Talk is cheap and we’ve yet to see words turn to action, but when I hung up the phone tonight after talking to Ryan Whitney, I was infinitely more confident about the state of his right ankle and his future with the Edmonton Oilers than I was when we chatted a year ago.

More important than what my old gut tells me or what I read between the lines, which are inexact indicators at best, Whitney sounds like a new man, or maybe I should say he sounds like the old Whitney – the version Edmonton fans saw for 35 games in 2010-11 before the tendon in his right ankle shredded and sent him down a long and difficult road of rehab and recovery on the way to a trying 2011-12 campaign.

Whitney, 29, tried to put the best possible spin on the state of his ankle last August when we talked, but he was less than convincing. Not surprisingly, the big Bostonian struggled mightily – who is that slow-footed, out-of-position imposter wearing No. 6? Whitney put up 3-17-20 and averaged 20:58 in ice time in 51 games. Numbers aside, he was a plodding shadow of the player who’d tallied 2-25-27 and logged 25:20 a night before the ankle came apart.

After spending last summer just trying to heal after surgery, Whitney’s been back in the gym since the beginning of June and he’s skated a dozen times or so in Boston. That doesn’t by any means guarantee he’ll again be everything fans came to expect during that particularly torrid start to 2010-11 whenever the puck drops this season, but might we see a reasonable facsimile?

There is hope.


"I feel 100 times better right now than I did last August," Whitney said. "It’s not even comparable to a year ago. I’ve had a full summer of working out and that’s something I didn’t have the last couple years. I feel really good."

I believe Whitney. Last year? Not so much. After we did a segment of Nation Radio last Aug. 13, I wrote: "I’ve listened to the interview, on Nation Radio, two or three times since Whitney and I chatted, and I’ve got to admit that now, as then, I’m not completely convinced the ankle will be 100 per cent by the time that training camp opens.

"More important, whenever Whitney is ready, how will that surgically repaired tendon that detached respond when he starts pushing people and they start pushing back in game action? And how long will it hold up?

"Maybe I’m crossed up on this one, drawing the wrong conclusions from the interview, but the questions about Whitney’s ankle nag me no matter how many times I listen to his answers. I’m nervous. The Oilers should be, too."

Sure enough, when camp opened Whitney wasn’t nearly ready to go and Edmonton’s defensive corps, questionable in terms having enough bonafide top-four bodies even with No. 6 in the mix, started the season without their best defenseman.


"There’s maybe a little issue here and there with the stability of it, but you’ve got to adjust and players adjust to all kinds of injuries," Whitney said. "The big thing is I can skate without that pain."

Whitney has been pain-free since the end of last season. There were signs of that in the late going when some of his mobility returned and he started to play better. He wasn’t, and isn’t, all the way back, and he might never be, but he sounds confident he’ll be ready to go whenever Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr figure out how to carve up the take.

The ankle aside, being able to tackle a full training regimen has him feeling like he’s in better shape now than when he arrived in Edmonton. He says his legs are strong. His cardio is good. Lack of conditioning saw him play at about 215 pounds last season. He’ll come in closer to 206 pounds this season.

Age-wise, Whitney is right in his prime as a player. He’s in the final year of a contract that will pay him $5.5 million (his cap hit is $4 million). A return to form, or close to it, will land him another big contract. If he struggles or is in and out of the line-up, everything changes. The Oilers need Whitney to stabilize their back end. They need him to eat minutes. They need him to stay healthy. This is a big season for him.

"It’s a big year for the whole team, for all of us," Whitney said. "I want to be a part of that."

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

  • @ Robin Brownlee:

    Excellent news for the Oilers’ blue. Your piece after talking to Whitney last year was when I really started wondering seriously about his health, and this makes the Oilers’ inability to add a veteran guy seem less unnerving.

    • D

      “inability to add a veteran guy”

      Inability or desire? Knowing Whitney was progressing may have influenced their approach. It may end up being a stupid gamble relying on Whitney, doesn’t mean they were unable to replace a lesser version of him.

  • Wanyes bastard child

    Great article and as you referenced above, I’m honestly curious. Do you think there will be a full season this year?

    I am still cautiously hopeful for a full season but I know you have a better finger on the pulse then I could ever hope for so just wondering what you think we may have for hockey this season?

    I want mah hockeyz!!!

    • I’m hopeful Fehr and Bettman get to the real numbers and do a deal.

      That might be naive of me, and I don’t know anything more than what little bits Fehr and Bettman are offering, but my best guess — and I’m in the minority — is they’ll stop playing footsie and get it done.

  • Ben

    I like Whitney, I liked him with the Penguins and I liked what he was doing with the Oilers. Hopefully he put a decent season together and show that he is worth something.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    Hmmmm, A contract year for Whitney? Able to skate without pain? Methinks Whitney will have a terrific season, earning a big 4 year deal, and then being hurt for 3 of the 4 yrs. JMO tho, please dont jump down my throat for it.

    • Methinks?

      Methinks you’re actually looking for me to do exactly what you asked me not to do. So, has Whitney been dogging it and now he’ll turn it on in a contract year? Then, after that, maybe jake it after he gets his deal?

      Hmmmm. A knucklehead.

      • justDOit

        Not agreeing with OGTHWMG, but you have to admit that there’s more pressure on Whitney to perform in his contract year. So there then exists, by extension, more pressure for him to listen to the little devil on his right shoulder, as opposed to the little angel on his left, when revealing exactly how one feels. A slight glossing over of some of the more relevant medical facts would appear, to some, to be the prudent choice when considering one’s own fortunes.

        Good day.

        • Do you really believe what you’re writing?

          How Whitney plays, not what he says, will determine which way his career goes. He’s not going to talk himself out of the league or into a big contract. Saying “I feel good” if he doesn’t, gets him what, exactly? “Derrrr, Whitney says he feels good, let’s offer him four more years at $5.5 million.”

          I don’t have to admit anything about pressure in Whitney’s contract year because, having never walked in his shoes, I don’t know what he feels and neither do the conspiracy theorists and other people who talk out there arses here, so there does not exist, by extension, the jibberish you’re offering up.

        • I’m not “acting.” I’ve seen players who’ve done nothing but screw the pooch for two or three years just because they could, then turn it on during a contract year — new attitude, better work ethic, you name it.

          Whitney has been INJURED and that injury has already cost him millions of dollars in any new deal he gets. He’s been unable, as opposed to unwilling, to perform. Anybody who doesn’t get that, especially the types offering up the “Hmmms” and the “Methinks” implications, either aren’t very smart or are saying it just to get a reaction.

          • Chaz

            I don’t think that anyone was implying that Whits has been lazy or anything of the sort. What does remain is the fact that he has had a fairly serious injury to his ankle and regardless of how good he feels the likelyhood of re-inury is significantly high; whether it happens this season or the following season after a new contract matters little. I’m pulling for him but lets face it, the oilers have had a lot of bad luch in this area.

  • Reality Check to the head

    I am starting to think that Oilers might be one of the teams that may benefit from having a shortened season (besides teams like late playoff teams: LA, etc). The more time Whitney gets to heal, the better. If the Lockout last a few months and our young players, play in the AHL we benefit from having players in game shape and we have alot of young players that will get a chance to play together.

    Brownlee, a couple questions:

    Can/Does J. Schultz go down to the AHL?

    At what point do you think that NHL vets will start looking for Euro jobs (they took our jobs: Obscure Southpark reference)?

  • D – I think you have identified the top two things that must go right for the Oilers to make the playoffs, although the Dub will have to be better than steady. He will likely have to bet at least an average Number 1, maybe above average.

    Apart from Dub and Whit, the next most important factor is Kreuger. Can he get more out of what they have; more defensive responsibility, more physicality, more of the self belief players and teams need to become winners. Next is what kind of contribution the Oil gets from Yak and JS.

    As for Whitney, he was my choice for captain when they gave it to Horc, which is not a knock at Horc, just a statement in my belief in Whitney and his winning attitude.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    yes, and i am praying as well that we can see the Whitney of old on the ice this year…if he could provide the offense he has in the past, he could solve a lot of scoring problems from the back end for us.

  • paul wodehouse

    … IMO

    …the future and destiny of this franchise does not depend on how Ryan Whitney guides his two one eighth inch wide blades on the ice this season…it really depends on how Ryan Whitney perceives himself as a player with what could be considered “limititations” via a surgical ankle/foot…i’m thinking he will know ten to twenty games into the season if he’s going to finish his contract or not and so will we just by looking and watching …

    if I was our GM …wait…if I was THE gm I’d hope he made it healthy and happy to the end of the season and THEN put him in a package with ‘others’ and ‘others rights’ to acquire the goaltender this franchise must have to win a Stanley Cup one day…

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    Robin, I never said he was “dogging it”. I know Whitney has been injured. My fear is that he will have a great season, management signs him to a big contract, and then the injuries flare up again. I just hope that management is smart enough not to put too muck stock into an oft-injured player.

    I just dont want to see a 4 yr / $18 million contract based on ONE good season.


  • Chaz

    I must admit, I was originally against the trade for Whitney as I really liked Visnovsky, and even at that time it was known that RW had issues with his feet (Though I’m not sure that was in any way related to his injury with the tendon). Now that I’ve had a chance to see him play, and having seen him in interviews and on twitter, I couldn’t be happier he’s in Oilers silk. Great player when healthy, a seemingly great guy in the dressing room, and hilarious on Twitter. (Not that Twittering ability matters, but it does demonstrate good character / sense of humor)

    Hope Robin’s inclination is right and he’s enroute to a healthy season. If so, I have no doubt he’ll be a huge part of any success the Oilers have this year.

    Damn I’m excited for the season to start. Hope Fehr and The Count can get this deal done already!!

  • OilLeak

    Regardless of Whitney’s ankle health the Oilers need Whitney insurance, Whitney is prone to injury in general. The last time Whitney had any semblance of a full season was back in 2007-2008 for the Penguins! In fact, his only quality seasons are his first 3. Whitney is not to be relied on regardless of ankle health.

    Edit: he had a complete season in 2009, but the point still stands he has been plagued by injury throughout his career.

  • OilLeak

    The most important thing that Ryan needed to bring to this years edition of the Oilers is a firm confident understanding of ALL of the dynamics that catalysed his last two years of hockey in the NHL.

    I only give the injurys their fair share of importance which is 90% of one facet of Whitneys past two years.His ability to perofrm at 100% and adjust.But in another facet they are 10% and that is sbility to adjust his game systemwise,or rather he was asked to do a specific job and when that role was changed the system took away his ability to use his extra dimensions effectively.And he couldnt become mobile enough.

    So two things needed to change this year,first his system application by the coaches and his understanding of that and second his physical abilitys.A less than 100% |Ryan Whitney is not enough for our team if we plan on winning a Stanley Cup,no more excuses from anyone because they are asked to perform while injured by a dysfunctional system.

    Krueger needs to keep the players rotateing in and out of his system based on health as a priority,performance must be there.

    We cant have an injured Hall/Whitney/anyone/ giveing us a 70% return on his potential just to keep our system functioning,we need to remove him from the lineup until he is 100% healthy and able and in the interm we need to fill system needs ASAP.

    A team that doesnt have depth has to do those type of things,we have depth now,its up to the coaches to change the culture.

    This was a great article on Whitney,thanks a lot.

    I expect Ryan to have a career year pointswise if Krueger uses the proper system to enable that,if we use last years system he and everyone will look average and struggle with points.

    But we have a new coach and a new perspective so I am sticking with Whitney vieing for the points lead with our top d-men.

    Problem is I am not sure if a career year from Whitney can stop Schultz or Petry from dishing out some serious offense,it will be a competative year for the d-men.

    If the NHS is used I see this dynamic happening.If an offensively driven possesion/transition catalysed style is used I see this dynamic being possible.It doesnt have to be the NHS just that general type of offensive system,PLEASE,coach Kreuger make it so!

    I hope Ryan has a great year,he is in his prime now and the best are yet to come,we are lucky to have a talent like this here and now,lets see if our coaches can find a way to let us all see Whitneys skillset maximised through proper system application,the fans deserve his mojo and on-ice leadership.

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    Robin –

    Did you think the issue with him was his strength/conditioning as much as it was his inability to pivot? He just seemed to me like if he was in a position where he needed to turn tightly, he couldn’t do it. Instead, he was making those big looping turns. That doesn’t seem to me to be a strength or conditioning issue nearly as much as it is an issue of the capacity of his ankle to take the strain of a quick turn at speed.

    • It’s not one or the other. It’s both. In the 2010-11 off-season, letting the ankle heal meant reducing or eliminating off-ice conditioning. Whitney came in heavy and not in top shape last season.

      The inability to turn was a combination of pain, which he says is now gone, and lack of stability in the ankle — part of that being mental, being able to trust a joint that felt “different” and hurt. The ankle still feels different, but he says he is adjusting to it.

  • G Money

    Ah, ain’t it great to be an Oiler fan!

    Our formulas for next year look like this:

    Healthy Hall (65+ games with a healthy shoulder) + Healthy Whitney (65+ games at a reasonable facsimile of his 2010 self) + at least average Dubie for at least 55 games + restored Hemsky (60+ games with two healthy shoulders at his historic 0.85ppg pace) + Gagner up arrow (locked down 2C spot with 50 pts in 75 games) = an offensively explosive and defensively capable team = solid playoff spot.

    Of all those things, I think Whitney’s health is more important than any of the others.

    Capable rookie years from Yak and Schultz Jr, and a better year from Belanger as a 4C would help to offset if any of the above more important things don’t happen, but otherwise I don’t think are critical to the overall outcome.

    The fewer of those things happen, the less and less likely the playoffs are.

    If none of those things happen, the Oilers are probably a lock for 30th again. The Melee for MacKinnon or whatever they are calling that. (Fall for Hall and Fail for Nail were so easy!)

    So basically, we can look forward to a year where any spot from 10th to 30th is a legitimate possibility. Yay us!

  • G Money

    The inability to turn was a combination of pain, which he says is now gone, and lack of stability in the ankle — part of that being mental, being able to trust a joint that felt “different” and hurt. The ankle still feels different, but he says he is adjusting to it.

    Huh. Thanks for that. We’ll know pretty quickly I think whether he’s able to turn again. In a way, it would have been a lot better for him if this CBA business was last year; sounds like another four months might have served him well.

    • Bucknuck

      My prospectus exactly,however I do think that if Kreuger plays an offensive system like the NHS that Whitney could have a career start and overrule any trades,his fate is really in his own hands.

      Great season is one thing,but a career year makes everything turn the corner and suddenly Whitney is leading this team again as he very well can if all cylinders are fireing,both cerebral and physical.

      Some action will definately be centered around his year,either he will go or he will make someone expendable.

      The real issue is that I see Potter as being a better fit for the Oilers if we play a possesion/transition offensive style,but Whitney a better fit in a hybrid like we failed with last year—unless Kreuger can get him to alter his game bigtime and adapt to a three transition system.

      So the coach will decide who stays and who goes with his system decision.The players just need to play hockey and Kreuger can take the heat for the rest as he is supposed to ,this is why a coach needs to define his system clearly to both players and fans—so he can accept the heat for his guys if the system fails because he alone can explain his decisons.

      Its Whitneys salary that will doom him here unless he can rise to the top in an offensive system that lets him shine and earn the dough.

  • Bucknuck

    for the oilers to have a good year ,three players have to have a good year and help the kids,dubnyk,whitney,and hemsky.if the oilers can’t trade for a top 2 de-man,i want to watch the young guys develope.and if the nhlpa think the owners have such a sweet deal there is a team in phoenix for sale.