Sunday, September 15, 2013

Oilers Rising

Its been a long time since there has been optimism in this space about the Oilers. A long time. It goes against my nature to be a pessimist and so in the fall of 2006 I figured the Oilers would be in the mix again even with their mess on the blue because Kevin Lowe wouldn't stand by and let things fall apart. Right? RIGHT?!?!?!? I was wrong. And that was, I think, the last time I had true hope for this club. I have read some hilarious things over the years. Year after year comments to the effect of 'you will eat your words, the Oilers are going to be good' and 'you're a pessimist no wonder you think they will suck'. The ones of the latter ilk make me laugh most of all because I'm an optimist through and through, just like my old man. Can't help it, its in my bones, so if you beat me down like the Oilers beat me down then you know you're pretty terrible, Slowly slowly things are turning around. Last winter with a short season I figured that they might be in the mix for a playoff spot with some luck and good health and they actually had some poor luck and still got into the conversation for a while. This year ... well, this year I think they have a legitimate shot at it. My guess is you can pencil in San Jose, Los Angeles and the Canucks in as playoff teams in their division and Chicago and St. Louis in the other one. So that means they need to beat out Anaheim and Phoenix or one of those clubs plus all but one other Central club. Do I think its guaranteed? Not at all. If they had added another legitimate top four Dman (or better yet a top two) then I would be very confident. With that said I think that MacTavish has improved them enough that if all things are equal then they will be in the race come the spring. And truly in the race, not one of these 'they are eight points out but still have a shot' positions. I mean in it. Look at the roster. For the first time in years the club has depth so that the biggest question isn't who will play in the top six or who will play centre but rather, right now, who will be the third LW. That is the biggest issue facing them right now. They have a legitimate top six and in Gordon and Hemsky a truly legitimate top eight. Think about that for a second. Ales Hemsky is, for now, their third option at RW. Ted's shoulder needs to get healthy but if it is then the Oilers quality up the middle is better than any Canadian team except maybe Ottawa and Montreal. Hell its better than Chicago's. Although obviously they have nobody of Toews' calibre. Or anyone other than Hall who would be one of Chicago's top three wingers. Or that D. Anyhow, depth at centre!! All kidding aside though MacTavish has done a pretty good job. - as noted the top eight forwards are high quality. I hated seeing Paajarvi go but Perron is a legitimate top six talent - the remaining three winger spots have Joensuu, Smyth, Jones and Omark in the mix. Can one of these guys fit in the top nine? Maybe or maybe not (I tend to believe the former) but the fourth line W spots will be taken up by actual guys who can play this season So up front the two issues looks to be 3L and 4C. And MacTavish has already proven to be proactive, I doubt if the team is lacking in either case that he will stand by. - in goal the club has a legitimate quality backup goaltender - on the blue ideally everyone would be pushed down the depth chart but its not a perfect world and MacTavish has brought in numbers, so many guys that probably one or two guys with NHL experience are probably going to get waived or moved. Klefbom is going to start in the minors, as he should, and Potter, probably fifth on the depth chart last season, is fighting for his job - so we have Smid and Petry as one pair and Ference and Schultz younger as another and then Belov, Grebeshkov, Schultz elder, Potter and Larsen fighting for the remaining three spots. Its not Chicago's D or Vancouver's but for the first time in a long while its not horrible. Ference is a legitimate top four guy so now the Oilers have three of those and if Schultz younger or Belov can do the job then there's your four. Its not an elite unit but its reasonable For me when I rate a club I look at their depth all of the time. Depth is what separates good teams from bad teams. It was the difference between Boston and Toronto and the difference between Chicago and Boston. I've mentioned it a thousand times but look at Chicago's fourth line last season. Frolik. Bolland. Kruger. Compare them with the shitshow the Oilers had. Or the Leafs. Or almost any other club. And remember that after Bickell scored to tie the game Quenneville sent them out against Krejci, Lucic and Horton to get game six to overtime. His fourth line. And they scored. And then he sent them out again. With the Cup on the line. Depth. Meanwhile when Toronto was exhausted and collapsing Colton Orr was stapled to the bench. Depth. Put it another way, Toronto has lost Grabovski, MacArthur, Frattin and Komorov from last year's club and replaced them with Bolland and Clarkson. You can talk about intangibles and a whole lot of other shit but the Leafs are worse up front this year. They have lost four effective NHL players, replaced them with two and have given up a ton of speed and skill. Its pretty simple. Its the same in Chicago. Frolik, Bolland and Stallberg are gone. I rate the Hawks and still think they are the team to beat this season but they are weaker right now than they were three months ago and until they replace those guys that's a fact. Put aside the things that we cannot predict, the injuries, the pure luck involved in the sport, the fact that guys may go supernova (Hall) or take the next step to stardom ( I honestly thing if Nugent Hopkins is healthy that we see him explode like Hall did last year. And Yakupov is next) or for that matter, regress. Put aside coaching. I liked Ralph Kreuger but it looks like, in retrospect, that he was out of his depth and Eakins looks like he may be a guy who can have a big positive impact. We don't know that for a fact though. Put all of that aside and look at the club's roster. Nick Schultz was the number three Dman last year. Now he is what, fifth? Sixth? Potter was the number five, ahead of Whitney, Fistric, Peckham. Now he is seventh? Eight? Ninth? Two years ago Smyth and Jones were firmly planted in the top nine forwards, Smyth was probably the fourth winger, Jones the fifth. Now they have settled down the depth chart. Maybe one rebounds and moves up into the top nine but the position is not theirs by default. Depth. The usual worries abound, health being the big one, but the holes are fewer and the 'ifs' are as well. The Oilers might need luck to make the playoffs but they won't need EVERYTHING to go right. The amount of luck they need is shrinking and that's a good thing. They're getting there. Finally.


rpk99 said...

I think we are all going to be surprised this year just how good the younger is. Top 4 is set, time to trade elder for useful things with what we have fighting for bottom three. And hall at center, been waiting for it for three years!

@eastcoasteh said...

Don't know man, I read this and other optimism and part of me is thinking we haven't addressed the needs yet. I can't argue with the talent level, but as we saw last year, when on the road the other teams can matchup better against us and suddenly Gagner and RNH look like boys among men in the physicality department. When the big teams bring up the physical level and shutdown the speed game, the Oilers have had no answer the past few years. I don't see how this was addressed other than hoping our guys are older/stronger and can play through it.
And our D, other than adding Ference (actually a 3rd pairing D on top teams) didn't get much better either. A bunch of 6s and 7s that we hope work out.

That being said, I hope I'm wrong. I also hope #94 gets a chance in front of the net on the PP.

Black Dog said...

rpk - if Schultz younger can take that step then they will be in great shape

Word is Ted looks great, Hall at C may be shortlived.

eastcoasteh - oh they are going to struggle against the LAs and Blues of the world for sure and the D isn't where I would love it to be but there's more talent all through the lineup. They're a better club.

Belov is the guy who intrigues me. If he is as advertised then he's more than a 6. KHL is a good league.