Free Agency Brings Changes to the Edmonton Oilers

Well, Edmonton Oilers fans – you were promised bold moves. After getting off to a good start with the Horcoff deal to Dallas, GM Craig MacTavish continued to put his stamp on this new Oilers team with six signings on Free Agency Friday.

Among the players signed wasAndrew Ference. The former Bruins defenseman signed a 4 year deal today, with an AAV of $3.25 million. Ference is from Edmonton, and actually grew up tagging along to Oilers practices with his neighbor Petr Klima.

The Oilers also added two former Coyotes – center Boyd Gordon (3 years, $3 million AAV) and goalie Jason LaBarbera (1 year, $1 million), filling a hole at center and providing goalie Devan Dubnyk with a reliable backup.

MacTavish wasn’t done, however. After adding free agent  F Jesse Joensuu, a former  New York Islander (2 years, $950,000 AAV), MacTavis went on to sign two former Toronto Marlies forwards – Ryan Hamilton and Will Acton. Acton is the son of new Oilers assistant coach Keith Acton, and Hamilton served as the Marlies’ captain for the past two seasons. Both played under Eakins during their time in Toronto.

The moves made today by the Oilers address a great many needs within the organization – experience and grit on defense, depth at center, a backup goalie, more size and grit at forward – but there are still many moves to make. MacTavish said today that he hasn’t yet done all that he wants to make the team “tougher”, so there is undoubtedly more action in the team’s future. For today, though, the job seems to be done.

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Oilers Trade Captain Shawn Horcoff

In yet another trade made today by Dallas GM Jim Nill, the Oilers have sent their captain Shawn Horcoff to the Stars in exchange for D Philip Larsen and a 7th round pick in 2016.

New Oilers GM Craig MacTavish said shortly after taking the reins that he would like to move both Horcoff and veteran winger Ales Hemsky, preferring to give both of them a “fresh start”

elsewhere, rather than keep them in a situation potentially detrimental to both the players and the club. The trade appears to be a genuine “hockey trade”, fulfilling needs for both teams, giving the Oilers much-needed fresh blood on defense and the Stars depth at center.

Horcoff has two years left on his contract with a cap hit of $3.5m AAV. The Oilers managed to free up that space without having to eat any of the former captain’s cap hit, and got a 23-year-old right shot, puck-moving defenseman out of the deal, as well as a future draft pick. Time will tell if the trade is as good as it looks for the Oilers, but at the moment, it certainly seems MacTavish is making good on his promise to make “bold moves”.

Can We Do It? Yes We (Maybe) Can!

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(photo: mine)

Tonight, the Edmonton Oilers face the Phoenix Coyotes, and I’m not saying this game is do or die, but this game is do or die.

And not just for the Oilers! Edmonton’s record, currently, is 16-16-7, with 39 points. Phoenix’s is 17-16-6, with 40. Jordan Eberle said it best today in his presser when he proclaimed that, if the Oilers want to stay in the playoff race, they “have to win every game”. (He also used the phrase “do or die”. That wasn’t just me being dramatic. )

The Oilers have been known to either thrive under this kind of pressure (see: their recent five game win streak) or completely self-destruct (see: their recent three game loss streak).

So what do you guys think? Can the Oilers pull out a win tonight over Phoenix and keep themselves in their attempt at the playoff race? Or are they going to have another penalty-taking meltdown?

I’ll be back tomorrow, after I dissect tonight’s game, with my thoughts on how this season has gone for the Oilers, and what areas I think still need improvement if they’re going to be a playoff-team, much less a contender for the Cup.

Me Minus You Is Such a Lonely (and Scoreless) Ride

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(gif credit to cali-canuck)

You could see it on their faces during the game, and you could hear it in their voices during the postgame interviews and in Taylor Hall’s appearance on the NHL Live Arena Cam. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were back where they belonged. Last night on the ice in St. Louis, the Edmonton Oilers reunited their Kid Line, and everyone rejoiced.

Everyone, that is, except the St. Louis Blues.

To be fair, I can’t really blame the Blues. The Kid Line’s offensive effort, combined with Nikolai Khabibulin essentially standing on his head, ended in a 3-0 win for the Oilers – the exact opposite of the final score the last time these two teams met, on March 23rd in Edmonton. Apparently being shut out in their own barn really does something to the Oilers, because they weren’t giving any quarter last night, and at the core of it was this particular line of talented young forwards.

The Hall/Nugent-Hopkins/Eberle line started the shortened season together and with large expectations placed on them, after their performance last season and in the AHL during the lockout. The Oilers’ early slump, however, resulted in Ralph Krueger deciding to split the line, shuffling his players in the hopes of sparking the offense, and they’ve only been together sporadically since then – usually in cases of desperation.

I haven’t exactly been quiet about voicing my displeasure with this decision. I know that you’re all shocked.

Yesterday, Krueger said after morning skate that the forward lines were going to be “a surprise”. Line rushes in warmups looked fairly similar to recent games, so the mystery seemed unnecessary, and it made me, at least, wonder if this was going to go the same way as the last game against the Blues. But just a few minutes into the game, Krueger pulled out his line blender, shuffled everything around, and sent out the Kid Line. It was a completely different story from there on out.

Three goals. Eight combined points. A chased goalie. An almost-fight with the Blues captain in a period where the Blues became bullies and the Oilers refused to back down. These are a few of my favorite things…because the performance given by the Kid Line last night, in a game that was absolutely vital to the Oilers’ playoff chances, means that Krueger is definitely going to think twice before splitting them again. And that’s the way I like it.

That seems to be the way the kids like it too.

“They put me, Nuge and Ebs together tonight, and I thought that was great,” said Taylor Hall on the NHL Arena Cam.

“We found some chemistry early, and it worked throughout the game,” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said in his postgame media availability. “It’s definitely nice to be back together and playing well.”

“We were playing well, it’s nice to play with those two,” was Jordan Eberle’s contribution. “All three of us like playing with each other, and when it’s going, it’s fun.”

It’s fun. It’s great. It’s definitely nice. And most importantly, it’s a winning combination. And that, most of all, is what the Oilers need right now.

Welcome To The Jungle

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Above is a chart detailing the new conferences recently approved by the NHL Board of Governors for realignment. Looks good, right? Makes more geographical sense, makes traveling easier on (most) teams. Well, except those poor bastards down in Florida, but let’s be real, traveling was gonna suck for them either way. At least they’re not flying to Winnipeg for division games anymore.

Those clever NHL BoG dudes forgot one thing, though:

They’re (allegedly) betting on adding two expansion teams. And I highly doubt they’ll both be in the West.

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Nail Yakupov Is A Tease, & Other Stories From Warmups

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Last night, I attended the Oilers-Predators game in Nashville, TN. Our seats were literally at the very top of the nosebleeds (not that those are bad at all in terms of seeing what’s going on) but for warmups, we were right on the glass by the Oilers bench, and I managed to get some photos of the team.

The stories that go along with some of these photos are really all that I want to say about that game.

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Sam Gagner: Tragically Underrated

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If I had asked the internet, prior to the beginning of this season, to predict who would be leading the Oilers in points at the halfway mark, I feel reasonably certain that the vast majority would’ve given me one of three names: Hall, Eberle, or Nugent-Hopkins. Some may have been generous and thrown the highly-touted rookie into the mix, given Yakupov’s past statistics, and some diehards may have gone with Hemsky. But I doubt greatly that many people would’ve predicted correctly and said Sam Gagner.

And yet, it is Gagner who sits atop the Oilers’ scoring race, rather than a member of the “Kid Line”, or the team’s latest first overall pick. On a team that is struggling to keep their heads in the game night after night, Gagner has been a much-needed source of consistency and stability, posting a point per game on average and outworking nearly everyone else on the ice.

I’m not trying to suggest that Gagner is the only Oiler putting out that kind of effort, and I don’t want to lessen the importance of what many other members of the team are doing this season. But I feel that, very often, Gagner’s accomplishments get lost in the shadow of his younger teammates, and it’s time for that to change.

Picture this: you grow up with a father who plays in the NHL for half of your childhood, a best friend who is John Tavares, and an eventual close friend named Patrick Kane. All of this combined with your small stature makes it easy for you to be shuffled aside so that the spotlight can be placed on others, no matter how quick you are.

And you keep working.

Then you get drafted in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers, and the city pins all of its hopes for a renaissance on you. You can’t return the team to its glory days by yourself, so the city turns on you. When the organization initiates a burn-it-to-the-ground rebuild and gets shiny new first-overall-draft-pick toys, the fans fall in love with them and clamor for you to be traded.

And you keep working.

Through every bit of this, you continue to work your ass off for your team. And then, when you finally give them what they want – when you show everyone what you’re capable of – people call it a fluke. They congratulate you, sure, but they do it in that disbelieving-laughter way that suggests it shouldn’t have happened; and they say that nothing like that will ever happen to you again; and, moreover, that it isn’t the kind of play that should be expected of you.

Now tell me Sam Gagner doesn’t get the shaft. I dare you.

Thankfully, it seems that this season, both fans and media alike are beginning to catch on to everything Gagner contributes to the Oilers. The organization has known for a while, and it would behoove them not to forget it – Gagner will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season, and if the Oilers don’t recognize what he’s worth, I can assure you that another team will.

Sam Gagner is a veteran player who is vital to the future of the Oilers’ franchise and the new dynasty that they are trying to build. He’s a proven leader both on the ice and in the room, and he is finally growing into the elite player he has the potential to be. It’s far past time he got his due.

This Is Oil Country

Image(photo property of Edmonton Oilers)

It isn’t easy being an Edmonton Oilers fan right now. We’re a quarter of the way through the season and I already feel like I’ve gone ten rounds on the worst roller coaster Six Flags has to offer. Games like the one against Colorado, though, make the emotional whiplash entirely worth it. Saturday night, we were given a glimpse into the future of this team, and it’s shaping up to be a bright one indeed.

The Oilers came back from a three-goal-deficit twice (3-0 and 4-1) in the game to post a 6-4 win over the Avalanche, and the points were not confined to one or two players. Jordan Eberle (2G, 1A) and Taylor Hall (3A) each had three points on the night, and four other Oilers put up multi-point games as well. Ales Hemsky kickstarted the team’s offense when he scored the team’s first goal at the end of the first period. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins broke his thirteen-game goalless streak to get his first of the season, and Magnus Paajarvi scored his second game-winning goal of the week after getting the call at 7:55 to let him know that he would be playing that night.

By the end of the game, the Oilers had fired 56 pucks on the Avalanche net (the Kid Line combining for 19 of those shots), breaking a 27-year-old franchise record for shots on goal in a single game, and this offensive burst, more than anything, was responsible for their win. It was more than an answer to the Avs’ three first-period goal – it was a statement. This is what this team can do. This is what these Oilers are capable of. The offensive power on this young team is unfathomable, but Saturday was the first time this season that it has really been showcased.

When the Oilers are giving 100%, they have the potential to be unstoppable. They have all of the pieces. What fans have to remember is that the Oilers are in a rebuild, and are still learning to put those pieces together. The Oilers have so many skilled forwards, but other teams know how to stop skilled forwards, so the offense can’t be the only piece depended upon. The Oilers are at their best when playing a focused, disciplined, and I would even say defensive game. If the shots keep coming even half as well as they did Saturday night, the goals will come. What trips this group up, what causes them to lose games, is when they take their eye off the end result, begin to take stupid penalties, and lose their focus. Right now, discipline needs to be the watchword.

So, no. It’s not an easy time to be an Oilers fan. But it is an exciting one. The opportunity to see these young stars grow and develop into the elite players that they all have the potential to be is one that shouldn’t be taken for granted. The chance to witness the birth of a new dynasty doesn’t come around often.

Notes:
–The Oilers take on the LA Kings tonight at 10pm EST for the first time since their crazy meetup at the beginning of the season.
–Today is defenseman Ryan Whitney’s 30th birthday! Head over to his Twitter account and wish him a happy day!