The Oilers are about to play their biggest game of the season tonight against the Calgary Flames. Biggest game? It's still September, right? Welcome to the 2009/2010 training camp.
In an interview yesterday, Oilers Coach Pat Quinn discussed how jobs are up for grabs still on this year's team, and some of the veterns - the people penciled into the roster at the start of the season - could be in jeopardy of being erased. Who did he mean? He certainly didn't specify. But it's fair to say the play of veterns like Robert Nilsson and Fernando Pisani in pre-season games hasn't impressed anyone.
Tonight against the Flames, the Oilers are going with what looks to be 75% to 90% of their starting roster. Maybe what's needed is a chance for the veterns to play together?
One thing is certain: There will be some changes this season. The Oilers goaltending and defensive positions are set, barring a potential trade to bring in a proven scoring forward. Tom Gilbert has had an exceptional camp, and veterns Sheldon Souray, Denis Grebeshkov and Laddy Smid all look ready for the season. While Lubo Visnovsky is still getting his legs, he will be ready come opening night. And Steve Staios, the old warhorse he is, always comes prepared for the season. The Oilers seventh man, Jason Strudwick, could become D-man #6 should the Oilers choose to move an offensive defenseman. At this point it is impossible to suggest who could be moved. However, there is a market, as teams like the Sabers, Blue Jackets and Senators all would be interested in making a deal.
If the Oilers do choose to find one more forward, Taylor Chorney would become #7 on the defensive roster. He is ready for the NHL, but is just not ready enough to be in the Oilers top 6. And what might the Oilers be looking for if they moved a defenseman? Either a banging winger with some scoring touch, or a solid two-way face-off winning center.
What could surprise some people is when the Oilers place a vetern or two on waivers. It has been speculated that as many as three new names, aside from Mike Comrie, could be regulars in the line-up this season. Jordan Eberle could go back to junior, but he clearly has been one of the top 3 players in camp. He might just be too talented and too ready to ignore. Ryan Stone has also had an outstanting camp, and he brings a little grit to his game, which the Oilers need. JF Jacques has looked great too; impressed me anyway. The thought of Jacques earning a roster spot seemed unthinkable a month ago, but he clearly is motivated this season.
Who stays and who goes? Rumor is the Oilers are continuing to try and move Dustin Penner before the season begins, but he would be in the line-up if he stays. Consensus is that Pisani and Nilsson are the two players who have the most to lose right now.
The Oilers starting forward line-up, sans Pisani and Nilsson, could be as follows:
Gagner - Horcoff - Hemsky
Stone - Comrie - O'Sullivan
Penner - Cogliano - Eberle
Jacques - Brule - Stortini
Of course, even Quinn says he has no idea who will be playing on which line by the start of the season. All we really know for sure is that Stone, Comrie and O'Sullivan have looked great together. A Jacques/Brule/Stortini energy line would be a blast because they'd hit everything in sight.
And what happens to Pisani and Nilsson? Are they tradable? Or would they need to be sent down and clear waivers? Given their contracts, I seriously doubt either player would be picked up initially. Re-entry waivers might be needed.
Will the Oilers make one more deal before the start of the season? Will they move a D-man and a forward like Nilsson for a Top 6 forward? And what say you, Oiler fans? How do you feel about this team as it goes into the season?