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. 

  • 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. 




  • Ducey

    I hate Calgary but I could see them finishing ahead of Colorado. I think Colorado will take a step back this season.

    I don’t like Pittsburg as the winner of the Stanley. They have three great centers, a bit better D and good goaltending, but they have no one one the wings who can score.

  • Cru Jones

    Calgary is hanging their hopes on guys who provide very little reason (or math) to suggest they’re up to the task. There are nearly as many ifs required for them to reach the playoffs as there are for us. I just don’t see it happening.

    • You have to realize that Calgary has one of the best defense in the West. As much as it pains me to say it I think they will place 5-6 in the west. Iginla and Bouwmeester are bound to bounce back after less then optimal years. Giordano is just getting better and better. Kipper was very strong last year and is likely to steal quite a few games for them this year.

      All in all Calgary and Vancouver will be racing for 1st in the Northwest but Vancouver will take it in the end.

      Colorado, in my opinion, will get knocked back a step. With new expectations on their youngsters and Craig Anderson we will see who can and cannot handle it. Foote is getting too old, and Hannan is quick like Boogaard. Will Quincey and Liles be able to carry the load? I don’t think so.

      Minnesota… well they have the tools but I don’t think the coach knows how to use it. We saw what happens to a mediocre goalie when he plays behind a good defensive system and a poor one. Backstrom better bounce back if they want to have a decent shot at all this year and Havlat cannot has a dismal start like last year.

      The Oilers, this comes down to all the “IFs”
      IF they are healthy, IF Khabi stays the entire year, IF the rookies play like bats out of Hell…
      Too many ifs, I think they will be in that pack of teams that have 6 points separating the #7 spot to #12.

  • Lofty

    i think everyone has the oilers wrong,they will score alot more than last year,the defence does not have to be good but they need to be tough and set the bar of it not being fun to play against the oil(remember jason smith,he was horrible but also very mean).the big question mark to me is goaltending,as habby and jdd would be gone by any means nesessary,gerber needs to be brought up and when they can move souray,package a forward and draft pick to get a legit number one goalie to help make us competitive in our own end.If they solve the goalie problem this team will outscore other teams(remember oilers of the 80s?) and finish 5th or 6th in the conference,no run at the cup yet but a nice playoff run anyway.

    • Lofty

      The defense does not have to be good, just mean? If only we had five more of Jim Vandermeer, then! Or, better yet, a few surplus Steve MacIntyres to man the blue line!

      (Jason Smith, during his time with the Oilers, was a better defenseman than anyone currently on the Oilers who isn’t Whitney or Gilbert.)

      • Mike Krushelnyski

        We sure could use ol’ Gator around these days. For opposition forwards, there was no escaping him! He would lock them up and lay a beating on them.

  • Lofty

    I think the Oil and Flames will finish neck and neck right around 8 or 9 in the west.

    The changes that the flames made are not really progressive or pragmatic.

    The Oils change to having D-men playing defense and letting talented forwards put up the points is going to improve this team substantially (4 or 5spots in the west.) Columbus, Dallas and Minnesota will finish behind both Alberta teams.

    And yes I am an optimistic homer.

        • Lofty

          So your contention is that the Oilers defense this year is going to be *better* at playing defense than the Oilers’ defense last year? That’s bizarre.

          Ranked solely by ability to play defense, are you seriously telling me that Whitney-Gilbert-Smid-Foster-Vandermeer-whomever is a better top six than Visnovsky-Souray-Gilbert-Grebeshkov-Smid-Staios? If you are, could you rank each six from best to worst, as you see it? Because I don’t see how you can say that our best this year was better than our best last year, or that our second best this year is better than our second best last year, or so on, and it seems to me that if you’re going to argue that the whole set is better this year, at least a few of those matchups have also got to be better this year.

          • Lofty

            Yeah Dmen playing defense means less odd man rushes and less points against. You give a position less to worry about and they will be able to do a better job of keeping the defensive end under control. I think you could see that late last season for the Oil. You don’t need 4-6 big names to make a defensive unit work. Play the position pass it up and keep it out of the slot.

          • Ducey

            Why are you even including Souray in last years defence he was injured the most of the year. whitney looks to be better than any of them so far. Gibby was good defensively and his offense woke up once he got a chance. Smid was solid and will be better this year. Foster had a monster year last and will hopefully continue his play mabye with Smid. Could be a Rock solid top 4. Vandermer and Petiot(yes Petiot fingers crossed new Staos) just have to survive.
            The Oil were bad last year But why? They would have been in the race till the end if not for injuries. Take away any teams top forward, goalie and d-man how are they going to do, very few teams make the playoffs. Winning Stanley can be derailed by injury alone and not that the oil was a contender but their season was over once Hemmer, Habby and Souray went down. Back to defence last year Staos was Finished, Grebs lost his game and never recoverd and Souray barely played and was never close to being in top form. So yes this years defence is better baring Injury taking into account the season played not just the names on a depth chart.

          • db7db7db7

            At first glance Visnovsky-Souray-Gilbert-Grebeshkov-Smid-Staios look better than this years squad. However, we know that combination obviously did not pan out for multiple reasons. Most importantly injuries. For most of last year the top 6 defense looked horrible, and included Chorney and Studwick. Let’s not forget that the Gilbert that started last season is not the same Gilbert that finished last season. Also, even when Souray was playing last year he was pathetic.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

      • 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!

      • 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.

  • 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.