowe jettison Joni Pitkanen, Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene and Raffi Torres for Erik Cole, Lubomir Visnovsky and Gilbert Brule, what wasn’t to like?
Factor in the return of Sheldon Souray, Ethan Moreau and Shawn Horcoff from long-term injuries, and I was among many who not only believed a return to the playoffs after two years out was a lock, but that the Oilers might challenge for the Northwest Division title and a guaranteed top-three seed in the Western Conference.
Going into tonight’s tilt with the Calgary Flames, I’m not as sure about this edition of the Oilers as I was. Questions nag me—questions that began before the Flamers hung a 4–0 licking on them Tuesday.
Without some answers before the puck drops October 12 against Colorado, I’m not nearly as confident as I was in September the Oilers will simply pick up where they left off last spring and waltz back into the playoff picture.
1. With just ten days until the season opens, why are the Oilers still flirting with a Three-Headed Monster in goal, aka Mathieu Garon, Dwayne Roloson and Jeff Deslauriers?
Keeping three goaltenders doesn’t work. It has never worked. It never will work. You’d think the memory of Ty Conklin, Mike Morrison and Jussi Markkanen would be burned into Lowe’s brain, so why hasn’t the situation been sorted out by now?
I get it that Roloson isn’t easy to move, given his age and contract, but wasn’t there somebody, anybody, willing to take him this summer? If there is a real belief Deslauriers is ready to make the step up to being the Number Two guy here, Roloson had to me moved by now.
If there’s doubt Deslauriers is ready to be Garon’s back-up, assign him to the minors—even with the risk of losing him on waivers. If the Oilers aren’t sold on JDD, how much real risk is there somebody else must have him?
Using a roster spot for a third stopper is already causing Craig MacTavish grief in setting his 23-man roster, and it will cost somebody like Brule or Rob Schremp a chance to crack the line-up to start the season.
2. Who’s on third?
How long will MacTavish give the mismatched and underwhelming trio of Moreau, Fernando Pisani and Dustin Penner to show something?
I don’t see a fit here, and I’m not necessarily buying conventional wisdom that this threesome will somehow just flip a switch and get it going once the Oilers are playing for points.
I haven’t liked Moreau’s game a bit. And Penner? He calls himself a complementary player. Fair enough. But if he’s a 23-goal man as a sidekick for Horcoff and Ales Hemsky, what numbers will he put up for his $4.25 million as a complementary player to Moreau and Pisani? For what it’s worth, I’d rather see Andrew Cogliano or Brule between Penner and Pisani to start the season.
3. What about the Kid Line?
I’m not of the mind that Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson and Cogliano are going to fall victim to the sophomore slump in unison—although odds are one of them will—but anybody expecting them to score at the pace they did in the final 20 games last season is on dope.
I can see Gagner in the 55-point range and Cogliano and Nilsson hitting 50 points. That’s not bad, but it’s not so prolific that it allows Cole, Horcoff and Hemsky breathing room on a team that scored 235 goals last season.
4. Who’s Souray now?
Until we’re 30 games into the season and Souray hasn’t skated to the bench doubled over holding his shoulder or some other malfunctioning body part, the question of his durability still makes me toss and turn.
With so much invested in him—in salary and the hopes of a power play that has to be way better than 21st if the Oilers are to contend—he’s a question mark after playing just 26 games last season.
Even healthy for, say, 75 games, I don’t see Souray approaching his career-high 26 goals of 2006–07 with Montreal.
5. Are statistics really for losers?
Two sets of numbers claw at my cranium. The first is 15–4, the Oilers NHL-leading mark in shootouts last season. The second is 12-of-15, as in the Oilers playing 12 of their first 15 game on the road.
No way the Oilers win 15 games via shootouts again and no way Garon repeats that once-in-a-lifetime 10–0 record. Somebody smarter than I can probably come up with the odds of repeating that feat, but the bottom line is they won’t.
As for the schedule, who is the genius at NHL head office who came up with this Dirty Dozen? It’s like Brian Burke hacked into the Gary Bettman’s database. Given the other questions I’ve got, this first 15 games has 4-9-2 written all over it. And these first 15 come after the Oilers get six days off between their last pre-season game and the opener against Colorado?
Second thoughts and questions. I have a few.