DOWN THE STRETCH: THE LAST 20

With Ales Hemsky in the fold for two more years and the distraction of Monday’s over-hyped NHL trade deadline in the rearview mirror, the Edmonton Oilers rounded the final turn and headed down the stretch drive of their 2011-12 season with a 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

And with three wins in their last four games, and now three straight victories on the road, it could be argued that the Oilers are doing so with a modest bit of momentum as they face their final 20 games.

The question for me: what can we reasonably expect, and what should fans want, in these final 20 games from the Oilers, who are still sitting in a lottery spot at 25-31-6 for 56 points?

What constitutes progress in the rebuild the rest of the way? Do you measure it by how many points they improve on the 62 they managed last season? Would a 10-8-2 record the rest of the way, the same as they managed in their first 20 games this season, and 78 points satisfy you going into 2012-13? Is that kind of record reasonable?

Or, are you of the mind that Exciting Next-To-Last-Place Hockey, a lot of close but no cigar to keep the Oilers in a position to get one of the first two picks in the June Entry Draft, is the way to go? At this point in the rebuild and approaching six straight years out of the playoffs, what do you want to see in the final 20 games?

And, just as important, given the trade of Tom Gilbert to Minnesota today in the acquisition of Nick Schultz, what do you need to see from GM Steve Tambellini – assuming that owner Daryl Katz gets the ink done on a contract extension — between April 7 and the start of 2012 training camp?

THE WAY I SEE IT

On Sunday I wrote an item about Jeff Petry leading into the deadline that included this: "There’s been plenty of comment here and elsewhere about how Tambellini went into the season light on the blue line and about the need for the addition of a top-4 defenseman on the roster. I’m wondering if the Oilers already have that guy in Jeff Petry?"

I’m still wondering, given the limited number of games Petry has played at the NHL level, but I don’t have much doubt the Oilers think they’d seen enough that it played into the decision to swap Gilbert for Schultz. I didn’t see that trade coming, nobody did, but while Tambellini wouldn’t say as much when he met with us today, he’s obviously sold on Petry and that played into the move.

I like Schultz and always have, but I’ve got to admit Gilbert has grown on me this season, even though he’s well off the pace of that 45-point campaign he had a few years ago. I like the physical element he’s added to his game and the way he uses his brain and not just his body to get things done.

That said, I question how he’ll hold up as the lead dog in Minnesota without the shelter of a Ryan Whitney, when he’s healthy, and Ladislav Smid, who continues to eat up tough minutes. I like the addition of Schultz and think, assuming Whitney holds together and Petry doesn’t fall off, he’s a very good addition to the mix. In any case, good luck to Gilbert.

AND . . .

— We’ll see Schultz at Rexall Place Tuesday when he checks in for his medical and meets his new teammates. It’s expected he’ll be in the line-up against the St. Louis Blues Wednesday. Wonder who he’ll be paired with?

— Despite playing being limited to just 42 games because of his cranky left shoulder, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 14-23-37 and is within four points of rookie scoring leader Adam Henrique, who has played 54 games.

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

  • Bucknuck

    Win, godammitallanyways! It will be an early 1st round pick even if they sweep the final 20 games (ha ha ha).

    Then it’s time to trade that pick and some spare parts (Omark, Plante anyone?) for a legitimate right handed defenseman with a bomb that can play tough minutes. I don’t trust this group to stay healthy for longer than 20 minutes into next season, so you need some insurance that isn’t named Peckham or Sutter for those minutes.

          • Bucknuck

            You have a point. Stu did not pick those guys.

            My point was that any draft pick is a maybe. Odds are pretty darn good when you are in a lottery position, but for every Hall and RNH, there is some highly touted prospect who also disappoints.

            Since the team is in a position to start getting to the playoffs as early as next year, why not add a piece that can help them now, instead of three or four years (MAYBE) down the road.

            I don’t expect the team to get #1 overall this season. Three times in a row is long odds as far as I am concerned.

          • Spydyr

            I also see what your saying.

            The goal should not be to make the playoff.The goal should be to win the cup.

            Teams that trade lottery picks are not the same teams winning cups.

            Is it better to win the cup after waiting three years or make the playoffs next year?

          • Bucknuck

            Winning the cup in two years would be preferable. I think they have the pieces now, they just need a top pairing D. They can draft a D man and hope that in 4 or 5 years he is ready, and hopefully not Barker 2.0, or they could get one now that is a known commodity.

            EDIT – they also need consistent goaltending.

          • Bucknuck

            I suppose either case is pretty good, isn’t it.

            The point is moot anyways. There is no way Tambellini trades that pick. I suspect the Oilers will be picking fourth or fifth, and hopefully that nets someone as good as Doughty.

            It’s a gamble… but most people do buy the occasional lottery ticket, so what the hell. And these are better odds. I would just like a sure thing.

          • Spydyr

            I agree, but play Peckham instead and tell him to hit everything that moves. I think Barker is playing in Hershey next year unless he signs in Detroit for 750,000, and plays next to Lidstrom and he will be plus 48.

          • hunkybill

            They may have a lot of the pieces and can be exciting to watch,but we are still in 29th place in a 30 team league. Consistency is needed and maturity. Time will accomplish this. DON’T PANIC, IT’S ORGANIC!

  • Let's Rebuild

    I am not sure if this point has been made yet but I have seen some comments refer to Backstrom’s goaltending helping Shultz look good but nobody has mentioned to potential reverse. Perhaps the Minny goalies have looked good for a number of years because Shultz is so good at defending. Sort of (not identical) to the boost goalies get in Detroit playing behind Lidstrom.

  • Rob...

    Last season our potential supposedly helped attract Eager, Belanger and maybe Sutton. I want the last 20 games to have this summers UFA’s salivating with the thoughts of what signing with Edmonton for 2-3 years could result in. Maybe it’s another year before something like that happens, but I’d like to think that 13 wins out of 20 would have more players informing their agents that Edmonton wouldn’t be a bad place to end up.

  • Bucknuck

    Does anyone know how many number 1 Defenseman have been traded within the age group we have right now?

    I was just thinking about it and it still seems that if you want a Weber/Doughty type player under the age of 30 you still need to draft them. I may be wrong but nothing seems to come to mind as a #1D around the 26-27ish age being traded.

    Anyone have any input? Need input.

  • O.C.

    Looks like this year is different where in the past couple, you needed 95 pts to make playoffs. This year maybe 90.

    With 56 points and if Oil win out, that should guarantee a playoff spot.

    (Could happen)