Heart of the Order

This is Tim Raines. Powder blues, doubles to the gap, lightning on the base paths. First to third in a heartbeat, sb followed by runs scored all day long. Tim Raines was a glorious leadoff hitter, but the Expos placed him in the heart of the order. Didn’t matter. He killed that too.

The moment Raines arrived in MLB, it was obvious he was something special. It was the strike season of 1981, so Raines played in only 88 games. Hit .304, stole 71 bases, played in the All-Star game, got some MVP votes. Ridiculous player. A beauty. I miss him and those crazy uniforms every spring, this one just like every other one. If the Edmonton Oilers leave our town, I don’t think my heart will be going with them. You can only spend so much of your life looking back and I’ve had my fill. My Dad played solitaire later in life, maybe that’s the ticket.

For Oiler fans it’s time to do what we always do in mid-March: think about next season. Here in the second division it’s never too early to discuss next year’s lineup and I’m wondering about 2011-12. Some of these men will be together again in the fall, but I think this team is going to be bigger, stronger and meaner in the heart of the order. There are some decisions to be made and here’s an early guess on the important items:

  1. Top 6 forwards/top two skill lines: I believe the Oilers should sign Ales Hemsky to a long term deal but there’s plenty of risk with the move. A bad long term deal for 83 may mean being forced to decide between those gifted kids up front in a couple of seasons. However, the team is so low on actual NHL players Hemsky must be signed. Shawn Horcoff will return in his role as top 6 center, and of course the trio of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Pääjärvi will return for next season (with at least two of them in a feature role). That leaves one spot open, and if the team keeps Ales Hemsky then Sam Gagner is a player who might be moved over the summer. Both are going to be coming off significant injuries, so if the Oilers are unable to move them then the kid Pääjärvi probably plays on the third line. I don’t know what it would cost to acquire Martin Hanzal from PHX but he might be a nice fit for the group. I also wonder about flipping Hall to center and Gagner to the wing but that’s a flier. I think it’s a way better idea than the time Jim Fanning wanted to try Raines at second base (Raines’ agent got wind of it, called his client and told him to refuse to play the position under any circumstances. It was a terrible idea).
  2. Top 4 D/PP/PK: This season, the Oilers top 4 defensemen by ice time/game at even strength (Whitney, Gilbert, Smid and Peckham) are also the top 4 penalty killers (a callup–Jeff Petry–has emerged already as a top 4D at even strength). They are also the top 4D in terms of qual comp (source: behind the net) and I suspect along with Petry will form the heart of the 11-12 defense. Some time in the next 12 months the Oilers may decide to deal Gilbert–he’s next up for two reasons: salary and Petry’s skill set is similar–then it might be an idea to add someone like Greg Zanon who can help out on the PK and improve the overall defense. The bleeding is pretty bad when you don’t have enough people who know how to play defense and the Oilers have been outshot, outchanced, outworked and outdone since 2006 summer.
  3. Goaltending: I believe Devan Dubnyk has earned the opportunity to start 40-45 games next season, and I also believe Nikolai Khabibulin is in the "it’s over but the cheques keep coming" phase of his career. It would be nice if Steve Tambellini signed some competition for both of them–one of those Euro SEL or SML veterans might be an idea–but failing that the organization should make every effort to sign two quality goaltenders for Oklahoma City. Relying on Khabibulin is folly. Perhaps they can acquire one of the three Capitals goalers.

New candidates for the heart of the order: a big forward (likely a center) with some grit for the top 6; a shut down defender to give the organization added depth for the first time since 2006 spring and at least one contender for starting goalie.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Adam Larsson, is it possible he stays in the SEL for another season?

    Starting to look as though RNH has given himself a little elbow room at the top.

    Have to think Hemskys only option now is to stay right here, anything more than two yrs could be hazardous.

  • Steve Smith

    Is there any reason at all to believe that Steve Tambellini will acquire NHL players this off-season? That’s not me being cynical; that’s me looking at the evidence of management’s “strategy” and concluding that literally every arrow is pointing in the direction that our roster next opening day will be different from our roster last night only by virtue of new rookies, departed UFAs, and guys returned from injuries.

    Our opening night roster next year will include at least eleven forwards, five defensemen, and two goalies who are Oilers property as of right now, and any new blood not from the draft will be secondary (witness Fraser and Foster last off-season). The cavalry’s not coming – book it.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      This is true if Tambellini does nothing. He’ll be trying like hell to move some of the committed bodies out before the entry draft.

      With Gagner,Smid,Peckham and Omark available as far as i’m concerned, Put a player or two along with the Kings first rounder and Tambellini may get a nibble or two.

  • The Goat - Team FIST

    Signing Hemsky to a long term deal would rank right up there with the Horcoff and Khabibulin contracts as firing offenses.

    He’s played 69 games over the last two seasons and the propensity for injury will likely increase as he gets older.

    Eberle is on board to take that #1W spot and I can’t see Ales (I want to be the go to guy) being happy playing second fiddle.

    It’s unfortunate he couldn’t be moved at the deadline since his value will only decrease from now until next year.

    It’s time to move on.

  • DonovanMD

    @ Steve Smith

    Unfortunately I tend to agree with this, not seeing many signs that management will make much attempt to improve the club next year. Maybe some cursory move which wont work, and when they’re on pace for 29th or 30th in December next year they’ll say “see, all part of the 6 year rebuild. Another top 3 pick, huzzah!”

    I want to see an effort to just not last place suck next year.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Eberle, Hall, Paajarvi, Hemsky, Gagner can all top six it next year. Gagner does raise questions but he does put up points and battle level is improving. He looked like the cherry picking Lupal for a long time, but has been better. Give him another year as the second line center before we give up on him.

    We need a center in the top six that is better than Horcoff. He is way over his head already in top six and that is only going to get worse. He is obviously not going anywhere with his terrible contract. However, what a great third line center to mentor some kids and pitch in a few points between his injuries.

    I know we need a first line center, but who doesn’t. Add the fact that Mr. Dithers wouldn’t know a good deal if it fell right on his lap we probably need to sign a center that is better than Horcoff and Gagner. At least we could improve the position of the guy that plays center on our first line until we grow one of our kids to take the reigns.

    Sign Glencross (yes overpay a bit), Jones, (pay him his due) and that leaves Cogs, Omark, Fraser, Jacque,SMac, Reddox, Hartikainen and some farm hand a real fight to hold their positions and stay here by crashing and banging.

    Give the defence another year to gel and develop. We do need one more NHL calibre Dman in the mix by trade or free agent. Gilbert will get better if he isn’t always thrown in the deep end. Get some support and he will play better under if he isn’t under the pressure of too many minutes, and tough ones at that.

    So Mr. Dithers, Mr. Standpat, Mr Pocketpooler, go get us a center that is better than Shawn Horcoff to play on our first line. Go get us another NHL roster DMan. Time to move a midget or two in a trade. Time to tap some of the Rexall Runt’s money and pay the free agent center for a few years.

    Playoff’s will be a stretch next year with this roster, but I can see real improvement if Mr. Dither’s ends the assessment and actually starts acting like a real NHL GM. That might be the real problem. If we end up 30th next year, maybe Mr. Dither’s will get moved up to Vice President of hockey operations and we could get the first line GM we lack

  • Lowetide

    The Oilers value their season ticket base and if those fans give them a free pass then I would agree with Steve’s point.

    But I don’t think that’s the case. Watching ELPH is becoming a bit tiresome and those fans carry the freight.

    We’ll see, but my suspicion is that the Oilers will at the very least add a physical player in their top 6, a veteran defender and a strong option for Khabibulin’s next crisis.

    • book¡e

      I think the Oilers are aware of both the teams desire to start building something and the players desire. They are going to have 3 picks in the top 32 or so teams, I think they are getting to the point where they have youth covered.

      A lot of the focus this year was about flushing the stench out of the dressing room. A lot of people, including Reddox the other day have said that this team is very different this year. Reddox said something about feeling welcome in the dressing room and how much of a change that was. Well, if call ups from the AHL didn’t feel welcome in the room last year – it was pretty bad.

      I think emotions got the best of a lot of people when Penner went.

    • K-UGER Industrial Smoothing

      The Oilers have already added Vandermeer and Gerber to take 2 of those 3 spots.

      A physical player in the top 6?

      Where would he play and who would he bump out of the top 6?

      None of those things will come to pass.


    • Crash

      I hope you’re right about signing Hemsky and right about the Oilers adding a physical player..but it doesn’t have to be in the top six. I hope they are also able to convince one good blueliner to sign on but that could be tough.

      I think Dubnyk is the clear number one and will be at least a 50 game tender next year.

      And the day the Oilers finally stop using Horcoff in the top six will be the day they start to turn this ship around. I like Horcoff’s work ethic, I like his class, I like his leadership and I like that he likes it here but it’s time to slide him down to 3C, permanently.

      I’m not as passionate about who to pick this year as I was last but I hope the Oilers avoid the 2 Swedes and go with one of Hopkins or Couturier.

      Lastly I’m not as sold on the notion that so many are that if Stu says draft a player then it’s the right choice. I think it goes much deeper than Stu….it seems to me that he has a good scouting crew working for him, smart and persuasive….I’m not sold on Stu as much as I am his crew. Stu almost blew it last summer. His crew saved the day.

      • ubermiguel

        Good leaders surround themselves with good people and listen to them. “In Stu’s leadership of the amateur scouting team we trust” just doesn’t roll if the tounge.

  • I think Dubnyk has earned the right to play 50 games, or maybe Khabibulin has only earned the right to play 30. I’m not sure yet.

    As far as the top 6, if the Oilers draft Larsson or Landeskog they better not move Gagner. There isnt another C coming down the pipe with Pedigree, not to mention Horcoff is already a stretch at the 2 C and he wont be getting better any time.

    The Future of the Oilers at C is bleak, much worse than the future on the blue line. But if the magnificent bastard says AL is the guy then that’s the way to go.

  • The Farmer

    I would love to see Brayden Holtby (sp) here, mostly for selfish reasons, ( I live close to Lloydminster) he’s a local kid and he’s been playing lights out.
    What would be the concerns with going with gerber again in the AHL and for security, is there going to be concerns with his health now?

  • jonrmcleod

    Saw Olivier Roy and Jeremie Blain play tonight in Halifax. Was impressed by Blain. Seems like a fairly smart player. Titans won 4-1. Roy had deflected slapshot hit him in the mask. But he stayed in the game. (The mask didn’t.)

  • @ Crash, I usually agree with your comments, this time is no exception.
    I personally just don’t think that Landeskogliano is as good a player as some make him out to be. I’m no scout, but I don’t think his numbers are quite in the ballpark of the others. You don’t use your #1 overall pick to draft a tough second line player.
    We need an elite player, and I think the Nuge or Couturier fit that bill.
    Ferraro stopped just short of calling the Nuge a generational player today.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      I’ve been going to as many Rebs games as possible the last 6-8 weeks, RNH is looking more and more like Pat Kane every time.

      He’s turned me into a beliver, I think he’s a 70 – 90 player in his prime and would be finatastic setting Hall/Eberle up.

  • Crash

    I think the Oilers are going to pick Larsson. I think they want a franchise d-man and they are thinking long-term.

    Tim Raines, I still remember Blue Monday like it was yesterday.

  • VATech

    Why dont the Oilers trade Hemsky and LAs 1st rounder to land another top five pick?
    After that trade Gagner, a second Rounder and Next years first round pick to get another top three pick..with that the Oilers would select:

    RW: Gabriel Landeskog

    C: S.Coutourier/Nuge/or Strome

    D: D.Hamilton, Larsson, or Musil

    Gone are a few picks, Hemsky and Gagner..but in is a future NHL Star Two Way Player, Solid top six Centerman(could be generational or just short of), and a top pairing Defenceman..Let the Dynasty begin..in a few years that is..

  • The only team in the top 10 that I see moving out of the top ten is Columbus. They need to win. The fan base is eroding. Year after year there is promise there but they have yet to deliver. Howson nows he can’t afford to wait like Edmonton. He’ll move his pick faster than a fat man at an all you can eat shrimp buffet. Watched Hopkins play last night. Croopus he would look goog in an Oiler uniform right between Hall and Eberle. Do they feed the kid in Reed Deer. I got a dog(Great Dane) that weights more than that kid. What is he 160? If the Oilers draft him they’ll to hire 3 more people. A Chef, a dietician and a personal trainer. Get some meat on that boys bones. Sick skills. Speed and he has the kind of hockey sense that we haven’t seen since that Gretzky kid played here. He see’s the ice so well. I can see why the Sakic and Brad Richards comparisons are out there.

    • I dunno, I was at that game last night too and I wasnt THAT impressed. (Mind you this was the first time id seen him so I’m not going to hold my one night viewing as all that meaningful)

      He didnt go into any hard areas. It didnt seem like he was making anything happen on his own. The one play when he was breaking into the zone but his linemates where in the midst of just getting onto the ice for a change and instead of taking it in and waiting for the troops to arrive he just bails and sat back. In the offensive zone his gift is just putting himself into position away from the puck (obviously why his PP numbers are so awesome).

      As the game went on he got chippy as hell, and to me it wasnt really that redeeming. I dont mind some grit but this seemed to be a “my teammates will back me up so a slash to the back of the legs or a crosscheck the minute you turn around after a faceoff is fine”

      Again, I havent seen enough of him, and i am totally open to seeing more. The kid WILL be good. I’m just not sure the oil want him. I will also say I havent seen some of the other centers in the draft to be able to rank them so …. blah.


    My first ever post. All I gotta say is that I bought that exact Tim Raines jersey on the exact day you posted this article. If that’s not a sign I don’t know what is. Cuuup… nnnnext… Yyyyyyyyear????… ????

  • Hemmertime

    If no one offers Gerber a contract I’d offer him another as backup in OKC (he will probably win starting down there anyway). Is Olivier Roy old enough for OKC? Gerber helping Roy along down there would be nice.

  • Hemmertime

    Kids and Picks. The Oilers cannot and will not improve their team significantly through Free Agency. This is a losing franchise in a non desirable city. How many more Free Agents have to say No to the 30th place team before we realize that.

    Lowetide is just spreading wishful thinking hoping we somehow find a top 6 forward with size and a quality defenseman. What we got last year (Fraser and Foster) is all would should expect this year.

    Thinking we can improve the team via trade is also false. The only assets worth anything our the kids and draft picks and it would be foolish to reverse course and trade them away.

    Next year will be similar to this year. Out of the playoffs but the kids and promise of a brighter future will keep us entertained.