A Real Eye Opener

So far the first round of the playoffs have been even better than I expected. There has been everything from high to low scoring games, great to bad goaltending and some of the most physical hockey seen in many years.

The physical hockey has been a surprise considering some of the non-traditional rivalries that it has sprung from. Pittsburgh and Philly was a no brainer; we all knew it would get rough. The same can’t be said for the Ottawa Senators/New York Rangers matchup, or St. Louis vs. San Jose.

Other than the Florida/New Jersey series, all of the first-round matchups have been very physical. Every check is being finished with extra love. Big players are playing big and the smaller players must have an attitude.

If this year’s Edmonton Oilers were magically thrown into a series versus Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, St. Louis, etc, would they be able to match and stand up to the intensity?

I don’t think so.

It is clear the talent being assembled in the Oiler top six will rival most teams in the future. Another first overall pick, assuming they keep it, will only add firepower to that group. Unfortunately great talent doesn’t guarantee playoff success.

Teams need somebody to do the heavy lifting. Bangers and crashers with skill are required in the playoffs. I would take a David Backes from St. Louis or Dustin Brown from L.A before either Joe Thornton from San Jose or Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin. The first two are having a huge impact on their teams’ success whereas the others have been largely invisible so far in the playoffs.

With a few tweaks and some luck, next year’s Oilers should challenge for and possibly clinch a playoff spot. Getting into the playoffs and having playoff success are two different things however. Without some heavy lifters in the top six or at least in the top nine forward group, playoff success could prove difficult if this year’s physical trend continues into next year.

Finding players like Dustin Brown will not be easy. That is the challenge for the Oiler management going forward.

Previously by Jason Strudwick

  • GSP

    Struds…what are your thoughts on Chris Stewart in St. Louis? He seems like he could fit the bill for what we are looking for. He seems to be on the outs a bit in St. Louis and I believe he is an RFA at the end of the year. Would he be worth going after? I have heard on Gregor’s show that he might be a bit of a partier. Thoughts?

  • Time Travelling Sean

    Trade Gags? At least give him a chance to play in the playoffs. Look at Briere? Giroux? Kane? Mcdonald?

    I mean I know the Brown’s/Doan’s/Morrow’s/Backes’ are all important, you need someone to fight in the trenches, and play a gritty game.

  • Wax Man Riley

    It will be interesting to see how Paajarvi, Pitlick and Lander do in the AHL playoffs. I hope that Paajarvi can do well with the physicality. It will be good experience for them.

  • Jason Strudwick

    Great article. Of course, I love it because I agree with every point.

    When Hartnell left Nashville for Florida, I was crushed that Edmonton wasn’t trying to swing a deal.

    I was never really a fan of Dustin Brown until this series. I always thought of him as more like a Burrows/Kesler hybrid. He has aspects of their game – the cheap little dirty tricks – but he separates himself from them in attitude. Real bulldog there.

    As much as we deride his actions now, that check that Torres delivered on Michalek back in ’06 turned around the series, derailed San Jose’s Cup ambitions and in fact derailed the very promising career of Michalek himself. He hasn’t been the same since, much like Kariya or Lindros after their encounters with Scott. We cheered then, or at least abstained from criticism – which is the same as silent consent. Even now many Oilers fans are conspicuously silent on Torres.

    And short of Toews (imagine THAT controversy – budding superstar, face of the franchise, already concussed once), who could Torres knock out of the series who’s more important to Chicago than Hossa? How can we think that Torres isn’t doing exactly what his job is – or at least he thinks his job is?

    You don’t necessarily need a Raffi Torres. But you need players who can handle a Raffi Torres – some to intimidate him, all to be aware of him on the ice, and scorers who aren’t intimidated.

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    Agreed, Jason.

    We NEED to draft Tom Wilson in this next draft year. If any of you are not familiar with him yet, he’s a big, bruising and punishing RW, and here’s a story from this year’s playoffs:

    http://blog.mlive.com/whaletales/2012/04/plymouth_whalers_tom_wilson_pi.html

    We’ll see what we get this draft, but personally I hope we draft someone with his upside and physical presence. He had a pretty average regular season and then doubled his production to lead his team (tie) in goals in the playoffs, in +/-, and kept his penalty minutes up (actually with a slight increase).

    I want a guy who brings it like this in the playoffs, and is a physical presence who can play with your elite players!

  • D-Man

    @ Fred… I think Carolina would jump at the chance to take a Gagner who is a proven 40 to 45 point guy and Omark who could add a bit more offense to their top nine.. Sutter is a good gritty number 3 centerman… He hasn’t had one season over 40 points, while Gagner has already had 4…

    Sutter is not the answer to adding size to our top six…

  • D-Man

    I guess I see something in Sutter you don’t. In my opinion we will have guys that can score points RNH Hall Eberle Yakupov. What we don’t have is a gritty 2nd line center. Brandon is young and will only get bigger and stronger.

    Since this trade is not going to happen we will see if Brandon is a 2nd line center.

  • D-Man

    I agree with ya 100 percent Jason except Malkin is playing some pretty good hockey the last couple games. He is physical borderline to physical and is scoring. I would say with the exception of staal he has been there best player and a major reason they are back in the series.

  • D-Man

    Jason! We´re rallying in SSK to get you back over here! A campaign is in the making. The very “clever” slogan (refering to your praise of the swedish beverage “must”) is off course: “Stay- it´s a must” 😉