Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Calvalry Isn't Coming Over the Nearest Hill For Awhile

The Edmonton Oilers have fulfilled the prophecy I made 3 years ago of a steady decent into the basement of the league. The lack of talent on their roster is so horrendous that even their AHL and ECHL teams are in the basements of their respective leagues. The starting six on defense (making a combined 22 million this season) is one of the worst unit's collectively in the league and their most steady performer, Ladislav Smid, is reviled by local fans due to his forever connection to the fleecing that was the Chris Pronger trade. Up front Ales Hemsky, while overrated, is the team's best playmaker and is out for the season with a shoulder injury so the team relies almost exclusively on Dustin Penner for consistent offense. The developement of the young players such as Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson, and Andrew Cogliano has completely stalled or has regressed unbelievably. Shawn Horcoff and his contract has become a running joke, akin to Tiger Woods, around the league and Patrick O'Sullivan is performing a dissapearing act in Edmonton that would put Joeffry Lupul to shame. But maybe no position is in worse shape then the goaltenders. Nikolai Khabibulin has serious back issues that limited him to only 18 games this season and now require surgery. At 36 years of age not only is their no guarrantee how he'll be when he comes back but his contract with 3 years left on it at 3.75 millon wouldn't come off the cap if he retires now because he signed the contract after the age of 35. Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk are two young, inexperienced goaltenders who's intro to the league has basically become like being Christians handed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum. However the thing that has given Oiler fans hope is that the management team can no longer live in the dark about how bad the team is. That along with prospects who starred in the World Juniors (Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paarvi-Svensson, and Anton Lander) and a probable top 3 draft pick, maybe even Taylor Hall at first over all, must mean that a full blow up of the roster is imminent right? Not really.

Beyond those three mentioned prospects there's nothing of note beyond maybe Jeff Petry coming up the pipe first of all. Secondly the contract situations of almost the entire roster. They are a last place team with a first place payroll. Out of all the players featured frequently in the trade rumor mill (i.e. Steve Staios, Ethan Moreau, Sheldon Souray, Andrew Cogliano, Tom Gilbert, and Patrick O'Sullivan) only Cogliano will probably draw serious interest at the trade deadline. If coached properly Cogliano could probably be an elite checking forward in the league with his speed. He doesn't have the hockey sense or hands to be a consistent goal scorer. The other players all have at least one season left after this one their contracts for money that they are not worth. Moreau and Staios are making 2 million and 2.7 next year respectively. Souray is a 5.5 million and a NTC next year. O'Sullivan is making around 3 million next year while Tom Gilbert has four years remaining at 4 million per season. No one is going to even think about trading for those contracts until the draft in June. So don't expect a major housecleaning until June.

And of course there's the draft. The Oilers have succesfully continued to plummit down to the basement and are now only 2 points up on the Carolina Hurricans and with the 'Canes playing some halfway decent hockey right now the Oilers will probably take a stranglehold on the 30th place position soon. This would give them a 50% chance of winning the draft lottery and getting the first overall pick in this years upcoming draft. The last place team doesn't always get that pick though. In 2004 the Washington Capitals moved up from #3 and got the right to take the current best player in the NHL, Alex Ovechkin, while in 2006 the Chicago Blackhawks moved up from #5 to #1 to be able to take Patrick Kane (as a side note the Edmonton Oilers were in that slot until their last game of the season where the defeated the Calgary Flames). The furthest the Oilers could fall would be the #2 slot and if indeed this comes to pass then taking Windsor Spitfires defenseman Cam Fowler ahead of Plymouth Walers centre Tyler Seguin. While both look like great picks, a star #1 defenseman is more important then a #1 centreman so Fowler should be the pick. Naturally if they get the first pick then Taylor Hall is a forgone conclusion.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

World Junior Dissapointment and Reflection

Another country actually winning the World Junior Hockey Championships? On Canadian soil no less? There must be some mistake? That couldn't possibly happen could it? Is the American hockey program catching up to ours which is essentially our worst nightmare!? There answer is: no. Yes the Americans and, I think, the Swedes had better teams in this tournament then Canada did; Team Canada was held back by two circustances:

1) As Don Cherry and every Canadian hockey fan under the sun has been pointing out since John Carlson scored the winning goal for the US in overtime, there are many young Canadian players who are already staring in the NHL (i.e. Tyler Myers, Steven Stamkos, Michael Del Zotto, John Tavares, Matt Duchane, Ryan O'Reilly, Drew Doughty who was good enough to be the 7th defensman on the Canadian Olympic team for Christ's sake, Luke Schenn, Josh Bailey, Evander Kane) and injured (last year's reigning CHL player of the year Cody Hodgson).

2) Hockey Canada's arrogance and head coach Willie Desjardins' brutally flawed selection process of the Team. Hockey Canada believes that they can throw any collection of players out on the ice and would be succesful. Desjardins put together a team that was built to win in the WHL where he coach's (Medicine Hat): Big, strong, and tough. However a side effect of those attributes happens to be the one that screwed Team Canada at the end: speed. When the gold medal game went to overtime I knew that Canada had no chance of winning unless they could hold out until the shootout. At 4 on 4 with all that extra open ice, speed kills. And the Americans had way more of that then the Canadians. Their forwards were way faster then the Canadian defense who played like their feet were encased in frozen carbonyte. It got so bad that Desjardins lost so much faith in two of his handpicked defenseman, Calvin de Haan and Jared Cowan in particular, that he didn't play them basically at all over the last 3 games and had to play forward Brandon MacMillan on defense quite a bit. And MacMillan had been a very effective forward.

So with a revamping of the Canadian coaching staff next year who takes speed (a key attribute in international tournaments particularly on the backend as this years World Junior Silver Medalists and Team Canada's seventh place finishers at the Turin Olympics would attest) we will probably be back on top in Buffalo next year.