The Puzzle of Hockey in Edmonton

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The Puzzle of Hockey in Edmonton

Out of the 82 games the Edmonton Oilers will play this year, there are only 38 left, and they are sitting 5 points out of the playoffs. Most of the 44 games have been intense battles that came down to the final minutes of the hockey game. Some have been clinched well before the buzzer sounded, and 13 of them have needed the shootout to proclaim a winner. With an 11-2* record in the shootout, the Oilers not only have the most shootout wins, they have the most games that have gone to a shootout. You could say their season has been defined by the nail-biting concluder.

It seems all that needs to be done by the Oilers is survive long enough to make it to the shootout. But, regulation wins need to start happening . How can a team make a decent playoff run when for every two points they gain, they give one up to a divisional rival? The Western Conference is a hard place to gain points and by the end of the season, a single point can mean playing hockey in April or playing golf in Phoenix. So, every night is a test. Yes, a win in a shootout is better than a loss in regulation, but a win in regulation can cause a reaction that could possibly launch a successful playoff campaign.

For the first month and a half of the season, the top producers on the team were a couple of young guns, Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, who earned their spots on the roster. The same could not be said for the veterans like Jarret Stoll, Ales Hemsky, Raffi Torres, and Shawn Horcoff. A surprise came with young Kyle Brodziak who got a little shot last year due to the pandemic of injuries that plagued the Oilers during the 20 game drought. This year, he's surpassed expectations, but due to the play of Gagner and Cogliano, he's been lost in the fray and forgotten, somewhat, by the local media.
Surprise successes are always nice and welcomed, and can really do wonders for a team, but at some point, the Oilers needed their veterans to step up and, slowly, that's exactly what they've been doing.

Horcoff has hit his stride as of late and is on his way to a having the best season of his career. The return of Fernando Pisani sparked a lethargic Oilers team. Sheldon Souray, finally off of his shoulder injury, has boosted a defence that, while not completely heinous, had been struggling. The captain, Ethan Moreau has finally played his first game since seven games into last season, and has four points in his first six games. He has definitely fit nicely into the "C" he now wears on his chest.

Goaltending is no longer a question in Edmonton either. The play of Mathieu Garon has been solid and has left Dwayne Roloson questioning his place as a number one goaltender. Garon is 12-9-1-3 compared to Roloson’s 7-12-3-0. It’s all helping finish the incomplete puzzle that is hockey in Edmonton.

Kevin Lowe, the controversial General Manager of the team, has been rather quiet since extending offers to Thomas Vanek (unsuccessfully) and Dustin Penner (successfully) this past summer. Fans here are wondering what he will do next to help bring the Stanley Cup back to E-Town. While the team has steadily been improving their game, there is no doubt that Lowe should be looking to stack up the defence of the team, or add a consistent scorer to the front. To find a solution to these problems, however, is easier said than done. Lowe is close to what he can spend on player salaries this year because of the inflated salaries of Penner and 38-year old Roloson. So, if he wants to bring in some bigger names before the trade deadline, he’s going to have to dump some salary in return. A guy like Duncan Keith on the Chicago Blackhawks is a good example of a steady defenceman and because he's young, he'd be perfect to help build a new team. The question is, will Chicago be willing to give up a young guy when they are still technically able to get into the playoffs. Time will tell for all situations. Two months of play before the trade deadline, there is still a lot that can happen in a closely matched NHL.

Speaking of young players, Lowe doesn't want to risk giving up another Joffrey Lupul, but most teams are looking for young guys to build the future, and teams who have no playoffs hopes can use them as powerful trading chips. There is the possibility that we may be one of those teams. Lowe made some unpopular decisions trading Marc-Andre Bergeron and heart and soul player, Ryan Smyth at the end of last season in order to build a team for this season. It sent the message he believed the team’s playoff hopes were non-existent. It didn't matter that they were still technically, mathematically, and willing to be in the playoff race. If Lowe decides to do something similar this year, fans, and maybe even the ownership, will be looking at receiving much more in return than they did last year.

Finally, these days, a conversation about the Oilers cannot happen without the mention of local tycoon, Daryl Katz and his most recent attempt to buy the team. The Edmonton's Investor's Group is having an internal debate about whether a sale of team to Katz would be in its best interests. Whether you believe it’s about money or whether you believe it’s about keeping the team in Edmonton, I wouldn't be surprised if the deal goes either way. I don't imagine however, that it will come before the January deadline Katz has given the EIG.

The Oilers are in for a rocky rest of the season, and possibly a similar one next year. The only way out is to complete the puzzle. The pieces are there, the Oilers just need to know how to arrange them.

* All stats were found or calculated using www.nhl.com, www.oilers.nhl.com, and www.tsn.ca

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