Deep thoughts IV

Is Erik Cole destined to fall into the dubious ranks of good players who’ve been failures with the Edmonton Oilers, names fans file under the category of “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time”?

With just 24 games in the books, it’s likely a touch too early to relegate Cole to the Fraternity of Failure inhabited by the likes of Jiri Dopita, Adam Oates and Joffrey Lupul isn’t it?

Still, it’s fair to say the usually reliable and sometimes spectacular winger has been underwhelming since the Oilers jumped at the chance to get him from Carolina for future Norris Trophy winner Joni Pitkanen.

With just 3-4-7 and a minus-2 rating, the 30-year-old right winger — at least when he’s actually played on the starboard side by Craig MacTavish — is on pace for his worst NHL season in terms of points. That, for the record, was 2002-03, when he had 27 points in 53 games.

Cole’s off to the worst start of his career and hasn’t looked anything like the player MacTavish thought had the skills to play first-line minutes on left wing alongside Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.

Corner gas?

“It’s tough to feel real positive about things when you’re not contributing as much as you’d like,” Cole said. “Hopefully, it’s just around the corner.”

When he’s on, Cole’s a good — not great — winger with decent hands and a good shot who skates better than many guys considered power forwards. With seasons of 30, 29 and 22 goals, he can score.

Just not here. Not so far. Not a sniff in the past four games has Cole, despite being moved back to his more favoured right side, most recently on a line with Ethan Moreau and Kyle Brodziak.

“I’ve talked to Mac a little bit privately in the past two weeks and I feel a little more confident in my game,” he said. “If I keep doing the right things, I’m hoping it’s a matter of time.”

Great expectations

With a ticket of $4 million this season, Cole’s an unrestricted free agent next season. As was the case with Dopita, Oates and Lupul, there was a fair amount of buzz when he joined the team.

And, like that trio, Cole’s failed to live up to it and been deemed, at least by some, a bust short of the halfway mark of the season. Of course, there are differences. The dour Dopita was bought out in December. Oates actually offered to give some of his contract back. Lupul? He didn’t have a big fan in MacTavish and never did much to win the coach over.

Cole still has the skills and the time to turn things around, of course, but I can’t see that happening with Moreau and Brodziak. The question, then, is simple: where does he fit?

Sugar delivers

It was obvious from the first time Jim Matheson and I cornered Rob Schremp at the 2004 Entry Draft he had the brass and the confidence to play in the NHL. If I recall correctly, he told Matty and I he looked forward to making the team the following season.

The question was his commitment to getting faster and stronger and to shoring up the holes in his game.

Schremp, 22, gave us a glance at his work in progress in Wednesday’s 5-2 win over Dallas on a line with Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, showing the kind of game to back up the gab he had way back on draft day.

Mac likes it

“I was ecstatic with the way he played,” MacTavish said. “I thought it was a mistake-free game.

“He added a lot. We talked about it at the morning skate. It’s about what you create minus what you give up. He didn’t give up anything. He created at least two goals — jumping up on Cogs’ goal and a good past to Poulie (Marc Pouliot), so mission accomplished for him.”

I find myself pulling for the kid because, despite the bad rep he got in the OHL as a bit of a hotdog and a cocky, me-first player, he’s kept a bit of that old strut while paying his dues with MacT cutting him no slack. A poser would have folded by now. He’s hung in.

The question I have is: Can Schremp prove over the next couple of games he’s ready to stick? If so, does that make Robert Nilsson or somebody else expendable in a trade?

And…

— From the sounds of MacTavish today, expect Ladislav Smid to draw in against Los Angeles, possibly alongside Steve Staios.

“We’ve got to get him in,” MacTavish said. “He’s going to play very shortly, maybe as early as tomorrow.”

Smid’s been in limbo for weeks as MacTavish has sat him or played him as a left winger. This isn’t the point in Smid’s career to be doing that. Find out if he’s a keeper or move him.

— Tough guy Steve MacIntyre could be medically cleared to play within a few days, but he’s not OK to fight because his broken left orbital bone still needs more time to heal.

In other words, it’ll likely be January before he returns. He could play earlier if he wore a visor and didn’t fight, but I’m guessing MacTavish will resist the urge to use him on the power play and will opt to keep him out.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

  • Fiveandagame

    RobinB wrote:

    Fiveandagame: The first trade that happens will be to clear up the goaltending situation.

    You know what? For a second there I was so excited that Schremp could get a legit shot to stay in the line up I totally forgot about the three headed monster thats back stopping our team 🙂

    Ignorance is indeed bliss….

  • There isn't anything wrong with three scoring lines; it's just that someone needs to play against the opposition's 1st line. Maybe that's Hemsky, Horcoff and Penner, but somebody needs to do it.

    As for Schremp, weren't the Oilers' playing him at LW to neutralize his speed disadvantage somewhat? In other words, he won't be 3rd line centre.

  • Fiveandagame

    @ Jonathan Willis:

    I could see Pouliot centering Cole and Schremp for our third line. Schremp firing tape to tape passes onto Eric Cole's stick through the neutral zone would be awesome.

    If the fourth line was Moreau Brodziak and Pisani, you could double up Horcoff on Shifts at center to neutralize the other teams top line.

    I personally feel that your top line should be out against the other teams top line. Power VS Power.

    RB pointed out that it's an expensive fourth line, BUT it is already paid for. Might not last long but it could play out for the rest of the season.

  • MikeL

    Did anyone notice that the picture up there (tagged as Erik Cole) is actually Joni Pitkanen? Appropriate for the article I guessed; but I don't think we've forgotten Cole that much quite yet.

  • RobinB

    Oildude: And on every other fan who called me a blockhead when I was begging the Oilers not to trade for him in the first place after being told by people who would know he was an oddball.

    It was amazing how many people were convinced he was on the brink of being a dominating defenceman with no other evidence than good, not great, stats from parts of two good seasons despite red flags all over the place about other aspects of his make-up.

    Not that I'd ever gloat, "I told you so."

  • He's a guy who plays Pisani's role. I remember when everyone complained about Pisani making 2.5 million to play on the 3rd line. Well… Cole was a 4 million 3rd liner in Carolina, what did we expect? But we were all duped into thinking he would light it up on LW by MacT and others.

    Now we know better.

    But hey, no reason why we can't retain him if it's for a discount from 4 million.

    If we had Hemsky, Gagner, Cole, Pisani as our RW depth, we'd probably have some of the best RW depth in the NHL. But that being said, Pisani is more effective at a cheaper price and him being missing from the lineup has really shown on the team. I'd trade Cole for some help in other departments once Pisani returns from injury.