(I find this pic hilarious for some reason)
Gametime: 8:00 pm MST
Where: Rexall Place
TV: CBC (HD)
Seeing as the Oil are the Flames first opponent of the year, I decided to collapse the pre-game thread and Oilers preview into one article.
Regular season – Worst in the league
Playoffs – None
Significant additions – Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Eberle, Kurtis Foster, Jim Vandermeer
Injuries – None.
Key players – Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner, Ryan Whitney, Shawn Horcoff and whichever goalie is the starter
Cap position – Flexible
Predicted finish – 4th/5th in the division
As both interesting and baffling as the Flames off-season was, things were no less odd up North in Shelbyville this summer. The Oilers not only drafted Taylor Hall first overall and decided to go with an agressive rebuild going forward, they also endured an (ongoing) imbroglio with Sheldon Souray. Circus music could be heard faintly in the background when the overaged, overpriced, frequently injured Nikolai Khabibulin got indicted for extreme DUI as well. Add in the unceremonious dumping of toxic assets in Robert Nilssona and Ethan Moreau and you have one of the more drastic and painful team-wide face-lifts in the league this year.
Excitement around the various prospects in Edmonton is high, but the truth is even quality kids tend to stumble a bit in their first season. Especially when they’re surrounded by other kids. That’s the reason that veterans Hemsky, Penner and Horcoff are listed as "key players" above – the vast majority of the heavy lifting is going to fall on their shoulders and if they can’t skate with a piano tied to their backsides, the Oilers are going to struggle on most nights. Beyond the Halls and Horcoffs of the world, the Oilers bottom-end is littered with just okay checking types (Jones, Fraser) and near useless puglists (Stortini, MacIntyre).
‘Tweeners like Brule and Cogliano could go either way, though they’ll likely sink or swim with the rest of the team.
Word is that Tom Renney is going to pursue a strategy that is more geared to short-term pain and long-term gain. Apparently, early line rushes have the kids and vets liberally sprinkled throughout the line-up, meaning the Oilers will have no real "hard minutes" trio and will probably be rolling lines somewhat indiscrimintely in order to let the kids get as many at-bats as possible. That may work to acclimate them to the league a little bit quicker over time, but in the interim it will mean they’ll be somewhere between bad and awful.
With Souray choking away his bitterness in the AHL, the Oilers have one of the more lackluster back-ends in the division (and conference for that matter). Ryan Whitney will probably pair with Tom Gilbert to form the first pairing, while some combination of Vandermeer, Smid, Foster and Strudwick to fill out the bottom end. Not a lot of bona fide heavy lifters in that group. And it should go without saying that an injury to, say, Gilbert or Whitney causes things to get real ugly, real fast.
With Kahbibulin’s back and legal problems still causing concern, the Oil have once again decided to go with a three-headed monster in net and are currently carrying the crumbling ‘Bulin wall as well as Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk. As mediocre as that collection of puck stoppers is, the Oilers also signed Martin Gerber for further depth (and then, after he spent the pre-season being the best goalie by way of performance, demoted him).
The Oilers crease is therefore both confusing and a collection fo suck. Double whammy.
Edmonton fans will have a lot of reasons to tune in this year. However, an expectation of success isn’t one of them. the club’s depth at every position is suspect and they’ll need at least one (if not all three) of their high powered prospects to step into the league pretty much fully formed if they want to be at least competitive. Injury to a major player at either forward or defence would cause all sorts of issues and the goalie situation must keep Tambo up at night.
Unless the Oilers catch the Colorado percentages train and ride it into a surprise post-season berth, expect to see them in the basement again.
On the Flames side of things, Calgary will be going with a depleted line-up tonight thanks to injuries to Moss, Kotalik, Stajan, Langkow and Pardy (or sarich, depending on where you look). Brendan Morrison will make his Flames debut between Hagman and Bourque while Backlund will be skating with Glencross and (ugh) Jackman.
On the back-end, look for TJ Brodie to skate with Cory Sarich or Adam Pardy on the third pairing. Those two should get some cushy minutes against an Oilers club that doesn’t offer much in the way of resistance beyond their top end. Steve Staios is scheduled to be $2.7M worth of healthy scratch.
Puck drop at 8. Swing by for the in-game discussion this evneing. Also, make sure to visit OilersNation to gloat when the Flames win.