I don’t know if Andrew Cogliano is ever going to play his way back into the long-term plans of the Edmonton Oilers, but I can’t help but think his best chance to do it will come in the next month.
That window of opportunity swings open tonight against the Buffalo Sabres, when he’ll line up between Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky on coach Tom Renney’s second line. It’ll stay open as long as Renney leaves him there, or until Shawn Horcoff returns from the sprained knee that has him on the shelf.
Having come off the rails after his second season — about the time GM Steve Tambellini tried to trade him to Ottawa with Penner and Ladislav Smid for Dany F*cking Heatley — Cogliano’s got a long way to go. He’s been written off by many as a spare part, a skate-fast-accomplish-little player who has failed to carve out a niche with this team.
That’s difficult to argue on the face of it, given a horrid 2009-10 season in which he scored just 10-18-28 after back-to-back seasons of 18 goals and a less-than exemplary start to this season.
Can he change that perception in a month?
AGAINST THE ODDS
Cogliano, still only 23, paid dearly for his lousy 2009-10 campaign, settling for a one-year contract worth $1 million, the market price for a smallish, speedy centre who is mediocre, at best, on the dot.
Sam Gagner, who broke in alongside Cogliano in 2007-08 and still lives with him, re-upped for two years at $2.275 per season after a 41-point season. Even a math challenged guy like me can figure out last season cost Cogliano a pretty penny.
Money aside, Cogliano lost his place in the team’s pecking order along the way and he’s been trying to regain it since. With just 3-6-9 in 34 games this season, including two assists to show for his last 10 games, he’s been, outside Gilbert Brule, Renney’s biggest bust this season.
It’s tough to watch because Cogliano is working his backside off to turn things around. Like Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle, Cogliano is a genuinely decent young man. While that matters little to fans paying good money for results, it’s nonetheless true. Of course, a lot of "nice guys" have come and gone in this town because they didn’t get the job done. That’s the business.
I think Cogliano can be a viable part of this team as a third-line centre and penalty killer. That said, if Cogliano can’t prove it, if he can’t regain confidence and turn the corner playing between Penner and Hemsky until Horcoff returns, then maybe I’m wrong. Won’t be the first time.
WHILE I’M AT IT
— I’ve been critical of Penner on a number of fronts in the past, but I’ve liked his game a lot since Hemsky and Horcoff were injured. I asked back then if somebody might emerge to pick up the slack and Penner, at least most nights, has been that guy.
Points aside — he scored 2-3-5 while Hemsky was out — I’ve seen Penner more consistently engaged and involved over the past month. That’s all I want from the big man because the numbers are sure to follow.
— No surprise that Jeff Petry will be paired with Ryan Whitney for his NHL debut tonight. Whitney has been The Fixer for all that ails the blueline this season and he’s the right guy to caddie for Petry. Like I told you here earlier this month, Whitney thinks a lot of the kid.
— Where would the Oilers be without Whitney? Here’s hoping fans don’t have to find out. Whitney was moving gingerly at the morning skate today and appeared to be favouring his right foot. Might it be as simple as him breaking in a new pair of skates? I don’t know, but I’ll be asking.
— The Oilers power play is ranked 23rd at 16.1 per cent on the season. In the 10 games Hemsky just missed, the power play clicked along rather nicely with six goals on 31 attempts. Somebody ‘splain.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.