Watching the 2011 playoffs got me thinking about how much has to change with the Oilers before they will be in the wonderfully-intense post-season action. Coming off consecutive 30th place finishes it is obvious they have some work to do, but the fashion in how Steve Tambellini tries to build this team will be most intriguing to me.
It is obvious the Oilers are going to try to build the majority of their foundation through the draft, but no team can win solely through the draft. Tambellini will need to make some astute trades, smart signings, a possible surprise waiver wire pick up and, most importantly, he’ll need some luck.
Every team needs a few stars to be successful in the playoffs and the Oilers are hoping Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi become those guys. There is no guarantee they will, but after one NHL season it looks like they all have the potential to be difference makers down the road.
Shawn Horcoff always gives you his best effort, and can be counted on to compete come playoff time. Ales Hemsky, if he is here when they get to the playoffs, is also a guy who isn’t afraid of the tough areas.
The big void that I see within the team are 3rd and 4th line guys who will be able to contribute. Every year the teams that make it to the final four, and ultimately win the Cup have a 3rd line guy who really elevates his point production in the playoffs.
This year guys like Joel Ward, Steve Downie, Sean Bergenheim, Teddy Purcell and Brad Marchand have emerged as playoff surprises. Ward and Bergenheim lead the playoffs with seven goals after scoring only ten and 14 respectively in 80 regular season games. Fernando Pisani did it for the Oilers in 2006, Maxime Talbot was huge for the Penguins in 2009 and every year it seems some 3rd line guy comes out of nowhere to produce big points.
Most of these guys are grinders, guys who have to battle hard every night in the regular season just to stay in the lineup, and outside of the surprise offensive production, their games don’t really change much come playoff time. They just seem more prepared for the constant battles in the playoffs because they’ve had to play that way most of their careers.
Who do the Oilers have that fits that description?
Currently I see Ryan Jones and possibly a guy like Teemu Hartikainen. Jones’ game isn’t flashy, and he certainly won’t win points for pretty goals, but his game doesn’t vary much from shift-to-shift. He goes up and down his wing, crashes the net and scores most of his goals from three feet out or less.
Jones could be an UFA come July 1st, but when you look at the crop of free agents it makes no sense for the Oilers not to lock him up before then. Jones made $975,000 last season, and even after his surprising 18-goal season, I don’t see why he and the Oilers won’t agree on a two or three year deal worth between $1.3-$1.5 million/season.
UFA CROP IN JONES’ PRICE RANGE
The list of guys who the Oilers could sign instead of Jones isn’t that long. There are some guys who’d cost more, but if you are looking in the $1.4 million range Jones might be the best bargain they can find.
NAME LAST CONTRACT
Scottie Upshall $2.25 million
Brooks Laich $2.067 million
Chad Larose $1.7 million
Chris Higgins $1.6 million
Joel Ward $1.5 million
Tomas Kopecky $1.2 million
Curtis Glencross $1.2 million
Vern Fiddler $1.1 million
Max Talbot $1.05 million
Raffi Torres $1 million
Ben Eager $965, 000
Brian Sutherby $812,000
Body Gordon $800,000
Ville Leino $800,000
Eric Belanger $750,000
Sean Bergenheim $700,000
Tanner Glass $625,000
Talbot, Glencross, Laich and Leino will definitely garner some attention, if they aren’t re-signed prior to July 1st, but do any of those other names jump out at you as guaranteed upgrades over Jones?
Even though we only saw him for a short stint, Hartikainen opened a lot of eyes and I spoke to two different AHL coaches this past week and both told me they think he is a bull and is a sure bet to be a consistent NHL 3rd liner, with the potential to chip in offensively.
The Oilers need another guy similar to a Jones or Hartikainen, but they are hard to find, so Tambellini either has to make a smart, subtle trade to acquire one or they have to draft one. They might have one in either Tyler Pitlick or Curtis Hamilton, but I’d like to see them acquire one with some NHL experience, because those two are likely a few years away from playing in Edmonton.
- If Patrice Bergeron is out for more than the first two games, the Bruins will be in tough against the Lightning. Bergeron has been great, and if he is out then the Nathan Horton line will have to carry more of the load. Horton’s line was dominant against Philly, and it will be interesting to see if Eric Brewer and Matthias Ohlund can control that line starting Saturday.
- Besides Sidney Crosby, I don’t think anyone is better than Pavel Datsyuk. He has unbelievable skill in the offensive zone, but his dogged determination on the puck in the other zones separates him from all the rest. If he cheated defensively now and then I bet he’d score 110 points every year.
- Do you remember when Philadelphia offered Ryan Kesler $1.9 million on a one-year deal in September of 2006. Many around the league thought the Flyers were just being dickish, but it sure looks like they knew something about Kesler that the rest of the league hadn’t seen until last year. Even if you hate the Canucks or Kesler, you have to admit he is a hell of a player. I don’t think it is a coincidence that once he stopped be so prickly towards the media off the ice, and so mouthy on the ice that his play improved. It wastes a lot of mental energy sparing with the media, especially in Vancouver where many, but not all, of them truly love the Canucks.
- The first round of this year’s playoffs was the best two-week stretch of hockey I’ve seen in years, and I’m including the Olympics. We had nine straight days of overtime games, four games sevens and I can’t recall an entire country, excluding BC, cheering so hard for one team to lose. It was awesome.
- Jeromy Roenick went a bit far with the word "gutless" when describing Patrick Marleau’s play so far in the playoffs, but had he just used lazy or "void of caring" I doubt anyone would have complained. It is Roenick’s job to speak his mind. The next day Jeff Marek tweeted that Roenick stood them up for a radio interview. I thought that was just as classless to be honest. I’ve had many guests either flat out forget about an appearance or blow it off because of a meeting and I didn’t complain on twitter about it. Turns out Roenick was having a surprise lunch with his wife and kids and ended up doing the show the next day. Analysts are paid to rip or applaud a player’s performance, radio hosts shouldn’t moan publicly when a guy doesn’t come on their show.
- A huge thank you to all the listeners who donated during the TEAM 1260 radiothon from the Stollery last Thursday. It is an emotional day, and I’m sure it is hard for you to listen to some of the stories, but you helped raise almost $450,000 in one day. Thanks for your kind hearts and big wallets.