So I'm in the dressing room last night after the big win over L.A. and I wlak over to Ty COnklin as I usually do. First he asks me if New Hampshire played their NCAA tournamnet game on Friday or not. Then he says to me: "Hey, I read one of your stories a couple of days ago".
Guy: smiles and asks "uh oh, is that a good thing?"
Conklin: "Oh no, it was good."
Guy: "Which one was it? On the internet or was it from the Sports Scene?"
Conklin: "The Sports Scene, the one where you wrote us off and said we weren't going to make the playoffs" he says with a laugh.
Just so you know what he's talking about... here's the story I wrote at the end of February for the March issue of the Edmonton Sports Scene (keep in mind that this was prior to the Nedved/Markkanen trade and the dumping of Tommy Salo)...
More Than Pride On The Line
It’s not official quite yet but The Edmonton Oilers are probably not going to make the playoffs this year. Barring a major implosion of, not one but, at least two teams they are chasing, the Oilers will be on the outside looking in come mid-April for the second time in the last three seasons.
Despite having a February record of 6-3-2-1, the Oil have not been able to gain ground in the conference standings from a month ago because the other teams in the playoff race have not fallen backwards. It’s frustrating for the players and also for the fans that the team has not been able to rise into post-season contention while actually playing pretty well over the past few weeks.
Edmonton plays 9 of its 17 remaining games at home but end the season on a difficult 3-game road trip. The mid-month 5-game home stand still ahead of them comes just after the March 9th trade deadline, a day that has been an active one in recent years for GM Kevin Lowe.
However, until it is mathematically determined that the season will end on April 3rd, don’t expect anyone in the organization to let up in their effort even a little bit.
“It’s still possible for sure but it won’t be easy,” rookie Marc-Andre Bergeron understated. “We’re going to have to grind it out and maybe get in through the back door but as long as we’re in it doesn’t matter.”
Edmonton was supposed to be buried during a weeklong stretch of games against the conference’s powerhouse clubs from Colorado, Detroit and Vancouver. Instead, going 2-1-1 in those games gave the team some confidence for a late month road swing against teams with targets on their backs or clubs with fewer points then they have. Unfortunately the loss to Anaheim in game one of that trip brought reality back into focus. The month ended with a 7-2 win in Phoenix and then a heartbreaking overtime loss to Dallas in a game where the Oilers had a 4-1 lead at one point.
Playing the role of the spoiler is not a familiar one for the Oilers who have only missed the playoffs once since the 1995-96 season. Will that fact affect the level of intensity the team plays with for the last month of the schedule? Is there anything left to play for, other than pride itself?
Yes there is. There are several Oilers who should be playing for their jobs.
Until recently both Jason Chimera and Georges Laraque had taken up season long residence in coach Craig MacTavish’s duplex doghouse. Injuries to several starters left MacTavish with little choice but to play the underachieving duo and surprisingly the players responded well when partnered up with Jarret Stoll.
Chimera knows he has to make an impression whenever he gets the tap on the shoulder from the coach and says it ‘s nice to finally be contributing the way he knows he can.
“It feels good to get the minutes too, you’re not playing 6 or 7 minutes, you’re playing 15 minutes a game,” said Chimera. “It helps to get into a rhythm and get your line going and if you play a good shift you’re out there again a couple minutes later.”
Jani Rita failed to impress MacTavish in his most recent recall to Oilerville and was returned to the AHL but the coach says he knows what he has in the Finnish winger.
“I really believe (Rita’s) reached a level that for him to improve he’s going to have to come up here and play,” said MacTavish in late February. “I haven’t seen much improvement in his game the last few times that he’s been up here but we haven’t seen a lot of him.”
The organization has been making many comparisons between the development of Rita and Chimera in that it took the latter longer to stick with the NHL club than expected. If MacT now believes that Rita will only get better by playing in the NHL, room would have to be made for him next year and that could come at the expense of Chimera.
On the blueline, the Oilers have 8 players up right now which has increased speculation that GM Kevin Lowe might be entertaining thoughts of dealing at the deadline. If you are Scott Ferguson, are you playing for next year right now? How about Igor Ulanov?
Bergeron knows that there are farmhands who will be challenging for NHL work next season and is looking to have a strong March in order to keep his job.
“Exactly, (March) is where I made my mark last year so hopefully I’ll be able to do it this year again.” smiled Bergeron. “I’m feeling good on the ice right now, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt as good as this.”
“It’s my first year, I’ve learned a lot and hopefully I’ll be here for good now,” Bergeron continued. “I felt like I had a good start to the year and slowly went down, my game wasn’t as good as it was, but the days and weeks back in Toronto have helped me to get my confidence back.”
Edmonton has been getting terrific performances lately from players like Ethan Moreau, Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff and even Adam Oates who finally notched his first goal as an Oiler against the Vancouver Canucks. Could Oates still be of interest to a contending team loaded with offensive snipers?
“He’s not given us as much offence as we would have expected but he’s certainly given us more defensively than I would have expected from him,” confessed MacTavish. “He’s tremendously reliable and he’s a great influence on our young players so it was great to see him get the goal.”
Oates is one player that the young team looks to for leadership but obviously the Captain is where you would expect the roster to take their cue. Jason Smith is still saying all the things you would expect the leader of the team to say even though they are up against the wall battling the calendar as much as they are the rest of the conference.
“We’re playing hard and nobody in this room has given up the hope of getting into the playoffs,” stated Smith recently.
Until the postseason door has officially been closed on them, the Oilers should still play each night like there is something on the line because the fact is, for many of them there certainly is.
As you can see, it's pretty outdated and a lot has changed since that was written. In fact, two days after that was submitted, the Nedved deal came down and I was like "Uh oh, too late to change that now".
Now Conklin was just giving me a hard time and we actually talked a bit about how the team draws on stories they read like that. So in the end I told him I was doing the team a service in my own little way by lighting a fire under them. He said "Yeah just watch, we're going to make the playoffs and the media is going to take all the credit!'
I'm not one of the ones here who fawn over your every sentance but that being said you should defintely be able to carve out a niche in the city and that piece talking about Chimera vs Rita is just the kind of analysis the Sun or Journal could use.