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When will the Oilers contend?

Taylor Hall is a key component in the Edmonton Oilers' plan in getting back to the Stanley Cup final. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Taylor Hall is a key component in the Edmonton Oilers' plan in getting back to the Stanley Cup final. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

You might think I would never run out of ways to introduce the weekly THN.com mailbag. You would be wrong. Here’s this week’s THN.com mailbag.

Adam, I am wondering – is Evgeni Nabokov allowed to sign with other teams?
Alex Turner, Montreal


Alex,

No, he isn’t. Because Nabokov refused to report to the Islanders last season, his one-year, $570,000 contract carries over into the 2011-12 campaign. His future rests squarely in the hands of Isles GM Garth Snow – and by the looks of things, Nabokov will have to wait until a netminder is injured or underproductive before he gets a real chance to restart his NHL career.

Adam, now that Chris Osgood has retired, I pose to you one of the toughest hockey questions I have come across: Is he a Hall of Famer? His 401 wins (10th all time), incredible playoff numbers (three Stanley Cups, 74 wins, playoff GAA of 2.09, playoff save percentage of .916) and 50 shutouts scream Hall of Famer.

However, the eye test shows a goalie that was never considered one of the best while he played, a goalie who played for a juggernaut for most of his career and a goalie who has just two All-Star Game appearances, no top-five Vezina finishes and was a year-end All-Star just once (second team, 1995-96). So I ask you for your opinion. Is Ozzie a Hall of Famer?
Prashanth Iyer, Chapel Hill, N.C.


Prashanth,

No, he isn’t. As I said on Twitter and THN’s Puck Panel earlier this week, Osgood always reminded me of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts: You never bought a ticket to a Stones show to see him in particular, but he’s a fantastic professional and was an integral part of the operation.

Same goes for Osgood. You can’t look at his numbers and say he didn’t do his job – but you also can’t say he dominated his position the same way a Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy did.

Some Red Wings fans may point to a crucial save he made that kept Detroit on course for one of their three Cups or to his resilience in bouncing back after an unfortunate goal. That’s all well and good, but the Hall of Fame isn’t about honoring a collection of individual moments. It is about an athlete’s ability to impose his will on the game over the course of his career. And I just don’t think you can say Osgood did so to the degree necessary to gain Hall of Fame admittance.

Adam, how long will it be before Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins carry the Edmonton Oilers to a Stanley Cup run?
Matthew Stovra, Saskatoon, Sask.


Matthew,

This is a loaded question asked by fans from all teams, so don’t think I’m picking on you for your inquiry. But there’s an impatience and expectance inherent in the question that I believe leads fans on the fast road to consistent disappointment.

Look at the Sedin Twins in Vancouver. They arrived in the NHL to great hype in 2000 and it has taken them all this time before blossoming into two of hockey’s best players. Even then, they needed an outstanding team around them to have success in the standings. Even then, it wasn’t enough to win the Cup this past season.

So to start guessing as to when the Oilers’ growing collection of elite young talent will translate into championships is to waste mental and emotional energy. It’s not going to happen next year and very likely not the year after that. The bottom line is there are so many variables that go into a Cup victory, it is impossible to put a timeline on any player’s ascent to hockey’s holy grail.

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Hi Adam, Do you agree with Brian Burke not believing in front-end loading player contracts while other GMs are more than happy to take advantage to sign big-name players? Brad Richards being one example that the Maple Leafs could have had.
Kevin Aranjo, Richmond Hill, Ont.


Hi Kevin,

I think sometimes people forget Burke’s title: president and GM. That means, in addition to looking out for the Maple Leafs’ on-ice fortunes, he also is in charge of the business aspect of the organization.

Keeping that in mind, it makes sense he would be concerned about the inflationary influence front-end contract loading and offer sheets have on the league. He understands as well as anyone that competing GMs are always going to match any offer sheet and that front-end loading is used on the kind of 10-year deals he wants no part of. So I don’t begrudge him at all for refusing to throw caution to the wind and jack up prices unnecessarily.

Lastly, your suggestion that the Leafs could have had Richards is simply untrue. As I’ve said since Christmas time, Richards wanted nothing to do with the Toronto hockey fishbowl and was always bound to sign in a city where he could make his $7 million-plus a year and disappear into obscurity once he left the rink. The Rangers were a perfect fit.

Adam, It was tough to see David Poile deal Cody Franson in order to dump Matthew Lombardi's contract, but also understandable. With no offense left on the free agent market (not the kind the Predators need, anyway), do you see any quality offensive players becoming available via trade that would be affordable for Poile's budget? Joel Ward was way overpaid by the Caps, but he is a tough competitor. Who replaces him? Does Niclas Bergfors really have what it takes to be a perennial 50-point man?
Jeffery Merriman, California


Jeffery,

There is very little offensive help on the free agent horizon, unless you’re interested in the likes of a Sergei Samsonov or Cory Stillman. Poile may be able to get one of those veterans to play for the league’s minimum salary, but failing that the Preds will do what they always do: depend on internal growth to make up for the steady stream of talent that departs the organization virtually every summer.

Who replaces Ward? Well, let’s look at it from a different angle: When Ward became a Predator in 2008, he was a fringe player who had spent the previous season in the American League. Nobody believed he could be an important part of Nashville’s attack. But he was given opportunity and he made the most of it.

That’s what I think you’ll see again this coming season. Coach Barry Trotz will provide increased ice time and opportunities to another group of relative unknowns and if none take advantage of the chance, the Preds will have to look elsewhere.

Follow Adam's hockey tweets at twitter.com/TheHockeyNews, and his non-hockey observations at twitter.com/ProteauType.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.

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