The Far Side of the Roster

The Oilers let some useful pieces go this summer. Kevin Montgomery, the young and still promising defenseman acquired from Colorado at last season’s trade deadline, was one. Others include long-time prospect Colin McDonald, fresh off a 40-goal season in the AHL, as well as a pair of high-profile ‘tweeners in Greg Stewart and Ben Ondrus.

Why wouldn’t the Oilers bring these guys back?

The way league rules are structured, teams have a number of constraints on their ability to retain players. There are roster rules in the AHL governing the number of veterans a team can play, for example – something that virtually forced the Oilers to move a player (they sent away Shawn Belle for Montgomery) once they demoted Zack Stortini to Oklahoma.

Another key rule is the 50-man roster limit. Copper & Blue tracks signed players (one of the side bars on the left shows the list) and right now they show that the Oilers have 49 names under contract, leaving them room for only one more signing, which they would undoubtedly prefer to leave vacant in case of emergency.

(The possibility exists that the Oilers will get more room after training camp – as I understand it, if either Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Martin Marincin is returned to junior, they will not count against the 50-man limit next season.)

That 50-man ceiling creates a certain level of pressure for guys on the bottom end of the prospect pool. A few players in particular face the danger of being cut to make room if they don’t have strong years; I have a list of five guys that I consider especially vulnerable (Taylor Chorney isn’t included because he’s a favourite for an NHL job at this point):

  • Ryan O’Marra – Part of the return on the Ryan Smyth trade, O’Marra is entering his fifth season in the Oilers’ organization, and he’s on his second consecutive one-year deal. An extended NHL stint last year is possibly what convinced the Oilers to bring him back one more time, but at some point patience will run out. There’s an opening for a fourth-line centre in Edmonton; O’Marra needs to take it to secure his future.
  • Chris Vande Velde – Though a relatively new professional player, Vande Velde has been part of the organization for six seasons already and is from the same draft class as O’Marra. Vande Velde will compete for the same spot as O’Marra, but he has a little more breathing room because he can be sent to the AHL in 2012-13 without counting as a veteran. Even so, a poor performance will put him in jeopardy because of the 50-man limit.
  • Milan Kytnar – Kytnar’s younger and has less experience than either of the players above, so his chief trouble is the 50-man limit. He got buried deep down the depth chart last season, and despite some positives that leave me hopeful he’ll be at serious risk of losing his job if he doesn’t advance to more important minutes in Oklahoma this season.
  • Hunter Tremblay – Tremblay’s an interesting player. The Oilers signed him out of CIS late last season, but given his age (he’s already 25) and the small amount of offense (just one point in eight combined regular season and playoff games) he added in his AHL cameo, he’s at risk.
  • Johan Motin – Motin just hasn’t seemed to make any headway. He’s young, defensemen develop slowly, and it probably isn’t fair that he’s already on the cut line, but he slipped to the ECHL level last season and with all the incoming talent he needs to pick up the pace just to stay where he is.

Each of those players, in his way, brings things that are of interest to an NHL organization. Unfortunately, there’s only so much space, and a player without constant progression soon stops getting contracts with an NHL component.

  • YFC Prez

    I was surprised when I had seen MacDonald had signed with Pitsburg, figured he was a prospect worth fighting for. It would be disapointing to lose another good prospect like Vande Velde due to The roster limit, and at this point signing any vets would mean the likely demise of a good up and commer. That 50-man limit on a rebuilding team is a real downer. Tough decisions for Tambi, still would have liked to see him sign Hannan or another decent Vet on the blueline this summer, Id take a vet on the backend over any prospect on Jonathan’s list.

    • YFC Prez

      “still would have liked to see him sign Hannan or another decent Vet on the blueline this summer, Id take a vet on the backend over any prospect on Jonathan’s list.”

      agreed. i believe that the farm, although important, is simply a feeder system to ensure that the big club thrives and flourishes.

      in order to improve the big club if contracts that are middling need to be shed to free up space then so be it.

      i was pretty stoked when o’marra got picked up in the smytty trade because of the work i saw him do with the world juniors. i thought he was going to be a solid 3rd/4th line center. aparently i thought completetly wrong. he just can’t seem to string together enough to prove his worth.

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    That is great info JW. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the Belle deal at the trade deadline last year. My understanding of the AHL rules is limited at best and I didn’t see the point of that trade at the time. Then it was overshadowed by the big Penner deal and I like most dismissed the Belle trade.

    JW, do you think RNH sticks with the Oil or are you in the “wait and see” club?

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I heard that Hunter Tremblay was loved by Nelson that the kid can play anywhere in the lineup so I doubt he goes anywhere. Kytnar from what I read got better as the year went on.

    As for the other 3 I suspect that this is their last chance although what is the center depth chart look like nowadays?

  • Rob...

    It’s really really really depressing that Chorney is “a favourite for an NHL job at this point”.

    I know the Oil are still rebuilding, and I’m willing to be patient with that but I have no hope whatsoever that Chorney will ever be a legitimate NHL defenseman.

    • WeepForTheSin

      I think this is Chorney’s last chance. He’s showed good things as well as bad things, and while I’m not quite as convinced as you, I do think he will struggly and likely spend some time in the pressbox. Him and Sutton will be 6/7 guys.

  • shanetrain

    I dont usually post these but incarceratedbob from twitter is saying on good source, a major trade is brewing with the Oilers. Expect something to happen before camp.

  • shanetrain

    Players need some flexibility to go elsewhere when unlikely to make NHL roster . 50 should be more than whats required most seasons . Giving most organizations plenty of time to develop and assess the players as to NHL level of play . If they don’t make club by 3-4 years on a full time basis , it’s highly unlikely they ever will .

  • In a way, I hope the RNH is not ready this year. Both because I was in the Couturier camp, but also because it will give the Oilers the roster flexibility to spend an extra year on guys like Kytnar, Tremblay, and even Motin. The first two guys haven’t really got a solid shot even at the AHL level, and defensemen take forever to develop, so I hate to throw them away early.

    That said, I am close to the end of patience for Chorney.

    • So, because you favoured the guy that went 8th overall vs the consensus #1 pick you hope that he fails to make the NHL so that marginal players have a better shot?

      That’s kind of twisted isnt it? Why would you want the player taken in the most important draft position who also plays arguably the most important on-ice position to fail at doing the very thing that all forwards taken 1st overall since 1989 (contract dispute not performance related) have done?

      Instantly the kid, right or wrong, will be on bust watch if he cant even make a dead-last placed team with an open spot at centre available. It’s not a good sign if he cant cut it.

  • YFC Prez

    The Colin MacDonald non signing was something that I did not totally understand. One of the weeknesses of the Oilers was penalty killing, and I thought he had a legitamate chance of filling that role. His size makes him a decent commodity too. The thing with Colin is that we don`t know if turned down an Oiler`s offer to get a better one with Pittsburgh, and I believe that is the most likely reason he`s with Pittsburgh`s AHL affiliate.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Well there’s 5 guys the Oilers could do without. Why not let these guys go if they’re just filling out roster spots. Make half a dozen roster spots in Oklahoma available to other clubs if the Oilers don’t have enough prospects of their own, it may reduce player costs by 25% on the AHL level.

    • Scuba Steve

      ~I agree, why develop our own players when we can save money and develop players for the competition? I mean, it’s already worked so well for the Oilers over the past decade.~

      Really? You want to cut 5 prospects (good prospects or not) to save money? I think you are way off base here.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        These alsorans had their chance. Now it’s time for Lander and Pitlick to poop or get off the pot. Chop chop time is money.

        VV and O’mara weren’t good enough to earn a spot on a 30th place club 2 yrs running, lets start calling a spade a spade, can these two really be considered prospects anymore? If a player needs more than 2 yrs in the AHL, he’s just filler (required to fill out a roster) as far as i’m concerned.

        • Scuba Steve

          I agree with that statement, but that’s not what you said in the original post. You said to cut those players and open the spots up to other teams, which i think is a poor idea.

          Opening those spots up to better prospects instead of middling AHL lifers is a solid idea, IMO.

        • Marshall Law


          There’s no point holding onto the hope that these guys may someday realise their potential as mediocre talents when the organization has a glut of superior youth waiting to be unveiled.

          Honestly, if they all were to get moved or let go, would anybody notice? I’d be somewhat less than disappointed if the Oilers ended up losing out on a few potential 13th/14th forwards.

          It might be more appropriate to distribute those contract slots to players who have even a remote opportunity to one day impact the team.

          Time to trim the fat.

  • Scuba Steve

    Defense remains an area of concern with Whitney questionable at this stage . Teubert and Musil may be close already to add to mix ( a tandum that might grow to top 4 quickly ) . Need improvement from Peckham and Smid . Sutton and Barker hopefully will surprise .

  • Rob...

    Oilers Now just started and I had a thought. Was this host moved by Katz to CHED because of its success on The Team and a hunger by CHED to grab the show, or was it moved as a strategy to promote the arena project to a larger audience that has more lobbying clout and deeper pockets?

    • My guess is both reasons apply.

      Tried Oilers Now on Monday but the continuous and repetitive news interruptions broke my back. I mean, how often can you broadcast “Jack Layton has passed”? They’re worse than Global TV news.


  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Can OKC sign players to minor league contracts which wouldn’t apply towards the Oiler’s 50?

    Someone like Kevin Montgomery might be okay with staying in OKC to get an opportunity to show what he can do . . . ?

  • Marshall Law

    There’s one other factor at play:

    These guys put together a good AHL season and do OK in a “cup of coffee” callup to the big club, then their contract is up and they assume they’re good enough for a 1-way NHL contract.

    They’re good AHL players, but wouldn’t crack the everyday lineup this year.