Oilers Proving That Hard Work Really Does Pay Off
Forty-six games into the season, 21-21-4. The team has had its ups and downs in the past, but looking at the NHL as a whole, who hasn't?
The Edmonton Oilers were on their way to be the first eigth-seeded team to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Horcoff was centering a top line that consisted of Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth. The three led the team in scoring, and things were looking bright on the horizon, even after losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in Seven games.
The trade deadline brought in change to goaltending as well, as Kevin Lowe managed to pull apart the goalie tandem of the Minnesota Wild, by giving up a first round draft pick for goaltender Dwayne Roloson. Of course, things went down-hill fast after Chris Pronger, the stud-defenceman acquired that summer, requested a trade after signing on for the long haul. Shortly afterwards, some UFA's left via free agency. Jaroslav Spacek, Sergei Samsonov, Michael Peca, Ty Conklin and Dick Tarnstrom. Some players that weren't exactly key for their skill also left, such as Georges Laraque, a local fan favourite. Management tried to fill holes, but not much could be done as new-comers Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, and Petr Sykora weren't enough to fill the void, neither was the return of Marty Reasoner.
The season started off strong though, going against what the critics were saying. The Oilers were even leading their division heading into December, when the injury bug finally caught up to them. Ethan Moreau was injured within the first month and never returned. Jarret Stoll, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Smyth, Steve Staios, and even call-ups such as Tom Gilbert and Matheiu Roy all ended up missing considerable ice-time, causing a dip in the production of all the players that were lighting it up only one season prior.
Of course, that season was also the turning point in the chapter of the Edmonton Oilers. Ryan Smyth and Marc-Andre Bergeron were traded on seperate occasions to the New York Islanders, coming back the other way, now notables in the Oiler line-up, were Robert Nilsson and the rights to Denis Grebeskov, and prospect Ryan O'Marra. Then in the summer, Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul were sent off to Philadelphia in exchange for veteran Geoff Sanderson and potent defenceman Joni Pitkanen.
That summer also proved important as some players left; Sykora, Petersen, Winchester, Markkanen. Also, assistant GM Scott Howson left to take the GM job that was vacated in Columbus. But it was also a summer of oppurtunity. Many UFA signings were completed in addition to the trades made during the 06-07 season, and off-season. Notables signed were Sheldon Souray, the return of Dick Tarnstrom, Denis Grebeshkov, and even coming as close to signing Michael Nylander.
There was also the big news of Kevin Lowe going "mad" and raising the bar on RFA's. He attemped to snag Buffalo's young sniper Thomas Vanek, only to force them to match the contract, before finally getting a young winger from Winkler Manitoba, in Dustin Penner out of the Anaheim Ducks. Matt Greene, Joni Pitkanen, and Raffi Torres were all given extensions as well.
Training Camp for the 2007-08 season was a major youth movement for the Edmonton Oilers. Something that wasn't really expected with head coach Craig MacTavish more prone to give the ice-time to a proven veteran, rather than a young prospect. So when Anson Carter was invited to participate in training camp, many bloggers already had him pencilled into the roster. But a strong showing from the MVP of the Super Series, Sam Gagner, and highly touted prospect Andrew Cogliano, things changed. Both made the team out of the gates, and were exceptional in their pre-season match-ups. More youth made the line-up as an injury to captain Ethan Moreau (who hadn't played a game since the beginning of 2006) opened up room for the likes of Kyle Brodziak to prove himself to the coaching staff.
Heading into opening night, it was a very different Oilers team. Something that the opposition wasn't ready for. A solidified blue-line of Souray, Staios, Gilbert, Tarnstrom, Greene, and Pitkanen was set in front of a tandem of Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon. The forwards were replenished and rejuvanted with Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner, Gagner, Cogliano, Torres, Stoll, Reasoner, Brodziak, Sanderson, and a rotation of young players including Zach Stortini and Robert Nilsson, it was looking like a high-scoring squad that had been expected from the previous season, but failed to live up to expectations.
This year's team is no different from any other, as we are still riddled with injuries. Souray was out for up to a month with a seperated shoulder, Pitkanen has been on and off with a flu, and Fernando Pisani was out with a case of Ulcerative Colitis. Though since the season has began, our roster solidified into something that seems to be working for us.
Souray, Moreau, and Pisani have all returned, while Matt Greene and Raffi Torres are out, with the latter out for the remainder of the season. The players we have called up to fill the void have been playing exceptionally, and even the transition game of Marty Reasoner from a centreman to a left winger to cover for Raffi has been instrumental in the resurgence of not only Jarret Stoll, but the goal-scoring of the Oilers.
But like I said earlier, we are now officially forty-six games into play, and the oilers are only tied for 12th in the Western Conference, but this season has proven itself to be a tight run, probably until the last game is played. Forty six games down, and only five points out of a play-off spot. I don't know folks, but I think they might just pull it off.
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