How Do You Solve A Problem Like Cogliano?

Andrew Cogliano is an excellent young hockey player with a bright NHL future ahead of him. What that future holds is still uncertain – can he fit in Edmonton long-term? If so, where?

It needs to be said that Cogliano is a tremendous talent, and has done a lot to grab attention at a very young age. Drafted 25th overall by the Oilers in 2005, he ranks fourth in his draft class in points – behind only Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar, and Paul Stastny. In that respect, he represents a very real and tangible win for an Oilers’ scouting staff that has often been blamed for the team’s failings. They gambled on the small, speedy offensive forward playing in a lower level league (OPJHL) and to date it’s paid off richly.

He’s an incredibly fast skater; quite possibly the best on a team that has some good ones. Despite Sportsnet’s rather stupid scouting report (“Is more of a playmaker than scorer and needs to work on his shot”) he has an excellent shot that he uses judiciously; he’s had very good shooting percentages two years running and has scored 18 goals in each of his NHL seasons.

He’s still a young player, so his defensive game (which does have promise) isn’t where it should be yet and he’s just coming into the years where he’ll be a real positive difference maker for his NHL team. There are a few things working against Edmonton being that team though, starting with his inclusion in a package that would have brought Dany Heatley to the Oilers.

Do The Oilers Want To Trade Cogliano?

The short answer is simple: “No”. There’s been some talk since Cogliano’s name was first leaked that it may be difficult to mend fences with him if the Dany Heatley deal doesn’t take place. I don’t see it that way at all.

Frankly, despite Cogliano’s excellent upside, it’s pretty unlikely that he’s ever going to score 50 goals. This is a simple case of the Oilers being interested in one of the best goal-scoring wingers in the NHL, and having to give up something valuable for him. Certainly Cogliano should be smart enough to realize that the abortive trade shows how much value he has around the league, rather than viewing it as the Oilers giving up on him.

Where Does Cogliano Fit On The Roster?

Despite Cogliano’s obvious value, I do wonder if he’s a fit at centre in the short- to long-term.

The first problem is his inability in the faceoff circle. Last season, Cogliano went 37.2% on faceoffs – the worst season by any frequently used centre since 2000. Personally, I don’t view this as an insurmountable obstacle – the Oilers already have at least two wingers (Dustin Penner and Marc Pouliot) who can win draws and then switch back over to the wing after the faceoff.

The real problem is that the depth chart at centre is clogged right now. Sam Gagner is quite clearly the future of the franchise up the middle; a phenomenal talent who has two NHL seasons under his belt despite being under the age of 20. Aside from Gagner, veteran centre Shawn Horcoff is signed for the next six years, and even if he weren’t giving both top-six centre spots to a pair of players as young (and still undeveloped) as Gagner and Cogliano is not a recipe for success.

That leaves the third line spot, a role that doesn’t seem a fit for Cogliano’s skill-set; he’s too good offensively and not good enough defensively to fit there right now. He’ll certainly need more minutes in the next few years than that position would allow him.

The obvious, and possibly inevitable, answer is to convert Cogliano to left wing. Unfortunately, Jason Gregor has repeatedly stated that Cogliano is uncomfortable in that position, and in addition the depth chart is pretty crowded there already (Penner, O’Sullivan, Moreau). Still, I think that Cogliano may need to get used to the idea, and room can be made either via trade or by moving Penner over to RW – perhaps creating a top-six something like this:

  1. Cogliano/O’Sullivan – Horcoff – Hemsky
  2. O’Sullivan/Cogliano – Gagner – Penner

The other alternative in the Oilers’ unending (since the Smyth trade) search for a top-line LW is to dangle Cogliano as trade-bait for a legitimate game-breaker; something the Oilers have already done once.

  • Hippy

    @ 99thoilerfan:
    Ya, I agree with you 100%. I know listening to Tambo, he has a plan, and I think it is a good one. I also think that we, the crazy fans, are the polar opposite of last year. I'm waiting to see what a new coaching staff brings, another year of experience for the young uns, and ya, hopefully Tambo can swing a few more minor tweaks. As for Cogs, I think this kid will be a GREAT player and hated his name in the Heater deal. But, like him, I understood you have to give to get.

  • Hippy

    Tough to follow that last epic novel, long, but a good post which I agree with.

    The way I see it, we are one player (3C) from being a 5-7th team. Without that player, I see us being a 7-10th type team. Our D is strong, forwards can score, and top tier coaching will bump us into the playoffs.

    All this snarling and angry arm waving is silly, if Tambo signs Malhotra tommorrow, it all changes. If he makes 2 moves, then the look of the team changes.

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    losing the only forward who scored 20 goals last season who wasnt named Hemsky?

    Who was this that scored 20 goals FOR THE OILERS last year? Scoring is not the problem, this is a poor argument from you Arch, usually you have stronger points.

  • Hippy

    I'd like the Oilers haters to take a deep breath. The sky is not falling, the Oilers aren't getting worse.

    While I can't make up my mind if Tambellini is doing a good job or a bad one I do know that the people bashing the current roster and saying we will be terrible are missing the boat. Without making a trade, without signing another free agent, we will be better. That is because so many of our players are likely to be better this year than last. Better players equals a better team.

    The following is a list of players who should be better this year than last. There are a lot of them. Some are just going to be riding the wave others will lead the parade but it is hard to think of more than four players who are likely to get worse:

    -Cogliano, lets start with him because he is the subject of this post. The solution to his problem is you don't let him take faceoffs and you move him around a lot, let him find his place (1L,2L,2C,2R,3L,3C,3R, double shift him in 4L,4C,4R). Let him roam. This is a player with a unique skill set and a big upside. MacT worked really hard last year to teach him the structural aspects of playing center ice, like going back deep and supporting the puck coming out of his own end. As the year wore on he began to show signs that he got it. Continues to go to the hard areas and get close before he shoots. Apparently very coachable. If he could learn to take faceoffs he would be something very special. I'd have somebody working with him everyday, like Oates,
    -Penner – new coach who doesn't hate him will help, has spent his off season working hard on his first step, reunited with his best fit linemates,
    -Gagner, older, more ready to come hard at the start of the season,
    -O'Sullivan, hard to imagine he could play worse than he did at the end of last year. Versatile and highly skilled player,
    -Jacques – finally healthy, perhaps ready to be the impact player he was in junior and AHL. Here is your grit and tough to play against addition. Big, fast, and psycho with fair hands,
    -Pisani – healthy, full season, well delineated responsibilities,
    -Nilsson – yes I know we all like to bash him but he has shown flashes of brilliance like last year's performance on the power play and the year before that with EVS Assists, strongly committed to playing in the NHL,
    -Pouliot – more ice time, back at center presumably, if he accepts his role as 3C he could be a very useful player,
    -Brule – as things stand will slot into the fourth line job unless he totally messes up at camp. We've all seen he has heart,
    Horcoff – Brule and Pouliot are going to take the defensive load off of Horc. Quinn would rather give up goals than waste a good scorer, one of the few on this team, so how bad Pouliot and Brule are or aren't on the dot will be irrelevant, they will get their at bats and reduce Horc's work load. Also will benefit from playing all season with Penner, who simply makes him better,
    Hemsky – Reunited with two guys who get him. Statistically he plays better with those two guys, by a large margin, than he does without them,
    Stortini – He keeps getting a bit better each year. There is no reason to believe he has peaked yet. Quinn will want his fourth line to roll people and forecheck like demons. All three guys are likely to see their scoring opportunities go up,
    MacIntyre – based on Quinn's MO we are likely to see way more of this likeable goon, will he have an impact? Undoubtedly, though not always for the good, by the end of the season with good coaching we will all be in love with the guy,
    Moreau – who knows where he fits in or what sort of season he will have. Quinn likes veterans, especially ones with heart. On the other hand Stortini, Jacques, MacIntyre, and yes, even Penner, will be expected to do more of the heavy lifting. Moreau won't have to run around taking dumb penalities.

    Most importantly for all of them, Quinn hates counter punch teams. For him it is about aggression and puck possession. I'd guess, based on that, we will also see Ryan Stone. Too bad he can't skate because man does he love to hit anything that moves. He also can really distribute the puck.

    This brings us to the defence and I think there is reason to expect improvement there as well.

    Visnovsky – full season, still probably in his prime, working hard to be ready at start of season,
    Gilbert – likely to see his role on special teams increase enormously, also still young and getting better in that odd up and down way that makes defencemen so hard to predict,
    Grebeshkov – you know with a contract like that he is likely to want to have a great season – really self confident, proved last year how tough he is, we are about to see the first year of his prime,
    Smid – last year he had some great games, some terrible games, and some games were he looked like he was an NHL vet. Given he is physically aggressive is likely to see way more minutes under Quinn and like Grebs he is really a very self confident young man, likely to surprise on the upside,
    Peckham – a young man with all the arrows pointing int he right direction. Will see more NHL time this year and earn every minute of it. Will he make mistakes, absolutely, does he make us harder to play against, certainly.

    Then there are guys who will almost certainly get worse, Souray – just a function of the season he had last year. It will be very hard to match. Staois – getting older, obviously finding it a struggle, we should be looking for a replacement. Strudwyck – less ice time, more miles on the odometer. I'm guessing we may well see Dean Arsene, a guy who has really earned his chance.

    Additionally, with the Oilers forechecking like their careers depend on it, because Pat Quinn doesn't know any other way to coach, our defence isn't going to be pinned in its own end all the time. We will see our opponents dumping the puck and going for a line change a lot more frequently. This should be very good for those guys, like Vis, who want to shake and bake.

    In goal we have the engima and the kid. If Khabibulin wants to do his superman routine he is certainly still capable. If he doesn't there isn't much we can all do except look forward to drafting somewhere around #1. Deslauriers is a battler and would probably have been a great player in the days when teams scored in bunches. Sadly, nobody does anymore. Still he is probably going to win slightly over 50% of his games since the team above, all rebounding or improving, will score more goals in front of him.

    In other words, this team, especially under Quinn and Renney will score more than its share of goals. It is however likely to be brutally bad at keeping them out of its own net. Teams that come here will get mauled and will give up goals. That will make us harder to play against. They will also score, a lot. We won't get blown out, we won't be soft, but 6-5 losses may well be depressingly common. As fans we may hate lossing but I'd sure rather loss 6-5 than 9-2 or 1-0, especially if occasionally we win 9-2.

    Would a veteran 3C who can take faceoffs and kill penalties, and a younger vet 5-6D help immediately? Certainly! Not to mention the impact an established backup goaltender would have.

    Are we going to be brutal without them? No. We have way too much talent still getting better to not improve. It is also worth remembering when we are frothing at the mouth that we have some great prospects in our system that will one day ably fill 3C and 5-6 D and talent to trade for a 2G if the need arises. That veteran help we keep demanding Tambo get will simply get in the way of the player development we need to make the focus of our team to guarantee the future.

  • Hippy

    Jon, could you give some examples of players who've successfully been transitioned from Centermen to Wingers? I'm curious to know what that list looks like.

    I drool when I think of what Cogliano is capable of – he's scored 18 goals on the 3rd freaking line. What would happen if Gagner or Hemsky were feeding him sweet saucer passes regularly? He certainly has the speed to keep up on the 1st line…

    However. Playing the same position since birth is NOT something that's easy to 'just change'. I always revert back to winger mentality when I play. No, I'm nowhere near professional. But it's akin to muscle memory – you just 'go' that way after awhile, and it's truly tough to change that – even at a relatively young age. These guys play these positions for over a decade before hitting the NHL – I don't think it's that easy to change. Plus? Many of them just aren't that bright…

  • Hippy

    My two cents,

    The Oil is handcuffed by it's own roster.
    Have too many contracts now, can't sign more,
    must trade to move bodies out, and hope for a
    3 out for only 1-2in…

    OR

    They must wait for some of the contracts to expire
    to gain flexablity again. Look how log jammed the Sharks are.. Something must happen there too…

    I'm just say'n, is all I'm say'n.

    PS: Don't bring up the Wall's contract..ouch

  • Hippy

    The thing that really irks me is at the end of this past season we heard Tambo state that he wanted us to be a bigger, tougher team to play against, and that we needed a faceoff man. Now he says he's content to start the season with the same group minus Brodziak and Rolie? Where is the accountability for your OWN expectations?!!!!!!!

  • Hippy

    @ Archaeologuy
    Are you trying to tell me we will not be challenging for the division title this year? The team has changed lots from last year has it not? That team was good enough according to Lowe,Mac T and Katz.I want to see what the Oilers propaganda machine puts out this year when we sh*t the bed. It was all Danny Heatleys fault!!!

  • Hippy

    oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote:

    what is worse alot of the other reams in the division have improved and the Oilers have sat still and done basically nothing.

    Are you trying to suggest that the 469th round draft pick that the team got for Brodziak wont score 60 goals this season or that the team wont become significantly better by losing the only forward who scored 20 goals last season who wasnt named Hemsky? Because it's this kind of pessimism that I just wont stand for. No sir.

    The answer to all of our problems is obviously promoting AHL talent into NHL spots and hoping for the best.

  • Hippy

    Ah who cares, we havent changed at all from last season (minus a few things) we still have the same players/size problems that were supposed to be addressed as per Tambellini that hasnt been. Instead of trying to pick up another point producing winger, and a good 3rd line centerman (like tambellini said he wanted) we are going with the same lineup cause he wont make the decisions to trade/bury some of those stupid contracts in the minors. No grit, no scoring, no faceoff specialist, prepare to watch the same garbage as last year. Brutal, im disappointed in this team

  • Hippy

    Archaeologuy wrote:

    It’s hard for me to believe that Cogs cant play on the wing without ever seeing him play any extended time in that position. What evidence do we have that he cant play there? The word of one Craig Q. MacTavish? Honestly, is Cogliano SO unadaptive that he cant learn a position that so many Centres have been forced to learn in order to stay in the NHL? No. There is absolutely no proof to suggest Cogs cant do it.

    Agreed, I think it would be far more difficult for a winger to make the transition to centre than the opposite considering a centre has arguably more defnsive resposibility than a guy on the wing.

    Unless, they're moving for a bona fide scoring left wing, I don't think the Oilers should consider moving Cogliano…….again.

  • Hippy

    It's hard for me to believe that Cogs cant play on the wing without ever seeing him play any extended time in that position. What evidence do we have that he cant play there? The word of one Craig Q. MacTavish? Honestly, is Cogliano SO unadaptive that he cant learn a position that so many Centres have been forced to learn in order to stay in the NHL? No. There is absolutely no proof to suggest Cogs cant do it.

    The only road block to Cogs playing the wing is Tambi's inability to find another C this off season. The lack of activity post July 1 coupled with the loss of Brodziak might force the Team's hand into playing Cogs another season as the 3rd centre.

  • Hippy

    Well, in their rookie season, didn't Cogliano play C and Gagner shifted to the RW? I remember that the line basically let Gagner handle a bunch of the puck distribution.

    Let Gagner take the right side faceoffs, OSullivan can take some left side faceoffs, and Cogliano can skate take the C responsibilities.

    I know that this isn't the ideal situation long term, but given the current roster . . .

    Alternately, hire Adam Oates as a faceoff coach.

  • Hippy

    I thought P.O.S could play all three positions, couldn't we have:
    Penner – Horcoff – Hemsky
    Cogliano – Gagner – P.O.S

    I'd be quite happy with that top six, and to see what they can do this year. One good veteran center for the 3rd and I think we a have a team that will be competitive for the 6th – 8th spot and we don't lose any young talent.
    But good god we need someone to help in the face-off circle and on the pk.

  • Hippy

    Moving Cogliano to the wing isn't a bad idea, but why LW? Also why move Penner to the RW, doesn't the RW typically have more skating and have to cover a larger area of the ice than the LW?

    I think if Cogs can get some consistency out of training camp on the wing, he may be more comfortable by the time the puck drops in October, with the macBlender gone, he may just get that chance.