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. 




  • Bar Qu

    A realistic post.

    Oilers are nowhere near the levels of hype, but unlikely to repeat the total futility of last year.

    And otherwise, who cares what the rest of the NW do. I despise ’em all, the bums.

  • 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!

  • Bar Qu

    The Oiler may be fourth in the NW, but don’t be surprised if they rally for the last seed for the playoffs. It is easier to count them out, than it is to predict what may actually happen.

  • Pretty ballsy predictions.

    I can’t say I really disagree…but I hope that the Oilers can be that surprise team like the Avs were last year.

    One thing though, you really think they won’t score more goals than last year? I think they’ll score more. There’s got to be some guys on the team that can outdo or match Penner and Brule’s totals from last season. A healthy Hemsky and rejuvenated Horcoff has to account for some added production. Then there’s those kids. The defense surely has some points to add over last year’s squad too, don’t they?

    I dunno, maybe I’m just a homer.

    • magisterrex

      His reasonable expectations series over at the Other Blog has them scoring more goals than last year…by one. I think he’s too pessimistic on that front, and too optimistic overall (this team is weaker defensively than last year’s).

      Who do you have at fifteenth in the West, LT?

  • Lofty

    I like Vancouver for the conference however i believe Colorado is going to take a step back because i dont believe Anderson can repeat last years performance and the old sophomore jinx.

    As for the Flames? I think they will be making a lottery pick this year perhaps even finishing 30th because i cant see the likes of downward trending heart and soul players like Iginla, Regehr, Conroy, Kiprusoff, Olli, Staios etc taking this team anywhere. This will be the year there is an epiphany in Calgary realizing that not only is there window closed but in fact their future is bleak.

    • magisterrex

      The Flames’ future *is* bleak, for precisely the reasons you mention…but their present is still better than the Oilers’.

      Despite the doom and gloom I’m always spreading around here, it’s definitely a better era to be an Oilers’ fan than a Flames’ fan, but Edmonton’s still going to finish well behind Calgary this year.