MEN IN THE MIDDLE

Robin Brownlee
August 19 2013 07:37PM

It's obvious it doesn't take a vast intellect to see that the Edmonton Oilers remain alarmingly thin up the middle as training camp approaches because just about everybody who follows the team, be they fans or paid observers, has mentioned it or written about it this off-season.

The exception, at least in terms of public proclamation, seems to be GM Craig MacTavish, who, having played in 1,093 regular season games and another 193 in the playoffs as an NHL centre, should be the first person to recognize the merits of strength and depth down the middle. Yet, the Oilers, as of now, have neither.

While MacTavish has made moves to bolster his wing, adding David Perron, and his blue line, signing UFA Andrew Ference, and goal, jettisoning Nikolai Khabibulin and bringing in Jason LaBarbera, it looks to me and a lot of people like he hasn't done enough down the middle.

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, MacTavish's best offensive centre, likely to miss the start of the season after shoulder surgery, Edmonton's middlemen look short on offensive chops. It's an undersized bunch with RNH, Sam Gagner, acquisition Boyd Gordon and Anton Lander in the first four spots. Even with Gordon, this isn't exactly Murderer's Row on the face-off dot, either.

And there's more, or should I say, less . . .

GAMESMANSHIP, PLEASE

Their individual attributes and shortcomings aside, the group MacTavish has penciled in right now for camp collectively is woefully thin on experience as actual NHL players. Gamesmanship, if you will.

In terms of NHL experience, Gordon leads the way with 486 games. The much-maligned Gagner, inked to a new deal, has also been around the block with 414 games on his resume. That drops off to 102 games for RNH, which isn't a big deal because he's easily the best of the bunch, and is getting better.

After that? Hmm. After RNH, you can add up the games of NHL experience for every other centre with an invite to camp and you won’t come up with 102 games combined. Lander could start the season here with 67 games in the NHL. Little Mark Arcobello has one game. Add up NHL games for Will Acton, Andrew Miller, Ryan Martindale and Travis Ewanyk – long shots each and every one -- and you get, well, zero games. Zip. None.

Problem? Is there anybody out there who thinks it isn't?

WHAT'S THE PLAN?

Without the addition of at least one more bonafide NHL pivot, heaven help the Oilers if Nugent-Hopkins misses more than a handful of games to start the season or if he struggles out of the gate because of limited playing time in the pre-season. Can Gagner carry the offensive load by himself? No.

Even if RNH gets back in a hurry and knocks off the rust, an injury to anybody in that top three puts the Oilers in a pickle, especially if Gagner goes down. Even with RNH, Gagner and Gordon in the fold, who pushes that trio for ice time? Lander? Not likely? Arcobello?

Isn't there anybody out there – Jason Gregor mentioned Brad Boyes and Manny Malhotra today – worth a phone call? Nobody who'd rather take a one-year deal than a PTO or sit at home waiting for their agent to call? You’d think so, and maybe MacTavish has already made those calls and continues to – even if he's indicated publicly, for now at least, what we see is what we get.

I hope so, because while the Oilers are hardly set from top to bottom at any position, they don’t look nearly good enough or deep enough down the middle. I can see it. You can see it. And you, MacT? What say you?

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show 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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#51 Cowbell_Feva
August 19 2013, 08:25PM
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Brad Boyes was a prolific scorer in St.Lou...I seem to remember him popping 40+ goals at least once. I wouldn't mind seeing him up the middle...I mean afterall he is over 6' and over 200 lbs which seems to be what every team other than Edmonton is looking for at center

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#52 John Chambers
August 19 2013, 08:28PM
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@DSF

You should head over to the Copper and Blue and tell Zona what you think of Sam Gagner.

I would literally pay to watch that unfold.

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#53 Chris.
August 19 2013, 09:55PM
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gongshow wrote:

Marty Reasoner. He likes Edmonton, he wins draws, he kills penalties, he's a good personality to have in the room AND he's probably filling his drawers right now as he is still unsigned (ie: cheap).

AND he looks a lot like Joe Sakic out there!

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#54 Todd
August 19 2013, 10:11PM
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Whats wrong with Grabovski?

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#55 Darrell
August 19 2013, 10:17PM
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Serious Gord wrote:

Gagner plus hemsky and cash would very likely have gotten what the oil needs down the middle. Not sure if that's doable now.

It's a classic case of over-valuing inventory - redundant inventory in this case. Having hemsky and gagner on the roster at the start of the season and NOT having filled the gap up the middle is inexcusable and likely will cost the team a playoff berth - especially likely if RNHs return is later and weaker than hoped.

MacT was very vocal about his plans at the outset of his assuming the title of GM. He's been very quiet lately. Perhaps the rookie - zero games under his belt as GM - haslearned his first lesson...

Just a guess but assume you have gm'd zero games too ....

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#56 toprightcorner
August 20 2013, 02:46AM
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Firstly, Brad Boyes os not a cerntre and in last 5 years has taken less that 900 faceoffs combined, about as much as 2nd line centre in one season.

Secondly, we are talking about PTO's not signings. These players need to earn the spot with good play. play bad in camp, not signed, simple as that. We don't know who will or won't be good but we need to add a few PTO's to add a veteran presence at centre and possibly other positions.

With primary need being 4C, I would get PTO's for Malholtra, Steckel, Halpren and Reasoner. All would be a valueable assed, win faceoffs, PK specialists and lots of experience. If none of them prove to be assets at camp, no loss, but the competition for that spot needs to be there and all of those competeing have minimal or no NHL experience. If a young unexpirienced player shows they are the bast at the end of the camp, so be it, lets just not make it easy on him

I would definitly prefer to see Lander get 19 min a night on teh farm then 8 min in the NHL

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#57 BALLSYHALLSY
August 20 2013, 03:11AM
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Steckel anyone?

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#58 Brian
August 20 2013, 08:52AM
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Maybe MacT has tried but why not sign or offer Brad Boyes a PTO?

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#59 Matt
August 19 2013, 11:12PM
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Malhotra can still play hockey, but he can't play centre - he didn't play centre in Vancouver after he came back from injury. He played wing with Lapierre at centre, and he would pinch-hit on draws.

Plus he was never much of an offensive force even in his prime. 27-year-old Malhotra might have slotted into the 2C position for a few games in a pinch, but 33-year-old Malhotra with a bum eye is just not going to be able to handle that role.

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#60 Young Oil
August 19 2013, 11:24PM
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Woogie63 wrote:

Ryan Johansen is reasonable gamble.

I am still nervous on if RNH can be the number 1 centre on an elite team. He missed some games, but he finished 141 in the league scoring. In a lot of ways he did not progress from his rookie year.

Wait...you're concerned about RNH, but think Johansen is a 'reasonable gamble'?

RNH was injured basically all of last year, after a phenomenal rookie year (in which he was injured as well). He had shoulder surgery, and will likely follow the same recovery path as Hall.

Ryan Johansen has 33 points in 107 games, and was a healthy scratch in the AHL playoffs this past year.

RNH has 76 points in 102 games before he even turned 20. The only thing keeping him from being an elite player is injuries.

Don't get me wrong, Johansen could turn out to be a great player, but right now he is tracking more similarily to Gilbert Brule. Furthermore, he has a big draft pedigree, being drafted 4th overall, and would take a LOT to acquire. That is a bit more than a 'reasonable gamble' IMO.

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#61 toprightcorner
August 20 2013, 02:56AM
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Next up, is Connor McJesus. wrote:

I'm sure that ship has sailed. He's probably expressed an interest to stay out east. It's really too bad they overpaid for Gordon, having Boyes and Gordon at 2 per each, is what Edmonton needed.

Gordon could be bought out next summer though if he flops as expected.

2 mill each eh? Grabs at about 1.5 and Cleary at 500k I suppose. Lets at leas be realistic.

Vancouver offered Gordon 2.75 but gave Edm last chance to make an offer.

Boyes is still out there casue he wants over 3.5 to 4 mill for his 35 pts in 48 games (top 50 in the league)

BTW, Boyes does not play centre and rarely takes faceoffs and even more rarely wins them. He is a perimeter player who does not go to the hard areas and playes way smaller than his avg size. Dont need another winger like that.

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#62 surshot
August 20 2013, 05:21AM
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Like it or not MacT has decided that he has the depth in the system and wants to use it this year. Whether its right or wrong is "only" debatable, and its the performance thats going to matter in the long run. A team has a right to give opportunity to developed players. The Oilers have that right and its called forecasting. Saying they need someone just because you have heard of them and saw them play already on hockey night in Canada a few times lacks intelligence. DSF do you use copy & paste cause you have not changed at all... LMAO always good for making my eyes role into the back of my head.

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#63 2004Z06
August 20 2013, 09:20AM
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Todd wrote:

Whats wrong with Grabovski?

Grabovski wants a minimum 3 yr deal @ around 4 mil per. Oilers can't afford him. He also wants second line minutes which creates a conflict when RNH comes back unless you move Gagner to the wing. If you move Gagner to the wing, do you move Yakupov or Perron to the 3rd line? I wouldn't, and Gagner is not a 3rd liner.

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#64 Serious Gord
August 21 2013, 07:33AM
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Darrell wrote:

Just a guess but assume you have gm'd zero games too ....

Ridiculous counter argument - but you probably already know that.

It doesn't take a chicken to judge an egg.

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#65 Larry
August 20 2013, 07:06AM
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Darrell wrote:

Do you consider yourself competent ? Anyone up throws enough sh!t against the wall is bound to have something stick .... Get over yourself dude.

What he said

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