The changing of the calender year changed little in regards to the CBA negotiations between the NHL owners and the NHL players association. Proposals have been exchanged, meetings are ongoing, and the hockey world waits as the eleventh hour draws closer. The majority of NHL players have been relying on charity games and team practices to stay in shape, and if the season does get underway in the next few weeks, it will take them a while to get their conditioning to the highest level. And with a shortened season, many will be hitting their stride as the schedule comes to an end.
The way this saga is playing out begs the question as to whether or not teams who’s top players have been playing in game action for the past few months will have an advantage over those who haven’t seen a real game since the Spring. It may take a while for some, especially those on the wrong side of 30, to find their game legs, and a shortened training camp will be a factor as well. For the Edmonton Oilers, however, most of their core is just getting warmed up.
The Oilers AHL affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons, boast some of the best talent in the league, and that talent will be headed straight for the NHL if the season does indeed get underway. Jordan Eberle is having a monster year in the AHL. He leads his team with 24 goals and 49 points in 32 games, and is currently the top scorer in the league. His teammate, defenseman Justin Schultz has more than lived up to the expectations, as his 17 goals and 45 points is good for second overall in the AHL. Not too shabby for a rookie defenseman playing against men for the first time in his career. Not to be outdone, Taylor Hall’s 33 points is good for 5th overall in the league, despite only playing 24 games.
Last but not least in the Oliers super-quartet is 19 year-old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who had 20 points in 19 games before leaving to play in the World Junior Championships. Nugent-Hopkins was named captain of the Canadian team, and has been a force over in Russia, leading the undefeated Canadians to a semi-finals bye. He leads the tournament with three goals and 11 points in 4 games and has been a huge key in team Canada’s success.
Staying in Europe, the biggest surprise for the Oilers has been the play of goaltender Devan Dubnyk in the Spengler Cup. After a tough outing for Jonathan Bernier, team Canada started Dubnyk and didn’t look back as his stellar play carried the star-studded team all the way to a Spengler Cup championship. He faced some top-notch opponents, as many NHLers playing on club teams in Europe found themselves in the tournament.
Goaltending had been a question mark for the Oilers going into the season, but if Dubnyk can carry the momentum from the Spengler Cup into the NHL season, Edmonton may be in better shape than anyone thought. The core of this team is playing at the top of their game, and for a team who hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006, now is the perfect time to get the season started and find out if they’ll have an advantage after all.