Rumours & Speculation About Rough & Tumble Players

Way back in the summer of 2009, with the Oilers coming off a season that failed to live up to the expectations of the coach, the fans, and general manager Steve Tambellini, a need was identified. At the same press conference where Tambellini announced that the Oilers and Craig MacTavish had made a “mutual” decision to part ways, he made repeated statements about the team’s grit – how he wanted it to be better, how he wanted to see emotion, how he wanted the Oilers to be “hard to play against.”

It’s a quest that continues in the present. After the jump, we’ll look at three players – a rough and tumble NHL right wing and a nasty NHL depth player, as well as a WHL enforcer the Oilers might be looking at in this year’s draft.

Lowetide linked to a Michael Russo story in his “Rumours” article the other day, and one item in particular (beyond the Oilers’ stuff) jumped out at me: Russo’s claim that the Tampa Bay Lightning are shopping Ryan Malone.

Malone didn’t have a great playoffs, but he is a nasty, physical player who can score. Given his age he probably isn’t a good fit for the Oilers right now, but if the Oilers still want to focus on grit than this is the player-type they need to acquire: a guy who can actually play, rather than guys like Jean-Francois Jacques and Steve MacIntyre.

I haven’t seen anything solid linking the Oilers to Zenon Konopka, but his is a name that comes up often when the discussion turns to the Oilers fourth line. Not only is he tough, but he kills penalties and won 57.7% of his 1075 faceoffs last year.

Is he a good player at even-strength, though? I’ve seen it suggested that because his offensive numbers and some advanced statistics (Corsi, in particular) don’t look so good, he isn’t worth pursuing. I disagree – the reason Konopka’s possession numbers are so miserable is because he’s been used in a vicious role the last two seasons: defensive zone specialist. In 2009-10, he started 71.0% of his shifts in the defensive zone. Last season, that number was 69.8%. That’s a brutal, brutal role, and I think the 30-year old Konopka’s numbers shouldn’t be held against him as a result.

Finally, let’s finish with the junior player. Darren Kramer is an overage WHL enforcer who just finished his first season with Spokane. In 68 games he scored eight goals and 14 points while adding 306 PIM; in the playoffs his numbers improved, with five goals and eight points in 17 games. Originally from Peace River, Kramer played two seasons with the Grande Prairie Storm, where he hit triple digits in penalty minutes both times.

Kramer fits with the Oilers’ drafting pattern of the last few years, and nobody should be surprised if they select him – perhaps even relatively early in the draft.

  • Jodes

    What? You mean Steve Tambellini isn’t going after soft, small, borderline NHL, injury prone players? I’ll believe it when I see it!

    You have to admit his track record speaks for its self: Khabibulin,O’Sullivan, Foster, and don’t forget Fraser..

    • DonovanMD

      You have that right on the money there. ST talks grit but has yet to deliver.
      Time to put up or shut up or better yet move on. Katz had better have his lease shortened up a bit when it coms to ST and KL. This learning on the job has gone on too long. RNH won’t bring grit to this already soft and so called skilled line up- not to discount his high rank and quite honestly go number one. 106 Points and dynamic, what ever dynamic means. Lets hope it means more than Gagner’s 106 point draft year, a smurf we drafted that kicks out 45-55 points per year with zero grit. Alas, we have Hemsky, another softie, all be it not scared to go to the tough area but does’nt hit anything and prone to injury to boot. He does offer a point per game though. Come to think of it so do the Sudin sisters. To often we get caught up in the numbers and how many points a guy puts up while playing on the top six. In fact, it is those in the bottom six that really make a difference come play off time. Case in point 2011 Stanley cup champs. Hope ST was watching and should be quite fresh in his mind. Lets hope ST puts his money where his mouth is and adds some sand paper come draft, through trade or free agency.

  • @ Jodes:

    I’m not saying that.

    I’m saying that Malone is the kind of player that fits in with Tambellini’s stated strategy, that Konopka’s a guy worth pursuing, and that there’s a good chance Kramer gets drafted by the Oilers.

    Edit to add: But yeah, his track record doesn’t fit with his proclamations at that press conference.

    • Jodes

      @Jonathan:

      Actually I had my tongue planted firmly in my cheek when I responded, my apologies if the first part of the response made it seem that I was doubting your post. I wasn’t. I knew I should have inlcuded an LOL in there somewhere!

      @Ducey

      I hope those players he is coveting and signed will develop into legit NHLers, but for right now, his record isn’t the greatest.

      Don’t get me wrong, Hartikainen and Peckham are a good start, but we need more front..

  • I tried it at home

    I was thinking Id be the first to comment after actually reading the article, but Jodes has beat me to it, good on him. As to the article, I was sorry last year Zack Stortini didnt stick, I respected the guy being someone who was actually trying most nights, getting emotionally invested in the game. I also love Smac, but he takes up a roster spot that might be better served with someone who can keep up with the play. Thanks for reminding us about ST’s vow of team toughness, Id actually forgotten about it. Let’s hope he didnt.

  • Ducey

    You have to admit his track record speaks for its self: Khabibulin,O’Sullivan, Foster, and don’t forget Fraser..

    Last year they were said to have made UFA offers to Boogaard and Chris Neil. They went after Tuebert and are said to covet Seimens for his Dave Manson qualities.

    As well, almost everyone they drafted in 2010 was a bigger player.

    And they just signed two Finns noted for their grit.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I think we should give Colten Tuebert a shot at this, he’s a pretty good defenseman as well as a guy who appreciates a walk on the wild side. Love to have Malone but he’s another lefty and he’d probably never come here to begin with. NMC as well?

  • Bi-Curious Gord

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Ben Eager going to be a UFA? If so he’d be a great addition. He’s not afraid to drop mits, he can play and he’s willing to initiate fisticuffs – should someone decide to take liberties with the youngsters.

    Plus- Vancouver hates him so it would be nice seeing him play the Canucks 6 times. Hopefully he’ll rearrange Bieksa’s face again.

  • Bi-Curious Gord

    A 4th line consisting of

    Eager – Konopka – Jones

    Would be great. All have decent speed, are able to chip in a few goals and 2/3 are willing combatants.

  • Bi-Curious Gord

    If you want to lose some of Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, and Nugent-Hopkins to offer sheets in two years o three years, you trade for a $4.5 miillion dollar per season bottom six player like Ryan Malone with 4 years left on his contract.

    You can bury one mistake (i.e. Wade Redden) but when you have two guys to bury (Redden and Drury, you can’t because you can only go 10% over the cap during the summer time).

    Ryan Malone is a stupid idea.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Bizzar.

      I don’t know about you, but I don’t see many “bottom 6” guys putting up the numbers Malone does.

      Also, what on earth are people expecting the rookies to be making in a few years? 10 million each?

      Lets get this together people, were still 2-3 big contracts away from even having to worry about any type of cap issues.

    • AboveAverageSportsFan

      Ryan Malone is a horrible idea for a team looking to get better because he has 4 years left on his contract at $4.5 million per season.

      Value for money is always important.

      But then you were just generating mindless content rather than a meaningful proposal with this article to meet a production quota, and to generate traffic to the site.

      So even though Ryan Malone for the Oilers is a stupid idea, and you know it was a stupid idea, you wrote about it anyways.

      You’ve become a content whore. Aren’t you better than that, JW? One slowly loses their credibility when they slip into content whore mode.

  • AboveAverageSportsFan

    I don’t mean to be a downer, but the Oilers are going to be a lottery team again in 2011-2012. If I’m ST, I’m looking to keep the team young and relatively cheap this year, so getting a guy like Malone doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Keep the cap space for 2012-2013, and then he can take a run at a big name, and realistically a playoff spot.

    I don’t deny Malone would likely help this team improve in 2011-2012, but IMO, you sign some cheaper, character players this year and stay far far away from taking on any long term, aging players. We have two bad contracts in Khabibulin and Horcoff, and are on the verge of getting out from Souray’s AHL career. We don’t need to maintain a bad three contract quota.

      • AboveAverageSportsFan

        I can read, and agree with what Willis said in his article. I’m just elaborating on why I AGREE that he’s not a player I’d be interested in.. Next time I guess a comment of “I agree” would be better? Lol

  • BArmstrong

    @ godot10
    Really? JW’s a “content whore”? That’s what you’re going with?

    @ JW
    While not your best piece, I appreciate your articles (and Lowtides) for their rational, rather than emotional approach. As I Run Amok said – thanks for reminding us of ST’s stated commitment to team toughness.
    Like rheumatoid arthritis, I too think Eager is the right fit – he can be had for less than 800k I’m sure. He’s unpredictable and a bit crazy – a combination that keeps opponents honest.
    Thanks for the articles JW – and ignore the A$$holes.

  • @ godot10:

    I was trying to make three points:

    1. It is Malone-type players, not-Jacques type players, that add grit/toughness/pushback/etc. to teams. Contrary to popular belief, they do come available from time to time – it’s just a matter of finding opportunities. This isn’t one for the 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers, but it beats the hell out of spending $2.0 million on Chris Neil.

    2. Zenon Konopka is a good example of a fourth-liner who has been playing a tough role and might be a good fit for the Oilers. He takes a lot of own-zone draws, and that’s why his advanced stats have taken a pounding the last while.

    3. Rumour has it that the Oilers’ scouting staff has targetted Darren Kramer, and I figured it might be worth talking about what kind of player he is.

    If you figure those aren’t worthwhile points, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion.

    Edit to add: One further point. I’ve been writing about hockey pretty much every day for three years. If I’m a content whore, it isn’t a recent development.

  • DonovanMD

    I absolutely love Konopka, great 4th liner. I noticed him last year in my fantasy roto league, not many PIM faceoff combo players. Name another goon who can PK and win draws at an elite faceoff %. He may just be a 4th liner but he is an elite 4th liner and a player with a rare skill set.

  • DonovanMD

    I watched Kramer for two years in GP, good leader, gritty, tough, finishes checks, he would fit that role well! Once he went to Spokane, he was pretty much given a key to the city, fan favorite!

  • Clyde Frog

    Content whore or not aside, I liked the article.

    @JW Do you think the Oilers inability to ice a 3rd & 4th line with idenity stems from not being able to properly project their kids over the past 4-5 years? This lead to them using the 3rd and 4th line to slide in offensively minded kids and give them “test drives” when they couldn’t crack the top 6 legitimatly?

    I see it as:
    With the craptastic farm situation, they rushed a lot of talent into the NHL without a good grasp on the expected production for their more offensive kids.

    This lead to us having a lot of people with offensive talents roaming around the 3rd and 4th lines, but unable to contribute across the rest of the game. It also meant people who could fit those roles properly were passed over, to provide growth opportunities for the “kids”.

    I don’t mind starting someone with sheltered minutes on the 4th line, but peppering multiple kids into the 3rd and 4th is not sheltering them at all. It puts ridiculous pressure on the 1st and 2nd lines to carry the load, and well we end up with craptacular 30th place finishes.

    Long story short before I ramble too much more, if the Oilers had used the CHL/AHL to provide kids with play time who can’t crack the top 6 (Like Gagner, Nilson or Cogliano) at the outset and used the 3rd and 4th lines for role players with more to their game than offensive play back then, would we be looking at a better team today?

    I was just wondering if the Oilers today are an advertisement for why a proper Farm System, with proper developmental plans for players is important. Also why you can’t expect draft picks to fill todays holes in your roster.

  • Clyde Frog

    Thanks for talking about Kramer a little bit. I’m a Spokane fan, and having him on the team has been an amazing choice. The best thing about Kramer is that he doesn’t fight for himself, he fights for the team. Coach even commented that he never fights because a guy hit too hard. He fights when a morale boost is needed. Not to mention he’s not a half bad fighter

  • Clyde Frog

    Can Konopka become the perfect combination of Marty Reasoner and Stortini?
    Winning face offs in the the defensive zone at that rate plus dropping the gloves with the light heavy weights he could fill two spots the Oil are looking for.

  • Clyde Frog

    This is a no brainer–Rick Rypien

    Coleman Alberta born, a great 4th liner, tons of character in the dressing room, and pound for pound arguably the toughest in the NHL.
    Makes guys with 30 lbs on him look silly. Not only that, his contract with van is up and he should be a good deal given that he is coming off a leave of absence.

  • I think you need a guy that can fight playing in your top 2 lines. You see what happened to the Canucks? The Bruins exposed and exploited that weakness to a tee. It wasn’t just Chara or Tim Thomas knocking them around. Little Brad Marchand kick their butts and there was nobody to stop him.

    Unfortunately, Stevie Mac has limited usefulness due to the instigator rule. Steve can challenge anybody that is causing trouble to a fight, but it doesn’t mean much when all the other guy has to do is say no and then skate away. I think we all remember Dorsett fight Taylor Hall and Sean Avery’s cheap shot on Smid. Dorsett and Avery would never agree to fight MacIntyre and they never will have to. Maybe we need more middleweights that can fight and make other players less inclined to say no.

  • I’m from Grande Prairie and have seen Kramer play over the years he was here. The kid likes to fight and is good at it. Not only that he can play the game and he does it with a good mean streak. I would have no issues if the Oiler put him into the propect pool and see what happens.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    Hopefully there is actual action on the whole adding grit and not just talk about it. I don’t want to see us get pushed around for another 82 games.