Gains possible in Oilers injuries

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:36 PM ET

After years of being official punching bag of the hockey gods, the Edmonton Oilers are finally catching some breaks.

Or, some tears.

Like the ones to Ales Hemsky’s groin and Shawn Horcoff’s knee.

As much as it hurts the Oilers, and the two limping veterans, right now, losing Hemsky and Horcoff for four and eight weeks respectively is the kind of short-term pain that yields long-term gain.

There were some concerns among the half million or so armchair GMs in Edmonton that the Oilers had been running a little too hot lately. With points in eight of their last 10 games (6-2-2) and growing stronger by the week, they were actually threatening to play themselves out of the NHL draft lottery.

Not cool. There’s a plan in place that includes a blue chip building block from the class of 2011 and nobody wants to see the Oilers screw it up by winning.

But there was nothing that management or the coaching staff could do about those pesky victories. All Steve Tambellini and Kevin Lowe could do was watch it all unfold, thrilled with how the rookies were developing, but also concerned that the stud defenceman or big centre that would go a long way to completing their puzzle was floating away on a sea of Ws.

Then along come the hockey gods. Down goes Hemsky. Down goes Horcoff. Time to put the brakes on this little surge of theirs before it gets out of hand.

Now the Oilers get to look at more players — Linus Omark and Ryan O’Marra were called up to fill the voids — and will see how the existing rookies respond to even more responsibility.

There’s almost never a silver lining to losing a couple of your best guys in the middle of the season — the Oilers can tell you this from years of first-hand experience — but this might be one.

“I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy,” said head coach Tom Renney. “It does provide us opportunity to look at the depth of our system. We do have options and that’s exciting.

“It’s an interesting time. It’s so neat to become more aware of what we’ve got, maybe what we don’t have. All these circumstances provide that opportunity. We just get to know ourselves that much better.

“But that does not change the fact that we’re going to miss two crucial pieces to our team.”

That’s where it can become a bit of a fine line. Looking at more young players in expanded roles is great, but losing 20 of 21 games like they did in an injury-plagued stretch a couple of years ago isn’t good for anyone’s development. Can the rookies evolve at the same pace if the Oilers are getting crushed every night?

Or will they pick up where they left off before the injuries? Is this a different team than the one that couldn’t survive the loss of a couple top-six forwards?

We’ll see.

“For our team it’s really important to go through these things and come out the other end of them more galvanized, more aware, more alert, more willing more able to deal with it,” said Renney. “In a convoluted kind of way it’s exciting because you find out what you’ve got, and that’s important.”

Enough to still play their way out of the lottery? A lot of people hope not. Just don’t suggest to anybody inside the dressing room what a relief it is that they might start losing again.

“I want to make the playoffs,” said Renney. “I want these guys to taste how valuable the effort is, because they’re putting it in.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, at the end of the day these guys are really trying to do the right thing. I want us to come out of the other end of this having accomplished something special, and maybe something people didn’t think we could,”

Follow me at Twitter.com/TYCHKOWSKI

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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