So I know there’s been some talk lately here and elsewhere about the state of the team. We currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. We have the worst penalty-kill in the league at 72.3%, and one of the worst powerplays in the league (25th) at 15.6%.
However, some things need to be brought up again, so it’s time for a rant…
The average age of this team is 25.7. If you exclude the fossil we have in net, and the players that weren’t dressed last night, that gets us down to an average age of 24 for the skaters last night. Not to mention we were cut down to 5 defensemen after Ryan Whitney left the game early. Our top six last night consisted of: Gagner, Hall, Eberle, Penner, Cogliano and Hemsky… they have an average age of 23 years, and an average of under 3 years of experience. News flash… it’s an inexperienced team. Mistakes will happen. Mistakes will happen from Omark… they’ll happen from Hall… they’ll happen from Eberle. They’ll even come from the “veteran” d-men in Whitney and Gilbert who have 6 and 4 years experience, respectively (and thus why I quoted veteran).
I am a little surprised that the powerplay isn’t better than 25th. But when you fight for possession as much as we do each game, I guess that’ll make it hard for the powerplay to click. The same can be said for the penalty kill. It’s obvious that this team needs someone who can win draws and take a regular PK shift, other than Horcoff who looks to be a regular in the infirmary now. Which brings me to my next point…
The team had been playing without (arguably) their two best veteran forwards for a while, having lost Horcoff and Hemsky. This has put more pressure on young kids to succeed, and I think they’ve handled it well, all things considered. Eberle (22 pts) and Hall (21 pts) aren’t far behind the rookie scoring lead (Skinner at 26pts). Paajarvi has been coming along slowly so far, but his opportunity (read: linemates) hasn’t been as good, and we’re starting to see signs of him being a good player.
My thoughts are that this team is a few minor tweaks from being a much better team. This has been my belief for several years now. It is possible that Tambellini has been dropping birds out of his nest this year to see if they could fly. I think the answer to that is yes, but they aren’t enough to carry the team on their own. Our goaltending has been extremely suspect (fault Tambellini there, for sure). Add to that, I have been of the opinion for a while (as have a large portion of the Oilers fan base) that we need a bottom-six centerman who win draws with authority as well as play a solid penalty-kill shift. In addition, we need a defensive stalwart on the blueline… a shutdown d-man, as they are known.
But you know what… these 3 things are generally quite easy to find in the off-season, around July 1st… or even in a trade. They’re not rare commodities. This team is made up of rare commodities… future 30 or 40 goal scorers or perhaps 90+ point players.
It is for this reason that I believe Tambellini is on another collision course for the bottom of the standings this year… intentionally. It’s a tough thing to do while trying not to look like a complete fool. Do we need to do it again this year? I’m not so sure on that. There are some great prospects out there though. Just getting a taste of the top-4 this year will almost guarantee that you walk away with a superb player.
I don’t think necessarily that Tambellini had his heart completely set on tanking from the get go. But I think that he and Renney were of the mind that they would give the ball to the kids again this year and let them run with it. FULL on this year. This is going to be their team soon. We’ve seen a really good taste of what they can do, as I don’t think many would say they have been the problem here. Truth be told, I think the problem with this team has been it’s lack of depth and character and grit in the positions usually held by 4th liners, in addition to the goaltending question mark and lack of solid shutdown d-man.
On the note of the shutdown d-man though, Peckham has done a pretty wonderful job of coming out of nowhere and winning most fans over. He’s already suprassed his combined number of games from previous seasons (31) in this season. So that is a reminder of how inexperienced he is, yet he is doing a fantastic job so far. I hate to pick on them specifically, but Vandermeer and Strudwick wouldn’t be shutdown d-men on 29 other teams in the league, yet that has been the role they were thrust into here too.
So that said.. again.. I think this is Tambellini’s mess, so to speak… but I think it’s hard to see that what he’s doing is actually turning this team around in a very patient manner. We can get near the top and stay there briefly or we can get near the top and savor it for a long time like the Penguins likely will. That is going to take a lot of time and work though. It’s going to take a lot of patience from the fans too.
So my recommendation is that instead of pointing out every flaw in this team, or every time a young player screws up… sit back and just enjoy a glimpse into the future. Enjoy the great plays that Hall and Eberle make with each other. Enjoy the superb hitting clinic Peckham puts on. Enjoy Paajarvi and Omark’s creativity. Enjoy the solid efforts of callups such as Belle and Petry. These guys are the future of the team. We’re still stuck in a transitional phase though.. so things are going to be a bit rough. But forget how you used to watch games in the past. Look for the promising points and focus on those. The rough points will be ironed out. And in due time, when Tambellini feels it is the right time, he’ll fill in the blanks on this team and right the ship. It looks like this isn’t likely the year though, unfortunately. But the experience our young kids have had so far will go a long way in convincing management that they’ll soon have to focus on the glue players rather than acquiring more assets. This isn’t the Maple Leafs or the Calgary Flames… we’re doing it right… don’t worry. Patience!