Before the 2011-12 NHL season began, a group of bloggers from around the 'Sphere made predictions about how the season would go on The Copper and Blue. As a matter of full disclosure, let's see how I did.
"Many fans and of course all of the Edmonton mainstream media have called Steve Tambellini's non-draft off-season a success. Do you agree?"
To paraphrase a long answer:
- Overpaying a player like Erhoff would have been a bad way to fix the defense, and signing aging free agents would take playing time away from young prospects who need time to develop
- The goaltending situation was left alone so that Devan Dubnyk could get more playing time
- The bottom two lines received a much needed overhaul
- Ryan Smyth was brought back
Most of the panelists agreed that the off season was relatively successful, but also that not enough was done to make the Oilers a playoff team. Last June I argued against signing Cam Barker because he brought less to the table offensively than Tom Gilbert and having been bought out made him risky, but I held out hope that Barker could justify his overly large contract once it was signed. Obviously, he did not.
Christian Erhoff dipped to 32 points in 66 games for Buffalo (0.48 p/g), which is closer to his career total (0.46 p/g) than what he had the year before signing his ten year deal (0.63 p/g). The Sabres paid Erhoff $562,500 per point this season and he didn't put them over the top. The fact that the Oilers didn't go after a big fish like Erhoff or a veteran like Hannan meant that Jeff Petry got into 73 games for the Oilers and developed into a key contributor.
Devan Dubnyk did get into more games this year - 12 more, to be exact (11 starts) - and performed exceedingly well given the circumstances, but I was wrong about keeping Khabibulin. Although his overall save percentage rebounded from 0.890 to 0.910, Khabibulin was atrocious after his early hot streak. After winning 7 of his first 9 games, he went on to win just 5 more all year in 31 starts. Count me among the people who didn't think Khabibulin could continue to be as bad as he was in 2010-11, but he proved that crowd wrong and then some. The workload should have been divided 60-22 in favor of Dubnyk and wasn't, which would have made more sense for a goalie who is 39 years old and had played 743 games before 2011-12.
The removal of Stortini, MacIntyre, Jacques and Fraser were no-brainers, as only one (Fraser) is still in the NHL. Andrew Cogliano's production dipped to 26 points from 35 in 2010-11, and he did it with a new $2.39 million cap hit. His replacement, Eric Belanger, picked up just 16 points for $1.75 million, but at least he was able to win a faceoff. Cogliano was 42% in the dot this year, while Belanger won 55.3% of the time and was a key PK contributor. Nobody could have predicted that Belanger, the personification of consistency, would have such a sub-par season, and he should bounce back next year. Hordichuk did what he does but wasn't very useful, and Eager chipped in 8 goals. Ryan Jones also had a good season, setting a new career high with 33 points and adding 17 goals; earning every bit of his $1.5 million.
Finally, even though Ryan Smyth's return fell flat in the latter half of the season, the Oilers still acquired 19 goals and 46 points in exchange for Fraser and a late pick. That the trade happened can't be credited to Tambellini at all, but the parts that went the other way can. In 67 games for the Kings, Fraser scored just twice and added six assists. That's actually one less goal than he scored in his only year as an Oiler.
I became a fan of the full tear-down, scorched earth style rebuild on December 12th of 2009. Ironically, the Oilers had just won a franchise record five straight road games. The trouble was that they left for that road trip in 14th place in the West, and returned from it in 11th place. There was no way that the Oilers were going to continue to win like they just had on the road, so it looked like another year of spinning their wheels. The Oilers went on to lose seven straight and nine of their next ten games, which put them out of the hunt for good.
Since then, I haven't been too perplexed that the team was losing, and so the moves Tambellini made in the 2011 off season made sense from the standpoint that they were going to develop a team from within that would be terrible for a while. That meant playing young players rather than paying veterans, and suffering through some growing pains.
What the Oilers do this off season will be much more heavily scrutinized by everyone, and rightfully so. It's time to start winning in Edmonton.
The recap of predictions will continue throughout the week and we'll revisit the following questions next time:
What expectations should fans have for the Oilers?
If the team doesn't meet those expectations, is anyone's job in jeopardy?
Which Oiler will score at least 40 points? Who will get the most?
Which player will less than 30 NHL games will play the most this season?
Which of the PP and PK is most likely to improve?
How many games will Yann Danis start?
Will Khabibulin spend any time in OKC?
Which Western Conference team is most likely to be worse than the Oilers?
Where will the Oilers finish?
Will Ales Hemsky be traded or signed?