Of all the sins I've been accused of in my time at the Copper & Blue, the most virulent accusation has been one of pessimism. I have run a short series on how pessimistic I am about some of the Oilers' top prospects. I have said that their general manager is a fool and their coach is overrated, and that if this team doesn't miss the playoffs by miles it'll be more than a miracle. I've whined about Fernando Pisani and Marc Pouliot leaving, and I've whined about Jean-Francois Jacques and Jason Strudwick, and oh heavens have I whined about Steve MacIntyre staying. I've whined so much I sound like an air compressor.
So will it surprise you to learn that there is, in fact, more than an optimistic bone in my body? That I think there are aspects of this team to look forward to? That the Oilers have done things and made changes that make me sit up a little straighter in my chair, or look forward on this team with some crude emotion vaguely resembling "hope"?
Yes, when I close my eyes and think about it, when I look upon this team critically and impassively as I feel I ought, I do still think we're going to miss the playoffs.
But here's why I'm optimistic all the same.
I believe that Steve Tambellini has made this team better than it used to be. I believe that I am as surprised by this as anyone. Actually, aside from the fact that he thinks goons are useful and doesn't quite understand defensive forwards yet, I believe Steve Tambellini might be slowly learning this business.
I believe that no matter who our captain ends up being, it'll be an improvement.
I believe Sheldon Souray is too much of a professional to drag his hometown team into the toilet just because he's sad. I believe that a lot of his problems were with coaching and training staffs that aren't there anymore and players who have been exiled elsewhere in the Western Conference. I also believe that, while he's overpaid, he's still a pretty good defenseman who might give us a lot of help nobody's currently counting on.
I believe that between Jean-Francois Jacques, Kurtis Foster, and Steve MacIntyre, nobody will have to worry about getting something off the top shelf.
I believe Ales Hemsky will be back from injury. That alone is cause for optimism.
I believe in Dustin Penner, almost unreservedly.
Remember that Top 25 Under 25 when I sold low on so many prospects you think are great? I believe those prospects are pretty good too. I believe most of our prospects are pretty good.
I believe that Martin Gerber, whose signing I openly mocked when it happened, will be a lot more useful than I first thought. I also believe that Devan Dubnyk is a pretty good young goaltender, that Jeff Deslauriers is better than some people think, and that Nikolai Khabibulin... but no, I'm trying to be optimistic.
I believe that a defense of Souray, Gilbert, Whitney, Smid, Vandermeer, and Foster isn't that bad. Then again, I said that about the defense last year.
I believe that just because we'll miss the playoffs doesn't mean we're not going to fight like hell to get into them. I believe that this team is more weaknesses than strengths but it still has more strengths than it did last year. I believe that a lot of the dead weight is gone and has been replaced by weight that is still dead but a lot less heavy. I believe that things are trending up, and that's about all we could have asked for at the beginning of the season.
I believe that's pretty good.