Abandon all hope, ye Oilers fans? That flicker of optimism, that spark with the potential for inferno, was drubbed into the boards by the most unlikely of sources, L.A.’s Michal Handzus, last week. And no, Ales Hemsky is not coming back, unfortunately.
The loss of Edmonton’s most dangerous offensive player over the past several years to a season-ending shoulder injury puts the Oilers in the most precarious of positions right now.
Simply put, dead in the water.
Too soon? Perhaps, but the Oilers are already battling injuries to several other key players (Nikolai Khabibulin, Mike Comrie, Denis Grebeshkov) and the team doesn’t have the depth to withstand the loss of Hemsky, who has led Edmonton in scoring every year since the lockout, even when he has missed chunks of time to previous maladies.
There are, to be fair, two options.
The first would be for Dustin Penner to continue his torrid pace all the way through the spring. Right now, Penner is on track to hit 90 points, which is way more than Hemsky ever produced in a season and would be the best result for an Oiler since Doug Weight had 104 points back in 1995-96. But with the loss of Hemsky, an offensive trickster if there ever was one, teams will now be able to focus more attention than ever on Penner, so the young power forward must actually ramp his game up even more if he wants to carry this team.
The second more dreary option is to throw fun out the window and play solid, defensive hockey. This would be a departure for head coach Pat Quinn – whose Toronto squads frequently led the Northeast Division in scoring during his tenure – but not associate coach Tom Renney, whose New York Rangers teams were usually in line with the defensive New Jersey Devils in terms of goals-against.
The problem with this option is that the Blueshirts had Henrik Lundqvist in net; the Oilers do not have that luxury. Edmonton has been outscored on the season 80-90 and with Detroit next on the docket, that’s likely not getting any better soon.
So batten down the hatches, folks, because Edmonton’s brain trust has been backed into a corner and will need to get very creative in order to survive the season.
This article also appeared in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.