SBN's Foreign Exchange program continues today, with Jonathan, Derek and Bruce fielding questions from the gellas at Broad Street Hockey. The first part of the discussion can be located here. Thanks to Geoff and Ben for some interesting discussion during the downtime known as August.
Jonathan: It isn't easy to narrow down the contributions of a single player on a team like that. The 2005-06 Oilers were a solid, veteran group plagued for much of the year by miserable goaltending, but Pronger was certainly the most vital component of the team. He was simultaneously both the team's most effective shut-down defenseman and their best offensive defenseman, and he ate a ton of minutes on the backend. The Oilers' collapse following his departure wasn't solely Pronger's doing (the loss of Peca, Spacek, Samosonov, etc. all contributed) but there's no doubt that he was the best player on a very good team and I doubt they would have squeaked into 8th without him in the lineup.
Broadstreet: On a related note, Joffrey Lupul has now been traded for Chris Pronger twice. He was constantly looked at as a disappointment in Philadelphia, mainly for his streaky play and high salary. Is that a sentiment you shared in Edmonton and did you miss having him on your team once he was gone?
Jonathan: Joffrey Lupul was a complete disappointment in Edmonton. He was expected to score 30 goals and help lead the offense; he couldn't even manage 30 points. Aside from his negligible offense, Lupul was found lacking in virtually every possible way: soft for his size, no defensive game to speak of, and became the chief whipping boy for most of the fanbase during his time in Edmonton. He was not missed.
Broadstreet: Being in a small market, how has the salary cap affected your on-ice performance?
Derek: It hasn't. Although the Oilers are a small market, they have an owner with eleventy billion dollars, and he's not afraid to use them. He's been willing to vastly overpay for free agents since taking over as evidence by his offers to Marian Hossa and Jaromir Jagr. The NHL, like other sports, is becoming a billionaire's club and the Oilers shouldn't have any issues with finances barring Katz experiencing a financial meltdown five times the size of Jerry Moyes in Phoenix.
Broadstreet: Is it doing enough to allow you to compete?
Derek: The only thing preventing the Oilers from competing is the on-ice product and the people that manage that product. The owner's giant bags of money are wide open to spend on the hockey club.
Broadstreet: Is there ever a sense that it's tough for the organization to lure players to a smaller, colder market than Edmonton than it might be for a team like the Flyers in a bigger, slightly warmer market?
Derek: It's the overriding narrative for a large contingent of fans every off-season. It's part self-pity, part battered-wife syndrome. Fans search for excuses as to why the Oilers aren't signing big name free agents, so they convince themselves that it's the cold weather, not the really poorly-managed hockey team. If the Oilers make the playoffs two or three years running and can't sign anyone, then maybe it is the -22F air temperatures.
Broadstreet: Lastly, the Flyers were just named to play in the Winter Classic this year. What was the atmosphere like from a fan perspective?
Bruce: I wrote a recap on the day of the five-year anniversary of the Heritage Classic. A snippet:
In many ways the fans were the big story. Layered up as we were, we wedged ourselves together like rowsful of Dave Hunters. Not everybody stuck it out for the whole six hours, but a significant majority did. It was a wonderful celebration of the game of hockey, and simply of being Canadian. One just had to listen to the 57,000-voice Commonwealth Stadium Choir's heartfelt rendition of "O Canada" to recognize that. Normally a reluctant participant in flag-waving and territory-marking, I was surprised to hear my own voice rising to join the throng.
Broadstreet: Was there any noticeable affect of the spectacle on the team, either leading up to the game or following it?
Bruce: As for its effect on the team, at least superficially it was negative. The Oil came in to the Heritage Classic riding a four-game winning streak, and sat fourth in the West. They lost the HC itself and won just 2 of their next 13 after that, slumping to 13th in the conference by the Christmas break. They never quite recovered, finishing 9th.
The Habs on the other hand were 11th in the East when the puck was dropped at Commonwealth, and ultimately worked their way up to a playoff position, though the HC game itself didn't start or stop any particular trends the way it did with the Oil.