It looks like Ales Hemsky won’t be going to the NHL All-Star game again due to an injury. Hemsky is on the shelf with a concussion and likely won’t be going to Carolina or partaking in the first All Star draft next Friday.The revolving door to the Oilers’ infirmary just keeps on spinning, as Hemsky enters on the right side of the medicinal carousel, Shawn Horcoff is coming out the left side and will replace Hemsky on the roster.
The bigger questions should be, who replaces Hemsky on the right wing, and where does Horcoff play? Obviously he will play in the middle, but which line should he play on?
With Jordan Eberle likely a few days away from returning and Gilbert Brule still out with a mysterious illness, the only options would be to move Ryan Jones up to the top-six, or move Taylor Hall back to LW and slide Dustin Penner to the right side again.
Horcoff will be one of your top-three centres, so Andrew Cogliano would get bumped down to the fourth line and Colin Fraser would move upstairs, or possibly to the wing on the fourth line. You could move Cogliano to the wing for a few games to see if he can play there, even though he has played much better the past ten games, scoring three goals and seven points, but I’d keep him in the middle.
The Oilers are in 29th place and the playoffs were a pipe dream months ago, so why not use the final 37 games to find out what works, and specifically if Hall can play centre. The most glaring weakness on the Oilers is that they don’t have a true number one centre. So find out if Hall can be that guy. He hasn’t looked out of place in his five games at centre, so why not let him get more comfortable and see how it goes?
"We have a lot of hockey left," said Tom Renney. "He hasn’t seen his last games as a centreman, so we’ll experiment with some things, but we want to make sure we give ourselves a chance to win too. There are ways and means to get Taylor in there, and what I’m going to look at now in the next few games is evaluate his stint at centre against how he is as a winger again and formulate an opinion if he is that flexible, or if I really like him at centre."
TOUGH SPOT FOR COACH TOM?
Renney is in a tough spot. He knows this is a rebuilding year, but it must be difficult for a coach to feel completely secure in their job when you are rebuilding. More often than not, when the rebuild is over that coach is not around to reap the rewards so rarely do coaches have the luxury of looking two or even one year down the road. And no coach can give off the impression to his players that he is looking ahead to next year, and not ice a team that they think gives them the best chance to win. Players want to win, they don’t care about what the team will look like in two years, so it’s a balancing act for Renney.
I asked Renney about that slippery slope.
"It is a tough for a coach that isn’t confident and doesn’t have the big picture in the forefront. That’s how I am. We have to look longterm here, and my contribution, for however long it is, will certainly have an eye on that. I think that is one of the reasons why I’m here doing this, because that has been my motive since I’ve coached; to develop with an eye to the future."
I give Renney a lot of credit for understanding where the organization is, and realizing, that while the players want to win, his main purpose has to be in developing the kids and making them better players. That being said, I wonder how bad it would look if he had kept Hall at centre tonight?
How would the optics be if Jones played in the top two lines, and Horcoff centred your third line? Probably not great, but since Horcoff is coming off a knee injury, couldn’t you bring him along slowly for a game or two?
If Horcoff gets pissed off, what is he going to do?
Pull a Souray and speak out? Demand a trade? No chance. He must understand that he isn’t going anywhere due to the length and amount of his salary, and if he wants to win in the future, he should realize the main focus in the final 37 games should be figuring out what position is best for Hall.
If Hemsky hadn’t been injured I wonder if Hall would have stayed at centre? Even though Cogliano has played better recently, I’d sacrifice bumping him to the 4th line, for the sake of developing Hall. Some tough decisions need to be made during the final 37 games, and some players might not like where they stand, but the reality is that Hall is the main piece of the puzzle moving forward, and figuring where he performs the best has to be priority number one.
TRADE JONES, EXCUSE ME?
I’ve read and heard a lot lately that the Oilers should trade Jones now, because his value is at an all-time high, even JW commented that Jones’ production is misleading.
"Personally, I’d be looking to move a bunch of spare parts. I’d start with Ryan Jones: he’s got 10 goals, 15.9 shooting percentage, ugly scoring chance and underlying numbers, so I’d suggest it’s time to sell high. I believe he’s a fourth-liner, but that others will think much more of him and pay accordingly," wrote Willis.
I wasn’t the biggest Jones fan at the start of the year, but in a season where most guys have underachieved, I think Jones is one of the few guys who has played well, and really hasn’t overachieved like many think.
Jones has ten goals, on 63 shots, 14 points, is -3, averaging 11:49 of icetime in 45 games.
In 2009 he played 46 games and had seven goals, on 63 shots, 17 points, was +1 with 11:26 of icetime.
Last year he played 49 games (41 in NSH, 8 in EDM) and combined for eight goals, on 62 shots, 12 points, was even with 10:40 of icetime.
This year he has more goals, but fewer assists compared to 2009 the exact same amount of shots and his +/- is fairly consistent when you consider Nashville won more than Edmonton. His shooting % was 11.1 his first year, 13.0 last year and is 15.9 this year. So he is a bit higher, but if he drops to 13% next year is it really that big of a drop? His shooting % has increased, but his assists are down, so could you call that a saw off?
Jones isn’t flashy, but he creates opportunities, skates well and has a knack for creating turnovers that lead to breakaways. He isn’t great at finishing them, but he creates some pretty good chances. All ten of Jones’ goals have come five-on-five, and he scores most of his goals from in tight. I wonder if given a few more shifts on the PP, if he would get a few more garbage goals, because he isn’t shy about going to the net?
I don’t think it is accurate to suggest Jones is overachieveing since his point production is pretty consistent the past three years, and if he can contribute 12-15 goals as a 4th line guy, who plays with some energy, I don’t see why you would trade him. Unless you are going to get an agitator in return, I don’t see anyone in the organization that is close to replacing Jones’ production next year.
While it is great to think Jones could fetch a 2nd rounder in a trade, there is no guarantee that pick turns into a player, and in the meantime the Oilers have traded away a young guy (26) who through three seasons has been a decent goal scorer considering his icetime and games played.
This team needs to upgrade many areas of their game, but I don’t see Jones as being a guy who has underachieved or overachieved. I think this is what you get from Jones, and what he gives Renney is a solid contributor in his bottom six.
Nikolai Khabibulin will start tonight, as Devan Dubnyk is still battling a severe chest cold/virus. Dubnyk sat in the dressing room with his pads and pants on during Tuesday’s loss to Minnesota, hoping Khabibulin would stay in the game. He would have played if necessary, but said his energy level was almost zero. He is feeling better and expects to be ready to go on Sunday if Renney gives him the call.
Horcoff will centre Hall and Penner tonight, and the other three lines will remain the same. They didn’t do much PP work, so it is unclear if Hall will stick with Linus Omark and Magnus Paajarvi on the man advantage. I liked how that trio moved the puck around on Tuesday, and would like to see them given some more PP time together.
The rest of the lineup is the same as last game:
WISH UPON A STAR
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Stars are very good team. They are getting great goaltending, have a dangerous top line and their 2nd and 3rd lines have a great mix of size, skill, grit and agitation. The Stars have won seven straight on the road, and they know they didn’t deserve to beat Edmonton last week. The Stars road winning streak reaches eight, while the Oilers home woes continue with a 4-2 Stars win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Steve Ott had the Oilers spitting mad last Tuesday, and he admitted he expects them to come after him tonight. Ott and Theo Peckham will have a verbal battle all night long, and when the Stars go up 4-1 Peckham will go looking to settle the score.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Last game I sent out a tweet asking Oiler fans to predict when the Oilers PP streak would end. The correct pick got you into a draw for Oilers tickets. Dandaman_29 won the tickets. I credit Oiler fans for their support and patience this year, because in many other cities the rink wouldn’t be full, and the TV numbers would dip.If the Stars score first, I will send out another tweet contest for my followers. If you have to sit through the games, you might as well win some tickets to witness the horror live. The answer will require more than just a lucky guess.