All skill, no will and a huge climb uphill – welcome to the 2010-11 edition of the Edmonton Oilers.
The first year – well officially, that is – of a full-blown, tear ‘em down, build it back up, franchise rebuild, the copper and blue are already in familiar territory, sitting 30 th overall in the NHL standings, a position that earned them first overall NHL draft pick, Taylor Hall, following year’s debacle.
Fans of Oiler Nation are buying what Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini has been selling since the dismantle began mid-season last year; patience, patience, please, we’re committed to the retool.
Rebuild or no rebuild, an alarming trend seems to be occurring with Tambellini’s club, which sees opponents of the Oil salivating at the chance to take liberties with a young club, seemingly, unwillingly to match the NHL’s demanding physical style of play.
Fans in this blue collar town are excited about the future, but don’t tell them their team shouldn’t, at least, be competing now, on a nightly basis! Last Saturday, the visiting San Jose Sharks reeled in the young Oilers in convincing, and embarrassing fashion, before a sold-out Rexall Place crowd of 17,000 hockey-mad fans. San Jose exposed one of Edmonton’s long-standing deficiencies – toughness – by hammering everyone with the Oil Drop on their jerseys, at every given opportunity.
Edmonton failed to respond to the bell, something that has dogged this team for years now. Few play beyond their size; many become perimeter players. Defencemen including Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney and even Ladislav Smid, the latter of whom is expected to keep opponents away from goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, continue to play passive hockey, letting their foes run their show.
Up front is much the same. Dustin Penner, although intimidating in stature, resembles more of a gentle giant on the ice, while the rookie threesome of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Piaarvi, while creative with the puck, continue to absorb big hits. And who responds when teams take liberties with the young guns – your guess is as good as mine. Third liner, Gilbert Brule, is arguably the best sandpaper this lineup boasts on most nights. Craig MacTavish project-player Zack Stortini should have been shipped out of town long ago, if an appropriate suitor could be found. Stortini has shown moments of on-ice efficiency and intimidation, but not nearly enough to constitute a full-time roster spot, especially with fellow tough guy, Steve MacIntyre, already occupying that role.
Nonetheless, punishing Flames’ blueliner Robyn Regehr – an individual Oiler blueliners would do well to pattern their game after (minus the injuries, of course) – is undoubtedly licking his chops in anticipation of Ales Hemsky’s arrival with the Oil for Tuesday’s matchup, a player Rhegier has taken great joy in lighting up with punishing body checks, with each Battle of Alberta. Edmonton (2-4-0) will kick off a three-game road trip Tuesday evening in Calgary (5-3-0), before moving on to Columbus and Chicago, then home to face the Vancouver Canucks next Tuesday.
Currently mired in a four-game losing streak, the Oilers could find themselves in free-for-all mode, if they fail to discover the “grit by committee” that will be necessary for this team to scratch and claw its way to victory here and there this season.
Although The Bulin Wall has started all six games for Edmonton to date, today, Oiler Head Coach Tom Rennie suggested backups, Devan Dubnyk and/or Jeff Deslaurier, could get the call on the upcoming road trip, thus spelling off Khabibulin.
In the meantime Oiler fans, chins up…sticks down.
About the Author
Written by Scott Pattison
Scott is an award-winning sports writer whose career spans more than 20 years. He's proudly covered the Oilers since moving to the Alberta capital in 2000.