There is no doubt it will be difficult to go from watching Canada’s team of all-stars dominate the rest of the world, to watching the Oilers try and salvage another lost season. However, Oilers fans are a resilient bunch and the final 22 games should carry more importance, than previous years in shaping the future of this team.
Why are these games more important?
Because the head coach will be here next September, and for only the 2nd time in the past six seasons the Oilers won’t have to learn a new system when camp begins.
Prior to the break, the Oilers started to show small signs — I repeat small — that they were getting a better handle of the system, while Eakins seemed to have a better grasp on individual players. The break should benefit the Oilers more than other teams, because they have more room to improve, and because it allowed them significant practice time to get a better understanding of their system.
Having to learn a new system every year has continually put the Oilers behind other teams when the season begins. The Oilers haven’t had comfort in their system early in the year and often they are thinking rather than just reacting. It takes a long time to be comfortable in a system, and when you combine that learning curve with youth, inexperience and less talent than the top teams in the west, you end up being a consistent bottom-five team.
The Oilers were 5-1-1 heading into the Olympic break, but they were out shot in all seven games. I felt they deserved to beat Nashville, Vancouver and New York, but goaltending got them wins vs. San Jose and Buffalo.
They need to improve many areas of their game, but winning builds confidence more than losing does, so they should feel good about themselves when the puck drops on Thursday.
- The trade deadline is next Wednesday at 1 p.m. MST. I believe Ales Hemsky will be dealt, and I outlined why here. We all read and heard the Gagner rumours before the deadline. I still don’t see a fit for him in LA, but a team like Nashville makes more sense. However, there is no guarantee he will be moved prior to March 5th. A summer trade might make more sense.
- What about Ryan Smyth? I think he could help a team that is looking for a veteran to round out their 3rd or 4th line. He kills penalties, can play on your PP and five-on-five. It wouldn’t cost much to acquire him, a 3rd or 4th round pick, and for a team looking for depth I think he can help. Last year some wondered why the Hawks traded for a slow Michal Handzus, but Stan Bowman looked like a genius when they hoisted the Cup and Handzus was their 6th most productive forward in the playoffs.
- I think there will be interest in Smyth, and if he is willing to leave his family for a run at the Cup I think he’ll be moved. If the Oilers are interested in re-signing him in the summer, we all know he’d come back. He bleeds Oilers’ colours.
- After watching Anton Belov in the Olympics, I’m still intrigued by what he is capable of in the NHL. He has had a frustrating season, but I believe he is good enough to play regularly the rest of the season. Some nights he looks like he could be a solid contributor and then on other nights he looks disinterested. Do you think Belov can help the Oilers in the future, or should they look elsewhere?
- Speaking of defence, how good were Drew Doughty and Shea Weber in Sochi? Outstanding. If you could only have one on your team, who would you pick and why? I thought about it for a long time, and either would be great of course, but if I had to pick I’d go with Weber. He is five years older, but he still has 10 great years left and his size and strength are why I’d lean towards him. He skates well, has a bomb of a shot, is solid defensively and he has a mean streak. If the Predators ever decide to move him, David Poile’s phone would be ringing off the hook. He’d command a huge return.
- Do you remember when Dion Phaneuf and Ryan Getzlaf fought the first game after winning gold at the World Juniors? Andrew Ladd and Colin Fraser also fought in that Red Deer/Calgary game, just to send a message to their teammates that their focus was back on their teams. I doubt any of the NHL players will follow suit, but these players are ultra competitive, and they will quickly change their focus to securing home ice advantage for the playoffs.
Getzlaf and Perry’s first game back is Friday vs. Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester.
Subban and Price battle Crosby and Kunitz on Wednesday.
Toews, Keith and Sharp play Nash on Thursday.
- Only five teams, Buffalo, Edmonton, Calgary, Florida and the Islanders are out of the playoff hunt. Every other team is within four points of a playoff spot, so every game matters. It sucks not being in a city in the hunt, but as a fan of hockey I’m excited to watch the other games. They should be incredibly competitive.
- The Colorado Avalanche are only five points back of Chicago with two games in hand. It is crazy to think the Avs are that close to Chicago and St.Louis. (The Blues are tied with the Hawks, but have three games in hand.) I’m curious to see if the Avs try and load up for the playoffs or if they stay patient and hold onto picks and prospects.
- The Red Wings have made the playoffs 22 consecutive seasons. They missed the dance the same year as the Oilers’ last Cup, 1990, but I think their streak ends this year. Henrik Zetterberg is out for the rest of the regular season and Pavel Datsyuk isn’t a 100%. The Wings are currently in 8th place, but Ottawa, Washington and Columbus are only 1 point behind, while Carolina and New Jersey are 3 points back. I don’t see them holding off five teams.
- If you have an Olympic hockey hangover and want to see a dominant team, you could check out the Edmonton Rush this Friday night. The Rush are 7-0 and trying to become only the 2nd team in NLL history to start a season 8-0. The Rush host the Toronto Rock at Rexall Place on Friday, and if you can’t go you can watch it on TSN2.
- Jamie Benn was very good in Sochi, and I’d love to see him in the playoffs. Dallas is currently in 8th place with 64 points. Phoenix has 64, Vancouver 63, Winnipeg 62 and Nashville 60. Of those five teams, I’d say Dallas or Winnipeg would the most exciting to watch. Hopefully one of those two gets in.
- Taylor Hall needs 24 points in 22 games to become the first Oiler to score 80 points since Doug Weight had 90 in 2001. Hall has 56 points in 53 games so far, so he is on pace to crack 80.
- The Oilers haven’t had two 30-goals scorers in the same season since 1997, when Smyth (39) and Kovalenko (32) did it. The Oilers haven’t had three 30-goal men since 1990 when they had five: Messier (45), Anderson (34), Kurri (33), Klima (30) and Tikkanen (30).
Currently, David Perron has 22, Hall has 20 and Eberle has 19. There is an outside shot they could all get there, but even if only two of them do it, that would be the first time in 17 years.
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