Andrew Cogliano and Tom Gilbert take a lot of slag from critics at this site and from fans for real and perceived shortcomings as players, but there is no getting around how reliable and durable they are.
That, in my estimation, is a quality that’s under-appreciated at the best of times in professions across the board and one that should probably be more lauded at the worst of times — like over the past five seasons, a stretch in which the Edmonton Oilers have endured a ridiculous string of injuries.
Reliability and durability might not pull fans out of their seats or provide the kind of sizzle raw talent and skill does, but it provides the kind of steak NHL coaches like Tom Renney rely on when they scratch out their line-ups 82 games a season.
When the puck drops against the struggling Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena this afternoon, Gilbert will be in Edmonton silks for the 323rd straight game. Cogliano will play his 315th consecutive game.
Given the physical demands of the game they play, it’s a remarkable feat, to say the least. Framed by the bad luck and injuries that have plagued the Oilers since the 2006 Stanley Cup final, their games-played streaks are damn near miraculous.
You can count on Cogliano and Gilbert.
If somebody asks you about the best car you’ve every had, do you think of the reliable, plain-Jane sedan you used to drive, the one that asked for only gas and oil, started no matter how cold it was and never once left you stranded? The car you sold to move up to something with more flash and regretted getting rid of?
Or do you think of the speedy, little drop-top you used to drive, the one that ate up the road with the same gusto of sportswriters at a free buffet and drew nods of approval from the ladies, but was an acute pain in the backside because it spent as much time in the mechanics bay as it did on the road?
It seems to me that Cogliano and Gilbert fall into the first category. While neither are going to deliver the same kind of offensive results and crowd-pleasing displays of raw talent and skill players like Ales Hemsky, Taylor Hall and Ryan Whitney will, Renney at least knows they’ll be ready to play when the game begins and the rubber hits the road.
With Hemsky injured again and Whitney, Hall and Sam Gagner out for the remainder of the season, I’d suggest there’s value in that for a team that lost 521 man-games to injury in 2009-10 and will easily surpass 200 man-games lost for the fifth straight year.
Say what you want about Cogliano being a tweener who is only now finding a niche as a third-line center and penalty killer. Have fun with his sad-sack face-off percentage, if you’d like. He hasn’t missed a game with the Oilers since the start of the 2007-08 season.
In the same time period, Hemsky has missed 99 games. Tonight will be the 100th game he hasn’t played. It’s tough for all that talent to translate to something meaningful on the ice when Hemsky is in street clothes.
Hack away at Gilbert for not being a big-banger — I certainly have — and for occasionally resembling a drowning man in the deep-end of the pool because he is in over his head without Whitney to protect him, but he’s been ready to play every single night since Craig MacTavish was a couple seasons from being shown the door.
Yes, 50 or 60 games a season of Hemsky or Hall or even Gagner is going to produce way more highlight reel moments and points than Cogliano will in 82 games. Likewise, Whitney still leads Edmonton defensemen in scoring despite playing just 35 games this season.
That said, if I’m a GM, there’s always going to be room on my roster for players who have shown the long-term reliability and durability Cogliano and Gilbert have.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.