Saturday, April 18, 2009

Craig, YOU'RE FIRED!



Well, so much for Steve Tambellini and Craig MacTavish working together to turn over the roster...

After watching the press conference, I think it's pretty clear that the new boss  is less than impressed with more than a few of the players on the roster. I found it particularly interesting when he said, "This does not absolve the players for their performance or lack thereof..."

Maybe it was the emotion in Steve Tambellini's voice, but something tells me all of this should make for a very  interesting summer.

Heads are gonna roll...

And in case you're worried about Craig MacTavish, don't. He has faced in his lifetime much more serious and difficult situations than this, including this pummeling...

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Like he said at the time, "It's a little embarrassing, but what can I say? It's part of the game...It's a tough situation for me, but I guess you just have to man up and take it."

Amen to that.

Thank you Craig MacTavish.

And good luck.

You might just win another Stanley Cup before these Oilers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

MacTavish: "There Were A Lot Of Nights Where As A Coach I Had To Ask For More And The Tank Was Pretty Empty"


MacT looks and sounds like a man who loves his job and wants to succeed. I'm not so sure he's going anywhere, or that there is another coach out there who is a better solution for this franchise. If ownership and the management team shares my opinion,  then the next few days and weeks and months should be very interesting, as MacTavish basically called out the players and questioned the player procurement strategy. 

If MacT does not resign or is not fired in the next week, I'd say there is a really good chance of him working together with Tambellini to turn over this roster yet again. My bet is Penner stays. Nilsson goes, maybe too Cogliano, Souray, Staios, and/or Visnovsky. Both Pouliot and Brodziak are on the bubble and on notice. JFJ is here to stay, at least for a little while. Schremp is done. Gagner is a future captain of this team. Brule, Stone, Nash, Eberle, Plante, and Potulny all will get a long look at training camp. Roloson and Kotalik are both far from being sure bets to re-sign. Marion Gaborik, Marion Hossa, Jay Bouwmeester, Martin Biron, and Mathieu Garon are all key free agents who will be on the Oilers' and every other team's radar.

The Oilers will be involved in at least One Big Trade and One Big Free Agent Signing this summer. 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

5 Out Of 7

Fans of the Edmonton Oilers take great pride in the 5 Stanley Cups won by the club over a 7 season span in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1990. Coach and General Manager Glen Sather put together piece by piece a team of superstars and gritty competitors the likes of which has never before or since been seen in the NHL. Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Charlie Huddy, Andy Moog, Bill Ranford, Kent Nilsson, Esa Tikkanen, Ken Linseman, Petr Klima, Craig MacTavish, Craig Simpson, Marty McSorley. You get the picture. 

On August 9, 1988 Wayne Gretzky, Marty McSorley, and Mike Krushelnyski were traded to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first round draft picks, and cash. The Oilers would win another Stanley Cup in 1990, but the Gretzky trade marked the beginning of an exodus of talent from the so-called "City of Champions" that would eventually include all of the aforementioned names plus many new ones. Arnott, Corson, Weight, Guerin, Marchant, Niiniima, Hamrlik, Grier, Joseph, Comrie, Salo, Pronger, Smyth, Smith, Stoll. Again, you get the picture - a veritable trail of tears.

From the challenging economics of a small market team to the changing value of the Canadian dollar to various marital infidelities, many reasons have been given for this constant parade of players leaving the Oilers to contribute to championships elsewhere. With the exception of the improbable and ultimately heartbreaking and disappointing run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, the Edmonton Oilers have not been even close to contending for a championship in nearly 20 years. Through it all, the loyal and faithful fans of Oiler Nation have been content to live and die with a team that sometimes seems more focused on reliving the glory years and retiring jerseys to the rafters than it is focused on winning championships in the present.

That is, until now. Oiler fans are pissed. They are tired of the constant rebuilding. Tired of hearing about players that don't want to come to Edmonton. Tired of an indifferent stretch run. Tired of seeming to care more than the players, who lose puck battles and faceoffs and games. Oiler fans are tired of a bad power play and worse penalty killing. Tired of mixing up the lines. Tired of losing at home. Tired of losing in Minnesota. Tired of second periods, and tired of struggling to clear the zone. Tired of not scoring. Tired of not winning. What other so-called "Puck Possession Team" is routinely hemmed into its own zone and outshot by a margin of 2-1 night in and night out? Not Detroit. Not San Jose. 

Oiler fans are tired of being asked for patience with a young team. They see younger and more talented teams in Chicago, Columbus, and St. Louis getting better results. They see younger and more talented teams on the rise in Los Angeles and Phoenix, poised to surpass the Oilers within a season or two. They see a solid team in Nashville and a re-loaded contender in Anaheim. They see the enigmatic Canucks somehow doing nothing except win. They see Minnesota and Dallas in their worst nightmares, when they close their eyes and try to sleep at night. San Jose and Detroit inhabit some sort of Valhalla fantasy realm, and can likewise be seen only in their wildest dreams. Oiler fans see hometown discounts in Calgary, where a grizzled team of tough veterans is poised to make another run deep into the post season, where they just might...

Most of all, Edmonton Oiler fans see a team that has missed the playoffs in 5 out of the past 7 seasons, and 3 years in a row. 

Many are blaming the coach. Many are blaming the players. Many are blaming the management team that hired the coach and the players.

I am not. I am blaming myself.

I expected too much from a young team in the middle of a rebuilding cycle. 

After falling short in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in the 2005-2006 season, and subsequently losing Chris Pronger in the summer of 2006, the Oilers went into a major rebuilding mode that kicked off with the Ryan Smyth trade in March 2007. Immediately following that trade, the Oilers went 2-17-1 to finish the season. The team was not much better at the beginning of the 2007-2008 season, and when injuries started to mount it looked as if the Oilers were a lock to have a lottery pick in the draft. But then last season's squad of kids and injury replacements caught fire down the stretch to finish 14-5-1 with 88 points on the season, failing to qualify for the playoffs by a mere 3 points while staying in the playoff hunt right to the bitter end. They outplayed everyone's expectations - including their own, and we the fans began again to hope. The off-season acquisitions of Lubomir Visnovsky and Erik Cole sparked genuine excitement among the fanbase for a return to the playoffs, and possibly a return past glory. 

We fell in love again, but alas they broke our hearts.  

Here are the numbers:

2006
41-28-13 256 251 95
Last 20 = 9-7-4

2007
32-43-7 195 248 71
Last 20 = 2-17-1

2008
41-35-6  235 251 88
Last 20 = 14-5-1

2009
37-34-9 228 243 83
Last 18 = 6-9-3 (2 Games Remaining)

Only 6 players remain on the roster from the 2006 squad: Hemsky, Horcoff, Roloson, Moreau, Pisani, and Staios. In fact, there are about a dozen new faces between this year and last year: Visnovsky, Cole/O'Sullivan/Kotalik, Pouliot, Jacques, Strudwick, MacIntyre, Deslauriers, Reddox, Peckham, and Chorney. If we treat last season's surge as an anomaly - as nothing more than an ahead-of-schedule flash of the potential of Hemsky, Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Smid, and others moving forward, then perhaps this season's disappointing result can be better put into perspective. 

Make no mistake, the Edmonton Oilers squandered an opportunity to make the playoffs this year by being terrible on home ice, relying too much on great goaltending, and failing to beat teams below them in the standings. 

That said, I believe the rebuilding plan is right on schedule, and there is a lot to look forward to in the future from this team. 

Here's why:

1. There is a nice mix of youth, size, skill, and grit at forward. Hemsky (6-0, 195, 25), Gagner (5-11, 191, 19), Nilsson (5-11, 185, 24), Cogliano (5-10, 184, 21), and O'Sullivan (5-11, 190, 24) are all smallish, but very skilled. Penner's (6-4, 245, 26) potential remains as enormous as his frame, and Jacques (6-4, 217, 23), Stortini (6-4, 220, 23), Brodziak (6-2, 209, 24), and Pouliot (6-2, 200, 23) are all big bodies who bring to the rink solid two-way games.

2. There is a nice mix of youth, size, skill, and grit on defense. Gilbert (6-3, 206, 26), Grebeshkov (6-0, 209, 25), and Chorney (5-11, 182, 21) are all smart, smooth, puck movers. Smid (6-3, 226, 23) can do it all. He has one shift per game where he looks like Bobby Orr with the puck, and his mean streak is getting wider by the minute. Peckham (6-2, 223, 21) is a solid stay-at-home type who isn't afraid to drop the gloves.

3. The veterans are all solid players, strong leaders, and good teammates. If their play drops off and/or their leadership becomes expendable, each of these players becomes instantly a solid asset in trade negotiations with other teams.   Horcoff's (6-1, 208, 30) contract will provide short term pain next year for long term gain down the road, as the future captain has a lot of good years left. The current captain, Moreau (6-2, 220, 33) is in decline, but still brings a lot of grit and sandpaper, although his value to the team is questionable. Kotalik (6-1, 227, 30) is a big body with a wicked shot. He is absolutely deadly in the shoot-out, and I hope he re-signs with the team in the off-season so we can all see what he is capable of producing in a full season of playing with Hemsky. Pisani (6-1, 205, 32) is probably as overpaid as he is universally loved and respected by fans and teammates alike, and he still has a few good years left in him. Souray (6-4, 233, 32) has a big contract and he has lived up to it 100%. Staios (6-1, 200, 35) is getting older, but remains an absolute warrior, although for how long remains to be seen. Strudwick (6-4, 225, 33) is an inexpensive and flexible option to eat up some minutes - a spare and replaceable part, nothing more. Visnovsky's (5-10, 188, 32) best years are behind him, and he is expensive and injured, but when he plays, he is a real difference maker. Roloson (6-1, 180, 39) will have to sign for less money should he return to the team next season, and there is no guarantee if or for how long he can continue to play at such an elite level, but he was clearly the teams MVP this year, although he faltered during the stretch run.


5. Next year's team has the potential to boast as many as 6 or 7 or more players scoring 20 or more goals. If this year's totals are anything to go by, then Hemsky (23G 42A +1 65Pts), Souray (22G 28A -2 50Pts), Horcoff (16G 34A +5 50Pts), Kotalik (19G 23A -5 42 Pts), O'Sullivan (15G 27A -7 42 Pts), Gagner (16G 25A -2 41 Pts), Cogliano (18G 19A -3 37 Pts), and Penner (17G 20A +6 37 Pts) all stand a good chance of reaching the 20 goal mark with only minimal to moderate improvement.  Nilsson (9G 20A 0 29 Pts), Visnovsky (8G 23A +6 31 Pts), Pisani (7G 7A +1 14 Pts), Pouliot (8G 12A +1 20Pts), Brodziak (11G 14A +2 25 Pts), and Moreau (14G 12A +1 26 Pts) would all have to pick up the pace considerably to score 20 goals, but some of these players have done it in the past, and all of them are capable of doing it in the future. Likewise, Schremp (7G 35A 42 Pts), Potulny (35G 23A 58 Pts), Brule (13G 11A 23 Pts), and Stone (16G 35A 51 Pts) have all shown enough on the farm to be considered potential 20 Goal Players in the bigs. My point is that 5 or more 20-Goal-Scorers on a roster usually equates to a deep playoff run if not a Stanley Cup Championship. 

6. Jordan Eberle (5-11, 170, 18). The kid is a sniper. He is still a couple of years away, as he needs to get bigger and work on his skating, but his hands are second to none as anyone watching the WJC can attest. This is a prospect with 50-goal potential.

7. Riley Nash (6-1, 173, 19) is a solid two-way centre whose college numbers compare more favorably to Shawn Horcoff's than to Joe Nieuwendyk's. He is still a couple of years away, but when he arrives should fit right in on the second or third line.

8. A pick somewhere between 7th and 14th in what promises to be a deep draft could yield a player along the lines of Brayden Schenn (C 6-0, 192, 18), Evander Kane (C 5-11, 160, 18), Jared Cowen (D 6-5, 215, 18), Nazem Kadri (C 6-0, 175, 18), Jordan Schroeder (C/RW 5-8, 175, 18), Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi (LW 6-1, 195, 18), Landon Ferraro (C 6-0, 170, 18), Ryan Ellis (D 5-9, 183, 18), Simon Despres (D 6-4, 214, 18), or Dimitri Kulikov (D 6-0, 190, 18).

9. Jay Bouwmeester (6-4, 212, 25) is coming home.

10. Back-to-back wins over the Flames to close out the season would put the Oilers 1 point behind last season's somewhat inflated benchmark of 88 points. It would also all but guarantee the gay Flames a date on the road in Chicago for the first round of the playoffs, and what is hopefully a very short post-season for Sutter, Iggy, Kipper, Keenan, and company. 


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