Hockey is a physical sport and, as is the case with any physical sport, players get injured from time to time. Over the last few seasons fans of the Edmonton Oilers have become keenly aware of this fact as injuries (and 30th place finishes) have become a recurring theme for the club. Last season the Oilers lost a total of 530 man games to injury. For perspective if six players sat out the season the total man games lost would be just 492. On the upside the total this year is significantly lower at 194 games and counting, but the recent run of injuries has nonetheless put the club in a tough situation.
When the Oilers take to the ice tomorrow night against the Phoenix Coyotes they will do so without Ales Hemsky, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff, Gilbert Brule, and J.F. Jacques up front, each of whom has been injured in a game this month. The Oilers have only played seven games this month but have lost six forwards to injury. Three of the six – Hemsky, Hall, and Gagner – have been lost for the season. Yeah injuries happen but this is ridiculous. Was it not bad enough to watch a dead last place hockey club, now we have to watch a dead last place club filled with AHLers?
It’s a lousy situation for Oiler fans but it is worse for fans of the Oklahoma City Barons whose playoff hopes could be dashed if the Oilers recall players from the farm club to fill the holes on the big club.
With 13 games left in the season the Barons need every point they can get if the playoffs are going to be part of their immediate future. Currently the Barons are in a tie with the ninth place San Antonio Rampage with 76 points, just one point back of the eighth place Hamilton Bulldogs. Unfortunately for the Barons the playoff format in the AHL differs from that used in the NHL and eighth place may not be good enough to get them into the playoffs. To get into the playoffs the Barons need to either finish fourth in their division or fifth with a point total better than fourth place in the North Division. For that to happen the Barons are going to need all hands on deck.
And therein lies the rub – if the Oilers recall a few forwards for even a couple of games it could cost the Barons, and their fans, a chance at making the playoffs in the clubs inaugural season. The Oilers, who have already recalled Teemu Hartikainen, seem to have grasped this potential problem and won’t be recalling anyone until after the Barons game tonight. But with three games scheduled for this weekend, including two with the Chicago Wolves who the Barons are chasing for fifth in the division, delaying the recalls for a day won’t solve the problem.
So be Steve Tambellini for a few minutes, what do you do? Do you sacrifice the Barons playoff hopes for a team that’s destined to finish dead last, or nearly dead last anyway? If you're recalling players from the farm club do you owe it to the best players on the Barons to at least give them a chance to play in the NHL or should the Oilers bring up more easily replaceable third or fourth liners from the Barons?