by Lisa McRitchie on 01/07/13 at 11:00 AM ET
So the lockout is over, well in theory at least. And now begins the speculation that should have happened in September; which team made the biggest and best improvements. For Oil Country the additions of Justin Schultz on the blue line and Nail Yakupov up front gave hope for the next season, but hope for a 29th place team may not amount to much. After all even improving by one place may prove to be a challenge as evidenced by the previous two first overall picks.
Aside from the trade deadline deal of Nick Schultz for Tom Gilbert, the Oilers didn’t make many changes over the off season. There was addition by subtraction when the team elected not to re-sign Cam Barker, but otherwise has remained much the same.
What this means of course is that the same holes will remain. Goaltending will be a question mark as Devan Dubnyk struggles to find consistency, and Nikolai Khabibulin battles with his slowly aging body.
The Oilers’ depth at centre has not magically increased over the off season either. The team will benefit from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins off season training and work in Oklahoma City, but otherwise the team is still left with Sam Gagner (a player fans either love or hate), Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger and whichever player they decide to call up from Oklahoma City when injuries arise. And when it comes to the Oilers, we all know that injuries will pop up.
Defenceman Ladislav Smid has battled neck injuries, and then there is Ales Hemsky and his glass shoulders but let’s also not forget Taylor Hall’s late season concussion and season ending shoulder surgery. What this of course means is that the team has a lot of question marks when it comes to health. Smid actually left the Czech team he was playing with in December due to a knee injury and may not be cleared to play this month.
It was also reported Sunday morning that winger Ryan Jones has sustained an eye injury, and Andy Sutton is recovering from his knee season, so the Oilers still aren’t completely healthy despite a lengthy off season.
What does this mean for a shortened, but perhaps condensed 50 game season? At this point last season the Oilers had played 41 games, and only had 41 to go. This season hasn’t even started, and won’t in the next week, and reports are that both the NHL and the PA want to see a 50 game season. Fewer games will be a good thing for veterans Ryan Smyth and Khabibulin, but if they are to be condensed the opposite effect may be felt, while for the young players, there should be less issue bouncing back from back to back games and the tiresome travel schedule felt by the NHL’s northernmost team, the Oilers.
There is no questing whether or not this team will be more exciting to watch, with the numbers that Justin Schultz and Jordan Eberle have been putting up, this is going to be entertaining. But the questing will become can this team win games?
Odds are that this team will be back at the draft podium early in the first round, whenever the draft weekend ends up being, but the team is certainly close to making it’s mark in history. With three first overall picks, a potential rookie of the year candidate in Justin Schultz and Spengler Cup gold medal winning goaltender Devan Dubnyk, the pieces are coming together and slowly this team is becoming one that free agents would choose to sign with, should the Oilers be able to afford free agents with the new CBA.
Regardless of how the Oilers finish this year, the fans that do come back, and who are we kidding, they’ll all come back, will have something to look forward to. The faithful fans of Edmonton have doled out the cash, hand over fist to watch a 30th, 30th, and 29th place team and so with the addition of high profile, exciting players joining the team this team is an easy sell. But now fans will once again be paying for the excitement and the entertainment that they have craved. While this team will not beat every team it faces every night, there should at least be a fighting chance each night.
Some final thoughts for a Monday morning go once again to Nail Yakupov. The big commotion out of the World Juniors this year for the Edmonton fans was the fact that Yakupov snubbed the media. Unfortunately, he did the same thing last year. Strangely, he hasn’t become a whole new person in the course of a calendar year, nor has being drafted made that big of an impact for his when dealing with international competition. But the fact is that part of the reason the Oilers took Yakupov is his competitive edge and personality.
The trouble with Yakupov’s competitive personality and swagger may hold more impact than just with the media though. From outward appearances, Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov have quite similar personalities. Both players are used to winning, both players live to win and both players are now playing on the same team, while being similar players. What this means is that they may both be competing for the same minutes. What this means is that their ability to become teammates, let alone friends may have a larger impact on the team than any changes the Oilers may make, or players they may bring in for their training camp.
Regardless of the new faces in the room, the Vegas Cup odds, or the fate of the new Edmonton arena, NHL hockey is back. Let the games begin.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.
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