NEED A CENTRE, CAN'T AFFORD A CENTRE

Jason Gregor
August 20 2013 09:39AM

The Oilers need another NHL centre. Plain. And. Simple.

In a best case scenario they will start the season with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner and Boyd Gordon as proven NHL players, leaving Anton Lander, Marc Arcobello, Will Acton and Andrew Miller to battle for the 4th spot.

In a realistic scenario, they likely start the season with two healthy, proven NHL centres. Ouch.

You need depth down the middle and on the blueline to win in the NHL, and right now the Oilers depth down the middle is thinner than Strudwick's hairline. As a follicly challenged man, I am well-versed in thinning/receding hairlines, and the Oilers' centre depth chart has about as much chance of success as my hair growing back if I suddenly started using Propecia. It ain't happening.

I knew when the "dream" was over, and the Oilers need to recognize you can't compete in the NHL with no depth down the middle.

Taylor Hall is not the answer. He's a dominant winger. He is comfortable as a winger, and while I'm sure he could play centre for a short time, that doesn't solve the Oilers lack of depth. Using Hall or Ryan Smyth as centres should only occur when injuries have depleted your lineup, not for the opening game of the season.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and I never expected Craig MacTavish to be able to overhaul a team that has missed the playoffs seven years in a row, into a playoff contender over one off-season, but if he wants to give his team a chance to fight for the playoffs, he needs to bring in another proven NHL centre.

I understand the need to give guys a chance, and Acton might be the one who surprises people the most, but it is still a risky venture to start a season with a lack of at centre.

SLIM PICKINGS...

The free agent crop of centres isn't great: Mikhail Grabovski, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, Manny Malhotra, Marty Reasoner, Kyle Wellwood, David Steckel and Jerred Smithson. Vinny Prospal and Steve Sullivan have also played down the middle, but they are 38 and 39 respectively.

Grabovski, Connolly, Lombardi and Wellwood are the best offensive centres, but Lombardi and Connolly are injury-prone while Wellwood is buffet-prone.

Malhotra's eye injury made it hard for him to be effective last season, and he's a 4th liner at best. Steckel is good in the faceoff dot, but does he compete hard enough in other areas of the ice? He also would only be a 4th line guy, not someone who could fill the void until RNH is healthy.

The best option would be signing Grabovski for one year. Yesterday, Cam Charron and I were discussing the similarities between Grabovski and Alex Semin. Last summer, Semin didn't sign a contract until July 26th. The Hurricanes gave him $7 million for one season. Many scoffed at the deal, but Semin proved them wrong producing 44 points in 44 games and the Hurricanes signed him to a five-year extension.

I see Grabovski as a cheaper version of Semin.

Signing Grabovski for one year at $4 to $5 million would be a good move, and I 'd like to believe the only reason MacTavish hasn't done that already is because he doesn't have the cap space.

How a team who finished 30th, 30th, 29th and 24th the past four seasons doesn't have the cap space to sign a top-nine forward is mind-boggling, but it's even worse that they don't have cap space to sign a quality centre man.

I'd much rather have my team short on winger depth, than depth down the middle. Right now the Oilers have too much money wrapped up in forwards, specifically wingers.

The Oilers have seven forwards, only two centres, making $3.5 million or more.

The only other team in the western conference with that many big ticket forwards is the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs have Paul Stastny ($6.6 mill cap hit), Ryan O'Reilly ($5 mill), PA Parenteau ($4 mill), Nathan MacKinnon ($3.75 mill), Gabriel Landeskog ($3.575 mill), Alex Tanguay and Matt Duchene ($3.5 mill). But four, five if you include Tanguay, who play centre.

Here is how the rest of the western conference looks with forwards making $3.5 mill or more.

5 forwards: Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, San Jose, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
4 forwards: Los Angeles, Minnesota, Nashville and St.Louis.
3 forwards: Calgary and Phoenix.
2 forwards: Anaheim.

The Oilers have too much money tied up on the wings. I don't doubt MacTavish realizes that, which is why he stated in April that he'd be looking to move Ales Hemsky, but unfortunately for the Oilers that didn't materialize.

Because of that the Oilers find themselves near the cap ceiling, with no room to add a quality centreman. It is a major issue, and could become a catalyst for the Oilers missing the playoffs for an 8th consecutive season.

It is a huge risk to enter the season with only two healthy NHL centres, but as of today, it looks like the Oilers will do exactly that.

PARTING SHOTS....

  • If you are in a need of a few good books to read to tie you over until the Oilers' rookie tournament starts on Thursday, September 5th, here's a few I recommend.

    I love true stories. The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz is a must read. Rawicz is a Polish man who was arrested by the Soviets and placed in a Soviet labour camp. It talks about his escape from the camp and his incredible journey from Yakutsk to India. A truly sad and heroic tale.

    I couldn't put down The Book of Negroes by Canadian author Lawrence Hill. It was a captivating tale of slavery, with a strong tie to Canada and sadly reminds us of the terror we are capable of inflicting on another human.

    Predictably Irrational focuses on behavioural economics and irrational/rational human behaviour. What is behind our decisions? It is an interesting read if you want to better understand yours or others decisions relating to social or market norms.
     
  •  If you don't know, the rookie tournament goes Sept 5th to 9th in Penticton. The Oilers play Calgary on the 5th, Winnipeg on the 7th and Vancouver on the 8th. The games will be streamed live on oilers.nhl.com.
     

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#51 Tikkanese
August 20 2013, 01:25PM
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Hemsky is more likely to be moved closer to the deadline than anytime soon. Whether we're in the playoff hunt or not, depending on the top 6 injury situation at that time that is.

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#52 **
August 20 2013, 09:00PM
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i think players and gms right now are playing the chicken game. It is behavioral economics all the way, gms want to cheapest bargain, players want the best deal, as showtime approaches gms will start to feel the heat, players will begin to panic, and the flood gates will open. everyone is in auction mode right now, the problem is they all (players and gms) think they are buyers.

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#53 Copper
August 20 2013, 09:08PM
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Do not remember where I read it but, an unnamed GM said Garbo was looking for big $ & term. Makes sense. Just because he was bought out, doesn't mean he should/would play for less. Especially when KHL is a viable option for him.

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#54 Woogie63
August 20 2013, 10:01PM
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Have we all decided RNH has demonstrated he is a number one centre, what if he develops into a 2C? He has played portions of two seasons, he has looked very good in parts of those seasons, but he was on steep learning curve last year when Horcoff was out with an injury, I think he went zero for an extended number of games.

He finished last year 141 in the scoring race And number 56 top scoring centre.

And he played massive PK minutes and massive time with 4,14.

If there a plan B if RNH does not reach full potential?

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#55 gordoil
August 20 2013, 11:57AM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

The Oilers currently have $1.3 million in cap space counting 24 players. Take off Potter and that leaves them with $2.1 million. You won't get Grabovski for $2 million.

Plus you'd like some cap flexibility during the season. The Oilers don't have much room, especially for a bottom-tier team.

That would leave them at 24 players still so they could also dump "say Ryan smith" and be at 4.6 which would leave lots of room for a "say David Steckel". Or is 24 the minimum.

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#56 Mikey
August 20 2013, 12:08PM
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All we can do is hope for another Justin Schultz in the form of a C, a hockey trade and bam we got C depth.....

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#57 Matt
August 20 2013, 12:08PM
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YES. Gregor is correct.

Nultz is $3.5M. Oil have $1.3M in space. Grabovski is asking between $4 and $5M, I expect. So bury/buy out/trade Nultz and pay Grabovski. He will not want third line minutes. Happily, he would start the season challenging for the #1 centre position with the opportunity to have Hall/Yakupov/Perron/Eberle/Hemsky as wingers. That's not a bad way to get instant redemption. He'll also have some friendly Russians in the room (Yak, Belov, Grebs). His worst case scenario is on the third line with Hemsky and one of Smyth/Jones/Joensu. A reasonably offensive third line that could challenge for ice time collectively, and he'll still have every opportunity to earn individual time with the new coach and "new look" in place.

I'm hoping someone has made this case to him and the delay is just convincing someone to trade a 3rd round pick for Nultz.

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#58 Souby
August 20 2013, 12:16PM
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Ideally I'd love the Oilers to get Stoll back from LA or maybe Zack Smith from Ottawa, but I don't see either of those happening. So I will throw this out there.....how about Hemsky to Winnipeg for Jokinen? Both guys are UFA's after this year, their cap hits are similar (5MM vs 4.5MM)and the deal would leave both teams with approx 1.8MM in cap space. Winnipeg would probably not do this because it would leave them thin at C but you never know. Thoughts?

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#59 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
August 20 2013, 12:38PM
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Grabovski sure is the best one, but problem is he already made it clear he's not a fan of being on the third line. What do you do when RNH is healthy?

Wellwood of Connolly might be better options. Guys that have something to prove.

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#60 Souby
August 20 2013, 12:41PM
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David S wrote:

I'm pretty sure that if ANY team in the league had expressed ANY interest in Hemsky he would have been gone by now. We need that cap space for a C that badly.

Despite having once been "the reason we watched Oilers hockey for a long time", he's now a huge question mark in the health department who has massively underperformed the last few years.

I agree with you mostly, but I think Hemsky would have been gone already if the cap celing hadn't come down this year. As training camps approach, I can see him being dealt. I 100% agree with your comment about health and underperforming, but I feel someone will be willing to take a chance because of his expiring contract. Just my two cent....

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#61 Benny Botts
August 20 2013, 12:49PM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

The Oilers currently have $1.3 million in cap space counting 24 players. Take off Potter and that leaves them with $2.1 million. You won't get Grabovski for $2 million.

Plus you'd like some cap flexibility during the season. The Oilers don't have much room, especially for a bottom-tier team.

Hey Jason,

You would like to think Mac-T wants to improve his lack of depth down the middle asap. He has stated a few times that he thinks a bunch of things will shake lose when teams start up their training camps and they realize a "need" on their rosters.

I believe MacT makes a couple moves before opening night whether it is at training camp or pre-season. With the amount of depth on D, do you think it is most likely a d-man moving out or a forward..say hemsky?

Glad your back on the air!

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#62 LinkfromHyrule
August 20 2013, 10:44AM
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While I love that Mact has turned our kiddy pool defense into something with real depth (even if it lacks current top-end talent), I feel macT has backed himself into a corner here. He needs a center, but has no cap space to sign anyone with. He has assets he's (presumably) willing to trade, that nobody seems to want. I think he may have signed one too many defenseman at the expense of C

So the defensive depth is somewhat fixed, only to have the same problem at center..

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#63 Will
August 20 2013, 01:10PM
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DSF wrote:

If Hall moves to centre, the Oilers' LW depth is Perron, Smyth, Joensuu.

That dog won't hunt.

I would assume Gagner would be moved over to the wing once Nuge is back healthy, assuming Hall stayed at centre. And though they would possibly be weak on the left side, with Yak on your right and Nuge in the middle, would it really matter?

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#64 Gordie Wayne
August 21 2013, 08:54AM
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Hey Jason,

Whatever happened with the Zack Smith from Ottawa for Hemsky trade that was rumored?

Would Ottawa still be interested or is that unlikely due to the Bobby Ryan trade?

If that trade could be pulled off, and Corey Potter claimed off of waivers, we could sign Grabovski for the 1 year deal at 5 million.

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#65 **
August 21 2013, 09:27AM
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i think players and gms right now are playing the chicken game. It is behavioral economics all the way, gms want to cheapest bargain, players want the best deal, as showtime approaches gms will start to feel the heat, players will begin to panic, and the flood gates will open. everyone is in auction mode right now, the problem is they all (players and gms) think they are buyers.

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#67 Blucifer Copperballs
August 21 2013, 03:26PM
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Gregor, don't you think for the stats and the money, Wellwood would be a better 1 year option for the Oilers? He got pretty discounted in this article.

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