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Who’s in a better place going forward—the Leafs or the Oilers?

Media reports late on Wednesday confirmed what has been clear for some time:  Ron Wilson isn't going anywhere.

Brian Burke, according to reports in the Globe & Mail,  emphatically confirmed Wilson will be here to finish out his four-year contract next season.

As I posted some weeks ago, my sense is a new deal will get done very soon after the season ends, extending Wilson well beyond 2011-'12.

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There’s no question the Oilers were the (again) worst team in the NHL this season.  You are what your record says you are, especially after a full 82-game season.

You will recall that just one season ago, the Oilers earned last overall, and the Leafs finished with the second-worst point total in the entire NHL.  At the time, I posed the question:  who was in better shape going forward?

Well, both organizations have made a flood of changes since then.

Given that the Leafs made a reasonably impressive (if belated) run at a playoff spot this spring and the Oilers were not even in the same hemisphere as Western Conference playoff teams, I suppose we should conclude that the Leafs have made significant progress and that going forward, the Leafs are in much better shape than the Oil.

But is that really the case?

I won’t go through each team’s entire lineup player by player—the line-ups may well change significantly, if not radically, between now and next October.  But we can do a quick run-through to assess where things stand now.

The Oilers made a huge miscalculation when Khabibulin signed a lucrative long-term deal before the 2009-’10 season.  They’ve tried young Dubnyk who has ability but nothing has really worked consistently just yet.

The Leafs, on the other hand, would be in much the same spot if it weren’t for the sudden emergence of young Reimer.  But his presence would seem to sway things in Toronto’s favor. (Both teams, as of this moment, have over-paid, often-injured, aging veteran goalkeepers in Giguere and Khabibulin.)

So, edge in goal to Toronto, I would think.

The Oilers have suffered injuries to a lot of key people yet again this season, including Whitney, probably their best all-around defender.  Smid, Gilbert and Peckham have skill and, in Peckham’s case, some toughness, too.  But this is a mistake-prone bunch.  The Leafs now have four young defensemen who seem poised to be major contributors for years to come:  Schenn, Phaneuf, Aulie and Gunnarsson.

Edge again to the Leafs, it would seem

Up front is where assessing things, though, can get tricky.

The Leafs have Kessel, a promising youngster in Kadri and a cornerstone (or one-year wonder, depending on your point of view) in Grabovski.  Throw in the ever-improving Kulemin and useful forwards like Lupul and MacArthur—and a host of pretty solid third and fourth-liners and the Leafs are a team with some grit, a bit of skill but still lacking a lot of high-end NHL forwards. (Again, this could change pending free agency and further trades.)

The Oilers, on the other hand, have three outstanding young forwards in Eberle, Taylor Hall and young Paajarvi.  Brule, Gagner and Cogliano are in a second tier of solid young forward talent.  Throw in the young Finn, Hartikainen and the talented Linus Omark and you have almost three full lines of gifted forwards under the age of 25- most much younger than that.  When you consider they will possibly be drafting first overall again that's an impressive young group.

So, what do you think?  It’s fun discussion.  The Leafs seem to have the edge at the back, but the Oilers are young and awfully skilled up front.  They will have loads of offensive potential and some young, star talent.

Setting aside who you cheer for, who would you rather be going forward, the Oilers or the Leafs?

5 comments:

  1. oil will blow for a few more seasons, only way they turn it around is better drafting (there the habs of the west) tooo small, Once they got rid of penner no toughness... They may have the top end talent(when its not injured) but there missing a whole lot more than the leafs are.

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  2. Why do we have to try and trade for scorers or sign them as UFA's after their prime is long, long past? Why can't we simply draft and develop sometimes, like we are in goal and on D?

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  3. I'm not from toronto so I gotta say, most outside observers treat your Franchise Saviour of the day with a healthy dose of scepticism -- but this is a genuine question (just because until 4 months ago James Reimer was a total unknown and it was Gustavsson [last we heard] you were all pumped and excited for). Is Reimer the real deal? Everyone's happy with the idea of him as a full time #1 next season? Obviously the Oilers' net is a mess and with no obvious hope forthcoming we might even give you the edge when you had Toskala.... But how long-term set are you? If the back end is as strong as you say then hard to not go with leafs. But the Oilers talent is, by all accounts, pretty damn safe to bet on. If mid-Jan next year the Leafs' netminding is nowhere near this clutch, perhaps we will be re-evaluating...

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  4. Leaf Fan in HablandMarch 31, 2011 at 5:47 PM

    Well I would say Leafs no matter what, but based on this assessment, I'd still say Leafs because Edmonton is a mess in goal. Until they get somebody, they are pooched. As we've seen this year, it is easy to pick-up scoring in this league: MacA and Grabbo were cast-offs. Goaltending and D need to be developed though, or paid for, I suppose. If Edmonton can parlay a couple of their young forwards into a stud D-man (Tuebert's not one), that might work. Also, if Olivier Roy pans out, that might be good. But who knows with goalies.

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  5. On the aforementioned Reimer question and whether Leaf fans are comfortbale with the idea of him being the "number one" guy next season...no doubt every fan has a different point of view. My sense is people are pleased that Reimer came out of nowhere and handled the job well. Most of us have seen similar movies too many times before to assume he will just pick up next season without stumbles. But for now, he has been good, and seems to have the mental make-up to survive and maybe even prosper in Toronto. We'll see.

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