THE NEXT 41: GAINS AND DECLINES

Before any of us can try to figure out what the Edmonton Oilers are going to do as a team in the second half of the season, it makes sense to try to get a handle on how individual players might fare.

Can the Oilers improve on the 16-22-3 record for 35 points they managed in the first 41 games? That obviously rests heavily on what happens with Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall. Will they be as good in the next 41 games as they were in the first 41?

Likewise, it’ll take better second halves from Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff, Ben Eager, Ryan Whitney and Eric Belanger if the Oilers are going to make gains down the stretch, especially factoring in injuries to Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and blue line stalwart Tom Gilbert.

In the context of comparing performance in the first half to the second, who will make the biggest gains? Who’ll likely see the most significant declines? Who will stay about the same? And, of course, what will it mean to a record that today finds the Oilers a lottery team again, sitting in 26th place.

Here’s how I see it . . .

HOT COMMODITIES

TAYLOR HALL – As good as Hall has been, especially on the last road trip, to hit the halfway mark with 14-15-29, he’s done it in just 33 games. Barring injury, I can see him being 5-10 points better down the stretch.

SHAWN HORCOFF – I don’t know if Horcoff is going to put up many more points than the 22 he had in the first 41, but if can get completely healthy I can see him improving on his 48.2 face-off percentage.

SAM GAGNER – After a difficult start to the season, Gagner is rolling and has 5-15-20 in 34 games. Set to play between Hall and Hemsky and with opportunity knocking, I can see Gagner easily surpassing those totals.

ALES HEMSKY – Rounding into form after shoulder surgery, Hemsky is playing for a contract — somewhere. After managing just 3-11-14 in 28 games, I can see him doubling that total in the next 41.

ERIC BELANGER – I wouldn’t be surprised to see his 57.4 face-off percentage drop, but he couldn’t possibly put up more modest offensive numbers than the 1-9-10 he had in the first half. Could he?

COREY POTTER – Potter provided spark on the power play before he got injured. He’ll get an opportunity to do it again with Tom Gilbert out until after the all-star break. He’ll be the team’s leading blue line scorer.

MAGNUS PAAJARVI – Back from a 10-game stint in OKC, Paajarvi sounds invigorated and he’ll get ice time and opportunity while Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins are out. He’ll better the 0-3-3 he had before they get back.

ANDY SUTTON – Assuming he isn’t suspended by Brendan Shanahan for a third time this season, expect better numbers than the 2-4-6 Sutton had in 21 games and more much-needed physical play.

RYAN WHITNEY – Assuming Whitney heals up and the team doesn’t shut him down for the season, he can’t help but be more effective and produce more points than the 0-3-3 he had in the first 41. What could go wrong?

CAM BARKER – He played just 12 games and managed just one goal in the first half. He’ll be better than that by default or he’ll fall off the NHL map with a repeat of the first 41. Oilers will need some minutes from him.

DUE TO DECLINE

JORDAN EBERLE – Nobody expected Eberle to finish with 86 points this season, but that’s the pace he was on with 17-26-43. He’ll miss the next eight games with a sprained knee, so what will he get in the remaining 33?

RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS – The leading candidate for the Calder Trophy with 13-22-35 when he hurt his shoulder, RNH is out the rest of the month. If he manages 25 points in the second half, that’s still a helluva year.

RYAN SMYTH – With a hot start and then a long drought, Smyth exceeded expectations with 15-17-32 and played 20:05 a game. Don’t see 30 goals in the cards for him at age 35. I expect him to wear down unless his time is cut.

RYAN JONES – He’s on pace for 24 goals and 40 points, but I simply don’t see it. While I don’t expect a drop-off in his hustle and effectiveness from Jones as a penalty killer, he’ll be hard-pressed to duplicate those totals.

TOM GILBERT – He was playing the best hockey of his career when he got steamrolled by Daniel Carcillo. Aside from 3-12-15, he was logging 23:41 a game. Ankles, even sprained ones, can take a long time to come around.

LADISLAV SMID – Relatively speaking, he’s been an offensive dynamo with 3-4-7, but he’s benefited big-time by being paired with Gilbert because their styles complement each other. Tough act to follow without him.

NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN – Back to earth after a ridiculous first dozen games, I’m not picking Khabibulin to fold up, but maintaining his .921 saves percentage is highly unlikely. Finishing above .910 overall will be a victory.

HOLD THE LINE

JEFF PETRY – Logged a lot of minutes (20:07) when pressed into duty and performed well. Can see minutes cut back when Whitney and Barker ready.

BEN EAGER – Didn’t get much of anything done in his first 20 games but he showed more in the last month or so. Hasn’t been a physical force.

ANTON LANDER – I still think he should be in OKC and that averaging just 10:40 in 37 games hasn’t helped him.

THEO PECKHAM – Offense isn’t a real consideration with Peckham, so his 1-2-3 is an afterthought. Can be pushed beyond the 16:20 he’s at now.

DARCY HORDICHUK – He’s delivered as advertised when Renney has chosen to use him, which hasn’t been enough. Functional toughness?

COLTEN TEUBERT – He belongs in OKC but that’s not his fault. I’d expect him to be back there when Whitney and Barker are healthy again.

RYAN O’MARRA – He’ll try to make hay in a limited role as he always does with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle out.

DEVAN DUBNYK – People were screaming for Dubnyk to get more of the workload when the season began, but he’s taken a backseat and will again.

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

  • Stocc

    No STOCCs anymore, WBC? And is it just the word that’s banned Robin?

    Perhaps the best news for the next 41 games is the fact that Ebs’ knee is just sprained. Can you blame me for fearing the worst on that one?

    Perhaps the worst news for the next 41 games is the fact that the next game is game 42. We all remember the curse of 42, no?

    • Wanyes bastard child

      I buckled under pressure 😛

      And I was there with you fearing the worst about Eberle as well considering how long it took to get the news. Would have been better if he was back right away but 8 games ain’t to bad considering eh.

    • If there’s been an update in the last two weeks I’ve missed it.

      I’ve seen Cam leaving the rink in his walking cast, but haven’t chatted with him. The re-hab guys are generally in and out by the time we even get there for practice.

      Will ask around.

        • Jason Gregor

          It was announced around Nov 18th that he would be out at least 3 months…Today is seven weeks…Why would there be a new update. He is still out another six weeks minimum.

          Nothing to see here…Other than Barker is still hurt and not close to returning…I’m off to eat some pancakes, wish me luck.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    I still have a hard time figuring out how Shawn Horcoff gets as little negative attention from the media? It seems as though nobody wants to point out that he stinks. He is overrated in every context of the word.

    I have heard he is a good two way forward. Disagree. He has no offensive skill at an NHL level. Putting up these numbers the last 3 seasons kinda states those facts. 165 Games, 85 Pts. and a horrid -44.

    I think he is way over-played, especially when the Oilers had the kid line rolling. Belanger has almost a 10% better faceoff percentage, but yet,at the end of a game, Renney has Horcoff out there to lose the draw.

    Not only does he get the most ice-time as a forward (by a country mile) he is the highest paid.

    If any fan (myself included) calls out his play it seems there are a dozen blind sheep that come out from the woodwork and defend him tooth and nail. Dustin Penner got nailed to the cross during his whole tenure here, yet outscored Horcoff in the process. I don’t get it!?!

      • 24% body fat

        after the next season horcoffs cap hit is higher than his salary. Hopefully, Nashville, Florida any other team wanting to only spend to the floor will take this contract. At the time of the trade it could be argued that brian campells contract was worse than horcs.

        Lets just wait and see. While horcoff would be a great number three. At his cap hit his contract will only hurt this team when trying to compete for a cup.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Maybe it’s because most of the media has the ability to look past the $$$ and are smart enough to see that he’s a good hockey player??

      • It’s because Horcoff peels off a big chunk of that stack he packs every couple of weeks and pays the blind sheep not to tell the truth . . . we never got a cut from Penner so went after him like he owed us money, because he did*

        *Or maybe it’s because, for all Horcoff’s shortcomings and the fact he doesn’t have the natural ability and size Penner does, he gets credit for making the most of what talent he does have instead of dogging it 45 nights a year. And Horcoff has never hurt his back eating delicious pancakes.

      • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

        He’s more of an “honest” player than he’s good. An honest player that’s struggling. And this is his ship.

        I’m tired of hearing “we didn’t quit” or “we must keep battling”. T-Ren is trying to instill good habits, not good post-loss cliches interviews.

        It’s time for some results. So I hope he steers this ship right, or hopefully faces the music from the fans and media.

    • bazmagoo

      Everyone just seems resigned to the fact that it was an error by K-Lowe and there is really nothing that can be done about it unfortunately.

      If we lose any of the young guns to anything budget related during there RFA years, you can bet this topic will be a hot one again.

  • book¡e

    It is odd to me that a team ranked 3rd in special teams in the entire league is doing this poorly. Turnovers must be what is killing them. The only remedy might be better D I suppose, but that might be nextyearsville.

    Still, once Nuge and Eberle return, I think they will put some wins together.

  • justDOit

    I hate to cast a shadow over all of this levity but exactly what good will 3rd line minutes do for Pajaarvi? Isn’t that brilliant strategy by the coaches what has contributed to his loss of confidence and low production? Attributing these moves to Renney’s one-track mind assumes he has a mind.

    • Do you really hate to cast a shadow or where you bound and determined to drop off your “assumes he has a mind” punchline anyway?

      What contributed most to Paajarvi’s loss of confidence is he couldn’t put the puck in the ocean off a pier to start the season.

      Paajarvi’s ice time in the first four games: 18:40, 17:38, 17:55 and 14:52. His production? Nada. Zero. Zippo.

      Then his time got cut: 14:52, 12:21, 14:50 and 11:34. His production after eight games? Nada. Zero. Zippo.

      With the Oilers off to a 4-2-2 start in those games, RNH, Eberle, Hall, Smyth and others playing well and Sam Gagner back from injury after missing the first six games, was Renney supposed to force-feed Paajarvi ice time at the expense of other players who were performing better?

      After 8 games: Hall 2-5-7, Eberle 1-6-7, Horcoff 1-4-5, RNH 5-3-8, Smyth 2-3-5, Jones 2-0-2.Plus Gagner back in and Hemsky out. Paajarvi didn’t do enough to earn and keep a top six spot.

      Gotta grab some reality to set-up that punchline, Bub.

  • book¡e

    Part of the reason Horcoff is defended here is because he has long played the toughest minutes of any player on the team and perhaps in the NHL (because the Oilers have so few guys who can handle the tough minutes). If Hall, Eberle, and RNH were run out against the tough parade and Smyth, Horcoff, and Hemsky got the soft parade, their would be a significant difference in the point totals on this team.

  • 5 Cups

    Robin,

    Can you pull that crystal ball out one last time? When can I change my name to 6 Cups?

    That will be a glorious day!!! Ya I went there and wrote that as a matter of fact.

  • 5 Cups

    I think Magnus has to try and cut in when he is coming off the wing instead of wristing in a muffin. If it does not work all the time, so whatÉ There are worse places to lose possesion of the puck imho.

    • Agreed.

      Magnus does not seem confident he can use his speed, size and reach to take opponents hard to the net and handle the contact that comes with doing that. Stay with him wide and he’ll dump a harmless shot at the net. That’s the book on him.

    • So, you’re putting more weight in 35 games this season than in 80 games in which he produced 15 goals last season?

      Sounds like a reasonable approach in writing off a player who isn’t yet 21.

      For the record, Paajarvi has 15 goals on 228 shots at the NHL level.

      • O.C.

        A shooting percentage of 6.6% in the NHL is generally reserved for defensemen. In fact there are currently 68 defensemen with a better shooting percentage.

        Considering Paajarvi’s shooting percentage was 5.5 in his final season in the SEL, it would appear last season was an anomaly.

        • Lofty

          Once again though he was a boy amongst men and still is very green in the NHL. He needs to learn how to put the puck in the net and the Oilers organization has a couple more years till it needs to make the keep him or ship him decision. Work with him and develop him.

          This is exactly the type of player that can make an organization look stupid for giving up too early.

        • O.C.

          The DSF Two-step again.

          Like I said, whether you agree or not, I’m waiting until Paajarvi plays more than 105 NHL games before I smugly write him off as you did with your “Next” remark. Please resist the urge to make me change my mind.

          There’s a player here. He doesn’t have to be Rocket Richard for that to be true.

  • I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of slagging Horcoff in the past, but we all know he’s not functioning at 100%. Given the fact he’s still busting his butt, I guess there isn’t much more you could ask.

    Also, I too was going to have some delicious pancakes for breakfast next Saturday, but I’m having second thoughts as they are a confirmed safety hazard.

  • I am not an avid hockey fan in the sense that I watch the rest of the league. Can someone tell me is the number of injuries the oilers get, and to key players, is common?

    I understand one year but isn’t this 3 in a row.

    There must be some explanation.

    • A-Mc

      I’m curious about this as well. I dont get the chance to watch other games around the league so i’m not sure what other teams suffer in the way of injuries each year.

      It APPEARS like the Oilers are plagued with injury year after year.

  • O.C.

    A real friend stays the night, and you and her share delicious pancakes in the morning.

    She offers to chip in for the cost of professional movers to take care of that nasty “how am I gonna move my furniture” problem.

  • A-Mc

    This season seems to be over already . Looking much like last two seasons with a dive to the lottery . Injuries seem to be our excuse for taking people out of lineup to insure a lottery position . I think they have assessed our position, and decided once again to make lineup weak enough to insure bottom 5 again . I’m sceptical about injury times around our club -too many too often ?

    With bottom 5 in site , Oilers should be trying to deal those players with value now before it gets closer to trade deadline . Hemsky and others values should be higher now than at trade deadline . Hate to see them lose some for little or nothing down the line . How many beyond our top 3 youngsters could remain as our base ? Entire defence and goaltending may all be out of picture shortly at this rate of futility .

    Watched part of Flames game last night and was really impressed by Larsson and Henrique . They look like allstars in the making , especially a very imposing Larsson . Look forward to tonite to see them perform against the Oilers .

  • Talbot17

    Even though expectations are low for the second half, i just want to see some wins, these losing streaks are making me go mental!

    …..Sometimes i like to lay under my bed and pretend i am a carrot … 🙂