I know I am! The regular season starts tomorrow and I can’t wait. Training camp and preseason is great, but I prefer the regular season, where every game matters (yes, even the games after we are guaranteed last place again, though I don’t think that will be the case this year). I’m personally not a huge fan of preseason hockey games (they just aren’t as good as regular season or playoff games), and often they provide no insight into how teams will do. We’ve all seen times when one team has played great in preseason only to bomb when the games count, and countless players have done so as well. Really there are only two things I like about the preseason. First, HOCKEY IS BACK! That shouldn’t need any more explanation. Secondly it gives us a chance to see some of the younger players, and to see if chemistry develops between different players (although with the ever changing lines that is sometimes hard to see). So what did we learn from training camp this year (other than that Kirill Tulupov is insane)?
I’ll start with the bad. Once again it appears that injuries will have a huge impact on the oilers season. Whitney, Smid, Chorney, Eager, Gagner, and Hemsky were all expected to be on the opening night roster, but may all be out with injury. Our already weak defence has even more holes in it, and two of our top six forwards are hurt again. I’m significantly less worried about injuries to our forward group as we have a lot more depth there, but the defence needs to be addressed. No, it needed to be addressed, and now it may be too late. I’m not in favour of the Oilers making a desperate trade for a defenseman as I believe they will have to give up too much right now when their need is so glaringly obvious. At the same time they can’t just sit by and do nothing. At very least they should make a waiver claim, or sign one of the remaining free agents. Later in the season is when they should make a trade for a defenseman. If Hemsky can get healthy and stay healthy then maybe it would be the time to trade him, but only for a top pairing D-man.
Then there is the horrific injury to Taylor Fedun. I should point out that I’ve been in favour of no-touch or hybrid-type icing for a long time. I would go as far as to say that whoever is responsible for preventing this from becoming reality should be publicly flogged and expelled from the game. Some people say that it will decrease scoring chances. Sure it will decrease chances for the team that iced the puck the odd time that a forward beats the icing call (though a hybrid rule would help there), but it will increase chances going the other way. Others argue that it will make the game less exciting. To those I say “Are you kidding me!?!” I don’t know about you, but seeing a race for the iced puck has never gotten me out of my seat. These arguments seem mute though when injuries like the one we saw last weekend occur. I thought that Fedun was one of the bright spots of camp. He looked great, and although I was fairly confident he wouldn’t start the season with the Oilers I figured he would get called up at some point due to injuries. Now that isn’t an option, and his career is in jeopardy. The icing rule needs to be changed, and sooner rather than later. For those that want to wish Fedun well the Oilers have a page here. I hope he gets better and has a long and productive career, whether it be for the Oilers or someone else.
One of the most interesting outcomes of camp (for me at least) was the demotion of Gilbert Brule. I will admit that I never saw this coming. I had figured that the Oilers would keep him on the big club rather than expose him to waivers, and I was going to write an article comparing that decision to being a pack rat. Fortunately the Oilers decided to go with the better player (Lander) and risked losing Brule. I will admit that I really hoped that Brule would be picked up off of waivers, both for him and for the Oilers. Not only would it free up a spot on the Oilers 50-man list, but it would give him another chance. There is almost no way he plays for the Oilers this season, and so he is next to useless for us. Maybe he can turn his game around in the AHL, and come back next year, but it will be even harder to make the team unless we trade a lot of players away. So my prediction is that Brule has played his last NHL game for the Oilers.
The best part of camp in my opinion was the play of RNH, Lander and Hartikainen. Hartikainen in the Omark of this year; he played well enough to make the team (although he didn’t do as well as hoped when playing the second game in a back to back set), but was relegated to OK-city due to the depth. Like Omark last year, he will likely see some significant playing time in the NHL. RNH and Lander also both showed they belong, but without the injury to Gagner only one of them makes the team. If the return of Gagner drops RNH from the top two lines, then I hope they send him back to junior before his 9 games are up. That said I think RNH is here for good, and that it will be Lander that gets sent down when Gagner returns. He will be back though, whether due to injury or trade (although I often wonder if Tambellini will ever make a trade).
Once again, I know it is just the preseason, and things don’t always turn out as training camp suggests, but it is a good start, offensively at least. Eventually we will need to trade some of our offensive depth for some NHL ready defensive depth (I think the Penner trade should have been for that) or we won’t progress as much as needed, and our defensive prospects will be ready long after the forward ones. I just hope Tambellini makes the right choice of who to trade, and who to trade for, but I will refrain from saying What If.
Ok, now I’m really ready for the season to begin. And to quote Jeff: GOILERS!