North By Northwest

A year ago, I picked the Edmonton Oilers to finish 4th in the NW, 11th in the conference. They finished last in the NW, last in the conference and last in the league. Their minor league team was horrible, their veterans made headlines for failures, injuries, running their mouths and worse. They were frightful. They were major league in name only a season ago. Where do they go from here?

I believe the biggest change in the organization this season came at the coaching position. Tom Renney took over from Pat Quinn, and even in the early weeks of this season there appears to be a more rational approach to the task at hand. Whereas one year ago Quinn married Horcoff-Hemsky to the unproven JF Jacques in an attempt to attach brawn to brains, this season Renney’s approach seems to center around finding people who can play.

Don’t get me wrong, this team isn’t going to be a lot better than a year ago. I don’t think they’ll score much more than they did one season ago, but better health, fewer suspect decisions in important positions, and a sense of structure and discipline (and in defined roles) should win the day. Tom Renney appears to be in charge of this team in a way Mr. Quinn could not manage a year ago. That and the new blood should be enough to get out of the basement. 

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  • FIFTH: MINNESOTA WILD (14TH IN CONFERENCE) The Wild have some issues. Among them are a lack of identity since Lemaire left, a lot of injuries in the skill positions and their defense and goaltending looks a little thin. Still, their top end talent (Koivi, Brunette, Havlat)  is more proven than the Oilers group and should Backstrom return to form (he’s 32 this season, not a youngster) they should be able to compete at a higher level than I’m suggesting here. I wonder about the off-season pickups and the goaltending. This could be a tough year in Minny.

  • FOURTH: EDMONTON OILERS (13TH IN CONFERENCE) The Oilers should be able to score goals at a solid clip, but the blueline as it currently stands is the weakest in the division. Gilbert and Whitney are backed up by role players (Vandermeer), still developing shutdown hopefuls (Smid), men on the comeback trail (Foster) along with a dozen prospects trying to gain traction. We can take heart, as we’ll know more a year from now than we do currently about this bunch, but as it stands there are going to be a lot of saloon-door nights along the blue. I like what Renney is doing with the forwards (it looks like he’s going to run those top 9 ragged) and wish he had more options on defense. If he can push this team higher he should get some coach-of-the-year consideration.

  • THIRD: CALGARY FLAMES (8TH IN CONFERENCE) I’m guessing the Flames have done just enough to slide into the second season in 10-11. The Finn in goal and the sublime talent that is Iginla should be enough to get the Flames into playoff contention (and leave the Wild and Oilers choking on their fumes). I don’t like their chances in the playoff season unless they get strong performances from several of their defensemen. Bouwmeester needs to have a big year, and the Tanguay-Jokinen express could be a distraction if they can’t deliver offense.

  • SECOND: COLORADO AVALANCHE (5TH IN CONFERENCE) There’s a lot to like here. Four returning 20-goal scorers, their goaltender might be the best in the division and the Avs always seem to address their problems in a timely fashion. The defense isn’t spectacular, but there are a lot of useful (veteran) parts. And for a team that must have emptied the prospect cupboard last seaosn, Kevin Shattenkirk certainly has some buzz about him. Avalanche missed the rebuild time requirement but got the job done anyway.

  • FIRST: VANCOUVER CANUCKS (3RD IN CONFERENCE) I’m not picking them to win the Stanley, but wouldn’t be surprised if they do it. Luongo has a better defense in front of him, the piss-cutter Sedins are back and Kesler is a quality player. Vancouver also has a nice group of useful forwards waiting for their opportunity to move up the depth chart, and about 12 more in the AHL. Their GM is going to have to man up and do something major at the deadline (my guess: more defense) but they have a really nice chance this season. 

WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Chicago Blackhawks

EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Pittsburgh Penguins

STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS: Pittsburgh Penguin


  • magisterrex

    Don’t see the Avs getting higher than 8th in the Conference. They can’t have another year of solid puck-luck. Similarly, you’re selling the Oilers short based on last year’s epic collapse. I don’t see the Flames being able to beat them out of a playoff spot this year. Oilers will make 8th based on coaching, firepower, and a lineup of kids who don’t realize they’re not supposed to be winning (according to all the “experts”).

    • Bar Qu

      You’re right, the ‘experts’ don’t know anything.

      Go with your gut. Pick from the heart.

      Ooooorrrr … you can use evidence to make a reasonable inference of the future. Such as the fact that Craig Anderson has not suddenly gotten worse for no reason, the Av’s good players are still good players (and it was offense and defense by committee last year, to go along with puck luck) and that aside from Gilbert-Whitney (who keep getting run down by readers here) there are no ‘good’ D on the Oil and only a couple of shooter-tutors to back up a goalie who you would be lucky to get 40 games from this year.

      The young guns will score, but they will be scored on even more. There will be entertaining hockey in Oiltown, but it will still involve more losing than winning.

      And if fans have any courage they will call for ST’s head before the end of the season, despite the enjoyable show put on by the youngsters.

      • Ball Buster

        Bar Qu wrote:

        And if fans have any courage they will call for ST’s head before the end of the season, despite the enjoyable show put on by the youngsters.

        Seriously? The team is in the middle of a rebuild and you want to turf the GM? Post ELC for the Big 3, the Oilers better be a legitimate contender for the Cup. If not, THEN you call for his head because conceivably, Tambellini’s long-term plan will have played out without good result.

      • magisterrex

        You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t innately trust the amazing hockey instincts of people who post “end of the world” posts about the Oilers on every message board they find.

        I’ve noticed that some people love to mire in the negative around here. I’m not one of them.

        This team has potential, and I don’t think it’s impossible for them to grab a bottom playoff spot, for the reasons I already mentioned.

        • Ducey

          You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t innately trust the amazing hockey instincts of people who post “end of the world” posts about the Oilers on every message board they find.

          Yeah, it’s been the same story from these negative nellies every year since the lockout: “there are gaping holes in the Oilers’ lineup that will prevent them from making the playoffs.” We sure showed them!

  • DK0

    Since I am a hopeless optimist and believe that we are much better then a bottom 5 team, i kindly disagree with LT and will now blow up this page using my space ship

    Those of you with fancy browsers can join me:
    by clicking here

    *edit*Bah its all smart and wont work, but go here and you can blow up web pages 😛

      • DK0

        they remove javascript from links when you try to post them here, probably a good move for security reasons.

        but paste this in your browser and blow away the comments of people you don’t like 🙂 haha, works great

        javascript:var%20s%20=%20document.createElement(‘script’); s.type=’text/javascript’; document.body.appendChild(s); s.src=’http://erkie.github.com/asteroids.min.js’; void(0);

        *edit*ugh i give up.. you have to go to the website, no way to make this all easy for you guys 😛

        *edit edit*woohoo i got it to work so you can just copy paste that into your browser and blow up the pint guys ugly face

  • Ender

    For everyone predicting that Calgary will finish ahead of Edmonton in the standings this season, ask yourself this question:

    If a trade were proposed that would send every member of the Flames organization here where they would all pull on Oilers jerseys and every current Oiler player and team official would head south and don the flaming C, would you endorse the deal?

    There’s a lot to think about there. Still, I wouldn’t even begin to wish for that and not because of the rivalry. I think our team is flat-out better. In fact, I’d put money on it. I think we’re better than them this year and by next year it won’t even be close.

    So far I haven’t seen one official MSM or blog prediction that Edmonton will outperform Calgary’s squad this year. I recognize I may not be the star that the hockey world follows, but if you haven’t read anyone saying it either, than let me be the first.

    Edmonton finishes higher than Calgary this season. Book it.

  • O.C.

    “…this team isn’t going to be a lot better than a year ago. I don’t think they’ll score much more than they did one season ago…”

    Disagree.

    Only four teams scored less and Oil were far and away the league worst in GAA.

    Even a 10% increase in scoring is conservative. There are at least 6 more regulars who can skate with the puck, and at least 4 less disinterested lazy players who wouldn’t dream of being first to the puck.

    If you have the puck, the other team is chasing you, drawing penalties, and not scoring.

    Expect an early streak, a couple of rough slides, and everything taking stride after that.

    With the puck on your stick and less stupid penalties, and a tier1goalie, you can expect GAA to drop 15%.

    That’s a 25% transition on net Gfor vs Gagainst.

    Expectations should be 85 pts.

    • Dutchscooter

      Only four teams scored less and Oil were far and away the league worst in GAA.

      ….and guess who was one of those teams who scored less? I’ll give you a hint. It’s another Alberta city that wears red a lot.