GDB 65.0: ENTER THE BLUEJACKETS

Normally the dog days of the season appear in January, but when it is minus 812 outside, and the only thing more frequent than snow in Edmonton this year is listening to people rant and rave about Charlie Sheen, so you better get ready for another stretch of days-that-will-test-your-loyalty-to-the-Oilers.

Three days after trading Dustin Penner to the LA Kings, the "other" tradeable option, Ales Hemksy, is now out two to three weeks with an injured right shoulder. Hemsky injured his shoulder and rotator cuff on Tuesday and returns to the injured list for the third time this season.

No Hemsky and no Penner gives the Oilers a good chance to beat out Ottawa in the race for 30th, but it will also give Tom Renney and Steve Tambellini 18 games to figure out which of the "offensive" forwards they should keep beyond April 15th.

The reality is the Oilers can’t start next season with the same forwards they will be using tonight. Replacing the fourth line will not solve the problem, it will help, but if this team is going to be somewhat competitive next year Tambellini will need to make a few tough decisions with some of his young, small forwards.

AUDITION TIME

Shawn Horcoff, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall will all be here next year, and it’s no surprise that they’ll be re-united tonight. Hall and Eberle haven’t been as effective with Andrew Cogliano, and sliding Horcoff between them makes sense.

The 2nd and 3rd lines are full of guys who need to make a statement.

Sam Gagner will centre Ryan Jones and Gilbert Brule, while Andrew Cogliano will skate with Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark. Paajarvi will be here next year, but the other five all contain different aspects that could make them expendable in the summer.

  • Gagner is still very young, has great hockey sense, a decent battle level and is a very good playmaker. Whether he skate well enough to play with Hall, Paajarvi and Hemksy is the issue.
     
  • Cogliano will only be a 3rd liner. He has worked hard at improving his overall game. He is better defensively, he covers a lot of ground in his own zone and he works hard. He can’t win a faceoff and his hands are more stiff than soft.
     
  • If the Oilers draft a centre in June, is Cogliano a better fit as a number three instead of Gagner, or is Gagner good enough to be a 2nd and Horcoff your 3rd? Tambellini will need to make that decision this summer.
     
  • Omark has loads of skill, but with Eberle and Hemsky ahead of him on the RW does he make your team better as a 3rd liner, or as trade bait to acquire some size?
     
  • Brule has health issues. Had he stayed healthy he’d be on pace for 16 goals. He is the most physical of the small forwards, and is one of the few guys who can beat a goalie from long range. Is he destined to be inconsistent, or if can he stay healthy, does his physical edge make him a decent 3rd liner?
     
  • Jones creates a lot of chances. He skates fairly well, has improved as a penalty killer and works hard, but he doesn’t bring much size or grit to an already small top-nine. I’d re-sign him and slot him on your fourth line knowing that when injuries hit he could move up to the 3rd for a few games.

Regardless of the outcome of the games, the Oilers must use these final games to make a decision on the future of their small forwards. Expecting this team to be more competitive next year without changing the top-nine is a recipe for another top-five pick.

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal, while Colin Fraser draws back in between Liam Reddox and JF Jacques.

Theo Peckham has officially been diagnosed as having a concussion and will be out for a few more games. He was making progress, but according to Renney, Peckham levelled off yesterday and is not even considered as day-to-day.

PREDICTIONS

GAME DAY PREDICTION: I don’t think anyone could pilot the Oilers to a victory tonight. The Blue Jackets are desperate for a win, and dominanted the Canucks on Tuesday. The Oilers will put up a valiant effort, but they’ll lose 5-3 in a rather exciting game.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: In his 3rd shift of the game, Ethan Moreau will wheel down the left side and wrist a shot from just inside the blueline. Dubnyk will make an easy glove save and Moreau will stop right on his doorstep just in case there is a rebound. Cue flashback for fans.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: It is Fan Appreciation night at Rexall and as usual there will be lots of prizes handed out. The final prize will be a signed Taylor Hall jersey. The winner will be sitting in section 224, row 34 seat 8. When they pan over the crowd and zoom in on the winner….it willbe none other than loyal Nation reader/contributor David S. How will we know it is him? He will eerily look like Ricky from the Trailer Park boys and he’ll be wearing an I HEART WANYE T-shirt. I I wonder how many other posters actually resemble their Avatars?