A Nation Exclusive: From the top—a discussion with Kevin Lowe

I had a chance to sit and talk one-on-one with Oilers GM Kevin Lowe at Rexall Place during this morning’s skate. Here are some of his thoughts from a wide-ranging discussion. We talked about how injuries have forced young players like Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano. Robert Nilsson, Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov into roles they might not have necessarily had if the team had stayed healthy.

LOWE: "This isn’t uncommon or unusual. This has happened before with teams where you have injuries. You say, ‘Well, it’s going to give us a chance to look at the young guys.’ "Last year wasn’t the same circumstances at all because the young guys were guys who were playing way ahead of where they should’ve been. How is this different from last year? The players are better this year. "Last year, we didn’t have Cogliano and Gagner. We had Gilbert, but it was his first year. We didn’t have Grebeshkov. As far as our team’s concerned the guys who have really benefited from us having guys out are these five. "Gilbert to a lesser extent because he would’ve evolved to this. For sure, Grebeshkov because I could have seen him being the odd-man out a lot of nights. Now, he’s in our top-two pairings. Cogs and Sam, they both would have stayed, but they’ve had bigger roles. Nilsson, because of the numbers alone, he might have had to be in the minors."

We talked specifically about Nilsson, whose calling card in the NHL has been inconsistency. As the key player coming back in the trade that sent Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders, Nilsson has finally blossomed on a line with Gagner and Cogliano.

LOWE: "He’s an NHL player now. He’s a very good NHL player. There was enough there that the coaches wanted to work with him. He responded. He put the time in to figure it out. "That’s a good example to people. There’s very few guys like Cogs and Sam in the world. We were lucky to get two in two different drafts. With some guys, it just takes two, three, four or five years before they click in. "If he’d played all the games and had the opportunity, he’d probably be a 50–55 point guy and still improving. In terms of the trade, he’s been so good he’s ahead of where we thought he would be. "As a scouting staff, we admired his ability. In his draft year, with some of the challenges that have taken him time to get to where he is, is why we might have been hesitant to take him at that spot (15th in 2003), but you still can’t argue with what you saw."

In Nilsson’s draft year, the Oilers took Marc Pouliot 22nd. Like Nilsson, he’s a work in progress. Demoted to Springfield of the AHL after going scoreless in nine games to start this season, Pouliot’s been effective since being recalled nine games ago.

LOWE: "He’s another guy. He’s not the same of those five others because he hasn’t played as much, but he’s really been impressive the last little while. If you talk to Mac (Craig MacTavish), it’s a matter of him taking a role, being effective in it and then expanding it as time goes on."

While the kids have come on and the team has stayed in contention without key injured players, it’s a quantum leap in logic to think Lowe is going to start blowing out veterans before next season.

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LOWE: "We’ve got all these guys and they’re great players, some might be as good as guys who aren’t in the line-up, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to go on a rampage to move them all this summer. We’ll be in a good position. We’ll come to camp. We’ll have a good situation."

With the emergence of Mathieu Garon, a lot of fans assumed Lowe would be shopping Dwayne Roloson, who earns $3.5 million this season and gets $3 million next season, at the NHL trade deadline. Lowe insists that wasn’t the case.

LOWE: "People were speculating at the deadline we were moving Roli. Why would we move Roli? One reason would be if Roli said, ‘Listen, I absolutely can’t sit around not playing.’ "You never take a situation for granted. Now, if Roli was making six million bucks, and it made it prohibitive for us to do anything else, then it becomes more of an issue. We had bad goaltending a few years ago and we don’t ever want to be there again. "To move Roloson just because Garon had played, what, 20 or 30 games, all of a sudden he’s a given? You just don’t."

—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.

  • RobinB

    Tommy: I'm not sure it's exceptional, but I appreciate the compliment. I don't get to sit down with Kevin as often as I used to, but I always enjoy it.
    This is really just a few snippets. When the season is over, there'll be a chance to go over the real issues in more depth — free agency, etc. This was just a little chat.

  • Shane

    Good stuff. Straightforward player analysis from a GM is always good for those of us on the outside looking in.

    Would love to know what his longterm view of who the goalie should be? Should it Garon.

    Pitkanen? Is he worth signing to big dollars, especially considering he'll probably get offers from other clubs ala Penner driving up the $$$.

  • Hemmer

    Hey i was the morning skate as well! I saw kevin lowe while the wild were practicing… so i guess that as you robin sitting beside him then?
    I only caught they end of the oil's skate though.

  • Igor Viyazmikin

    I know what Lowe TOLD Robin but I'm not convinced Lowe plans on going to camp with 17 outfielders, either.

    Obviously, Horcoff's gonna be in the mix again come next season but I'd be shocked if both Torres and Stoll are here next year.

    Personally, I think the right move '09 wise would be to deal off Moreau and reunite Torres-Pisani with a centre of your choice for our third line.

    But down the line wise, maybe it's better to bring back Moreau and deal off Torres at the draft to try and get in on what's considered a banner class. We're out a few picks because of the Penner signing and with the Oilers possessing an honest-to-gawd forward and D surplus, it only makes sense to trade off some of this depth to stock up some picks.

    Especially when you have kids up front like Reddox, Trukno — perhaps Nash — along with backliners like Nash and Chorney.

  • charlie


    So, young guys play more when vets are injured, having tons of prospects means some may or may not be traded, and you don't trade Roli when your goalie tandum takes up 4.5 mil.

    It's kind of stuff we already know, but dammit it's first hand from Lowe, and this site is the sheeeit.

    Thanks Browner… if we may call you Browner…

  • RobinB

    Charlie: Read the introduction again. Read my response to Tommy's compliment again.
    I never offered what was being said as any kind of revelation. So why the ham-handed attempt at sarcasm?
    If it's not for you, don't read it. And, no, you may not call me Browner.

  • Tommy

    "This was just a little chat."

    Right and while there may not have been a "revelation", I think that this kind of unfiltered information is what the Oilers blogs try to capture. I get the feeling the info I read in the papers and/or on mainstream sports sites like TSN comes with some kind of bias-filter. To me it is a big deal to be able to read an unfiltered quote with the GM of my team in a "chat-like" atmosphere.

  • theoil

    The season isn't over yet so I don't want to get ahead of myself but it does indeed look to be an interesting summer leading up to training camp. I still remember the days of the Swansons and Reisens and sitting counting the number of 'fillers' coming out of TC in September because this team didn't actually have 23 real NHL'ers. Heck, a lot of people will tell you we didn't have 23 NHL'ers coming out of camp last fall. But now it looks to me like we have at least 25 on the roster and that leaves no room for young guys that impress at TC. I can see Lowe attempting to move up at the draft with one of those guys if the opportunity presents itself but even so competition next fall is going to be incredible. I still think O'marra is a darkhorse candidate for a job in the show but suspect the numbers will get him. If Reasoner signs for under $700,000 he gets to stay at the 13th or 14th guy and that would be a good thing.