Looking back at the recent off season, Edmonton Oilers fans endured both an embarrassing refusal by one Dany Heatley to waive his no-trade clause as well as what felt like some stagnation in terms of our roster of players. Dwayne Roloson was let go due to age and concerns over the duration of a contract that he was seeking. Kyle Brodziak was traded at the draft for a bucket of pucks. We also let go of Ales Kotalik which raised concerns over the loss of the scoring that he brought to the Oilers.
If you add it all up, we lost an aged but competitive goalie who battled on a nightly basis, a center who could win draws and kill penalties, and a big if not physical winger who could score goals. Following these changes, not surprisingly several Oilers bloggers lamented the refusal of Oilers’ management to find a center who can kill penalties and win face-offs, a shut-down defensemen, and a big winger who could score goals. Oh, and did I mention that we transitioned from the Oilers old boys club to the Nucks old boys club (sort of).
For the most part, given the roster concerns, there wasn’t a tremendous amount to look forward to at the start of this season. Hey, though I was not alone in saying this, but I had said it myself… “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.” However, though it’s still somewhat premature to gauge the results, so far many are surprised at what they’re seeing on the ice. Regardless of the impact of system changes which probably haven’t been executed to full effect yet, there’s been a dramatic change in the appearance of what otherwise should be the same old Edmonton Oilers of last year.
So far, it looks like the new Oilers management has started to create a new atmosphere of “compete” and along with that a new culture within the organization. Suddenly, the same old same old (roster) looks remarkably different. Many fans did gloss over the fact that an enormous amount of effort was spent at the development level in terms of addressing the problems with the Springfield Falcons. Aside from the obvious humor of seeing Pat Quinn in an army uniform, I had neglected to appreciate the efforts put into team-building. Apparently, the effort behind the scenes which includes the new mantra, “everything” is starting to change the play and effort level of our team. Dan Barnes of the Edmonton Journal has already said it best, “The Oilers are harder to play against and easier to watch.”
Though Horcoff and Hemsky have been weighed down both literally and figuratively with JF Jacques on the first line, we’ve already seen a tremendous amount of production from our grit or crust-infused, yet balanced lines. I believe that the Oilers are currently third in the NHL in scoring. Hemsky’s quietly put up points while continuing to frustrate Oilers fans; he continues to be unable to carry this team on his back. Instead, we’ve witnessed Dustin Penner (aka coach killer #1) step up and carry the team on his sizeable back. Though Horcoff’s arms are still at risk of falling off from taking so many face-offs, we’ve seen Andrew Cogliano (Mr. 37% last year) step up and as I write this, he is 53.8% on face-offs!!! Last night against the Wild, I watched as Cogliano was on the ice for a defensive zone draw which he also actually won.
Okay, so O’Sullivan continues to be snake-bitten in terms of hitting posts and crossbars, he’s really stepped up this year as well. Smid himself has taken some big strides towards filling the role of a shut-down defensemen that we’ve all been hoping for. In fact, he currently leads the team at plus 8. Brule’s grit and grind in spite of his small size is starting to converge with his pedigree around the net. Comrie’s shown us that he’s got a nose for the net and is contributing on a regular basis. Even Stortini, a player who I might add is yet to be on the ice for a goal against is showing improvement in his play. Riding the fourth line, Cogliano’s been making use of his skill and speed in particular to find the net.
Overall many things have changed, yet we continue to hear Pat Quinn strive to improve the team and critique the team even when we win. Hemsky’s still accused of being more style than substance by fans and we’ve seen no shortage of euro-dangles and ‘dipsee doodles’ from him. Nilsson’s probably one of the more expensive players in the league to be riding the press box for many of the games. Last night, he continued his two game point streak with a beautiful give-and-go play with Comrie. However, he continues to turn the puck over trying to make the high risk/reward pass.
In short, the same old, same old has been remarkably surprising. If the Oilers can continue to improve their system play while maintaining their “compete” level, we’ll have an exciting season to look forward to. Already, Pat Quinn’s press conferences have shown him to shoot from the hip which is refreshing–not to mention the several references we’ve recently been introduced to.
Hockey Noob is a writer for the blog Low On Oil