GDB 46.0: IS GROWTH MORE IMPORTANT THAN WINS?

It looks like Ales Hemsky won’t be going to the NHL All-Star game again due to an injury. Hemsky is on the shelf with a concussion and likely won’t be going to Carolina or partaking in the first All Star draft next Friday.The revolving door to the Oilers’ infirmary just keeps on spinning, as Hemsky enters on the right side of the medicinal carousel, Shawn Horcoff is coming out the left side and will replace Hemsky on the roster.

The bigger questions should be, who replaces Hemsky on the right wing, and where does Horcoff play? Obviously he will play in the middle, but which line should he play on?

With Jordan Eberle likely a few days away from returning and Gilbert Brule still out with a mysterious illness, the only options would be to move Ryan Jones up to the top-six, or move Taylor Hall back to LW and slide Dustin Penner to the right side again.

Horcoff will be one of your top-three centres, so Andrew Cogliano would get bumped down to the fourth line and Colin Fraser would move upstairs, or possibly to the wing on the fourth line. You could move Cogliano to the wing for a few games to see if he can play there, even though he has played much better the past ten games, scoring three goals and seven points, but I’d keep him in the middle.

The Oilers are in 29th place and the playoffs were a pipe dream months ago, so why not use the final 37 games to find out what works, and specifically if Hall can play centre. The most glaring weakness on the Oilers is that they don’t have a true number one centre. So find out if Hall can be that guy. He hasn’t looked out of place in his five games at centre, so why not let him get more comfortable and see how it goes?

"We have a lot of hockey left," said  Tom Renney. "He hasn’t seen his last games as a centreman, so we’ll experiment with some things, but we want to make sure we give ourselves a chance to win too. There are ways and means to get Taylor in there, and what I’m going to look at now in the next few games is evaluate his stint at centre against how he is as a winger again and formulate an opinion if he is that flexible, or if I really like him at centre."

TOUGH SPOT FOR COACH TOM?

Renney is in a tough spot. He knows this is a rebuilding year, but it must be difficult for a coach to feel completely secure in their job when you are rebuilding. More often than not, when the rebuild is over that coach is not around to reap the rewards so rarely do coaches have the luxury of looking two or even one year down the road. And no coach can give off the impression to his players that he is looking ahead to next year, and not ice a team that they think gives them the best chance to win. Players want to win, they don’t care about what the team will look like in two years, so it’s a balancing act for Renney.

I asked Renney about that slippery slope.

"It is a tough for a coach that isn’t confident and doesn’t have the big picture in the forefront. That’s how I am. We have to look longterm here, and my contribution, for however long it is, will certainly have an eye on that. I think that is one of the reasons why I’m here doing this, because that has been my motive since I’ve coached; to develop with an eye to the future."

I give Renney a lot of credit for understanding where the organization is, and realizing, that while the players want to win, his main purpose has to be in developing the kids and making them better players. That being said, I wonder how bad it would look if he had kept Hall at centre tonight?

How would the optics be if Jones played in the top two lines, and Horcoff centred your third line? Probably not great, but since Horcoff is coming off a knee injury, couldn’t you bring him along slowly for a game or two?

If Horcoff gets pissed off, what is he going to do?

Pull a Souray and speak out? Demand a trade? No chance. He must understand that he isn’t going anywhere due to the length and amount of his salary, and if he wants to win in the future, he should realize the main focus in the final 37 games should be figuring out what position is best for Hall.

If Hemsky hadn’t been injured I wonder if Hall would have stayed at centre? Even though Cogliano has played better recently, I’d sacrifice bumping him to the 4th line, for the sake of developing Hall. Some tough decisions need to be made during the final 37 games, and some players might not like where they stand, but the reality is that Hall is the main piece of the puzzle moving forward, and figuring where he performs the best has to be priority number one.

TRADE JONES, EXCUSE ME?

I’ve read and heard a lot lately that the Oilers should trade Jones now, because his value is at an all-time high, even JW commented that Jones’ production is misleading.

"Personally, I’d be looking to move a bunch of spare parts. I’d start with Ryan Jones: he’s got 10 goals, 15.9 shooting percentage, ugly scoring chance and underlying numbers, so I’d suggest it’s time to sell high. I believe he’s a fourth-liner, but that others will think much more of him and pay accordingly," wrote Willis.

I wasn’t the biggest Jones fan at the start of the year, but in a season where most guys have underachieved, I think Jones is one of the few guys who has played well, and really hasn’t overachieved like many think.

Jones has ten goals, on 63 shots, 14 points, is -3, averaging 11:49 of icetime in 45 games.

In 2009 he played 46 games and had seven goals, on 63 shots, 17 points, was +1 with 11:26 of icetime.

Last year he played 49 games (41 in NSH, 8 in EDM) and combined for eight goals, on 62 shots, 12 points, was even with 10:40 of icetime.

This year he has more goals, but fewer assists compared to 2009 the exact same amount of shots and his +/- is fairly consistent when you consider Nashville won more than Edmonton. His shooting % was 11.1 his first year, 13.0 last year and is 15.9 this year. So he is a bit higher, but if he drops to 13% next year is it really that big of a drop? His shooting % has increased, but his assists are down, so could you call that a saw off?

Jones isn’t flashy, but he creates opportunities, skates well and has a knack for creating turnovers that lead to breakaways. He isn’t great at finishing them, but he creates some pretty good chances. All ten of Jones’ goals have come five-on-five, and he scores most of his goals from in tight. I wonder if given a few more shifts on the PP, if he would get a few more garbage goals, because he isn’t shy about going to the net?

I don’t think it is accurate to suggest Jones is overachieveing since his point production is pretty consistent the past three years, and if he can contribute 12-15 goals as a 4th line guy, who plays with some energy, I don’t see why you would trade him. Unless you are going to get an agitator in return, I don’t see anyone in the organization that is close to replacing Jones’ production next year.

While it is great to think Jones could fetch a 2nd rounder in a trade, there is no guarantee that pick turns into a player, and in the meantime the Oilers have traded away a young guy (26) who through three seasons has been a decent goal scorer considering his icetime and games played.

This team needs to upgrade many areas of their game, but I don’t see Jones as being a guy who has underachieved or overachieved. I think this is what you get from Jones, and what he gives Renney is a solid contributor in his bottom six.

QUICK HITS

Nikolai Khabibulin will start tonight, as Devan Dubnyk is still battling a severe chest cold/virus. Dubnyk sat in the dressing room with his pads and pants on during Tuesday’s loss to Minnesota, hoping Khabibulin would stay in the game. He would have played if necessary, but said his energy level was almost zero. He is feeling better and expects to be ready to go on Sunday if Renney gives him the call.

Horcoff will centre Hall and Penner tonight, and the other three lines will remain the same. They didn’t do much PP work, so it is unclear if Hall will stick with Linus Omark and Magnus Paajarvi on the man advantage. I liked how that trio moved the puck around on Tuesday, and would like to see them given some more PP time together.

The rest of the lineup is the same as last game:

Hall/Horcoff/Penner
Paajarvi/Gagner/Omark
Reddox/Cogliano/Jones
Jacques/Fraser/Stortini

Peckham/Gilbert
Petry/Smid
Foster/Chorney  

WISH UPON A STAR

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Stars are very good team. They are getting great goaltending, have a dangerous top line and their 2nd and 3rd lines have a great mix of size, skill, grit and agitation. The Stars have won seven straight on the road, and they know they didn’t deserve to beat Edmonton last week. The Stars road winning streak reaches eight, while the Oilers home woes continue with a 4-2 Stars win.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Steve Ott had the Oilers spitting mad last Tuesday, and he admitted he expects them to come after him tonight. Ott and Theo Peckham will have a verbal battle all night long, and when the Stars go up 4-1 Peckham will go looking to settle the score.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION:  Last game I sent out a tweet asking Oiler fans to predict when the Oilers PP streak would end. The correct pick got you into a draw for Oilers tickets. Dandaman_29 won the tickets. I credit Oiler fans for their support and patience this year, because in many other cities the rink wouldn’t be full, and the TV numbers would dip.If the Stars score first, I will send out another tweet contest for my followers. If you have to sit through the games, you might as well win some tickets to witness the horror live. The answer will require more than just a lucky guess.

  • Dyckster

    I love Ryan Jones, BUT I do have a slight concern he travels the same path as a certain Mr. Brule (“breakout” year, signed to a decent contract, digress). Having said that though, I think he’s worth the risk, more so than I thought Brule was.

  • Chaz

    Not to mention that trading Jones would eliminate the joy we all feel watching his mullet flap in breeze as he skates into the opposing zone chasing a dump-in. Very Smitty-esque, and one of the few things I find myself able to cheer for this year.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Agreed 100% on Jones.

    I wouldn’t be resigning him because I think he can score 20, I’d be resigning him because I’m *very* confident that he can chip in 10 – 15 (all at evens), pk and play decent bottom 6 minutes.

  • The numbers say Jones is over-achieving, so it makes sense to trade him while his value is high? Maybe in EA Sports.

    I don’t need to whip out my slide rule to know Jones has scored goals at a better clip than I thought he would. His luck around the net this season aside, he projects like a 12-16 goal-scorer to me in a full-time role. He provides some grit and good energy. This is exactly the type of player the Oilers need in their bottom six group of forwards.

    When you get somebody off waivers you’re taking a chance he might be a fit. When you get lucky and that guy, Jones, fills a need, you don’t say, “Oooohhh, look at that shooting percentage, it’s not sustainable so let’s strike while the iron is hot and see if we can suck in another GM to overpay.”

    You check off a box for one need filled at a decent price. You keep that player and move on to the next need, and there are many.

    • Ethan Kortbeek

      Brownlee, I just feel like I should let you know that NHL 11 (EA Sports) is amazing. I am a legendary GM. I mean if I can make a package trade of bangers and mash for a first line player, I figure Tambi could as well.

      I’m an all star. But I do agree with your points about Jones. He is a beaut, and puts in a consistent effort, as Gregor pointed out in the article.

      I just don’t see the oilers picking up another Jones in the off-season, not without over paying like we always have to. He’s a keeper.

      • VMR

        Trading him doesnt prevent the possibility of keeping him. He’s a UFA this summer trade him and sign him back if they really want him but $1.5 is way to high for him.

        • Dyckster

          This type of “let ’em go and sign them again in the offseason” scenario VERY rarely happens.

          I understand the rationale of trying to trade and asset for an asset, then gaining the original asset back, hence you’ve gotten something for nothing…..

          However, if the Oiler’s braintrust like Jones as much as most of us seem to, I don’t think it’s a risk worth taking.

          Also, on what rationale are you suggesting $1.5 mill is too high?

          • VMR

            If he doesnt come back it isnt that big of a loss and if he wont sign an extension now chances are we lose him anyway.

            Glencross left for 1.3 to Calgary. Jones isnt as good as Glencross. I cant imagine him getting north of $1.3 anywhere else in the league if he does we have prospects who we can work in to the 3rd line. Hamilton, Pitlick, Martindale, Lander, Vandevelde, Omarra, etc. He has some energy and has put up some points but he hasnt shown that he’s good defensively or helps move the puck out of our zone into the opponents.

    • D-Man

      The only caveat would be how much would you sign him for? To me, as valuable as he is – would he be worth more than $1.5 million/year? His $975,000/year demands a raise, but at what cost?

      Trade him? No… But cut him loose if he asks for more than $1.5 million.

        • D-Man

          Cap space is an EXTREMELY valuable commodity… Would you give him a one year deal at $2.0 mil? I hope not… If the price tag is over $1.5 million, his deal can’t be any longer than 2 years. Unless you’re 100% sure that you’re trading either Hemsky or Penner – you need to keep as much space possible. The kids are all up for resigning for the 2013-14 season. We obviously need to keep all three for our long term plans.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            And I’ll counter with: Unsued cap space is completely worthless.

            We have 10 million in cap space this year, as of right now anyways we’ve recieved 0 benifit from him.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            We could be surprised how much other teams want to access our unused cap space. D-Man is right, it could be the difference maker in the deal or two we may see before the end of the season.

            I could see a couple teams wanting to take advantage of bringing in 5 million in players one way and sending back 8 million in players the other(Ottawa for one).

            Didn’t the Leafs get a second round pick from the Lightning a couple years ago for taking on 3 injured players, a goalie and 2 skaters, the goalie was that godzilla kid who used to play for the Capitals.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            1. I said *********unused cap space*********

            2. I’m pretty sure it was a 4th rounder, going off memory they paid about a million dollars for a 4th rounder. Whoopty do.

          • D-Man

            You couldn’t be more wrong… Philadelphia would kill right now for another couple of million dollars in unused cap space to buy more goaltender insurance… Chicago had to blow up their team to remain under the cap.

            Cap management is crucial; and considering the growth we should expect from the kids, we should also expect a growing payroll.

            You’re right that this year we’ve received zero benefit on the ice this year. However, when we need to start negotiating raises for Penner and/or Hemsky next year and then the kids the year after that – you’d be surprised how valuable that $10 million is.

            From a business sense, that $10 million dollars not over spent might mean additional funds for the arena… I know – a spit in the bucket, but we forget that Katz is also in the business of making money.

          • Guys. This is Ryan Jones we’re talking about here, not Ovechkin’s little brother. If he gets $975K right now, my guess is a few hundred thousand more is all he’ll ever get. While he seems to be performing at (or slightly above) historical averages, its not like he’s on pace for a 50 point season or anything. He’s a decent find and the sort of player you re-sign at a reasonable price because he fills a hole in the bottom six.

            I think alot of people forget he’s 3rd/4th liner performing “OK” on a basement NHL team. In the greater scheme of things, he’s not really that good. Even if we had to overpay for him, what would that amount to in league dollars? Maybe $200K? BFD.

            It seems that Oilers fans’ evaluation of players is being tainted by the fact they are comparing guys like Jones amongst a really weak group who wouldn’t get you anything from any other team in the league. So by that comparison, Jones seems valuable. In the league as a whole? Not so much.

          • D-Man

            Jones has scored 10 goals on the 3rd/4th line without PP time. He almost scored 10 in the short period of time he was with us last year.

            My point is that we need to ensure we don’t over pay him. If he scored 10 goals with our team, one might speculate that he could be capable of more on a better team like a Chicago or Detroit. Hence the risk of overpaying him.

            I agree – a raise of a couple hundred grand makes sense and is fair. Paying him another $1.0 million does not make sense; and I’m guessing considering your opinion of Jones – you could agree to that.

          • Yeah. My point was that an “overpay” of a guy that makes Jones’ salary would be insignificant. He’s not going to get the kind of cash some guys here think because in the larger scheme of things he’s just not that good. It doesn’t take much to stand out amongst ~world-class talent~ the likes of SMac, Strudwick, Foster, Fraser, JFJ, Vandermeer, O’Marra…

        • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

          I disagree, we can’t start over paying guys simply because we have cap space. It will trickle down throughout our lineup and end up biting us in the butt.

    • Dyckster

      Why?

      My guess is 3, if not 4 of these guys will be patrolling the Oiler’s blue line when this team does start experiencing some success.

      Compare it to sayyyyyyy:

      Vandermeer/Strudwick/Foster/Smid/…. and let me know what you think.

      By my eye, this is how a rebuilding defensive group should look. Replace Foster with Whitney and Smid or Chorney with Marincin and that’s a pretty good looking bunch of point men.

      • The facepalm is for tonights game only. This is not a quality defense. We both know that. Dont get me wrong, Teddy is all good, Fosters head could not possibly be in the game, Gibby…Meh, The others coyld do good one day.

        But for tonight…..***FACEPALM***

        *Takes sip of water and wipes sweat off brow*

        • Dyckster

          Totally agree tonight’s 6 defenders as a group leave a whole lot to be desired, but being a begrudged fan of a “rebuild” I find myself looking for positives.

          Petry has been surprisingly great, Peckham great, Chorney much improved, Gilbert is here to stay til his contract expires (he’s not so bad mind you). So really only 2 of the 6 make me cringe.

          As a snapshot in time though, ya it’s a little troublesome.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Considering what the flu has done to this team before shouldn’t Dubnyk be in a room by himself?

    Why isn’t Mac playing? The experiment is over? I think with Ott being the guy he is that having Mac as an insurance policy would be nice.

  • Bob Cobb

    The biggest mistakes made recently by Oiler management were trading Brodziak and not resigning Glencross, I believe Jones is in the same mould as those guys minus the scoring touch, I hope they dont trade him. I would move Stortini and Jacque before I would move Jones, even if the return would be better for Jones he is a guy you can build your bottom 6 around. Thats just my opinion.

  • Oilfan,

    Seems Gregor disputes your role call (he has Jones above as a 4th liner), nor can I see how role responds to my question about calling him a good skater… But since you brought it up could you support your assertion by showing how almost all other Oilers don’t play their defined role? (and I’m assuming Renney has given you those definitions, so I am very curious to say the least.)

    • OilFan

      Yeah Renney gave me the definitions lol . Skates well ? Compared to you I’m guessing. He is a bright spot on the team this season and I hope he is around for teh full rebuild.

  • OilFan

    Jones skates well? Really? I mean he has decent straight ahead speed and can get to loose pucks fist, but half the time he looks like he forgot to take his skate guards off (to quote an LT poster).