Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nothing But Questions

Another hockey season is almost among us. A time for hope and a time for doubt. Lots have chatter has been done throughout the summer, but the chatter has only just begun. How good will the team be? Will it be better? Who will play with who? Will Player X have a breakout season?.....Lots to ponder as the season unfolds.

This particular post is more about the psyche of the prototypical Oiler fan. Some parts fragile, other parts boisterous, all in all, just a voice wanting to be heard across the hockey wilderness. Like the little brother kicking everyone in the shins, running around calling people "Fucker!". The Oilers time will come and there will be Oiler playoff hockey to watch again soon. However, this team is going to require a lot of patience and a healthy amount of blind faith.....still. Are the fans going to turn off their TVs by Xmas or are the fans going to spitshine this thing right up? Fail for Nail anyone?

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the newly found #1 overall draft pick, has been a source of great discussion, will likely have undue pressure on him, some fans set his bar too high, others have set it too low. All I'm going to say is give him time. His time is not now, may not even be here next year. The team is going to have to continue to turnover players to make way for him. Its almost as if you have to look at him as an entity unto himself. Don't look at him and figure out how he's going to fit on the team because the team will likely be vastly different by the time he is ready. Consider him a savings account, which is bad news for us fans who want a winner sooner than later but it is what it is. Are you going to be disappointed if he goes back to Red Deer?

Jordan Eberle is a player that I'm worried about how his future pertains to the Oilers. Don't get me wrong, he is a heckuva player, but once this team is ready to win and break the playoff threshhold, they'll likely get trounced and fully understand then, "Y'know what? This team doesn't have enough strength". In which case, if Hall and The Nuge stays, he'll llikely be gone. In the meantime, appreciate what he is, and marvel at his hockey skills and savvy. Is that a depressing thought?

Sam Gagner, this year he is going all in on a pair of twos. As posted in a previous post of mine, the only way Sam survives is if he totally overhauls his game. Take everything he knows and throw it out. Go straight up shooter and two-way center. Essentially, turn yourself into Jarret Stoll. Good luck Sam. Sam will likely be a whipping boy this year. Are you ready, Sam?

Ales Hemsky. What's his dedication to winning? Is he all in? I know he wants to, but can he? He has to remember that he only one piece of the puzzle, but he is an important piece. Individual play makes the fans go all "wtfpwn!!", but him dedicating himself to more of a team game will make the team better. There is a time to attack and a time to retreat, he has to get a better feel for this. I'm still torn on which player will be gone between Hemsky and Gagner, but I still feel one of them will be gone by the deadline. How will the fanbase react to such a move?

This is just a few concerns that I have going into this year and I haven't even touched the goaltending (ugh!) yet. If you are a fan and like the flavour of the Koolaid that the Oilers have put out over the past couple of years, you're likely to get more of a helping. The Oilers are still a ways away from being able to run. Some pieces are there, but others are not, and the pieces that are missing are crucial pieces to a winning franchise. (A top pairing Dman, a #1 Center, a starting goaltender). There will be highlights and lowlights. Will they be playing meaningful games by March?

Most importantly, I've noticed a real dichotomy in the Oilers fan base over the last couple of years. Some are frusterated over the losing, others are loving the high draft picks. I wonder which will win out this year? Who are the real fans, the frusterated or the pacifists?

When will losing be no longer acceptable from the fanbase?

When will losing be no longer acceptable from the fanbase?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Case: Sam Gagner vs. The World

Young Sam is at a crossroads in his NHL career. How is he going to take the next step in his progression. To go from good to better than good. Here I will outline the things that Sam will have to improve on in order for Sam to take the next step with the Oilers.

- Shooting - The Oilers are heavily filled with playmaking wingers, so if Sam is going to play center, he's going to have to be much better off the puck. Find open spaces on the ice and use a quick release. Buy an old dryer start shooting, young Sam. Break the Jebus out of it. You've been trained to be a surveyor of the ice, now the layouts have changed. The Oilers deperately need you to shoot the puck. There is enough players on the team that pass up shots. More importantly, work on the one-timer, on the power play. many players have made a living doing this and you can too.

- Defensive play - Play recognition is crucial. Minus double digit years can no longer apply. Hopefully they don't saddle you with two rooks this year. I know, I know, Omark can't check his hat, but he's trying the best he can. The key for you Sam is keep the play in front of you. Don't get caught behind the other team's net because you are asking for trouble if the finds itself going the other way. Keep the play in front of you and stop chasing. Understand what the other center is trying to do to you and stop before it gets started. You wanna be on a great team Sam? You are going to have to play both ends equally effectively.

- Core strength - Now Sam, you cannot be effective if you keep falling on your ass. So, here's my advice, avoid strength battles by play recognition and knowing where your outlets should be. Keep a good stick. If you know how plays are going to breakdown before the puck hits your stick, then you'll know what to do when the puck gets there. Puck movement speed is the key. Making sure the puck is moving in the right direction and not hanging anyone out to dry. Strengths battles are inevitable in every game, the key making sure you can live to fight another battle.

Breakdown: Essentially Sam is going to have to morph himself from a playmaking offensive center, to a two-way shooting center. Can he make the transition? We'll find out soon enough, if he can, maybe the Oilers can start talking playoffs.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Case: Khabibulin vs. Dubnyk vs. Danis

In this post, I'm going to look at the current goaltending situation. All three of these goaltenders will make a solid case to get the bulk of the games this year.

Nikolai Khabibulin:
Strengths - He has experience, tons of it, starters mentality. He faced a lot of shots early last year, which I believe led to his breakdown at the end of the year. He has veteran guile, I think he will go down fighting.
Weaknesses - Father Time is catching up to him and he has a lot of tread worn down on those tires. He looked slow to end the year, not sure if its because of age or fatigue, either way he should likely see a cutdown in games played this year.

Devan Dubnyk:
Strengths - Big body who makes saves seem effortless. Doesn't have to waste a lot of movement to play goal. Easily outplayed Khabibulin last year. The team has more confidence in him.
Weaknesses - Took him until April to get back to back wins. Usually follows his good games with a poor one, I personally think stamina is an issue, comes with being a bigger body. Has more of a makeup to be a solid backup than a starter.

Yann Danis:
Strengths - Technically sound goaltender. Always in position to make the save. Similar style to Martin Gerber who had success in limited action.
Weaknesses - Hasn't had a ton of success at the NHL or AHL level. History tells us he plays better when he plays less games, which tells us he might be a better backup than starter.

The verdict - All three of these goaltenders are going to struggle if they bulk of the work which means all three of them are likely to get an equal amount of action. Khabibulin is battling Father Time while Dubnyk battles stamina issues. There is a sliver of a crack for Danis to come in and steal the job but he is starting the race from a long way back. Khabibulin will be given every opportunity to prove himself while Dubnyk will get the 2nd crack at it. It will be a heavily scrutinized battle come training camp. Another goaltender could potentially come into the mix here.