Building next year’s bottom five

Jonathan Willis
May 23 2013 09:53AM

While the Oilers have no shortage of problems in their top-nine forward group, things get really ugly afterward. How should the fourth line and the reserve forwards change next season?

The Scoring Chances

I’ve taken the scoring chance numbers I recorded this season and split the Oilers into three groups: the top line, the middle six, and everybody else.

  • Top Line (Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle): Out-chance opposition 53-to-47
  • Middle Six (Gagner, Yakupov, Hemsky, Paajarvi, Smyth, Horcoff): Out-chanced 58-to-42
  • Everyone Else: Out-chanced 64-to-36

The top line is fine, the middle six needs a significant overhaul, and the rest of the forward corps is an absolute trainwreck. Most of the discussion this off-season has dealt with the middle six; we’re focused on “the rest” here.

The Incumbents

The chart above shows how the incumbents performed; Ryan Smyth is included as he’s doubtless bound for a lesser role on next season’s team – his performance is also split into games where he played wing and games where he played centre.

On The Outside

Let’s start with the ‘definitely gone’ crowd. Darcy Hordichuk never really got a chance and was replaced; he won’t be back. Lennart Petrell’s contract is up and despite excellent work on the penalty kill, he shouldn’t be back and likely won’t be. Eric Belanger has another year on his deal but seems likely to be bought out. Chris VandeVelde was very carefully used by Krueger (he actually led the Oilers forwards in offensive zone starts), couldn’t score in the minors, and his contract is up.

Anton Lander should start 2013-14 in the minors; not only does he give the Oilers depth but he hasn’t done anything to force his way on to the NHL roster. Ben Eager likely starts there too, assuming he isn’t bought out, given his demotion earlier in the year. Mark Arcobello too seems bound for the minors, assuming he gets another contract.

The Model

Assuming the Oilers run 14 forwards next year, what positions will they play? Obviously, there will need to be one winger for each side and a centre in the starting lineup. There are two spare slots: one will likely go to a tough guy and the other is the reserve forward. Given what happened this year, that reserve spot should probably go to a centre. So ideally, next year the Oilers enter the season with two centres, two wingers, and they probably leave a spot for an enforcer.

Ryan Smyth will get one of the winger spots; Craig MacTavish has already said he’ll be back, and he was significantly better at left wing this season than at centre. Mike Brown is under contract for another year; he often seems a ‘stick optional’ player around the puck but the Oilers have employed far worse players at the enforcer position; he’ll likely get the job. That leaves one winger spot for Teemu Hartikainen and Ryan Jones; Hartikainen has scored in the minors and might yet have upside, while Jones is an unrestricted free agent. The Oilers could trade Hartikainen, but given his minor league performance I would argue it makes sense to give him another chance: his trade value isn’t likely to be especially high and they may as well see if he has more to give. I like Jones on the fourth line, despite a poor year, but the Oilers need the versatility offered by a centre so it likely makes more sense to go out and get one rather than keep Jones.

That leaves two centre spots open. I was surprised how decent Jerred Smithson’s scoring chance numbers were; it’s basically a result of the Smyth – Smithson – Brown line going +17/-13 down the stretch (with Brown occasionally skipping shifts in favour of a different winger). Smithson’s long-term record isn’t all that impressive, but as a reserve centre he might be fine – he’s big, wins faceoffs and kills penalties. If the Oilers can get him cheap and don’t see somebody else they like more, he’d be a somewhat okay 13th forward.

That leaves the fourth-line centre position open, and that’s one the Oilers should be able to address via free agency. Somebody relatively big and capable of killing penalties, with some offence and the ability to play a cycle game would be ideal; Maxim Lapierre in Vancouver is the obvious name available via free agency but he isn’t the only possibility. In addition to other unrestricted free agents (Marty Reasoner, Kyle Chipchura, Adam Hall, Jeff Halpern, etc.) a quality player in the AHL or Europe might appeal, too.

Smyth, Hartikainen, Brown, and two new centres. As long as the Oilers find qualified help at centre, that should be a good enough group to get the job done at the bottom of the roster, and giving Hartikainen a year playing a regular shift with Smyth isn't likely to be a bad thing for his development long-term. The one caveat: the new centre they add for the fourth line might be worth investing some money in, because unless Smyth recovers from a poor year or Hartikainen takes a step forward, he may well be the first option to move into the top-nine when injuries hit.

Streakcred

Don't forget that it's not too late to play StreakCred - the new playoff pool game from the Nation Network. You can win a trip for 2 to Oktoberfest in Germany among the awesome prizes up for grabs. Now it's only $10 and a portion of the proceeds go to Edmonton Charities. Sign up here.

Recently around the Nation Network

Yesterday, the Vancouver Canucks fired head coach Alain Vigneault, as well as his assistants. In his writeup on the dismissal, Thomas Drance offers this assessment of Vigneualt :

Alain Vigneault is the winningest coach in franchise history, and a stellar bench boss - in my estimation - who will presumably be hired by another NHL franchise in short order.

 Click the link above to read the whole piece, or feel free check out some recent pieces here at Oilers Nation:

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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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#101 Greg The Hammer Valentine
May 23 2013, 06:42PM
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Horcoff + Rajala + one of our second round picks for Hanzal? That would be terrific, but I doubt it could happen. However, I don't agree we have nothing to offer for a trade with Phoenix. In fact, I think it would we one of top 3 most probable trade partners.

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#102 madjam
May 23 2013, 07:12PM
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Lots of names been mentioned on this site , but rest of league also interested in most of them . Overpaying for outside help does not seem to logical with big contacts coming up soon on our youth . Flames are probably mulling over the same names we are coming up with . Everybody is bargain shopping with size and grit in mind , not just us . MacT. may find the pickings far less than he expected , at a cost that is overly high and does not make good economic sense .

It's pretty easy to pick upgrades no doubt , but far harder to deal for them . MacT.'s 6-8 changes may be more of 6-8 players released from system than actual acquisitions .

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#103 geno
May 23 2013, 07:18PM
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DSF wrote:

Martin Hanzal led all PHX forwards in TOI/G and scored .59 PPG.

He's 6'6" 240 and signed is signed for another 4 years at $3.1M.

If you want Hanzal from Phoenix, start with Eberle and then add a lot more.

Horcoff (and his toxic contract), an AHL player and a second round pick?

Good grief...why would Phoenix do that?

Okay. The deal he proposed was terrible. But yours is hilariously terrible.

You're saying if EDM wants Hanzal, a guy who's never topped 35 points, they'll need to send Eberle, a guy who had 76 points in 2012 (albeit a little lucky), plus a lot more.

Geez. I knew you were a troll, but I didn't know you were dumb too.

aye aye aye

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#104 DSF
May 23 2013, 07:21PM
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madjam wrote:

Lots of names been mentioned on this site , but rest of league also interested in most of them . Overpaying for outside help does not seem to logical with big contacts coming up soon on our youth . Flames are probably mulling over the same names we are coming up with . Everybody is bargain shopping with size and grit in mind , not just us . MacT. may find the pickings far less than he expected , at a cost that is overly high and does not make good economic sense .

It's pretty easy to pick upgrades no doubt , but far harder to deal for them . MacT.'s 6-8 changes may be more of 6-8 players released from system than actual acquisitions .

Yep.

If the Oilers get into a bidding war, they're going to lose and they likely wouldn't want to live with the consequences of winning either since they're going to have to pay Hopkins, Schultz and Yakupov in the near future.

A couple of player the Oilers should look at are Derek Roy and Mason Raymond....both are UFA.

Roy would be an upgrade at #3C while Raymond is an excellent penalty killer and would be an upgrade as a winger on the 3rd line.

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#105 madjam
May 23 2013, 07:34PM
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Would not surprise ma to see Oilers try for 2- 3 bigger names that may fall by way of buyouts . Example Heatley , Lacavalier , or B.Richards if available . One spot I reserve for a Weber or Subban type trade . Acquire 3 and the rest of team gets shuffled around . Finish building the top before filling out the bottom which is much easier and less costly .

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#106 michael
May 23 2013, 08:00PM
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Marty Reasoner 3.0 . Mact's boy and a good soldier for the Oilers in the past.A competent center and Pk guy. He with Smyth and Brown on the fourth line will be at worst even.I like Horcoff with Bickell and MP.Gagner with Yak and Nickysomeone. Hall Ebbs and Nuge.Jones is my 13 forward and gets 55-65 games in as a energy guy. Smyth should be limited to 50 games and Brown to 45 ish. Rotate them in and out to keep them fresh.

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#107 FSD
May 23 2013, 08:51PM
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MacTavish sounds like every other GM in the NHL we need to get bigger faster blah blah blah really .

Another talker .

Deja vu all over again

Can't wait till next year when fans want the Coach Gm and Pres fired.

All they need is the GM to say we need to get better.

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#108 Jeffff
May 23 2013, 09:01PM
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Can't be the worst team in the NHL since the lockout of 2004 with good players. Most of the team is overrated . Results speak louder than words. This is a bad team.

What are we suppose to think when MacTavish says we need to get better. Good thing he got an MBA or else he might of said something stupid.

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#109 DSF
May 23 2013, 09:13PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Definite pass on Derek Roy, unless he comes as a cheap replacement for Gagner (and Gagner is moved out for a defenceman). I like the guy but if you bring him in the only place you can slot him is the spot Gagner currently plays.

Raymond, meanwhile, is a smallish winger who gets out-shot in depth minutes; pass period there because he's the wrong fit for Edmonton.

Roy scored 32 goals and 81points at Gagner's age.

No comparison.

If you're looking at 3 scoring lines, Roy is a better investment that either Gagner or Horcoff.

Mason Raymond is a clear upgrade on Ryan Jones and can do spot duty in the top 6.

Are they ideal? No. they're not.

But I doubt ideal is coming for a visit this fall.

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#110 madjam
May 23 2013, 09:15PM
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The longer it takes MacT. to start dealing ,the more I tend to believe it will be a marque player at center or defence . Something to excite the fans to renew their season tickets .

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#111 Woogie63
May 23 2013, 10:46PM
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How many minutes will the bottom 5 play each night, maybe 5-6 minutes. The majority of those minutes, in the soft moments of the games, offensive zone face-offs, or when the games is won or lost ( more than 3 goal differential) or when the other team send our their "tough/energy" line.

I like C- Smithson W - Brown, Eager, Hordichuk, Smyth

Expect them be tough, hard hitting, i.e. Completely different than what you are expecting the top 9 provide.

Keep your PK and PP players from your top 9

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#112 Spydyr
May 24 2013, 09:19AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Detroit always comes up because people say 'you need to fight to win' and Detroit shows it obviously isn't true.

You have to be hard to play against to win.Toughness wins and that does include standing up for yourself or a teammate and dropping the mitts.Sure it happens less in the playoffs and team toughness is much more important but a good scrap can ignite a team.Watch the benches after a good fight.Every player standing and most banging their stick on the boards.It awakes emotion and passion.

The Oilers are the weakest team in the NHL.Detroit has much more team toughness a way better management team and they actually have their players learn the pro game in the AHL.Unlike the Oilers who ordain players roster spots nine months before training camp.Every player should learn the game and earn their roster spot.

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#114 Spydyr
May 24 2013, 11:10AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Two points:

1) Then why doesn't Detroit need to fight?

2) People have actually done research on this - fighting is a double-edged sword with minimal benefit on the scoreboard.

1)Detroit has team toughness.Detroit has a lethal power-play.Detroit has the best coaching and one of the best management teams in hockey.Now lets talk about the other 29 teams.Most feel the need to defend themselves and their teammates dropping the mitts from time to time.Not being pushovers and easy to play against.

2)Ask Hemsky if he would not have minded some backup when Regehr and Boogaard(rest his soul) were trying to run him through the boards injuring him over and over again.Every player feels better if his teammates have his back.It also forms team bonds and that in the long run builds winning teams.Too many times this year an Oiler player was in a scrum with three opposing players roughing him up with no Oiler coming to help.It happened to Hall more then once.

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#115 Truth
May 24 2013, 12:12PM
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@Jonathan Willis

If Detroit didn't feel the need to address toughness/grit/irratibility they wouldn't have signed Tootoo for $1.9M/yr for 3 yrs. Even the only team in the NHL that doesn't feel the need to fight feels the need to have the option available.

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#116 nunyour
May 25 2013, 12:25PM
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Spydyr wrote:

1)Detroit has team toughness.Detroit has a lethal power-play.Detroit has the best coaching and one of the best management teams in hockey.Now lets talk about the other 29 teams.Most feel the need to defend themselves and their teammates dropping the mitts from time to time.Not being pushovers and easy to play against.

2)Ask Hemsky if he would not have minded some backup when Regehr and Boogaard(rest his soul) were trying to run him through the boards injuring him over and over again.Every player feels better if his teammates have his back.It also forms team bonds and that in the long run builds winning teams.Too many times this year an Oiler player was in a scrum with three opposing players roughing him up with no Oiler coming to help.It happened to Hall more then once.

I agree,you can't play timid,edmonton has too many players ,that when push comes to shove they are staring at their skate laces,they need more guys that will give you the hairy eyeball.you don't need to fight but you will.I wonder how Eager played in OKC ? he is definitely fast enough.

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