Whitney loss tough on Oilers

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

EDMONTON - The Oilers should bring the Comic Book guy from the Simpsons to practice on Thursday when they finally confirm the state of Ryan Whitney’s ankle.

He could do it in three words: Worst. Injury. Ever.

Pound for pound, minute for minute, Mr. Everything might be the most important player on the team right now.

Losing him for weeks, perhaps months, is a virtual death sentence as far as those meaningful games in March are concerned.

The power play quarterback and team leader in points, plus-minus, ice time, assists, leadership, stability and first, crisp passes out of the defensive zone does not have an heir apparent on this team.

The blueline doesn’t have a Hall or Eberle to compensate for losing Hemsky or Horcoff. It has Whitney. And when a team that’s already thinner on defence than a pair of Lululemons on Patrick Kabongo loses its best talent, it’s trouble.

“He’s up there, top 10 in minutes in the league,” said Tom Gilbert. “He’s a great puck-moving defenceman. His first pass and his ability to slow the game down is going to be something that we’re going to miss, especially.”

“His leadership in the room is going to be another thing,” added Kurtis Foster. “It’s a big loss.”

Lost leadership has been the recurring theme this season as the Curse of the Letter, having already struck down fellow captains Hemsky and Horcoff, claimed its third and final victim in Whitney, who limped out of Rexall Place in a walking cast.

“He’s our best defenceman, probably top three players on this team,” said Ladislav Smid. “He’s been playing very well for us, big minutes. Power play, PK. We’re going to miss him, but we have to show that we have some depth on the team.

“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy but if we want to make the playoffs, we have to do it.”

Yeah, um, about those playoffs. They’re not happening. In fact, any minute now the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils will be getting larger and larger in Edmonton’s rear view mirror.

And, somewhere in hockey land, former athletic therapist Kenny Lowe is saying “I told you it wasn’t my fault.”

“We’ve had some terrible injuries ever since I’ve been here, a lot of guys have been out,” said Gilbert. “A lot of fluke injuries. You’d like to find an answer for it to try and avoid it, but it’s just bad luck.”

“It’s hard, it’s tough, but pretty much every year is the same,” said Smid. “But I think this year is a bit different, we just have to deal with it. Every team goes through injuries. We just have to deal with it.

“We all have to step it up, obviously, we’ll have more responsibilities out there, probably more minutes. Just like the forwards did for Horc and Hemmer.”

They told themselves they had to deal with it when Horcoff and Hemsky went down and, despite their best and most valiant efforts, they are 1-5-1 in their last seven. Losing Whitney qualifies as being kicked while down.

Not that there’s anything wrong with another lottery pick.

“We’ll play with the circumstances we’re dealt with, we have to play as good as we can possibly play,” said head coach Tom Renney.

“Obviously he’s a big part of our offence and generates a lot from the back end because of an extremely good passing game. It’s an opportunity now for a group of guys to get it done and that’s not such a bad thing.

“Now we have to do it by committee. It’s an opportunity for us as a group of defencemen to share the workload, to understand the value of quick puck movement, of understand where when and how to put the puck where it needs to go. Those are things they all have to learn and understand anyway so this helps maybe accelerate that whole process.”

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