Oilers: UPDATE ON FREE AGENTS, SOURAY AND HALL

DENVER - NOVEMBER 08:  Zack Stortini #46 of the Edmonton Oilers is restrained by linesman Brad Lazarowich against the Colorado Avalanche during NHL action at the Pepsi Center on November 8, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 5-3.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Could the Oilers actually have an advantage attracting unrestricted/unsigned free agents?

It has been written, reported, said, typed, tweeted, facebooked, spammed, written on bathroom stalls, texted and blogged too many times to count: Edmonton is not a destination UFAs look at.

Despite having signed Sheldon Souray, Nikolai Khabibulin, Kurtis Foster and a few others, for years we have heard that no one wants to come to Edmonton. The lame reasons have ranged from it is too cold, or the media/fan spotlight is too bright, there isn’t enough night life or to their wife doesn’t like it, but the fact is; until the Oilers are a winner very few will sign here.

But could that change in the next ten days.

The Oilers could still use another veteran who kills penalties, or even a player with a decent offensive touch, and most importantly a solid leader. They might be able to get one for cheap before training camp opens.

There are still over 20 veteran free agents looking for work, and while two months ago most would have wanted a contender, many of them just want to play the game they love and earn a contract.

The Oilers are in a great situation right now. An unsigned veteran could come to camp on a tryout and earn his spot. There are very few teams that could offer a legitimate shot to make the team, like the 30th place Oilers can.

Why wouldn’t Steve Tambellini make a few calls and invite one or two guys to camp? What can it hurt?

If I’m a veteran who can kill penalties and is solid defensively, I”d look at the Oilers roster and have my agent call Tambellini today to see if I could come to camp. Most of these guys will be desperate to get another contract, and the Oilers could be the beneficiary.

Manny Malhotra signed for the league minimum in San Jose last year, re-focused his game and earned a three-year $7.5 million deal with Vancouver this summer. Blair Betts went to Philadelphia on a tryout contract last September, earned a one-year deal out of camp and then signed a two-year extension during the season.

Desperation can be a great motivator.

Would any of these guys entice Tambellini and company?

Darcy Tucker, Ruslan Fedotenko, Kyle Wellwood, Andreas Lilja, Owen Nolan, Slava Kozlov, Nigel Dawes, Scott Walker, Brendan Morrison, Marek Svatos, Mike Mottau, Paul Mara or Kim Johnsson.

***I didn’t include Bill Guerin because he is on record as saying he’ll go to a contender or retire, and I didn’t include former Oilers, Ryan Potulny, Patrick O’Sullivan, Miro Satan or Marc-Andre Bergeron, because none or them would be a fit. Maybe Potulny in the minors, but he’ll try a different team than Edmonton.***

Would any of them entice you?

Why not Stortini

I just mentioned the potential to bring in a veteran for a free look, and many others have been writing/blogging for weeks that the Oilers need another veteran defensive guy, but are we overlooking a guy the Oilers already have?

Why not give Zack Stortini a shot in that role?

It seems we all preach about patience and opportunity with young skilled guys, which is a much harder role to succeed in, while we rarely think about young checkers expanding their role.

Stortini has been on the ice since June working on his foot speed, acceleration and improving his overall skill set. He has spent hours working with Oilers skills and skating coach, Steve Serdachny, on his release point, his passing, angle of his stick in tight and some other skill sets.

Stortini made the NHL on grit, heart and determination more than skill, and his work ethic will always be his strongest asset, but will Tom Renney look at using him in more situations this year?

Stortini averaged 9:17 on the ice last year, almost exclusively five-on-five. Would it be a stretch to think he could play another minute or two a game?

Stortini is fearless. He’ll stick up for his teammates at any time, he’ll fight guys he has no business fighting and he is one of the few Oilers who can create havoc and chaos on the forecheck.

Stortini took 183 faceoffs last year, and was 3rd on the team with a 47.5 success rate. The year before he was 63.6%, granted it was only 11 faceoffs, but might Renney use him as the 6th penalty killer at times?

Penalty killing is about smarts, desire and in shot-blocking cases, fearlessness. You know that Stortini wouldn’t hesitate to block a shot with his mouth if necessary, and he thinks the game fairly well in his own zone.

The other thing to keep in mind is when Renney was behind the bench with the Rangers, at times he didn’t hesitate to use Colton Orr, Blair Betts and Ryan Hollweg up against Sidney Crosby’s line or other top lines. He didn’t use them exclusively, but he wasn’t afraid to throw them out there and watch them cycle the puck and keep Crosby 200 feet from a scoring chance.

He put a lot of faith in his checkers, so don’t be surprised if you see him use Stortini/Colin Fraser/Ryan Jones in the same situation in Edmonton.

I’m not suggesting that Stortini becomes a full-time 3rd liner, but he’ll turn 25 next week and I’ve seen a slow-but-steady improvement in most aspects of his game the past three seasons. We have focused so much on how and where the new offensive kids would fit that we might have overlooked how Stortini could be ready to expand his role.

Renney has given his checkers/agitators/enforcers a chance to contribute in the past, so I’m kind of expecting to see Stortini be given the same opportunity.

Given the amount of work Stortini has done this offseason, and every other summer, to try and improve the skill aspects of his game, I’d like to see if he is ready to play in different situations when given the chance.

A must-see

I’m no movie critic or an expert on autism and up until yesterday I’d never heard of Temple Grandin, but it is a rare to watch a movie that actually changes society. Temple Grandin is a truly inspiring story, and if you know anyone with a disability you might need a Kleenex or two. Claire Danes was outstanding as Grandin, and if you need a positive jolt in your life, take two hours and watch it.

UPDATE…

I spoke with Tambellini at the Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi jersey unveiling and he said he has had some interest from free agents about a possible training camp invite, but right now he thinks his roster is pretty full. He doesn’t want to take away opportunities from the young guys up front, and he’d like to see his bottom six or three forwards progress.

As for Sheldon Souray, Tambellini spoke with his agent again this week and they are still trying to find another team for Souray.

"It is clear he wants to play elsewhere, and our goal right now is too find something (trade) before camp. The question was is he going to come to camp or not and we’ll deal with that in a week I guess"

If the Oilers can’t find a trading partner it will be interesting to see if Souray shows up. It would be a stupid decision for him not to show up from where I stand. Not getting ready for the season won’t increase interest from other teams, and since Souray wants to play elsewhere he needs to realize the only way that will happen is by showcasing himself in preseason games if he isn’t traded before then.

HALL KNOWS OILER HISTORY

Hall was asked what other numbers he had considered before Kevin Lowe convinced him to wear #4.

"I was thinking 19, maybe 44, but to be honest that number has kind of been jinxed in Edmonton and I wasn’t going to take that chance"

Hall is an avid hockey historian, and with that type of insight I suspect fans will love him more and more with every passing day.