If the Edmonton Oilers don’t make another roster move between now and the start of the 2009-10 season, do you see them on the outside looking in for a playoff spot for the fourth straight season or are you of the mind they’ll be back in the post-season?
While I’m sitting on the fence, I’m leaning big-time toward the former. That’s the easy projection of course, and it seems to be the overriding sentiment around here during these hockey dog days of summer.
Still, there’s a corner of my brain — my head is square — that says otherwise, even if there isn’t much evidence, and none in terms of new personnel, that the Oilers can climb from 11th place back into the top eight in the Western Conference.
Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides of the issue, so rather than slag Dany Heatley yet again, lament that Nikolai Khabibulin will be 57 when his $166-million contract is up and curse Steve Tambellini for mostly sitting around with his thumb in his arse when he’s not on his knees in Kelowna, let’s do that.
THE PESSIMIST SAYS
— With Heatley dragging his feet until the San Jose Sharks come up with a package of players that tickles Bryan Murray’s fancy, the Oilers will again lack the one-shot scorer they covet to complement Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. The first line won’t be good enough.
— Khabibulin isn’t a significant upgrade on Dwayne Roloson and odds are Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, left to die on the vine last season, isn’t capable of taking over as No. 1 when the Bulin Wall takes a header in the shower and dislocates his spine four games into the season.
— With Tambellini failing to bring in any high-priced help for Hemsky, letting Ales Kotalik walk and Pat Quinn thinking No. 83 is a centre, how long is it before Hemsky phones agent Jiri Crha and says, “Get me the hell out of here, and make it fast?”
— Patrick O’Sullivan, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule are pencilled into Quinn’s top-nine forwards, and Robert Nilsson is still hanging around, so the Oilers remain too soft and too small up front. Not a six-footer in that group. There isn’t enough grit in those expected to play top-nine minutes.
— Between Lubomir Visnovsky’s surgically-repaired shoulder, Tom Gilbert’s bad back and Sheldon Souray’s long list of past injuries, a defensive group that seems to be deep is a couple of bad breaks from leaning on Denis Grebeshkov, Steve Staios, Jason Strudwick and Theo Peckham for too many top-four minutes. Does the thought of seeing Taylor Chorney force-fed playing time give you the willies? Me too.
THE OPTIMIST SAYS
— Dustin Penner can’t possibly be worse than he was last season under Craig MacTavish, who made him a whipping boy. While PDP brought some of that on himself, MacTavish went too far and showed him up. A new start under Quinn and Tom Renney could be exactly what Penner needs to pick up where he left off in Anaheim before hitting a wall under MacTavish. Might the Oilers already have the first-line LW they seek?
— This team won’t have the distraction of the dressing room splits that were whispered about much of last season. While some of that talk was nothing more than gossip and speculation, MacTavish lost the room with his inability to resist the temptation to make examples of certain players, particularly Penner. That, I can tell you first-hand, was a real problem.
— The penalty-killing (ranked 27th) will be better under Quinn and Renney. I know, how could it be worse? Likewise, the power play, which was a middling 22nd, has the potential to move up 8-10 notches with a full season of O’Sullivan and if Penner gets more PP time, which he deserves.
— No chance the Oilers replicate their feeble 18-17-6 home record at Rexall Place. That was 14th in the West, ahead of only Colorado.
— Liam Reddox will not play on the first line at any point this season. Then again, neither will Rob Schremp.
Which side of the fence are you on? Let me know.
GRIFFITHS FIRED AT TEAM 1260
Bryn Griffiths, host of More On Sports at TEAM 1260, was let go by Astral Media at 4 p.m. this afternoon.
Griffiths served as sports director under Marty Forbes when TEAM 1260 took to the airwaves some seven years ago and co-hosted More On Sports with Jake Daniels until Daniels was fired this spring. More later.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.