I'm sure some of you will be surprised that my first blog of the new NHL season is on the Edmonton Oilers. However, I feel it's completely warranted as this team is somewhat of an enigma to me. I'll explain:
First of all, it's nice to see the Edmonton fans of this site get a regular blogger, something that was really lacking recently. And, regardless of Mr. Vetter's semi-regular posts on the Flames, it's just not enough. For such a hockey starved province, I still hold out hope for more... but you know, I'm not holding my breath as reports on Philly's 7th round pick in 2002 or Toronto's, well... anything, seem to be a much higher priority for this site... anyway,
Something's been missing in Edmonton since they went on that improbable run in 05-06. Three consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs is all one needs to say to make that point.
The Edmonton front office decided to "address" the situation and fired the coaching staff, replacing them with the dynamic duo of Pat Quinn and Tom Renney.
I believe this is a great move. Quinn is a proven NHL coach and leader. Renney has shown he's very capable of being an X's and O's coach and will bring a ton to the table.
Here's why I find a problem in the move.
Was Craig MacTavish and the ol' boys club of former Oilers really the problem?
I vehemently argue no.
The problem is, and has been for several years, Kevin Lowe.
After the Olympic gold of 2002, in which Lowe played an integral role, the future looked very bright for the Edmonton Oilers.
A series of interesting moved paved the way for a Stanley Cup effort. Something that should have led to several years of success for the franchise. They weren't old or used up. The pieces were in place for Edmonton to battle for the NW division for the next 10 years. But it all unraveled in a series of mistakes by the GM.
Lowe has since been promoted and another man, Steve Tambellini, has been brought in to make "changes". Hmm. Changes. Other than the normal year to year fluctuation of the roster, I would say these changes must still be coming.
The team still consists of a number of 3rd/4th liners having to play roles that are much higher than that of their skill level. Take a second and think of the return that Lowe/Tambellini received from the trading of TWO franchise players. Essentially, Ladislav Smid and Robert Nilsson (who is struggling to even keep his job). While players who wanted to stay, see Curtis Glencross, were shown the door. Fernando Pisani was given 3 mil for skating hard. The Heatley debacle of this summer can't be entirely blamed on Lowe/Tambellini, but their involvement certainly can't be ignored. Nikolai Khabibulin is a really nice addition to the team, but Dwayne Roloson was the team's best player last year and it might be hard for the Bulin Wall to even live up to Roli's numbers. Goaltending was not the issue. This franchise is up against the cap with millions and millions tied up in the wrong places.
Okay, okay... The purpose of this blog wasn't to berate Kevin Lowe (entirely)... but once I get rolling, I find it hard to stop... here's my point in the whole situation...
The Oilers couldn't have found 2 better men to lead them with their current roster than Pat Quinn and Tom Renney and we saw that on Saturday night versus the Flames.
Quinn made a career in Toronto rolling 4 lines equally and having 4th line style players play important roles in his system.
This is exactly what he has in Edmonton with the likes of JF Jacques, Ethan Moreau, Ryan Stone and Gilbert Brule (to an extent, Dustin Penner, with the way he can use his big frame when he wants).
They came out of the gates hitting anything that moved. They established a physical presence that's been lacking in the past. These players have been assigned roles by the coaching staff and it appears that it's been made clear that you do your job or you don't play.
I think looking at Sam Gagner's play is the best example. I'm not a big fan of The Hobbit, as I feel he's been overrated by the media due to his insane stick skills. But you could see it in the way he played on Saturday night that he was fighting to prove to Quenney that he belonged on the team. Never underestimate players who have something to prove. He also scored the game-tying goal, and although it was a gift, coming on a bad bounce off the glass; he made no mistake in burying it. He was on a mission, and it rubbed off on the team.
Dustin Penner muscled Robyn Regehr to the ground somewhat effortlessly. Jacques made a couple very hard hits. Gilbert Brule rifled one home after a great effort in the defensive end.
Ales Hemsky continues to prove that he can be dynamic and once he finds his niche in this system, he should be okay.
Sheldon Souray has a rocket from the point and has that edge to him that's perfect in a rough and tumble style of play.
The bottom line is that this team is going to push for the playoffs thanks to a coaching staff that will get the most out of their roster.
The problem lies in the fact that there's a few missing pieces. Add to that the very little wiggle room in the Oilers salary cap situation and it could get tricky.
The future is bright for the Quenney era... a few tweaks and this team can make some noise in the NW...
However, the dark cloud still looms upstairs as, to Lowe and Tambellini, a few tweaks has proved to be a very large mountain to climb.
So, sure, I say that something's been missing in Edmonton since the big Cup run of '06... but, really, the problem is that it's still there.