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.

  • The sky is falling. Not. Would we all like to see Strudwick and Vandermeer gone or shipped to the minors. Yeah, probably. But at this point in the season it isn’t going to happen. Numbers of contracts, player availability and managments priorities are not going to make this happen. The team defense has been awful. All 23 players are responsible for the situation we are in. I don’t blame anyone in particular. We are what we are. And for me that translates into another top 2 pick in next years draft.

    • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

      Way too simplistic.

      I’m not sure anybody is saying the sky is falling. It’s not about laying blame. It’s about identifying weaknesses and addressing them within the context of a rebuild.

      This team is going to lose and its going to lose a lot. That’s OK because that’s what happens along the way. It’s part of the process. So is putting personnel together that allow the young players to learn something other than losing while they’re taking their lumps. This team can finish 30th again and it can be a positive step, if it’s done the right way. What we’re seeing now is not that.

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    Good article, Robin. Good points.

    In my mind, I’m “OK” with either Strudwick or Vandermeer, but not both. These Oilers can afford one high-in-character, low-in-ability player.

    Otherwise, yeah, why not call up Belle and/or Petiot at this point? Or even Plante? Might as well see what they’ve got down on the farm and now’s as good of a time as any for an SOS.

  • I think coming to Edmonton Vandermeer expected to be bought out and retire. He knows he’s basically done but he decided (on Edmonton’s urging) to try and see if he could go one more year.

    I also think he he is sitting for not bringing physical play. The funny thing is there is no lack of willingness, and I don’t think he knows why he hasn’t been more physical either.

  • DoubleJ

    With all these extensions that Philly is tying up their cap. I’d Say Hartnell is available also VanRiemsdyk. On D Walker and Carle would be available. All four would be great on this team.