Second thoughts: finding a fit

Robin Brownlee
July 19 2009 06:35PM

David Steckel

I said the other day unrestricted free agent Manny Malhotra was the best option for the Edmonton Oilers in terms of a third-line centre who can win face-offs and kill penalties. I was wrong.

While Malhotra might be the best player who fits that description, he might not be the best option for the contract-heavy Oilers, and there's a couple of reasons for that.

First and foremost, it looks like Malhotra, who made $1.5 million with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, one in which he scored 11-17-28 and won 58 per cent of his face-offs, is expecting something north of $2 million a season on the open market. He'll get it. That's too pricey for the Oilers.

Second, with Malhotra being a UFA, GM Steve Tambellini has to take on a contract without giving one up. That's not the way to go. The trade route is. The problem, of course, is finding a trade partner that has what you want and needs what you have.

I thought about that for awhile, did some checking and came up with a name who makes sense -- those looking for a big splash or marquee dash can stop reading now. Nothing to see here.

That name is David Steckel.

HE FITS THE BILL

Who? I know. If you're thinking, Brownlee fell down the stairs and hit his big, fat head again, I get it. But hear me out or at least humour me, like you do with senile uncle Al when he asks who the hell you are for the third time at Thanksgiving dinner.

Steckel, for the vast majority of you who don't have his name on the tip of your tongue, is a six-foot-five, 222-pound pivot who just finished his fourth season with the Washington Capitals. While his boxcar numbers are less than inspiring, 8-11-19 in 76 games, he fits the bill on several levels.

-- Steckel, 27, is a demon on the dot. He finished the 2008-09 regular season among NHL leaders at 57.9 per cent. In 14 playoff games, he upped that to 58.4 per cent.

That's no flash in the pan, either. In 2007-08, he was 56.3. In 2006-07, he was 65.1, although that was in a span of just five games.

-- Steckel kills penalties and his face-off record shorthanded this past season was 153-130.

-- He's cheap. Steckel has one year remaining on a contract that will pay him $725,000 in 2009-10. Given that the Oilers already have about $51.3 million committed to salaries next season, price point, about one-third of what a player like Malhotra wants, matters.

-- Lastly, and most important, it looks to me like the Oilers and Caps each have something the other team wants on needs. The Oilers need a face-off man and the Caps could use some toughness at the bottom of the roster after losing Donald Brashear. I'm thinking J.F. Jacques could be their man.

A DEAL TO BE DONE?

Jacques, 24, is young enough and tough enough, despite back problems that stalled his career before he returned this season, to be of interest to the Capitals with Brashear gone.

Jacques has one more year left on a contract that will pay him $550,000 next season. While the Caps might want a prospect or pick thrown in to swing the deal, Tambellini wouldn't lose any sleep if he could move two contracts for one. He also has some depth in toughness and a logjam on the fourth line with Zack Stortini and Steve MacIntyre in the fold.

Those who've read this far can see this wouldn't be a big splash or a sexy deal, but it might be the right deal to address a glaring shortcoming, and the Oilers could use one of those right about now.

I will text the Steckel suggestion to Tambellini and await word back. As always, when I know what his response is, you'll know.

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

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 jfry
July 19 2009, 06:44PM
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except that steckel is a coach favourite and there's never any way the caps would pull this. like NEVER.

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#2 Zamboni Driver
July 19 2009, 06:45PM
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Interesting stuff, Robin.

...yet...

cue the "No way we can give up on Jacques, he's got potential nut-jobs.

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#3 Heazues
July 19 2009, 06:47PM
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wow, thats a guy that flew right under the radar of alot of fans. sounds like he is exacly what the oil are looking for.

i bet JFJ doesnt get it done though. they will want someone that has a bit more experience, no? i mean they are giving a guy up with known strengths for a guy that is largely unknown. maybe storts? not the scariest guy, but he can skate hit and fight.

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#4 BigE57
July 19 2009, 06:48PM
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Makes pretty good sense, injuries aside I've never been a big fan of Jacques so seeing him go wouldn't hurt my feelings.

On a somewhat related topic, how many more contracts do the Oilers realistically need to move before they are in a safer position to chase remaining free agents?

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#5 Homie
July 19 2009, 06:52PM
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His response? "How the hell did you get this number"!

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#6 heavyd
July 19 2009, 06:52PM
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Are the caps willing to give up a guy that wins over 50% of his faceoffs. I wouldn't mind throwing on nilison if we could. Anyways i'm liking the trade if it could happen.

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#7 DBO
July 19 2009, 07:05PM
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LOL. Welcome to my world Robin. Been talking about Steckal since the trade deadline. thought it would have been a good fit with him coming our way and Moreau heading to the Caps for "veteran" leadership. They have some cap space right now and could use some vets. Steckal is a great fit for 3/4 C. Especially if it means freeing up some cap space.

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#8 Robin Brownlee
July 19 2009, 07:06PM
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Heazues wrote:

wow, thats a guy that flew right under the radar of alot of fans. sounds like he is exacly what the oil are looking for. i bet JFJ doesnt get it done though. they will want someone that has a bit more experience, no? i mean they are giving a guy up with known strengths for a guy that is largely unknown. maybe storts? not the scariest guy, but he can skate hit and fight.

Stortini would be the other likely canditate. And, yes, as I mentioned, the Caps would likely want somebody else in the deal. Steckel doesn't come with a lot of fanfare, but I can't see the Caps trading him straight up for JFJ.

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#9 jeanshorts
July 19 2009, 07:27PM
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If this trade goes down, and Steckel ends up being a huge factor in an Oiler resurgence next season, do we rally to make Brownlee the new Asst. GM?

His first order of business..."eliminate" Dustin Penner and his contract....

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#10 GSC
July 19 2009, 07:35PM
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Good call, Robin.

Steckel is exactly the kind of player with the kind of contract that this team needs.

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#11 GLoKz0r
July 19 2009, 07:46PM
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I like everything about what you're telling me here, except for the fact Stortini would have to go. I might be in the minority, but I consider Stortini to be one of Edmonton's assets right now. He comes to play hard, every night.. he's not a defensive liability, and he's tough to play against. And he's big.

These are all qualities we need more of... not really one of the pieces I'd so readily throw away.

I'd much rather see big Mac go in a trade. He may be bigger and meaner, but Stortini is head and shoulders above Mac in terms of ability to actually play some hockey..

I'm not saying "Bad trade" if this ends up being the case.. I just have a laundry list of players I'd rather see shipped out for this suggestion than Stortini.

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#12 Brian
July 19 2009, 07:57PM
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...Except that Steckel was terrific in the playoffs for the Caps, and what they need even worse than some toughness in the bottom half of their forwards is exactly what Steckel provides: honest effort, two-way play and penalty killing at a reasonable price. There's just no way the Caps would move him, not for Jacques anyway, unless the Oilers were also willing to give the Caps the other thing they desperately need, which is salary cap relief. So unless the Oilers are willing to make it a bigger deal and take Chris Clark or Michael Nylander in return I really can't see how it would happen.

A better option who's a free agent right now might be Marcel Goc. He's got similar faceoff stats and is younger.

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#13 Robin Brownlee
July 19 2009, 08:14PM
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GLoKz0r wrote:

except for the fact Stortini would have to go.

Never said that. Jacques is more likely, but, like I said, I can't see the Caps swapping Steckel straight up. They'd want a prospect or pick as well.

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#14 MrMaz
July 19 2009, 08:27PM
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I don't think Washington is going to move Steckel. They need cheap dependable guys like him since so much salary is going to Ovie, and I don't think they even spend up to the cap, but could be wrong.

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#15 Robin Brownlee
July 19 2009, 08:34PM
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@ MrMaz: I don't think the Caps necessarily want to move Steckel, but they are at over $55 million and they have Nylander, Backstrom and Laich in the middle. While it's not much, they'd save about $200,000 in a Steckel-Jacques swap and they could ask for a sweetener like a pick that wouldn't hurt their cap right now.

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#16 hamburgler42
July 19 2009, 09:03PM
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How about Boyd Gordon as another option with Washington?

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#17 Garett
July 19 2009, 09:15PM
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Totally off topic but why on earth do the Pittsburgh Penguins even get nominated for an ESPY? Not that I dont thinnk they are the best team of the year, but we all know they were not going to win the award, how would they? ESPN does not even have hockey on their friggen network!!!! What a joke, I f'n hate ESPN and their stupid ass awards show. They should change it the the World Sports Awards and not be such biased pricks. They wont even support this sport with television coverage, buncha losers missing out on the greatest sport on the planet!

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#18 Hemmertime
July 19 2009, 09:26PM
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Hell at this point make it JFJ and Schremp. Might fit well there too

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#19 Archaeologuy
July 19 2009, 09:27PM
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Just so long as the Oil can finally fix the miscast Cogs and finally get the guy playing Wing.

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#20 Dallas
July 19 2009, 09:55PM
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I heard rumblings awhile ago can't remember where that cogliano cannot play wing he just is not as good as he is at center but he cannot win a faceoff maybe that is why the oilers want to trade him I could be wrong though

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#21 Andrew W
July 19 2009, 10:02PM
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Hey, I'm going to take this to heart: Steckel is one of the players I suggested going after in the comments of one of the post-Heatley articles.

My thoughts about the out-going player was a bit different, though. Some might call me a fool, but I'd offer up Cogliano for him and angle for a 2nd or 3rd round pick to come back, too. My reasoning is that Horcoff and Gagner are the clear top two centres, Cogs looks to be a long way off being a strong 3rd line centre, and the Oilers need a winger with more grit for the 2nd line RW slot. Furthermore, without giving up one of the top four d (which I wouldn't want to do for a 3rd line centre), I suspect he's the only roster player that could pry Steckel away from the Caps. Cogs could fit in well at RW on the second line with Morrison and Semin, which is a greater need for them than at centre where they're stacked. (Backstrom, Morrison, Lake, Nylander & Fleischmann.)

Please, someone call me crazy.

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#22 Archaeologuy
July 19 2009, 10:12PM
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@ Dallas: I heard that too, but i think it came from MacT, so that pretty much means that Cogs will be the best Winger on the team next year.

The fact of the matter is he cant win a faceoff with any regularity and that isnt good enough at the NHL level. So he will be learning a new position if he wants to play for a long time. O'Sully and Gagner can play on Wing and Centre, why cant Cogs? Is he really that inept or was he just another victim of MacT's strange player usage?

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#23 Hemmertime
July 19 2009, 10:15PM
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@ Andrew W: You're crazy. One hell of an overpay. Cogliano is cheap, effective, and has more points in one year than Steckels career (2 years, heh). If Steckel was a plus 15-plus 20 player sure, but hes barely in the +.

I'll take a few faceoff losses for double the points, speed, and potential rather than trade him for the next Marty Reasoner.

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#24 Andrew W
July 19 2009, 10:16PM
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@ Archaeologuy: @ Dallas:

I read (somewhere) that he isn't comfortable playing left wing, not that he can't play either side.

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#25 misfit
July 19 2009, 10:16PM
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Could such a deal be made with Jacques, or would they want Stortini instead? Or if it's Brashear they're looking to replace, maybe McIntyre +. Personally, I think they should bite the bullet, offer Malhotra something long term at around 2.25 - 2.5M per, and worry about sending out a contract later.

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#26 Robin Brownlee
July 19 2009, 10:23PM
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misfit wrote:

Could such a deal be made with Jacques, or would they want Stortini instead? Or if it’s Brashear they’re looking to replace, maybe McIntyre +. Personally, I think they should bite the bullet, offer Malhotra something long term at around 2.25 - 2.5M per, and worry about sending out a contract later.

If you've been reading, you know I like Malhotra as well. But the more I compare his numbers with Steckel's, I don't see Malhotra being worth $1.5 million a season more, which will be the difference if he gets $2.25M. That, and I see the Caps as a willing trade partner.

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#27 SumOil
July 19 2009, 10:24PM
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Well I watched a few Caps game. Steckel is beast out there on the ice. He is a tenacious fore-checker. He is a fan favorite and their coach loves him. There is no ways we get him without over payment. That said, Andrew W(that is too much). Rather than JFJ, we may have to package someone a little more promising and prolly a 3rd or 4th round pick

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#28 Hemmertime
July 19 2009, 10:25PM
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misfit wrote:

offer Malhotra something long term at around 2.25 - 2.5M per,

Long term I would hesitate. If all goes according to (plan/my dreams) Horcoff is going to be our defensive C when we get a bonafide first line C via trade or Gagner develops a little more. Then we would have Malholtra 4th line for 2.5 mil, not a good prospect.

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#29 misfit
July 19 2009, 10:26PM
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It's RW Cogliano hates playing. It's why Moreau took the faceoffs (as opposed to Pouliot) when the 18-13-78 line was together and Cogs would get waived out of the circle.

I know you need good faceoff men for situational draws, but you don't have to have all 4 lines with faceoff aces on them. Cogliano is just much better at center than on the wing, and that's probably where we're better off using him. Just don't send his line out as much for faceoffs. His inadequacies on the dot aren't a huge issue IMO, but we do need one or two very good FO men in the lineup somewhere.

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#30 Hemmertime
July 19 2009, 10:27PM
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@ misfit: Agreed, we will always likely have a Winger who is semi-decent in draws too, so pair him with Cogs

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#31 Archaeologuy
July 19 2009, 10:28PM
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Hemmertime wrote:

If all goes according to (plan/my dreams) Horcoff is going to be our defensive C when we get a bonafide first line C via trade or Gagner develops a little more.

If you heard how Tom Renney spoke of Horcoff on Gregor's show just after he became associate coach then you'd know that your dream may not be so far off.

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#32 Dallas
July 19 2009, 10:36PM
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@ Archaeologuy: Lol bud about you comment on mac I agree

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#33 Jonathan Willis
July 19 2009, 10:38PM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

RE: Malhotra

From Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch:

Heard this week from two independent sources that the Atlanta Thrashers offered Malhotra a four-year deal worth at least $2 million per season. Not sure if it's still on the table, but Malhotra is holding out for an offer from another club, even if it's less money. Such is the state of the Les Thrashers these days.

(bolding mine)

Maybe you've heard something more recent, but it sound like 2MM from the right club would get it done. No idea if the Oilers are the right club, but they must be more appealing than Atlanta.

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#34 Andrew W
July 19 2009, 10:40PM
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@ Hemmertime:

You might be right, and there certainly is a lot of risk in trading away a player like Cogs who could turn around and blossom on somebody else's vine. As mentioned, a big part of my reasoning is that Steckel is much more of what the Oilers need right now: size, grit, and a defensive minded third line centre who thrives at the dot.

I'm also not convinced that Cogliano is more apt to turn into a regular 30 goal scorer than O'Sullivan. Yes, he has more speed, but Sully has a very good shot that he likes to use, decent hands, above average speed, and is a bit tougher (I think). He can also play all three forward positions and looks much more comfortable on the wing. Please also keep in mind that I'm not suggesting a straight up swap - either a draft pick, a prospect, or a low end roster player (like Jurcina or Erskine, maybe) should fill out the trade.

Sometimes I feel like Cogs is over-rated by us homers who have been desperate for some high end home grown talent. Isn't there anybody else who sees him as a 2nd line centre who is made redundant by Gagner?

As for Cogliano being cheap, well, they're both cheap, and Steckel is apt to stay that way for longer.

Again, call me crazy.

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#35 misfit
July 19 2009, 10:48PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

If you’ve been reading, you know I like Malhotra as well. But the more I compare his numbers with Steckel’s, I don’t see Malhotra being worth $1.5 million a season more, which will be the difference if he gets $2.25M. That, and I see the Caps as a willing trade partner.

No, I definitely see where you're going. I was more commenting on the idea that the 50 contract limit shouldn't be something that gets in the way of filling such an important need. I mean, I've heard Tambellini mention a few times that he has too many bodies, but if you can't sign a proven 3rd line center until you've rid yourself of a 4th liner/AHL player first, it just seems a little backwards to me. Especially when you aren't even at the 50 contract limit.

As for the price difference, Malhotra's experience as one of the premier players of his kind year in and year out, and the fact that he's still in his prime makes me a lot more comfortable with him as an option even if it costs a little more. And if Steckel is as good as his last 2 seasons would suggest, he won't be much cheaper for much longer given that he's a UFA next year. All that said, I'd still be ok going this route, and if we can get him for Jacques, then even better.

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#36 oil fan
July 19 2009, 10:59PM
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D Moore would be a good fit also. How much do you think it would take to sign him?

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#37 Andrew W
July 19 2009, 11:09PM
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@ oil fan:

I suspect that he'll wait to make sure that Bartuzzi doesn't re-sign in Calgary before coming to the same conference.

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#38 jfry
July 19 2009, 11:09PM
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sorry, that didn't come through correctly, here's the quotes

from 2009: Boudreau, as much Steckel's rabbi as his coach in the NHL, told General Manager George McPhee not to just take a flyer on him when Steckel wasn't re-signed by the club. "I told him he will play [in the NHL] and he'd be a good sign."

"Just to see the look on his face was very rewarding," Boudreau said yesterday. "I know his parents very well and they must have been excited for him."

On the surface, they have nothing in common. Steckel is 6 feet 5, a long, sinewy band of muscle and bone. Boudreau is 5-9, several pounds past his playing weight. He was much better than the Crash Davis of minor league hockey -- a scorer of great renown.

But in Steckel, Boudreau sees a bit of himself -- the part he would go back and change if he could, the part that didn't use every minute of every day to ensure that his best NHL season in a 20-year career of call-ups amounted to more than just 10 goals and 14 assists in 39 games. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/12/AR2009051203425_2.html

2008: "I owe a lot to Bruce (Boudreau)," Steckel said. "I've been with him for a long time, and he's always showed a lot of confidence in me."

Boudreau coached Steckel in the minors with the Los Angeles Kings and Capitals organizations. It was Boudreau, with an assist from OSU coach John Markell, who convinced Washington management to sign Steckel.

Built like a hockey stick in college, the 6-foot-5 center became more serious about his nutrition and conditioning level in 2005 after joining the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. His coordination also improved as his body finally stopped growing.

Steckel helped Boudreau and Hershey win the Calder Cup in 2006, and last season he scored 30 goals.

"Last year, David was arguably the best player in the AHL," Boudreau said.

http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/bluejackets/stories/2008/02/05/jackets05.ART_ART_02-05-08_C1_O598SGP.html

no chance steckel leaves.

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#39 esa tikkanen
July 19 2009, 11:11PM
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Robin,

Do you think the caps would part with Hartnell for Cogliano? Free up some cap space in exchange for a speedy winger with $ 3 million less of a hit..and tons of upside. The Oilers get bigger, grittier and a few more goals. Hartnell is still young enough to add to his goal scoring totals Seems like a good trade for both sides to me.

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#40 esa tikkanen
July 19 2009, 11:11PM
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oops, meant flyers not caps of course

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#41 Ogden Brother
July 19 2009, 11:29PM
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esa tikkanen wrote:

Robin, Do you think the caps would part with Hartnell for Cogliano? Free up some cap space in exchange for a speedy winger with $ 3 million less of a hit..and tons of upside. The Oilers get bigger, grittier and a few more goals. Hartnell is still young enough to add to his goal scoring totals Seems like a good trade for both sides to me.

I would be happy with a trade like that, another option would be Michalek from SJ for all the same reasons.

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#42 Robin Brownlee
July 19 2009, 11:32PM
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esa tikkanen wrote:

Robin, Do you think the caps would part with Hartnell for Cogliano? Free up some cap space in exchange for a speedy winger with $ 3 million less of a hit..and tons of upside. The Oilers get bigger, grittier and a few more goals. Hartnell is still young enough to add to his goal scoring totals Seems like a good trade for both sides to me.

Oilers would have to offer more than cap relief, meaning they'd have to sweeten the deal -- likely with a roster player.

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#43 Robin Brownlee
July 19 2009, 11:37PM
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@ jfry: I'm aware of their relationship. But no chance? Let's not make Steckel into Superman here. The Oilers have assets the Caps want.

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#44 Sanderson
July 20 2009, 12:17AM
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With Federov gone (he has gone to the KHL right?) what would the Caps center depth chart look like if Steckel also leaves town.

I loved watching this guy play in the post-season, but it seems to me like the caps would be filling one hole by creating another. I am of the persuasion that he would look great in Oilers silks... but it ain't gonna happen.

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#45 oilersinsider
July 20 2009, 12:23AM
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Unrelated to a trade, but definitely related to the 3rd line center roll; and for that matter all of the players on the team.

Couldn't the Oilers go out and spend as much money as they want to without affecting their cap on a special teams or face-off only coach like a Yannic Perreault or Adam Oates?

The last time a player like Oates was here (as a member of the Oilers) he made guys like Stoll and Horcoff exponentially better at face-offs. Is this not possible and wouldn't it maybe lessen or negate the need to make a trade?

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#46 oilersinsider
July 20 2009, 12:25AM
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*I realized I spelt roll incorrectly after I hit post.. It should be * role

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#47 jim
July 20 2009, 12:46AM
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I still think that the best fit is Bonk. He might cost a little more but he can score.

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#48 Kevin
July 20 2009, 01:21AM
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I appreciate the post, Robin. Good eye for roster management. It's hard not to like David Steckel's play, and he epitomizes the 'Tambellini Oilers' we've heard so much about.

Still, I lean toward siding with Andrew W and jfry. If we all agree that the Caps want to replace Brashear because they desire size and grit in their bottom 6, then why would they agree to move Steckel? Won't they then be in the market for a Steckel clone? Robin, do you think they might forgo size and use Morrison as his replacement?

Maybe it's from reading Lowetide, but I think good organizations avoid moving known, quality assets with inexpensive contracts for unknown assets during their window of success (although the Caps might very well want to move the window back slightly to fit Varlamov as well as Ovie). That's not to say that the Caps hang up the phone every time Steckel's name is mentioned, but it means that JFJ+ is likely a non-starter. If JFJ (himself a shaky prospect) is the extra for a deal featuring a blue chipper or roster player, then I think Tambo gets past the secretary. It's an overpay for sure, but to my eye the Caps need him almost as much as we do.

Also, I agree with Andrew W that Cogs is slightly over rated by the homers (myself included) and is a little redundant on this roster (or at least repeated). I still love him, so if he stays all the better.

Anyway, here's hoping Tambo has some voodoo magic that can transform Pouliot into Steckel, or incriminating photos of George McPhee.

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#49 Death Metal Nightmare
July 20 2009, 04:30AM
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he didnt fly under the radar. no one thought the Caps would be dumb enough to give up a stud bottom-6 guy who has size, faceoff ability and crashes.

definitely a good choice but i dont see why the Caps would give him up without an overpay. Jacques hasnt done enough in my mind to warrant any sort of value to the caps even with a prospect or pick (unless its obscene)

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#50 Lofty
July 20 2009, 07:14AM
Trash it!
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Dont know much about the guy but I wonder how well a six-foot-five, 222 pound beast can kill penalties. I can't see him being too mobile protecting the points? Sure he could block some shots but the way the Oil ran around on the PK last year it could be ugly.

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