It seems like only yesterday that the Oilers were getting ready to faceoff against the Flames in their first game of the year and here we are now 20 games deep into the 2009/10 NHL season. With the season a quarter over I thought we should take a quick look back at the season so far and hand out some quarter season accolades.
To start the season the Oilers were simply on fire. They started the season with a stellar 6-2-1 record but in the 11 games since then are just 2-8-1. The result is a slightly disappointing 8-10-2 record. I would have been happy with a pseudo 0.500 record at this point in the season but I’m not going to lose any sleep over the team coming up two points shy of that mark.
The start and the more recent slide has resulted in quite the roller coaster ride for fans in Edmonton but it’s worth pointing out that team isn’t as good as their record to start the season might have had you believe, but they’re not as bad as their recent record might indicate either. Between the flu and injuries this team hasn’t been whole at any point this year. Often practices have been poorly attended as players tried to get healthy. With new coaches and new systems that constant flux in personnel hasn’t allowed for the team to grow as I would have hoped.
Going into the season I wanted to give the Oilers 20 games to prove to me that this team could win games. It might seem like I’m a little quick on the trigger but the team has remained virtually unchanged from the squad that missed the playoffs last season. I’m faithful to a fault but I won’t continue to sit quietly while I watch a team that can’t compete and doesn’t try to improve.
Unfortunately for me though the team is at that 20 game mark and I still have no idea who this team really is.
With a couple of exceptions – Grebeshkov and Pisani – this team is healthy when you look at the stars and veterans. There are still plenty of players on the limp but they are generally speaking rookies or bit players; their absence from the Oilers lineup will have an impact but not nearly the to the same level that taking a player like Souray away would have. So I think if (and it’s a big if) this team can stay healthy for the next 10 games or so we might finally know what these Oilers are really capable of.
Now so far this season who have been the best and the worst of this Oilers squad.
Most Valuable Player / Most Surprising Player – Dustin Penner: I’d have bet my house that Penner wouldn’t be the Oilers MVP at this point in the season but there has been nobody even near his level of play so far this year. His game so far this year has been the complete package. He scores, he sets up plays, and he dominates physically. There is nothing else you could ask for. That all of that has come from a player who was so maligned last season by the coaching staff and fans is nothing short of a miracle.
His numbers are shocking – 12 goals, 11 assists, 23 points, and +10. If Penner was on pace for 60 points right now I would be thrilled, as I would assume most Oilers fans would be. That he is in the top 10 in both goals and points is like finding $100 in your pocket. It’s both unexpected an awesome at the same time.
MVP Honorable mention: Nikolai Khabibulin
Most Surprising Player Honorable mention: Ladislav Smid (in a good way), Shawn Horcoff (in a bad way)
Least Valuable Player – Ethan Moreau: Unlike the MVP there was, sadly, a lot of competition for this award. Nilsson and Horcoff were both in the mix here, but when I look at it Moreau just brings nothing at all to the Oilers lineup on far too many nights.
He has seen time almost exclusively on the fourth line so I won’t blame him for a lack of production because that wouldn’t be fair. But what is Moreau supposed to bring to the Oilers lineup? Leadership and strong defensive zone play. Does leadership take penalty after penalty after penalty in the offensive zone? Does a player that is sound defensively have the worst Corsi number among the forward corps? If you’re not sure the answer to both questions is no. Moreau has done almost nothing of value for this team through 20 games, for that he is the least valuable.
Best Off-Season Acquisition – Nikolai Khabibulin: Granted Khabibulin’s competition here is limited; in fact his only competition is Comrie. But Khabibulin deserves an award for his play. If not for Penner Khabibulin would be this teams MVP. He hasn’t stolen any games for the Oilers but he has kept them in more games than they deserved to be in. Khabibulin has played in 17 of the Oilers games so far this season and has seen more than his fair share of rubber. His 517 saves rank him third in the NHL so far this season.
Even with countless defensive zone breakdowns and turnovers he’s managed to post a 3.11 GAA and a 0.907 SV%. Those aren’t number that will win you a Vezina but they’re better than they should be considering he is being left on his own far too often this year. The Oilers record could (maybe should) be better but Khabibulin has carried more than his shared of the load so far.
Most Deserving Of A Bounce – Patrick O’Sullivan: If it wasn’t for bad luck O’Sullivan would have no luck. I really like his game but he can’t seem to ever catch a break. Pucks bounce off his stick and shots go just wide with an amazing regularity. He does so many things that I think should translate to goals and assists but in his case he just can’t seem to get the results he deserves. I hope he keeps doing the things he’s doing because eventually he’ll catch a break, he has to.
That’s it, 20 games down and 62 more to go. I think it’ll take 95 points to make the playoffs so the Oilers will need to play 0.620 hockey the rest of the way. A daunting task for sure but not impossible yet. They will need to start winning some games very very soon though.
About the Author: I'm a life long fan of hockey, especially the Oilers. The primary purpose of my day job is to get money to support my addiction to the Oil. Between season seats, beer, and merchandise I shudder to think about how much money I feed into Oiler coffers every year. My addiction to the Oil knows no bounds, when I got married in Mexico the whole trip had to be shifted after everything was booked so that I'd be back for the Mark Messier jersey retirement. My wife is very understanding and I'm in a good place with my addiction right now so I see no reason to change anything. I can be reached at email@example.com or you can follow my random thoughts at http://twitter.com/ryan_batty.