Tonight's Opponent: the Tampa Bay BugZappers

A friend has generously invited me to attend tonight's preseason home opener between the "Edmonton Oilers" and "Tampa Bay Lightning". I'll be rooting for the Oilers of course, but I'm really looking forward to seeing some of Tampa's stars. For some reason there wasn't much information on the Oilers website this morning about who's suiting up, so I had to go a little further afield to dig up (using the term advisedly) the Bolts' line-up that will be taking the ice tonight.

Forwards: Johan Harju, Niklas Persson, Teddy Purcell, Carter Ashton, James Wright, Brett Connolly, Dana Tyrell, Blair Jones, Adam Hall, Ryan Malone, Marc Pouliot, Steve Downie

Defensemen: Mattias Ohlund, Brett Clark, Mike Vernace, Randy Jones, Vladimir Mihalik, Radko Gudas

Goaltenders: Dan Ellis, Dustin Tokarski

To recap:

Vincent Lecavalier James Wright
Martin St. Louis Blair Jones
Simon Gagne Adam Hall
Steven Stamkos Dana Tyrell
Victor Hedman Radko Gudas

Which immediately prompts the question, The Radko Gudas?

Seeing those rather large holes in the line-up, I had a second look at my ticket, expecting to see something like this:

$145.00 $5

But no, the original price remains. Of course, if you're not fortunate enough to already have your own tickets and you're anxious to see "NHL" hockey, you can buy a pair of Gold Club tickets for tonight's affair right from oilers.nhl.com for a mere $430.50. You could buy a pair of season tickets for less in the leagues some of these dudes will wind up in this year.

Now admittedly there are extenuating circumstances surrounding tonight's game. It's the third game in three nights for the Lightning random dudes wearing Lightning sweaters. Moreover, last night they played what amounted to a home game (read: home gate) in Winnipeg against the Blackhawks, so it stands to reason that all the stars came out to shine then. I don't for a second begrudge the good burghers of Winnipeg their one opportunity to see real NHL stars this season, but that leaves some mighty paltry crumbs for the good burghers of Edmonton to get anything resembling value for money tonight. To charge regular season NHL prices for such a match against what was always going to be an undermanned opponent is nothing short of outrageous.

Of course, true Oiler fans don't care about the opposition, they just want to see the Oilers. The copper and blue are icing something resembling a real NHL line-up tonight:

Hall / Gagner / Hemsky
Paajarvi / Cogliano / Penner
Reddox / Fraser / Brule
MacIntyre / Pitlick / Omark

Smid / Foster
Petiot / Gilbert
Belle /Plante

Dubnyk
Deslauriers

(stick tap to Smokin' Ray of Oilers Jambalaya for tweeting the lines)

So this is our first chance to see Hall, Paajarvi, and Omark against real NHL competition. Except ... Tampa has all of five players who played as many as 50 NHL games last year: Ohlund, Clark, Downie, Malone, Purcell. Not exactly Murderer's Row. How much of a test will it be for Paajarvi to go one on one with Mike Vernace?

Of course, the Oilers themselves are hardly above such tactics. The squad that took the ice in Vancouver last night featured TWO forwards - Shawn Horcoff and Zack Stortini - who played even 25 games in the show last year. Horcoff's 637 career GP far surpassed the combined total of the other 11 forwards (390, of which 224 were Stortini's; the other 10 guys had a whole 166 GP of NHL experience).

Now I realize preseason games are largely about giving youngsters and "depth" guys a chance, and indeed it's often more interesting to see such guys fight for jobs as opposed to veterans going through the motions - see: Vancouver last night - but it always needs to be borne in mind that those guys will by and large be playing against other youngsters and depth guys, not real NHLers. The only thing truly "NHL" about games like this would be the prices.

If I seem overly cynical this morning, bear in mind that I already saw this game, or one just like it, a year ago this week. I expect more of the same tonight.

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