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

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Tuesday, 20 December 2011

12/20/11 Much Ado About Nothing: Struggling Oilers

Even if the Oilers hadn't teased us all with their 9-3-2 start to the season, the fans were probably always going to be ornery by this point in the season. It's hard to watch a team lose for six long years, and we all knew this was coming.

After the NHL Entry Draft it's really easy to forget how vile the season was - especially when your team comes away with consecutive first-overall picks. But this year we the fans expected more, even though we probably shouldn't have.

That doesn't mean that this thing isn't going to work.

Remember Matt Greene? Maybe you remember him taking three bonehead penalties in Game Four of the Quarterfinal Series against Detroit way back in 2006. It's possible you even screamed at your TV screen when they announced that he was going back to the sin bin for a third time against the best powerplay team in the league that year. Greene spent a total of 151 games in Edmonton and was a minus-31 over that span (including a dreadful 2006-07 when he was minus-22) before being traded to LA.

And since the trade, Greene has been a plus player every single year including this one. He's been a very important part of that Kings team and he was named an Alternate Captain.

Speaking of defensemen, Oilers fans suffered through five up-and-down years of Ladislav Smid's play before he finally got things figured out this year. Tom Gilbert played way over his head and had mixed results before finally settling in this season as well. Excluding the super elite, it usually takes NHL defensemen a while to round into form.

Corey Potter has played a grand total of 28 NHL games. Theo Peckham has appeared in 131. Jeff Petry is a veteran of 61 games, and Colten Teubert played his first ten in the big show this year. Games played by Gilbert and Smid before this year? 337 and 331 respectively.

The point here is that some very good NHL defensemen came out of those long, often hard games to watch. It took a lot of seasoning for these players to be any good. The same thing will be true of one, two or perhaps all of Petry, Teubert, Peckham and Potter, but it's going to take some time and a lot of patience.

And this principle doesn't just apply to defensemen. It's going to take NHL action for Devan Dubnyk and some of the forwards to come into their own (or not). And let's face it: the Oilers' recent struggles offensively have been a result of the inability of Smyth, Horcoff and Hemsky to provide secondary scoring, not ineffectiveness from the kids. Those veterans will come out of their slumber eventually because they are too good and too experienced not to.

The progress that this Oilers team makes this season may be hard to see on the scoreboard at times, and the standings certainly have not been easy on the eyes of late, but the value of playing time for this group cannot always be measured by those means. Just like before, these hard times will pay dividends when the Oilers really need it, and that was never going to be this year.

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