Yesterday, Robin Brownlee mentioned briefly the moves he’d be working on in the G.M.’s boots (pictured above). The following is my list. If I’ve had one rule in making up my list, it’s this one: don’t sell low.
There are four forwards on the team who can be relied upon to keep their heads above water against almost anybody. They are Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Dustin Penner, and Sam Gagner. Those four will constitute the core of next season’s forward corps, and will be retained.
There are too many small, one-dimensional forwards in this group. Pick two of Cogliano, O’Sullivan, Nilsson, Comrie and Eberle who will be on the team next year. Given the relative trade values, at this point I’d lean towards keeping Comrie and O’Sullivan and sticking Eberle in the AHL, but there’s still plenty of time to make a decision, and the rest of the season should focus on which of these players to keep and which to move. For now though, I’d move out Nilsson and Cogliano.
This team has too many players who bring a physical edge but not much else; in reality there aren’t that many spots for these sort of players on a winning team (as none of the Oilers listed here can really handle a regular role checking top players). My list includes Ethan Moreau, J-F Jacques, Zack Stortini and Ryan Stone. Colin McDonald and Ryan O’Marra would also fit into this category, although I imagine both would clear waivers; I’d plan to store them as minor-league depth unless someone expresses interest in either of them or they impress as the season continues. Otherwise, I’d keep Stone and Stortini and move out Moreau and Jacques.
As for Gilbert Brule and Ryan Potulny, I think both can be useful NHL players. Again, part of the season would focus on evaluating Potulny, but I see him as a very good 13th forward for a playoff team. As for Brule, I’d test the market. He’s played very well, and frankly I like him a lot, but I don’t think he’s as good as we’ve seen to date. Right now he has a 20.0% shooting percentage mark; his career average is 8.9%. His on-ice shooting percentage is 11.6%, and his linemates aren’t that good. I see him as a good third-liner who can score some when called upon, but if he can put up 40+ points (he’s on pace for 58) I think he’ll get a contract as a scorer. There’s nothing wrong with the player; I’m just a fan of selling high and I think he’s as hot as he’ll be for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, I continue to believe Marc Pouliot can get the job done on the fourth line, perhaps between Stone and Stortini. He’ll have to use the stretch run to prove he deserves a spot in the lineup over Potulny; if not he’s a cheap reserve forward. Lastly, if Fernando Pisani shows signs he can come back from his latest bout of colitis, I’d pencil him in as a reserve forward.
Despite the high volume of moves I’m suggesting (five), that would leave only three spots available up front, assuming that all of the prospects/AHL’ers (O’Marra, McDonald, Eberle, Paajarvi-Svensson, Omark, etc.) fail to make the jump to the big leagues. As G.M., I’d be having my professional scouts look at defensive specialists from this summer’s free agent class. I’d also suggest that bubble players on other teams who might be cheaply available be brought over for a test run towards the latter half of this season. If at all possible, I’d also try to swing a trade to bring in a genuine third liner or two.
Defencemen and Goaltenders
On the defensive side of things, I’d entertain bids for Lubomir Visnovsky and Sheldon Souray, but only move them if the return was particularly compelling. Lubomir Visnovsky is the team’s best defenceman and a vital part of the team; his injury last year hurt the Oilers a lot. Meanwhile, Sheldon Souray brings a unique presence to the team and when healthy has been invaluable. While I can’t help but think that age and injuries could catch up to either of these players, winning in the near future will depend greatly on them, and they can only be moved if the return justifies it. It’s also important to remember that either of these defencemen can block a trade.
Assuming that both of those players are kept, the Oilers still have too much money invested in their defence, so one of Tom Gilbert or Denis Grebeshkov should be moved if the first two are kept. Gilbert is signed to a long-term contract, and his value has never been lower than it is right now. Grebeshkov is a pending free agent. I don’t believe teams should move players for pennies on the dollar, so that rules out trading Gilbert, meaning that Grebeshkov should be moved. If Grebeshkov is willing to sign a three-year (or thereabouts) deal for reasonable money ($3.25 million per year or thereabouts) I’d consider keeping him, but otherwise I’d try and move him at the deadline.
Steve Staios costs too much money for a third-pairing defenceman, and should be moved. Ladislav Smid is still signed to reasonable dollars and should be kept. Jason Strudwick doesn’t bring anything irreplaceable; if someone were interested I’d move him, otherwise he could be allowed to leave as a free agent.
That leaves three spots on the back end to be filled, and all should go to cheap and dependable types. I one of Taylor Chorney or Theo Peckham steps up in a big way down the stretch, one of them could take an NHL job next year (not both, because if both do that leaves the team without enough depth), which would leave only two spots to fill. Physical and defensively reliable are what we’re looking for here.
In net, I’d move Khabibulin if a trade presented itself. I know Tambellini won’t because he just signed him, but he’s locked up for too long given his age and injury track record. Some would argue I’m creating an unnecessary hole, but the fact is that Khabibulin has missed almost 20 games per season every season for the past four years, and I’m not comfortable with a part-time starter. I’d also make a decision on JDD and Dubnyk. I’d be leaning towards keeping Dubnyk, but use Khabibulin’s absence to add to the data. I know that’s too short a span, but the Oilers must make a decision this summer and they might as well decide now. Trade the lesser of the two.
- Move two of Cogliano, Comrie, Nilsson and O’Sullivan – probably Cogliano and Nilsson.
- Move one of Jacques, Stone and Stortini – probably Jacques.
- Move Moreau.
- Move Brule, depending on return.
- Move one of Visnovsky, Souray, Gilbert and Grebeshkov – probably Grebeshkov.
- Move Staios.
- Move Khabibulin, depending on return.
- Move one of Deslauriers or Dubnyk – probably Deslauriers.
- Aim to acquire two or three two-way forwards.
- Aim to acquire a pair of solid defenceman, at least one of whom can play a shutdown role.
- If necessary, take a goaltender back in exchange for Khabibulin, but preferably not. Acquire as many draft picks as possible.
- Sign whatever of the above haven’t been added via trade when free agency starts.
- Sign a starting goaltender to replace Khabibulin; by my count there are 11 possible starters hitting the market, not one of whom is older than 34. As with last year, there are more goaltenders than there are teams.
I know this looks like a lot, but I’ve got the rest of this season and all next summer to make these moves, and that’s the list I’d be working from. The important thing now is to use the time left to get firm reads on which players in each of the above groups to keep.