That Troublesome Third Line

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 15:  Fernando Pisani #34 of the Edmonton Oilers passes the puck against the Anaheim Ducks on October 15, 2008 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. The Oilers won 3-2.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

With the departure of Fernando Pisani to Chicago – a departure well covered by Lowetide here and Ben Massey here – the Oilers have one fewer option to plug one of their holes on the third line.

In my opinion, it’s just as well; a Pisani signing would have been more a nod to sentiment than pragmatism. As much as Pisani is a player I loved to see in an Oilers’ uniform, if Steve Tambellini is going to bolster his team’s bottom six, he really ought to be looking at players who could be useful a few years down the road.

Who, exactly?

Before we start looking at a list of free agents, we should establish some criteria. Mine are fairly straight forward. My base assumption is that the scoring stars will be developed from within (some combination of the current Penner/Hemsky/Gagner/Brule/Cogliano group augmented by the rookies) but that the defensive base for the team should be a more veteran group. Ideally, these veterans won’t be in their mid-thirties when the team starts contending, so we can eliminate pretty much anyone over the age of 32 (sorry Pisani, Modin, Halpern, etc.). Additionally, these players should be big, or at least not undersized (sorry, Tim Kennedy) and have some track record of playing in a defensive role.

Here’s my list of possibilities, along with some relevant data. Statistics and salary from 2009-10:

Player Team Age Salary (MM) QualComp QualTeam ZoneStart EV PTS/60 PK TOI/GM Rel. Corsi
Enver Lisin NYR 24 0.790 8 12 51.7 1.32 0:01 5.8
Matt Ellis BUF 28 0.500 13 13 46.7 1.22 0:08 5.7
Raffi Torres BUF 28 2.250 11 3 52.3 1.81 0:00 2.4
Stephane Veilleux T.B 28 0.750 11 13 39.4 0.7 2:03 0.1
Matt Hendricks COL 29 0.500 13 13 44.2 1.9 1:13 -2.7
Adam Mair BUF 31 0.758 11 12 49.8 1.26 0:04 2.2
Ruslan Fedotenko PIT 31 1.800 7 12 58.3 1.4 0:09 -1.8
Aaron Asham PHI 32 0.640 13 14 51.7 2.04 0:00 -0.1

Unfortunately, it’s a rather short list; there aren’t that many big, defensively-minded forwards with youth on their side left on the market.

At this point in his career, Enver Lisin isn’t a defensive specialist – he’s a brilliant skater (arguably the fastest from his draft class) with a decent level of talent, but he’s got some significant deficiencies. He’s not an overly physical player, and he still has some defensive deficiencies to work out. The numbers look good, but I don’t think it’s an ideal fit (not that I’d oppose taking a flyer on him).

Three Buffalo Sabres make the list. I’m not a big fan of Adam Mair, who at 31 has yet to show he can stick his head above the fourth line and survive. Raffi Torres has played in Edmonton before and thus we’re all familiar with him (QualComp and QualTeam ranks are from his time in Columbus, where he spent most of the season) and know what he brings. If we view him as a third-line winger there are some definite things in his favour – grit and energy, some goal-scoring – and I think his talent is a nice fit for the Oilers. What does worry me is the off-ice rumours we’ve all heard, and whether he’s worth signing depends on what he’s like off the ice. Finally, Matt Ellis is another guy I’d be interested in – possibly on a two-way deal – and he might provide another option along with Colin Fraser.

Ruslan Fedotenko and Aaron Asham are both on the older side of the ledger, and neither really fits the shutdown role for me; Fedotenko’s coming off an awful year where he was asked to contribute offence and Asham’s an energy guy who I think would be miscast as a defensive ace.

Matt Hendricks is a late-blooming forward who I’d be willing to look at on a two-way deal, but honestly I don’t think he’s all that far ahead of a guy like Liam Reddox. He does have some big league penalty-killing experience and he’s put up good AHL numbers, but I’d be worried projecting him above the fourth line.

That leaves Stephane Veilleux. I’ve always had a soft spot for Veilleux, who did well in a checking role for the Minnesota Wild, but he’s coming off a miserable offensive season and he had surgery this summer. I’d like to see the Oilers sign Veilleux since he brings a lot of things they need – energy, defensive acumen, penalty-killing experience, but again this isn’t a deal I feel strongly about.

The full list of free agents is available from capgeek.com. I don’t see anyone I’m particularly bullish on, but what does everybody else think?

  • smiliegirl15

    SINK OR SWIM,OUT ON A LIMB! I don’t believe Katz will put up with another losing team last year with a team of fringe players as has been assembled so far minus the rookies of course .

    I believe Katz will not allow this team to flounder like last year beyond Xmas, or Lowe and Tams could both be gone by then. I doubt Katz will give them an entire year to get this team on the right track if massive improvement is not made . They are already down to their third string coach for starters (Renney ).

    Katz handed upper management an olive branch allowing them to start the rebuild , but i doubt he is expecting anything less than immediate results upwards !

    So i forsee, that only the rookies can make that sort of difference, and i don’t see either Lowe or Tams past Xmas if they go and try and win with a fringe lineup . Not much quality added to base , so it’s sink and swim with the rookies .

    Katz wants results this season , not a repeat of last years basement plunge . We are out to win this season not 4-5 years down the road , as that should be unacceptable to fans and even moreso to Katz i would think . I don’t believe he’ll put up with upper management that long of a process to begin with .

    • ubermiguel

      I had to re-read your post 3 times looking for any hint of sarcasm. I didn’t detect any so I have to say you couldn’t be more wrong if you tried…unless you think “long haul” means “three months”.

      Katz, Feb 11 2010: “We are in this for the long haul and over the long haul I really like what I see. We have a great young core with a lot more talent coming along.”

      Katz, Feb 11 2010: “there’s no question that draft and development are absolutely a focus under our ownership.”

      Katz, Feb 11 2010: “Tamby has the absolute green light to do whatever he needs to do to rebuild the hockey club.”

      Tambellini, April 14 2010: “There are no quick fixes. I’m not going to be the person to tell you there’s a quick fix.”

      • D-Man

        Well said… Immediate results and rebuild do not go hand in hand. I think Katz will be be pretty happy about the product he sees this year – even if we still remain close to the basement. His GM has made cap room and roster space for some rookies and has done well in changing the attitude in the dressing room (clearing out Nilson, Moreau and O’Sullivan)… He’ll still have some gaps to address with our goalie situation and lack of depth; but to pull out the old cliche, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. If we continue to avoid stupid contracts like Horcoff’s and continue to pick well in the draft, we’re looking at a playoff team two to three years down the road…

        When you look at our current depth chart – wouldn’t our third line look something like Horcoff centring Jacques and Eberle/MPS? Our top six and bottom three are already set… Top six forwards are Hall, Penner, Hemsky, Gagner, Brulet and Eberle (or MPS) and our bottom three are Fraser/Stortini/Cogliano?? Not sure why’d we want to go out and look at the free agency market to begin with. We’ll be overpaying guys to come here until we can pull out a winner.

        • ubermiguel

          “When you look at our current depth chart – wouldn’t our third line look something like Horcoff centring Jacques and Eberle/MPS? Our top six and bottom three are already set… Top six forwards are Hall, Penner, Hemsky, Gagner, Brulet and Eberle (or MPS) and our bottom three are Fraser/Stortini/Cogliano?? Not sure why’d we want to go out and look at the free agency market to begin with. We’ll be overpaying guys to come here until we can pull out a winner.”

          Exactly, I could see rolling with those forwards all year with a few call-ups (Omark).

          Improving slightly with man-games lost (Hemmer, Souray, Khabi) alone will move us up a few spots.

          Point being, everything Katz has said and done (OKC, hiring more European scouts, demanding more research from the scouting staff) says he’s committed to a long-term plan.

        • ubermiguel

          So is it Horcoff, Eberle or MPS that you hate (or all 3)?

          Why on earth would a fan who watched games from last year want to saddle one of the futures of the franchise with the black hole of suck that is JFJ?

          • D-Man

            I don’t you’re giving Jacques enough credit… When he was healthy, he led the team in hits and can drop the gloves… Normally, I wouldn’t have a Horcoff or MPS or Eberle on a 3rd line (arguably they’re all top six forwards), but there is a current log jam in front of them… Maybe you could replace Jacques with Ryan Jones or Cogliano on that line – but then you have no real grit on your so called checking/shut-down line.

            Is Jacques a true bonafide NHLer?? I’d say the jury is still out. I think last year he truly understood that he’d have to be a 4th line checker to play in the NHL. Unfortunately, his back let out on him. If (and a big if) he can stay healthy and lead the team in hits again – awesome. I think he could also chip in 10 goals too (which would be bonus). But if his back lets out and he’s on the IR again, we only signed him to one year. We then cut our ties and find a suitable replacement either through the draft or free agency (preferably draft).

          • D-Man

            If his hitting actually led to anything productive, that would be great.

            The problem is, every player he played with last year got the crap kicked out of them in terms of shots and goal differential.

            He may understand that he needs to hit and fight to be a 4th liner in the NHL, but that’s not the role he has or is being pencilled in for.

            He was a 3rd line player, often going up against some pretty good players, and he got murdered doing it (and took others down with him). If he was only pencilled in to be a 5 minute per night 4th liner he’d fit that role better.

            To be honest, it doesn’t matter how much he hits or fights or even if he gets 10 goals as long as he plays in his own end like a 5 year old lost in NYC. He’s a complete liability on the ice in terms of defensive play and no amount of hitting is going to change that.

          • D-Man

            A 5 year-old lost in NYC?? Hilarious… 🙂

            If Jacques was penciled in as a 3rd liner – is that truly his fault?? Was it Horcoff’s fault to get that awful contract? Jacques wasn’t properly utilized by the coaching staff last year plain and simple. I wouldn’t pin that on him; but that would explain why we have a ‘senior consultant’ on staff for this year.

            I would agree with you that Jacques on his best would fight to get to the 3rd line; unfortunately, that statement shows how poor our depth is. I think Renney can get a better result from Jacques in his own zone. He’s a better coach and has a better detailed approach to the game. Will that make Jacques a 3rd liner on a good NHL team? I’m not so sure, but unfortunately it will have to for us this year. Here’s hoping…

  • smiliegirl15

    @ Death Metal Nightmare:

    A couple of those players are guys who *might* pan out, if given an opportunity.

    The problem is that the Oilers roster right now doesn’t have any real third line guys on the third line – and aside from Torres, there isn’t anyone with that track record available as a free agent. But as it stands we might see a Jones/Fraser/Stortini third line, and none of htose guys has ever played in that role.

    Lisin’s young enough he could become more valuable, and Veilleux’s played that role in Minnesota. I’m not wild about either, but I’d prefer adding a couple of more options rather than betting it all on Jones/Fraser and expecting them to carry someone besides.

  • smiliegirl15

    @ Death Metal Nightmare

    Don’t worry… the Oilers are already ignoring things like Corsi when it comes to their roster decisions.

    Hence the reason guys like JFJ and Strudwick have a chance to play significant minutes on this team.

  • smiliegirl15

    We can sign young checking guys next yr. We need experienced checking players this yr to take some load of the younger kids.

    SIGN….OWEN NOLAN….he can teach the kids a few things and is good for a checking role

    Problem with that, he probably doesn’t want to come to a rebuilding team.

  • smiliegirl15

    I would love to have Glencross back! I am still bitter they let him walk in the first place! I think he’d be exactly the kind of player who could find chemistry with Cogliano on the third line.

  • PerryK

    I think oolers need to take one step at a time and they should sign anybody they can for the role this yr, just to take load of the young kids.
    One yr deal only and next summer look to fill this hole with younger players

  • Ball Buster

    Not sure why I’m bothering but Death Metal honestly?

    When sorting through the UFA players still out there, how can looking at stuff like:

    Seeing how much a guy started at his own end of the ice

    Seeing the differential between shots directed at the opposing teams net compared to his own net while a guy is on the ice.

    Taking that one step further and relating that to how he did compared to that specific team as a whole, with regards to shots.

    Seeing point-wise how a player measures up taking ice time into consideration and removing powerplay points from the equation

    Getting a relative idea of what kind of opposition he was facing versus what kind of support he was playing with.

    It’s impossible to sit and watch every single NHL’er play. Looking at players through this lens makes a hell of a lot more sense than this:

    Goal, Assists, +/- combined with yeah I remember watching this guy play a few shifts last year.

  • Ball Buster

    Jonathan:
    Excluding the players from the list you have provided, can you now show us a similar list of guys who are 32+, i.e., those with decent PK stats that we can sign on 1 or 2 years deals on the cheap?

    I agree with what one of the other posters said: the Oilers are developing their 3rd line talent in the AHL and we just need a stop gap until the kids are ready to jump into the fray. Two years from now.

  • Ball Buster

    As a side note JW:

    THanks for all the years of reading.

    It’s too bad you were not on here for the first couple years of the Penner deal so you could at least reference back to what the saw him goods obviously were not seeing until his counting numbers came up last season!

    I’m still in the ST is treading on shaky ground territory as if I had my wish:

    1. Pouliot would have been signed and slotted as my 3/4 centre along with brodziak.

    2. Cogliano would not have taken a single shift as a center last year and would be dealt if he couldn’t get past the fact that he very well could have a career as a top 6 WINGER.

    I think we had the bodies to fill these bottom 6 center roles we just pissed them away

    Cheers.

  • D-Man

    @ubermiguel

    Yeah they are starting to run like somewhat unheadless chickens for sure.

    Katz pooring money into the OKC franchise is going to pay off in the long run, if they don’t knee jerk away from it once the pro team starts rounding the corner.

    Since mismanaging this team to a last place finish (so for the last 6 months). The plan appears to be draft and develop. But hey, maybe a team like the rangers wins the cup next year then instead of following the Detroit, I mean Chicago model we’ll go back to throwing money at free agency.

    The problem is for us to have a chance this year at making the playoffs a whole lot of things need to break right, given the make-up of our current roster. Add to that the realization the management is prepared to let it sink to pick up another pick if it doesn’t makes it pretty hard to get excited.

    So, we’re going to burn another year off two great value contracts (Penner and Hemsky), likely burn a year off all our top prospects ELC’s for a riveting 8th-15th place finish…

    I think around 10-12th is likely but the dive is dependant on how many shiny red buttons tamblowe presses at the deadline. We are in the weakest division in the West now. Aside from Vancouver and possibly the Lames for some periods of the season (Tanguay + Oli just might be enough to distribute some offence to squeak the extra goal in). There should be a whole lot of coin flips vs the Wild and the Avs.

  • D-Man

    I’m just hoping that if our starting goalie and star winger goes down:

    That I won’t be alone in the lynch mob screaming at our management and not Horcoff.

    The fact they sent him back out there with a shoulder still too hurt to actually take faceoffs was pretty damning. They did not embrace the fall until it was WAAAAAAYYYY past the obvious conclusion that we could not make the playoffs.

    Whether or not you agree with the Horcoff contract does or doesn’t carry water depending what the defense of either opinion is based on IMO. Regardless the one thing we should all agree on is that we have been witnessing systemic reinjury in these parts for years now. m=Moreso I think due to Lowe pushing to get into the playoffs and players coming back early from injury. If that is out the window as well, we are again heading at the whole idea of a sustained comptetive team franchise from a better angle long term…

  • ubermiguel

    @ Ubermiel . Sounds good for Katz to make those sorts of comments , but does he really expect to allow such a long process ? I doubt Oiler fans will, and i doubt he wants it either despite the made for media banter . If major problem is upper management, then i don’t see him waiting very long . Why risk destroying more rookie talent with a hoard of fringe players like we have basically done the past few years ? Then again , maybe Katz is a huge part of the problem towards a swift recovery ?

    Despite my passion for Oiler hockey , a repeat like last season would destroy it . I’ll tune them out and watch other teams , etc ..

    • ubermiguel

      Last year was awful. As far as “what Oilers fans want” I think you and I differ. I don’t mind if they Suck with Style for a year or two if I see progress. Maybe there’s a poll question in there somewhere.

      I’m with you on not wanting fringe players to destroy rookie talent. At the same time I don’t want to sign a guy like Torres just to move a couple of spots out of a lottery pick AND hinder the rookies’ development (i.e.: reduced ice time for someone else, bad influence off the ice).

      I’d love to see another Oates-type signing. Bring in a vet to take some minutes, be defensively sound, generally mentor the 18-22 year olds on the team.

    • Hemmertime

      You have no passion for the Oilers then, and are a fair-weather fan. You sicken me. The notion that someone can choose which team to cheer for baffles me. Sure, you can pick secondary teams you like, but Oilers love was born and bred into me.

  • I know that we’re talking about the “3rd Line” here as the “Checking” line, but I dont know if the Oil have the horses to have a dedicated checking line.

    Even adding 1 defensively responsible forward isnt enough to have a full line.

    I’m seeing this as a team with 3 “scoring” lines and a gritty 4th line. Sure, when the chips are down the Penner or Horc line will likely get played a lot more than others but we dont have enough guys to play a dedicated checking group.

    What are the Oilers doing with the rookies? Are they getting peppered through the top 3 lines, is there going to be another “kid line”, or are some of the kids starting in the AHL? If the plan is to send a couple kids to the AHL then the Oil should grab a couple defensive minded guys, but if the plan is to let the kids have the best chance to make the big club then I doubt the Oil will add another checking forward.

    I just dont think the Oilers are trying to build a team with 2 scoring lines, a checking line, and an energy line. I think it will be 3 “balanced” lines and an energy line. Let’s not forget that the Oilers are also at a place where another lottery pick is more desired than a playoff spot.

    • ubermiguel

      Well put, and i agree . I could stand putting up with the rookies and finishing in bottom five , but not another season like last year with older fringe talent.

    • D-Man

      I think you’ll see Hall, Eberle and MPS in the lineup this year. Anyone else probably goes back to junior or in the AHL.

      Although I agree with you that we don’t have all the personnel to have that checking line (outside of Horcoff), I still think the Oil are going in that direction. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have taken a risk on signing Jacques or trading a 6th round pick for Colin Frasor.

      You are 100% bang on when you say we’re around another top five pick when the smoke clears after this year. I just think some of us on OilersNation need to be patient and look at how we’ll look two to three years from now. That also means having some of our youth playing in the AHL, whether we like it or not.

      • I also think Hall, Eberle, and MPS will be in the lineup this year. That’s why I think the Oil will see 3 scoring lines. Frasor, Jacques, and Stortini are on my 4th line. And I see Penner, Gagner, and Horc as the 3 guys down the middle of the top 9 (at least to start the year).

        I know Penner is a LW but he’s good on the dot and Renney has talked about possibly converting him to a C. Might not last through pre-season but I’d bet money they give it a real chance.

        • D-Man

          Not sure I agree with you about Penner down the middle… Agreed that he was decent at the dot, but he’ll have to drop another 20lbs to pick up some foot speed. I also don’t think he’ll have the horses to last all year.

          Renney should give him a chance in pre-season, but I think he’ll stay on LW and Brule will step up into your 2nd centre role…

          For argument’s sake – who’s on your 3rd scoring line?? I think you and I are might be on the same page (somewhat) with the following…

          Top 2 lines
          Hall-Gagner-Hemksy
          Penner-Brule-Eberle

          4th line
          Jacques-Frasor-Stortini

          That would mean MPS-Horcoff-Cogliano, with Jones and MacIntrye in the press box?? I don’t know if Cogs fits there; but then again, he’s been in that type of role for the last two years.

          • I dont think that foot-speed is an issue with Penner. He has a huge stride and takes people by surprise all the time. In a perfect world it would be Brule, but he spent most of the season on RW and he is just now regaining his scoring touch. That leaves Hall as the only one in the top 6 you mentioned with experience at C and I seriously doubt the Oil move him away from LW.

            Your 3rd line and mine match up. Cogliano might not be a fit to be a checker, but if Horc can finally pull it together then that line combines a lot of speed and scoring touch.

  • I don’t think the Oilers are good enough on the LW to move Penner from there.

    Sure they may improve their situation at centre, but the LW is then full of unproven players. It also prevents the Oilers from being able to put out 2 solid lines that don’t need to be sheltered.

    with 89-27-10 as the 3 centres, you can really only make 1 complete line, and that line is whatever line 83 is on. There’s going to be a gap on both 89 and 10’s line because there just aren’t many good players on this team.

  • D-Man

    Despite rookies and cutting pieces from last season , the additions are far from being adequate . Plagued once again by their (management)inability to sign any significant quality personal by any means . This trend has got to stop ( it’s band aid solutions ), you cannot build a contender this way . Nor is it an adviseable or wise way to break in Rookies . Why risk the rookies fate on fringe players that will only discourage them and prolong their paths ? We already did that basically with Nilsson , Cogs , Brule and Gags – look how that turned out last couple of seasons ! You want the same thing to happen with Hall and the new rookies ?

    I do mind how they might suck, and i am very impatient when it comes to using fringe players .

  • JW,
    None of the options listed in your article fit the 3rd line role that the Oilers need – two way player, strong defensively, physical and can play the PK.

    The Oilers needs to sign a 3rd line player – and on a ONE year deal – age should not enter the equation.

  • D-Man

    I think not signing a couple of defensive specialists is their way of trying to put the kids in a position to succeed/slip on the banana peel while still giving them a chance at being in the draft lottery again. They still need that high-end, stud defenceman prospect (I’m less concerned about the centre; there’s a good chance either Gagner morphs into a #1 or Hall moves to the middle eventually) to build around.

    If this is supposed to be a year about learning how to play the game, well, they’ll be plenty of opportunity to send some of the kids out on the penalty kill.

  • Omarks the real deal, and him with Horcoff and Svensson could be very dynamic. Hartekainen might be a lot closer than most realize and is a center to watch for with size , offensive and defensive clout . I got him in until he proves otherwise at camp . I also got Plante above Peckham going into camp -far more upside down the road .

    Those fringe player could fall prey to a lot of rookies in reality . Some are getting that close . Don’t overlook them . Depth chart could readily change before seasonal opener with rookie infusion being paramount . Let rookies prove their not ready to step up to next level before sending them down .

    • D-Man

      That’s the argument, isn’t it? Let the rookies prove that they aren’t ready and send them down versus let the rookies prove they’re ready and send them up… I worry that a rookie who’s given a spot gains a sense of entitlement and could become fragile if they clearly aren’t ready. What happens to the kid’s mental state when you send them down?? Not all kids can respond that way and work harder to regain their spot. Talented players could be lost…

      What happens if the Oilers win 35 games next season with fringe players? Although winning 8 more games than last year would seem unlikely, with a healthy Hemsky and (jail-free) Khabby – that is feasible, would you change your mind??

      I guess time will tell to see what the Oilers do. Either way, there will be a rookie infusion – how many only time will tell.

  • Team mosaic and structure changes radically if Omark , Hartekainen and Plante graduate to main squad . Horcoff a natural to compliment the Swedes . Hall should be a very nice addition above Horcoff at center with Penner and Hemsky . Thats two lines i have set coming into camp that i believe will be very dynamic for us . Fraser or Hartekainen would anchor 3rd or fourth line . Thats still leaves others of the diminutive size to knock them out of center position only .

    Now that leaves an abundance of wingers to chose from for third and fourth lines ( maxing out their options ). One line may even be good enough to put above the Horcoff line as a set unit . Plante addition opens many doors if Souray not on team .

  • D-Man

    I speak highly of Svensson and Omark , and i believe for good reason . Look, they anchored the Swedish power play and excelled against the best young NHL caliber players we set up against them in worlds , etc.. Not just us, but other elite NHL talent as well on other teams ! How Oiler fans can automatically conclude either one of them is below Eberle , Gags , Brule , Cogs , etc. alludes me . They have proven otherwise already , and i believe Horcoff would be a perfect fit with the Swedish power play . What indicators do you doubters have that show otherwise ? Give some credit where credit is due .