A week has passed since the Oilers finished their worst season ever. I know statistically they had more points than the 1993 team, but there was no shootouts then, so let’s not argue semantics. This season sucked worse than any other, plain and simple.
So let’s now look ahead to next season. If I had asked these questions last week I think most of you would have said something to the effect of "unload all of these mother *&(&(*)@ piece of &*)*(@ players and take the management with them"
While that might have been valid, we know it isn’t realistic. In the short term the Oilers need to look at the next steps of what amounts to a complete overhaul of the team.
The Summer of Steve officially began last Wednesday when Tambellini said he wouldn’t put up with whiny, selfish, non-courageous and anti-Edmonton players. It’s one thing to say it, now we need to see him implement this new found outlook. I don’t expect him to call me this summer to ask for my advice, but I’m sure the OilersNation is saved on his browser so here’s what I think the Oilers will do this off-season.
(Note: Steve feel free to call or text me if I’m way off-base, you have my number.)
Many of you would love to buy out 19 players, four coaches, eight scouts and all the managers; hell someone even emailed me stating it’s time Paul Lorieau gets the boot, but we know Tambellini can’t gut the entire team in one five-month span. Here’s what the Oilers will do, okay should do, this summer.
Many think Nikolai Khabibulin was a brutal signing last summer, and coupled with his back surgery and drunk driving charge, it looks even worse, but buying him out would cripple the team even more, so the only option is to stick with him for the time being.
The real question here is who do you keep as the back up, Jeff Deslauriers or Devan Dubnyk?
Neither has proven they can be a consistent NHL goalie, but both have shown they can win a game by themselves. Deslauriers is more athletic, Dubnyk is more technical and that’s why I’d go with Dubnyk. He’s a bit younger and Deslauriers will probably fetch you more in a trade. Not a lot more, but maybe a 4th or 5th rounder instead of just losing him to the waiver wire in October.
Tambellini could wait and hope that every team will have two goalies they like coming out of training camp and Deslauriers might slide through waivers, but I don’t see that happening. Tambellini’s best option is to move him during the summer and get a mid to late round pick in return.
OUT OF THE GATE: Khabibulin and Dubnyk
Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney and Ladislav Smid are obvious keepers at this point, but after that it gets difficult to think you will return. Taylor Chorney needs to get stronger and another half-season in the AHL won’t hurt him. Theo Peckham is close, but if he is here he is a number six at best. Tambellini will try to get a number four D-man in return for Sheldon Souray and if he gets one that doesn’t come with a $4 million cap hit, he’ll be happy.
The tough decision will be deciding on who they keep between Jason Strudwick and Aaron Johnson. If it was just an on ice decision they’d go with Johnson, but Strudwick is much respected and in tune with the younger players, and they need a veteran like that for at least one more year. Ideally Strudwick would only play around 40 games, but his value will come more in the dressing room than on the ice. Anyone who doesn’t think that element (professionalism) is necessary for this team moving forward hasn’t been paying attention.
OUT OF THE GATE: I see Smid, Whitney, Gilbert, Strudwick and Peckham returning for sure along with a stay-at-home defenceman from the Souray deal. Then Tambellini will try to bring in a number five and if he can’t they might have to settle for Johnson for one year.
Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner are locks to return, but they other positions will be debated heavily. If management chooses Tyler Seguin (which I think they will) he rounds out the top three and that leaves Marc Pouliot and Ryan Potulny to battle for the 4th line spot. Or does it? The Oilers could use a 4th line centre with some intensity, but I still think still need one of Potulny or Pouliot, just not both.
Even if they draft Taylor Hall, they still shouldn’t keep both. They need more of an identity in their bottom six, and having Potulny and Pouliot doesn’t solve that. Potulny had a great start, and no one saw him scoring 15 goals, but his play dipped drastically in the final 30 games and I don’t see him matching those goal totals, because he won’t get close to the same amount of PP time. The Oilers can’t keep both moving forward, because they are essentially the same player. Pouliot skates better, Potulny finishes better, but neither is overly physical, but Pouliot has learned to at least use his size to rub the odd guy off the puck.
Tambellini chose Pouliot over Brodziak last year, but he can’t make the same mistake this season. I’d keep Potulny and move Pouliot at the draft.
OUT OF THE GATE: Horcoff, Gagner, Seguin, Potulny and veteran UFA signing.
Trading Ales Hemsky for the 2nd pick is a pipe dream for Oiler fans, and while I’m not convinced Hemsky will be here long-term, he’ll be here next September. Dustin Penner is a no-brainer to return and Gilbert Brule is the other winger I’d keep on a supposed scoring line. After those three it gets really interesting.
If the Oilers surprise me (not that it would be bad to select Hall, I just don’t think they will at this point) and take Hall then the decision is easy. But since I don’t think he’ll be here, they still need another scorer and the options look to be one of Jordan Eberle, MPS, Andrew Cogliano, Linus Omark, Robert Nilsson, Jaromir Jagr or other.
You’ll notice I didn’t even mention Patrick O’Sullivan, because I don’t see any way he returns to Edmonton. They will either trade him or buy him out. They’d keep Nilsson over him at this point. It might cause uproar in the Oil-blogosphere, but Eberle is not a lock to make this team coming out of camp. If he earns it they will find a spot for him, but if he is just average in the preseason, they won’t hesitate to give him 40 games in the AHL to hone is game.
There is no way the Oilers want to rush any of their top offensive prospects next season, despite the barrage of hate mail they will receive from over-zealous fans wearing Eberle jerseys next season. MPS and Omark are the most difficult to gauge at this point. Many feel both are ready to play next year, but there is only room for one of them to start the season. Omark has committed to playing in North America next season, while as of today there is no guarantee MPS will choose the AHL over the SEL.
I threw in Jagr because I’m still not 100% sold that this team will go completely with youth, and the allure of Jagr teaching showing their young offensive guys some tricks-of-the-trade might be too much for Tambellini and company to resist. My head tells me no, but like that annoying buddy who buys you two shots at last call, sometimes guys make impulsive decisions that seem good at the time but ultimately don’t pan out. I think Jagr coming here is about a 30/70 chance. Prove me wrong Steve. Nilsson just doesn’t fit in moving forward, and while buy outs aren’t the best option all the time, in this case it probably makes sense.
I don’t see Andrew Cogliano playing here next season. No one has told me this flat out, but when Pat Quinn was talking about players worrying about who they play with, Cogliano’s name popped into my head. Cogliano could easily become a 20-25 goal scorer with another organization, and that’s why he has value on the trade market, but they have too many small, soft, supposedly-skilled forwards and someone has to go. Cogliano will be that guy, and I think they’ll address their lack of size by sending Cogliano packing.
GRIT, ATTITUDE, GRIT and NASTINESS
The Oilers biggest void is an identity in their bottom six forwards. For the past four years they haven’t had enough guys willing to be puck-hounds every shift, and that’s exactly what they need. Until the young talent, becomes proven scoring talent the Oilers need their bottom four wingers to make life difficult for the opposition. The problem is these types of wingers are a rarity so realistically Tambellini might only be able to nab one this summer.
Zach Stortini is limited in his game, but his game has slowly improved over the years, he’ll continue that over the summer. If he could gain even a quarter step of foot speed he’d be able to finish more hits and make life harder on opposing D-men. He knows his role and is under contract for another year.
J.F Jacques led the Oilers in hits, 158, despite playing only 49 games. His back is a question mark, but he proved this season that he finally understands the need to be physical every game. He skates well for a big-man, and if he can stay healthy he could morph into a 3rd liner. Of course that is a big if, and that’s why they will need another forward who can fill in for Jacques when he misses the odd game. Tambellini has to find some depth amongst his physical wingers.
The Oilers had a measly three players with 100+ hits, which is why they rarely had the puck in the offensive zone for any extended period of time. Once they lost it, they didn’t have the ability to get it back via a check.
Many, including Ethan Moreau, thought the captain would be gone at the trade deadline, but that didn’t happen and his strong finish could see him start the year in Edmonton . Moreau was humbled at the deadline when no one was willing to trade for him, and he seemed to find the game that made him effective for the previous ten seasons in Edmonton . Moreau can only be effective playing one way; Tenacious. If he doesn’t play with emotion then he looks like he did for the first 60 games this year; Horrendous.
Three months ago I would have said there was no way he’d be here in September, but now I think you’ll see him start the season in Edmonton .
Ryan Jones and Ryan Stone will battle for one of the two extra forward spots. There isn’t room for both and they are essentially the same type of player. Both will come to camp, but only one will survive. The wild card in this equation is Mike Comrie.
Comrie wants to play here next year, and only Dustin Penner averaged more goals per game than Comrie last year. His competitive fire is what would make him valuable next season. This roster will have at least three and maybe four small, skilled forwards who could learn a lot from how Comrie plays. He goes to the tough areas to score goals, he doesn’t shy away and he stands up for himself. His biggest asset might be that he has proven he can produce with limited minutes.
He doesn’t need to play 18 minutes a night to score 20 goals. His presence would also push the young guys to produce; otherwise he might take their spot for a game here or there. His versatility, experience and reasonable salary should have him back in Oiler silks next season.
The debate will also rage on during the summer about Potulny and Pouliot. If I am making the call I would take the guy who blew through every single expectation he had going into the season registering15 goals and 17 assists for 32 in 64 games over a guy who has had four years to prove he wants to stay on this roster and has done little in this regard.
But that’s just me.
OUT OF THE GATE: Hemsky, Penner, Brule, Stortini, Moreau, Jacques, Eberle, Stone, Comrie and off-season UFA signing.
NET SUM GAME
If you are skipping to the end of this murder mystery novel all this means Sheldon Souray, Robert Nilsson, Patrick O’Sullivan, Fernando Pisani, Aaron Johnson and Andrew Cogliano won’t be back.