11/12 NW Preview: Edmonton Oilers



10/11 finish: 62 points, Dead last

Playoffs: Ha!

Key Players: Hemsky, Horcoff, Whitney, Eberle, Hall

Additions: Sutton, Eager, Barker, Smyth, Hordichuk, Belanger, RNH

Subtractions: MacIntyre, Reddox, Fraser, Stortini, Jacques, Foster, Vandermeer

Cap Position: About $8M in space

Projected finish: in the conference’s bottom four

It’s neither rivalry nor spite that compels me to say the Oilers are – or at least were – awful. They’ve been the worst unit in the entire NHL for two years running and were only marginally better than that for several seasons prior. The period between Edmonton’s unlikely cup run and now has been the gloomiest valley for a franchise that experienced a lot of peaks in it’s history. One wonders how long the city’s memories of former glory will continue to sell hope for the club and it’s decision makers.

The high water mark for Edmonton last year came in game one, when they defeated a sleepy and hapless Flames team 4-0. A lesson in extrapolating from small samples, Oilers fans and journalists alike were agog at the sight of Jordan Eberle stick-handling through sprawling blueliners and roofing it against an apparently defenseless Kiprusoff. "The Future is now!" seemed to be the theme echoing in the ears of Edmonton’s aging rivals.


The wheels fell off for Shelbyville pretty quickly after that. By January, half the roster was injured and Oiler fans began to take a particular interest in Red Deer Rebels games. With the likes of Horcoff, Hemsky and Whitney on the shelf with long-term ailments, Edmonton’s line-up got younger and thinner – an impressive feat for one that was already amongst the youngest and thinnest in the league. Then most of the kids got injured. ‘Twas a mediocre AHL team taking the ice in Oilers jersey’s by the end of the year.

As a result, the club was legitimately bad from just about every angle. They scored the fewest goals in the West (193), had the lowest GD in the league (-76). Their shots/fenwick/corsi ratios were .459/.455/.463. They were the only team to record less than 30 wins in 82 games (25). They would have to improve by 20-points just to finish 13th in the west. It’s a long road back to respectability. 

Aiding Tambellini in his rebuilding efforts (read: dive to the bottom) was the continued obsolesce of his once highly celebrated signing, Nikolai Khabibulin. Since being inked to a four year, $15M +35 contract, The crumbling Bulin Wall has easily been one of the worst puck stoppers in the entire league. That is, when he hasn’t been injured or committing felonies, of course. Because NHL GM’s aren’t the most frugal lot there is always a few candidates for "worst recent signing", but the Khabibulin gambit has to remain one of the least laudable in recent memory. His age, the price paid, the length of the deal, the evidence of his medicority and the availability of other, cheaper options rendered that acquisition a grand error the second the ink was dry on the paperwork.

There are some rare blossoms of good news poking up through the wreackage for Oilers fans though. Eberle and Hall are already two of the best forwards on the team and they’re only now taking their first few uncertain steps in the league. The club should improve this season through their youngsters natural progression; doubly so if the team can remain relatively healthy (although that has become the Oilers eternal lament in the post-lock-out NHL for whatever reason).

The summer acquisitions of Belanger and Smyth add a couple more quality, ES veteran players to a line-up that needs them like Glen Sather needs a stern accountant. I don’t have much time for a guy like Ben Eager, frankly, but he’s a better approximation of an NHL-caliber hockey player than the lumbering Steve MacIntyre ever was, so there’s a bit more to the bottom of the rotation as well.

Finally, Devan Dubnyk wasn’t on a lot of calder lists this off-season, but he did manage to usurp the doddering Khabibulin by the end of the year. If he plays 60+ games and can maintain a mediocre-but-still-vastly-superior-to-the-incumbent ES SV% of .920, Dubnyk could save the club more than 20 goals against.

It’s probable the Oilers bottomed-out last year and are in for a bit of a regression back to the mean in 2011-12. The enduring, repeated failure has netted the club some kids worth talking about and there has also been some decent additions to the roster besides.

They still need to improve vastly in order to be merely bad, so I think we’re still a few seasons away from the Oilers triumphant return to league’s upper echelon – a future assumed fated in some circles but one that remains more than uncertain currently. That said, if Edmonton manages to finish ahead of a few clubs this year, including one or more of their NW division rivals, I wouldn’t be terribly shocked.

  • icedawg_42

    Well written…I’m sure you loved writing this article, an opportunity to bash a division rival, and your comments will go undisputed, even from many Oiler fans…this Oiler fan though thinks there was a bit too much looking in the rearview mirror in this article, not enough looking forward to this year. A 20 point jump to 13th is definitely a likely spot for my favorite team, however I do see Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins surprising people with a big jump in points production…and with your assessment on Dubnyk, which I agree with, that should bring the goal differential much closer to 0…my “realistic and not too hopeful” prediction is around the 10th place mark…If Khabibulin has a better year, and we know he’s capable of it, as he’s certainly shown in the pre-season, that could be better still. The blue line is likely too thin to make any real battle for the playoffs, but I predict a move to get a new dman to add some depth…sigh…you have no idea how bad I want some playoffs in Edmonton.

    I’m quite sure Hemsky is primed for an injury free season now that his arch-nemisis Regher is out of the division…that alone should spark a few more points.

  • Vintage Flame

    Great article! You have to assume that fans of the Oilers will be wanting progress this season to at least some degree. Without it, I have to think the current direction will be changed drastically in the coming years – with or without an impressive pool of homegrown talent – as there is really no excuse for a city with a sold out building to not ice a competitive lineup in today’s NHL. Don’t let them fool you on Twitter, you can tell Oilers fans, at least of the semi-casual variety, are starting to feel the same way. By the end of last season, close friends of mine and once hockey-crazed Oilers fans were more interested in baseball starting up than the NHL playoffs. “Sold out” Rexall felt more like an Oil Kings game, as clearly season ticket holders were having trouble giving away seats for another night of AHL-caliber Edmonton d-men struggling to so much as move the puck out of their end. Yes, this is the year that fruits of labour must at least show some sign of ripening. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before the team’s leader and GM will be pressured to make a big move or three, maybe to keep his job.

    I’ve said from day one, the patient rebuild may work in markets where interest has already begun to fade, and it may very well pay off here, but the Oilers’ self-sabotage could soon have disastrous mid-90s consequences if the team doesn’t start to win “now” as opposed to later.

    • Vintage Flame

      You can’t compare Dumbnyk to Kipper. Let’s just wait and see if Devan can produce those numbers playing more than 35 games?

      I’ll take Kipper over Dumbnyk any day of the week.

  • dustin642

    …..Calling it right now, The Oilers will go on a roll to begin the season. But once the usual wheels fall off the bus *cough* Hemsky, Horcoff, every defenseman ever *cough* they will bounce right back down to Oiler town. I do however hope for them to have a better season this year, mostly because they do not deserve another top draft pick, & I think its utterly retarded that their “plan” is to literally stink up the League and gather 1st overalls until a new dynasty just falls out of the sky lands on their face and starts to wiggle (Name that movie). I really do not think that you should be able to get more than 2 top 5 picks in a row (unless they are traded for). There should be some kind of incentive for teams to stay within a competitive mindset rather than to just Oiler it up and hope these kids score as much in the NHL as they did in the CHL.

    • TAE0145

      I think you are right about the Oilers having a very respectable October before some of the wheels start to fall off. I think Tambellini isnt the guy to get to the next level now. They have enough highly regarded kids to make some trades that would give the Oil a shot at the playoffs. I dont think ST knows how to get to that right mix. He’s frittered a golden opportunity to trade Hemsky for defensive help & got too greedy, now they arent getting much for Mr Glass. They’re in the same boat as us with a couple of their contracts(probably worse), Horcoff & Khabbi are horrendous, non tradeable albatrosses. Kids like Omark, Parjarvi & Lander could bring some pretty good returns they so badly need on the blueline & still leave a pretty solid future forward core. You think Feaster would consider if 2 of those 3 were offered for JBO?

      • RexLibris

        If Tambellini traded 2 of Omark, Paajarvi & Lander for Bouwmeester he’d be fired before the ink dried and Feaster would be in line for a Nobel prize. No offense to Bouwmeester, but a trade involving just Paajarvi should bring a return of a solid defensive defenceman at less of a cap hit and closer to Paajarvi’s age. Omark is more a moving target to determine his ceiling and market value, and Lander isn’t the kind of player you move before he has even played a NA pro season.

        The Oilers need defensive help, but moving prospects for help now is only going to raise the level of this team marginally and do virtually nothing to improve them over the long term is pointless. There is always the improbable exception of some dream trade where the player that comes back is a 24 year-old stud-defenceman-version of the Carter trade(signed long-term) but those are very unlikely for a GM like Tambellini.

          • RexLibris

            I cant agree with you or Rex. I dont think JBO is over rated, he’s over paid. He’s a smooth skating huge minute dman that plays a lot of tough minutes. If he was making 4-4.5mill per year, the expectations would be different & he would be almost considered untouchable in Calgary. At 6.68mill, you would expect a franchise, game changing dman like Lidstrom/Weber/Niedermeyer. JBO is not in that league but JBO would be a god send on the Oiler blueline & with a healthy Whitney, you would have your top 2 Dmen playing 30 minutes a game. but I realize, we will never be able to trade him unless a team like Edmonton was prepared to carry the overpayment of what he brought for the next 3 years. His overpayment is like trading a salary dump & we would not be able to replace his 30 tough minutes per game, Gio can only do so much. On another note, he is an Alberta boy who would probably waive his no trade in a deal to Edmonton.

          • RexLibris

            For us Bouwmeester would be like Tom Gilbert with gold-trim. He’s a big smooth-skating defenceman who makes a great pass, stays healthy, and can strip the puck quickly and move it up ice. He’s just better at it than Gilbert. So no, I don’t see us wanting to acquire Bouwmeester, especially as we have three potential defenceman perhaps two years removed from providing something very similar. I won’t say they’ll be as good at it as Bouwmeester, but they’ll likely be comparable or even improvements to Gilbert.

            As for Jay waiving his NTC to come to Edmonton, have you looked at our history of dealing with local-born players of late? They haven’t exactly flocked to our warm shores. Part of that was the environment of the last decade, and that is changing, but Bouwmeester has been courted by the Oilers since he was drafted and his interest in playing here has been luke-warm at best. If he was going to waive the NTC it would likely be to a hockey market where he can fit into a system and not be put into a “saviour” role.

            On another note, what are the chances that the Flames can somehow maneuver their way into drafting Griffin Reinhart and his brother Sam in a couple of years? Griffin appears to be slipping in the scouting rankings this year but the Flames would need a top 3 pick to get Sam in his draft year. You could have the Sutters 2.0 (don’t flinch, I meant as players, not GMs).

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Maybe this year the Oiler highs won’t be so high, and the lows won’t be so low. The kids should have learned that much last year, which should translate into a little more consistency. I see reasonable jump in the standings this year – maybe as high as 25th overall.

  • RexLibris

    Yeah hear you about JBO not being your first choice but you can see how we could never trade him. He’s worth way more than a salary dump but unfortunately, he’s a friggin salary dump.I guess we all have our crosses to bare.

    I could see Flames leaning huge to Griffin Reinhart, Sam I dont know. Our needs really are centre/forward & if we can get a top 3pick, I could see efforts to try and get that Nails kid. Its a wierd feeling going into this year, deep down I just get the feeling this could be the last year we see the Flames team as we have been accustomed to. Its a little scary & a little exciting, I guess thats why its such a wierd feeling. Call me a bad fan but I just dont see that 2nd half performance saving the year for us. Hope Im wrong for Iggy’s & Kippers sake, but there is just something missing.