If there is anything that tainted the Edmonton Oilers 2013-14 season, one can point to the goaltending early on as a major issue. The Oilers were on pace with the rest of the Western Conference as far as scoring, but, the goals against was staggering. Something had to break. Back-up Jason Labarbera wasn’t up to a starting job and starter Devan Dubnyk, was letting in more soft goals than a toddlers ball hockey game.
Hence, the hammer dropped, and Dubnyk was traded to the Nashville Predators. They kept him for a few weeks and then jettisoned him to a Montreal Canadiens farm team. The Oilers? They dropped 3.5 million in cap space and recieved forward Matt Hendricks in return. At first, many balked at the trade, saying Matt Hendricks was an overpriced fourth liner, with his salary at 1.85 million per year. Hendricks brings the intangibles, though, not so much the lighting of the lamp.
Matt Hendricks is NOT a goal scorer. He scores a goal about every ten games, so he has never been counted on to be an offensive producer. He brings the grit, sandpaper and tenacity. He works like a demon in defensive zone starts, and provides vocal leadership on the ice.
Hendricks is a player who, along with Boyd Gordon and Luke Gazdic will provide the tough starts for the team. Much like Ryan Jones, Ryan Smyth and Anton Lander did last season, Hendricks and company will be the line Coach Dallas Eakins will count on to resist the offensive push at critical times. With Gazdic likely to be an extra forward, there could be another acquisition in the works to fortify the bottom three. But, it will likely be audition time for Lander and Mark Arcobello, who are both signed to one way contracts and should be given the opportunity, at least at the outset to prove their mettle.
Hendricks will prove to be an important veteran on the Edmonton Oilers. It stuck out last year in a post game interview, when Hendricks (this is paraphrased) said “It’s like we just don’t want to buy in. I can’t get my head around it. Why would we do that?” It’s that kind of accountability that, that willingness to be all in that will bring the necessary culture change Edmonton needs. Oilers GM Craig Mactavish has spoken of the need for great character in the dressing room, not just skill and size, and Matt Hendricks brings all three.
OIL ON WHYTE OUTLOOK: Hendricks will have an important role on the fourth line, with enough versatility and experience to move up and down the bottom nine when injury or circumstance calls for it.