Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Northwest Preview: Feeling Minnesota

The league's most hard-fought division got a little tougher in the off-season, with all teams making substantial changes to their rosters. How can the Oilers expect to do against their Nor'wester brethren? Over the next couple days (or so), join the lazy hacks at Covered in Oil as they emerge from their beaver dam of champagne-soaked Roloson jerseys just long enough to check out the lay of the land and offer a hastily-considered assessment of each team in the division. (Well, mine will be hastily considered, anyhow; I’m sure Mike and PM will actually do “research.”)

Let's roll, fools!

2005-06 Record: 38-36-8, 89 pts, 12th place (5th in division)
Vs. Oilers: 6-2-0

C Pavol Demitra, LW Mark Parrish, D Kim Johnsson, D Keith Carney
G Dwayne Roloson, pretty much their entire defence

DEPTH CHART (more or less)

Branko Radivojevic / Pavol Demitra / Marian Gaborik
Mark Parrish / Todd White / Brian Rolston
Pascal Dupuis / Wes Walz / Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Derek Boogaard / Mikko Koivu / Stephane Veilleux

Kim Johnsson / Nick Schultz
Keith Carney / Kurtis Foster
Petteri Nummelin / Brent Burns

Manny Fernandez
Josh Harding

I've got a real love-hate thing going on with Minnesota. On the one hand, I've always admired their discipline and the efficiency of their turnover-based system (not the pastry kind, the giveaway kind). But on the other hand, I wish they wouldn't use that same efficient discipline to kick the Oilers' collective ass with such stunning regularity. I've been on hand at the Drugstore for more losses to the Wild than any other team over the pat couple years, and every time I bought tickets I distinctly recall thinking there was no way they could possibly win this time, that somehow, the Oilers, much like the Washington Senators, were “due.” Apparently I forgot that, like the Flames, the Wild have two distinct styles of play: Regular, which they use against every other team in the league, and Magic, which they reserve especially for Edmonton alone. The results last year, as you can see, were not good for the Oilers. Did a non-playoff team really beat us six times last year? Humbling.

And I’m sad to report that my gut tells me it’s not going to get any less humbling this year. The Wild have made some significant upgrades up front, with the addition of No. 1 centre Pavol Demitra — who scored 35 and 36 goals in consecutive seasons in St. Louis, as well as 25 in 58 games with the Kings last year, and should mesh beautifully with fellow Slovak Marian Gaborik — and Mark Parrish, whose habit of popping in 25-30 goals while playing on terrible teams should add some punch to an otherwise anemic left wing. These two new players alone should notably change the landscape of this team in terms of pure scoring punch, and I’m curious to see how Jacques Lemaire adapts to the fact that he finally has some firepower. Not to downplay Brian Rolston in saying this, of course, a truly underrated talent who led the team with 79 points and 15 PPG (five more than Marian) and was second in +/- (plus-14) behind the departed Willie Mitchell.

And speaking of departed Willie Mitchells, the other big change on the Wild front was the complete makeover of their middling defensive squad. Minnesota lost their No. 2 and 3 d-men — Daniel Tjarnqvist (EDM) and Filip Kuba (TB), respectively — and Andrei Zyuzin (CAL) to free agency, along with Mitchell, who signed up for four years of misery with the somehow-even more-one-dimensional Vancouver Canucks (but more on them later). The Wild still have a great young core built around Nick Schultz and Brent Burns, though, and it's possible that Kim Johnsson could return to 40-point form and actually bring some offence to Minnesota's d-first system. Keith Carney is a sloth, and while I have a feeling he won't stick out quite as badly in the Minnesota as he did in Anaheim and Vancouver, he certainly won't be much help, either. If Johnsson bounces back, this year’s blue line is a marked improvement. If not, it looks pretty much the same.

Finally, in net, it remains to be seen how Manny Fernandez will perform now that he doesn't have a guy like Roloson threatening to steal his job after every mediocre game. 2002 second-rounder Josh Harding will be backup this year after posting decent numbers in a three-game tryout (2.59 gaa, .904 sv%, 1 so), and will probably fit in just fine.

But what does this all mean to the Oilers? Well, Minnesota comes into this year with pretty much the same quality goaltending, a slightly improved defence and a noticeably better crop of forwards. Considering how badly we did against them last year, this doesn’t seem to bode well to Edmonton. At this point, even splitting the season series would be a step forward, and you know what? I’ll take it. Just keep those jerks in the division basement and out of playoff contention, and I’ll keep buying tickets to games the Oilers are all but guaranteed to lose.

You know... if I could buy tickets to Oilers games... in Toronto. *cough*

4-4 split against the Oilers, 4th in division, barely out of the playoffs.


She said...

Psssst- Jacques Lemaire will be adapting to new-found firepower. (reluctant to mention this after seeing the previous post and comments.)

Anyways, I don't know what the deal is with the Wild. The only game I saw in Edmonton last season was the stinker against these guys on Boxing Day-a brutal game whose only saving grace was that the tickets were given to us after we spent the day having cocktails, thereby eliminating the need to rely solely on the overpriced beer at Rexall. We drank a few of those anyways. Had to, the game was so bad. But I digress.

The point is, I'm having a hard time seeing Minnesota as a vastly improved team, too.

Anonymous said...

Shit! Thanks for catching that, she. Unlike Dave, I'm going to eschew the self-flagellation and change that post-haste.


Matt said...

Also, I suspect you meant to refer to the Washington Generals being due, what with that 9,000 game losing streak against the Globetrotters.

Scarlett said...

I'd be happy with a split this year too. It was embarrassing how the Wild had their way with the Oil.

I hope the Oil play good against those crappy teams. Teams like the Wild should not be beating Edm.

Loxy said...

Outside of going back to Edmonton for Stanley Cup finals games... I always get to see Minnesota beat Edmonton 2-0. Not only is 2-0 boring, it's REALLY boring when the Wild are victorious.

Luckily this Christmas the Oilers are playing LA, I think. Which means that'll be my one terribly boring loss of the year.

Paul O-the O stands for Sports said...

Due to the ability for both Demitra and Rolston to play Wing and C (and Gaborik's penchant for switching sides), a top line (or crunchtime line, similar to the "hero Line" in NHL 07) of the three of them is probably to be expected... especially more than we'll see Branko playing up there.

Court said...

We've GOT to have more offense (I'm a Wild season ticket holder). If Schultz and Burns are our only D-men worthy of boldface type, we'd be totally hosed otherwise. Fernandez has yet to string together two solid seasons. To wit: in last night's game, he gave up two goals on three shots and was pulled for a third-stringer after the first.