The Edmonton Oilers season officially ended last Thursday when they defeated the Vancouver Canucks.They were the first team to complete their 82 games this year. There will be no playoffs, but there is plenty of outlook.
At the beginning of the season I figured the Oilers would again struggle although not be as bad as last year. For the first 62 games this was the case. The team floundered in 14th place in the Western Conference. The team was disjointed and showed their lack of experience. It looked like Brian Burke and the Anaheim Ducks would be collecting a top five pick at this years draft.
All of a sudden the Oilers became a team. After an on ice team meeting led by Steve Staios, the team finally looked like a team and started playing like one. The rookies started playing like veterans, the veterans started playing like they belonged. The forwards started scoring, the defence started moving the puck and the goalies started winning some game for the team. This team of young warriors spotted with a few cagey veterans defied the odds and almost made the post season. Unfortunately they started playing like a team about 10 days too late as their chances at a playoff spot ended at game 81. It was a good try and there is lots to look forward too next season.
So while the season is fresh in out minds let's take a look at the players who gave us all the edge of the seat excitement the last 20 games. I will start by taking a look at the goalies and defencemen.
- Mathieu Garon - Was more than the Oilers hoped for. He was signed as an unrestricted free agent last summer as a back-up for Dwayne Roloson. It was expected that he would play 25-30 games which would be enough to give Roli a rest for the stretch run. Instead, he started outplaying Roloson and found himself as the Oiler's starting goalie. His athletic ability is second to none in the position and with the extra experience he should come back from a late season injury to claim the number one spot next season.
- Value for the Money - at $1,200,000 for the season he was more than the team hoped for. A+
- Value to the Team - he won several games by himself this season as the Oilers floundered. In the shootout he was spectacular as he only gave up two goals in 32 attempts against him. A+
- Dwayne Roloson - Started the season as the team's number one goalie. Unfortunately he didn't play like it until late in the season when he was called upon to replace an injured Garon. He posted the worst goals against average of his career and his second worst save percentage since he joined the NHL in 1996.
- Value for the Money - at $3,500,000 he was less than stellar. His play was not what you would expect from a well paid goalie in the league or the teams fifth highest paid player. D
- Value to the Team - if we had been talking about his value before the last 20 games he would have received an F however he did step up his play during the last 3 weeks after Garon was injured. He still let in some easy goals during the time and you could easily see that age was catching up to his reflexes but he did have two or three magnificent games during the season ending run. C-
- Matt Greene - a solid, tough defender who missed missed 37 games this season due to a broken ankle. It took him a bit to get his legs after his return from the injury but during the last couple of weeks he was rock solid.
- Value for the Money - at $1,050,000 he is solid value. B+
- Value to the Team - as a solid, stay at home defenceman he is worth every penny. He will stick up for his team mates, uses his physical style to take the other team's forward out of the play. At 24 years old he will be a stalwart of the team's defence for a long time. A
- Ladislav Smid - finished last season with the Oilers but with Pitkanen and Souray joining the fray this season, he was unable to crack the line-up after training camp and he started the season with the farm team in Springfield. With injuries he rejoined the team and ended up playing 64 games. At 22 years old there is plenty of upside.
- Value for the Money - at $720,759 he is one of the lower paid players on the team. With 8 points he is not a big offensive threat and at -15 he had some struggles defensively. He did improve by the end of the season. B-
- Value to the Team - played some effective minutes down the stretch with Souray out and Pitkanen being in and out of the line-up. He started slow but ended as a stable defender. C
- Steve Staios - the de-facto captain of the team with Ethan Moreau injured much of the season, he was called upon to be a steadying force on a sometimes defensively challenged defence. He is the steady type of player that you need on a nightly basis. At times this season he was forced to play more minutes that he can effectively play. At 34 his leadership will continue to help a young team.
- Joni Pitkanen - an offensive defenceman, he joined the team as part of the deal that sent Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul to the Flyers. He spent the season on and off the injury list and played only 62 games. He showed flashes of brilliance but also had sessions of brain freeze. At 24 years old there is plenty of upside.
- Denis Grebeshkov - he started the season slowly and his rookie mistakes led to names like Garbagekov. He was with the team for the whole season although he sat in the press-box for 12 games early in the season. During the second half of the season he was one of the more reliable Oiler defenders and partnered with Tom Gilbert became the Oilers shut down pairing. He finished as one of only six players on the plus side of the +/- ledger at +1.
- Sheldon Souray - was signed as an unrestricted free agent last summer and was picked by many as that saviour of a terrible Oiler power play. Unfortunately for the Oilers he only played in 26 games due to a shoulder injury so they had to turn it around by themselves. Even when he did play he was not the dominant defenceman we had all hoped.
- Tom Gilbert - he finished last season with the Oilers playing 12 games and when this season began we had no idea how much those 12 games would mean to the 25 year old rookie. Gilbert became one half of the Oilers shut down pair and in the process set 2 team rookie defenceman records. His 13 goals and 33 points surpassed the records originally established by Paul Coffey. His -7 rating was not bad considering the amount the Oilers played him this season.
The overall team defence of the Oilers team was suspect. While they showed marked improvement over last season, the number of rookies on the team made it tough to defend. Too many young guys trying to learn to play defence. The Oilers surrendered 251 goals which was 27th in the league. This stat is something the team will have to work on together next year if they are to make the playoffs.
This is the first part of a three part summary of the Oiler's season. The second will take a look at the forwards and the the third instalment will take a look at the coaches/management/administration.