Posted 8:11 PM ET | Comments 0
As much as management will deny it, the plan for the Edmonton Oilers was not to make the playoffs this year. Their positioning after a month is merely a pleasant surprise. A couple things we have learned: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a player. A big-time player. Apparently Nik Khabibulin has decided his career isn't quite over and is proving everyone (particularly myself) wrong.
So where is this team going and how have they gotten to where they are now?
Management committed to a long-term rebuild, a five-year plan if you will. The plan is simply to acquire a group of players they can keep together for 5-10 years to give themselves the best shot at winning. Something along the lines of 3 centers, 4 wingers, 4 defensemen and a goalie. Most of these pieces are in the organization right now, some are on the main roster (Hall, Eberle, The Nuge, etc...) and some are in the minors or still playing junior.
But not all these pieces are in place currently, so how does one explain the early success of this team (Keep in mind that it's early in the season, and even if they fall off their current pace the rebuild is still moving along as planned)? Khabibulin is the easy answer, he's the NHL's player of the month and has been exceptional thus far. The defense in front of him is a no-name group that is playing above their heads. But the most impressive thing about this group is the team-wide defensive commitment. Everyone backchecks like it's OT in game 7. And they have to with the blue liners they have on their roster. But it is hurting the offense. The Nuge, Hall, and Eberle line is carrying the offense with veterans Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smythe chipping in. Other than that, no one is scoring. That shouldn't be a huge concern as Sam Gagner is just returning from injury, and Ales Hemsky is close as well.
The most likely scenario is a trade for a defenseman, with Gagner and/or Linus Omark likely on their way out of town, as they don't fit well within the makeup of the team. Khabibulin is not the goalie of the future, but as long as he keeps playing this way the net is his. And if he falters, Devan Dubnyk (who IS the goalie of the future) can take over the net.
The bottom line is that according to The Plan, a .500 season was always the expectation, anything on top of that is gravy. A playoff berth is certainly a possibility, and if management sees fit the plan can be rushed forward to make that more successful.
But there is a top line in place, one which will soon be among the NHL's elite, a goalie of the future in Dubnyk, and several good, young defenseman in the pipeline, so any concerns about that area of the roster are not necessary. This early surge is unexpected to a point, and may not continue (at least not at the current pace), but The Plan is in motion and things look good in Edmonton.