The final part of the 2009 preseason roundtable asks the essential question - is this team good enough?
Our lineup includes: the erudite Shepso, author of some of the most intellectual hockey writings - he plies his trade at Bringing Back The Glory; The venerable HBomb, frequent on-point commentor at Lowetide's place; the incisive Dawgbone, a frequent commentor all over the Oilers' 'sphere, who writes too infrequently at After The Green Light; the pragmatic Doogie2k, an excellent foil and a thought-provoking writer at Still No Name; and the hilarious Lord Bob, whose rapier wit is rarely matched in the 'sphere.
I cannot thank our roundtable participants enough - they did some outstanding work in this series, and I hope to be able to call upon them once a month to answer a burning question or two. Thanks guys - it was much appreciated.
7. Does the team as currently constructed have what it takes to make the playoffs?
Shepso: Call me crazy, but yes, this team makes the playoffs if the Wall doesn’t come down for longer than 10-15 games. This team will be a 7th seed team. My Prediction is just over .500 hockey for most of the year, pick up a veteran center before the deadline in exchange for a suddenly useful Robert Nilsson or Steve Staios and will turn into the team that everyone hated playing against in the lowetide era; hard checking, gritty, fearless, and working as a team. This year’s team will have heart, unlike last year’s team which was like a football in the groin. Oh, should Khabibulin get seriously injured, I say we tank and go for next year’s lottery pick.
Hbomb: Right now, I wouldn't bet on them making it - a lot would have to go right for them to get into the top eight. The failure to address the center depth issue is especially frustrating, even moreso when you consider the options still available on the UFA scrap-heap. Go out and add some depth at that position, and it greatly enhances their chances of making the playoffs. In my mind, that's what will ultimately hold them back from returning to post-season play.
Dawgbone: Not this year. I still think they have too much growing up to do. Despite a lot of things that went bad last year, the team on the whole sitll managed to improve their goal differential by 17. I expect more improvement in this area and then this team should be in a comfortable spot come 2010-11... if the goaltending can hold up (and hopefully by then they'll be able to identify the goalie market and available talent).
Doogie2k: I don't know if I can give a simple "yes" or "no" answer here. My answers have been mostly optimistic, and if Quinn et al. can get everything out of the kids that they'd like, then I can definitely see the team staying in the mix until the very end. But there are so many other teams right now that could potentially go either way -- Minnesota, St. Louis, Dallas, Columbus, Nashville, LA, even Phoenix, if they can play through the uncertainty -- that there's no way to definitively say whether this is a playoff team. I guess to answer your direct question, yes, I do believe the Oilers have what it takes, since a very similar team stayed in the hunt until the last handful of games despite a litany of coaching and talent failures, but no, I am in no way certain that they will actually do it.
Oh, stop being such a bloody perfectionist and click "Send" already. You've been editing this thing in Gmail for an hour.
Lord Bob: The minuses for the Oilers vastly outweigh the pluses. The defense is better than average, the goaltending worse, and the forwards so short on depth it makes me want to grow a beard just so I can tear it out. The management has preferred scouring for magic bullets to actually solving the team's long-standing problems, sending out useful third-line centre Kyle Brodziak for, essentially, nothing because his contract would cost too much and immediately trying to give up two more forwards for Dany Heatley and his huge paycheque.
It would be so easy for Tambellini to turn things around. He could get two veteran NHL forwards for low prices on the free agent market without straining the salary cap, and just by burying underperforming players like Moreau and Staios in the minors could easily add a near-elite shutdown centre by trade. But he's shown no indication that he plans to do so, and for now it looks like the Oilers will yet again fall short.
Bruce: I think they have a fighting chance. When examined under a microscope the team certainly has holes, but the same can be said of many/most teams. The Oilers club entering training camp has an experienced coaching staff delivering a new message and new motivation to the room, a proven #1 goalie, a very solid defence crew, an excellent top line, and lots of young talent bubbling under. If the injury gods are a little less cruel than they have been the past three seasons, the Oilers definitely have a shot at the second season and may even surprise with a big leap out of the gate.
Derek: No. Tambellini has left too much work to guys that are going to be overwhelmed. None of Pouliot, O'Sullivan, or Brule are ready to replace Brodziak, who himself wasn't ready for what he was asked to do. Unless Quinn wants to see the Oilers get lapped at even strength, he's going to have to ride Horcoff all season long and minimize his effectiveness, just to give the other three centers a chance. The goaltending situation hangs by a thread in Nikolai Khabibulin's groin as the Oilers are one kick save away from the Deslauriers experiment. The defense should be fine barring injury issues, but this team lacks a stable backup goaltender, a veteran center, and a reliable bottom six wing to kill penalties. I hope the boys prove me wrong, but Gagner, Nilsson, Cogliano, Pouliot, Brule, Stortini and Jacques just aren't ready for the role that's about to be foisted upon them. I'd put them in 10th place right now unless they make a trade or clone Shawn Horcoff.
Jonathan: Maybe. As irritating as it is to stick close to the fence, the fact of the matter is that this team is a bubble team that should be life and death for a playoff berth all the way down the line. If Khabibulin struggles, this team will go nowhere. If players widely expected to rebound do in fact rebound, and Khabibulin can hold the fort, then they should squeak in. I'd peg them somewhere between 7th and 10th in the West.