SUN Hockey Pool

Oiler decision day looms

Oilers head coach Pat Quinn and team management have some hard decisions to make. (Sun Media/Amber...

Oilers head coach Pat Quinn and team management have some hard decisions to make. (Sun Media/Amber Bracken)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

As Paul Azinger explained so bluntly last September at Valhalla, after spending three of his four captain's picks on Ryder Cup rookies, what's the point in adding experience for the sake of experience when so much of America's recent experience is rooted in underachievement and failure?

"I feel the guys who have not played in this event before are ready to play," he said.

"Also, not being a part of the past few U.S. teams is not necessarily a bad thing. The guys who haven't played, they've never lost this event."

The young Americans, minus an injured Tiger Woods, went out and slaughtered Europe, ending a long and miserable 12-year slump.

That's the kind of energy boost head coach Pat Quinn is hoping for as he formulates an Oilers lineup that's expected to include J.F. Jacques, Gilbert Brule and Ryan Stone, three relatively new faces with the potential to do for Edmonton what Anthony Kim, Boo Weekley and Hunter Mahan did for America -- inject energy, excitement and passion into a team gone stale.

"We're going to have a Jacques in the lineup and we're going to have a Stone, probably, in the lineup," Quinn said after the final game of the preseason.

Brule, too, if there's any justice in training camp. And while those three would be welcome additions, there is still the matter of clearing space for them in the dressing room.

The Oilers can postpone the hard decisions for a while by stashing a player or two -- Fernando Pisani (back) and Marc Pouliot (pubitis) -- on injured reserve, but that's only a temporary measure.

"It buys you a little bit of time with your roster to decide how to deal with it because there were some issues coming in, the cap, the numbers and the guys we had," said Quinn.

"So has it bought us time or has it just delayed the decision that should be made today? Maybe, I don't know."

Indeed, the Oilers can run from the hard decisions, but they can't hide.

If Jacques, Stone and Brule make the team -- and you concede nine more spots to Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Patrick O'Sullivan, Mike Comrie, Dustin Penner, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Zack Stortini and Ethan Moreau, -- you're left with five veterans competing for the final two positions: Pisani, Pouliot, Robert Nilsson, Steve MacIntyre and Liam Reddox.

Three of them have to go.

Reddox is in tough based on size, skill set and a two-way contract, but comes with an affordable $515,000 NHL price tag (all figures US$).

Nilsson is a $2 million cap hit, which frees up a lot of room if he's in the minors, but Kevin Lowe would have to admit a major mistake if they wound up trading Ryan Smyth for a $2 million Springfield Falcon.

Pouliot, who makes $825,000 on the strength of 20 points and 23 PIMs last year, doesn't do any one thing exceptionally well.

But do the Oilers want to declare two first-round busts (Pouliot and Schremp) in a span of three days?

Pisani would free up $2.5 million, but has played hard for the club, was the best forward in their Cup final run and has been fighting injury and illness the last two years.

Springfield is not an option. If not another chance, he deserves a trade, which could take a while.

MacIntyre checks in at just a $550,000 cap hit, but the Oilers have more team toughness than they've had in a long while and Kip Brennan is available for call-up.

On the other hand, people still remember how Minnesota tough guy Derek Boogaard used to run roughshod over the Oilers and they won't be happy if Edmonton loses its heavyweight at the expense of Pouliot or Nilsson.

These are hard calls that will have to be made, if not sooner, then later.

"Two weeks doesn't seem like a lot of time when you're trying to decide," said Quinn.

"We're still not certain based on what we've seen, but decision day is Wednesday morning."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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