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