Who’s Leaving?

With this weekend’s additions, the Edmonton Oilers now have 16 forwards for 14 available spots. Someone is leaving town.

Steve Tambellini has made some very nice moves since the entry draft, but there’s more work to do. The NHL team has 16 forwards and that’s too many. Here’s a look at the keepers, the suspects and the possible line combinations. The list goes from most likely to make the roster to least likely.

  1. L Taylor Hall: The franchise has a roster spot secured for the next decade, and the big question here is who will play on his line. If RNH makes the team, I’d expect Hall and Eberle to be the wingers on the ultimate Kid Line. That might not last the pre-season if the line struggles from the pressure, so expect Horcoff to slide into the middle between Hall and Eberle should that happen.
  2. R Jordan Eberle: Led his team in points as a rookie and showed impressive growth over the year (although that first NHL goal will live forever). I believe Eberle’s immediate future is tied to Hall’s–they were successful linemates a year ago, why mess with success? RNH and Horcoff are the likely centers.
  3. L Magnus Paajarvi: Fleet Swede had a solid rookie season (34 points) and displayed some impressive play away from the puck. Found chem after Christmas with Omark and I think that duo will continue, albeit with a different center than a year ago (Gagner). We’ve talked about all of the ’10 rookie wingers moving to center, and I think MP might be the best candidate. For now, I think the best option for them at center is either newcomer Belanger or Horcoff (should RNH make the team on the Kid Line).
  4. L Ryan Smyth: Huge acquisition for the Oilers. I think Smyth will team up with Hemsky no matter the center, and further believe the first candidate for the role should be Sam Gagner. He has chem with Hemsky and if things roll well that line could either play the tougher minutes or scald the soft parade.
  5. C Shawn Horcoff: Despite age and not possessing the foot speed he had in 2006 spring, Horcoff will once again play an important role on the team. I think there’s a strong possibility he gets MP/Omark if Nugent-Hopkins grabs the 1line job. The Oilers could also go with a designated veteran line and reuniting him with Smyth and Hemsky. That’s a tough call, though. Still too much youth on the other lines to leave them alone.
  6. R Ales Hemsky: Gifted winger is apparently healthy and ready to roll in 11-12. The Oilers will attempt to sign him and then put him in a position to succeed before shopping 83 at the deadline. My guess is that he’s tied to Smyth for the regular season, with center’s Gagner and Horcoff getting time between them.
  7. C Sam Gagner: Young center has made progress at the NHL level despite point totals in the low 40’s. Very intelligent player who can riff off veterans extremely well, I’d hope coach Renney gives him veteran linemates Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky in an effort to have a 1line that can protect the Kid Line. I don’t see Gagner centering MP and Omark again, he never did figure out the two Swedes imo.
  8. C Eric Belanger: An absolute Godsend for this forward group. He can play up and down the lineup and I’d guess that he will do just that over the season. Most likely linemates would be MP/Omark and Eager/Jones on the third unit.
  9. R Linus Omark: I can’t think of a line combination that has him playing apart from Paajarvi, so it’s a matter of which center they line up with most nights. My guess is that Shawn Horcoff or Eric Belanger and their 2-way skills will be best used between the gifted Swedish wingers.
  10. L Ben Eager: I see lots of people saying he’s a 4line crash and banger, but I think Eager may end up playing higher on the depth chart. A designated 2-way line of Belanger-Eager-Jones is possible and he could also play 4line minutes with Cogliano at center and Hordichuk on the wing. I also believe there will be times he’ll take a spin with the kids just to keep everyone honest.
  11. R Ryan Jones: I believe Jones will play with Belanger and Eager on the 4line, but could also see times where he’s patrolling the 4line with Hordichuk and Cogliano.
  12. C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Makes the list this late because there’s just no way RNH plays a secondary role. He either makes it as a member of the top 2 skill lines or he’s going back. Most believe (as do I) that he’s going to get those 9 games to succeed. I think he’ll stay. Wingmen options include Hall-Eberle and Smyth-Hemsky. I don’t like the RNH-Hemsky fit because Hemsky is all reaction and feel and RNH is all vision and thinking the game. I don’t like the match, we’ll see.
  13. C Andrew Cogliano: Coach Renney said several times last season that he felt Cogliano was making progress as a two way player. I think Cogs may continue that role, this time with physical Ben Eager and energy guy Ryan Jones on his wings. A secondary possibility would be sliding Cogliano between the two Swedes, but that could be chaotic in the Oilers zone.
  14. R Darcy Hordichuk: I think some may be getting the wrong idea about Hordichuk. I see him as a huge upgrade over Steve MacIntyre as a player, but don’t believe he’s going to play 80 games and see 6 minutes a night. Hordichuk will enter the season as the 14th man and be utilized in a depth role. That’s how I see it, anyway.
  15. L Teemu Hartikainen: He starts TC as the last guy sent out/first call up from my point of view. He could make the big club if one of the incumbents shows up at least than 100% in terms of conditioning, but I can’t see a way for him to make it straight up at this time.
  16. R Gilbert Brule: I think his NHL career is at a crossroads. The unfortunate circumstances surrounding the LAK deal for Ryan Smyth made Brule a quesiton mark across the league. I can’t imagine an NHL team trading for him now, there’s a clear medical reason for the deal to have been turned away. My guess is LTIR until he can get things back together again.

With all of that as a  backdrop, here’s how I see the lines breaking down:

  1. Gagner-Smyth-Hemsky
  2. RNH-Hall-Eberle
  3. Horcoff-Paajarvi-Omark
  4. Belanger-Eager-Jones
  5. Extras: Cogliano-Hordichuk
  6. Minors: Hartikainen
  7. LTIR: Brule


One of the centermen, either Cogliano, Gagner or Horcoff. Hopefully the club will acquire a top 4 shutdown defender in the deal. After that, I believe they’ll either send down Hartikainen or LTIR Brule to set the roster.

  • Crash

    21 yrs old, still 2 to 3 yrs from entering his prime has scored 173 NHL pts before age 22, averages .6 ppg and there are people who figure he’s at his ceiling already?

    Brilliant, just brilliant

    What does Gagner bring? Superior hockey sense and on ice vision, superior passing skills, quickly emerging leadership, hard worker and a great teammate.

    He’s just going to turn 22…you don’t give up on guys with 173 nhl pts at age 21…you just don’t.

    This team now looks like it can make a move up the standings barring health and there are those that want to start tearing it down again?

    Amazing, simply amazing

  • Agreed. To all those blasting Gagners skating, shooting, etc. etc. etc. Despite those, he’s still more productive then the Sedins were at that age. This isn’t NHL 2012, player ability ratings mean very little. Results speak volumes, and his results are there. Last time i checked one of the stronger skaters the Oilers have had in the past 10 years, who had a heavy shot, was big, strong, and aggressive was named Ethan Moreau. He had all the player attributes you could ask for and never produced jack. And for those calling out the lack of improvement in Gagners game look no further then the type of minutes the kid gets. In his rookie season Sam got sheltered cherry minutes; and every minute since the line of in front has gotten weaker and injuries have piled up placing a more difficult assignment on the kid with less overall help. Give up on him now and you will regret it. I guarantee.

    • Truth

      To me the Sedins are exactly why Gagner worries me. I think we saw how undersized guys with weak shots, unable to beat guys one on one, and with no ability to create separation are pretty easy to shut down in the playoffs. No passing lane, no play.

      The Sedins have talent, but are perimeter one trick ponies. They are great regular season players. Until I see something more from Sam, to me he is the same type.

      60-70 pts regular season means nothing when your game is completely not suited to the championship round.

        • Truth

          That is the thing. Points don’t matter, it’s when you get them. Running up points in games that are going you’re way and not scoring when you’re team needs it’s best and highest paid scorers to produce doesn’t work for me.

          It is why Kessler was the most important Canuck until he got too banged up. He can score in any type of game.

          It’s the same with Thornton and Marleau. Thornton’s awesome with all his points, but who actually scores in big games and at key times, repeatedly?

          It’s not Thornton. The guy who does is the one you want. Gagner is a complimentary scorer, he’ll get points, but he has no game breaking aspects to him, can’t handle traffic, can’t get away from anybody, and that spells trouble in the playoffs especially.

          Brad Marchand is a year older with a third as many games, but scored as much in his rookie season and was a play off star. Why? Fast, good shot (finish), aggressive. For a small player, those are better attributes than vision and little else.

  • Kodiak




    LINE 3

    LINE 4


  • Little Buttcheeks

    gagner-hall/eberle (gagner’s last chance to prove himself as point producer.)

    RNH-smyth/hemmer (give the rookie some veteren help)

    horcoff-MPS/omark (defensive presence for swedes. let them freewheel a bit)

    belanger-eager/jones/hordichuk (good energy line. look out sedins.)

    this is what i would like to see at the start of the season if RNH makes the team.

    if RNH gets sent back before the season or after 9 games the wingers can stay the same but make the centres horc, gagner, belanger and cogliano in that order.

    a kid line is intriguing but i feel RNH is better served with some veteren skilled wingers on a second line. kind of like hall and eberle had with horc last year before the injuries.

    • Crash

      I do like your line combos…of course we know that line combos never stay the same throughout a whole season.

      But I really don’t think this is Gagner’s last chance to prove himself as a point producer. Just for interest sakes I pulled some names out this past years top 40 scorers in the NHL and here’s their age 22 numbers:

      D. Sedin 31 pts, H. Sedin 39 pts, Perry 54 pts, Zetterberg 44, Kesler 16, Marleau 44, Eriksson 31, Sharp 7, Ribeiro 17, Tanguay 48, Briere 2, J Carter 53, R Nash 57, Pavelski 28, Kessel 55.

      Some pretty prominant names in that list with not so stellar numbers at age 22/23. Some of their teams gave up on them but those that didn’t are pretty happy today and those that now own those players that their teams gave up on are also likely pretty happy.

      Cut Gagner some slack, his career has hardly begun.

      • Truth

        don’t get me wrong i like gagner. but RNH (if things go as expected) will be number 1 centre fairly soon. so gagner needs to show he can produce before then. i don’t see him as a 3 or 4 centre.

        if he puts up good numbers (which i hope he does) then keep him as a number 2C. if not then give him a chance somewhere else and bring in a bigger centreman that will win more draws. someone that plays like kesler or J.stall.

        not trying to hate on Gagner, quite the opposite. hope the rips it up for us. if not here then somewhere else that isn’t vancouver or calgary.

        • Truth

          I like him too, just am not sure he can carry a line that can score in any situation. As you said, on a bigger team maybe he can play a supporting offensive role.

          But RNH followed by Gagner sounds a bit too easy to shut down.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    It seems like we have a bunch of left handed shots too. I think that Tambo will definitely listen to offers but I could see us showing up to camp with this roster. That way, we can see if RNH looks ready and we will have options like sending Harski to the minors or putting Brule on LTIR and maybe even a trade at that time.


    Tyler Pitlick – Hartanainin – David Musil – RNH – Taylor Hall – Jordan Eberle – MPS – Linus Omark – Oscar “the grouch” Klefbom. Seriously folks, does anyone in the league have the up and coming talent that the Oilers have. If I was Steve Tambellini I would have tried to sign “JAROMIR JAGR”. I’ll tell you why. Mr. Jagr and Mr. Hemskey together would be a force to be reckoned with. This young KID LINE (Hall-RNH-Eberle) need to develop and play behind a really good savvy veteren Line 1. This takes the pressure of them and they will eventually flourish into a Line 1 trio. If anybody doesn’t agree with JAROMIR JAGR would’ve made this team unstoppable, speak now or forever hold your peace.


    While I am not a big fan of Gagner, the Oilers need him for another season or two due to a lack of other viable options at the #2 centreman spot.

    That being said, I hope that within three years the team has a bigger, stronger and faster #2 pivot to team with RNH and leave Gagner as trade bait. If he produces another decent season or two Tambi/future GM should be able to trade him for a decent value draft pick or in a package to address another hole on the team. While the Gagner fan club would be disappointed, it would be great since it would mean that the club would actually have a 1-2 punch down the middle that could match up with the top clubs.

    Looking at the next 2 – 3 years, Belanger and Horcoff are 2 of the team’s four centermen (although Belanger signed a contract that would allow him to be moved). Hopefully RNH can fill the #2, if not #1 spot, in 2012-2013. That would leave one opening for Lander and Gagner to compete for, with possibly Pitlick as well if he plays center in the AHL. That is not a bad situation, but I would still like to see the Oilers get another decent #2/borderline #1 centre prospect via next year’s draft or a trade to develop.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Belanger and Horcoff are 32 and 33. I wouldn’t be counting on either for more then 2-3 more years.

      ….kind of makes sense to have a younger guy here as well then…

    • Lowetide

      It’s curious. It might have to do with the 50-contract limit (Oilers at 48 but will send some players away).

      Brandon Davidson is in the same boat. I think the Oilers like both prospects but it’ll eventually happen.

      As for rookie camp, I read somewhere he was ill (flu, something like that).

    • Truth

      Gregor has been reporting Martindale is undergoing a minor tonsil surgery and is unable to make the camp.

      I still think its Omark that is the odd man out, with RNH, Hemsky, Gagner, and Eberle being similar type players (albeit some are dif. positions).

      What would Omark’s trade value be like?

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Suddenly Komisarek is very available for very cheap. Ballard can be had as well. I would also ask Florida about Dennis Wideman. They need to add a little more salary and might be enticed to take young forwards and some picks if the money works.

    Just as having a legit checking centre that can win draws will help out Horcoff and the rest of the forward group, the Oil need another top 4 D that can play the right side to help out Tom Gilbert and Ladi Smid. Tom needs help so he doesn’t get all of the tough minutes by himself. Likewise, Ladi needs a defence partner much better than what he got from Kurtis Foster last year. This will benefit all of the pairings as nobody will be asked to play beyond their abilities.

  • Truth

    I can’t believe so many people are defending Sam Gagner. He’s an inconsistent scorer and every other aspect of his game is below average. You can’t simply cite his age and compare production with players that are now stars unless he also shows the same uptrend that those other players did, but Gagner has clearly hit a ceiling and without a change of scenery he will remain as a middling 40-point center getting top minutes. Time to trade him while his value is still something, although I bet a lot of GM’s have already written him off.

  • Zarny

    Long-term I don’t think you can plan on RNH & Gagner your 1-2 C. They are just too similar; specifically their lack of size.

    This year though Cogs is the more likely candidate. Div I kids always take longer to develop. Still potential there.