THE END OF ELPH???

Three straight wins with three different goalie and five wins in their last seven games and all of a sudden the Oilers look a competent NHL team. Sam Gagner has a point in four straight games, Taylor Hall is suddenly tied with Gagner and Dustin Penner for the team lead in goals with eight, Ryan Whitney leads all NHL D-men in assists with 20 and even Jim Vandermeer is playing well.

The question that needs to be asked; Is this team for real or was it just a short blimp on the ELPH screen?

Before many of you Kool-aid guzzlers get your shorts in a knot and call me negative, read the article.

Last year from Dec 3rd to Dec 11th the Oilers won five straight on the road with wins in Detroit, Dallas, Florida, Tampa Bay and St. Louis. They returned to Edmonton with a record of 15-13-4, but despite five straight wins the Nation wasn’t bursting with excitement.

That team was held together with papier mache and most knew it was only a matter of time before they came unglued. After that stunning five-game winning streak the Oilers lost 20 of their next 21 games. From Dec 15th to Jan 30th, you celebrated one measly victory, a 3-1 win v. Toronto at Rexall Place on Dec 30th. It was six-week stretch many of you have erased from your memory.

 

My late father would have turned 67 today. He was a die-hard hockey fan, but he never got too excited or upset after a win or a loss. IIn the past seven games after watching the top-three lines score, all three goalies play well and all three defence pairings play decent, he might have been inclined to believe this team was ready to compete.

I’m not fooled into thinking that three games means this team is ready to make a push for a playoff spot, but I’ve seen a lot of improvement the past two weeks and right now I’d lean towards them slowly creeping up the standings, than falling back into the bottom five in the NHL.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THIS YEAR AND LAST

Even the most optimistic fan knew that without Ales Hemsky, Nikolai Khabibulin and a brittle Sheldon Souray last year’s team wasn’t going anywhere. They had POS and Robert Nilsson shuffling in and out of their top-six. They had two rookie goaltenders, aging veterans who were past their prime and a coach with a temper shorter than your woman’s when she falls into the toilet in the middle of the night because you left the seat up.

You didn’t think they would lose 20 of their next 21, but very few were fooled into believing they could compete.

I think this team is different.

Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi are only going to get better as the season progresses. Khabibulin and Hemsky are healthy (for now), Gagner, Cogliano and Brule are still improving and aren’t on the downside of their career, and Tom Renney has proven to be a patient teacher. Renney refused to put Hall and Eberle in pressure situations early in the season because he wanted to protect them. Then he sent them a subtle message that they needed to be more than offensive players by benching them in the 3rd period of a meaningless blowout.

Since that benching Hall has gotten much better in his own zone, and it has resulted in a big improvement in his +/- and now he is a co-leader in goals. Eberle hadn’t scored in 15 games until last night, but he has looked more comfortable and is starting to live up to his reputation of making big plays in late-game pressure situations. The kids don’t seem to get nervous when the game intensifies.

I don’t think this team is a playoff contender, and barring major injuries I don’t see them being able to stick with Wanye’s plan of Exciting Last Place Hockey. As long as the injury bug doesn’t hit this team, I don’t think they will garner another lottery pick for Steve Tambellini and staff.

DYING A SLOW DEATH

This team isn’t bad enough to finish 30th, and I hate to say it, but I don’t see them being a lottery team either. Don’t get me wrong, this team isn’t ready for prime time, and I’m sure we will witness a few more one-sided loses, but the kids are finding their groove and it looks like they are finally getting a grip on how to play away from the puck, and how to eliminate the glaring giveaways from their game.

Like any young team, they will forget these lessons from time-to-time and they will still give you ample opportunity to yell at your TV, curse a player’s name, demand someone get traded or assigned to the minors and proclaim "fill in blank" is overpaid. However, they will also present you with feelings of pride, hope and belief like they did this week, and those games will start to become more frequent as we enter 2011.

ELPH was put to rest on December 2nd, 2010.

For many, you left way too early. Wanye and company were just starting to know you, but, alas, Hall, Eberle, Gagner and the rest of the youthful, exuberant Oilers were too naive to know they should have kept you around.

I doubt MOTRPH (middle of the road place hockey) will be able to capture the hearts and imagination of Oiler fans the way ELPH did, but I just can’t see the Oilers being capable of keeping ELPH alive.

My heartfelt condolences go out to Wanye, who I know will be crushed, when he realizes ELPH is gone. This weekend when you are out Christmas shopping or nursing a hangover think of Wanye, and raise a glass to his beloved ELPH.

He will be missed. 

  • It’s great to see a few wins once and a while, and always awesome to see a maple laughs pump show… but i’m by no means ready to give up on Wanye’s ELPH. A 3 game road trip is nowhere close to being enough to tell me these kids have turned the corner. They are providing some extremely exciting hockey to watch… and put together 3 great games in a row. But these are kids… and while we may be on a 3 game win streak, you can get that next 3 game losing streak is right around the corner.

  • Zed

    Oilers should strive for:

    ELEHBTSNAUACIPTSTSCITTTY.

    (Exciting lower end hockey because they still need another up and comer insurance player to solidify the Stanley cup in two to three years.)

  • Who dat

    I think this team truly needs another high draft pick. Desperately. It was absolutely great to see the Oilers win three, and out of that blowout a team, but let’s remember what we’ve been saying just a week prior.

    There’s been talk about Gilbert, Penner Cogs, and Brule, people complaining about their inconsistency, people defending them for cold streaks, others highlighting their strengths and glaring weaknesses. But the problem is, we’ve had this conversation how many times over the last few years?

    It’s time for Tambo to keep a record of players who have been wildly inconsistent over the years and when they hit a hot streak and raise their trade stock to do just that. The rebuild isn’t over. You cannot depend on guys like Gilbert, or Cogliano. Sometimes not even Penner either. To be a strong team you need to be able to score throughout your lineup.

    I’m tired of watching games, thinking, oh well if “insert goats here” play well, we might stand a decent chance, or else if they play like they normally do, the guys who work hard will have it all go to waste (or be put in a 2-0 hole 2 minutes into the game).

    And because not all these players, if any, can be shopped, were going to need some draft picks to build some depth. Pittsburgh, Chicago, and even teams like LA weren’t built with 1 or 2 draft picks.

  • Dipstick

    This Koolaid is very sweet but it has a short shelf life. By this time next week it could be bitter. I still believe in ELPH (exciting lottery pick hockey).

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’m not saying but i’m just going to say….

    We would have been watching this type of hockey all year long if Sheldon Souray was in that dressing room, if our blue line crew wasn’t struggling most nights things would be different.

    Tambellinis plan must’ve been to tank it this year again, he could always turn up the heat and move Hemsky and Penner. I’d much rather have a lottery pick this year than finish out of the top ten draft picks this summer. We’d best hope for some injuries and Steve liquidating some of our more expensive assets.

    I hope this Souray situation costs Tambellini his job, flushing 9 million dollars of someone elses money down the drain can do that to you.

    • Dyckster

      Please quantify your Souray statement with some actual facts.

      The team sucked last year with or without him. He was on a -42 pace. How do stats like that make us better this year?

      We essentially have two players performing Souray’s role on Oilers Ver.2010/2011. Foster has the bomb from the point, JV adds some toughness. Difference is Vandermeer hasn’t been bleeding goals (the last few games anyway) like Souray habitually does. I say we’re better off without him on the ice….and off.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Statistitions were created by Federal government in a make work project Dyckster. Don’t be baffled by the matrix of numbers implicated to keep these people employed. If these numbers were important then they would have these numbers present on the top of the TV screen during the game instead of the score. Statistics are usually kept by those who can’t play the game, and therefore sell very few tickets.

        • BarryS

          Get over your Souray crush, he’s done like dinner. This is his last pro contract. That spilt milk is long dry.

          The team plays to win, so get over it. Shot numbers mean nothing except when the goalie lets in one from centre like one did yesterday. Sort of reminded me of JC Trombley(?) who scored those types several times a year.

          Toronto had lots of shots but fewer real chances than we did. That we scored five times is a tribute to how bad there defence and goaltending really are. Khaby played a good workmanlike game which this year has been rare and so did our defence. No soft goals and one or two really good saves, about what to expect from real NHL goaltenders.

    • D-Man

      Don’t be surprised if Tambo deals Penner at the trade deadline… After next year, he won’t be able to sign both as we’ll have three kids commanding million dollar contracts the year following… I’m (hoping) going on the assumption that he signs Hemsky to another three year extension leaving Penner on the trading block…

      Even if we finish around 24th or 25th this year, we’ll still have gaping holes on our back end and our PK… I won’t be shocked if Tambo uses Penner (and one of our smaller forwards like Brule/Cogs/Omark) to fill one of them or at least get another 1st or 2nd round draft pick…

  • Quicksilver ballet

    …..so, are we all Khabibulin fans again. A shutout while in the center of the hockey universe. Someone please nail Dubnyks arse to the bench again please.

    • Epicus

      I hope that was sarcasm! Why would we nail him to the bench? only 2 outcomes from that and both are bad for the team!
      #1 He sits as Khabby wins and doesnt get another start for 7-8 games. Down side? No development.
      #2 He sits as Khabby loses a bunch. Sure we get closer to the ELPH dream, but I for one would rather do it while developing a goalie!

      I think we need to make sure Dubnyk plays at LEAST 25 games this year if not 30 just to keep him on track with development.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        I thought his back would have broken down by now. Renney wants to ice the best lineup to help his team win, most nights this means Khabibulin in goal if he’s healthy.

        If Nickolia can keep this up i’m sure a contender in need of some help in goal would offer up a draft pick for him. We did give a first rounder to Minnesota for the aging Roloson a few years ago, so there is hope.

        • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

          was roloson an injury plagued goalie with multiple years left on his 35+ contract when he was dealt? nope.

          you have a better chance seeing madjam win an award for writing than seeing a team take on ‘bulin and the sh** mess that comes with him

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Penner and Gagner to the Islanders for their first pick and a prospect will put things back on track again.

    Just say no to a 10th-15th overall pick this summer.

    • I hope we find out later that you left your computer on and logged on to OilersNation, and some kid came by and typed this to try and make you look bad.

      That’s the only way any of these messages make sense.

      Gagner…for real?

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Thanks for offering that out if i wanted it Menacer. I’ll rephrase it in a kinder gentler form.

        For Sale/Trade.

        (1) One perennial 30 goal/30 assist hot/cold power forward in the making, 28 yrs old and nicely broken in for a team on the edge of greatness, or even on a team such as the Islanders. (2) One smallish, easily pushed off the puck most nights blue chip prospect with a trifecta of 40’ish point seasons under his belt. This miniature version lately bares a striking resemblance to a miniature George Parros complete with his trademark stash.

        This is a time limited offer available to your team in exchange for your first pick this coming summer’s entry draft.

  • The Oilers play has certainly turned around. 27 has propped up Brule (again) and is making Cogliano look useful.

    Gagner is starting to make simple plays at the other teams blueline, and taking it wide instead of trying to dangle in a danger area.

    Hall and Eberle are finding their mark in the offensive zone and doing a much better job in their own end.

    Paajarvi is starting to generate more chances and not just hanging back.

    The Oilers are have manged to string several games together where their goaltender isn’t awful (and is out right excellent on some nights).

    There are still some issues. The PP in this stretch went 3/24. The PK improved a touch, improving from about 67% to 74% (17/23), still good enough to be last place. One thing that has saved them is that they’ve given up just under 1 PP opportunity per game less than they were earlier on (down to 3.3 from 4.2). They way they’ve been killing penalties that represents a huge benefit.

    The Oilers have been sawing off the scoring chance numbers (after getting killed earlier) which is a good sign. Everything points to a turn around, it’s whether or not it continues.

    Special teams have to improve and Khabibulin can’t be as bad as he was earlier.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Not sure if you got the memo DB but just because you and I can see the holes in the PK that doesn’t mean it’s a real story;)

      In all seriousness, if the dye’s cast with the kids being part of the top six then now the club should start to look to fix the bottom six and in doing that get two guys who are great PKers with one of them being a faceoff guy.

  • Jmask5

    This is the very definition of bittersweet.

    On one hand its hard not to get excited when the team you love is winning games and getting contributions from its up and coming rookies.

    But This team still needs 1 more piece. In order to become a Stanley cup contender we need a big center. Given the way UFA has gone for the Oilers and the asking price for such players it would be best to get him through the draft.

    Having said that I’m not sure if there are any sure things in this draft.

    And as for the D. I like what we have.

    Whitney-Gilbert
    Smid-Pekham
    Plante-Petry
    Chorney

    I think if these guys play to their potential then they can help the Oilers win in the future.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The question that needs to be asked; Is this team for real or was it just a short blimp on the ELPH screen?

    I’ll take the “blip on the ELPH” screen option, with the caveat that they might finish a little higher than “L” and the “E” might not be the case.

    The Eastern Conference is a great place to convince yourself that things are looking up.

    • Jason Gregor

      The East is brutal…But right now St. Louis is struggling without Oshie and Perron. Calgary isn’t good.

      The crazy thing is if the Oilers win on Saturday and Carolina and Ottawa lose their next game, all seven non-playoff teams in East would be worse than Oilers.

      I’m sure there the odds are low that five teams in one division could finish lower than last team in other division, but the way the East looks this year you never know.

      I’m not sold the Oilers are good enough to get out of bottom ten, but I don’t see them bad enough to get into bottom five.

  • Dominoiler

    Unfourtunately for us we may finish last in our conference but were not as bad as Toronto, Islanders, or the Panthers. To finish last overall means youll have to be as bad as those teams and I dont see how thats possible over the long run.

  • I’m not sure if anybody caught this, but I was coming home late last night and caught the Team’s sports night talk show (and yes, I’m a loser for tuning in that crap). They played a clip from Taylor Hall in the post-game scrum from Toronto.

    He said something along the lines of the team aiming for the playoffs (ostensibly as a sort of reach goal). I’m not sure if he’d been given the company line, but it really came across as if he believed they were going for it.

    If this is the case, then whether they actually make the playoffs or not it appears that ELPH is now off the table. Maybe wildest expectations are being realized in that all three rooks are paying off (pretty rare) plus a few of the younger vets starting to mature to expectations (Gagner comes to mind).

    In multiple-scenario strategic planning, this would certainly be the “best case” outcome, of which several where probably planned out. Therefore, if the team continues to improve, you’d expect moves to be made to shore up obvious holes (which you’d assume were left that way on purpose – part of the the “worst-case” scenarios leading to a high draft pick).

  • Wow that kool aid must be good. I’ve seen playoffs mentioned WAY too many times here. 3 game streak is nice, and the team looks like it’s playing with a ton of confidence, but just remember our 5 game road trip last year and what followed. I mean Toronto started the season out 4-0 and you see how that’s working out for them. Patience people. A fist overall pick is still in the picture…

  • Chris.

    Getzlaf was a 19th overall pick. Eberle was picked 23rd overall. Heck Messier was taken in the third round… watching a young team turn a corner is worth a lot more to me than losing just so Stu has an easier time procuring talent at the draft. Death to ELPH!

  • Bucknuck

    Nice read Gregor. Gutsy play predicting the end of ELPH, but I believe you. This team is better than last place, and it is starting to show.

    I am glad I don’t have to be happy when they lose anymore.

  • Bucknuck

    I can not believe the amount of people in broadcasting and even on this page that have been drinking the ‘Bulin Kool-aid. Are people actually looking at his numbers? I think we should start the transition now. Have Dubnyk almost half the games this year, if not more and put ‘Bulin in a secondary role. He is a big spend for the Oilers, and a solid vet is great when Dubnyk starts to faulter. This year however, other then a few brilliant saves, ‘Bulin has proved little as a number one goalie. I guess anything under 9 goals is an expectation for a true number one? Or perhaps you need to be at leat 30 years old in the Oiler franchise to be a number one? Just my thoughts..

    • Jason Gregor

      I’m not sure who has backed Khabibulin as being the guy.

      I’ve stated numerous times the most perplexing situation for the Oilers right now is their handling of Dubnyk. All the other kids are getting chances to develop, while Dubnyk can’t seem to get a stretch of games. It makes no sense to me.

      I haven’t seen many who think Khabibulin should get four out of five starts.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    A kinder gentler Robin Brownlee perhaps, that trigger finger must be gettin itchy by now, haven’t seen any seasons beatings/banning on the Brownlee front for a few weeks now. Is this a record for him?