ENDLESS SUMMER: ALMOST TIME TO GET REAL

When Edmonton Oilers players start straggling onto the sheet down at Kinsman Arenas near Twin Brooks on the south side, it’s a sure sign hockey season is almost upon on us. Thank goodness for that.

With the dog days of summer giving way to September and nothing better for some fans to do than get their panties in a twist over what Jay Feaster has to say — prompting do-gooders with just as much time on their hands to mount soap boxes to defend Our Town — a handful of Oilers hit the ice today for sessions that will continue through the next week.

The rookie tournament in Penticton gets going next weekend. After that, it’s medicals and fitness testing and then on to the start of main training camp and pre-season — the puck drops in 15 days when the Oilers host the Minnesota Wild at Rexall Place.

Two weeks from now, nobody will waste much time worrying about what Feaster has to say — should the GM of a going-nowhere-fast team that’ll likely finish 10th-12th really feel good about being better than the Oilers this season? — and that’s a good thing.

It’s about time, no?

BACK IN TOWN . . .

There’s been great consternation over the state of Ryan Whitney’s surgically repaired right ankle, and with good reason, seeing as he "tweaked it" a couple weeks ago. And because, well, Edmonton’s defensive corps isn’t good enough to get along without him.

Will Whitney’s ankle be 100 per cent by the start of the season? We don’t know for sure. Whitney doesn’t know for sure, although he’s trying to sound confident. The key word, as it often is, is "patience."

"I’ve has a little bit of a string of bad luck," Whitney told reporters at the rink today, referring to two separate foot surgeries that put him on the shelf before the ankle let go last season.

"I’ve got to stay positive. That’s the one thing I’ve tried doing. As frustrating as it can be, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. So, for me, it’s about staying positive. Keep working through it.

"I know I’ll get there. It’s just about not rushing it. I did that once. I came back too early and didn’t play well, so it’s about being 100 per cent before I come back."

I expect Whitney will err on the side of extreme caution as he makes his way back and it only makes sense. It’s not as if he has to hurry because he has to "make the team" during pre-season.

Like I wrote awhile back, I’m nervous about the ankle, but that’s just me. I don’t have a shred of evidence from anybody connected to Whitney’s surgery or rehab telling me there’s a problem, but . . .

HOW SWEDE IT IS

Sophomore Magnus Paajarvi skated today and he’s one of four Swedes who’ll attend camp, with Linus Omark, Anton Lander and Johan Motin being the others.

The way it looks from where I sit, Paajarvi, Omark and Lander are going to go a long way in shaping the 2011-12 edition of the team, particularly if Lander can buck tough odds, as some people think he might, and earn a roster spot.

While Lander sounds like a comer from everything I’ve heard and Omark is intriguing because he teased fans with his remarkable puck skills last season, not to mention a stubborn streak that was a pleasant surprise, Paajarvi is the guy who has my attention.

A lot of people, me included, thought Paajarvi might be the best of a rookie crop that included Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle a year ago because he’d played three years in the Swedish Elite League. It didn’t pan out that way — at least not early on. New team. New country. New culture.

"I want to develop and I want to get more goals and I want to get more points for sure, but I want to get better as a hockey player, too, and be better for my team," said Paajarvi, who came on late and finished last season with 34 points.

"I think I’m ready for that. I’ve been working out really good this summer, I think. I’ve been working on things I need to work on. I’m really excited for this year."

WHILE I’M AT IT . . .

— NHL.com has come out with its 2011-12 Fantasy Rankings, a list that rates 180 players and is woefully short of Oilers, as you’d expect, with just four included among goaltenders, defensemen, left wingers, right wingers and centres.

Nikolai Khabibulin was rated 30th among goaltenders. Hall was the top-ranked Oiler, listed No. 15 among left wingers. Ales Hemsky was 21st among right wingers and Whitney was 31st among 60 defensemen who were ranked. The Oilers didn’t have a centre in the top 30 or in 10 honourable mentions given in the middle, although Ryan Smyth and Eberle go close-but-no-cigar mentions on the wings.

— I’m on the sniff trying to find out if the Oilers will extend a training camp invitation to a free agent or two, but no word yet. Given Whitney’s status and a lack of depth on the back end, it’s an idea worth pursuing. By the way, Lowetide’s suggestion GM Steve Tambellini ask Nick Boynton to take a twirl at camp is a cagey guess. He’d fit as a sixth or seventh guy.

That said, it’s interesting to note that former Oiler Steve Staios, another free agent without a job, is back in town and still has ties to Edmonton. He’s got a house here etc. Would Staios bite at a PTO at this point in his career or will he wait for a contract offer. Stay tuned.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

    • Lander is enough of a longshot at centre because of Nugent-Hopkins and Eric Belanger.

      What realistic chance, barring a catostrophic number of injuries, does Motin have of cracking even the top-eight on the back end ahead of Petry, Chorney and even Tuebert? Less-than-zero?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    It’s been 9 months since Ryan Whitney’s played any hockey that matters. This doesn’t look good for the Oiler blueliners. It’s starting to look like Steve got rolled on this deal, hopefully it’s not too late to find someone who’s not aware of his foot condition yet to take him off the Oils hands.

    Might as well bring Boynton or Staios in at an appealing price just in case.

  • Fee Logolin

    Robin,
    Not sure how much you like scuttlebutt and hear say. I was part of a conversation the other day at a business meeting ( names being changed to protect the not so innocent). Any ways, it was mentioned that Gary Bettman was in town in August and met with the Mayor and other parties to talk about the new arena issues. Bettman was very forth right with the City et al that he wasn’t going to be nice guy this time and was prepared to help the Oilers out of town and into Quebec City. A deadline of January 2012 was given to get shovels in the ground where ever a new arena was going to be built if not then the Oilers would be pretty much out of town by the end of the current lease.

    I give the talk a bit more credibility as the people talking are people who would know due to connections on both sides of the debate. Have you heard any of this? Thanks!

    • Your “scuttlebutt” and hearsay runs contrary to the stance Bettman has taken in every single circumstance when it comes to keeping franchises where they are, including right here in the bad, old Les Alexander and Michael Largue days.

      Sounds like the fertile mind of somebody looking to push the process along, if you ask me. While there is a timeline to be conscious of in terms of getting a new facility built by the time the lease at Rexall is done — even then, there is room to extend on an as-needed basis — I have heard nothing close to this “Bettman said” stuff.

      • Fee Logolin

        Thanks! That makes sense in that one comment from a “pro-Katz” guy was that Northlands was very aggressive in having their supporters and staff lobbying council etc. While the Katz side was frustratingly quiet

  • YFC Prez

    I expected Paajarvi to come out of the gates way ahead of Hall and Eberle as well. Ya it wasn’t the case but he did play consistantly better hockey when fellow countryman Omark was on the roster, regardless of linemates. Hopefully when Lander makes the roster he won’t go through this same problem. I imagine there won’t be as much of a Culture shock with 2 friends already on the team.

  • Even at 100% I’d like the Oilers to reduce Whitney’s minutes. His injuries aren’t brain related, but how many times can a guy have work done on his feet/ankles?

    The Oilers need to resist the temptation of giving him #1 minutes even though the team has an obvious lack of depth on the blueline.

    Defense by committe regardless of the outcome.

    Feaster’s comments don’t bother me, but I don’t think Oiler fans should/will soon forget. The majority of Flames fans are still too close to the forest to see the trees. (And that’s O.K)

    RNH was drafted to eventually play with Taylor Hall, but I think Paajarvi’s shot/play down low fits RNH’s game better.

    Still waiting for my invite to camp…

  • Mitch

    @Brownlee

    If I have to watch 1 shift of Oilers Hockey with Staios on the blueline, I will be the guy with the paper bag over my head, yes that includes the pre-season. Staios if they want to give a tryout heck maybe Esa, Wayne, and Mark would like another shot. We are trying to move ahead not backwards last time I checked.

    • YFC Prez

      If Whitney’s health is a concern for the larger part of the season there will be many paper bags on many heads. Maybe desperate times will call for desperate measures

    • Oilers4ever

      Have you seen Messier lately? At 52 he looks like he did at 25. The guy is a fitness freak. I’d put money on the fact that he could lace up the skates and play 10 minutes a night. Remember some guy named Howe? Don’t sell Staios short. As a 5-6 guy he would be perfect.And he is way younger than Mark,Wayne and Esa. BTW. I’d like you tell Messier he can’t play.I know I wouldn’t.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    Hey Brownlee, Couldn’t we invite guys like wade redden or Brian McCabe to camp? They’ve played lots of games and even put up decent numbers in the past. Are these guys too washed up to even be worth a phone call?

  • Oilers4ever

    Why offer a guy like Boynton a try as a 6th or 7th guy… Isn’t everyone saying that is the role Sutton has here now? If they are going to offer something like that then go Bryan McCabe…. at least he good QB the powerplay and has a booming shot…but he could turn into Souray gone wrong too (minus the organizational bashing of course).

    I dunno.. stay the course in my mind. I don’t think people are giving the Oilers D enough credit. If Whitney stays healthy the whole year they will be fine….People need to chill and relax about the D.. it’s the goaltending that’s the highest concern unless of course Khabby wrecks his back for the year.. then all will be well. 🙂

    • If Whitney stays healthy . . .

      Stay what course? What’s the “course,” not having enough depth on defense? Chill? Relax?

      After writing that, don’t even think about joining the chorus of “What the hell went wrong?” if Whitney doesn’t stay healthy and everybody in the top six has to move up a notch, including Sutton.

      A cheap-o free agent is a sensible insurance, but you don’t see the need for one now, so you’ll be expected to resist the urge to moan and complain about lack of depth in November or December if it goes sideways.

  • ButtermilkBiscuitsAKAoilers2k10

    So where is Bryan Berard these days?
    Last I heard he was playing in the KHL a few years back..sure his plus minus was pretty bad most of his NHL career..but he never really played for a team outside of the bottom 10 either..
    Put him on the PP with Whitney.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    It’s time for some hockey. I am pumped to finally put last season behind us and I love the optimism that this time of year brings. Everybody is starting from scratch so here’s hoping that we can surprise some people this season.

  • Oilers4ever

    OH my…another year filled with iffs…

    at least not quite so many….

    As someone who remembers going to Oil KIng games in the old gardens on a Sunday, silver collection yet…

    If KHB can stop anything smaller then a basket ball..
    If the Kids are allright…and no soph jinx’s
    If someone besides Whitney and Gilbert remember how to play defense.
    if the old guys and toss their crutchs aside and pull out another year..
    if some sandpaper is found….

    And The Red Team down the road lives down to expectations…

    Then maybe something good will come of it all….before they dig a hole for me…

  • Oilers4ever

    As much as I liked Staios’ effort over the years with the Oil he is just too easy to play against. Wasn’t that why they passed him on to the Flames? That acquisition would be a backwards step. There has to be another physical D-man with a bigger frame to keep the front of the net clear and make a first pass out of the zone. Maybe Saleh or Rivet would be a short-term upgrade instead of Staios?

    This will be yet another losing season so if one of the young D-men shows promise by the New Year maybe they could bring up one of their own and get him some game experience. Tambellini has done a poor job finding good defence so winning sure doesn’t seem to be a priority for him. Team building via the draft alone may not be good enough. Tambo is relying too heavily on the draft. He needs to make things happen too!

  • paul wodehouse

    all this talk of ‘cheap-o’ insurance, retreads and castoffs is making my stomach turn…we need to make a trade for a Dman soon imo…the more i hear about Whitney’s fragility the more this must make sense to even the powers that be…

    …how ’bout goaltending?…Joaquin Gage is available these days, mind you he’d have to do some creative scheduling with Shaw Cable…
    his installer job pays pretty good…

  • Oilers4ever

    I thought Tams was moving to stock the shelves at trade deadline , only to stop from that day on ? Obviously he puts more faith in whats in the system as being competent fill ins than a lot of others do . Last time we were in playoffs we went out and acquired a team under K.Lowe that included such people as Peca , Spacek , Tarnstrom , Pronger , etc.. I thought Tams might try and follow Lowe’s template this year the way he started out at trade deadline that one day . Why did Tams stop ? Many have been passed over and by, that could have helped our club and rookie development get better than what was in our system .

    Well Tams is no K.Lowe obviously ! We are a laughing stock outside of Oilerland , because even Lowe knew how to build a team without so many draftees , or has he forgotten already like a lot of Oiler fans ? How many of our defencemen are even as capable of someone like Hannan , Staios , etc.. To be honest i don’t assume any of them are just yet . Would not surprise me to see Teubert and Musil as being our 2 best , that’s just how thin our defensive cupboard might prove to be .

    Sure i gave Tams credit for what he did at tradeline , but he has a lot to do to finish making us a contender of note this season or next . Lowe built us a club around veterans not draftees , while Tams has not . Feaster only stated the obvious , and i am glad somebody outside the Oilers bought it to light and put it in the proper perspective .

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        No . I thought they were quite different , and that Tams was setting up to do something similiar to what Lowe did that year . He still could i suppose but i see nothing any further than that one day pointing in that direction . Feaster helped bring that to light with his comments on what the Oilers have done to date . Hope that clarifies my comments

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          The fact that you think he was setting up to add 3-4 vetrans based on the Penner trade is mind boggling.

          Tambo was trading AWAY vetrans… it is impossible to have anything FURTHER pointing in that direction because their was nothing pointing in that direction in the first place.