August 11 2013 02:59PM
For most of the summer, Oiler fans have been watching Craig MacTavish "build up the middle." A club with so much talent on the wing, and in clear need of an upgrade at G, D and C, would seem to have an obvious 'To Do' list--and for the most part new GM Craig MacTavish has followed the script.
However, the center position remains about the same; with Boyd Gordon replacing Shawn Horcoff, the Edmonton Oilers remain a team without true NHL quality and depth at the position. If the Nuge can't play right away, the club will have to move Taylor Hall over from the wing, weakening an impressive left flank.
We've talked and talked about free agent solutions, but that arena of summer appears to be closed for the Oilers. How then will Craig MacTavish improve center ice? Perhaps we can learn something from his recent past.
So far during his time as GM, Craig MacTavish has procured talent in the following ways:
- Signed NHL free agents (Ference, Gordon, LaBarbera, Joensuu)
- Signed his own free agents (Jones)
- Signed minor league free agents (Ryan Hamilton, Richard Bachman, Will Acton)
- Signed college free agents (C Andrew Miller)
- Signed free agents from pro league outside the NHL (Anton Belov, Denis Grebseshkov from the KHL)
- Traded a veteran (Horcoff) for a fringe NHLer (Larsen) and a pick much later this century
- Traded a young, less established NHLer (Paajarvi) for a young, more established NHLer (Perron)
If we're guessing about how MacT will address center--and I'm pretty sure he's going to at some point, it may be in-season--and we believe he's done in free agency, it means a trade of some sort.
Question: what if MacT uses the Perron-Paajarvi deal as a template? What if he dealt Anton Lander and a high end prospect (Marincin?) or dealt Lander with next year's 1st round selection? I think the idea of acquiring a solid NHL center becomes much easier using the trade made with St. Louis as a guide.
The first thing we need to do is identify some teams that are unlikely to contend for the playoffs in 2013-14 or have tremendous depth at the center position. Even at this early stage, it's very unlikely the Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres will be playoff contenders. Looking at their rosters, we can come up with an interesting list of potential C's for the Oilers based on a 'Lander and a pick/prospect' return. Other names below may be part of a crowded group, with a player like Lander being a better fit (Lander can be sent to the AHL without waivers).
- Mikael Backlund, Calgary: There are some serious problems in suggesting Backlund, not the least of which is that a Flames-Oilers pick happens once a lifetime and Steve Staios is the trivia answer for the 2000's. The other problem is that Backlund is a wildly underrated hockey player (Kent Wilson has documented this brilliantly at Flames Nation). However, I think there's some evidence the Flames don't know what they're doing and I'm pretty certain MacT would appreciate the skills a Backlund offers. The price might be dear, but the player is an outstanding fit for the Oilers.
- Shawn Matthias, Florida: I actually like a free agent Panther better (Peter Mueller) but Matthias has some things that make him attractive too. The Panthers have Marcel Goc as well, but I think he's a little long in the tooth to be a legit Oiler target. Matthias has size and good 2-way skills, he is usually solid in the faceoff circle but was poor this season.
- John Mitchell, Colorado: The Avs have a stunning depth chart at center, with Mitchell possibly being the odd man out. He blossomed late, and isn't a speed demon, but would be a very nice addition to the current depth chart.
- Brian Boyle, Rangers: Big man is being pushed out by insane depth in Manhattan, and could be available sometime this season (when all are signed and straightened away in NYC).
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
I don't really believe Craig MacTavish would do so much heavy work on defense and so little at center--both badly needing improved quality and depth and he's addressed one and not the other.
My feeling is that it's not for a lack of trying and we may see something break before October. Something similar to the Paajarvi and a 2nd deal for Perron, possibly involving one of the many prospect defenders.
(Lander photo by Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved).