With 35 games remaining in the regular season – and coming off a world-class shellacking at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night – the Oilers don’t have much more room for error if they intend to make the playoffs after a two-year absence.
What has to go right for that to be achieved? What can’t change if Edmonton is to stay out of the draft lottery? I’m glad I asked myself, because the theme of this week’s file focuses on three happenings crucial to the Oilers qualifying for the 2009 post-season.
1. Steve Tambellini needs to bring in some talent for the forward unit. Were you aware three of the Oilers’ top five point-getters this season are defensemen? That’s wonderful for Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky and Tom Gilbert, but it doesn’t say much for the fellas up front. That’s why the Oilers’ management team of Tambellini and ol’ buddy ol’ pal Kevin Lowe have to be buyers at the trade deadline; though it might be prudent as the team looks toward the off-season, selling off veterans to solidify the future would be a terrible message to send.
2. Craig MacTavish must get Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers some work in net. The Oilers cleared out the logjam in goal when they dealt Mathieu Garon to Pittsburgh in mid-January. However, leaning too heavily on 39-year-old Dwayne Roloson down the stretch is not only a gamble on a greybeard, but also stalls the progress of Drouin-Deslauriers. He could use the work now if called upon later.
3. One of the kids currently on the NHL roster must turn his season around. Ales Hemsky is on pace to set career bests in goals and points this season, but otherwise, the Oilers have seen most of their group of 25-and-under forwards struggle mightily. I’m not saying Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson, Gilbert Brule, Kyle Brodziak and Marc-Antoine Pouliot all need to start posting better numbers to get Edmonton into the playoffs; I am saying if each of them continue underwhelming fans and management, the other two points in this column won’t matter.
This column also appears in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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