Thursday, January 17, 2013
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - An Open Letter to the Edmonton Oilers
WHO'S READY TO GET WISTFUL!?! YEAH!!
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we celebrated our 300th Cupcheck by listing the winners and losers of the 2012 NHL Lockout. This week, with Opening Day less than 72 hours away and a pesky roster technicality to take care of before then, we've decided to slow things down a bit, break out the Kleenex and get a little wistful all up in here.
Dear Edmonton Oilers,
May I call you Ed? It seems we, or rather our GM, has decided to give your team a little something called exactly what you f***ing need, in the form of one of the best pure defensive defenders in the Western Conference.
I mean, sure, Fisty's not going to win any "first one to four assists" award, like the ones your forwards hand out after every game against the Flames. Nor are Oiler fans going to see much of the back of his jersey flapping in the wind. Not unless he's falling out of an airplane.
But what Oilers players and fans will see is something they haven't since the legendary ancient days of Jason Smith and Chris Pronger: actual, real, not-just-a-sad-pretend-joke defending. No one was better on the Stars last season in preventing goals, and only about 36 defensemen in the entire league posted a lower goals per 60 minutes than Fistric's 1.78. Yes, that came on the third line and yes, that was against weak competition. And yes, he was a healthy scratch for the better part of two years before sliding into an important penalty-killing role halfway through last season. Scratched in favor of Jeff Woywitka and Adam Pardy, mind you.
To that, all I can say is this: BOOM!!! HEADSHOT!!!.
Fistric's not a speedy guy, but he's almost never out of position. He lacks confidence when he has the puck on his stick, but can clear s**t from the crease like Charmin Ultra Soft. He's not going to win many beauty contests, but neither will his prey.
Fistric's primary problem was not his skating ability, passing skills or shot accuracy. It's that he was drafted far, far too high for his skill set. No pure defender should be taken 28th overall: the first round is where you make your biggest gambles, knowing that solid, dependable role players can be found in both the later rounds and in every annual batch of free agents. Unfortunately the Stars reached for Fistric, and that put a big target on his massive, hulking back.
Fistric also suffered from being the lowest man on the totem pole at the precise moment when a tsunami of young defensemen started crowding Dallas' Pacific shores. James Oleksiak, Patrick Nemeth, Brenden Dillon and Jordie Benn are all young, excellent defensemen gunning for that coveted 6-7 spot on defense, and any organization worth its salt is going to see what those guys have to offer on the big stage. All four of those guys, except maybe Nemeth, can bring it in the offensive zone and on the powerplay as well as lay huge hits, play sound positional defense, and clear the crease. Maybe none of those guys work out, or maybe all of them do. Either way, Fistric's days as a PK specialist and fan-favorite hit machine were numbered.
So what does this mean for you, the long-suffering Oilers? Well, let's be perfectly frank here: your defense has sucked since Pronger left for the chaste pastures of southern California. Last season only the Blue Jackets were worse in the West in keeping pucks out of the net; your ridiculously high-powered offense and powerplay basically played catch-up all season long. Adding Yakupov to that mix changes two things: jack and squat. The season hasn't even started and you've already lost half your D to injury and/or incompetence. You weren't going to get Shea Weber (didn't even try, in fact), so you went out and got...
Mark Fistric. A rock-solid, dependable, know-exactly-what-you're-gonna-get mountain on the blue line. A guy who radiates pain. A guy who nobody really wants to fight. A guy who was 6'3", 230 pounds of muscle last season, and appears to have grown even bigger. A supremely nice guy with no me-first ego, who will have no trouble sliding into a room stocked to the gills with #1 overall draft picks. A guy who can clear the crease on the penalty kill, something that hasn't occured in Edmonton in half a decade.
Smart Stars fans know that Fistric will thrive in that environment. Maybe he won't string together five or six straight Norris trophies, but he'll improve your most glaring deficiency, and you will be a better team for it.
Us? We'll take your 3rd round pick, since... let's face it... an Edmonton 3rd rounder is pretty much the same as a high 2nd. But not for long. I mean, hey, anything's possible in a 48 game season, right?
In short, you got one hell of a pile of ugly muscle, all for the price of a 3rd rounder, and the last time you made a halfway decent pick in the 3rd round was seven years ago. Which, now that I think about it, coincides with another long draught of some sort or another.
Here's hoping both teams got what they wanted, and we can go back to playing each other in the first round of the playoffs for six straight years again. Because that was loads of fun. In retrospect.
Adieu, sweet prince, adieu.