GDB 40.0: CHANGING PLACES

Dan Aykroyd was an educated, yet somewhat snobbish Louis Winthorpe the 3rd in the 1983 comedy, Trading Places. His millionaire bosses at his commodities brokerage firm hatched a plan to switch the lives of two people at opposite ends of the social heirarchy. They frame Winthorpe and get him put in jail and then take a poor street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) and give him Winthorpe’s job and home.

It was a decent movie, and ended up being nominated for best Motion Picture – Musical or comedy at the Golden Globe awards, proving that in 1984 the Golden Globes were somewhat of a farce.

In the past two month the Oilers starred as Winthorpe while the Blues played the part of Valentine. After the Oilers downed the Blues 4-2 on October 30th, the Oilers were tied for 1st in the west with Chicago and Dallas, while the Blues sat in 13th. Since then the Oilers have looked like Aykroyd in this photo, and arguably as worse as the guy behind him, while the Blues have skyrocketed up the standings.

The Blues fired Payne a week after losing to the Oilers and replaced him with 59-year-old Ken Hitchcock. The Blues were 5-8 and sitting 14th in the west when Hitch took over, however, the former Stanley Cup winning coach made an immediate impact. The Blues are 16-5-5 since hiring Hitchcock and have jumped up to 5th in the west, and only three points behind the conference leading Blackhawks.

The Blues are now winning with solid defence and timely scoring. David Backes leads them with 26 points, only Carolina’s leading scorer has fewer points (Staal, 25) yet Staal is -23 while Backes is +9. The Blues are 29th on the PP, 17th on PK, and 19th in 5×5 goals for, but they don’t give up much.

They are 3rd in the NHL in GAA at a stingy 2.08, with Brian freakin Elliott leading the way with a .938 SV% and 1.70 GAA. In his previous 142 NHL starts Elliott had a .900 SV% and 2.91 GAA, but he’s been phenomenal this year going 14-5. Luckily for the Oilers they will face Jaroslav Halak and his respectable 2.26 SV% and .911 SV%, although he hasn’t lost in regulation since November 22nd.

Hitchcock hasn’t changed his coaching strategy, he still demands attention to defence, but he has changed how he deals with his players. He isn’t as abrasive as he used to be, and this new "softer" Hitchcock has fit perfectly in St. Louis. During an interview this summer Wally Buono told me he took a coaching seminar that focused on "human interaction" with players. It must have helped a bit.

I was told yesterday that Hitchcock took the same seminar. From what I understand, the focus of this was to learn how to maintain being very demanding of the players, yet understand the emotional aspect of the coach/player relationship. I’m looking forward to speaking with Hitchcock about this in the future, because it seems to be working very well.

The human relations element is often over looked when evaluating teams and players. It is almost impossible to calculate its impact, so in many cases we completely avoid it. That’s too bad, because it plays a major role in how players perform. Nowadays a coach has to have a mixture of disciplinarian, psychologist, strategist and motivator to be successful. Of course to truly be successful he needs good players, but it is fascinating to me how much coaches have had to change and adapt over the years.

COULD THEY DO IT?

Before you start tweeting some ridiculous trade rumour, actually read what I’m about to write.

For the past few weeks it seems everyone is ready to trade Ales Hemsky. "He doesn’t care, he’s injury prone, he doesn’t fit in and he’s past his prime," seem to be the rally points for those in the anti-Hemsky camp. The only one that has any truth is the injuries, but there is no guarantee he’ll continue to be injured, but it’s fair to be concerned about it.

The fact is he is a legit top-six forward, except in the eyes of caller "Bob" on my show yesterday, who actually believed Hemsky wasn’t a top-six forward. I understand if you are frustrated by him, but if you honestly think he isn’t a proven, legitimate top-six forward then unfortunately I don’t think you understand hockey.

Outside of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins please tell me who else the Oilers have who is a lock to be a top-six forward?

Sam Gagner is the closest, but not a guarantee and after him there is a bunch of "I hope he develops into one, or "in a few years he’ll be one."

Top-six forwards, like top-three D-men are hard to come by, and that’s why I’m hesitant to trade him. The Oilers need to find out if he wants to be part of the future. Once they have that answer they can devise a strategy for the future, and if they don’t find that out then they aren’t doing their job.

SAY WHAT?

While Hemsky is a hot topic, yesterday Mark Spector surprised me when he said the Oilers might consider moving Smyth at the deadline.

Before you blow a gasket, keep reading.

Smyth wants to be in Edmonton, but his contract his up after this season. If he and the Oilers have a "private handshake agreement" that they’d trade him to a Cup contender, but then re-sign him in the summer, ala Keith Tkachuk and the Blues, would this be a good move?

Smyth likely won’t win a Cup with the Oilers, unless he plays until he’s 40, so could he and the Oilers get the best of both worlds? He gets a shot at the Cup, the Oilers get some assets at the deadline, and then they reconnect in the summer.

If Smyth agrees to it, and is okay being away from his family for a few months, then I’d pull the trigger.

Would you do it?

LINEUP

The only change likely change will between the pipes, with Renney going back to Devan Dubnyk. He could insert Darcy Hordichuk into the lineup, but I don’t see any reason for that unless Shawn Horcoff’s shoulder got worse since Buffalo.

The Hall – Gagner – Hemsky combination was very good in Buffalo, with Hemsky playing his best game of the season. With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back in Edmonton getting his shoulder looked at, this trio will need to be great again if the Oilers have any hope of picking up their 2nd win in six starts on this road trip.

DO YOU EVER WONDER?

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Tough game to call. Oilers have played well the past two games, but they’re facing the surging Blues who are 12-2-2 at home under Hitchcock. I’ll take the Blues 3-1.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Many of you spent a few minutes wondering how you know Danica McKellar. Does Winnie Cooper ring a bell? That is Winnie from The Wonder Years, the love of Kevin Arnold’s adolescent life. For those who had a crush on young innocent Winnie, pat yourself on the back for having a good eye when you were in your teens. She turned 37 on Tuesday.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Someone will leave the R off of Gagne in the comments section and a few of you will actually waste your time pointing out that it’s spelt GagneR. I’m stunned how easy it is to fire up some of you, and how you continually play into the hands of the erroneous speller. You honestly believe they don’t know how to spell Gagner?