Warning: Hockey Blathering Ahead!
The Greasy Ones have now finished their season, pausing on the way out the door to kneecap the boys from Vancouver. In pre-season discussions with friends, my line was that our lads would miss the playoffs this year, but that it would be a lot of fun to watch. In this way, it would be unlike last season, when they missed the playoffs and it wasn't fun to watch at all.
Digression on the 06-07 season: Late that season, with the Oilers mired in a 12-game losing streak, I took a friend who had never seen ice hockey before to a match. 10 minutes into her first ever encounter with the sport, she turned to me and said "the Oilers are really bad, aren't they." Yes, yes they were.
Anyway, back to this season. Yes, they didn't make the playoffs again. However, this time there is reason for true optimism. For one thing, the Oilers didn't go quietly this time, winning 14 of their last 20 games and very, very nearly sneaking into 8th place, and this not-quietly-going was achieved with about 5 key members of the team out injured. For another, 15 of the guys who pulled off that run are under the age of 25 (the Oilers' second line has a combined age of 59), and they played a fast, attacking style. Yes, it was fun to watch, and fun to follow; for the first time in years, I could watch an Oilers game and recognise the players without having to squint to read the names on the backs of their sweaters. Best of all, there's no sign that next season is going to be any less entertaining.
Here, then, are the First Annual De Koboldorum Rebus Awards To Members Of The Edmonton Oilers For Their Performances During The Recently Concluded NHL Hockey Season (With Illustrations):
Team MVP: This was all about Mathieu Garon until he, inevitably, got hurt and the Oilers didn't miss a beat without him. I'm giving it to Ales Hemsky, who's one of the most skilled players in the league, and one of these years is going to have the numbers to prove it. Click here to see Mr. Hemsky in full flight.
Best Rookie: The Oilers themselves wussed out and split this award between Sam "Samwise" Gagner and Andrew Cogliano. No such wimpiness here! It was Gagner, by a nose.
Most Under-rated Player: He led the team in goals, and improved statistically in most categories from last season. He was often to be seen camping out in front of the opposing team's goal, irritating the goalie and making it hard for him to see. And yet, he got almost no press, and much of what he did get was negative. Ladies and Gentlemen, Dustin Penner.
Most Improved Player: Denis Grebeshkov. Oh my, but he was a coach's nightmare early in the season, especially playing point on the powerplay ("And the puck gets away from Grebeshkov, and it's a breakaway the other way..."). By the end of the season he was mauling guys along the boards ("paging Dion Phaneuf...") and showing skill and confidence with puck. Watch as he goes for a bit of a skate through the heart of the Calgary defence.
So, here's to next season!