Another excruciatingly long summer is (almost) over. Actual hockey games are on the horizon. Because this is the 265th most widely read hockey blog on the internets, MYFO felt a deep obligation to our dozens of readers to prepare this series of previews telling you about every single team in the NHL. By “prepare” we mean, we found other people to write many of them for us. We were looking for people who (unlike us) might have an actual clue about these teams, but were also eager/willing enough to work for free. Within those constraints, we think we did an admirable job.
Now, with your preview of the Edmonton Oilers, Moose from He Score, He Shoot!
2008-09 EDMONTON OILERS: NOW WITH 40% MORE HYPE!
Last Season: 41-35-6 88 points (9th in the Western Conference)
Owing to a late season surge that saw them go 14-5-1 in their last 20 games and a cast of young talent performing beyond all expectations, the 2007-08 Edmonton Oilers conjured up stirring memories of glory days past. I’m talkin’ Charles Pelissier in 1930 Tour de France, Greg Touney in 1999 National Spelling Bee, you know, the greatest mutha fuckin’ 9th place finishers ever! Normally that kind of hype is the domain of my Maple Leafs-praising brethren over at He Score, He Shoot, but I honestly can’t remember so much excitement surrounding a non-playoff team. To be fair, some of the hype is justified, as a lot of arrows seem pointed in the right direction for this team. Let’s take a look:
Daryl Katz: Since the end of the dynasty years (1984-90), Oiler fans have lived under the rule of a kind of hockey fascism. Management would constantly preach that no individual was bigger than the team, as economic factors necessitated a steady export of the games best players out of Edmonton. Despite a spirit of collectivism and devotion, it still couldn’t make up for the dearth of talent. No Oiler has ever been a bigger company man than Il Duce himself, Kevin Lowe. While he always towed the party line, he must have lamented the plight of a proud franchise he helped build. But no more.
Enter an Edmonton-born, Oiler-loving, pharmaceutical giant, named Daryl Katz. Think Mark Cuban with a fist full of Demerol. His purchase of the Oilers, and vision for their future, has Lowe and fans alike creaming their jeans. (Because really, when was the last time you had a mental image of your GM creaming his jeans? You’re welcome).
While his economic clout may not be felt for a few years (signing big-name free agents, building a new arena, etc.), Katz’s energy has given the organization, and the city, a sense that they are now the big kids on the block, instead of being, say, Calgary. It’s an image make-over that almost resulted in them landing Marian Hossa this summer. Free agents that have long ignored Edmonton might now change their tune, which can only be good news when it comes time to show Kent Huskins and Mathieu Darche the big coin next summer.
Scoring: At this time last year the Oilers were so desperate for scoring they were tossing out offer sheets and scouring the Quebec Penal League for top-six forwards. A year later the question is now: Which of their seven top-six forwards is gonna have to play with Marc Pouliot? Only three teams in the West scored more goals than the Oilers (235) last year, and two of those (Detroit and Dallas) went to the Conference Finals. With the additions of Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky, there’s the prospect of a much improved PP and transition game, and with Horcoff, Hemsky, Cole, Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson and Penner all capable of scoring 20+ goals, there’s no reason why the Oilers can’t have an even more potent attack this year. Except for the fact that I just said that. Cue disaster.
The Shootout: The Oilers went an astonishing 15-4 in shootouts last season, an NHL record which may just last a while. A big reason for that was Mathieu Garon, who went 10-for-10, stopping 30 of 32 shots. If you combine that with Ales Hemsky’s hands and Sam Gagner’s filthy shootout moves, the Oilers are well positioned to pick-up those crucial bonus points on most nights.
MEH, NOT THAT SEXY
Team Toughness: I was talking to my friend (a Buffalo Sabres fan) at work the other day, and he says, “When I look at your roster, there’s nobody that puts the fear of Kimbo Slice into me.” So I said, “Yeah? Fuck You.” Then I waited until he left and Googled “Kimbo Slice”. Turns out he might be right. The only thing the Oilers did this off-season to address their lack of toughness was sign heavyweight Louie DeBrusk…to be their TV Color Commentator. Raffi Torres is gone, while Ethan Moreau and Sheldon Souray are under mommies’ orders not to fight after injuring themselves in brawls. That leaves the burden on Zach Stortini (a.k.a “Huggy Bear”) and newly signed utility player Jason Strudwick. While Stortini is willing, he’s more of a light heavyweight, and the fact that Oilers tried to re-sign Georges Laraque is a sign that they recognize the deficiency.
Faceoffs: When asked about the importance of faceoffs, Wayne Gretzky once famously said “Faceoffs are just a way to start the game.” Wayne Gretzky is an idiot. I suppose when you have six or seven Hall of Famers on your team and you’re handing out 8-2 nut thumpings every night, that may be true. But clearly in today’s game that just isn’t the case, especially for a team trying to mould themselves into a skilled puck-possession squad like the Oilers. With the trade of Jarret Stoll, one of the leagues best face-off men, and Marty Reasoner walking via free agency, that leaves Shawn Horcoff as the only proven, reliable guy on the dot. One of Brodziak (51%), Pouliot (47%), Gagner (41%) or Cogliano (39%) must pick up the slack.
The Defense: The flip-side to the Oilers dynamic offense was their, uh, shitty(?), defense. They ranked 26th overall in goals against, and only the Kings were worse in the West. Admittedly, they were a young group that is now a year older/more experienced, and they played the majority of the second half without veterans Souray and Steve Staios. The development of puck movers Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov, plus the addition of Visnovsky’s transition game, should mean less time spent in their own zone. However, the unit still lacks a true shutdown guy to play against other team’s top unit. When I say, “Cory” you say, “Cross”. CORY!…Too soon?
Heading into camp, here are some of the questions on the frontal lobe of every Oilers fan:
A couple years ago, I played on a team with an outrageously skilled guy who would spend the first half of warm-ups doing all sorts of crazy lacrosse-style stick handling moves, then the other half clearing girls’ panties off the ice. Problem is, when it came time to actually play in real game situations, the dude froze like Walt Disney. My point is, that circus shit isn’t hockey. Yet a large faction of Oiler fans goes absolutely mental when this guy gets cut every year. The guy is barely an impact player at the AHL level, yet somehow people feel he’s going to set the NHL alight if only that curmudgeon, Craig MacTavish, wouldn’t suppress his All-YouTube skillz. Granted, Schremp has worked hard this off-season to get stronger, faster and become a better player, but he’s not gonna make a significant impact on this team, this year. Let’s just give it a rest. Every time a reporter asks MacTavish or Lowe about Schremp, that’s 30 seconds of their lives they can’t get back. These men are husbands and fathers. Do it for them. Do it for the children.
Moose, can you get all serious and give us a “Player To Watch” for this season?: Sure, Dustin Penner. Despite leading the team with 23 goals, Penner was somewhat of a disappointment for many. He struggled early on with his fitness (due to playing more minutes than he did in Anaheim), and playing tougher competition than he had previously. The addition of Erik Cole, and MacT’s stated desire to keep the “Kid Line” (Cogliano-Gagner-Nilsson) together to start the season, will likely push him down the depth chart and back to playing against softer competition. If he still gets his PP time, 30 goals is attainable.
What is Robert Nilsson wearing?
As you can see, the Ro-Bear (right) has been spending a lot of time browsing The Hives MySpace page for fashion tips. That’s the classic t-shirt, silk tie, and sweater look, and it really does say, “I’m pulling so much ass that I can STILL wear this.” To borrow a sports term, that outfit is a “game” breaker. I don’t advise you to try this at home, but if you must, check to make sure you’re a young, millionaire athlete before you leave the house.
PROJECTIONS: There’s no doubt the ’08-09 Oilers are better on paper, and with the rest of the teams in the division taking a step backwards, the Northwest title is well within reach. But realistically, this is still a young team that will go through growing pains. I mean did you see what Robert Nilsson was wearing? I expect they’ll finish with something between 92 and 96 points, and 7th in West. Until next time, kids!