SUN Hockey Pool

It's a complete mystery

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

By early October you usually have some sense of how good a hockey club is going to be.

You might not always be right, and there's telling no how injuries will factor into the equation, but you still have a gut feeling, after three weeks of training camp and eight preseason games, which way the home squad is headed.

This year? It's almost impossible to predict what we should expect from Edmonton.

Will they be good? Bad? Indifferent?

It's anyone's guess.

Trying to read them is like trying to solve a Japanese word search.

You could make a compelling argument this is the same team that wasn't good enough last year and, thus, won't be good enough this year. Pat Quinn brings a fresh new attitude and has snapped his troops to attention, but how much does it matter when he's dealing with the same old troops?

You could also make the equally compelling argument that they were in the top eight for much of last year, until a 3-8 stretch drive ended their season, and that a new coach, a new attitude, a healthy Lubomir Visnovsky, a rested starter and a team full of players hungry to prove themselves should be more than enough to put them over the hump. As Ethan Moreau pointed out, the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes did little more than change coaches last season and it worked out pretty well for them. So why not Edmonton?

Either scenario sounds feasible. So which one are we in store for?

The players are a little curious themselves.

"It's a good question," said defenceman Tom Gilbert. "The line combinations, D partners, everybody has some type of chemistry going, which is a good thing. And we have new coaches and a new system, which I think is going to benefit the way we play. It's hard to say right now."

It's hard to say because there's nothing really tangible here to base your analysis on. They didn't add a couple of high-end free agents, and they didn't lose any.

It's the same guys, with a lot of room to be better, hoping they'll be better. And no way of predicting if they actually will.

"I hope we're going to go out there and perform better than last year," said Ladislav Smid. "The atmosphere is good here, everybody is excited about the opening game against Calgary. We can't wait for the puck to drop. We'll see in the first few games how we're going to perform as a team -- hopefully it's going to be good."

Around the league, Edmonton's bandwagon has more cobwebs and dust bunnies than true believers. TSN and The Hockey News, for example, both have them pegged to finish 11th in the West, missing the post-season for the fourth year in a row.

Quinn likes to think they'll be better than that, but knows he has his hands full here in trying to resurrect a three-time loser.

"We've had two weeks," he said, adding this is a process that's going to take time, and comes with no guarantees.

"Listen, Mac (Craig MacTavish) would have waved a magic wand, any coach would have, but there is no magic wand here.

"We need 22 guys to accept what we're trying to do and make a commitment to that. How long is that going to take? I don't know.

"I don't know what my expectation is for how quickly we'll be able to learn what we want to learn and have it become habit, have it become productive.

"I'd love to have it Saturday night, but I also know that we haven't accomplished (the playoffs) in four years and even that was coming together after you got in the dance on the last day by a point.

"There's no magic wand, we have to work at this every day."

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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