Another summer day, another long day of paintball ahead, and another day closer to the beginning of the 2011-2012 season. It will also be the beginning of Year 2 of the Oilers rebuild. Last year saw incredible talent and hope for the future in rookies Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi as well as latecomer Linus Omark. We got a closer look at Devan Dubynk in net, Jeff Petry and Peckham both held their own, and other rookies such as Teemu Hartikinan and Christ Vande Velde stepped up when others fell to injury.
Once again this summer has been filled with plenty of debate, controversy, and questions about the Oilers that can all boil down to one question, "Will the Oilers make the Playoffs this Year?" So I decided to put together this blog dealing the top Top 10 What If statements that if they happen could result in Edmonton rising from the basement to a playoff spot and a rating system from 1-10 (10 being a sure thing and 1 being no chance in hell)
1. What if Taylor Hall has a 65 point season?
Last season Taylor Hall had 22g and 20a before being injured on March 11th. After a slow beginning to his rookie year Taylor Hall quickly became a dominant force on the team, especially in the last couple months which saw him score a hat trick and become a more aggressive player. Richard Cloutier has made comparisons between Hall and Messier and I think that's a fair statement to make. So saying all of that, is it impossible to think that Hall playing with a year under his belt can finish with 35g and 30a on a team that has only gotten better? I don't think so. Possibility 8
2. What if Cam Barker returns to form?
Cam Barker was the 3rd overall pick in 2004 by the Chicago Blackhawks and at his peak scored 44 points in a season. Unfortunately right now that seems like a fluke considering his output every season after that. The Oilers have picked him up on a 1 year, zero risk contract and in recent interviews Barker has stated he wants Edmonton to be a fresh start for him and expects his game to improve. Now what Barker says and what happens could very likely be two completely different scenarios. Can Barker score 35 points on the Oilers, prove why he was a Top 3 pick, and solidify Edmonton's defense... probably not. Possibility 4
3. What if the rest of our defense can stop a puck?
Barker is a gamble, he could prove to be the steal of the summer or not. Sutton could be a decent 5/6 when the hurt needs to be put on or he could be a liability and cause or PK to be on every couple minutes. Other than that the defense on this team has not been addressed. Sure prospects Klefbom, Musil, and Teubert could all end up in the NHL but they're all still prospects and have plenty of time to go. Petry has proven that he deserves a spot on this team but more likely as a 7th D-man instead of against other teams top lines. If management really wants to give Barker a shot I can see him paired with Whitney. Gilbert is a good 2nd pairing defenseman and will earn back fan support this year. Led the team in blocked shots people, Gibby ain't soft. Other than that there is support from Peckham, and Smid. Maybe Laddy will score a goal this year...who knows. Here would be my pairing: Whitney-Barker, Gilbert-Peckham, Smid-Sutton, Petry. Is that the type of defense that qill send the opposition away in fear...no, not at all. Still it's better than last year and if Barker and Smid can step up their game we might not be considered the worst in the NHL. Possibility 4.
4. What if Edmonton doesn't have a goalie problem?
Khabibulin, Khabibuilin, Khabibulin... after a average .909 season in 09-10, Khabi dropped down to a mediocre .890, meanwhile Devan Dubnyk recorded a .916 in 35 games. Sadly I'm sure that management will give Khabi the start in net this year again but hopefully keep him on a tight leash and if he begins to falter give Dubnyk the start. Khabi has had to bounce back before, (after a .886 season with the Blackhawks came back the next year with a .902). Will Khabibulin bounce back and become a solid starting goalie, will Dubnyk take his place and prove to be a #1? Possibility 5
5. What if Linus Omark can be Hemsky 2.0?
I am a big Omark fan, he's a creative young kid who lacks size but makes up for it by being able to hold onto the puck no matter the situation. In 51 games he put up 5 goals and 22 assists. A little early to give him the Hemsky mantle who when healthy can easily be a 70 point player, but Omark can still live up to those expectations. If Omark finishes this season with 15 goals and 30 assists, does that give this team enough reassurance to trade Hemsky at the deadline for some proven NHL defense? I'm going to give this kid at least the benefit of the doubt. If Omark can put up the kind of numbers I've posted above if he's on the third line (I project a Omark-Belanger-Paajarvi third line this year) then he deserves top 6 time to really improve his game. Possibility 6
6. What if the team can stay healthy
Well here is the kicker ain't it. Time after time I've heard the argument "we could be a playoff team if _____ wasn't injured. Unfortunately ________ appears to be half of our team and more importantly, our best players. I've stated above that if Omark can excell than Hemsky should be traded, but if Hemsky stays around for this entire season and puts up 70-80- points would you trade him? Not likely. The Oilers mediocre defense absolutely plummeted with the loss of Ryan Whitney last year, Hall's season was cut short, Eberle missed some time, and the captain did as well. If we suffer the same types of losses to injury this year there is no chance this team can compete. Possibility 7 (Side Note: My reasoning for this is a combination of think having that bad luck for 3 straight seasons shouldn't be possible as well as...)
7. Will our 4th line keep teams honest?
The additions of Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk were good moves by Tambs. As much as I loved Big Mac he was more of a liability during games than a deterrent for other teams. Hordichuk is an enforcer by nature but also has some NHL ability and can maybe even score a couple goals. Ryan Jones will also be seeing fourth line time and though I'm sure he won't repeat his 18 goal season, he is a high energy player that on the fourth line will be able to make plays that can turn the tide of a game. Depending on whether or not RNH makes the team, the center for this line could be anyone from Belanger to Anton Lander who is looking pretty close to NHL ready now. Possibility 8
8. What if the PK and PP don't suck
Last year Edmonton had close to the league worst in both power-play and penalty kills (not a big surprise when you're the 30th place team). First off the 3 year signing of Eric Belanger was probably my second favorite signing of the summer. He's a center who can win faceoffs when they matter and I'm sure he will be used heavily in both situations along with captain Shawn Horcoff. My favorite signing of the summer was the return of Ryan Smyth which will also serve to boost our power-play and hopefully teach the rest of the team how to go to the tough spots and score goals. This year I think that both our PP and PK will be somewhere more in the middle of the pack. Possibility 7
9. What if Sam Gagner has "his breakout season"?
Just like Omark, I see plenty of potential in Sam Gagner. Now how do I put this gently... HE'S ONLY 22...ahem. Yes Gagner will be entering his 5th NHL season this year and yes his point total has seen very little change since his rookie year but he's still only a 22 year old player. For argument sake let's say that the average age where a player will hit his peak potential is from 25-29. Gagner should be counted among our young players like H.O.P.E. (HOPEG doesn't have as nice a ring). I believe that RNH won't be on the OIlers at least full time this year, seeing only his first 9 games. Either way I expect to see Gagner getting quality minutes player with either Eberle and Hall or Hemsky and Smyth. Both ways I see him having his best season yet with 25g and 30a. Possibility 8
10. What if our veterans can make our rookies into better people?
Notice how I put people, not just players. Yeah I know that sounds a little cheesy but when it comes down to it. Edmonton is a hockey town. The Eskimo's might win the Grey Cup and all will celebrate but truth is most Edmontonian's care more about their last place Oilers than the Eskimo's. Because of all of that, these players are treated like rock stars. For all of those who have been to Oil City after a victory...wow. Once again, the return of Ryan Smyth is a blessing in a thousand ways. Smyth will show our young guys not only how to be better hockey players but how to give back to the community and how to be people that kids will look up to. Add that to Captain Shawn Horcoff. Despite not being in the same class as other C's in the league: Crosby, Ovechkin, Thorton, Horcoff has always seemed to command high respect amongst his team. From their first game, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall always had dinner with Shawn and his wife before every home game. It's things like that which support the reason why he is captain. Possibility 10
To conclude there is plenty to be hopeful for with this team this year. The biggest question marks are still defense goal tending, and injuries and there are no definite answers for those either way. ST could have done worse this summer but could have done better. Guess we'll have to wait and see come October what the 2011-2012 Oilers have to offer. Enjoy the rest of your summer day!