THIRD TIME UNLUCKY

“Get giddy. The next few years are going to be a lot of fun in Edmonton.”

— Terry Jones, Edmonton Sun

With more gushing in Oil Country since roughnecks tapped Leduc No. 1, it’s obvious optimism abounds when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers on the eve of the 2008-09 season.

Over at The Sun, Jones and hockey writers Rob Tychkowski and Derek Van Diest were unanimous Wednesday in picking the Oilers to not only make the playoffs after two straight years out, but to win the Northwest Division outright. They’re not alone.

While I tend to agree with Large the Oilers are going to be fun to watch, I’m not convinced they’ll manage either — winning the division title or making the playoffs. But that’s just me.

Here’s how I see the Western Conference.

THE TOP TIER

1. DETROIT. In a class of their own. They have Hart Trophy candidates in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, perennial Norris Trophy winner Niklas Lidstrom and they’ve added Marian Hossa. Great special teams.

2. SAN JOSE. Is this the year? If Jonathan Cheechoo can regain his form, the Sharks will be absolutely loaded up front. I’ll take Evgeni Nabokov over Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin any day.

3. CALGARY. If the wheels don’t fall completely off Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames will be the class of the Northwest Division. Not many teams have a one-two offensive-and-shutdown punch like Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr on the back end. Nice additions in Cammalleri and Glencross.

4. ANAHEIM. Not having Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer farting around with retirement talk is a bonus. I like the addition of Brendan Morrison.

THE NEXT FOUR

5. DALLAS. Proof that the pre-season means little. A full season of Brad Richards and the grit added with Sean Avery will help, although I’m not sold on super-hyped Fabian Brunnstrom.

6. MINNESOTA. While we might see a return to more defensive hockey and a less potent transition game, the Wild will have enough offence unless Marian Gaborik comes off the rails.

7. CHICAGO. For all the talk in Edmonton about young talent, no team in the conference has more young skill than the Blackhawks with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews up front and Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith on the back end. A team on the rise in the Windy City.

8. COLORADO. The Avs would be a spot or two higher if it wasn’t for the goaltending tandem of Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft. Expect a bounce-back year from Ryan Smyth. When will Joe Sakic slow down?

CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR

9. EDMONTON. This team looks better on paper than it will in the standings, although I fully expect the Oilers to be in the thick of things and destined for another hair-on-fire stretch drive.

There’s lots to like about this edition of the Oilers . . .

— I don’t have the doubts about Mathieu Garon some people do. I think he can be the No. 1 guy for 65-70 games, and he’ll be motivated because he’s playing for a contract.

— Erik Cole for Joni Pitkanen is a big upgrade. I won’t be surprised to see Cole score 30 goals. While Cole, Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky weren’t a great fit in pre-season, give it time.

— I don’t see a big drop-off, aka the sophomore jinx, for Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano. I’d be more worried about Robert Nilsson, only because he’s had inconsistency in his game in the past.

— Shawn Horcoff is in his prime and those people who don’t consider him a “legit” No. 1 centre don’t get how well-rounded his overall game is. He’s in for a bounce-back year and I won’t be surprised to see 75 points.

— Hemsky. He’ll be more protected from the constant muggings he’s endured for several seasons. Those who’ve been waiting for that elusive breakout year will see it this season.

Here’s what makes me nervous . . .

— A bogus schedule. The Oilers play 12 of their first 15 games on the road and could spend the first two months of the season digging themselves out of a hole. That’s a factor in a conference where you could have six points separating seventh place from 10th.

— Trouble in the circles. Nobody has stepped up to make up for the loss of Jarret Stoll and Marty Reasoner on the dot. While I don’t put a lot of weight in pre-season records in terms of wins and losses, the Oilers inability to win face-offs has been alarming.

— The third-line mix. I haven’t liked the trio of Ethan Moreau, Fernando Pisani and Dustin Penner a bit. Two guys playing out of position and another who has barely played the past two seasons. Trouble.

— The power play. Good enough? With the addition of Lubomir Visnovsky and 75 games from Sheldon Souray it should be, but . . .

— The Oilers have enough offence, but they have to be way better defensively in front of Garon. Have they shown marked improvement in their own end? Well, no.

THE ALSO-RANS

10. VANCOUVER
11. COLUMBUS
12. PHOENIX
13. NASHVILLE
14. ST. LOUIS
15 LOS ANGELES

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

  • Chris.

    The Oilers will either win with the curent lineup…Or The lineup will change. Either way, this team will win. Calgary won't score if Iggy gets hurt and Vancouver won't win a single game without a forty save effort by Luongo. Wish the Oilers had more top end talent, but having all your resources tied up in a few players can be problematic also. I like that the big problem this year is "Faceoffs" as opposed to "Defence" or "Goaltending".

    1)Detroit
    2)Dallas
    3)Calgary
    4)San Jose
    5)Anaheim
    6)Edmonton
    7)Minesota
    8)Chicago Or Nashville

    Edmonton/Calgary to swap position if Iginla gets hurt for any signifigant length of time.

  • Fiveandagame

    //Fiveandagame… you are an idiot//

    Darren–

    I resemble that remark!

    Although my previous post was meant to be read with thy tongue firmly pressed into thy cheek…

    I agree with you on JDD. Why the one way? Was there a deal for Roli that fell through? WTF?

  • Darren

    While I am not the biggest fan of Robin in the best of times, this is one of the few times I actually like what he has to say. There are concerns with the team, and what he all pointed out is basically things I have been worried about.
    One question though, why did the Oiler's sign JDD to a one-way contract, I dont see the sense of that at all.

    Fiveandagame… you are an idiot

  • Fiveandagame

    Brownie of the KISS army–

    If, for whatever reason the Oilers miss the playoffs (only plausible scenario being that their plane crashes and we play out the season with Falcons (we'd still finish 9th cause we'd still be better than Vancouver)) You would get to be right wouldn't you?

    If you're right you will be soooo smart won't you. Going against what EVERYBODY else is saying.

    So S-M-R-T

    Where if you're wrong, you can say things like "Wow Brodziak really exceeded expectations, Who knew Pisani would score 20+? Eric Cole performed above expectations, I was drinking heavily and hanging out with Wayne Gretz when I made that prediction" Whatever excuse you'd give for them making the playoffs, you could quantify with some type of BS like the above.

    NOW, if you predict them to say make the playoffs or win the division and they don't, you'd just be wrong. Wrong and then when you'd defend your stance earlier in the year it would sound like you're making excuses/whining about the poor play of such and such or MacT or the schedule.

    SO, your prediction of them to miss the playoffs guarantees you good standing at the end of the year, with either an "I told you so" or "wow the team really surprised me, how great is that" and everybody would greet you with open arms on the playoff bandwagon you'd be hitching a ride on.

    You can be right with your prediction, or pleasantly surprised, but not wrong….well wrong but nobody would be pointing fingers cause we'd all be 3 pints deep into playoff mode by the time Jonathan digs this article back up and reposts it.

    I think your prediction is media cowardice.

    …..chicken:)

    and finally….

    OUTKAST YOU'RE RETARDED!

    don't you know that Vancouver is getting all of their wins out of the way in the preseason?

    Question: What will it take to get playoff ticket in Vancouver this year?

    Answer: A plane ticket to Edmonton.

  • RobinB

    Fiveandagame: To be different? No. To be right? Yes. Maybe they're one and the same.

    ABBA? If you only knew how wrong you are. Soundgarden? Good Lord. man, by the time they broke out in 1990 I had 20 years of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, BOC, Molly Hatchet, Alice Cooper and KISS under my belt.

  • 1. Vancouver – that's what she said
    2. San Jose – that's what he said
    3. Detroit – that what… you get the point
    4. St.Louis
    5. Chicago
    6. Dallas
    7. Calgary
    8. Nashville
    9. Colorado
    10. Columbus
    11. Los Angeles
    12. Minnesota
    13. Phoenix
    14. Anaheim
    15. Edmonton –> Victor Hedman

    Edmonton 1st line can't stay intact.

    – Hemmer and Cole can't stop running into eachother on the RW. Cole doesn't know how to play his position and Hemsky is useless without a triggerman.

    – Horcoff is the best 2nd line center on any Stanley Cup winning team.

    – Visnovsky will underwhelm

    – Souray will score 7 goals and add 10 assists.

    – Moreau should be a 4th liner. He is sloted in the 3rd line…why?

    – Grebeshkov (-45)

    – Gilbert 2 goals, 20 assists

    – Garon 3.12 GAA, 0.899 SP

    – Smid 0G 5A 250PIM (all minor penalties for hooking) -35

    – Gagner 5G 25A

    – Cogliano 40G 15A

    – Brodziak 25G 20A

    etc. etc.

  • Gord

    I've mentioned this several times – I think the biggest concern is a lack of physical, shut down style defencemen. We can have the 6 best puck moving d-men in the league, but if they can never gain control of the puck, their skills are wasted.

    Pointing this out, face off wins become even more important, another category which the Oilers have seen a drastic decline from last year (as previously mentioned). Marty 'Party' Reasoner and Mr. Rachel Hunter will be horribly missed in this area. I have a feeling Horcoff will take 75% of the team's faceoffs unless this issue is addressed.

    I don't see a concern on the PP if Souray goes down. We have a good group of offensively talent d-men, and two solid scoring lines. The Oilers PP looked great to close last season, which of course had no Souray.

    Bogus schedule? Sure 12 of the 15 first games on the road to start the season looks bad initially. What that says to me (with being lazy and not taking the time to look too deeply) that the home stretch while trying to sneak into 8th position will have the Oil playing more often in the friendly confines of Rexall Place. This seems like an advantage to me.

    I didn't want to comment on the predictions as each is entitled to their own opinions, so I will insert my own.

    1) Detroit – what Robin said
    2) San Jose – what Robin said
    3) Calgary – what Robin said
    4) Dallas – great additions in Avery and Richards
    5) Anaheim – Burke is an idiot and is bound to drive the team into the ground. I also think the PP is not as strong as it was last season with Schneider gone)
    6) Chicago – what Robin said
    7) Phoenix – I think that Phoenix has the best crop of young players and Wayne Gretzky (not Wanye Gretz) will have these kids playing great hockey. Also, adding Jokinen can only be good
    8) Nashville – Lost Zidlicky and Radulov, but should still squeak into the play offs by virtue of the Oilers losing their last regular season game 🙁
    ————-
    9) Edmonton – if they win that last game, they will be in!! 😉
    10) Colorado – too many questions in goal
    11) St. Louis – not enough depth
    12) Minnesota – lost Rolston and if Gaborik gets hurt they have no chance of scoring
    13) Vancouver – if Luongo can get 35 shut outs, the Canucks could get 35 wins this season
    14) Columbus – no help yet for Nash. What a waste of talent with him there by himself
    15) Los Angeles – I would love to ee LA finish higher but I can't see Labararbabrabrbra winning 30 games for them.

  • Chris.

    I can't shake the premonition that the Oil will win a game by 3 or 4 goals one night and then lose the next two nights by one. There is a difference between offence and TIMELY offence. Also am nervous about all the third period collapses.

  • Fiveandagame

    Yeah FLAMES Suck! remember you can't spell Calgary without s-u-c-k.

    Robin I totally think you're saying this just to be different. Thats why you bell bottoms when everyone else was in GWG's why you listened to ABBA whilst the world listened to SOUNDGARDEN and why you pick the OIL the MIGHTY MIGHTY OIL to finish ninth.

    For you to think Colorado is a better team, you must be wearing you Ryan Smyth colored glasses with clip on mullet attachment to think that team is better in all three areas then the Oilers.

    The Oilers will make the playoffs for sure for this reason. If they don't have the players to get it done, they have the wealth of assets to TRADE for the players to get it done (i.e. when we picked up Spacek, Roli, tarnstrom and Samsonov in '06). The Oiler nation can rest assure that Katz and company will not tolerate underperformance.

    The team will be good and Brownie will be wrong. So everybody wins.

  • swany

    9th are you kidding, Minny and the Avs are going to be better than us !!! Minny lost 2 of there top six forwards, Gabby won't resign and the Avs backend and Goaltending are quite poor. Lets hope the Oilers can come through the first 20 games at 500 then watch out

  • Douggy

    yeah, kipprusoff is going to shit the bed this year, so will big bert! best three players the flames have will be iggy, phaneuf, and unfortunately glencross! oil will win the div title! flames suck.

  • Rick

    Right now, aside from the schedule which they can't do anything about, the biggest concern heading into the season has to be the inability to win a face off. God they looked horrible in that regard during the pre season.

    It seems like an either you have it or you don't kind of skill so it's not like you should need the pre season to get up to speed like the other things they tend to work on at this time of year.

    Other than that I don't see any more question marks than almost every other team in the league. Some will break their way and some won't. Again like almost every other team in the league.

    I know you don't specifically point to it as a concern but there seems to be more than a few people out there that are suggesting that the Oilers may struggle because you can't rely on all of the kids to have a smooth 2nd year. It's probably valid.

    What I would like to know is why they are so quick to declare that the Hawks are not only now legit but can be expected to be better than the Oilers because of all of their talented kids.

    Aren't the Hawks at an even greater risk than the Oilers? At least here there is a veteran contigent playing ahead of the kids. Which isn't the case in Chicago.