|In collecting three of a possible four points with shootout decisions to the Sharks & Canucks prior to the All-Star break, the Oilers should return with a more positive attitude in the remaining 33 games (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club). |
In the midst of the All Star Break, I find myself considering the potential for a roller coaster ride in the final 2.5 months of the season. We know that the year will come to an end in early April for the 6th consecutive season, but there's a lot that we don't know. There could be some big changes ahead in Oil Country, and they're all simplified into 2 questions:
WHICH TEAM WILL SHOW UP MORE OFTEN IN THE FINAL 33 GAMES?
Heading into the break, the Oilers posted an impressive pair of games against San Jose and Vancouver, earning 3 of a possible 4 points against Western Conference division leaders. Yes, they were outchanced and outshot in both games, but there was a lot to like, starting with their compete level. It seems really unfortunate to have to mention compete level as a positive, given that we'd all like to expect it as a constant for 82 games. This group, however, has demonstrated on a few memorable occasions of late, that it isn't for them. The team that we saw over the last 2 games would never have their desire questioned, regardless of outcome. The team that we've seen over the last 2 weeks, though, is a lightning rod for criticism. Which team will show up more in the final 33 games? The team of the last 2 games or the team of the last 2 weeks?
If the compete level and desire are present every night, I don't see a reason why they would fail to pick up their fair share of wins. Within a week following the All Star Break, I believe the team will be completely healthy. Right now, they're only missing Nugent-Hopkins, Gilbert and Barker. All 3 are slated to return by the 2nd week of February at the latest. With the obvious uncertainty of Ryan Whitney
aside, the team will have its complete roster for the final stretch.
The win/loss record will be very important for the future of the coaching staff, I believe. If the team plays .500-ish hockey the rest of the way, the improvement from a year ago will likely be looked at as positive, especially in light of another year of key injuries. If the team, with its healthy roster in tact, continues to falter and struggle to find consistent effort and/or results, it'll be interesting to see which way Steve Tambellini comes down on it.WHICH PLAYERS WILL BE ON THE MOVE AT THE TRADE DEADLINE?
The Edmonton Oilers will be fielding a ton of calls heading into next months deadline. They have a little bit of everything to offer. Ales Hemsky
is a top 6 forward, Andy Sutton
is a depth defenseman and Nikolai Khabibulin
is a veteran goaltender with a Cup on his resume. Add in the perception that a player like Sam Gagner
could be had for the right price, and you've got a recipe for Steve Tambellini to be quite busy.
Starting with Hemsky, he could easily be the top forward available at the deadline. Sure, his numbers are down this season, but he's healthy and has routinely demonstrated an ability to produce at a high level, even if some accuse him of falling short of his ultimate potential. In any case, he's a highly skilled forward that can create plenty of trouble for an opposing team all by himself, and he's a great powerplay addition for a team. There are plenty of teams interested in upgrading their top 6, and with the parity in the league, plenty of teams desperate to do so.
If Ales Hemsky
and the Edmonton Oilers don't come to terms on a new deal in the next month, he'll almost certainly be traded. The team can't afford to risk losing him for nothing, or for a random draft pick in exchange for his negotiating rights in late June. Steve Tambellini has stated that talks with Ales and his representation have occurred, but there's no indication as to where they stand. My gut all along is that Ales wanted to test the free agency waters in his first big opportunity to do so, but he might be more inclined to grab some security given the way his season has gone from a production standpoint.
If Hemsky is in play, there will be a lot of suitors. But don't expect the package to yield huge dividends for the current roster. Any deal for Hemsky would look a lot like the Dustin Penner trade from a year ago. A playoff-bound team just isn't going to give up a key piece of its NHL infrastructure before attempting to make a long run.
In terms of Sutton, the interest level will be high from around the league. He's a pending UFA that provides a rugged, physical depth to the defense of a contender. After watching Vancouver in the playoffs last year, teams will be even more aware of the need for as many healthy and able defensemen as they can get their hands on.
On Khabibulin, I'm not sure that teams will love the extra year on his deal, so we might not see him move. But, if there's a team that feels strongly enough about needing an upgrade, Khabibulin has had a solid enough season, and has enough playoff experience, to warrant serious consideration. The Oilers are in a position heading into their final 33 games where Devan Dubnyk
is going to get the bulk of the workload anyways, so the team has the option to explore the possibility of moving Nik if they want to.
Over to Sam Gagner
, I'm really split on it. I'd be scared out of my mind to move this player, because I believe in him. He's an absolute winner and leader and still has a tremendous amount of upside as a 2nd line NHL player. I think we'll see him hit his stride in the next couple of years, and I'd like it to be in Edmonton. That said, I think the Oilers value him highly as well, and if they were to move him I suspect the package coming back would include a very good defenseman, something the team needs badly. It's clear that the team has an excess of forwards, if you want to suggest that the 29th place team has an excess of anything, I guess. At some point, they probably need to move a young forward to acquire a young defenseman, and maybe we see that type of move before the deadline.
One other thing: teams will be calling about Ryan Smyth
. There are teams that value this player highly in their quest for a Championship. Everybody knows that Smyth is going to end his career as an Oiler and any team that trades for him knows that he's going to re-sign here in the off-season. What the Oilers and Ryan Smyth
need to decide together is whether or not to move him for a couple of months and nab an asset from a playoff-bound organization. Though not likely to be a popular move at the time, mostly because they wouldn't be able to come out and say that they're just going to re-sign him, it could be a good move for the future of the team if the offer is juicy enough. But, Ryan and his family are back and settled in Edmonton. Even with the potential of a long playoff run, would he want to move again, even for a short time? They'll need to ask him, because teams will be calling.You can listen to Dan on Inside Sports weeknights from 6 to 9 on 630 CHED. Follow Dan on Twitter | @dantencer