I wonder if Tom Renney will be using a similar image to figure out his plan for the final 33 games. The Oilers are out of the playoff hunt, but look for them to try a few different looks and don’t expect them to be a doormat the remainder of the way.
"There are some things we want to change, there is also some things we are going to implement that we believe will do us good in the long run as an organization. We are going to keep things simple, and we aren’t going to try and reinvent the wheel. We are going to make sure on two things: Going into next year that we have a solid foundation on how we want to play, and that there is enough diversity to that where we can extract different tactics as required," said Renney.
"We want to continue to grow people and put them in a position where they can do that, and find out even more about themselves at this level. We can certainly be very disruptive in the western conference. We want to win and we want our record to be as good as we can possibly get it. Part of our mantra will be to go out, play hard and try to make a mess of things out here (in the west)."
I sense that Renney’s comments will excite and possibly irritate some fans.
It is really a catch 22 right now for the Oilers. They want to develop their players, and if they play well the wins will come, but the draft pick will drop. I’ve stated from the start you can’t ask your team to lose on purpose, and with so many young players still trying to find their way around the league, there is no chance Renney will even think of hindering their development for a better draft selection.
The bigger questions are what diversity will we see in the final 33 games, and how will it impact the future of the Oilers?
FINAL 33 TO HELP THE FUTURE?
Here are a few things I hope we see down the stretch.
- Taylor Hall playing centre. I might as well start with the obvious and easy. Renney is already on record as saying he wants to see more of Hall in the middle, as does every Oiler fan.
- Andrew Cogliano on the wing. It is clear he can’t win a faceoff consistently, but he has learned to compete much harder the past two seasons. He’s becoming a pretty decent penalty killer, and if he is going to help this team moving forward he has to do it on the wing.
- Shawn Horcoff playing between Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark. Horcoff helped Jordan Eberle and Hall early this season, so why not see what he can do with the two rookie Swedes.
- It sounds like Eberle will play Wednesday, Ales Hemsky is getting close and eventually Gilbert Brule will re-surface. When all three are back there is no way that Omark can go to the minors. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Paajarvi’s best stretch has come with his fellow countryman in town. Like most rookies Paajarvi took some time adapting to the NHL game, but it is clear he had a harder time adjusting to life off the ice. Omark has made Paajarvi’s time away from the rink much more enjoyable and comfortable, and we are seeing the result of that on the ice. Based on this link, some might say they’ve become too comfortable, but it’s clear Omark’s presence has helped his younger Swedish teammate.
- Give Jeff Petry as much PP time as possible, and encourage him to use his shot more. Petry has the ability to get shots through the lanes and on goal. He is savvy enough to know when to wind up and rip one, or just sift it past the legs of the shotblocker and get it on goal. He has shown tremendous poise in the past five games, and I’d like to see more of him on the first unit PP.
- Let Dubnyk play 20 of the remaining 33 games. Khabibulin isn’t giving this team a better chance to win, and hasn’t for the past month. Let Dubnyk play three in a row a few times and see how he handles it. There is no point worrying about Khabibulin’s ego or confidence. He is a good team guy, and I don’t see him rocking the boat.
- Play Hemsky with Gagner for 15 games and Hall for 15 games and find out which centre he works best with. I think Gagner fits better with Dustin Penner, and Hemsky with Hall, but let’s see if indeed that is the case.
- Give Omark more PP time. He is more creative than Hemsky on the halfboards, and he seems to move the puck quicker. At times Hemsky seems to have a set play in his mind as he enters the zone and has a hard time deviating from that.
- Try a forward on the blueline on the PP. Hall played there in Windsor, so let’s see if he can do it here. Without Ryan Whitney this team doesn’t have four solid PP defenders, so use a forward while Petry, Tom Gilbert and Kurtis Foster can rotate as the other three D-men.
- Find a way to ensure this team is ready to play from the opening puck drop. We’ve seen three different coaches for three consecutive seasons, and none of them have been able to get this team to consistently be ready to compete from the opening whistle. It is up to Horcoff and the other leaders to find a routine that fits with this group and stick with it.
FOURTH LINE FOCUS: TOO MUCH
For many years there has been too much focus on the fourth line guys in Edmonton. Without looking at the stats can you name the fourth lines in Philadelphia, Vancouver, Detroit, Washington or Pittsburgh? If you can, you spend more time reading the stats than Wanye does watching rap videos. I understand you want decent role players, but the reality is when you have a good to great team your fourth line doesn’t matter that much.
The problem with the Oilers is that the only physical players they have are fourth line guys. They don’t play their fourth line enough to allow them to get in the game, but there is an expectation that in those limited minutes they want the 4th liners to play so aggressive and physical that other teams will think twice about being physical with the top-nine forwards.
The reality is that won’t happen.
Theo Peckham plays a regular shift and that allows him to be more physical and keep teams honest. Until the Oilers get someone who can play a regular shift in their top-nine, or ideally top-six, and brings a physical edge the Oilers will be considered an easy team to play against.
Hall and Paajarvi have some size, and as they mature they will become harder to play against strictly because they will be harder to move off the puck, but the Oilers need to develop one or two guys who are skilled and physical. Right now they have skilled guys, and some physical guys, but no one who possesses enough of both.
***In the opening photo, when I leaned back I saw what looked like Jesus with a circle around him. Weird**