Stuck between a rock and a hard place….


Saturday night’s game between the Oilers and the St Louis Blues was a pretty good test of where Edmonton’s team is at. The Blues are a team starting to look more like the winning team I expected them to be before the season.

They had a great year last year. The club was built of team defence and very strong goaltending. The slow start this year is due to two factors: injuries and at-best average goaltending.

I know teams do not like to make excuses but it is hard to win in the NHL when there are AHL players taking the spots of established NHL veterans in the lineup. St Louis has missed numerous players due to injuries and it has cost them wins, that is for sure.

Their goaltending has not been good. Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has brought up young Jake Allen to try and stop the bleeding. He has been good, and they are now working with a three goalie rotation. This does not work. At some point one of the goalies needs to grab the crease. If that happens and the team stays healthy, look out. The Blues will get on a roll.

On Saturday the Oilers more then had their problems handling the Blues. The Blues had a strong start (or did the Oilers have a flat start?). The Oilers were on their heels most of the game. They had a couple of grade-A chances but could not convert. The Blues kept pushing the pace.

I was very impressed with the line of David Backes, Chris Stewart and Alex Steen. These guys are big and can they cycle!!! Almost every shift they were on the ice the Oilers could not match them. Most of the Oilers forward lines and “D” sets took their turns but they could not contain them. So many shifts this line had the Oilers hemmed in their own end. These three big bodies imposed their will and game plan on the Oilers.

The games in which the Oilers have had success they have been solid in their own zone, had quick counter attacks that have led to power plays. These power plays have given the Oilers goals and momentum in wins. The team is not built to carry on in the offensive zone with thirty or forty seconds of cycle time.

Shifts like we all saw from the Backes line gain momentum. They set the table for the next line. Think back to the loss at home against Detroit and San Jose. Both were come from behind wins. How could the Oilers turn the momentum when they have trouble cycling the puck for a whole shift?

Skating through the neutral zone and attacking the opposition blue line with speed is great. The problem is it only takes seconds. When the Oilers get it deep, they can apply pressure but often don’t sustain that pressure. Too quickly, the puck is coming right back at them, into their zone.

This is an issue for the Oilers. Part of me says patience is the key. So many young players through this line up are playing big roles and minutes. Time will fill out their frames to allow them to cycle with bigger and stronger bodies. Experience will teach them how to recover pucks in the offensive zone and then use their line mates to increase offensive zone time and change or create momentum.

The other part of me wonders if this skill is in their DNA. Do they have the ability to play this type of hockey? It may not always be the sexiest game to watch but the Blues did it perfectly and they are now two points further ahead of the Oilers because of it. The Oiler management is ultimately in charge of making this call and it doesn’t get any easier for the Oilers next year.


With the realignment of the NHL, the Oilers are moving into a tough division. Phoenix, Vancouver, L.A, Anaheim, San Jose, Calgary are the Oilers new division rivals. As I write this the Ducks, Canucks and Kings are all in playoff positions. The Sharks are next in line and the Coyotes are only a few points from eighth. Pretty good competition.

Looking ahead to next year I am concerned about the challenges this new division brings to the Oilers. I won’t discuss Calgary because they are not going to be competitive. As an example let’s take a look at the top two centers of each team.

  • Vancouver… Sedin and Kesler. Big, strong, skilled and experienced in playoffs.
  • Anaheim… Getzlaf and Koivi (assuming he returns). Big, strong, skilled and experienced, Getzlaf with Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medal.
  • Los Angeles… Kopitar and Richards. Big, strong, skilled and experienced, Stanley Cup and Olympics.
  • San Jose… Thornton and Couture. Big, strong and Thornton is experienced, playoffs and Olympics.
  • Phoenix…. Hanzal and Vermette. Pretty big, pretty skilled. Older players with playoff experience.
  • Edmonton… Nugent Hopkins, Gagner, Horcoff and Belanger. First two have great skill. Horcoff is a very good leader and face off guy. Belanger can win face offs. Horcoff has been through a Stanley Cup campaign and played in World Championships.

On paper these match ups for the Oilers in their own division look difficult. Many of the centers listed are in their prime years on more established teams. The Oilers top two centers are still moving toward their primes. They still have a bunch of upside. They will continue to evolve and they will learn to compete against very tough competition.

Accumulating points from their own division looks tough to me in the short term and the long term if some changes to the look of this team are accomplished. Do you wait and see how the team evolves or perhaps jump the gun and make moves to tinker with the DNA of this Oilers group? I am in favor of patience but then I haven’t been an Oiler fan for the last decade of patience.

The move into the new division will be tough and so will asking for more patience from the loyal Oiler fan base. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.

Jason Strudwick Defenceman camp

The camp is all set for the weekend of April 6th and 7th. There are still some spots open to register. Go to to get your young d-man into the camp.

I am really looking forward to working with these kids!

Recently around the Nation Network

  • Jason Strudwick

    So what is the reason you ommitted the Flames from our Division rivals to compare their top 2 centres? Because they don’t have any top centres? Backlund might evolve into a legit #2…and I guess they could get MacKinnon/Barkov who might end up their #1.

      • outdoorzguy

        Well, if the Flames do indeed pick up Mackinnon, he’ll = Nugent Hopkins, and he’s bigger and stronger. Backlund is on pace for a 43 point season over a full year, and he’s terrific at both ends of the rink. The Flames’ center position could rival the Oilers in just 1 year. It’s basically everywhere else where the Oilers have a much brighter future. (wingers, D, etc.)

      • A-Mc

        Far from it, I guess my sarcasm didn’t come through. I was trying to take a crack at the Flames. But you did say you were going to write about the top 2 centres from each team and you ommitted Calgary. Their top centreman is a winger, and then there’s Backlund…who isn’t very good right now but could evolve into someone half decent down the road. By far the worst depth at Centre in the history of the NHL…poor Iggy. Anyways, I just asked why you ommitted them, that’s all.

        • Jason Strudwick

          Ok. I got ya. I just didn’t put them in because I was talking about which teams will have strength for the next few seasons at center and I don’t see that from the Flames. Not to be rude but I can’t see them being a factor.


  • Jason Strudwick

    I’d also like to add to the fact that San Jose is a team in decline. They’re barely able to compete right now and they’re only getting older. Other than OEL, Smith and Doan, what does Phoenix have as far as talent (Gormley I guess). They are a point above us? Not exactly a top team. Maybe briefly for a season or 2, but not now, and not until they’re relocated. Further, LA is at its peak right now, and Vancouver is having one of their last kicks at the can before they’re all too old (a goaltender trade might change that mind you). Either way though, I think this division is the weakest of the 4. Anaheim is good, but they weren’t last year. They’ll likely be good for a while, with a good mix of young talent and proven talent. I see the Oil having their way with this division in 2-3 years, but only once we’ve grown up a bit.

  • Jason Strudwick

    Your were somewhat complimentary of Horcoff and Belenger………..yes Belenber can win faceoffs ( average at best) but there is nothing else to his game.

    Horcoff is good at faceoffs and playing defensive, but has no offence to his game……..I call him the antichrist of offence.

    St Louis may provide Lowe and company with some insight…….you can have big players who can play the game. The fixation that the Oilers have on small fast players is overrated. I have always believed that you can have both on your team and play the game with speed.

    • MMHHHMM no offence eh?

      Horcoff 4 G in 13 GP = .3 goals per game

      Taylor Hall 6 G in 27 GP = .22 goals per game

      Jordan Eberle 7 G in 30 GP = .23 goal per game

      Ales Hemsky 8 G in 29 GP = .27 goals per game

      Sam Gagner 12 G in 30 Gp = .4 goals per game

      I know its a small sample size because Horc was out for around half our games, and I’m definitely not saying he is a sniper or that his offence can be compared to any of these players, but he can hold his own.

      Enough with the anti Horcoff stuff Rama, nobody needs stats to see that this team is better with its captain in the lineup.

  • outdoorzguy

    Why is there so much talk of what we need and who can make this team better on the ice. Personally, I think this team is starting to build a good foundation, and yes we do need some adjustments.
    What concerns me is that there is so much less talk of making changes at a management level. This is where we need to start to make this team a viable NHL franchise. We hire coaches who really don’t belong in the NHL or can’t figure out what to do with our players. We have a management team that is top heavy with former players and other teams’ cast offs. This bunch is never taken to task. We can argue till we are blue in the face about what we need on the ice, but Timid Tambellini, Loser Lowe, Moronic McTavish and Howdy Howson have proven they are not capable of making this a better hockey team. Until this bunch of “Katz’s Klowns” are removed, nothing will change with this team and the death roll will continue for another 15 years. Speaking of Katz, anybody think he really cares anymore?

    • outdoorzguy

      Outdoor guy, don’t you realize that Lowe and Tamby are best friends with Katz? Yes this is Katz’s new millionaire playground…….the Edmonton Oilers. He will do whatever he wants to do with the Oilers but his friends will always stay.

      To be quite frank, Lowe job is really to do nothing but hire a GM…..which he has. Tamby’s job is to finish last and draft first, which he has done with flying colours. Both of these guys are going nowhere ……..the only guys that get fired in the Oilers system are the coaches.

    • A-Mc

      The problem i have with what you’re saying is that you have absolutely no idea what happens behind closed doors. You’re a spectator and speculator like the rest of us. Infact, i bet you couldn’t accurately give a breakdown of what each management member does on a day to day basis; and to follow it up, i wouldnt know if you were right or wrong because unless you’re on the inside, you simply dont know.

      As fans we can debate all we want about players and their on ice production because atleast we are witness to that.

      As for management, you have nothing more than a few loosely tied clues and pure conjecture. You have no real evidence that anyone else would do any better. And you dont know what is being dictated to various levels of management by ownership.

      so please give it a rest with the ‘off with their heads’ management attacks; Its the same notion copy pasted in every thread.

  • Jason Strudwick

    The oil got schooled by theBlues as to what this team lacks – there is no way anyone can say that the status quo roster is a winning one.

    The Stars just dealt their captain for an up and coming player. And they ARE in eighth place and a playoff berth – essentially scratching this season in order to build for the future.

    The Oil has arguably (to some at least – to others it has been painfully obvious for some time) no chance of making the playoffs and yet we are getting post-nuclear silence from Oil MGMT.

    Drafting the BPA comes with the quid pro quo that now redundant, less talented, lower potential players get dealt to fill the gaps that already existed and were understood.

    For more than three years now the Oil MGMT has not done that. Like a severly anal child they have gathered up their pooh and only let the least fresh and warm bits – third and fourth liners – go.

    Either they make a psychological break from this habit or this management group needs to be removed.

  • A-Mc

    Hey Strudwick, RE: Defense training camp.

    How about a 30 year old who hasn’t played since he was a kid (15 years ago) and when he did, he was a forward. Can he register? =P

  • outdoorzguy

    I have been an Oiler Fan since ever. I have been asked to show patience as a scorched earth rebuild takes place. Recently I have been asked to show more patience as the youth gains NHL experience. I have also been open to accepting that the GM is waiting for the right moment to fill in the glaring gaps that exist on this teams roster.. St Louis game accentuated just where these gaps exist. I have done all this up until this point in time.

    However, this is enough. Enough waiting. We are burning ELC’s.
    This coming trade deadline: something of note must be done by this teams management.
    This off season: many things including 1 or 2 major moves needs to be made.
    this team needs a MAJOR infusion of new players. Toughness, D men, Bottom 6, Centers. All areas are in desperate need of an upgrade. I consider myself waaaaaaaay more patient then the average Oiler fan. And i think its obvious that Tambi makes massive moves or the fanbase might just go nuclear on his ass?!

    • A-Mc

      He lost me with this part:

      “Trading a winger will open up a spot for Teemu Hartikainen, who has performed better than Jones or Petrell in limited icetime, and brings more of a physical element than either of them.”

      Harti has done nothing except play 1 man keep away for a 5-10s stretch, usually behind the net but never in a position of actually being able to make a play. Factually speaking, he doesn’t hit nearly enough to call him anything remotely close to physical; and if you’re in the camp of ‘hits don’t mean anything, its grit that matters’, well he also isn’t gritty. When is the last time he got in someones face or threw off their game because he pissed them off? never?

      That staples article seemed to be a broad stroke to cater to the fans whom aren’t happy right now. It’s nothing of any real value though.

      • You have Jones, Belanger, Brown, Whitney and Smyth (yes – I said it) who quite frankly would be of limited or no value to an actual competitive team.

        Harti and Petrell would be useful if applied in situations which allowed them to succeed and surrounded by complimentary, actual NHL’er types. The problem we have is the above mentioned group that’s blocking that strategy.

        • A-Mc

          Belanger, Smyth – agree with you. Those guys are old balls and need to take a seat (IE: Retire).

          Brown – I think you’re wrong, but because he’s new to me, i wouldnt bet my house on it.

          Whitney – I’m in the camp that i think its too early to quit on this guy. I hate his price tag, so from a money stand point – i wouldn’t keep him around. but if i ignore the dollars, i would be A-OK with having whitney as my #7; fighting back into the lineup (much like he’s done this year). Lets be honest, if he played the entire year like he’s played lately, he wouldn’t be getting quite so much flack. We’d still be concerned about his price tag and re-signing, but he wouldn’t be in the ‘no value’ category.

          Jones – i think you’re dead wrong. Jones plays with heart and he gets results for it. This year he’s behind because he’s played 12 games coming into it in the middle of the season and off an Eye injury. An Injury that has him now using a visor, and that changes things. He isn’t going to score 20 goals this season, but he is far from the problem. He may not fit into a team like Pitts, but you dont need to be Pittsburgh to make the playoffs. LA won with guys like Colin Fraser in the line up. Enough said.

  • outdoorzguy

    David Staples with a good article this morning…with some basic perspective that is missing…

    I’m going to listen to the local Iraqi Information Minister/ Oiler’s Propaganda Minister Bob Stauffer at noon to see if he mentions the article and what he has to say… I’ll have to have my puke bucket ready.

    And then hopefully Gregor can do a 2 O’clock intervention after the Ched water torture/Oiler’s Lunch brainwashing and put me back on the straight and narrow.

  • DSF

    Pierre LeBrun ✔ @Real_ESPNLeBrun

    Am told the Pittsburgh Penguins have acquired Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks… trade call still pending
    5:14 PM – 25 Mar 13

    • A-Mc

      With every passing trade, Media guys are starting to sweat more regarding W T F they are going to babble about come trade deadline day! LOL

      Pitts is on the move! i like it.

  • DSF

    If the Flames move Iginla, Kiprusoff, Jaybo, Sarich and Bachuck by the deadline, they will be freeing up close to $25 million in cap space.

    They would be sitting with about $40 million in free cap space in the offseason and may have as many as 3-4 first round picks depending on the return for their big 3.

    They would be in a position to do a quick rebuild starting with the centre position.

    With Hudler, Backlund and Cervenka and with the possible addition of McKinnon, they would be in decent shape at C.

    Obviously they would have to completely rebuild their D and their winger depth is poor but it would be a great start.

    • A-Mc

      If you think you’ll have $40 million in capspace during the offseason then I’m assuming you think the Flames will move these players for draft picks. Easier said than done. Any team taking on Iggy, Kipper and Jaybo is going to need to move salary the other way. Even if you are able to move these players for picks then you’re left trying to fill holes via free agency. Have you seen this years crop of UFA’s?…not exactly stellar. There’s no such thing as a ‘quick rebuild’.

  • A-Mc

    Not trying to quibble, but I don’t think size is it. For me, it”s the ability to be hard on the puck. Guys that can win battles and cycle. Get possession and retain possession. Wear down the D. Now size can (and should) be a factor in this, but not necessarily. All I’m sayin is don’t have blinders on when you’re looking at a guy, and realize that appearance isn’t everything.

  • Eddie Shore

    You don’t need to be huge to cycle the puck well. I have seen numerous times this season where we have had the puck in the offensive zone and have not really been pressured but we give them puck away on the cycle anyways. Smarter puck support and decisions will help. The way I see it, one bigger player who can play in the top 6 and it would be a lot less of an issue.

  • Struds I think you should start a Pros vs Joes camp. Get together some recently retired pros at a certain point in the year and have them gang up on and beat the crap out of guys from here on skates. Would be great fun, especially if you teach us joes a thing or two about hockey. Screw the kids… us old fat glory days guys is where the money is at!

    I’m tellin’ ya back in the day I coulda … ahhh my back! never mind.
    *chomps another bacon cheese*