Oilers Rambling

Hockey season is approaching, and I’m impatiently awaiting it, so it’s rambling time. The only big free agent splash the Oilers made was the signing of goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin to replace Dwayne Roloson, who departed for the New York Islanders (and, in my estimation, will usurp the starting job from Rick DiPietro and Martin Biron in relatively short order). Strangely, the Khabibulin signing has managed to make it’s way onto most of the top 5/10 worst UFA signings lists. I honestly don’t understand what thought processes that would lead a writer to believe that signing Khabibulin was a bad move, let alone a move worse than the gross overpayments of goons Colton Orr and Donald Brashear or Glen Sather’s moves in New York. The most commonly cited logic is that Khabibulin will be 40 years old when his 4 year deal ends, but I don’t really see that as a problem. He’s younger than Roloson, and is taking a pay cut of almost 50% to play for the Oil. He also has a Stanley Cup Championship on his resume (won with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004). Coming off of one of his best regular season performances, as well as a run to the Western Conference Finals with the Chicago Blackhawks, I can’t think of a better candidate from this years UFA crop to backstop the Oilers. I also think that having the ‘Bulin Wall mentoring youngster Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers will be nothing but good for his development. The only reasoning that makes any sense to me as to why some hockey pundits seem to hate this signing is that they either dislike Khabibulin or the Oilers, because there are plenty of legitimately bad signings to pick on this year.

Other than the ‘Bulin Wall being installed as the starting backstop, the Oilers roster is looking pretty similar to last year’s crop. Kyle Brodziak was shipped to Minnesota, so there’s an opening at the fourth line centre position, but unless the Oil’s new coaching combo of Pat Quinn and Tom Renney decide to shake things up at training camp it looks like most of the positions are pretty clearly assigned.

The top line will likely remain Dustin Penner/Shawn Horcoff/Ales Hemsky. I’m really hoping that Quinn and Renney can somehow get Penner back to the level he was playing at a few years ago, or the Oilers manage to unload him on somebody else. Horcoff had an offensive explosion before his injury in ’07-’08, and couldn’t match those numbers last year. Unfortunately for Horcoff, he was expected to be a point-a-game producer while simultaneously shutting down the opposing top line, taking pretty much every important face-off, and playing both special teams units. The addition of a defensive centre would really help Horcoff’s offensive game, I think, especially since it would take a lot of the faceoffs and penalty killing time away. Blair Betts and Radek Bonk are both available, if I recall correctly. Either of them could fit the bill rather nicely, if they can be acquired. Ales Hemsky is continuing to improve as a shooter, potting a career-high 23 goals last season. He’ll need to continue producing this year, and I have no reason to believe that he won’t.

The second line of Robert Nilsson/Sam Gagner/Patrick O’Sullivan is a question mark to me. Nilsson has flashes of offensive brilliance, but more often he’s just kind of there. Gagner stumbled early last year, but by the end of the season he’d managed to top the number of goals he scored in his stellar rookie year, and hopefully he’ll break the 20 goal mark this year. I haven’t seen enough of O’Sullivan to really have a read on him yet. He can reportedly play all three forward positions, and he’s a good penalty killer with some shootout skills, so hopefully the Oil’s second line will manage more offensive pop than they had last year. Andrew Cogliano really should be a second-liner, in my estimate. Perhaps teaching him to play the wing would improve his game?

Okay, so I’ve been writing this for like an hour and a half, off and on. I think that’s enough for tonight, especially considering that maybe 3 of your are actually going to read this. I’ve still got the third and fourth lines that I want to talk a bit about, as well as the defensive corps.

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