March 24, 2012
Winning may actually being losing for Oilers
By Derek Van Diest, QMI Agency
COLUMBUS - The Edmonton Oilers can’t win for losing.
Just when it appeared the team had settled into a comfortable 29th spot, where they would, most likely, have access to one of the two most dynamic players available in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, they start winning.
Suddenly, heading in Sunday’s contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Oilers are within striking distance of the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning and Minnesota Wild.
Even the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t that far out of reach anymore.
It’s not the best time to be making a move up the standings.
Heading down the stretch, a number of players expressed interest in catching teams above them and reeling them in one-by-one.
However, by doing that, the Oilers could be playing themselves out of a lottery pick, which considering the grand scheme of things, is not necessarily a good thing.
It’s an interesting predicament for this team, which on one hand, want to try and create a winning culture, but at the same time, still require high-end talent in order to do that consistently.
The two top prospects in this summer’s draft are Russians, Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko, who are both playing in the CHL and therefore have been accessible to scouts and NHL general managers all season.
Russians playing here, are less of a risk than those still overseas.
The Oilers are believed to be high on Grigorenko, who is a big, strong, fast centre, drawing comparisons to Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.
That type of player would compliment the Oilers young stars nicely.
However, if the Oilers drop out of the top two draft spots, there’s a good chance Grigorenko won’t be available. And if they drop out of the lottery altogether, it’s unlike they’re going to get someone that is able to step in next season.
That may push back this rebuilding process even further.
Yet for many players on this year’s squad, that’s not their concern.
Many still have to prove they are worth keeping.
Obviously the group the Oilers put together this year wasn’t able to get the job done, or else they wouldn’t be in their current predicament.
So outside a small handful of players, there shouldn’t be any guaranteed spots for next season.
“We want to finish the season strong and the past five or so games have been a good indication of that,” said centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who’s got a Calder trophy to chase. “We’re playing for pride and we want to finish the season off strong to carry over for next season. I think we’re just going out there and playing and trying to have fun with it.”
The Oilers have lost just once in regulation in their last eight games.
They’re racking up points faster than George Clooney’s character did in Up in the Air.
The Oilers have 11 points in that span. At one point this season, it took them 22 games to earn 11 points.
“I think lately we’ve been playing hard as six guys out on the ice,” said winger Ryan Jones. “We got separated a little throughout the year and it’s tough to play when there’s not a lot of support out on the ice.
“I think the game we’re playing now, there is a lot of support everywhere there are short passes available and in Florida, for example, it had to be. You weren’t going to play the 50, 60-foot passes, instead we had to go with the five- or 10-foot passes it was a bit of a chess match and it worked out well for us.”
The team’s current success, begs the question as to where the Oilers would be if they had just managed to find another five wins throughout the season or if they were able to win some of the nine shootout and overtime games they lost?
Obviously it’s a moot point, and the Oilers playoff aspirations have long since expired.
Yet their lottery hopes are still very much intact, which brings one back to where the club currently finds itself.
If you’re not going to play the game to win, then there’s little point of playing, so tanking is out of the question. Especially when you have a coaching staff up for renewal.
But by winning, the Oilers my still be losing.
Oil Drops: The Oilers have recalled Chris VandeVelde from the Oklahoma City Barons for Sunday’s game. VandeVelde is expected to take Shawn Horcoff’s place in the lineup, who hurt his back Friday in Florida.