|Nikolai Khabibulin makes a save on Antti Miettinen during last night's 4-2 loss to the Wild in Minnesota (Getty Images).
Last night in St. Paul, Minnesota served as a pretty good metaphor for the entire Oilers season, if you ask me. They got a couple of breaks, but they were bad ones. They skated hard, but didn't have the horses. They registered 35 shots on goal, but only bulged the twine twice.
In a cruel twist of fate from the hockey gods, this year's Oilers team will very likely end up with fewer points than any other team in franchise history, despite being much improved from last season. A statistical indication of progress would have been nice, but those of us that have been paying attention don't need the standings to tell us what we saw this year.
It's a team, to be sure, that is still missing many pieces. But, by my count, they're about six or seven pieces closer to being an excellent hockey team than they were last year. I'm thinking about the emergence of Devan Dubnyk
as a true NHL goaltender, the brash presence of Theo Peckham
on patroling the blue line, and the likes of Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Omark up front. The seventh would include Teemu Hartikainen
, though his fantastic showing has come with a decidedly small sample size so far.
Over the course of the off-season, we can expect to see the addition of at least a couple more pieces. The Oilers will find out on April 12th at the NHL Draft Lottery whether they will select number one or number two overall at the upcoming Entry Draft in Minnesota. The selection will, either way, result in the addition of someone like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
or Adam Larsson.
On top of that, I expect the team to sign 2009 2nd round draft pick Anton Lander
and bring him over to North America to challenge for a spot at center ice with the big team or, at the very least, start his transition into the North American game with the Oklahoma City Barons.
The true course of the off-season, and the decisions that will largely set up how the team will perform next season, will be based around the club's long-term decision on Ales Hemsky
and their desire to add veteran free agents as transitional players to bolster the group. But, those are conversations for another day.
In the meantime, this group, ravaged by injury and challenged to find motivation, have five games left on their schedule. Though some will argue that win/loss record has long since become irrelevant, I can tell you that this group would like nothing more than to grab at least two more. Ideally, they'd like one for each of their goaltenders, something to send each keeper into the off-season on the right foot.
Personally, I'd like to see Liam Reddox
register a goal, something he hasn't done at the NHL level in over two years. It would also be nice to see Gilbert Brule finish the season strong after another tough year surrounded by sickness and injury, and one more tilt for Theo Peckham
to get his swagger back would be just what the doctor ordered.
The team is going to finish 30th, and they might end the season on a 16 game losing streak. From afar, that might seem like a step back or a lateral move, but we all know better.GOODNIGHT AND GOODBYE
I do want to touch briefly on the final game in the Hall of Fame career of Rod Phillips, which took place earlier this week at Rexall Place. The way that the Oilers handled the event, which is exactly what it was, absolutely blew me away. From the massive luncheon the day before to the Cup Ring to the banner raising, it was all spectacular.
Growing up listening to Rod, I couldn't possibly have imagined having the chance to host the final broadcast in Rod's career, let alone five years worth of broadcasts leading up to it. It was a pleasure, and an honour, to work with and get to know a great broadcaster and a great man.
One final story I'll relay about Rod. It was two summers ago and rumours were swirling of Rod's retirement. He had decided, however, to come back for another season and the team made the announcement sometime in the early spring.
I was golfing that morning with Rod and a few other media pals when TV crews descended on the course to film Rod and get his reaction to coming back for another year. We were on the fifth or sixth hole when the cameras showed up, and Rod was playing brutal. I mean terrible. Shooting the lights out, but only because the lights were 45 yards to the left of the fairway. Anyways, the cameras show up, and Rod kicks into full showmanship mode. Birdie. Par. Birdie. Even on the golf course, Rod always had a knack for the moment.
Author: Dan Tencer