Everywhere you look, there are legions with reasons the Edmonton Oilers are in dire straits today. Don Cherry thinks they need to add fear, others suggest a powerforward, still others want another Pronger (where is that guy anyway?). The truth now is as it has always been: the Edmonton Oilers don’t have enough actual NHL players.
Number 11 is Mark Messier. Of all the factors that have turned the Oilers around in the last few weeks, none has been more important than Mark’s decision to apply himself. The reckless abandon of the early months had now turned into a controlled fury on the ice, and in many games he has been the Oilers most exciting player.
He kills penalties and adds zest to the powerplay. Although he has been converted from centre to left wing on Matti (Hagman’s) line (with Glenn Anderson), Sather still sends him out for crucial faceoffs. It is a favorite play for Sather to send him out with veteran center Stan Weir, then have Stan deliberately mix it up with the opposing center, get waved off and then hand the faceoff duties to the kid.
No one knows for sure what has turned Messier around, although it appears more than coincidence that he began his new dedicated approach at about the same time as his cousin (Donny Murdoch) was banished to the minors. So many of the other youngsters take their moods from him that there are those who believe he will one day be the captain of the Oilers.
Peter Gzowski, “The Game of Our Lives” McLelland and Stewart 1981.
Taylor Hall is the leader of this team, and this season he has stepped into another zone, a higher level. He is the leader of the group of players who can impact every game in a positive way–even last night when the team has lost the script–and should be regarded as the center of the Oilers cluster.
HOW MANY ACTUAL NHL PLAYERS DO THE OILERS HAVE RIGHT NOW?
It’s a moving target, some of these guys are not having good seasons, and your mileage may vary. However, if I were making a list of players to protect from the expansion draft (Portland, Quebec) the "must" list would look like this:
- Taylor Hall
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- Nail Yakupov
- Jordan Eberle
- Sam Gagner
- Ales Hemsky
- Magnus Paajarvi
- Shawn Horcoff
- Justin Schultz
- Jeff Petry
- Ladislav Smid
- Devan Dubnyk
From that group, I don’t think we can count Yakupov and Schultz the younger as being "actual NHL players" yet but that will come quickly because both are elite level talents. I’m comfortable suggesting the organization will be able to count on them as early as next season to impact games consistently.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’d suggest Shawn Horcoff is going to exit the definition at some point and that moving Taylor Hall to center might be a consideration at this point.
Well, the rest are on each side of the bell curve: some are not yet inside the window (until recently Paajarvi would have been there, Hartikainen is outside the rope as are a few others) and others are on the other side (Smyth, Khabibulin) and still others never got there.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The Oilers have their elite talent, their Jacks and Kings (Hall, Nuge, Yak City, Schultz the younger, Ebs, etc) but need those role players. They should be the easiest guys to acquire, and maybe the Oilers management will go out and offer Viktor Stålberg a chance to play with Gagner and Hemsky and maybe he says yes and maybe that’s a perfect fit.
But let me suggest this to you: getting a "power forward" for that line or an "enforcer" for the 4th line is less important than finding actual NHL players inside the bell curve, inside the area where they are effective players at a high level.
Find enough of those and you find consistency because there are no soft spots in the roster, no weakness in the batting order.
As much as Taylor Hall is doing to help the Edmonton Oilers win, the bottom of the roster is giving it all away and more. That is the lesson of this season, and chasing a specific player type as suggested by Don Cherry loses the heart of the matter.
Find NHL players.