Denis Grebeshkov and the Defense

Jonathan Willis
May 28 2009 10:21AM

Grebeshkov celebrates

The Edmonton Journal is reporting today that Denis Grebeshkov is likely to return to the Oilers and is close to signing a three-year deal worth a shade over 3-million dollars a season.

This is excellent news, as the 25-year old emerged as a legitimate top-four defenseman last season, recording 39 points and leading the Oilers with a +12 rating. The dollars are around what I expected to see; a little higher than I’d hoped but reasonable, and the term is encouraging as well. There’s some worry here about sustainability, since Grebeshkov is being paid based on one excellent campaign (he improved his two-way play to end 2007-08 but it’s his offense that’s bringing in the money) and he wasn’t exactly called upon as the team’s premiere shut-down defenseman.

Grebeshkov also benefitted from an above-average on-ice shooting percentage (20% better than team average at even-strength). I don’t think that will continue, so his offense may dip a bit next season, but he should still be good for 30 or so points, and may maintain his current offensive pace if he gets more powerplay time.

Also in today’s Edmonton Journal, John MacKinnon suggests some changes to the Oilers’ blueline:

On the back end, Denis Grebeshkov, Tom Gilbert, Lubomir Visnovsky, and young Taylor Chorney are similar players. A careful cull is required here, too. So is acquring a genuine, banging, stay-at-home defenceman or two, preferably, to help out Ladislav Smid and one of, but not both, Steve Staios and Jason Strudwick.

I notice that Sheldon Souray, who just had (rather improbably) the finest season of his career at the age of 32, was not mentioned on that list. Souray was the subject of trade rumours at points after the season (pointed out by OilersNation’s own Robin Brownlee, if I’m not mistaken) and while he denied them, he has voiced public displeasure at various points druing the season. The San Jose Sharks, who supposedly pursued him as a free agent two summers ago, would be one team that might be a good fit for the hard-nosed defenseman.

Despite his (rather dominant) season and the new coaching tandem, I don’t think Souray should be perceived as untouchable. He’s a big-money, long-term contract on an Oilers team filled with them, and on top of that there should be some real questions about whether a repeat performance of this past year will happen.

Both Steve Staios and Jason Strudwick had somewhat disappointing seasons; they were sheltered on the third pairing and given a ton of offensive zone draws, but still were outscored and outshot at an alarming rate. Neither is a strength right now, and Staios in particular is a concern because of the length and and cap hit of his contract. Strudwick was repeatedly praised for his work ethic, physical game, and character but on a good team probably isn’t higher than #7 on the depth chart.

Tom Gilbert’s name is frequently mentioned in trade rumours, and he’s a player that gets criticized for playing a soft game. It’s worth noting that while he isn’t a big hitter, especially for his size, he did block 136 shots this season, good for second on the team and roughly twice as many as Sheldon Souray, who played similar ice-time; and this despite the fact that Souray waso n the ice for more shots against. I think it would be wrong to ignore that when discussing Gilbert’s willingness to pay a physical price.

As a G.M., I’d probably look at moving one of Gilbert or Souray for help up front, and I’d try to move Staios. I wouldn’t be against retaining Strudwick if he comes cheap (in the #7 role). Visnovsky, is in my opinion the best defenseman on the team, and Denis Grebeshkov brings good value for his contract (assuming those numbers are correct), so they’d both stay, as would young Ladislav Smid. That ideally leaves two spots, which I would try to fill via trade or free agency with a physical second-paring defenseman and a reliable third-pairing type (perhaps Daniel Tjarnqvist or Matt Walker, although there are plenty of options out there). That should save some much needed cap space while allowing prospects like Theo Peckham and Taylor Chorney to learn the game more fully in the AHL – there’s no need to rush these guys into the lineup; the odds are good that they’ll play when injuries strike anyway. Chorney in particular is not ready for the NHL game.

That’s my personal feeling, based on a few premises that I think are reasonable:

  • Veteran players are more dependable than prospects
  • Prospects with significant time invested in them (Smid) should not be lightly discarded
  • Players having career-best seasons in their mid-thirties should be regarded with some caution
  • Cap space should be saved wherever possible

Thoughts?

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#201 Ogden Brother
May 30 2009, 05:52PM
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@ Archaeologuy:

I wouldn't do the trade either for alot of the reasons mentioned (we need Hemsky's offense more then we need Brown's physical game) but man do you underate Brown, he really is one of the premier young power forwards in the league. If he was here, he'd be a fan fave that would recieve the "OMG don't trade Brown" treatment that Souray has been getting this summer.

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#202 Chris
May 30 2009, 06:11PM
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@ Archaeologuy:

First of all, plus minus is THE most overrated stat.., it is generally regarded as a poor measuremnt of overall defensive ability. You are fooling yourself if you think Dustin Brown is a bigger defensive liability than Hemsky. Seperate Hemsky from Horcoff, and put him on a line with Kopitar and Frolov, and I'll bet the farm that not only will Hemsky's production fall; his +/- rating will dip into unprecidented lows as well. Simply put: that line would never have the puck. Assembling a line that works isn't as easy as combining three individual PPG type players.

Secondly, you use Hemsky and leadership in the same sentance? LOL! On or off the ice NOBODY describes Hemsky as a leader. Dustin Brown is already Captain on a young roster, a roster nowhere near the cap, that despite you poking fun at it, finished not much lower in the standings than the Oilers.

Finally, just listen to yourself:

Archaeologuy wrote:

They would lose the only marquee forward on the team

Who? Hemsky? Really? You and Hemsky's MOM are the only people who believe Hemmer is a legitimate marquee forward!

Archaeologuy ALSO wrote:

Because the 1st line needs less scoring and more big hits?

The general concensus is yes. This team needs more HITS, GRIT, and TOUGHNESS. Maybe you don't think so; but physical momentum MUST be generated throught the ENTIRE lineup; first line included. Also, I don't know why it STILL hasn't sunk in that through all this back and forth that BROWN SCORES MORE THAN HEMSKY. Through his first four, full NHL seasons Brown scored THIRTY MORE GOALS than Hemsky. Two assists are generally awarded for every goal; so logically a GOAL should be considered twice as valuable as an assist. This is just common sence.

You freely admit that the Oiler first line, and first unit PP is a mess; but you seem unwilling to put any of the responsibility for that on Hemsky's back. Why not?.. After all, you said yourself that Hemsky is the "key cog". There is more to playing Hockey than just putting up points. Trading away 20 assists on the first line is fine by me if the Oilers harder to play against.

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#203 Chris
May 30 2009, 06:30PM
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@ Ogden Brother: I'm not a 100% sure I'd make the Brown/Hemsky deal either... But I won't discount the possibility it could help the roster moving forward. Hemsky has had three years to lead this offence; an offence that has been spotty at best. Don't discount the critical importance of injecting some toughness into the YOUTH component of the roster: When Gagner is ready to step up and lead this team offensively; he is going to need a Dustin Brown type player to compliment him.

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#204 Archaeologuy
May 30 2009, 10:30PM
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@ Chris: obviously this is a disagreement that will not be resolved.

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#205 Chris
May 31 2009, 10:44AM
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@ Archaeologuy:

Fair enough. Let's stop this needless feuding and get refocused on hating the Flames...

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#206 Archaeologuy
May 31 2009, 11:15AM
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@ Chris: Excellent plan!

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