Dan Barnes’ column this morning is (as it often is) a must-read for Oilers fans – in this instance because he gets Pat Quinn saying some things that he (and the organization as a whole) haven’t been saying before.
To start with, it’s the middle of August, and the major changes expected by a good portion of the fanbase have not come to pass. Thus, it’s time to manage expectations a bit.
[12:17] – He wants at least one top-six player, and guys that are hard to play against in general. He also reemphasizes the need to get more out of players that are currently in the organization. I’d guess that means that not all of MacTavish’s whipping boys are considered irredeemable.
Pat Quinn, August 19, 2009:
No, I didn’t have that expectation [of change]. When we were talking about my coming on, I pretty much had the expectation that the roster would be pretty similar. There are a couple ways to get better, making trades or getting into the free agent market. The other, more important way is to improve from within. Our improvement will come from within.
Still, that isn’t the money quote. I think most fans have already put two and two together: if Tambellini’s able to make a trade that can improve the team, he will, but he’s not going to move heaven and earth (or even move a guy like Robert Nilsson to the minors) to bring in someone to bolster the roster.
No, the money quote is this one:
I’ve been historically a four-line guy. You’re looking for balance. But we may not have that kind of roster. We may need to have a checking line, a slug line and two scoring lines. I am not pre-judging any of that.
That may not sound terribly interesting, but it does contrast subtly with what Quinn told Jason Gregor at the end of May:
At the start I want to find out the kind of depth we have. I’d be interested in playing all of our players. I’m more of a guy that thinks about handling a checking responsibility in terms of a defense pair, or maybe a defense pair and a given centre. As for matching a whole line, I think you can get confused some times. I think you can get caught up too much in the changing and sometimes I think you are telling players you are just a specialty player who can’t play in this circumstance.
I want to have a team that believes in themselves and can play in all circumstances. I know there are some nights you do pay attention to who is on the ice at certain times, but line matching is not as critical, especially during the regular season, as some of the other things we will want to do with our hockey team. Hopefully well have good balance so we can be a strong and up tempo four line, six defense team.
Based on that quote, I’d been assuming that Steve Tambellini was going to bring a veteran or two in so that Quinn could run his four-line team, and roll his lines without worrying too much about the matchups. However, the roster as constructed really isn’t built for a line-rolling game; there are simply too many players who aren’t reliable in all situations. Maybe natural development and work by Quinn and Renney can turn some of these players into guys who are reliable in all three zones, but it will take time.
Quinn’s latest quote seems to indicate that he’s willing to run specialty lines a little bit more than he’d originally intended, and make no mistake – that’s a good thing. I doubt we’ll see Horcoff on the third line, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see Pisani and Moreau flanking a to-be-determined centre (Pouliot, Brule, UFA?) as a dedicated checking line.
And The Rest Of It
- Barnes talks about how 4th-line centres who can win draws “do in fact fall from trees”. That’s true enough, and like him I’m curious as to why the Oilers haven’t picked one up yet. If they don’t the Brodziak trade will have been an error; if they do (as Barnes seems to believe) than not only might they save some cap room (Brodziak’s cap hit is 1.15MM for the next three seasons) but they’ll have done a fin job of asset management.
- Tambellini did, as Barnes points out, repeatedly refer in his press conference to getting more out of the existing group of players. Personally, I’m not a fan of rolling the dice like that, but Tambellini has been consistent on that point.
- Barnes suggests that the powerplay needs to improve and the current cast should be worried about their positions on it. He isn’t wrong, but the more urgent concern is the penalty-kill, which is down in lottery pick range.
- Quinn talks a lot about he’s an “open book” and in most ways that’s a good thing. I like MacTavish as a coach – and my opinion of his abilities is much higher than the consensus among Oilers’ fans – but at the same time it was easy to see him getting stubborn on certain players last season. Dustin Penner is the obvious guy who might benefit, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see players like Andrew Cogliano and Marc Pouliot – both of whom saw their roles diminish down the stretch – benefit as well.
- Lastly, I know the video above is only very, very tenuously related to the column, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to put some old Pat Quinn footage up. Also of note: Don Cherry sounds a lot gruffer these days, doesn’t he? That’s for the best, I think.