Recently, before the major earth shaking signing of a certain Craig Conroy distracted me, I was being called out a little for putting up the hockey news prediction of the Oilers finishing last. The Hockey News has in the past bashed Edmonton a little, they published a survey that said Edmonton and Buffalo were the two worst cities to play pro hockey in according to the Players. Edmontonians, before you flip out on me please read, "by the players". Now they have come out and had the audacity to accuse the worst team in the NHL last year of perhaps being one of the worst again! Can you believe it?? Then today I log into Hockeybuzz to read Vetter and Newman's take on Conroy and see Cloutier has posted another very long winded blog about how the oilers will improve presumably because of all of the things that went wrong last season. I'd like to address that if I could and explain why I agree with The Hockey News.
Injuries: Cloutier believes that the injuries last year hindered the Oilers ability to be competitive, and it did, no question. Where he goes wrong is believing it won't happen again, this happens every year in Edmonton and having a new training staff for one summer probably won't make a difference. The same players that were injured last year...are still on the team! Notably amongst these Hemsky, Souray, Khabibulin and Gagner which are just a few key components for their success. To Richard I say count on having at least a couple important players injured, if you do plan for the worst you can be prepared but right now the depth is razor thin for the Oilers and a couple key injuries will put them right back where they were. Khabibulin was caught driving under the influence in Arizona, that is a jail time offence and if found guilty in any way the Oilers could have an out from the contract, I say they should take it! He's 90, dump him, it's not like there isn't a thousand goalies looking for jobs right now, I personally feel Edmonton dropped the ball not going after Nabakov who is used to playing a ton of minutes and can win you games. Some other teams that had HUGE injury issues last year...Vancouver and Detroit. Just saying.
Coaching: Cloutier said that the oilers stop following Quinn half way through the season and quit. Well if the players quit half way through the season it's a problem in and of itself but there is something else to this. Quinn was expecting effort and Renney was the x and o guy, they quit on the motivator and that says something about the players, most of whom are back again. If the injuries were so prevalent the shouldn't the players who had a chance play harder? If coaching was an issue is just firing Quinn addition by subtraction? Now that Renney has full control is he the Messiah behind the bench? Likely not, not a bad coach but probably not the answer either.
Morale: Was it the coaching situation Cloutier or was it what every player who has come there in the last five years has said? I WANT OUT! I know no Edmonton fan wants to hear it but the city is really cold in the winter, in fact the coldest place on the planet last year at one point, and it doesn't offer a lot to players and their wives in terms of attractions. The once proud mall that was a landmark is basically a huge dump now known more for it's dead dolphins then it's stores. I know you will point at me and say, "whatever, that's what a Flames fan would say!", and you're probably right, but it's also what Pronger, Smyth, Heatley, Nylander and who knows how many other players who have turned down Edmonton have said. Even players like Souray want out. This goes beyond the coaching situation and how players are used unfortunatley. Not even players who have had good experiences stick around there, Pretty sure Gretz doesn't winter there you know?
Special teams: Yeah they were bad last year, maybe they will be better this year, maybe not. Power play has as much to do with coaching as it does with players so we'll see. I don't know who is going to be the Penalty Kill either, Cogliano maybe? he's good.
Team Design: Cloutier said the Oil were too small and got pushed around...last time I checked if you had skill this league is wide open now, small skilled players excel in fact, the lack of skill is actually what you mean by team design. Size is relative to the will you have to succeed, don't believe me, meet my friend Theo Fleury.
If we pretend that it's last season and everything goes like you wanted to then a few things would happen. They would have been better for sure but better than worst is still bottom 5 in the league and perhaps last in the west still, just like the Hockey News said. Throw in a bunch or rookies, as skilled as they may be, and you will have defensive lapses and rookie errors that may result in more minus than plus shifts for them and I think at that point it's safe for you to take the rose coloured glasses off.
The defense getting bigger and better...than last... sure. I'll give you that!
The future looked bright for Oilers when Gagner and Cogliano were breaking into the league but now it's Hall and Eberle and everyone can't wait to ship Cogliano out! An Embarrassment of riches or just embarrassing? I guess we'll find out After this season.