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.