Last week, in this space, I composed a Top 10 List: Things Oilers fans should not worry about in 2014-15. But the Oilers DID finish 28th. So, to be fair:
Top 10 Things Oilers Fans SHOULD Worry About in 14-15:
10. Who replaces Ryan Smyth, on the ice? The one guy willing to stand in the paint every night. In today’s NHL, you need to go to those tough areas in order to win. Who is that guy on this roster, now?
9. Luc Gazdic. Gazdic improved in 13-14, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But he needs to improve at least that much again, in order to play more than just a few minutes a night. And he’ll be coming off shoulder surgery.
8. Sam Gagner. The season he had, punctuated by a terrible injury, makes him difficult to trade while attracting appropriate value back. As a result, he may still be an Oiler next year. In fact, I think that’s likely. If so, they really need him to bounce back.
7. Dallas Eakins. Craig MacTavish would have been well within his rights to fire Eakins. C’mon, they finished 28th. But he stuck his neck out and stayed with the guy he brought in. How much more rope can the General Manager afford to give him?
6. Justin Schultz. We all ate, loved & prayed that Justin Schultz would be the second coming of Paul Coffey. An unfair comparison? Sure. But tell me you weren’t dreaming of that very thing, a year ago. This D-core needs him.
5. Taylor Hall’s knee. Hands up: How many of you had forgotten that #4 played almost the entire season with a knee brace? Is that why he declined an invitation to the World Championships?
4. The Young “D”. Even if The G.M. is successful in the UFA market, even if Aaron Eckblad somehow magically falls to #3 at the draft, the Oilers still need most, if not all, of their 20-something blue-liners to take another big step up.
3. Free Agency. Craig MacTavish desperately, desperately needs to fill a few big holes in the UFA market. If he fails in this mission, the team will not improve enough on its own to make the playoffs. They need help.
2. Nail Yakupov. I am convinced that this kid is a player. But…if he struggles again, the heat from the resulting fire that will burn beneath Yakupov, his line mates, his coach and his General manager will be of the 5-alarm variety. Yak would be the biggest question mark of the coming year, if not for…
1. The start. If the first 20 games of 2014-15 go anything like they did last year, heads could roll by Christmas, and the on-ice staff at Rexall would be run off their feet retrieving discarded jerseys, a practice I find absolutely distasteful. But should we hold our collective breath, come October? Yep.