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 oilerjed
August 20 2013, 02:09PM
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I really dont get all the Grabo talk, after spouting off about his old team and coach. we spent this last year ridding our locker room troubles in an attempt to create an atmostphere of winning and teamwork. Does bringing in a guy who insists on being handed minutes need to be here. If he was worth the time he would have gotten it in TO. I say leave him on the shelf and look elsewhere. A lack of depth for ahile is better then messing with the locker room. Another possibility will present itself.

@JG

It has been so quiet on the hockey front but there must be some whisperings out there of realistic possibilities.

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#52 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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#53 **
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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#54 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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#56 G Money
August 20 2013, 12:29PM
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"Buffet-prone". Ha ha, awesome.

Still think the Oilers would be better with Wellwood at 4C (bumped to 2C and Lander/Acton at 4C until RNH returns), rather than with Lander/Acton at 4C and Arcobello/Miller at 1C until RNH returns. Might even fit under the cap if the Oilers give him some free buffet passes to Ponderosa*. * Is that place still around??

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#57 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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#58 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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#59 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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#60 2004Z06
August 20 2013, 01:55PM
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dv.asteroid wrote:

Trade gags to the buds for 1st rounder. Sign Garbo. Playoffs follow.

Still only leaves us with 2 NHL centers!

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#61 Ron Burgundy
August 20 2013, 02:26PM
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One of the best ways to screw yourself in a negotiation is to make an assumption about what the other side thinks. We all seem to think Grabbo doesn't want to play here, but why not? Here's a few reason why he might:

A) We will be paying him piles of cash. B) He played with scrubs in T.O. last year. This year he will play with stars to start the season, is the first guy promoted to the top 6 if someone else goes down, will likely get PP time regardless of what line he is on, and once injuries subside he still will play with one or more of Hemsky, Jones, Yakupov and Perron, all of whom have a little more talent than the likes of Jay McClemment and Clarke MacArthur. C) Other Russians. D) Being a part of the future contender that is the Oil E) Piles of cash.

Seems kind of compelling. Send NSchultz somewhere for a 7th round pick, sign Grabbo for 4-ish and problem solved.

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#62 Ron Burgundy
August 20 2013, 02:30PM
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Also, to the "Grabbo has a bad attitude" crowd, we don't have any evidence that he ever complained when he was on the team, only after. I read those comments more as "you're getting rid of me for poor play, but you set me up to fail" type comments, not bad teammate comments. Would you be happy in that situation?

Now if Eakins (or someone else) has actual knowledge that he's bad in the room thats a different story, but that's not the story we have.

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#64 Lochenzo
August 20 2013, 05:12PM
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I wonder if Igor Larionov, Yak's agent, has any guys that might want to play in the NHL. Heck, I'm sure Igor would look good too.

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#66 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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