Saturday, September 15

Driving The Bus

The Edmonton Oilers need a lot of things to go right this season in order to make the playoffs. You never feel good about the prospects for the season when you find your analysis of the team contains a lot of sentances starting with "If..."

Other than goaltending and a PP that looks very dangerous on paper, the Oilers have a lot "If" situations. Most specifically, scoring goals, contributions from rookies, and a revamped blueline. But there are a few guys in particular who hold the key to the success or lack thereof in 2007-08:

1) Jarret Stoll

The season basically started to tank last year when he got hurt. He was playing the best hockey of his career, and was dominating games every night. Everyone wants to see him take a hit to test the head, and I'm sure he wants to get it out of the way as well. If he comes through the first month unscathed, expect Lowe to lock him up to a 5 or 6 year deal fairly quickly.

2) Ales Hemsky

He's not going to shoot...just get over it. While the guy is a joy to watch, the production has to start catching up to the oohs and aahs. The Oil still don't have a natural finisher to compliment him, so he will be counted on to make chicken salad out of Dustin Penner and Shawn Horcoff...until Derek Boogard decapitates him in Game #4.

3) Robert Nilsson

Yeah, I said it, Ro-bear Neal-son. The hole on right wing was pretty big before Pisani went down, but you could drive a truck full of Greener's noses through it now. Nilsson has been pencilled in on the 2nd line and it's his job to lose. We know he has tons of skill, (possibly 2nd only to Hemsky) and he's put up big numbers at the AHL level, but he's yet to stick at the NHL level. Some have argued that getting out of Long Island - where I think Wade Dubielewicz has just been named Director of Scouting - will be the cure. If that's true, a productive campaign from 'Mini-Magic' will go a long way towards solving some of the Oil's scoring woes.

4) Joni Pitkanen

Seems an obvious enough choice, but the Oilers now have a glutton of puck moving defenceman (geez, did you ever think you'd hear that) and Pitkanen might be counted on in an even more important role - the shutdown guy. Aside from good puck movers, last years' defence also lacked a pairing to play against the opposition's top line. It's not going to be Souray, Tarnstrom, Grebeshkov or Gilbert. Smid and Greene are not there yet, which has all signs pointing to Pitkanen and Staios. Although he's only in his 3rd year, Pitkanen has the size, skating and all-around game to be that guy. But will he?

5) Raffi Torres

I listened to an interview with Raffi last night in which he talked about his off-season dedication to training. Just as important were his comments about his non-dedication in the past and growing up. He's got a girlfriend that lives with him now and says he didn't drink all summer. Hopefully 'drink' was a broad term that also covered all the other substances he's been, ahem, rumored to enjoy. As frustrating as he is to watch sometimes, I understand why it's so hard to trade or give up on him. He's a destroyer, and he can score. When he's involved physically he can change a game, even a series as he showed in the playoffs. I don't think Raffi is an 'if' this year. He'll score 25-30.

Next up: The Rookies

Just Ducky

At the start of each season we invariably have to hear about the Stanley Cup hangover. A theory invented by lazy journalists (fucking Howard Berger) that's supposed to explain why the teams that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals the year before have a tough time recapturing that form. Well, having lived through 'the season after,' I can assure you it has nothing to do with motivation, or "thinking it will be easy" or even the lame "now teams are gunning for us" excuse. It has to do with injury and fatigue.

The Oilers and Hurricanes played until the middle of June in '06. They played three weeks to two months longer than 28 other teams, in some of the most physical, punishing games of their lives. During the '07 season, many of the Oilers and Hurricanes spoke about the fact that injuries sustained in the playoffs were carried into last season because their bodies never had time to heal.

Which leads me to the Selanne/Niedermayer situation. Will they or won't they? Living in Los Angeles, I've grown tired of the local sports pages talking about this quasi-soap opera, which is greatly detracting from coverage of O.J's home-grown Vegas sting operation. Genius.

As a fan of a team playing in the Western Conference, I hope these guys hang it up. But my gut tells me they'll both be back by mid-season. They're bruised, beat-up and just want a break. I think that was the plan since the day they won the Cup. Would they have signed Schneider to a big contract before knowing if these guys were gonna retire? They knew they would have cap trouble. Plus, when you have the resumes that those two have you get to do shit like this. Think big, cuddly Burkie Bear would have held a roster spot open if Joe DiPenta came knocking on his door? Hell no...he would have traded him to Edmonton for Ales Hemsky and two #1 picks.

Director of Handjobs?

Oilers camp is open! Ohmygodohmygodohmygod! This is my final day visiting family in Canada (a true Eklund opener if I've ever seen one) and as such my final chance to open up those hallowed pages of the Edmonton Journal and get some good, down home reporting. Couple interesting notes, followed by a rebuttal to Greener's clever repartee. I guess I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. Push that Volvo Greener! I'm not doin it right, huh?

Soooo, first of all, it seems that about half the returning Oilers took part in off season "Team" training. This is a new phenomenon (doo-dooooo-do-do-do) where, rather than each player following their own offseason training schedule, about 15 of the Oil did the same prep. Chad Moreau, brother to gummy Oiler Ethan Moreau (voted most handsome guy at some bar one time), is a professional trainer who mixes hard off ice training with some hockey specific stuff. Apparently he even had them doing Ultimate Fighting training. I'm happy that the guys are doing this sort of team building exercise re: kicking the snot out of each other. What is exciting about this though, is that they have already gone through a battle together, before the team has played one game, and that Ethan is traditionally one of the most fit guys on the team due to his brothers regime, so if 15 of the Oil are in that kind of shape, third period wobblies may be a thing of the past. One final note here, apparently mohawked ne'er-do-well (Award to me for being the first to use that in a post) Raffi Torres just came out and admitted he's always been bad for the off season training and that this is the first year he actually got in shape away from the regular season. Phew!

Also, early rumors have it that Schremp is showing signs of making an impact at camp. Is it possible? Have the dreadfully thin on the front end Oilers finally decided to give a chance to one of their most gifted and offensively talented prospects? Has MacT waived his iron clad "Only Defensive Forwards" clause? No wait. Oh! They're bringing up Detlef Schrempf, Semi-All-Star retired Seattle Supersonic, ahead of Robbie. I love this team.

And yes. Tis true. I, Washingtron, have just been appointed Director of Handjobs for EASports. Thank you Greener for this slightly embarassing revelation. Obviously its a great career move for me, and I hope to appoint you my Under Secretary of Heavy Pettery. I know you're qualified after reading YOUR completely unbiased post on the new Leafs jerseys. Yup. You know what down the middle fence riding journalistic integrity is all about! And now that you've dissed my opinions on EA's latest opus, I'm sorry to say you're no longer invited to play NHL 08 at my house. You know how you're always wanting to come over to play video games? I guess you don't like them very much after all. Besides, I only have two controllers and Moose has constant dibs on the other one.

See ya at the airport!