Get shorty

Robin Brownlee
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.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 Jonathan Willis
December 11 2008, 03:03PM
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Personally, I think that's the bigger issue. Detroit is the tired example, but they've got a similar amount of smaller players but they get by because Datsyuk, Zetterberg & co. do a good job of being hard on the puck. But when there are a whole bunch of raw kids who on top of everything else aren't so big, the team can look really bad.
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#2 Jonathan Willis
December 11 2008, 03:04PM
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The sooner that edit button shows up, the better ;)

I was trying to quote this paragraph:

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.

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#3 Gord
December 11 2008, 04:14PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

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.

I can't help thinking I said the exact same thing earlier this week on this very site.

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#4 Jason Gregor
December 11 2008, 04:29PM
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JW,

Doesn't Datsyuk equal out Hemsky? THey are the same size, so you can't really use him. Zetterberg and Horcoff are the same size, of course Zetterberg is way more skilled.

After that the only small guys in Detroit are Hudler and Filpilla. The rest of their forwards are big, Franzen, Samuelsson, Holmstrom or guys who play with some grit Maltby(even though I can't stand that chicken bleep) Clearly is bigger.

Outside of Penner, Cole and Brodziak the Oilers don't have anyone with size to even lean on you. Pisani when he's healthier to a lesser extent.

Tamblowe will have to move one of the skilled guys for sure. The one benefit for him right now is that with the injuries they been able to see more of the waterbugs.

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#5 Chris
December 11 2008, 05:05PM
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I've been crying, moaning, and b!tching to anyone who will listen about the lack of size and physicallity in the Oilers lineup. It's painful to watch. Hemskey can dangle, and Cogliano can skate: The rest do NOTHING. During the 06 playoff run the Oilers ran Detroit's show physically. We even matched up well against San Jose...(Remember Torres taking out Mickhalic?)It wasn't that long ago that Horcoff and Pisani were considered smaller Oilers! What happened? This is a serious drift and needs to be addressed, specially when you consider that Cole will not resign here and may be delt at the deadline.

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#6 Jonathan Willis
December 11 2008, 05:21PM
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@ Jason Gregor:

Under 6'

Nilsson, Gagner, Schremp, Reddox, Brule, Cogliano vs. Datsyuk, Hudler, Filpulla, Draper

6'-6'3"

Hemsky, Horcoff, Moreau, Cole, Pisani, Brodziak, Pouliot, Stortini vs. Zetterberg, Hossa, Samuellson, Franzen, Kopecky, Cleary, Maltby, Kopecky, McCarty

Over 6'3"

Penner, MacIntyre vs. nobody

It really doesn't seem like a total mismatch to me. The Wings might be a little bigger but I strongly suspect it's more of a skill-set issue than an out and out size issue. The Wings have a bunch of veteran players who are hard on the puck and win battles, while the Oilers hav a bunch of younger players who aren't that hard on the puck and haven't been winning battles. I think Gagner's been the worst of the group this season, and between him, Hemsky, Horcoff, Nilsson and Cogliano there's a lot of ice-time being eaten up by small guys. Cogliano seems to have a bit more grit to him than the other two kids, but Nilsson's had a bad year so far and Gagner's been a train wreck compared to last season.

I think the Oilers recognized the need not just for grit, but grit in the top-six, which is why Cole was acquired, but he hasn't fit the bill so far. With him, Brodziak and Moreau together, Stortini scratched and MacIntyre and Pisani out, it seems like all the Oilers' size/grit is on one line.

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#7 David S
December 11 2008, 05:42PM
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I would have to say that its a combination of grit AND experience that we're missing. As the young guys get a bit older and fill out a bit (maybe like Smid) and learn how to mix it up without getting pasted in the process, then we'll have something. Of course the thing is, Detroit and San Jose have a few young guys, not an entire flight squadron.

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#8 Dave the Linepainter
December 11 2008, 06:56PM
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With the season Mike Fisher is having in Ottawa, Tambelowe should be able to find a way to bring him west. Historically he has the skill set to help the Oil in some much needed areas, mainly penalty killing and faceoffs. He also plays much bigger than his 6'1" frame would dictate.

PS - his 4.2 mil cap hit would almost be completely offset by sending Roli the other way

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#9 RobinB
December 11 2008, 08:14PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: You certainly know how to massage the numbers to make an argument -- I'm talking about your under-6 ft reference showing Edmonton with six and Detroit with four. That's accurate, sort of, but . . .

Datsyuk (5-11 197 pounds), Zetterberg (5-11 and 195 pounds) and Draper (5-10 and 190 pounds) are all heavier than anybody in the Oilers group of six except Schremp and Gagner. And Filpulla is six-feet, not 5-11, and he weighs 189 pounds. The only really small player is Hudler at 5-9 and 178 pounds.

I can tell you from being in the dressing rooms of both teams many times that Detroit's "small" forwards are markedly bigger than Edmonton's, regardless of what the stats say. Datsyuk is built like a tank. Draper is compact and powerful. Cogliano is the only one of the Oilers small forwards anywhere near as well-muscled as Detroit's little guys. Stand beside these players enough times and you get a better sense of true size than any roster list can give you.

Detroit's forwards are harder on the puck because they can be -- they are physically stronger, in large part because they are older and more mature.

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#10 Dennis
December 11 2008, 09:56PM
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I know there wasn't a lot of traffic on the island but Mr. Rourke still should have insisted that his car have doors.

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#11 RobinB
December 11 2008, 09:58PM
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@ Dennis: And rich Corinthian leather . . .

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#12 Leonard
December 12 2008, 12:54AM
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You don't have to worry about Shremp anymore. Did anybody see how much time he played today? Not much. And he will be playing even less next time because McT first killed his goal scoring by making defence first demand from the goal scorer and now he will proove all of you that he was right all along buy cutting Shremps time and telling everyone that Shremp can't score and will sent him back to AHL in 2 more games. He will tell everybody that he gave him a chance and Shremp did not use it. Ask yourselfs why will that happen. The only reason Shremp is in NHL now is because fans demended it but now he prooved that you are stupid and he is smart. Why McT doesn't like or want Shremp? Why did they pass on him at the first pick and only got him on the 2nd pick? Because he is an AMERICAN and Americans are not supposed to play hockey better than Canadiens and score goals.You don't belive me? Ask yourself if not that then what is the reason? Why did it take 3 years for a good chance? Why did it take 20 games this year? Did he learn how to play hochey 2 weeks ago and they called him up immediately? NO. If I am wrong please tell me but you will see that I am right.

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#13 B-rad
December 12 2008, 07:24AM
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wow.....Leonard! I'm not sure if being American has anything to do with it.....Actually none whatsoever.

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#14 RobinB
December 12 2008, 07:27AM
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@ Leonard: You have a tenuous grasp on reality.

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#15 Scott
December 12 2008, 07:45AM
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Leonard wrote:

Did he learn how to play hochey 2 weeks ago and they called him up immediately? NO. If I am wrong please tell me but you will see that I am right.

OK. You're wrong.

Well, that was easy.

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#16 RobinB
December 12 2008, 08:32AM
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It could be reasonably argued that last night's result was a reflection of the Oilers inability/unwillingness to get the puck to the net and get after it -- and that lack of big, physical forwards played a part in it.

Lots of shots from outside, but very few second and third chances. Part of that was very good rebound control by Anderson, and part was . . . .?

The Oilers have too many players buzzing around the top of the circles and not enough crease-crashers and guys willing/capable of dominating in the corners and in tight.

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#17 Sean
December 12 2008, 08:38AM
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Watch the Nashville/Vancouver highlights from Wednesday. The Oilers are gonna need to beef up or get their show run tomorrow.

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#18 shakey
December 12 2008, 09:24AM
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Leonard; where to start... Schremp being a Yank has nothing to do with his draft position or his slow climb to the NHL. That's a stupid comment. Schremp played over 11 minutes last night. compare that to Cogs who I think played 15 minutes. 4 minutes, really, that's cutting his ice time? Schremp is not in the NHL because the fans demanded it. He's here because of injuries. If the Oil run the team based on the fans wants then why is Mac T still coaching here? It's pretty clear he doesn't have a lot of fans...at least not on this site and it's clear you're not a fan of Mac T. No he didn't learn to play hockey in those 20 games on the farm. He's learned to be a better more complete player the last 3 years on the farm. Ask him why he is here now and he'll tell you that it's because he worked on his overall game and listened to past criticism. Take away our injuries and Schremp is most likely still developing on the farm, not sitting with Zack in the press box. So like Scott said...You're wrong.

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#19 Cam
December 12 2008, 09:31AM
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@ Leonard

MacTavish has nthing against Americans. For proof you have to look no farther than Marty (Joe Sakic) Reasoner who MAcT seems to love. He was also pretty sweet on Gilbert and Greene, who are also Americans.

I think Shremp is confident and comes accross as cocky and arrogant at times and MacTavish HATES that. No one is allowed to be as arrogant as him.

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#20 Chris
December 12 2008, 12:11PM
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The Oilers have a fine tradition of signing American players (Remember Weight and Guerin?) Not an issue. My issue with Schremp is not his nationality; It's his physicality. The Oilers are small and Schremp is small. Both the Oilers and Schremp play small. If Schremp had a little bit of Brule's fire I'd like him more. In the Adam Oates year it became clear that the overall talent level had slipped past a critical tipping point rendering the team non competative. This year is the same...except it's overall grit that is lacking. REALLY REALLY LACKING. We can watch Philly go from the worst team in the league to a legitimate contender in one or two seasons but in Edmonton we wait, and wait. We wait for a team properly constructed with a BALANCE of size AND skill, youth AND experience, offence AND defence. I think the record is flattering considering how the team has played overall. I think our divisional rivals are going to take us apart down the stretch unless there is a massive shakeup. This is a rant not based on last nights game...it is based on 26 games of lackluster uninspired play. I'm sick of watching period after period go by without any physical play whatesowever. The opposition doesn't even usually engage us physically because they are beating us based on straight up skill saving their best stuff for better opposition in Vancouver or Calgary! Katz...DO SOMETHING!

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#21 Leonard
December 12 2008, 01:55PM
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Well, I might be wrong about Mc T doesn't like Shremp because he is an American but clearly there is something going on. Shremp is NOT arrogant, he said all the right things to the press, never criticise anyone, did not ask for a trade, scored 3 points in 3 games. Why is his playing time going down? Is Stortini a better player to stay with the team and Shremp went down after training camp. I follow Oilers since 1983 and I think I know when something is wrong. I just don't know what. Well I do! You have to look at the top and you will see the face of K. Lowe. That's where the problem starts and I've been saying for years that he has to go. You don't have to belive me on that, just ask 15 other GM's.

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#22 RobinB
December 12 2008, 02:15PM
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@ Leonard: I asked the GMs. They say they love Kevin Lowe, even if he's not American, and they think you're a kook.

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#23 Chris
December 12 2008, 02:19PM
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When Cole leaves Edmonton Pronger will still be under contract and all we'll have left to show for that debauchle is Smid. (Oh and a JrB player we got as compensation for watching that big j@ck@ss hoist the cup) Nice 5 year plan Lowe.

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#24 Chris
December 12 2008, 02:20PM
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Oh Oh. RobinB is in the house and I'm still B!Tchen bout LOWE.

When he's gone I'll let it Gowe!

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#25 Leonard
December 12 2008, 02:32PM
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RobinB you can call me names and it's allright. Just ask youself why players used to love playing for Edmonton and now $9,000,000.00 per year cant make them come. Instead of calling me names maybe you should think what is wrong and help fix it because we all want the same thing that is for the Oilers to have a Cup again. PS. Did you ask Buffalo GM about Lowe?

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#26 RobinB
December 12 2008, 02:48PM
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@ Leonard: Yes, Darcy Regier is sitting in my hot tub right now alongside Gary Bettman, Darryl Sutter and Ken Holland and we're talking hockey. As it's turned out, Darcy is overjoyed that Kevin Lowe put an offer sheet on Tomas Vanek, which prompted him to match it. Now, he's got the NHL's leading goal-scorer locked up long-term.

As for "fixing things," that's what we've been trying to do with these Friday meetings we've been scheduling since the season started. We have a nice, relaxing soak, knock back a bushel of single-malt and dissect the issues important in the NHL today. Later, we'll play a little Twister in the den.

By the way, The Count says KLowe can't offer anybody $9 million to come to Edmontons because we're looking at a big drop in the salary cap next season. And Holland says you're a kook.

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#27 Leonard
December 12 2008, 02:58PM
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RobinB Yes, you have a big hot tob and a big head too. But I love you.

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#28 Chris
December 12 2008, 03:00PM
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It's okay...Horcoff was happy to stay for $7 000 000.00. What is that $500 000.00 per hit?

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#29 Jonathan Willis
December 12 2008, 04:51PM
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@ Chris:

Can we wait until his contract kicks in before we critique him for it? This year he's earning 3.6 million, and is a bargain at that price.

@ RobinB:

You're a genius. Now that I've said that, can you get George McPhee to hire me? Tell him I can play backup goalie whenever he's in a tough spot.

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