Should Oilers Nation get their hopes up?

Everywhere I go I get stopped and asked about the upcoming season for the Oilers. People ask me if the goaltending will hold up. They want to know if the tight schedule with increase the likelihood of more injuries for a team that has had issues in this area in the past. Is Yakupov as good as he looks? On and on…..

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After they ask their question, they all get the same look in their eyes. The look is one of pleading…they want to know if it is ok to believe in this team. They want me to tell them that yes, now is the time, the Oilers are back.

This is the same look that Wanye gives women when he asks them out. He isn’t sure of the answer but he hopes his prayers are answered this time. He knows he can’t take many more let downs. Just like Wanye, Oiler fans want to let their guard down and not get hurt again this time. They want something good to believe in again. They want the Oilers back in the playoffs.

By nature I am a very conservative person. I don’t have the desire to wear crazy clothes like Gregor. I tend to dress too warmly in the winter rather than being underdressed and cold. I always overestimate the time or distance a drive across town may take. I get to movies before the previews start or earlier so I can get a good seat.

When it comes to the Edmonton Oilers my prediction for their finish in the western standings this year is the same, conservative. 11th place.

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Before I lay out my reasons for my placement of the Oilers in the standings, I want to mention the many reasons to be excited.

My OPTIMISTIC view of the Oilers

1. Eberle, the Nuge and Hall.

These three are only beginning to find their way in the NHL. Eberle and the Nuge put up a very nice point total last year. There is no reason to believe that won’t continue. Taylor Hall was having a good season last year until the shoulder injury. With the surgery behind him, he is poised to continue to develop into a top player for the team.

2. Yakupov

With the addition of Nail, the Oilers have another weapon in their top six. Top teams always have more than one line that is a threat to score. He can provide that. Hard to predict what to expect from him this year but a goal total somewhere around thirteen to sixteen would be very respectable in this shortened season for a rookie.

3. Justin Schultz

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Do I even have to say why this is a good thing?

4. Ralph Kreuger

I expect him to demand the accountability from all the players in the lineup. If you are performing well you will play more and the opposite will occur if you do not produce. Seems like a simple formula to follow but often coaches need to juggle egos. Now is not the time to juggle egos, now is the time to demand your team climb the standings.

5. The Defence

With the addition of Mark Fistric the defence corps is starting to become pretty good. A healthy Ryan Whitney for a full season will help eat the minutes up. Petry, Smid and Justin Schultz need to continue to develop and grow as players. As that happens this back end could have the makings of something very solid looking down the road. I would be pretty comfortable having Potter and Peckham as my 7th and 8 th defencemen. They are complete opposites so you can change the look of this group with either one.

My PESSIMISTIC view of the Oilers

I have many questions about this team and areas of concern that I just can’t place them in a playoff spot come the end of April. Let me share them with you all.

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1. Grit

Skill is needed to win games. Sometimes skill just takes over a game. It is a beautiful thing to watch when that happens. We all love it. Then there are games that are wars. Battles all over the ice, the corners, in front of the net and along the walls. These are rough games to play in and the hardest to win. You need to be able to win these types of games. You will find these games the last twenty percent of the season when teams are fighting for every point and during the playoffs.

When I look at the top two lines for the Oilers I have a hard time seeing the heavy lifters in that group. There is great skill in all six spots – but are there any Andrew Ladd, Brad Marchand, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richard, Johan Franzen or Ryan Callahan type of players?

On the line of Gagner, Hemsky and Yakupov who is going to separate the defencemen from the puck? Who will backcheck? They will be great when they have the puck but will they be as great when they don’t?

2. Health

For whatever reason this has been a big issue for the Oilers. Injuries have decimated the team over the past few years. Whose fault is this? If I knew I would be the richest trainer in the world. Without a line-up that is healthy for most of the year, success will be difficult. I need to see a change in this before I take this off the question list.

3. Goaltending

The Oilers and Devan Dubnyk have done everything right in his development so far in his career. He has worked his way up the organizational depth chart to the point where he is today, poised to be a starting goalie. He has a great attitude and work ethic. The team likes to play in front of him and believes in him. So far all this sounds very positive and it is. Now is the time for him to take the final and hardest step……actually becoming that NUMBER ONE.

It is different than being a backup, there is always the safety net of the starting goalie behind you to catch you if you fail. Not when you are the number one. You are the guy. That is why I have questions about Dubnyk. I have the same issue for Cory Schnieder in Vancouver and Tuukka Rask in Boston.

I think Dubnyk is a number one goalie but until he grabs hold of the spot, the position remains a question mark for me.

Of the three questions two are going to be pretty easy to figure out after the year. Did the team stay healthy? Yes or no. Did Dubnyk take the next step as a goalie? Yes or no.

I already know the answer to the question about grit on the top two lines and quite honestly through much of the team. There isn’t enough.

I predict the Oilers finish 11th but they will be very close to making the playoffs. Maybe just a few wins shy of the playoffs. That will be a big improvement for the group. That being said they could just as easily get those wins and make the playoffs. But making the playoffs and having success in them is two totally different things. Without more grit worked into the lineup, any playoff appearance will be very brief.

  • Stack Pad Save

    I certainly hope all the bits of info about Ralf are true and he coaches the way he is described. If so I think he may just be the type of coach this group desperatly needs. I don’t care about some guys ego. The only way to have success is acountability! With out it they will never get better.

  • Stack Pad Save

    Strudwick, when you made your predictions this year did you take into account that teams would mainly be playing teams in their division? Do you think this will affect which teams make the playoffs this year?

    What I am getting at is that I think the Oilers have a good chance of making the playoffs this year because the teams in their division quite frankly suck. Calgary has question marks in upfront and on defence. Beyond the first line forwards and first line defence Minnesota has personnel questions. Colorado is similar to the Oilers in terms of youth and question marks on D and in net. Lastly I personally think that Vancouver has some serious issues with their depth scoring this year, we all know their top-line is going to be good and their D will by good, but they will not be the dominating team they were of years past.

    Doesn’t this give the Oilers a better shot at making the playoffs if they are playing teams with just as many pessimistic occurrences as them?

  • Stack Pad Save

    Nice breakdown Jason. I’ll enjoy watching this year but I truly believe this team needs another year or two before we start demanding and expecting wins. A few additions and subtractions will need to take place and some sprinklings of the Hy’s seasoning salt as well.

  • Oilfred

    Great job again sir. I will quibble about Rask though. His stat line from a couple years ago is elite starter material in my book if a little light on GP:

    2009-10 Boston G:45 W:22 L:12 OT:5 Min:2562 GA:84 SA:1221 GAA:1.97 SP:.931 SO:5

    But questions are there for us and vancity no doubt.

  • oilabroad

    I have heard a lot of optomisim about kruger this year.
    I am a little suprised because of his lack of North American coaching and the results he has had replacing Renney on the bench last year. When he did fill in for renney he had a poor record, I can only recall 1 victory out of 3 or 4 games as head coach.
    He is a rooky and will make rooky mistakes so I don’t expect a big gain from his presence behind the bench.
    We will have to see what happens when other teams start throwing the checking line on the No. 1 line and the Sedin line is matched up with Gagner’s line!

  • oilabroad

    I think this is a great assessment, and I tend to agree. I think in an 82 game schedule the skill would win them enough games to get in especially early in the year when teams are not playing to 100%, but in an abbreviated season, all the games are going to matter so teams will be playing them harder… still think they will make it a dogfight to the finish though.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    Good piece, Jason. Voice of reason.

    I think we’re going to find out the fight/grit this team has in it this spring. I think the Oilers will be playing meaningful games towards the end of the year, and are either going to prove they’ve got it or they don’t.

  • Wax Man Riley



    PPPFFFFFTTTTTTT!! (Big fart noise)

    Sorry, Mr. Strudwick, but do you even KNOW anything about hockey? Have you ever ACTUALLY watched a game??

    Eberle, as we all know is not a real person, but perfect goal-generating demi-god, and he is smarter and cleaner and better looking and more charming than all of us.

    Taylor Hall?? A man among boys in the NHL. His sole purpose in life is to strike fear in opposing defenders with his blazing speed, his rocket shot, and luscious lips.

    If you REALLY knew these players you would know this.

    The parade starts (again, this year, for the 8th year in a row) in Clareview and will end at Hawrelak Park. geeeeeeeeeeeeezzzz!!

  • Oilfred

    I think that Gagner is a very good hockey player but I don’t see that line working. We just have too much skill in the front two lines. We need a character player on each of our two top lines. The argument might be made that the character player of the first line is Hall. So In the long run I see either Gagner or Yakupov dropping down from the second line .

  • book¡e

    Please moderate the comments above. There are reasoned ways to debate and discuss issues such as Aborigional rights in Canada. Poorly articulated messages displaying a total ignorance of the subject are not only useless, but are harmful.

    It’s a hockey blog, if you can’t stay focused, get out.

    • Jason Strudwick

      Ha! Why would I hate the Oilers? I grew up idolizing the team and got a chance to play for the team for three years. Even though we had very little success I loved being an Oiler.

      I am simply looking at the team objectively. After being around the game I beleive there are holes in the current group. No matter how much skill there is, other teams have some skill as well.

      If it makes you sleep better at night I will change my prediction. I will go with what my heart and every fans heart is dying to say……

      Oilers will be first in conference and win the Stanley cup

      So shall it be…..

      • book¡e

        I should have included a 🙂 after my post. I know, reality exists, but I much prefer your latter prediction – start planning the parade routes.

        My hopeis for a surprise playoff spot.

  • book¡e

    No the Oilers will probably not make the playoffs but they will be a lot more entertaining than most teams.

    We are still a couple of players away from being complete. If Ben Eager can play consistently we will have a player that can occasionally resemble a top six power forward…… least he can skate.

    We still need a top goalie…….but I would not over pay for Luongo. We still need a top six power forward, and maybe Hartikianen can fill this role? Either way this years draft has those types of players, and we should be preparing for that by acquiring more picks and pick up a UFA player that can help this team push for a playoff spot next year.

    Ding Dong.

  • Chris.

    Grit. Abso-frickin’-lutely.

    I am excited to see the young guns play, but I am not looking forward to the goon-ery that teams will use to slow them down, and the inevitable injuries that will result.

    That’s why I still think we need Smac back, short term. (Naysayers can call Slats and ask him about Semenko and Laraque. Or ask the Flames about Smac.) Hordichuk is not a nuclear deterrent and does not add enough skill to make up for that. And Tambo is not going to replace 5-6 players on the current roster for upgrades of size, skill, and grit overnight–that takes time.

    There is huge opportunity for Harski and Eager this year, but can either deliver consistently? Fistric and Peckham seem tough enough, but foot speed is an issue for both.

    So we’re still a long ways away from the kind of mix we’ll need to be a long-term threat in the playoffs. Time for Tambo to quit evaluating and start dealing, before our young guns re-live the Hemsky experience.

    • justDOit

      Count me as one of the fans who remembers watching games when SMac was on the team. He was absolutely powerless to deter any team while stapled to the bench for 58:30 per game. When he was on the ice, he was a train wreck, mostly due to his horrible skating.

      • Wax Man Riley

        Fro real. SMac was terrible on skates, has no vision, no defense, and while he was “patrolling,” the Oilers had some of the worst injuries in franchise history.


  • Horcfan

    I have not heard any debate this year about Yakupov EARNING a spot on the team. There seemed to be endless talk about Hall & RNH possibly being sent back to juniors. Whats up ?

  • Gitagrip

    Struds, your offering is both logical and articulate. Did your wife help you with that? LOL.
    I couldn’t agree more. The love affair with the our fab 5 will need to end in break up. LA won the cup on the desire, size and skill of Dustin Brown and Jared Stoll, plus the lights out reflexes of Mr. J. Quick. We will need to give up one of our toys to get back psuedo-clones of the above. Unless a UFA falls into our lap ala J. Schultz.
    Did the Canucks match skill and determination with Boston? Yes. Did the sisters separate the puck from the defence? Nuff sed. More grrrit please.

  • Jason Strudwick

    “I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

    ― Martin Luther King Jr.

    @ brookje

    Slow clap, sir. Slow clap. *I’m actually clapping. Slowly.

    Now, F politics. It’s hockey time!

    I agree there needs to be a little more thuggery in the lineup and I hope this will be addressed before or at the deadline. The Eagers, Hordis, Petrells, Smyth’s elbows and high sticks, and Fistrics, however, need to bring all they can and more in the now. Can’t wait to see how they look after a game.

    Was thinking about that fourth line. WAY too much time on my hands, but I’m wondering if they start with Eager-Belanger-Paajarvi. Lots of speed there and if Paajarvi throws his body around more it could be effective. Any thoughts?

  • Just watching hockey again is sweet awesomeness!

    The Oilers need physical players! Don’t care how they get’m.

    How great would Ryan Clowe and Getzlaf look on this team. ( not a huge fan of Getzlaf but he’s big and physical )

  • Grit is definitely my biggest worry for the Oilers this season. It’s awesome to watch them destroy some team like Chicago by scoring 9 goals and having the kids score a billion points but it’s painful watching them lose to a team like Calgary 2-1 and not being able to get to the tough areas of the ice. You’re only as strong as your weakest link and the Oilers’ still lack the right players to round out their roster. Still, I see a bit of a changing in the guard coming in the Western Conference and I’m hoping that we can push older teams like the Sharks and Wings out of the way. Either way, it should be a lot of fun. GO OILERS GO!!

  • Justdoit and Waxman:

    I was at the games, too. I saw many players and teams play different games as a result of Smac sending a verbal message over to the other bench. He didn’t even have to step on the ice. The threat was enough. In particular, the Flames bench to a man not only did not respond, they wouldn’t even make eye contact.

    He didn’t have to be a great player to grab someone and tune them up. That wasn’t his role. Did Sather ever complain about Semenko’s defense or points? Exactly.

    Anyway, I get that some people don’t want enforcers. Fine. We’ll agree to disagree.

    So what is your answer when Vancouver’s finest like Burrows, Lapierre, Bieksa etc etc start running our young stars? Team toughness? A Stortini or Hordichuk? Or are they supposed to just wait 3 years for size and grit to show up?

  • Some good hockey games out there tonight.. Its back!Schnider available on the trading block..haha

    Watching the Rangers/Boston game, and I shudder to think how the Oilers would handle a game like that… Oiler play way to soft. Toughness isnt about just having SMac or Hordichuck types…
    its all the team plaing tough, big and small.
    Problem with oilers some of the bigger guys[ 6′ and 200 lbs plus] play a soft game…
    Horcoff, Paajarvi, Whitney, Jones, Petry, even SMid, Eager,…. I dont think you have to be 6.3 and 230 lbs to play tough. Look at Marchand in Boston, and Clutterbuck not the biggest guys but they can play it rough. Horcoff @ 210 lbs hasnt laid a decent bodycheck ever….
    Oilers need a big strong center man , more than another defense man at this point.

  • Second line of 64-89-83 is really suspect. Gagner has not reached his potential and Hemsky is undersized and scored 5 goals last year. Hemsky’s game is better suited for a first line winger. Yakopov is a pure rookie and undersized.

    We need to get more grit, watching Pittsburg, Phil, St. Louis, LA and Chicago highlights the Need for “Hartnall” type player in the foreward group.

    Watch the lines to shift to


    Look for a trade to add more grit

    • Wax Man Riley

      I think your lines will be seen soon. I give it 5 games. It spreads out the talent a bit, puts N64 with some decent veterans, and spreads a little size out.

  • Wax Man Riley

    The word is spelled “Aboriginal”
    Get that part right before you criticize anyone else. This is about hockey, so what are you talking about in the first place??
    Go Oilers!!