a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Saturday, 1 October 2011

10/01/11 Two Big Questions After Friday's Game

It's been easy to root for Taylor Fedun. An Edmonton product, his showing at training camp had been a very pleasant surprise, and a much needed one for a thin Oilers blueline. Sports is performance based, which is why Fedun had so many fans in his corner, but now is a time where every hockey fan will be behind him hoping for the best possible outcome. We all hope that he will make a full recovery and return to hockey if he so chooses, but a full recovery will do.

This incident opens up two questions about the future. One concerns the NHL as a whole, and the other concerns the Oilers.

First: why hasn't the NHL adopted no-touch icing? It would seem obvious that skating at full speed directly toward the end boards while tangled with another player is not a good idea, and certainly not a safe working enviroment for players. By not changing this rule, the NHL is keeping an already hazardous game more dangerous than it has to be.

There is always the potential to negate an icing call in order to create a scoring chance, but it's a rare thing at best. Even when it does happen, it doesn't guarantee a scoring opportunity, let alone a goal. Mostly, touch icing wastes a few seconds on the clock while a defender skates back - seconds that could be used by that team in the offensive zone after the faceoff. With no-touch icing, the play is stopped and restarted faster because there is no need to see who will touch the puck first.

That one-in-a-hundred scoring chance is the reason that some are opposed to no-touch icing, which is an understandable rationale. On the other hand, if players could bat the puck in with a high stick we'd see more scoring chances as well. Some things must be taken out of the game for the sake of player safety. With how dangerous the NHL is becoming, the safety of players on both sides should be everyone's chief concern. Not every icing call causes an injury, but every race for the puck puts players in a dangerous position.

Fans were beginning to like watching Taylor Fedun, but they'll be lucky to see him again a year from now at best. Hopefully it won't take a star player getting hurt for the NHL to change its mind on this issue. And hopefully if Fedun is a star in the making, this incident won't prevent him from getting there.

Secondly, what are the Oilers going to do with the blue? Part of the reason that Taylor Fedun's strong play had been so important is because the Oilers blueline desperately needed a young defender to take a step forward. It now looks as though the blueline will be without Smid, Chorney, Fedun and Whitney for the start of the season. Whether or not Fedun and Chorney would have made the team is not as important as the fact that one of them would probably have replaced Smid.

It now appears that the Oilers will start the season with Gilbert, Barker, Sutton, Petry, Peckham and Potter. The silver lining here is that Colten Teubert could see a recall as the 7th defenseman, and with a group as green as this there's every chance that he'll see some NHL action before long. An injury prevented him from getting a fair shake in camp and now injuries have opened the door for him. The downside is for Oklahoma City, which is losing the guys that would have made up the core of its defense in Fedun, Teubert and potentially Potter and Petry. By default, Cam Barker is going to be asked to play more minutes than will be ideal for the type of player he is. The bottom line is that the Oilers are now extremely likely to stumble out of the gate.

Because of that, some are calling for Tambellini to start making some moves to bring in a defenseman. This is something that must be done at some point in time, but the time may not be now. First of all, the Oilers shouldn't be too eager to deal away their young forward depth because they don't yet know what they've got with the likes of Omark and Hartikainen, et al. Secondly, if Friday's incident has taught us anything, it's that depth is more important than ever at all positions.

But more important than any of that is the fact that the other 29 NHL general managers are dealing from a position of strength right now. On a personal level the other GMs will feel for Tambellini, but they aren't about to gut their teams for his sake. Half way through this season is about the time that the other GMs will know what players they are comfortable with dealing - even if they are highly regarded players. That is the type of deal that Tambellini should pursue; not a knee-jerk reaction to injury. Also, by that time the Oilers should have at least a healthier defense, which means Tambellini won't get fleeced in every deal he tries to make.

Friday's incidents have left some enormous questions, but answering them won't happen in the same amount of time it took to create them. Fans should be patient with the Oilers, but banging the drum of change with the NHL.

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