December 11 2008 02:41PM
I've got nothing against little guys, unless their eyes are shifty and set too close together, but the Edmonton Oilers are pushing diminutive to the limit when it comes to their forward lines.
When you gather all of coach Craig MacTavish's forwards together, I keep hearing dead Herve Villechaize braying from the grave amid the gaggle of garden gnomes: "Boss, boss. The plane, the plane."
All told, six of the forwards the Oilers have in town don't stretch the tape to six feet unless they're standing on a copy of the NHL Guide and Record Book -- Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule, Liam Reddox, Sam Gagner, Rob Schremp and Robert Nilsson.
They're a skilled bunch, without question, but they're a pint-sized platoon that is mis-cast and physically overmatched when all of them are in the line-up at the same time, as will be the case (with the exception of Nilsson) tonight against the Florida Panthers.
Size issues aside, there's also an overlap of skills in this sixsome that, you would think, might provide GM Steve Tambellini the opportunity to use that depth to plug some obvious holes in the line-up by moving somebody in a package with, say, Dwayne Roloson.
A centre who could win face-offs and double as a penalty-killer might be an idea. Maybe a proven forward with the size and grit suited to fourth-line duty (instead of shoe-horning the likes of Reddox or Brule into the role).
One way or another, a different mix.
Sizing things up
"We've got some skill in the line-up, but it doesn't come with a lot of size," MacTavish said after today's morning skate. "It all looks good in practice in 3-on-1s when they're snapping it around and scoring pretty goals, but when the ice tightens up, that's when the rubber meets the road.
"How effective can you be in a confined, tight area against big, strong NHL opponents? That's the question we need answered."
It's a given that all big players don't play big and all small players don't play small, but as a collective, it would take big brass on the parts of the players we're talking about here to overcome the size disadvantage the Oilers are at when four or five of them are in the line-up on a given night.
Brule doesn't play small. Personally, I'd like to see more of him, although he's destined for a ticket back to Springfield when Nilsson's shoulder recovers to the point he can play.
"They just want me to play my game," Brule said. "Play physical, shoot the puck and get shots on net. That's pretty much it.
"If you try to do too much, you get yourself into trouble in certain situations -- you turn the puck over, things like that. If I'm keeping it simple, everything will be straightforward."
Depth to deal?
Schremp, since being recalled, has earned a longer look. And Nilsson, despite lapses in his game and a tough start offensively, shouldn't lose his job because of injury, should he?
At some point, though, Tambellini is going to have a glut of forwards on his hands, even with an assignment or two to the minors. When Fernando Pisani and Steve MacIntyre are ready to return from injuries, he'll have some cards to play.
With a favourable stretch at home, I'd be sizing things up and playing that hand after the Christmas roster freeze comes off, assuming the Oilers can get on a roll. It is, obviously, better to deal from a position of strength.
In the long term, I can see fitting four of the vertically challenged six into the mix, but more than that is pushing it, and constitutes passing up a chance to acquire players with traits the Oilers are lacking right now.