If I was King of the World, or better yet, Daryl Katz, and could snap my fingers and shape the Edmonton Oilers until they fit my vision of what a hockey team should be, there would be changes. Brother, would there be changes.
With the Oilers sitting at 14-14-2 through 30 games after Wednesday’s 4–2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, some fans are frustrated beyond words with the performance of a team coach Craig MacTavish deemed in pre-season as a contender for a Northwest Division title.
Then again, despite the inconsistencies — like playing one of their best games of the season in a 3–0 win over the Canucks last weekend before getting their backsides handed to them without a whimper in a 9–2 loss to Chicago Tuesday — optimists might peruse Western Conference standings today and insist, “It isn’t that bad.”
Well, it is that bad, at least in my mind, and I didn’t even like the make-up of this edition of the Oilers as much as some fans did when the season began. I picked them to be in the mix, as usual, but to finish ninth.
What would I do?
Ain’t Rocket Surgery
Let’s first state the obvious — it’s infinitely easier to sit in front of a laptop and pontificate about what must be done, who should be traded and who should be acquired, than it is for GM Steve Tambellini or president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe to pick up the telephone and make it happen in the real world. Duh!
That said, here’s my list of things to do — in order of importance — based on what I’ve seen and heard, what I know and what I think. And, yes, much of it is Master of the Obvious stuff that has already been suggested by people smarter than I…
1. PICK TWO GOALTENDERS. Three doesn’t work. Never has. Never will. I don’t care which two, as long as one of them is Jeff Deslauriers because I’m not willing to lose him to waivers for nothing at this point.
- With no takers via trade right now, I’d send Dwayne Roloson to the AHL, even if he’s played better than Mathieu Garon at this point. Roloson’s a pro and he gets his full salary in the minors. He’d be a mentor to Devan Dubnyk.
- It’s time to find out if Garon can regain his form of last season and prove he’s a legit No. 1 starter. If Garon can’t do that by starting, say, seven of the next 10 games, I shop him. If he doesn’t move, I send him to the minors, recall Roloson and ride Deslauriers the rest of the way.
- In any case, Roloson’s gone after this season. What I want to know is if Garon or Deslauriers is my starter next season or if I’m diving into the trade and free agent pool to get a stopper.
2. SORT IT OUT UP FRONT. And, for crying out loud, stop trying to force square pegs into round holes, as was the case too often with MacTavish early this season when he tried to make a center out of Fernando Pisani and a left winger out of Erik Cole.
- Keep Dustin Penner, Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky together as the first line. It’s working.
- Cut your losses and trade Cole. He’s not producing. He’s not re-signing in Edmonton as an unrestricted free agent. Get what you can for him — picks, prospects, a bag of pucks. The sooner the better.
- Consider going with three offensive lines instead of the traditional two scoring lines, one checking line and an energy/grinding line format. Is there enough talent on the second and third lines with Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson, Gilbert Brule, Pisani and Rob Schremp or Marc Pouliot in the mix as your second six? While I’ve said before I’d rather not have more than four “small” forwards on the roster, I’d look at this group for 10 games to find out.
- Establish a fourth line. For me, it’s going to be captain Ethan Moreau on left wing and Kyle Brodziak at centre every game. The right winger is Zack Stortini or Steve MacIntyre, when he’s healthy again.
3. FIX THE PK. Stop the presses!
This season’s miserable showing by the penalty killing is a bit of a mystery to me because the personnel up front — Horcoff, Moreau, Pisani and Brodziak — has proven capable in the past, although it’s obvious the Oilers have lost too many face-offs leading directly to goals and aren’t blocking shots like they have in past seasons.
- Given that I’d move Cole and would like to at least look at the mix of the seven forwards mentioned above as components of secondary scoring lines, I’d be looking to move No. 26 for a proven face-off man who can kill penalties. If that took Cole and, say, Pouliot, Nilsson or Schremp, so be it.
- Add a tough-as-nails-mean-as-hell defenceman (not named Jason Smith) capable of clearing the front of the net like a D9 Cat with a jammed throttle. See below.
4. TOUGHEN UP THE D. On paper, having a back end loaded with puck-movers makes sense — and it certainly works for the Detroit Red Wings — but the Oilers have sacrificed grit and shutdown capability with the personnel in place now.
- Keep any three from the group of Denis Grebeshkov, Tom Gilbert, Sheldon Souray and Lubomir Visnovsky and trade the odd-man for a proven veteran who can play a shutdown role.
- In my mind, the likeliest candidates to go are Gilbert and Grebeshkov because both are relatively soft and I’m not willing to give Grebeshkov a long-term contract to keep him. Besides, not many teams will take Souray’s contract, despite a great start, because of his age and injury history.
- If I’ve got, say, Souray, Visnovsky and Gilbert as my three offensive D-men plus a shutdown guy for whoever I trade, then I’m keeping Staios and Smid as my fifth and sixth guys for now and Strudwick as my swing man.
5. TAKE STOCK. Who’s who and what’s what?
- Decide once and for all by the trade deadline if Brule and Schremp fit in the long-term plans. If they don’t, move them.
- Get a read and make a call on whether Theo Peckham is ready to play in the NHL next season. How about Taylor Chorney? Any chance Jordan Eberle is ready for 2009–10? If he is, does that make one of the small forwards on the roster available as trade bait?
- Does Dubnyk factor into the goaltending picture at the NHL level next season? I’m guessing not, but my scouting staff has to be all over him for the rest of this season to find out if it’s a possibility.
6. THE BOTTOM LINE. Pink slips for failure.
- If the Oilers miss the playoffs this season after tweaking and tinkering from the 40-game mark to the trade deadline, MacTavish and assistants Charlie Huddy, Bill Moores, Kelly Buchberger and Pete Peeters are sacked, fired, gone. No questions. No song and dance. Gone.