EDMONTON - With back-to-back exhibition games on the road this weekend, with final cut-down day fast approaching and with some tough decisions still ahead of him, there isnít room in a coachís day-timer for panic attacks.
But if opening night gets here and Ryan Whitney is still one healthy ankle short of a spot in the lineup, Tom Renney might be able to squeeze in a minor freak out.
As it stands right now, last seasonís most valuable player is a coin toss at best.
The 28-year-old defenceman, who had surgery on his ankle last year and tweaked it again in the off-season, has only practised with the team three times and isnít expecting to play in either one of Edmontonís last two exhibition games.
ďI donít think Iíll be playing this weekend,Ē said Whitney, who hasnít played in nine months and isnít sure about Oct. 9 against Pittsburgh. ďIíd like to be ready for the first game of the regular season, but I have no clue, really. Thatís a bridge weíre going to cross when we come to it. Iím just hoping to get healthy as quick as I can.
ďThe only thing Iíve told the trainers is that the last three days itís been dull pain and not sharp pain. Definitely better than it was three weeks ago. With sharp pain you canít play. Dull pain, as it lessens, is fine because itís not shooting or debilitating.Ē
Heís off the anti-inflammatories heíd been taking for the last week, so Whitney says this weekend will really let him know where heís at in terms of coming back. If everything stays the way it is, thatís a good sign. If it flares up again because heís skating hard and off the meds, itís a step backwards and Oct. 9 is probably out.
ďIím off the medicine starting (Thursday), so this is a big two or three days to see how I respond being off of it. The big question is this weekend.Ē
This is a scary issue because as much as the Oilers appear to be better in most areas this season, defence isnít one of them. They need a healthy Whitney.
Without him ... well, look what happened without him last year:
Before his ankle injury the Oilers were 12-16-6 with half a dozen one-goal losses.
After the loss of their power-play quarterback and team leader in points, plus-minus, ice time, assists and first, crisp passes out of the defensive zone, they went 13-29-6.
You can have all the high-end receivers you want, but without a decent quarterback to get them the ball, they end up running around empty-handed muttering ďI was open.Ē Without Whitney to retrieve the puck in his own end, turn, make a read and fire a pass, all those skilled young forwards might be doing the same.
ďI want to get back to where I was,Ē he said. ďI think they had confidence in me for a reason and I want to get back to being that player.
ďIím sure that when I do come back itíll be a little tough at the beginning, speed-wise, especially when you didnít even play the last half of last year, but you just have to basically take it day by day.Ē
Everyone is just hoping that this is the end of his foot trouble, and not the beginning.
ďThatís what I donít know,Ē said Whitney. ďWill it be something that nags at me for a while, probably. But nagging and a little pain here and there is different than a sharp pain that isnít ready to play with yet. Talking to all the doctors, they say that within months itíll be like it never happened.Ē