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Tencer's Blog: Perfect Time for a Break

Dan Tencer addresses a number of matters as the NHL's All-Star break begins

Friday, 28.01.2011 / 2:00 AM / Blogs
By Dan Tencer
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Tencer\'s Blog: Perfect Time for a Break
Ales Hemsky's concussion is currently listed with an indefinite timeline for his return. (Photo by Andy Devlin / EOHC).
After cramming 13 games into 26 days in January after an even busier month of December, this year’s All Star break comes at a perfect time for the Oilers. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity to heal up some key injuries.

Jordan Eberle and Gilbert Brule, both battling ankle ailments, should both be ready to get back to practice with the club immediately following the break and have their fingers crossed for a return to the active roster shortly after. Ales Hemsky is a bigger question mark, as is usually the case when dealing with a concussion. It could just as easily be days as weeks or months for the Czech winger, who has stumbled upon some injury difficulty in the last couple of seasons.

In addition, though they haven’t missed any playing time, guys like Nikolai Khabibulin and Tom Gilbert have been battling through various bumps and bruises that could use an extended maintenance period.

The break will also provide an opportunity for players to get away for a few days and distance themselves from the rigors of the season. Nobody is more keenly aware of the position that the team is in than the players and coaches that live it every day, and a refresher heading into the final 33 games of the year should provide the requisite energy to continue to fight the battle.

Before I take some time off for the break, here are a couple of thoughts to tide you over.

BECOMING A KEY COG

I must say, I continue to be impressed with Andrew Cogliano’s development as a player. As a former first round draft choice that entered the NHL with back-to-back 18 goal seasons, it has been understandably difficult for Cogliano to come to terms with a reduced offensive role on the team.

Time on the power play has been replaced by time on the penalty kill as the mandate has morphed into a focus on defensive zone play. Last season was a struggle for Cogliano, who never seemed to find himself in the good books of head coach Pat Quinn.

Recognizing that a new coaching staff and full blown rebuild of the team would provide a clean slate, Andrew took it upon himself to seek guidance from Tom Renney in the off-season with the goal of carving out a niche for himself in the lineup.

So far, the attention to detail has paid off. Cogliano still struggles in the face off circle, but he’s become a mainstay on the team’s penalty kill unit and has often found himself on the ice in critical defensive zone situations.

His line right now, with wingers Ryan Jones and Liam Reddox, has arguably been the most consistent trio on the team since they were put together. With space in the Top 6 up front being extremely hard to come by with the infusion of young talent, Cogliano has done well to create the argument that he belongs on the team in a Top 9 role.

ONE MONTH FROM D-DAY

Dustin Penner could be a potential trade option for GM Steve Tambellini at the trade deadline (Getty Images).
Checking the calendar today I notice that in exactly a month, Steve Tambellini and the 29 other General Managers will be working the phones furiously as the NHL Trade Deadline comes and goes. The Oilers will find themselves in a unique position again this year, as one of very few teams that could consider themselves “sellers” with the playoffs out of reach.

It’s a good position to be in if you have some pieces to move, as teams jockeying for a final piece to complete a championship team, or simply a playoff berth, could potentially end up in an arms race of sorts. When the Oilers get healthy up front with the returns of Hemsky, Eberle and Brule, they’ll have too many bodies and not enough jobs, and will probably be looking to move a body or two to make room on the roster.

With the emergence of Linus Omark and consistent play of Liam Reddox, it’s easy to argue that room should be created to find those players a regular spot in Edmonton.

By now, Steve Tambellini must have a pretty good idea where the team will be headed in regards to the long term future of both Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner. Both players are unrestricted free agents after next season and will be coveted by teams who need scoring support on the wings.

Both players could fit into the long term future of the club, but the Oilers need to consider their depth on the wings versus a need for depth at other positions as well as the willingness of the players to commit long term at a workable dollar amount. If the big picture in Edmonton includes moving either player, this year’s deadline will be prime time to make such a move. In any case, you can be sure that Tambellini will be listening and probably receiving more calls than any other manager.

A couple other things to watch for leading up to deadline day…what’ll the interest level around the league be in a player like Jim Vandermeer, a pending UFA defenseman that provides an excellent depth option heading into the playoffs? And, with an abundance of cap space, might Steve Tambellini look to help some teams finesse their salary situation in exchange for some futures?
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