Denis Grebeshkov and the Defense

Grebeshkov celebrates

The Edmonton Journal is reporting today that Denis Grebeshkov is likely to return to the Oilers and is close to signing a three-year deal worth a shade over 3-million dollars a season.

This is excellent news, as the 25-year old emerged as a legitimate top-four defenseman last season, recording 39 points and leading the Oilers with a +12 rating. The dollars are around what I expected to see; a little higher than I’d hoped but reasonable, and the term is encouraging as well. There’s some worry here about sustainability, since Grebeshkov is being paid based on one excellent campaign (he improved his two-way play to end 2007-08 but it’s his offense that’s bringing in the money) and he wasn’t exactly called upon as the team’s premiere shut-down defenseman.

Grebeshkov also benefitted from an above-average on-ice shooting percentage (20% better than team average at even-strength). I don’t think that will continue, so his offense may dip a bit next season, but he should still be good for 30 or so points, and may maintain his current offensive pace if he gets more powerplay time.

Also in today’s Edmonton Journal, John MacKinnon suggests some changes to the Oilers’ blueline:

On the back end, Denis Grebeshkov, Tom Gilbert, Lubomir Visnovsky, and young Taylor Chorney are similar players. A careful cull is required here, too.
So is acquring a genuine, banging, stay-at-home defenceman or two, preferably, to help out Ladislav Smid and one of, but not both, Steve Staios and Jason Strudwick.

I notice that Sheldon Souray, who just had (rather improbably) the finest season of his career at the age of 32, was not mentioned on that list. Souray was the subject of trade rumours at points after the season (pointed out by OilersNation’s own Robin Brownlee, if I’m not mistaken) and while he denied them, he has voiced public displeasure at various points druing the season. The San Jose Sharks, who supposedly pursued him as a free agent two summers ago, would be one team that might be a good fit for the hard-nosed defenseman.

Despite his (rather dominant) season and the new coaching tandem, I don’t think Souray should be perceived as untouchable. He’s a big-money, long-term contract on an Oilers team filled with them, and on top of that there should be some real questions about whether a repeat performance of this past year will happen.

Both Steve Staios and Jason Strudwick had somewhat disappointing seasons; they were sheltered on the third pairing and given a ton of offensive zone draws, but still were outscored and outshot at an alarming rate. Neither is a strength right now, and Staios in particular is a concern because of the length and and cap hit of his contract. Strudwick was repeatedly praised for his work ethic, physical game, and character but on a good team probably isn’t higher than #7 on the depth chart.

Tom Gilbert’s name is frequently mentioned in trade rumours, and he’s a player that gets criticized for playing a soft game. It’s worth noting that while he isn’t a big hitter, especially for his size, he did block 136 shots this season, good for second on the team and roughly twice as many as Sheldon Souray, who played similar ice-time; and this despite the fact that Souray waso n the ice for more shots against. I think it would be wrong to ignore that when discussing Gilbert’s willingness to pay a physical price.

As a G.M., I’d probably look at moving one of Gilbert or Souray for help up front, and I’d try to move Staios. I wouldn’t be against retaining Strudwick if he comes cheap (in the #7 role). Visnovsky, is in my opinion the best defenseman on the team, and Denis Grebeshkov brings good value for his contract (assuming those numbers are correct), so they’d both stay, as would young Ladislav Smid. That ideally leaves two spots, which I would try to fill via trade or free agency with a physical second-paring defenseman and a reliable third-pairing type (perhaps Daniel Tjarnqvist or Matt Walker, although there are plenty of options out there). That should save some much needed cap space while allowing prospects like Theo Peckham and Taylor Chorney to learn the game more fully in the AHL – there’s no need to rush these guys into the lineup; the odds are good that they’ll play when injuries strike anyway. Chorney in particular is not ready for the NHL game.

That’s my personal feeling, based on a few premises that I think are reasonable:

  • Veteran players are more dependable than prospects
  • Prospects with significant time invested in them (Smid) should not be lightly discarded
  • Players having career-best seasons in their mid-thirties should be regarded with some caution
  • Cap space should be saved wherever possible

Thoughts?

  • Hippy

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    I know Willis stands up for the Moreau’s and the Pisani’s of the world, but I dont. the 3rd line should be an after thought based on what this team needs to address

    Caring about your 3rd and 4th lines is the Difference Between Detroit and Ottawa

  • Hippy

    @ Hemmertime:

    Perhaps, but I suspect Arch's point is that while grinders are necessary it's important to not overvalue them. There's no substitute for talent.

  • Hippy

    Ya I read it wrong, my bad. Seems he meant just priorities I think, like screw the third line "for now" and hope Lowe doesn't work on it with MacT like vigor.

    If he did mean teams should think of third line as afterthought though I stand by my disagreement =)

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    scorcoff hemmercules wrote:
    You come accross like you think Souray can’t possibly repeat his play next season, at least to me.
    I’m sorry I come across that way. I think it’s possible that he can, but I wouldn’t give him great odds. There aren’t a lot of players who finally put everything together like that at age 32. Most end up doing what Dave Lowry did in Calgary; bouncing up than bouncing down. I’d expect either a 35 point season with decent +/- or a 50+ point season with poor +/-. Or injury.

    Haha, don't be sorry, everyone is entitled to think the way they want. I just think that if our team is trying to get grittier/tougher and we apparently need to move either Souray or Lubo for money reasons, Lubo is the guy to trade. Lubo is just as likely to get hurt as Souray is and both make around the same money. I don't see why Souray can't have just as good of a two way game next season as he did this one. I'm really trying to have no expectations for next year though, Mact and his division title talk had me thinking big, I won't be fooled again.

  • Hippy

    DonDon wrote:

    As wonderful as Brownlee thinks Quinn will be as the new head coach, without the necessary talent to compete, the Oilers will continue to be relegated to 10th or 11th place in the Western Conference and miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

    (a) You just figured this out now?
    (b) Brownlee is one of the most respected sports writer in this town, surely ahead of Mackinnon on a bad day, and the dude has been on the beat forever. Did you notice who the first media questions came from the day of Quinn's PC? Gregor and Brownlee.

  • Hippy

    @ Hemmertime:
    No, i meant as a priority for this season. But even the 3rd line as a whole, the key to that line will be the Centre. Id rather have a 3rd line with 1 good defensive centre than 2 ok wingers. Defense can be taught. Apparently, faceoffs cant. That's why i contend that guys like Moreau and Pisani are more easily replaceable than Willis does.

    But you are right. The depth (and goalie, and coach) is what seperates Ottawa from Detroit. I would still bet that Ottawa has an easier time bouncing back to playoff contention than the Oilers.

  • Hippy

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    Maybe he’s just bitter that no one in their right mind liked his trade proposal of Hemsky for a bag of pucks…er…Brown

    Comparing Dustin Brown to a bag of pucks is ridiculous; and if you are even half serious, it shows a high level of ignorence regarding player evaluation.

    I find it funny that you are unable to see that it is Lomabardi who would most likely be the guy to shy away from any Hemsky for Brown deal.

  • Hippy

    @ Chris:
    I cant imagine why the Oilers would be more willing to trade a point a game player for a second line forward who is a massive defensive liability than vice versa. But I'M the one who's ignorant of player values. Okee-Dokee.

  • Hippy

    @ Archaeologuy:

    There is a lot more to a player than pure point production; besides didn't Brown score more goals than Hemsky last year, AND wear the C, AND devestate the opposition with big hits, AND show a willingness/ability to either lead the rush OR effectively cycle the puck down low? Make no mistake… If Lomabardi traded his young captain/power forward for an enigmatic one-dimensional player like Hemsky; he would have some explaining to do with the fans in L.A. Brown will probably never out-produce Hemsky. That said, IMO, if the Oilers would be a better team if they made that trade.

  • Hippy

    @ Archaeologuy:

    Just to further beat a dead horse; based just on skill and point production: a young Petr Klima compared nicely to Mark Messier.

    Dustin Brown is not Messier. Hemsky is not Klima. Don't waste your time pucnching holes in the comparison. The point I'm making is that there is much much more to player evaluation than analysing point totals and assessing skill with the puck.

  • Hippy

    @ Chris:
    Thats your opinion. I disagree, we both know that. Dustin Brown is a Captain, so was Shayne Corson. Big Deal. He led his team directly to the basement of the Western conference. He made so many big hits and left his man open so much that his +/- was near the bottom of his team. ~thats exactly what the Oilers need.~ Someone who scores less AND has less defensive reliability than Hemsky. That should take our first line right over the top.

  • Hippy

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    Someone who scores less AND has less defensive reliability than Hemsky.

    Dustin Brown scores more. Dustin Brown has 89 goals through his first four seasons. Ales Hemsky had 59 goals through his first four seasons. As for Hemsky's "defensive reliability"; Do you even watch him play? I think you've spend so much time blaming Horcoff for holding Hemsky back offensively, that you've never noticed that Horcoff carries Hemsky on his back defensively. IF Hemsky actually was "defensively reliable" maybe MacT could have played Gagner with him. Watch closely: Hemsky rarely back-checks, never hits, and only blocks shots by accident. It's up to evrybody else to get him the puck…

    C'mon Hemsky's "defensive reliability!"… LOL!

  • Hippy

    @ Chris:
    I watch the same player you do. I didnt say he was a defensive genius. I said that Brown is even less capable defensively than him.

    Brown: 5 seasons 192 points
    Hemsky: 6 seasons 331 points

    Ok, I guess if Brown has a 139 point season next year he can catch up.

  • Hippy

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    I said that Brown is even less capable defensively than him.

    Based on what? Plus minus? Situational play? Personal observation? This is a bold statement… and inaccurate.

    You keep missing the central point of all my arguments:
    Chris wrote:

    The point I’m making is that there is much much more to player evaluation than analysing point totals and assessing skill with the puck.

    Instead of arguing this point, and it's central premise you say:
    Archaeologuy wrote:

    Ok, I guess if Brown has a 139 point season next year he can catch up

    There is more to player evaluation than POINT TOTALS! Based solely on point totals someone could have argued Petr Klima was a STAR!

    We are spinning our wheels… you are so blinded by the Hemsky's ALMOST PPG status that you refuse to see any merit in almost any reasonable trade proposal. I guess we will continue to completely disagree about Hemmers value.

  • Hippy

    @ Archaeologuy:

    So you are stating that Dustin Brown is a inferior defensive player than #83..?

    Wow… Talk about flushing your ON cred right down the crapper with 1 bold comment.

    "Bag Of Pucks"

    "Massive Defensive Liability"

    Did you forget the "~" or are you just being pedantic..?

    Someone needs to get off the couch & stop watching the puck only…

    x6

  • Hippy

    I don't think you understand how trading works. In the Brown for Hemsky scenario the Oilers would be losing some high end playmaking ability for size, grit, and leadership. It's a tradeoff. The Oilers youth, in particular, are soft, soft, soft, and Brown would inject much needed size and toughness into that demographic. IMO the young Oiler aren't short on skill/playmaking ability anyway; so Brown could meet a need without unbalancing the roster too far the other way. (Besides Brown scores as many GOALS as Hemsky anyways)

    Trading is about give and take. Hemsky will never, ever be able to fetch a player with the same overall skill level AND size, leadership, etc. That is a fact. Both managers need to feel that they improved their roster in any type of "hockey" trade. If you don't like this particular proposal; fine. IMO Brown could really help this roster even if he isn't as "skilled" as Hemsky. Besides, Lombardi would never make that trade anyway…

    Just an obsevation from reading some of your earlier stuff; you seem to immediately reject any trade proposal that involves Hemsky without taking the time to consider the overall roster implications. If the Oilers are going to improve overall, Tambellini will have to trade either Cogliano, Gagner, or Hemsky for a good young player along the lines of a Dustin Brown. It takes quality to fetch quality; and besides there can only be so much quality ice time allocated to the same types of player.

  • Hippy

    TV wrote:

    So you are stating that Dustin Brown is a inferior defensive player than #83..?
    Wow… Talk about flushing your ON cred right down the crapper with 1 bold comment.

    Its not very bold to suggest that a career -59 player who has never had a better +/- rating in a full season than Hemsky's worst +/- rating is not as good defensively as Hemsky. Really its not that hard to say that at all considering he has been near the bottom of his own team in that category since he started playing full seasons.

    Now that I know that you are the judge of who has ON credit I can start to gain it back by saying ridiculous things like Brown is a better player than Hemsky and that he will fix the top line of the Oilers, and that his crazy terrible 5 on 5 defensive play would add so much to this team the Oilers would not only make the playoffs but they would win the stanley cup with 16 straight victories.

    Chris wrote:

    I don’t think you understand how trading works.

    Because its SOOOOOO hard to understand, although I guess Mike Milbury never figured it out.

    Chris wrote:

    in the Brown for Hemsky scenario the Oilers would be losing some high end playmaking ability for size, grit, and leadership. It’s a tradeoff.

    Because the 1st line needs less scoring and more big hits? The oilers dont need a forward who goes to the hard areas of the ice and creates offense, they need a player who goes to the hard areas of the ice and forgets his defensive responsibilities so consistently that he leads his team in – rating over the last 4 years? Awesome.
    How bout that leadership? It was so good that the Kings have finished in the basement every year that he's been on the team. wicked great leadership. And Hemsky's consistent efforts dont provide one lick of leadership on the team? Come on.

    I understand there's give and take with any trade. But in this trade the Oilers lose a much more difficult asset to acquire than they receive. They lose one of the best contract performers in the league for Dustin Penner with grit and passion, except Dustin Penner gives up less 5 on 5.

    Chris wrote:

    you seem to immediately reject any trade proposal that involves Hemsky without taking the time to consider the overall roster implications

    Pot-Kettle-Black. I have given a hundred reasons for knocking down any of these trade proposals. I actually try to make an argument. that's why these back and forths go on forever. The roster implications would be huge after that trade. The Oilers would instantly lose 20 ish points from the first line and would have nobody capable of producing a point a game. They would lose the only marquee forward on the team, instantly making this place even less attractive to other UFA forwards looking to play with other good players. In return they would gain a 50 point player who hits a lot. The team would also lose the most important cog on their already dismal PP, making it likely the absolute worst in the league. But Brown can likely score 20-25 goals…as long as he's playing with Kopitar and Frolov.

  • Hippy

    @ Archaeologuy:

    I wouldn't do the trade either for alot of the reasons mentioned (we need Hemsky's offense more then we need Brown's physical game) but man do you underate Brown, he really is one of the premier young power forwards in the league. If he was here, he'd be a fan fave that would recieve the "OMG don't trade Brown" treatment that Souray has been getting this summer.

  • Hippy

    @ Archaeologuy:

    First of all, plus minus is THE most overrated stat.., it is generally regarded as a poor measuremnt of overall defensive ability. You are fooling yourself if you think Dustin Brown is a bigger defensive liability than Hemsky. Seperate Hemsky from Horcoff, and put him on a line with Kopitar and Frolov, and I'll bet the farm that not only will Hemsky's production fall; his +/- rating will dip into unprecidented lows as well. Simply put: that line would never have the puck. Assembling a line that works isn't as easy as combining three individual PPG type players.

    Secondly, you use Hemsky and leadership in the same sentance? LOL! On or off the ice NOBODY describes Hemsky as a leader. Dustin Brown is already Captain on a young roster, a roster nowhere near the cap, that despite you poking fun at it, finished not much lower in the standings than the Oilers.

    Finally, just listen to yourself:

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    They would lose the only marquee forward on the team

    Who? Hemsky? Really? You and Hemsky's MOM are the only people who believe Hemmer is a legitimate marquee forward!

    Archaeologuy ALSO wrote:

    Because the 1st line needs less scoring and more big hits?

    The general concensus is yes. This team needs more HITS, GRIT, and TOUGHNESS. Maybe you don't think so; but physical momentum MUST be generated throught the ENTIRE lineup; first line included. Also, I don't know why it STILL hasn't sunk in that through all this back and forth that BROWN SCORES MORE THAN HEMSKY. Through his first four, full NHL seasons Brown scored THIRTY MORE GOALS than Hemsky. Two assists are generally awarded for every goal; so logically a GOAL should be considered twice as valuable as an assist. This is just common sence.

    You freely admit that the Oiler first line, and first unit PP is a mess; but you seem unwilling to put any of the responsibility for that on Hemsky's back. Why not?.. After all, you said yourself that Hemsky is the "key cog". There is more to playing Hockey than just putting up points. Trading away 20 assists on the first line is fine by me if the Oilers harder to play against.

  • Hippy

    @ Ogden Brother:
    I'm not a 100% sure I'd make the Brown/Hemsky deal either… But I won't discount the possibility it could help the roster moving forward. Hemsky has had three years to lead this offence; an offence that has been spotty at best. Don't discount the critical importance of injecting some toughness into the YOUTH component of the roster: When Gagner is ready to step up and lead this team offensively; he is going to need a Dustin Brown type player to compliment him.