Veteran Leadership

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 03:  Bill Guerin #13 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on November 3, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Every time I look at the Oilers’ forwards this season, I’m amazed by how young a group it is. Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi are all under the age of 20, and playing in their first season. Gagner, Brule and Cogliano are all 23-or-under, and all are expected to play pivotal roles in the top-nine. Shawn Horcoff’s the lone top-12 forward over 30, Penner’s next at 28, Hemsky’s 27, and the remaining regulars are either 25 or 26.

And every time I think about that, I wonder if the Oilers could use a steady veteran up front.

First, it should be said that the lack of veteran leadership doesn’t mean the rebuild won’t work. The pre-dynasty Oilers weren’t bursting with experience; in 1979-80 the oldest forward to play any kind of significant role with the team was Stan Weir, at the tender age of 27. Brett Callighen was next at 26. Looking at the ages of the players on those teams, they never relied on veterans to keep the team in line, and as I recall they still managed to achieve a measure of success.

Then again, at the start of the 1980’s, 30 was really, really old. In 1979-80, only 30 forwards over the age of 30 managed to play 50 or more games. Last season, that number jumped to 112. Even allowing for the fact that there were only 21 teams in 1979-80, that’s a nearly threefold increase. Improved conditioning has players still having a meaningful impact at a much older age, and so we might argue that Callighen and Weir were in fact seasoned veterans, despite their younger ages.

While I’m not sure I buy that argument, and do believe it’s possible to engineer a successful rebuild without veteran guidance, many hockey men with far broader experience disagree. For instance, here’s Ken Holland’s take on the subject:


"The veterans’ leadership is also playing a major role in the development of our players. Igor Larionov and Steve Yzerman have had a major impact on Pavel Datsyuk. You know, Pavel looked up to Larionov and the latter was always talking to him. He was talking about how to be a professional, how to eat, how to train and how to come to practice every day. "Chris Chelios took Jiri Fischer under his wing, they have played together when we won the cup in 2002. Fischer was the partner of Chelios and they also were talking all the time on the bench. Lidstrom partners up with Niklas Kronwall. So our young kids are paired with veterans and the latter are teaching them how to play the game. This is also a major fact that helps us developing our prospects.


From what I’ve read and heard, I tend to think that Holland’s thoughts represent the consensus of NHL general managers. That doesn’t make it automatically correct, of course, but when hockey men I have a lot of respect for advance a theory like that, I pay attention. Especially since the theory sounds sensible, as that one does.

Going back to this year’s Oilers, they have some options if a space should clear up (via injury or reassignment or trade).

Owen Nolan had hoped to sign with a contending team, but it’s easy to imagine that any NHL job would appeal to him right now. He’d bring a wealth of experience to the organization, with more than 1200 games played for six different franchises. He knows the pressure of being a first overall pick; he was one in 1990. He was an NHL captain for five seasons. He knows the pressure of playing in a Canadian market, having dressed for the Nordiques, Leafs and Flames. Twice he’s won gold medals with Team Canada. His skill-set is excellent; he’s big and gritty and he’s scored 16 or more goals every season since 1997-98, and 30+ points every year since 1993-94.

Bill Guerin’s also available. He was brought into training camp with the Flyers, but had only a middling preseason performance, and as with Nolan time is of the essence. Like Nolan, his experience is tremendous; more than 1200 games played with eight different teams. Like Nolan, he knows the pressure of being a highly-touted prospect; he was the fifth overall pick in the 1989 draft. He spent two seasons as an NHL captain, with the New York Islanders. Guerin has firsthand knowledge of the Edmonton fishbowl; he spent parts of four seasons with the Oilers and had a lot of personal success with the team. He has a Stanley Cup ring and has been an international champion with Team USA. The last time he scored less than 40 points was when he totalled 39 in 59 games back in 1997-98; he had 21 goals and 45 points last season.

As I said earlier, I’m not totally convinced that a veteran warhorse is a necessity. That said, on balance I think a player like Nolan or Guerin would be a real asset for the Oilers’ young players, and I think the team could find room for one of them. My question for readers is simply this: should the Oilers look to add one of these two players?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Guerin would be a good fit here for this year, looks like he won’t get his wish of playing for a contender anyways, and i’m sure he still wants to play this year. He would be a good role model for the youngsters to see on a nightly basis as well as pushing the top six or nine to the press box if they’re mia at times during the season. Good deal for the Oilers especially if he comes in for 50-60 games on a value contract.

  • OilFan

    First of all, when Billy G was here, he had success but he was also a floater. Is this the kind of leadership we want the young guys to emulate?
    Second, Nolan does have the tools but does he really want to open the tool box? Does he have the mindset to mentor the kids…

    I don’t know but would want to be sure they would be willing before we took a job away from somone who made the team the old fashion way.

    In the words of anoying big haired old guy…I’m not saying, I’m just saying!

    • baai

      100% agreed with you Boris. It’s all about mindset, if they want to do this.

      Geurin wouldn’t be a good fit. He did nothing for NYI.

      Nolan has some toughness, but does he have any gas left and does he want to be the mentor? I don’t think so…that’s what coaches are for.

      Steve Smith and Kelly B better do something or they should get fired too.

  • I’ve never supported the idea that the Oilers need more veteran leadership.

    I think the game is changing and i’d like to see the young Oilers grow and learn together with as little veteran oversight as possible so none of their creativity is inhibited.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Guerin or Nolan ? No thanks.

    Somone with veteran experiance and could win a face-off — I wish!

    If anyone wants a good laugh – look on the oilers website where they show the top scorers for each team tonight. Brendan Morrision is the flames top scorer ( HAHAHAHAHA ) and the last three guys on the chart don’t even have a point. ( HAHAHAHA )

  • Aendayana

    If we are to add a veteran, which i would not be opposed to, we should be looking in the direction of a Center, as we have too much depth (and young depth at that) in both wings. We are very limited in our cetner position, and it would not be very difficult to fit a veteran into that position. Like Horcoff, whomever the veteran is that we sign, would end up babysitting and taking care of a rookie or two (which can be very beneficial). As it sits now, Paajarvi looks up to Brule and Cogs (whom isnt near as good, nor have the potential to help Paajs get better as of yet), so instantly, a veteran would better that specific line. Im not giving up on Cogs, but he would be the odd man out. We could add the veteran to the 4th line, but whats the point then? There wont be any rookies for him to teach, and we dont need the veteran for just locker room advice (thats what Strugs is for).

    Why not look at one of the two between:

    Jason Williams, Red Wings, 29, $1,500,000
    Wayne Primeau, Maple Leafs, 34, $1,400,000

    As far as i know, they both are still available?

  • I agree that the presence of veteran leadership is invaluable and will steepen the kid’s learning curve. How could they not learn faster? The problem with Nolan and Guerin is that they are (as far as I know) wingers. If the Oilers want to add an increased veteran presence they MUST do so with a 3rd-line penalty killing faceoff master. Someone to show Cogliano that he has a better chance to win a draw if he isn’t holding his stick upside down.

    The question is can Horcoff fulfil this role already?

  • baai

    no question about it. i think gagner still needs a mentor.

    if jones is climbing your depth chart it means your depth chart is brutal. jones is playing well but on a good team you have a solid fourth line that chips in with the others, not grinding wingers that get goal scoring time.

    its so important to have vets in the line up to set the boys straight. not in a “back in my day” kind of way but in a “i’ve actually won stuff and know what it takes” kind of way. the respect an owen nolan or a bill guerin would command would help immeasurably. they’ve been in the EA games for so long you have to respect them.

  • baai

    oh, and bringing in a winger’s no biggy. let hall sit upstairs a few games and have a look. hemmer did, hell… messier was sent to the minors. (granted that was for horseassery more than anything.)
    but i agree with the majority of posters… a centerman if you please.

    back to work.

  • baai

    There isn’t enough room on the roster as it sits, without throwing in an old washed up vet like Nolan. Horcs is the mentor as of now, and that sounds perfectly reasonable to me. And enough with the Ken Holland!

  • There’s a huge difference between “Let the kids play” and “We’ll be just fine with the likes Jones, Vandermeer, Foster…”

    THAT’S the problem. Too many bubble guys and players that wouldn’t wash cars on other NHL teams.

    • Eddie Shore

      Exactly right . Just out of curiosity sakes , what do you feel about what a Malkin might cost to pry from Pens ? Secondly , would our first rounder this next season be to much to try and obtain Gudbranson in a deal ? In a nutshell , stay away from bubble and slow older veterans( temporary stop gap) with little to offer down the road .

      • Aendayana

        It is unlikely the Pens will trade Malkin in the foreseable future. You’d be better off waiting for Jordan Staal to get better. Or maybe Patrick Sharp. Thos two centres would be like gold our team. As for Gudbranson for a first, it’d be a steal for us. That young man will be good enough to win the Norris one day. I think you’d need to offer more. Maybe even a Penner.

  • baai

    I think there would be more up arrows than not with one of these guys around the younglings. Impact on the actual game would be minimal though. Think of others who didn’t really do much: Adam Oates…Glen Anderson (redux)…Kent Nilson…Maybe a Mike Peca. Now if Smitty was available, you make the deal.

    • ubermiguel

      I always like Oates in an Oilers uniform, for two reasons.

      (1) His faceoff percentage that year: 57.2% That’s exactly the sort of centre we need right now.

      (2) Horcoff seemed to learn how to win faceoffs that year. In 02-03 he was 42.9%. In 03-04 he was 50.6%.

    • Aendayana

      @ godot10>>>Manny Malhotra went late in the off season to Van as a very serviceable cheaper than most [2point5]30 year old…Sharp & Staal are 4 mil each…Manny’s a mid-career grinding penalty killing 3rd line centre…
      just what we needed

      shoulda coulda woulda i guess

    • Thanks for the link.

      @ J.Willis

      I couldn’t have said it better myself, in fact I did say it last night.

      None the less, despite Robin Brownlee pooping on the idea. Nolan doesn’t need to lead but be an example in his play. The team is better served with a hard working examples like Nolan or Scott Walker, guys who give no quarter and show up every night. I use those names as they are currently available.

      • Eddie Shore

        Read what I said again.

        A veteran with leadership qualities (the ability to win face-offs wouldn’t hurt, either) could do this line-up some good.

        Picking the wrong guy, no matter how many games he’s played, might put this team right back where it was before Moreau and the others were shown the door.

        • I can appreciate that take.

          But, back to Nolan, a guy who wouldn’t stick around the locker room in SJ, from what I have been able to put together the Oilers have been an unusually close locker room unlike most cities where guys do go their separate ways. The description of Nolan then sounds like Ales Hemsky. Can Hemsky do a turn around? And if so, can Nolan not do so as well? If not what does that say for Hemsky?

          I do admit to using a name from a list of available players. Sure, Jarret Stoll would be more ideal. I mean you could list a bunch of names, maybe the goal this year should be to add those type of players. The Oilers need leaders and players who play hard every night.

  • Eddie Shore

    Yzerman, Larionov, Lidstrom and Chelios are on a completely different level than Nolan and Guerin. Comparing 4 Hall of Famers versus a couple of washed up players that have had successful careers? No thanks.

  • If we’re broadbrushing and equating experience to leadership, why let Moreau and Staios go in the first place?

    Nolan? He couldn’t get out of the dressing room fast enough afer practice when he was captain of the Sharks. First guy on the way to the parking lot every day. Maybe he was fast-and-dirty with his “leadership,” but he didn’t spend a lot of time hanging around when Marleau, Friesen, Stuart and the like were cutting their teeth.

    Guerin? He’s made it clear, as has been pointed out, he isn’t into baby-sitting at this point in his career unless the kids are Cup contenders. I always enjoyed Bill and he took the best potshots (ones that stuck right in your heart because there was always a kernel of truth to them) at reporters I’ve ever heard. Bill was fun. Lots of fun. So much so, that if Renney has any kind of curfew in place to help guide his young troops when the team is on the road, well, let’s just say that might by a problem.

    • Aendayana

      Thank you for putting water on these fires Robin. While we may be nostalgic at times with very good players like Guerin & Nolan, we do need to remember the negatives these players brought as well. Guerin was lazy at times, and just because they are veteran’s it does not mean they would be providing much leadership.

  • Hemmertime

    The oilers are showing signs of excellent hockey,and signs of brutal penaltys,passing and defensive ability,but this is part of a rebuid and we need to be patient.After three games there has been chances,upbeet tempo and then all the way to the other end of the scale,but the bad parts are ok because its learning,and this is not as good as it gets.mark my words,the leafs who are 4-0 will miss the playoffs,becouse they are in their stide,but as other teams hit theirs they will fall off,the oilers need to hope for 500 hockey for 10 games while they gel,find their game and then it will be off to the races and a 5th or 6th conference finish

  • Death Metal Nightmare

    a) please dont compare the Oilers of the late 70s and 80s to a rebuild now. youre talking about players who were helping create a paradigm shift in professional hockey history. this group has NO chance of creating something like that.

    b) i agree with the main idea of the post. i also agree (even though i posted otherwise over the past couple days) that you dont necessarily need vet leadership……….. if… (uh oh)… the players you have are truly established players that can be trusted and consistent. do the Oilers have that? hell no. Horcoff can be trusted. can he be consistent? nope. we know Penner and Hemsky’s bizarro attitude shifts and inability to want to metaphorically play “smash mouth hockey” to win. like i said before, theyre nice “role players” for a top 6 and barely want to lead teams. what else do you have? i dont even want to discuss any of the D.

    c) agree with Brownlee’s points too, and that comes to the fact that there just arent many guys the Oilers could even get to fill this position of someone: like a 35 year old Gary Roberts or a… who knows (Ryan Smyth wink wink. dont want to get into it).

    it might all work out fine but there are certain times when it seems like EVERYONE is a kid on this team. and they execute games like kids. even the vets. how many “grown ass men” are on this team? Strudwick? great, but hes not around much on the ice and shouldnt be. Horcoff? eh, iffy. Whitney? it could be there, but…. Souray was. the rest just seem like goofy kids. or soft/disinterested at playing hockey – welp, like men for lack of a more accurate term. strong, hard nosed, blood and guts hockey. is this the sort of “meh” matrix to bring three rookies up in? were going to find out, but if this turns out like the Blue Jackets over the next 5 years… yikes.

    • Eddie Shore

      You know that it is possible to win hockey games without playing “smash mouth hockey” right? This team has more natural skill than it has in quite some time so I’m not sure expecting them to play that style of hockey is very accurate.

  • bcarter4

    I was hoping the Oilers would sign Jagr to a) throw the fans a bone b) let him mentor some of the younger skilled players and c) keep me up at nights thinking about him in an Oilers jersey.