Edmonton - November 3, 2014 - While it may not have been the news the Edmonton Oilers or their fans were hoping for, the fact Taylor Hall will be out of the lineup for the next two to four weeks should have surprised absolutely no one.
After watching the Oilers best player crash into the Vancouver Canucks net in the manner which he did, it was always going to be a matter of “how long” he would be out of the lineup and not “if” he would miss time. The official announcement was an MCL sprain and in all honesty, this organization would be completely bonkers if they allow him back on the ice prior to the Arizona Coyotes paying a visit to Rexall Place on December 1st.
Which means Hall would be on the shelf for at least twenty-nine days and miss Edmonton’s next thirteen games. As of this moment, the Oilers are tied for last place in the Western Conference with the aforementioned Coyotes and with eight of those thirteen games being on the road, expecting Dallas Eakins’ crew to hold their own could be asking a little too much.
On the positive side of the ledger, six of the games will be against East Conference opponents, whom the Oilers have generally managed to hold their own against, and netminder Viktor Fasth has healed up enough to give Ben Scrivens a much needed helping hand in hopes of keeping this team alive as a potential playoff team into the new year.
Unfortunately that is where the positivity ends, as losing your scoring leader for any extended period of time is generally looked upon as not being a real good thing. Of all the times that this injury could have occurred, now would have probably been the worst possible moment for it to happen. November was always going to be the month in which the Oilers would either fall completely out of the post-season hunt or keep themselves afloat but now they will have to go at it with the engine of their team nowhere to be found.
With that said, it will be curious to see if anyone will rise to the occasion when this team needs it most. From a positional standpoint, many seem to think Nail Yakupov will get the first crack at taking Hall’s spot next to Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins but considering the level of competition that line is forced to go up against on a nightly basis, saddling No. 93 with a pair of defensively challenged wingers may not be a direction Dallas Eakins and his coaching staff are in any real hurry to go down.
For my money, the obvious choice would be to slide David Perron up the depth chart and with players he has already enjoyed some success with. The former first round pick of the St. Louis Blues proved last season to be more than capable of putting the puck in the net and while he may not be Selke Trophy nominee, he is far more responsible in his own end of the rink than either Eberle or Yakupov.
However with Perron having already been given the task of having to babysit Leon Draisaitl through his first go-round in the National Hockey League, no one should be surprised if Eakins decides to turn to Benoit Pouliot or Teddy Purcell as his short-term solution on the top line. Both guys have the necessary skill-set to play in that spot and let’s not forget the former Tampa Bay Lightning winger has already produced a sixty point campaign playing in a similar role with the Bolts.
In my mind, making such a move would be a mistake but that doesn’t mean the head coach won’t do it. No matter who is given the opportunity to fill Hall’s spot, none of them will be able to produce at the same clip as the former 2010 first overall pick. There is no doubt this group will have to try and make up for his absence on the scoresheet as a collective unit, including more offence from the backend, but at some point one or two of these guys are going to have put this group on their back and help drive the bus.
As tough a time as the Edmonton Oilers will have trying to replace his production, it will be far more difficult for them to find someone who can replace what Taylor Hall brings to the table every time he steps onto that ice. As of this moment, this kid is the lifeblood of this team and it is not even close. That more than anything else, could be what ultimately leads to this team’s undoing.