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The Oilers or the Leafs: who’s closer to making a big step?

With the Leafs losing in Florida last night, we’re likely at a point in the season where, while we can still look for positive things to emerge this season, we should also look forward to next season and beyond. Another club in a similar situation is the Edmonton Oilers. Both clubs are at or near the bottom of their conference. Both struggle to score goals. Both too often make just enough mistakes to lose a close game.

The Leafs win more often, for sure, but that’s small solace given where they each are in the overall league standings. The Oilers have struggled to win a game, period, in the last 6 weeks. The Leafs, on the other hand, have on occasion beaten some good teams with solid efforts.

So, for the sake of discussion only, who would you rather be, the Oilers or the Leafs?

In goal

The Oilers have no goaltending to speak of. The veteran Khabibulin is done for the year—and with a bad back, who knows if he’ll ever really be himself again? The youngsters they have in net show occasional promise, as do most young goalies, but no signs of emerging as “number one” guys.

The Leafs have Gustavsson, assuming they sign him for next season and beyond. The jury is still out, but my instincts tell me he can play and actually be good—above average—at this level. Will he be good enough to make the Leafs a playoff team? A true contender? Hard to say. And I think we’re fooling ourselves, and so are the Leafs, if we/they think how he plays over the next 30 games will tell the tale. Though he is a bit more mature and experienced at 25 than most rookie goaltenders, we all need time to see if he can play when it really matters—and the Leafs are actually playing for something.


In theory, the Leafs are stronger here, though it may not always show (the two teams give up the most goals per game in the entire league). Their veteran duo of Komisarek and Beauchemin may be a bit stronger than Souray and Staios. Staios is a hockey warrior who may be more useful elsewhere at this point. Grebeshkov and Gilbert are talented youngsters, but inconsistent, in Edmonton. Schenn is Toronto’s young hope on the blueline. He should be good, though this season has been, perhaps not surprisingly, a step backwards for the most part.

Smid and Visnovsky are capable 3-4 defenders for the Oilers, who may soon have to become full-time 1-2 guys if/when Souray and Staios are moved. Ian White and Kaberle are key to the versatile Leaf mix.

Gunnarson shows potential, and may be the wild card here that helps tip things, in terms of the future, in the Leafs’ favor.

Kaberle, offensively, brings a dimension the Oilers don’t have. But he, like Staios and Souray, could be moved by the deadline. Kaberle should attract the most out of the three veteran blueliners, but the Oiler pair are more likely to be dealt before the deadline.


The Leafs have one proven ‘top-six’ forward in Kessel. Several others guys—like Stajan, Ponikarovsky, Hagman—show flashes of that kind of ability, but it would be hard to argue that they are elite-end guys just now.

I like Kulemin a lot, in terms of what I see developing, and we’ll see where things go from here with him.

We’re also all waiting to see if Bozak has that kind of high-end potential. Kadri excites everyone, it seems. Assuming the best, this would still only give the Leafs three or four ‘top-six guys’ within the next couple of years.

At the bottom end, the Leafs have guys with will, for sure, but not a lot to show for it just now.

The Oilers have some skilled youth. Gagner and Cogliano can play, and are already in their third season at 20 and 22, respectively. Consistency, as with many young players, is an issue with them. Robert Nillson has a lot of talent, and has showed signs this season of being a player.

Is Dustin Penner a half-year wonder? Or is he the kind of talent that can become a Sundin-type player in the years to come? For now, he is definitely a ‘top-six’ forward.

Gilbert Brule, a former number-one draft choice, was having a bit of a break-out season but has been felled by a prolonged illness. He showed signs of being able to play significant minutes.

O’Sullivan is a mystifying player. Tons of talent, little production, a horrible plus-minus.

Beyond this, the Oilers don’t have a lot. Gritty veterans Horcoff and Moreau are seemingly beyond their best seasons.

So Edmonton arguably has, or could soon have, five ‘top-six’ forwards. Like the Leafs, they have willing pluggers on the third and fourth lines, but not difference-makers.

The system

The Leafs have Kadri, still playing junior. Many wanted him to stay with the big team after camp last fall, but so many kids are rushed too soon. I wonder if he will need a year with the Marlies?

D’Amigo, Hanson—I really haven’t seen them enough of them to know how they fit going forward.

Young defenders in the system? Some of you following this site will have a better handle on what the Leafs have developing in junior hockey or the minors on the back end.

The Leafs may try to re-claim some first-round draft picks this summer and next, but not having those selections does make assessing their ‘system’ a little harder, and a little bleaker.

In Edmonton, the Oilers have young Jordan Eberle, the forward who almost drove Team Canada’s near impossible comeback to a gold medal at the recent world junior championships. They also have Magnus Paarvi-Svennson, a highly-touted prospect who shows flashes of star-quality.

They will also no doubt select in the top three at the upcoming June draft, which means they should have a shot at Hall, Seguin or defenseman Fowler.

The Oilers would seem to have the edge here.

So, where are we?

We all realize the Leafs need to do much better than simply get better than a weak team in the Western conference, but I thought it would be useful to compare where these two once-strong franchises are, and might be in the next few years.

Of course, the draft, trades and free agency can make a huge difference but strictly looking at where the teams are at the moment, I like the Leafs in goal. I just believe Gustavsson may well be able become a ‘backbone’ goalie.

On defense, neither team stands out. But the Leafs are a bit more physical, and Kaberle and Gunnarson give them an overall edge. If Kaberle is traded, there won’t be much to choose.

I prefer where the Oilers are up front, and in terms of what they have on the way. Of course, much of my determination relates to whether Eberle will make the kind of impact many expect he can for Edmonton, and if they do indeed grab one of the three 18 year-olds I mentioned above.

I look forward to your thoughts.

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