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.

  • Dennis

    I"ll be content if they hold their own vs tough opp but I won't set up Cole to fail by expecting him to squeeze goal scoring blood from the Moreau-Brodziak turnips.

  • Hockey Gods

    Interesting read Robin, very well done. I have one point to make on Cole and your article. You mentioned where does he fit? I don't profess to be a line maker, but for a brief time in the last two weeks he played some with Cogs. I seen a lot of natural Chemistry with that combo and wonder if a line can be made out of that.

  • David S

    Over-analyzing is what the 'sphere does best I'm afraid. I think Cole will come on when we really need him, which should be pretty damned soon.

    And does anybody know the story on Smid? Is it that MacT is trying to balance development with winning and simply can't develop one more guy at this point? I dunno but I'd be really interested to hear your take Robin.

  • oilerdago

    Agree w/Milli – Cole has been looking more comfortable of late. It's time to give him a chance to make the adjustment instead of over-analyzing each thing.

    It takes some guys a while to figure out MacT's system and I think that has a lot do do w/Cole's slow start. The good thing about his play lately is he's doing a lot of the little things well – something vets know that kids like Gagner need to learn. If your offense isn't coming, do all the other little things right and it will come.

    About time that Smid gets back in the lineup.

  • Rick

    Consider me unconvinced. Instead of getting ready to trade Nilsson how about we just hope that Schremp can do enough to actually up his own value so we can move him down the road?

    As for Cole, his season is reminding me of the one Moreau had in '01-'02 when absolutely nothing went right for him offensively. It's a shame really because also like Moreau he seems to haev a lot of try to his game.

    I can't imagine Cole would want to re-sign here based on the season he is having and when Pisani gets back someone in the top nine ends up getting bumped to the 4th line.

    I wouldn't be too disappointed if the Oilers sniffed around to see what kind of interest there may be for him and move him if the deal looks ok.

  • BB

    At least it seems like Cole is being proactive while in his slump… seeking help from the coaching staff and such. He has skills that the Oilers need, its just a system/lineup issue is that we don't really have a good fit for him in this lineup.

    Kudos to Schremp for showing maturity and growth as a player in last night's game. He played well, especially away from the puck, and showed more hustle that I've seen in any of his previous appearances in Oiler silks. I'll be rooting for him in hopes that last night wasn't a fluke and we see repeat performances of the quality he showed last night.

  • Good read Brownlee. I am also cheering for Schremp. He did look really good last night.

    As for Cole. If he doesn't get any better, I am going to expect him gone by the trade deadline.

    Did Oates really try and give money back? That's awesome. I wish we could do that for all the craptacular guys on the team. Besides… Oates earned what he got because he taught Horcoff and Stoll how to be better in the faceoff circle. That made him being around worth it. To bad Horcoff forgot what he learned.

  • I like the way Schremp played last night, I hope he can find a way to make himself stick in the line up. Robin, I think you may be right, if he can play as he did last night he has the play making skills that may get Cole out of his funk.

  • swany

    I see Cole working hard every game ,but he tries to do to much by himself, last night he had the puck many times but failed to use his linemates and gave the puck up, when he hit the post on the empty net that was a sign at how his season is going. If he would look to pass the puck to Moreau or Brods and drive the net the goals will come but he can't beat everyone to score.

  • Dennis

    All these cases had special circumstances:

    – Dopita was getting up there but at the time the Oilers were so desperate for a big pivot that Lowe gambled a pick. I remember his only career goal in Atl but I don't remember him creating a lot of chances either.

    – Oates was done in by age so there's a theme.

    – Lupul wasn't ready to play in a real hockey market and he was more interested in making excuses than anything else. Some guys can't play at Fenway or at Yankee Stadium and Lupul couldn't play at Rexall. Plus, you shouldn't pay guys who can't play against real players so good riddance. He was a bad fit in the first place and I'll cut you some slack today:) but it would've been nice if someone would've brought that to the public's attention.

    You could see a bit of trouble ahead for 26 because if he couldn't play LW with 10-83, that meant he would either slide in with 89 plus one of the other kids OR he'd be asked to play secondary tough min with a less than offensively inclined pivot. Last night 18-51-26 took on Modano-Richards so that 10's line wouldn't have to and it worked out and if it keeps working out then it's not a total waste. He's not gonna score goals with 18-51 but there's only so many guys you can pander too and good ole Vish Throttler spent way more money on picks on 27 then he did 26 so you know who's gonna get the push.

    To segue into another one of your points, yes it would be nice to see the other half of the Pronger bounty get back into the lineup. I thought the 24/43 duo had a good game last night but they've been absolutely brutal for a long time now. I think MAcT's gone so long without having vets on his scorecard that he got a little vet happy and just shoved 5 to the side. Or maybe enough time's passed that optics are no longer an issue where you're afraid to bench part of the Pronger package. We know once upon a team optics decreed that he's start in the top four alongside 24.

    In any case I'd bet he'll never come close to covering his trade bet but he should be damn well playing ahead of 43.

    I mentioned the possibility that a good show by 88 means we could move away 12 and it would be the best for the Oil if that's what happened.

    12 plus 37 might get us a good top four dman to augment the 44-71-77 troika.