The latest edition of The Hockey News featured an unflattering cartoon of the current Battle of Alberta.
Needless to say, with the way Edmonton and Calgary’s NHL teams are playing theses days, it’s more of a spat — or a hissy fit — than a battle.
But the Oilers, at least, are well on their way to changing that, at least on their end.
Patiently playing their rookies and younger guys and refusing to throw the baby out with the bath water by trading for immediate help, the Oilers have stayed the developmental course and are weathering another disappointing season.
That’s a lot easier to do when you can sell your fans some not-too-distant hope — and Lord knows there’s lots of that to offer. Ask the people a few hours south in Calgary, or east in Toronto and Ottawa how much hope can assuage short-term pain.
That’d be tough, because they don’t have any.
With the talented rookies plus veterans like Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner, the overpaid Shawn Horcoff and still-just-21 Sam Gagner (he wasn’t the sixth overall pick for nothing), there’s a pretty decent nucleus of forwards.
It’s not all perfect in Edmonton by any means. Currently injured defenceman Ryan Whitney is looking like the stud many believed he’d become in Pittsburgh following the lockout. But after him the defence needs help. And the goaltending is woeful; it’s in need of a complete overhaul.
Because the Oilers are so young, there’s not a lot of help in junior or the American Hockey League to expect next season. But another lottery pick this June will mean another chip to play for general manager Steve Tambellini.
He could use it to bolster Edmonton’s impressive stable of youngsters or trade down in the draft for more assets to make the team better sooner. With lots of room under the salary cap, he could add pretty much anyone in the league he’s offered.
Tampa Bay showed that turnarounds can be fast in the NHL. Last season the Lightning finished 26th overall. This year they’re battling for the Southeast Division lead with powerhouse Washington and are trending upwards.
If Taylor Hall matures as Steven Stamkos has the past couple of seasons, look out. And if Jordan Leopold, Magnus Paajarvi, the electric Linus Omark and Gagner follow any sort of the same suit, it won’t be long until the Battle of Alberta is completely one-sided.
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