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Stauffer Stuff: December 28

by Bob Stauffer / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers this season

Back in the summer some of you were upset with a prediction that I made that the Edmonton Oilers would likely finish 22nd to 30th in the NHL overall standings in 2011-12, with a record of 35-41-6.

There was a thought process out there that I was attempting to lower the expectations of the fans for the upcoming season, something which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Simply put, I am a believer that the best thing for a rebuilding organization is to “grow organically”; especially if that club’s ultimate desire is to become an elite NHL franchise.

As most of you know, there is a difference between being a play-off team, and being an elite NHL organization.

Nashville has been a play-off team over the last few seasons; Detroit has been an elite NHL organization since the mid 1990’s.

If you are an Oilers fan, you want to be Detroit!

After back-to-back 30th place finishes, it was my belief that the Edmonton Oilers were unlikely to show dramatic improvement and suddenly become a play-off team; unless they were willing to take some short-cuts along the way.

Short-cuts though, get in the way of building something sustainable.

As bitter and as frustrating as the last couple of seasons have been for Oilers fans I think most of you see that it is a case of short-term pain for long-term gain.

On a nightly basis the dynamic #1 overall pick from the 2010 NHL draft Taylor Hall, shows the burning passion of a future star.

The #1 overall pick from the 2011 draft, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been a revelation too, impressing hockey people around the NHL with his skill, poise and intelligence.

Hall and Nugent-Hopkins combined with the sublime Jordan Eberle, who is currently in the top ten in the NHL in scoring, give the Oilers a great foundation, but clearly there is more work to do.

After a surprise 8-2-2 start in which the Oilers were never as good as their record had indicated; the team has fallen on some tough times going 7-15-1 over the last 23 games.

In fairness, the team hasn’t been as bad as the record over the last 23 suggests, but the fact is, Edmonton is currently 25th overall in the NHL standings, exactly where most pundits figured the Oilers would be roughly halfway through the season.

The Oilers frustrating 5-3 loss in Vancouver on Boxing Day exhibited how much work still needs to be done to get the Oilers to elite level status.

The Canucks, it must be agreed, are a very good NHL team, likely in Year Two of truly being an elite organization, and they are over 10 years in the making.

They have the Sedins (’99 draft) on the first line, a horse down the middle in Kesler on the second line, very useful and big third and fourth liners, a deep and veteran defence, and two good goaltenders.

The Oilers were dominated in the first period, by a Canucks squad playing guilty after a lacklustre home loss to Calgary prior to Christmas.

The Oilers undermanned defence was exploited by a fierce Vancouver fore-check, clearly illustrating yet again Edmonton’s need to address this area in the future.

Once again though; just like with Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle up front, the Oilers growth on defence needs to be acquired primarily through the draft and be allowed to grow organically.

After seeing the Oilers second #1 pick from the 2011 NHL draft Oscar Klefbom play for Sweden last Friday night, and watching David Musil on occasion with the Vancouver Giants, I am comfortable in saying that I am pretty sure the Oilers have at least a couple #4 or #5 defencemen in the system.

The two Martin’s from Slovakia, Gernat and Marincin are in the mix as well but they are also wild cards.

Both Marincin (who had 56 points last season with Prince George) and Gernat (who has 25 points in 31 games and is +23 with the Edmonton Oil Kings this season) have an offensive dimension; but both are going to need work to become NHL players.

The Oilers need a stud #1 or #2 defenceman, and the easiest way to get one is through the draft, especially this year’s draft where as many as 15 to 18 defenceman could go in the first round, with five or six higher end “D” likely to go in the top 10 picks.

Road Trip
With the World Juniors in town the Oilers leave Wednesday morning for Minnesota, on another lengthy road trip that features stops against struggling teams in St. Paul and Long Island, before meeting surging Chicago and then Buffalo, St. Louis and Dallas.

The Oilers are an improved hockey team from last season as illustrated by an even goals for/goals against ratio through the first 35 games this season after going -76 last season.

The Oilers special teams have also taken a big step forward as the PP is now third in the NHL at 21.1% and the PK is eighth at 84.5%.

This is a credit to both the coaching and the players.

The team is progressing and far more competitive then they have been the last couple of seasons, but there is still going to be some growing pains along the way.

All part of the process as Edmonton strives to become an elite NHL franchise.

Bob Stauffer is the Colour Analyst on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now” weekdays Noon to 2:00 PM on the Oilers Radio Rights Holder 630 CHED.


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