by Lisa McRitchie on 09/13/13 at 10:35 AM ET
The Edmonton Oilers made some big moves this summer, big of course meaning more than one move. But then again, moving out your long time captain to make way for a new locker room “feel” can be considered big. Overall the Oilers’ GM Craig MacTavish did accomplish what he set out to do this off-season. But was it enough?
The first and most important issue was of course bringing in a new head coach. Dallas Eakins has a proven track record working with hockey youth in the AHL but is still a rookie himself when it comes to the NHL. Regardless Eakins knows how to build a winning team all that is different is the level of skill and the level of compete on the ice. He has been brought in to help figure out how to coach some of the different pieces of the Oiler puzzle, attain and maintain a certain fitness standard and of course ensure the Oilers earn a few more wins this season than last. Make no mistake, the goal for this season is the playoffs. Anything less will be considered a failure.
A new backup goaltender to replace the ailing and aging Nikolai Khabibulin who’s back issues seem to have hit a breaking point in his career was another big move. Without being able to string together a long stretch of healthy games, Khabibulin couldn’t be relied upon to be that steady backup goaltender for Devan Dubnyk, and pulling up the Oklahoma City Barons starting goaltender may be an okay solution for the short term, it just couldn’t go on, on an ongoing basis this season. Bringing in Jason Labarbera was a good move. LaBarbera is a proven NHL backup, and while many Oilers fans might have preferred seeing someone come in who might challenge Dubnyk for more starts, the goaltending market was an interesting one this summer with Miikka Kiprusoff retiring and the ever constant Roberto Luongo trade talk and speculation. MacT did well with this acquisition.
Not trading Ales Hemsky was not a terrible move. Hemsky has been said to be re-invigorated by the moved this past summer and with the new head coach bringing in a new attitude to the dressing room. Hemsky is a good hockey player. There is interest in him from the other teams in the league, and of course within the Oilers organization. However, Hemsky has been here since the losing really began, it’s all he’s known. If the Oilers can have a winning season this year, it will be a great opportunity to see more, and perhaps a different side of Hemsky from what we’ve become accustomed.
Taylor Hall at centre has been an ongoing discussion amongst Oiler fans. Yes, he has great size and would make an excellent centre. Yes. But time and time again Hall has indicated that he prefers the wing. Hall likes that he has less responsibility at wing and more room for creativity. While playing Hall at centre until Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is recovered from his shoulder surgery is an excellent short term solution, if Hall would prefer not to take the majority of the team’s faceoffs, it’s not a good long term solution. Players playing outside of their comfort zone may excel and play better than ever before, or they may remain uncomfortable and unhappy. Hall is a centrepiece of the team moving forward, it would be in their best interest to listen to what he is telling them, and work with his career ambitions.
Andrew Ference, Stanley Cup winning defenceman with the Boston Bruins coming to the Edmonton Oilers, his childhood favourite team was a good move for the Oilers.
Ference brings a passion for community, the environment and fitness. His work with the November Project is quite remarkable, and speaks to his ability to be a leader on and off of the ice. While he may be a new player to the Oilers, everyone is a new play for head coach Eakins, and Ference stands a very good chance at being selected to wear the C. Ference could be an excellent choice because he is not best friends with all of the other players in the locker room yet. After a few years of having nice guy, soft spoken captains, like Shawn Horcoff, having someone else come in who is a little unknown, and who can get “fired up” might be another catalyst to change the overall feeling in the Oilers locker room. And change in this case is very good.
We have only heard small snippets, but the new head coach’s desire to instil change has affected the local media as well, Ryan Rishaug amongst others tweeted this: “Mandated by the head coach.. Media food is veggies and fruit. Usually donuts and coffee.”
The tweets went on from Rishaug:
9:11 am "I like, respect my fellow media members here in Edmonton a lot, But sharing finger food at 9am? We’re drawing straws for Timmies donut run"
9:15 am "People are kind of walking awkwardly around the table, peering at the veggies, unopened.. I think a full scale media revolt may be coming."
But at 9:39 things seemed to turn around "It’s getting a little better. They just added yogurt.. I believe it may be flavoured. And coffee!"
The funny thing to me about this is that the media really was looking for sugar, in the form of donuts of course, but still sugar was delivered. Everyone can have their own take on health fitness and nutrition, but if the goal was to remove the unhealthy sugar ingested in mass quantities by the media, giving them grapes, pineapple, melons and highly sweetened low fat yoghurt all that was changed was a little bit of fibre. Still, it’s interesting to see that the new coach is trying to have an affect on everyone he is involved with.
One final remark this morning, say no to Sam Gagner for captain. It's not just because I don't think that he's good enough to be the Oilers' second line centre, and it's not just because I think that he is too nice and too well loved on the team, it has a lot to do with the fact that he has only ever played on a losing Oilers' team. I think that by making someone like Andrew Ference team captain, Gagner will have a better chance to improve his own game and reap the benefits of having some new ideas in the locker room in order to help him form his own new ideas.
Pre-season games kick off this Saturday against the Calgary Flames. While the Oiler rookies may have looked lackluster during their stint, don't expect that to reflect the entire Oilers team. They may have a slow start, but the ultimate goal of this team is to make the playoffs. It will be a huge struggle, it will be a huge challenge, but the pieces are nearly there. One or two tweaks during the season may be enough to take to where they need to be.
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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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