Instead of having to jump mid-season and grab the wheel of a ship that was going the wrong way, Jay Woodcroft has a full boot camp to work with this year.
He thinks this will make a huge difference.
“Last year was a quick sprint to catch your breath because of the nature of the schedule at the time,” said the Oilers coach, who took over the team in early February, as it headed towards six games in 10. days. “We had to be very specific about the things we had to work on and the lack of training time.”
This year he has had every off-season to analyze the season and the roster and make his attack plan.
“The advantage of the summer period of preparation and thought allows the coaching team to really craft a game plan for what they want to achieve in training camp. It allows us to implement every detail of the game we want to implement. Taking more time allows us to add layers to the onions and grow our game every day.”
Eight is too much
The pre-season schedule is unnecessarily long at the best of times, but this year it takes the cake with the Oilers playing eight ridiculous exhibition matches in 13 days, starting Sunday afternoon against Winnipeg.
For players who have been squabbling for weeks, it only takes about three matches to get ready, so Woodcroft will sit down with his fellow veterans to see how they’d like to spread their looks.
“It’s going to be a chat with some of our most experienced people to see where they are and what they might need in order to prepare for the regular season.”
The Blue-White game begins at camp on Saturday morning and the coaching staff would like to stress that it will not be a friendly match.
“I want to see a level of competition,” Woodcroft said. “As a coaching staff we take it very seriously. We want to see people separate themselves in different positions. In order to do that there has to be a high level of competition in this brawl. We are looking to get something done.”
Nobody in the world believed Evander Kane would be a long-term fixer in Edmonton when the Oilers gave him the chance to revive his career last season. The belief was that it would produce here in the latter half of the season and lock up somewhere else, perhaps somewhere with brighter lights and warmer weather.
Even Kane wasn’t expecting Edmonton to come home.
So, what turned the tide in favor of the Oilers? For starters, the maximum salary is a kind of limit where a player can go with $5 million. Beyond that, he kind of liked the mix here.
“This is a great opportunity,” he said. “Part of it fits too. With this group, this organization, from top to bottom, it was hard to miss. Getting the chance to really compete for the Stanley Cup and hopefully raise one on a Canadian team, these are the things you’ve always wanted to do when I was a child “.
There is no doubting Kane’s impact on this team when he joined mid-season. Whether it was scoring goals or being an aggressive threat, he introduced a missing dimension and character that made Edmonton a more difficult team to play against.
“I saw the impact he made when he joined our group,” said defender Darnell Nurse. “He was able to produce at a high level. He put the lead in scoring (in the playoffs), bringing the physique and the intangibles you need to succeed. He was a great plus.
“It would be nice to have him here all year. To make that happen from the start of camp all the way, it just makes your team better.”
You never know
The Oilers are already seven deep in defense with the addition of Ryan Murray, and they have some young defensive men knocking on the door, but are very interested in seeing what PTO call Jason Demers can make.
“I relied on Woody for this,” GM Ken Holland said. “He’s had a relationship with him since his San Jose days and we knew Cody Cisse would be out of the first little training camp.
“He’s a veteran. It’s a chance for Jason to come in and get a contract, but it’s also a chance to be in the NHL camp and play some pre-season games and if he can’t impress us, maybe he can convince someone else. From our point of view, there’s nothing to lose.”
Nothing is permanent
Everyone loves to get excited about the opening streak sets at training camp, but Woodcroft cautions that nothing is written in stone.
“You have to start somewhere,” he said, adding that he expects the confusion to start soon. “The first couple of days, I want everyone to get into a rhythm so there isn’t a lot of messing around with the lines.
“As we enter the next phase of camp, we have five exhibition games in a short space of time, so we will be pulling from different lines to create lineups for each evening. I expect certain players to move in and play with different people.”