There was a time when an Oiler fan could name 15 “heart of the order” players worth keeping (they traded them all eventually) but the current team is a tad shy of the dynasty.
There are 5 names I’d keep for the 10-11 heart of the order list and there’s not really a long shot in the bunch. These aren’t rookies and these aren’t old dogs, these are players who have performed well (if inconsistently) in this season. The Edmonton Oilers have significant talent, even in this very dark hour in franchise history. We know there are good things on the way, but it is important to remember the names of the men who should be here doing the heavy lifting this fall.
- Dustin Penner. Watching last night’s game it is pretty obvious the big man is both worn down and indifferent. However, Penner’s output in a trying season is impressive when placed against the rest of the roster. Dustin Penner should be this team’s MVP and I can’t think of a good reason to trade him.
- Ales Hemsky. The main reason he gets mentioned in trade talks is the lack of an 80 point season. I’d point out that Hemsky was very close to that number the last time this team was any good and that he was on pace before injury this season. Underrated player by his own fanbase, he remains the last player I’d send away (although Gagner is gaining).
- Sam Gagner. The man who inspired the nickname Samwise as a teenager manages both spectacular passes and subtle positioning defensively on the same shifts. That stands out on this team and this is the guy the club should build the team around, at least until such time as Seguin/Hall clearly show they’re better overall players.
- Tom Gilbert. This post was inspired by a conversation I had this week about Gilbert. Two guys spent about 15 minutes explaining to me that 77 had one good season and Lowe paid him right away; they feel he’s been horse bleep since then. Which flies in the face of the math. Gilbert has played almost 250 NHL games with the Oilers and been one of their best players in many of them. Losing teams tend to focus on the negative and Pat Quinn wanted to make him over in the fall, but other than that I can’t think of one good reason to rip the guy. He isn’t Scott Stevens as a hitter, but he plays an intelligent game, moves the puck well and was positively stunning jumping into the play before Quinn put the Denver boot on creativity. Tom Gilbert is a helluva hockey player. Full stop.
- Shawn Horcoff. I know all about the -30 and the fact that his one time cannon is more like a popgun this season, but Horcoff’s Corsi ratings (relative to team and competition) are quality. It comes down to this: if you believe that events can vary wildly in an 82 game season but that everything is drawn back to an actual performance median, the hockey Gods will be rewarding this player in the future. I’ve taken some heat in defending Shawn Horcoff all down the line (and especially this season) but don’t really see a reason to change my mind. If you believe in the things we’ve come to know over these last seasons (like Corsi, end-zone starts, SP-per-player) then Shawn Horcoff is a case study in drawing back to the median. He’s a 15-game winner sitting at 7-16 for the season with a good k/w in a lot of innings. I think you make the bet, and disregard the boxcars and the booing fans and the misquoted cap hit. The Edmonton Oilers need to have the courage of their conviction, and despite the heavy contract the evidence shows this guy can play.