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Oilers Watch: Playing for a contract

Just because the Oilers are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention (and have been for a while), don’t think there’s nothing to play for in Edmonton. On the contrary: in another disastrous season, the team must take stock of what it has and what it needs to avoid the basement once again in 2011-12.

That means players are auditioning for next year from here on out. Thanks to injuries, there are a lot of roster spots and plenty of ice time to go around. Edmonton has already called up prospects such as Teemu Hartikainen and Chris Vande Velde to make their NHL debuts, while others have been given opportunities to prove they deserve another contract.

Most prominent among that group is centre Andrew Cogliano, who has benefitted from injuries down the middle of the squad. Eligible for restricted free agency in the summer (meaning Edmonton has the right to match any offer), Cogliano has played well in the month of March. Offensively, he has five points in nine games, an increase over his overall pace for the season, but he’s also playing defensively stout hockey, registering a plus-1 rating. Over the course of the season, he’s minus-11. In the past three games, he has also averaged around 21 minutes of ice time per contest – another high for the year. As a player who is continuing to round out, Cogliano will definitely be back in the fold next season, but his recent play may pad his wallet a little more than if he had signed earlier on in the campaign.

Other players will be in a more desperate situation heading into the summer. Centre Alexandre Giroux is definitely in that camp. Brought in as a free agent from Washington’s organization, Giroux was a big-time scorer in the American League for Hershey, yet he has never been able to repeat that success at the NHL level. Through seven games with the Oilers this year, he has registered just two points. Down in Oklahoma City, with the Oilers’ AHL affiliate, Giroux scored at more than a point-per-game pace. At 29, Giroux’s best games have likely been played already. Along with up-and-down pros such as Liam Reddox and Ryan O’Marra, Giroux’s final games in this NHL season will be of the utmost importance.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.

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