The 2010-11 season has been a study in the Shakespearean concept of outrageous fortune for Edmonton. The team has suffered from threats of venue change, they have seen their roster decimated by injuries and for many, the departure of leading scorer Dustin Penner to Anaheim seemed like even the powers that be in the Oilers Organisation were taking their own dirty hits.
On and off the ice, there were touchpoints of trouble for the franchise. To name a few:
Preseason talk of a move- For some clubs, this is a yearly occurrence. The Oilers Organisation saw the thinning patience in Winnipeg, Quebec City and Hamilton as an opportunity to use talk of a move as a bargaining tool to get the city to spring for a new arena. The response wasn’t pretty. The City of Edmonton demurred, citing harsh economic circumstances. Fans and the media speculated about bringing in another team.
Injuries So far this season Edmonton has lost 188 man games due to injuries. This is actually a fairly light number compared to other teams in the conference. The real issue is who is hurt and for how long. Out for the season as of publication: Sam Gagner and Taylor Hall. Gagner was having a great year and losing him at any point has to hurt. Hall went quickly from being a promising rookie to someone whose bad days are better than many of his colleagues’ (across the NHL, much less EDM) good days.
Further Bettmanisation of Arena Culture at Rexall Centre This is arguably a peripheral issue. Still, the addition of more glitz and gams in the form of the Octane was an affront to EDM’s hard core fanbase. It demonstrated an unfortunate indication of the degree of disconnect between the Oilers’ front office and the people who fill the bowl two to four times a week during the regular season. This evil member of the liberal elite media doesn’t have much faith in trickle-down economics, but the discord surrounding this decision couldn’t help but create a blip of distraction for those on the ice. The game is too interactive and personal for it to not have any effect.
Inconsistent Performance from Khabibulin Goalies are the backbone of the team and Khabibulin’s issues proved to be a stumbling block for the Oilers early on. EDM missed the support that he could have given between the pipes. It took a toll on the team’s momentum. Khabs hasn’t morphed into an ordinary goalie by any stretch of the imagination. He can be brilliant between in the net and because of this, his move to EDM was seen as a positive step for a better season. This has been a troubling year for him both personally and professionally and it has shown in his performance on the ice.
A Need For Speed Toughness isn’t an issue for Edmonton. One problem that is evident is a real need for speed and tighter blade skills. Sometimes the only reason they’re outplayed is that they’re outskated by the other guys.
Losing Dustin Penner Numbers crunchers and stats geeks all gave a thumbs up to EDM’s decision to trade Penner while he was still hot and they could get maximum value for him. for those who were more concerned about what was happening on the other side of the glass and dashers, this seemed like an insane move. Penner was their top scorer. He could be a relentless, ferocious competitor on the ice and the prospect of an in-conference trade meant that EDM’s sure bet would now be moving the puck the wrong way down the ice.
In spite of all of this, the team that seems to be stuck at the bottom of the league can and often does show flashes of brilliance on the ice. Everything from respectable showings to shutouts against teams that are ranked well ahead of them indicate that this is not a team that’s ranked where they are due to lack of talent. So what do the Oilers have going for them? Let’s take a look at a few key points in their development this year.
The maturation of Ryan Jones Acquired on waivers from Nashville, Jones spent a few years in their system trying to find his place on the Predators’ roster. The move has proven to be a good one for him. He’s gone from “I think I know where my strengths are” to an assured presence on the ice and in the locker room.
Theyre playing sixty minute games …but not enough of them! One of the more troubling hallmarks of teams that could be top-tier but aren’t is the phenomenon of seeing them do well for the first twenty to forty minutes of the game and then they check out. Columbus does this, Nashville does this, and alas, so does Edmonton.
Taylor Hall, Taylor Fedun, Colin Teubert EDM is getting stronger when it comes to discovering and developing talent. You may not be familiar with Fedun and Teubert yet, but you will be. They’re both promising prospects who could make a big difference for EDM in future seasons. Hall’s unnecessary high sprain was an unfortunate blip. By the time the rookies hit camp and are called up, he’ll be well on his way to acting more like a seasoned pro and mentor to rookies like Fedun and Teubert.
The Ascendancy of Dubnyk Between the Pipes Devan Dubnyk shows a lot of promise as the calmer half of the Oilers’ matched set of pipesmen. The feel around much of his time on the ice, especially at the midpoint of the season, was that he was in a cleanup position. Respectable showings against some daunting teams prove he’s worthy of his spot on the roster. 40 saves when facing Boston and 44 saves against Detroit, a team that is extremely tough on goalies, are impressive.
Retention of Veterans An alternative title for this entry could be “People Heal.” EDM has this summer to concentrate on rehabilitating, tightening up and getting stronger, smarter and just plain better on the ice. A fire sale of players at this point would not be in their best interest. They have one of the most cohesive units in the NHL and they should utilise that strength.
There is enough talent evident for this storied franchise to live up to the support they enjoy from their tenacious fanbase. With smart management of the assets they have, the slings and arrows of this season’s outrageous fortune will be a troubling memory by late summer.