SUN Hockey Pool

Think of the positives

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

It's an interesting exercise which fans should do on a regular basis.

And it's one Edmonton Oilers fans should especially do right now as the trade deadline and their official elimination from the playoff race coincide at the same time.

It's kind of like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, except you don't do it blindfolded and you put arrows on their foreheads instead of tails on their butts.

If you do it right now, it illustrates why Kevin Lowe ought not do anything at the trade deadline Tuesday unless some other general manager comes down with a serious case of the stupids.

AN EXPLANATION

If you believe a player is going to do nothing but get better, give him an up arrow.

If you think he's at the stage of his career where he's as good as he's going to get but is likely going to stay there for a few years yet, give him a sideways arrow.

A guy who you believe has seen his best years of his career gets a down arrow.

In some cases, you have to put a question mark.

Everybody is going to have his own chart. But I suspect most will look a lot like mine.

And I only score two down arrows. Two. They are Dwayne Roloson, the 38-year-old goaltender who carries a $3.6 million hit against the cap and is going into the final year of his contract next year, and Geoff Sanderson, 36, who doesn't have long left.

You have to put a question marks beside the name of Jarret Stoll because of the concussion he had last year and the fact he hasn't come close to returning to his previous form yet. Raffi Torres gets a question mark, too, although I believe if he wasn't injured, he'd be the player most in play for Lowe to trade between now and Tuesday because I think we know the answer to the question in his case.

You might suggest Shawn Horcoff isn't likely to match the season he was having up to the all-star game when he got hurt, and might be going downhill from here. But Horcoff is 29 and I figure him for no less than 25 goals and 60 points a year for several years yet.

There are times Steve Staios, 34, might look like his arrow is tipping down like Jason Smith's clearly did last year. But Staios is more likely playing a few too many minutes with the kiddie corps the Oilers are developing on defence. He should have a couple more years as a solid pro to be an example for these kids as they develop.

Ethan Moreau, 32, isn't likely to get much better but we've all witnessed what he brings in character, leadership and physical play since he returned to begin his life as captain of the club.

But look at the up arrows.

Sam Gagner is the youngest player in the league at age 18 and maybe should have two or three up arrows on his forehead. How good is he going to get?

Andrew Cogliano is 20. Maybe he should have two up arrows.

I can't believe so many fans have managed to forget what we're dealing with here as they watch another season end early.

Ladislav Smid is 22. Zack Stortini is 22. Kyle Brodziak is 23. Robert Nilsson is 23. Alex Hemsky is 24. Dennis Grebeshkov is 24. Joni Pitkanen is 24. Tom Gilbert is 25. Dustin Penner is 25.

All of them aren't going to turn out to be great. But some of them are already very good. Almost all of them are going to get better. And the best part is that they are doing it together.

If you want to feel really up about the hometown hockey team, do the exercise with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs have been in about the same position in the standings as the Oilers this season. Comparing the two teams offers a terrific illustration of how close Edmonton is to having some success again and just how far away Toronto really is from seeing light at the end of the tunnel they've been digging under Yonge Street since 1967.

DON'T MAPLE LAUGH

And when you're done doing that, do it again with their farm teams where the Toronto Marlies lead their division in the American Hockey League, but with a collection of journeymen who aren't likely to be NHLers.

The Oilers' farm club in Springfield is in a playoff position with a plethora of first- and second-year pros and their own challenges with injuries, although nothing on the order of the 14 players who have been out 233 games with illness or injuries so far with the Oilers.

It's a second straight down time of year around here.

But look at the up arrows.


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