LOST IN THE TRANSITION: STRUDWICK AND VANDERMEER

DETROIT - NOVEMBER 11: Jason Strudwick  of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Detroit Red Wings during their NHL game at Joe Louis Arena on November 11, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

Transitional players are supposed to provide young, rebuilding teams like the Edmonton Oilers with meaningful minutes on the ice and leadership in the dressing room. They’re supposed to be a bridge to the future. Right now, that bridge is burning.

With everything that’s wrong with the Oilers, even in the context of rebuilding, there’s plenty of blame to go around after that horrid road trip. There’s been indifferent play by Dustin Penner, a brutal start by Tom Gilbert, a penalty kill stinking like rank cheese, underachieving veterans and trying to get by with five NHL defencemen instead of six.

While all the above plays into what we’ve got here, what stands out for me is the last part, and how it overlaps with the need for transitional players — veterans who can help the kids develop and pitch in by playing decent minutes as needed.

Part player, part teacher, transitional players are important components to developing teams like the Oilers, even though they’ll be long gone by the time the team is any good.

On this edition of the Oilers, those transitional players are defencemen Jason Strudwick and Jim Vandermeer, and I’m not the least bit convinced GM Steve Tambellini has the right guys for the job.

It’s the player part that concerns me most.

SHOWING THE WAY

I’m not going to slag the leadership abilities or the character of Strudwick because he’s a well-liked and respected teammate in the dressing room. He’s not an entitled veteran who is chintzy with his time or his willingness to pass along what he knows to the kids.

And I’m not going to do that with Vandermeer, either, because I don’t know him well enough. I don’t know how well or poorly he interacts with the kids in the room. It cannot be as badly as some of the veterans who are no longer here. He gets that benefit of that doubt.

My question is whether either one of them can play enough minutes at a high enough level to be effective as examples and teachers while they’re doling out wisdom to impressionable youngsters like Taylor Hall, Theo Peckham and Jordan Eberle.

If Strudwick and Vandermeer are capable of it, we haven’t seen it yet this season, and that’s particularly jarring on a defence with so many holes in it already. Can coach Tom Renney have Strudwick and Vandermeer in his line-up on any given night with a defence that includes Ryan Whitney, Gilbert, Ladislav Smid, Kurtis Foster and Peckham?

Were these the best players Tambellini could have enlisted for the job this summer, especially given how the personnel was shaping up on the blueline? Uh, no. One or the other in the seven-hole, at best. But both? What was he thinking?

NOT GOOD ENOUGH

Strudwick, 35, went minus-5 in Sunday’s 8-2 loss to the New York Rangers. He hasn’t recorded a point and is minus-9 in the 11 games he’s played. He’s averaging 16:54 ice time per game. Vandermeer, 30, has two assists and is minus-1 in 11 games. He’s averaging 15:33.

While they can impart all the wisdom they want to in the dressing room, something is bound to get lost in the translation, and the transition, if the guys showing the kids the ropes can’t play. That’s particularly true with a blueline that’s as overmatched as this one is.

I wasn’t sold on re-signing Strudwick, even though he came cheap at $725,000. If Strudwick doesn’t have to play more than 40-50 games and is spotted in, there’s value in his experience. I didn’t see how that was going to happen, especially after Sheldon Souray was loaned to Hershey of the AHL.

I thought Vandermeer would be a decent pick-up from Phoenix because he’s a tough, honest player, even if $2.3 million is a bit, make that a lot, pricey for what he brings. I haven’t seen that toughness.

WHAT’S NEXT?

If Strudwick and Vandermeer have lost a step they couldn’t afford to lose in the first place (they have), it’s only being amplified by the line-up Renney has at his disposal now. Both, particularly Strudwick, are in over their heads at this point in their careers.

I was all for running Souray off and I’m sticking with that because I’d rather have the kids around a guy like Strudwick who can’t play every night than a guy like Souray who can.

What Tambellini had to do if he was going to stick to his guns on Souray, however, was make damn sure Renney wasn’t this short on the back end. He had to make sure he wasn’t this exposed. He didn’t.

Putting in a call to the AHL for Shawn Belle or Richard Petiot (he’s injured) now isn’t going to undo that oversight, but it’s a start in bolstering a position that clearly isn’t good or deep enough. If Strudwick and Vandermeer play more than 50 games each this season, the Oilers will lose 50 games.

That’s a tough transition.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Big Perm

    Yea, I guess they have to try something if they care about winning another hockey game this season.

    But do they actually want that? Management really seems to think they are putting a great plan together with all this losing.

  • Big Perm

    Any kind of positive change for this club will be the result of forcing some players down the depth chart, not shuffling around the spare parts.

    If the guys in charge want to see the Oilers stop getting embarrassed every second night, they need to bring in a player or two that can play decent amounts of NHL minutes without getting clobbered.

  • Putting in a call to the AHL for Shawn Belle or Richard Petiot (he’s injured) now isn’t going to undo that oversight, but it’s a start in bolstering a position that clearly isn’t good or deep enough

    There is a good possibility that Petiot and Belle will be worse then Vandermeer and Strudwick.

    The latter are “has beens” but the other two are “never was”.

    Remember in the offseason when we dumped Pisani and Moreau, and O’Sullivan for rookies saying it couldn’t be worse? Well so far I think its been as bad if not worse.

    • Cowbell_Feva

      The AHL defensemen would be hard pressed to be as bad as the vets you mentioned. Their skating is better, which would be a welcome addition. They would no doubt be in over their heads given the state of the organization, but that is my point. If the Oilers are rebuilding, why not give as many young guys as much ice/experience as you can, rather than watch grizzled vets painfully do what they have been doing??

      To Hemmertime, my obvious choice for getting removed from the PP would be Horcoff. He gets way too much credit (in my opinion) for being a “great two way player” but I don’t think anybody can argue that he isn’t offensively gifted. Omark has more offensive talent is his pinky finger than every Oiler other than Hemsky, which is exactly what they need on their lathargic PP. Keep Horcoff within his ability on the PK. Maybe with less icetime Horcoff would flourish, because last year he was out there way too much, and we know how his season went.

        • Cowbell_Feva

          Horcsky, you need to blink hard three times and understand a few things. Horcoff’s goals on the powerplay have been the result of 2 rookie wingers, and zero to do with any offensive talent on his behalf. One off his shin pad, another he kicked in (that should not have counted) and a backhander that he whiffed so hard on it fooled Backstrom due to the fact that he is used to NHL calibre shots. Thats fine and dandy, yes he statistically has ONE more powerplay goal than Penner and Foster. If I had a dollar for every open net that man has missed I would be rich.

          I think your problem is evident after reading the JW link above. Rather than getting caught up in the rediculous statistical wonderland out there, if you watched the game you would realized that he is offensively challenged. If you think Omark couldn’t fill his shoes on the PP then you really need to learn the game of hockey. If he got a regular shift and some PK time that would be more than he deserves IMO and it would keep his legs over 82 games. He was,is,and always will be a grinder with little offensive upside. A very average player with a not so average contract and for some reason, can do no wrong in the eyes of the Edmonton media.

  • Mitch

    I was not sold on resigning Strudwick, his skating ability leaves him as a huge detroment to the lineup. There was most probably many guys they could have signed to be transitional players, Arsene and Arron Johnson come to mind. The young guns are here to learn the game and provide as much offense as they can, which at the moment has hit a complete cement wall. The leadership of Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner and Whitney must come through, otherwise folks scores of 8-2 and 6-1 on the losing end will be the normal thing for some time to come. We need some leadership and a whole bunch of emotion that don’t come from a Sean Avery sucker punch, to start going in the right direction. This can come from any player on the roster, it’s about time for someone in that dressing room to display it on the ice.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    I couldn’t agree more with you Robin.

    If this is going to be a re-build (which it clearly is looking at their record) then I think the organization should go in head first. Why not bring in the Belle’s/Petiot’s/Petry’s rather than have the Strudwicks and Vandermeers?

    At the same token I would have Linus Omark playing a top 6 role, as well as PP time, and have Reddox on the 4th line and PK.

    Even further would be to have Dubnyk get more time over Khabby. I understand they have a lot financially tied into some of these guys, but it seems like the team is half way into the rebuild and half way hanging onto veterans who have seen better days.

    • Hemmertime

      Who are you taking time away from on the PP? Penner? I wish we’d try Hall on the point, but unless we play a fw on point top 6 PP for Omark very hard to do. Horc and Gags are the C’s. Hemsky, Penner, Eberle, Hall

  • Big Perm

    Vandermeer clearly has enough talent to be a sixth or seventh D-man, although it is clear he hasn’t been tough enough and it has been difficult playing with the partners he’s had to cope with thus far.

    Struddy’s ability to be a guy who the kids look up to is an asset on this young team. He would be a more effective influence on them than Souray.

    But then he is grossly overpaid. They need a new league minimum for this player. I was not impressed when Tambo signed him, especially thinking of the memories of him last season, staring at the puck carrier time and time again, as the closest man to him taps home the un-contested one-timer. He’s not even proficient at the “high off the glass play” – his go-to play in our end. Nevermind the constant state of “okay just make the easy play and DON’T SCREW IT UP.”
    Tough to make good plays when you aren’t trying to be a good player, you’re just trying to keep your overpaid job and not make mistakes.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Oilers could use a gang bang line. Strudwick, Stortini and Vandemeer would be a good start, just till things simmer down a little bit. It has always proven rather difficult for the opposition to find the net when they look straight ahead and see the rafters.

  • Good read Robin.

    Can we agree this won’t be a 2 or 3 year rebuild? The Oilers will probably be in the same spot next year even with another 1st/2nd overall pick.

    Wish the Oilers could buy Rob Blake out of retirement.