I don`t have the attention span of Elliotte Friedman to come up with 30 Thoughts, but with the Edmonton Oilers getting a couple of days to catch their breath between games, that hasn’t stopped me from borrowing from (stealing) his idea and coming up with 10 that are specific to Tom Renney`s team.
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 29 points in his first 27 NHL games. You can slice that any way you like, but the bottom line is he`s an 18-year-old rookie with 12-17-29 and sitting among the top-six in league scoring.
When and how The Nuge gets his points might be interesting asides, but whether he gets them on the power play, even strength, shorthanded or standing on his head while whistling Don`t Worry, Be Happy, the kid is a bona fide NHL player, period. He’s been terrific.
2. It`s worth noting that Nugent-Hopkins is hanging with the big guns in the Art Ross Trophy scoring race and doing it while playing just 17:03 a game, which is fewer overall minutes than all but one player in the top-10. Even more noteworthy is that player is none other than teammate Jordan Eberle, who has scored 10-18-28 and has averaged just 16:47.
3. I understand the consternation some fans are feeling about the way Ryan Whitney is playing right now – he`s too often looked a step behind and is clearly feeling his way into games — but let`s everybody take a breath and get a grip. Whitney has played exactly 10 games since his ankle came apart 35 games into last season, or about 10 months.
I`d rather see Whitney get up to speed slowly and finish this season the way he started last season – 27 points in 35 games – than start fast and have an ankle or knee go south again. The Oilers need Whitney going great guns in February, not December.
4. As much as I`ve liked Tom Gilbert`s game, and really, there hasn`t been much not to like, my sense is the sooner Renney can cut his ice time when he gets some healthy bodies back, like Whitney, the better. Gilbert is logging 24:38 a game. While he averaged 24:30 last season, a necessity after Whitney went out, I`d like to see him nearer the 21:58 he played in 2008-09, his most productive season.
5. One statistic I find jarring – in other words, my eyes are deceiving me — is that Taylor Hall has the worst shooting percentage among the Oilers top-six scoring forwards. Hall, mending a bad shoulder, sits at 11.7 with seven goals on 60 shots. I`d have guessed higher than that. Ryan Jones, by comparison, has nine goals on 40 shots for a gaudy 22.5. Must be all those three-footers.
6. Speaking of shooting percentage and my blinkers going bad, Eberle sits at 15.2 with 10 goals on 66 shots. I think he`s got the quickest release – and he has a knack of being able to get a shot off from any angle – on the team, yet that isn`t reflected with the best percentage on the team. That aside, I have not seen a player with a better backhand than Eberle in years.
7. At 13-11-3 for 29 points through 27 games, the Oilers are, surprisingly, just four points ahead of their pace of last season, when they finished 30th for the second straight year. Edmonton was 10-12-5 for 25 points a year ago.
8. Got a note from former Oiler goaltender Jussi Markkanen the other day. Jussi, who tragically lost his four-year-old son Olli in 2008 when he fell out of a fifth-storey window at home in Moscow, is playing in Zug, Switzerland. As always, prayers to Jussi, wife Sanna and son Juho. A sweet man.
9. I`ll be talking to Nugent-Hopkins for a CP feature tomorrow and I`ve been asked to get his thoughts on similarities some people are making between him and Wayne Gretzky. The way I see it, that`s like tossing somebody a grenade. Just saying.
10. If the Oilers don`t get straightened out and beat Carolina, Colorado and Calgary in a rematch in their next three games, I don`t see them getting to Jan. 1 with more wins than losses.
JUNKET FOR FANS
If you`re looking for a winter break in March, there`s a group of fans making a trek from Edmonton for games in Tampa Bay March 22 and Florida on March 23. All told, it`s a five-day jaunt with a March 21 departure and a return date of Sunday, March 25.
If you`d like information on the trip, which costs $1,749 per person and includes return air fare, four nights accommodation at a five-star golf resort, lower bowl tickets to both games and bus transportation to and from the airport in Florida, check it out by inquiring at email@example.com. .
From a news release by the NHL:
BOARD OF GOVERNORS APPROVES FOUR-CONFERENCE FORMAT
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (Dec. 5, 2011) — The National Hockey League Board of Governors tonight approved a four-Conference alignment format and authorized Commissioner Gary Bettman to implement this proposal, pending input from the National Hockey League Players’ Association.
The format would create two eight-team Conferences and two seven-team conferences. Under the format, every team would play every other team outside its conference twice — once home, once away.
In the seven-team Conferences, teams would play six times — three home, three away. In the eight-team Conferences, teams would play either five or six times in a season on a rotating basis; three teams would play each other six times and four teams would play each other five times. This process would reverse each season: An eight-team Conference member that plays an opponent six times in one season would play it five times the following season.
The top four teams in each Conference qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first-place team would play the fourth-place team; the second-place team would play the third-place team. The four respective Conference champions would meet in the third round of the Playoffs, with the survivors playing for the Stanley Cup.
The Conference format:
CONF. A CONF. B CONF. C CONF. D
Anaheim Chicago Boston Carolina
Calgary Columbus Buffalo NJ Devils
Colorado Dallas Florida NY Islanders
Edmonton Detroit Montreal NY Rangers
Los Angeles Minnesota Ottawa Philadelphia
Phoenix Nashville Tampa Bay Pittsburgh
San Jose St. Louis Toronto Washington
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.