Thursday, September 18, 2008
What a difference a year makes.
Last year at this time I was getting myself all geared up for countless games of heartbreak and sorrow. I was expecting my hopes to be crushed like so many nuts in 80’s teen movies (always hilarious). But, like Chet in Weird Science, secretly I was probably loving it, too. That pain never actually materialized.
Oh sure, the Torres and Stoll show was pretty frustrating. Seeing Souray play a quarter of the season was a let-down, and keeping Roloson in net far past his due date out of loyalty, well…it’s something you live with as a fan. This year Garon likely gets starting position and we'll see if he can take the sustained pressure.
And that leads us to the shootouts, those glorious shootouts and their even better precursors: 4 on 4 overtime. The Oilers only had so many because they couldn’t hang on to a lead, but still, high drama and top-notch entertainment for any hockey fan.
So, while my predictions of suck pretty much came true for last season, something happened I (or anyone else) did not expect. The Rise of Youth.
And that brings us to this year’s Ruminations for a Portending Season.
A First Glance
This year the Edmonton Oilers go into Training Camp with less holes than any other year I can remember in my adult life. Two years ago fans were worried about a thin and inexperienced Defensive squad, last year it was Forward depth and ability. This year it’s a Tough Guy and odds and ends (LH top-line winger, anyone?). But overall, Team Oilers hasn’t looked this good since the Fresh Prince sat on his throne in Bel-Aire (yo holmes, smell ya later) and bangs were better sprayed in the upright position (that’s what she said).
GM Kevin Lowe (who has sincle been bumped up to be replaced by Steve Tambellini) started off early and strong with the backing of new, improved owner, Daryl Katz (honest to god billionaire Drug Lord). Shooting off players who have promising careers, but didn’t fit with Edmonton plans anymore, Matt Greene and Jarrett Stoll (Mr. Rachel Hunter) found themselves down in the land of flesh and plastic, new pieces of the LA Kings, and in return we got Lubomir Visnovsky, a smallish, but excellent Dman to play on a top PP line with a rehabbed Sheldon Souray. Together, with skilled feeds from Ales Hemsky, squirrely moves from a young Sam (The Hobbit) Gagner, and smart decision maker Shawn Horcoff, that PP unit is gonna smack up some bitches, bitch!
Next out was Raffi Torres (#5 1st round, 2000)...and allegedly his, er...nose -snif sniff if you know what I mean- in an odd play for Gilbert Bule. Gilbert Bru-Who? You say? Well, that’s what I said, anyway. Gilby, we’ll call him, was chosen 6th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. If Sidney Crosby wasn’t stealing the limelight that year, Brule probably would’ve been the #1 Canadian pick in that draft. For reals. He had promise, but was rumoured to have been poorly used by the Blue Jackets and never lived up to the potential he showed and that Columbus was hoping to get out of him.
At any rate, will he factor into the Oilers line up on opening day? Unlikely, but he’ll be getting a chance to regain his skill and edge in the AHL this year and probably get more than a cup of coffee as the season rolls along. All in all, if he can get back into his game, this will have been a genius trade by Lowe.
Next up was the loss of Joni Pitkanen. As a fan it was hard to really like the guy. He seems to have the personality of a limp sardine, but he’s a beauty skater and knows how to put up points. He was traded to Carolina (and subsequently signed there) and back our way came 2006 Stanley Cup Champion and insane warrior Erik Cole. This is a man who played in the Finals with a broken neck! He not only held his own last year, but was a plus player on a struggling team. He’s smart, fired-up and will add skill, grit, and experience on whatever forward line he finds himself on.
As off season fans know, The Edmonton Oilers also tried to sign Marian Hossa, but ultimately failed as he opted to sign for less money on an almost indestructible Detroit Red Wings team. In the process fans lost newcomer Curtis Glencross, that goddam dink, to the Calgary Falmes. He signed for more than he’s worth and will play on at least a third line, but more power to him. Some people think he’s a no-good, turncoat traitor, but not me. Nope, not me…
And here we find ourselves, TC a few days away and the Oilers roster pretty much decided on already. There are maybe two spots in contention for a whole squadron of talented up and comers in the Edmonton Oilers system all vying for a slim shot at the NHL. It’ll be interesting to see who makes it and who breaks a limb trying.
What to look for this season:
Youth is the Truth Forsooth
Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson, Kyle Brodziak, Tom Gilbert (D), Denis Grebeshkov(D), Ladislav Smid(D), Marc Pouliot.
Get to know this group of jail-bait. All under 25, all up and coming names in the NHL and all on one team. Each one of them took so many steps forward last season, that even if they take a step back with the old “sophomore jinx” they’ll still be players. On that front alone, the Oilers will be worth watching. How many of the names on that list are going to full-on break out this season? Granted, most of them will be playing tougher minutes/reduced minutes this year, but it’s going to be a riot to see the development of these kids. Who says MacT can't develop youth?
Older, Bolder, Colder
Shawn Horcoff, Sheldon Souray(D), Erik Cole, Fernando Pisani, Ethan Moreau, Steve Staios(D), Lubomir Visnovsky(D)
These guys are the dirty over thirties your momma warned you about. They bring huge experience to the table and are just starting to get the bitter angry strength that eventually becomes Old Man Power. Real life hero and walking miracle Fernando Pisani is just one part of a core group of highly intelligent men on this Oilers team. And that’s where other teams are going to have to watch out and pray to Gary Bettman when facing them. Shawn Horcoff is possibly the smartest man in hockey today (Chelios deserves a runner up here), and all of these guys see the game extremely well. Yeah, Souray can look like a pylon, but he’s also a hell of a lot better than his reputation. Ask the numbers guys to prove it. With numbers. They can. If Ethan “I hate milk” Moreau can keep his glass and sawdust limbs intact, then we’ve got a mean sonnufabitch to anchor a ridiculously decent fourth line.
Hemmer and the Dust
Dustin Penner is fat. There, I said it. Fat contract, fat body. Here’s hoping he’s actually gotten in shape to, you know, earn his millions? Last year it was just embarrassing watching him huffing and puffing , always a few steps behind the action and then crawling over the boards back to the bench where he was once again embraced (and maybe just a little fondled) by what I presume was…a Big Mac or something.
Ales Hemsky. Ales Hemsky has a scar on his neck. He was sliced open by a beer bottle in a bar fight.
He still doesn’t have the LH winger he needs, but is surrounded by enough talent this season that he is GOING TO BLOW US ALL AWAY. Last year I said he would hit 90 points. He fell short (injury bug hit the Oilers like a muthafu**er), but this year, baby. This year.
Without a word of a lie, I will set up a personal scenario here. I was watching the January 4, 2007 game (Dallas vs. Oilers). Edmonton had just blown a huge lead and the clock was winding down. With seconds left, the net empty, the Oilers were trying to tie a 5-4 game to get to overtime. My buddy and I were drinking a gallon of red wine (classy) and he predicted Hemsky would tie it up.
“There’s no way they’re going to get that goal!” I shouted like an angry drunk fan, “Especially not Hemsky!”
“And what if he does?”
“If Hemsky scores, I will personally drive down the road to the rink, I will find Ales Hemsky and I will get down on my knees and I will suck his dick! I will put it in my mouth.”
One, I was drunk. Two, there were about 20 seconds left in the game. Three, homerotica is always funny.
And then this happened:
True to my word, I gave that amazing player the night of his life.
Well, actually I just screamed a lot in disbelief and got progressively more drunk and professed my undying love to my girlfriend. (That’s right, I’ve got a girlfriend, wanna fight about it?)
Anyway, Ales Hemsky. Helluva player.
So, the final analysis is this:
In the Northwest Division, it's going to be Edmonton and Calgary vying for top spot. Colorado with Thornton is still good, but age, man, it happens to us all (watches yellowed leaf float gently to the sundappled earth below), Vancouver sucks, and the oversized Mild have lost their way.
In the Western Conference playoff seeds, Edmonton finishes 6th or 7th. The Oilers are on the rise, but there's a couple years to go before they absolutely DOMINATE the NHL. Not one, not four, two. Maybe three. Book it, people. Write it down with pen.
And I’m done with this junk. I’m out of here. Maybe there’ll be a part two, and maybe this is it for your Oilers Season Preview.
Which will it be? Tune in...to find out!.
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