NEW FACES AND MESSIER SPEAKS

A lot has changed in the last few days in Edmonton. Andrew Ference is the new captain, the Oilers claimed their second pugilist off of waivers in a week, Luke Gadzic, Philip Larsen and Ryan Hamilton were put on waivers and suddenly the Oilers have 49 contracts.

The season hasn’t even started, yet it looks like the Oilers will have six players on the IR or LTIR before their first game.

Unfortunately this isn’t new for the Oilers or their fans. The Oilers haven’t been able to stay healthy for years, but if they want to be in the playoff hunt in March, they’ll have to reverse their injury fortunes.

In most cases the Oilers injuries are due to bad luck. Tripping over the blueline and crashing into the boards, twisting a knee in a fight, getting injured in warm up and other freak injuries have plagued the Oilers, and the only way this team stays in the playoff mix is if they stay healthy.

They can’t afford another key injury to a top-six forward, with Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins already sidelined. Above all else, staying healthy will be the key to any success the Oilers have this season.

QUICK HITS

  • Larsen was sent to the minors likely due to the salary cap. The Oilers need to declare their 23-man roster today, but you can’t put a player on LTIR until tomorrow. So that means the Oilers won’t get any cap relief from Gagner’s $4.8 million cap hit until Tuesday. After tomorrow the Oilers don’t play again until Saturday so they don’t have to recall anyone right away.
     
  • Denis Grebeshkov is getting closer to returning, but he wasn’t on the ice with the Oilers this morning. He skated afterwards with Curtis Hamilton. If Eakins wants to carry a 7th D-man then Larsen is the obvious recall, but if Grebeshkov gets cleared this week he’ll likely be on the roster.
     
  • Luke Gadzic isn’t as big as Steve MacIntyre, but he’s more than willing to fight as often, and Gadzic has proven to be more productive at the AHL level. Gadzik had 9 goals and 17 points in 2011 and 12 goals and 23 points in 2012. He wasn’t claimed for his offence, but his puck skills are a bit better than MacIntyre.
     
  • No official word on MacIntyre, but it sounds like he will be out at least six weeks.
     
  • Ryan Hamilton might get recalled at some point, and when he does we’ll see if he has the footspeed to contribute at the NHL level. That is the only thing holding him back at this point.
     
  • I’ve said and written for months that I thought Andrew Ference should be the next captain. He knows what it takes to win, is a proven professional and he won’t be afraid to speak his mind. This team needed a new leader, and I didn’t think it would be wise to throw more pressure on the shoulders of Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle. Their time to be a captain will come, but I like Eakins’ choice.  
     
  • The lines for opening night will be as follows:

    Smyth-Hall-Hemsky
    Perron-Arcobello-Eberle
    Joensuu-Gordon-Yakupov
    Eager/Gazdic-Acton-Brown

    Ference-J.Schultz
    Smid-Petry
    N.Schultz-Belov

    Dubnyk

MESSIER: ON CAPTAIN AND DRESSING ROOM

Mark Messier is in town for a charity event in Sylvan Lake on Thursday, but he came in early to visit with Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe.

Messier spent some time talking about the arena project he is involved in New York. Currently they have one arena for every 1.2 million kids, so it is very difficult for kids to play hockey after 12 years of age. It is expensive and includes lots of travel. Messier and his group are currently in the final stages of getting a 9-rink facility approved. He’s giving back to the city of New York who gave a lot to him. Good on him.

Messier also was asked about Dallas Eakins changing the pictures and aura of the dressing room. 

I am completely okay with it, and I couldn’t agree with it more. As a former Oiler and an alumnus I think it is very important for the players to feel that it is their time, it is their responsibility to make their own stories, write their own stories, make their own legacies, and not play in the shadows of teams and players that have gone before them. The only way you can do that is to make it their room, make it their team and make it their mission. 

It is not disrespecting the players, teams and the times we had here. It is simply their time and it was smart for the coach to make them aware of that. It puts more of an onus on the players here, and not to look over their shoulders of what has gone on in the past, and I think that pressure is good for them. The honeymoon is over for this group and many of them are entering the prime of their careers. I think the players themselves probably feel more ownership of what happens on the ice because of the change. 

He also was asked about Ference being the captain. 

It is a big responsibility. The players need a galvanizing figure to rally around. That player has to have the experience to live 25 lives, not just one. It isn’t easy. It depends what you expect from a 21-year-old captain. If you are looking for a sophisticated player who has a lot of water under the bridge and really understands the nuances of the game and the leadership aspect, I think that is a lot to ask or a young player. 

For me personally, unless there is a real void of leadership on the team, I would prefer that a player of that age be given more time to find his own way through the league and learn more. When the need for him to step into the role, then I believe he’d be more prepared to handle that role. 

 Makes sense to me, and I suspect you will see Hall wearing an "A" this season. 

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR   

  • Spydyr

    Hayek is a retread!!!GAZCIC can play, is Super Tough- top 3 ahl and top10 nhl enforcer!! Wonger called the GAZDIC pick up and Big Mac pick up days before they happened!!! How about some credit Gregor??? Wonger is SMRT!!! Any update on how bad Macs knee is and how long he will be out???Oil fans will love GAZDIC!!!

  • Spydyr

    Gretzky on Neilson and Fraser this morning and Messier watching practice. You’d think hockey season is starting. The comments from both players regarding the captaincy was interesting. They both voiced the same opinion on a 2 year becoming Captain. They both think that players should not be Captains at that age and should be let alone to play focus on their games.

    Messier and Gretzky on the same page. Go figure. I agree that Hall should be given more time to grow and develop. His time will come.

    Getting Gadzic was a smart move. If smack is off for 6 weeks. There are many thoughts on this matter but I believe we need a true heavyweight to enforce rule. Especially looking at the Oilers early road sheduel. Push back is what we need.

    OKC is loaded on defence. Wow.

    MacT will be proactive this season. So I look forward to the machinations whence RNH and Gagner come back.

    Gregor and the team at TSN 1260 congrats on the new affiliation.

  • South of Cowtown

    Mess got it right. Eakins is making this team aware of their time, not times past. Once the two centers heal up we will see what kind of team we have. Hopefully we won’t be on the bottom, looking up. No wait, that will be Calgary.

  • Love Messier’s stamp of approval on dressing room changes. It seems like a superficial change to me, but good that a guy like Moose has stated that he isn’t just not insulted by the decision, but behind the decision

  • bazmagoo

    Personally I love the fact that we will be rolling 3 lines of skill with a goon 4th line. Seems to be working decently in Toronto, and with the make up of our team this is the only way we are going to avoid getting beaten up by the bigger, badder teams. Fighting fire with fire is needed with our young group.

    Biggest improvement I’ve seen so far is on defence though, which I’m so thankful for. Ference is a legit top 4, so we’ve got 4 decent top 4 guys (J Schultz, Petry, Ference, Smid) but still don’t have a specific top 2 pairing. Defence by committee seems to be in the cards. N Schultz – Belov as the 3rd pairing, if Belov slips (he’s still an unknown quantity) he’s got 5 guys bidding for that #6 spot. What an improvement over last year! If we make the playoffs this year, a large part of the reason will be the improvement on defence.

    • Dan 1919

      I agree, things are looking up.

      It seems the big thing this off season is pessimism about how bad the bottom 6 is and how doomed the season already is. When RNH and Gagner are back it’s no longer the bottom six, its the bottom 2/3, aka irrelevant point. And like you said, the D this year is substantially better than last year.

      With the high end skill through 3 lines and the solid defence, this team has enough pieces to make the playoffs, it will be up to the coaches and players whether they do or not. This is good news as this is the first off season in a long time that, that can be said (IMO).

      The last few off seasons, let’s face it, we could hope but we all knew we weren’t looking at a playoff team. This year we are finally looking at a decent quality team, I think they will ironically make it this year that it seems most people are counting them out.

  • Dan 1919

    Is it true Luke Gadzic is going to have to wear a visor this year due to new players having to wear visors who have not been grandfathered in b playing 40 NHL games?

    So if he instigates with visor, he gets an additional 2 min, and game misconduct (on top of 2 min for instigating).

    He is likely a useless unneeded goon anyway (we already have a less useless Mike Brown and Ben Eager) but does this visor issue also limit his effectiveness of being a goon?