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

WHO’S LEAVING?

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.

  • justDOit

    I think Horcoff will get traded in the next 16 months…Belanger can play his role as 3C, and Smyth will take his captaincy…they would love to dump his contract

    • justDOit

      Not saying he won’t get traded, but this is the same Horcoff who is a good friend of Katz? And the best center that the Oilers have (yes, he is – contract aside)? Sorry, but I don’t see it.

    • horndog77

      Absolutely agree about Horcoff, if teams are sniffing around and will take him off the Oilers hands they should. His contract is not worth the product. Shawn is a good player but times are a changing, and would allow RNH and Gagner and Belanger and Lander to step in. If the Oil could trade him and draft picks for a good defensemen they should do it.

      • Dan the Man

        One of our biggest issues last year was weakness at the center position, so now that the Oil have acquired some help you want to get rid of the only guy who could win face-offs last year?

        Neither RNH or Lander have played an NHL game yet but I’m certain they will be great on the draw and in their own zone in addition to facing the other teams top lines on a regular basis.

  • Kodiak

    I think the big picture is to have Nugent-Hopkins and Hall develop some chemistry. That means putting them together with a veteran.

    If Gagner stays I think we’d see:
    Smyth/Gagner/Eberle.
    Hall/NH/Hemsky.
    MPS/Horcoff/Omark or Cogs
    Eager/Belanger/Jones

    If Gagner moves I think it would be:
    Smyth/Horcoff/Eberle
    Hall/NH/Hemsky
    MPS/Belanger/Jones
    Eager/Cogliano/Hartikainen

    Either way, one of Cogs or Omark goes.

  • justDOit

    I really can’t see much of a player coming back for Cogs – maybe a 2nd round pick. So with our need on D, it might have to be Hemmer that gets moved, with maybe Cogs as well to sweeten the deal.

    That would take care of the glut of smallish forwards, create some space for Lander, and give more ice time for someone like Omark, who I believe will make even bigger strides as a player this year (pun intended).

    • Sox and Oil

      Toronto just got Franson (a RH top 4D) for Brett Lebda and a bounce around minor leaguer. You have to figure that Cogs (a young Ironhorse) plus either Chorney or Plante could return a actual NHL player or 2. Although nowhere near as good as Franson.

      • Lowetide

        Well that was a salary dump but you’re right. A team looking for an inexpensive C might find Cogliano attractive. If the Oilers have to take on a Lombardi (who may not play) to get Franson (who would be a lot of immediate help) then so be it.

  • horndog77

    I say no to a gagner trade unless u get excellent return. Gagner is young enough to be considered a part of this baby core. He is also talented enough to be a 2nd line centre. You need depth at centre to win. Back in the day, we had a big gap between weight and marchant, no 2nd centre. Dallas always beat is with their depth, modano, nieuwendyk, carboneau.

  • Lowetide

    The TO-NAS trade is pure salary dump for Nashville. they will re-sign Weber and make a play for a better winger now. TO also has a glut of defenseman, so maybe they are in the market for a trade.

  • Bucknuck

    The only way that anyone should get moved is if a Solid D is coming back the other way. Otherwise stand pat and lets see what healthy bodies, plugged holes, and a year of experience gives you. My big concern right now is Goal, and I am hopeful that will be solved soon.

  • Sox and Oil

    One guy we are forgetting is Lander. He may the perfect compliment to Hemsky. He is, from all reports, a great two way player, rises to the occasion, and his hockey IQ is off the charts. Maybe he is the best compliment to Hemsky. I hoped to see Lander in the bigs this coming year. With Belanger in the fold and Cogs a possible trade candidate, i hope to see this lineup:

    Smyth-Gagner-Hemsky (tough minutes)

    HAll-Horcoff-Eberle (2nd toughs)

    MPS-Lander-Omark (gravy soft opposition)

    Eager-Belanger-Jones (more of a true checking line)

    not sure if those lines would work, but I like the idea of the all swede line playing soft minutes. they would eat up a lot of bottom 6 lines, and with the vets throughout the rest of the lineup you can play PvP.

    • Sox and Oil

      I agree it makes little sense. It seems like they wanted to get rid of Lombardi but they now 12.5 mill below the floor. Maybe they want a Vintage* Nikolai Khabbibulin?

      *Not really vintage just old.

  • Sox and Oil

    Gagner shouldn’t be shopped unless the return is huge. He’s 21 with 173 NHL points. Relatively healthy (with no help from Ryan Jones) considering his size. Right now he’s a legitimate 2nd C.

  • Sparky

    I don’t see a problem with another kid line, as long as they aren’t getting first line minutes! And I have to believe everyone wants to see the nostalgia line again IMO.

    I think cogs has to be the odd man out, I think Sammy G will hit his stride this season with the reduced pressure, and with the recent acquisitions Cogs doesn’t really fit anymore. Not to mention the fact he has been mentioned in trade rumors before.

    I really hope Lander gets a good look as well. It’s kinda nice having all these options, but it would really suck to have to send a guy down simply because we have to many bodies.

  • The Oilers have a goofy schedule, they play 8 of 11 games at home in October. They should play Nugent-Hopkins at home, and sit him for the road game in Minnesota & at home vs St. Louis.

    He’ll get to play against Crosby/Malkin, Ovechkin/Backstrom, Weber/Suter, and Vancouver twice at home before making a decision.

    Let Nugent-Hopkins play the road game in Denver to end the month so he plays against every team in the division once, by then the signs will be there to send him back or not.

    The Oilers are gone for the early part of November (CFR)

  • Lowetide

    @Lowetide

    A year full of “soft minutes” for RNH-Hall-Eberle is just what the doctor ordered….yes?

    Let Horcoff-Hemmer-Smyth play against the other team’s top line and get kicked….no reason to ruin the confidence of our “future stars.”

  • Lowetide

    Two things: first, I think the smart move is dealing Cogliano for a defenseman. Maybe add something but get a guy who can play on the blue.

    Second, Hemsky is not a straight up and down the wing kind of winger. Very creative, but it’s a lot about quick reaction and then finding a zone and some time to find the open man.

    I’m not sure that translates for RNH, who is also very creative and sees the ice well, finds a zone and some time to find an open man.

    For me, they’re not a great match. Thoughts? Out to lunch? Crazy?

      • Lowetide

        On the PP, I think it could work because both are so good at finding lanes and one is LH and the other RH.

        But I agree, the issue would be a concern there too.

    • I dont know if youre crazy, but I havent seen enough of RNH to say that he cant play with Hemsky. Truth be told Ive come to find that many people dont know how to play effectively with Hemsky so maybe it will take an elite creative talent to really capitalize on Hemsky’s actions out there.

      I think the safe bet with Hemsky is to give him some predictable linemates with enough skill to finish. I think thats why Hemsky and Horc played so well together when Horc could still hit the broad side of a barn with his onetimers. Horc has been coached into the NHL. He knows where hes supposed to be and youre never left guessing what hes doing out there (positionally). That pairs up well with Hemsky who dangles and dances past guys and creates mismatches or openings for the other guys.

      BUT RNH represents the El Dorado of Hemsky linemates. He might be the guy whose elite vision and talent makes Hemsky go supernova. That could prove to be a myth (most likely), but what if….

    • Lowetide

      Totally agree, he needs to be with player attack the net. Thats also y putting him with Hall Eberle makes so much sense. The only problem is the defensive game for that group. But you never know, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. I wouldn’t surprise me to see Lander pairing up with MPS and Omark and doing a good job. Both are familiar with him being from the same country and I think he might bring some good leadership for those two. Something they can easily relate to. And if his defensive game is as good as they say and MPS improves a little more because of it. That could make for a very good line.

    • a lg dubl dubl

      You make sense LT having 2 gifted playmakers on the same line doesn’t make sense, maybe once in a while if needed, or if injuries occur during the game but IMO a team should have 1 playmaker on each of the top 3 lines, and besides it doesnt work on NHL 11 either lol.

  • O.C.

    Kid line, while sexy, has downsides. Another one of those is the raw speed and creativity needs to be developed at NHL levels for all these players, while they still learn to skate through traffic as kids in a mans game

    RNH w 94 n Ales makes sense.

    Keeping Cogs makes sense too. Unfortunately, trading he and or Gagner are the most plausible scenarios / likely to happen.

  • Skidplate

    I think both Hall and Nugent-Hopkins still should have a veteran chaperone at even strength for at least this season.

    Horcoff for Hall. Smyth for Nugent-Hopkins

    You want Smyth on the bench beside Nugent-Hopkins “mentoring”.

    • Skidplate

      I would tend to agree but if RNH makes this team there is no place left for Gagner! Sorry but it is true..

      Hall – Horcoff – Hemsky
      Smyth – RNH – Eberle
      MPS – Belanger – Omark
      Eager – Cogs – Jones

      For Gagner to succeed he needs top 6 ice time.

        • Lowetide

          Not many but with the addition of Belanger the options are top 2!

          I suppose you can play Gagner in the 3 hole but he has no chemistry with the Swedes and for some reason I think that Belanger will.

          Honestly I think Gagner is better suited to play the wing here. If Hemsky gets traded I would slot Gagner right into his spot!

          • Thats exactly why I wouldnt move Gagner. Hes versatile, cheap, young, and productive enough to still be in the top 9 (I think top 6).

            To me he starts the year between Smyth and Hemsky and we really get a good idea of what this guy can do with legit NHL linemates. Im pro Gagner in the top 6, but even if hes pushed below the top 6 this year, Id rather have him moving forward than Cogliano, because I think Gagner has infinitely more upside.

          • Kodiak

            Can you explain to me how you see Gagner as being versatile? I see Gagner as the most one dimensional player on the team. The only role he fits in is as an offensive center.

          • Skidplate

            Hey I have no problem with that line and I think he would do well there.

            It is just that if RNH makes the team that would push Horc to Line 3 and Belanger down to 4 and make Cogs a trade chip.

            If we like it or not, with all the young kids here sooner or later one is moving.

  • Gerald R. Ford

    I would *love* to see those line combinations, but I can’t imagine them having the guts to drop Horcoff down to the third line. Smyth-Horcoff-Hemsky is the “safest” No. 1 line, and Horcoff is their golden boy/Captain/most expensive asset. I think that’s too much to hope for, sadly.

    RNH really stirs things up, in a good way. If he stays, they’ll have to address the centre hierarchy, and people will go, and others will have their feelings hurt. I really hope they don’t trade Gagner. I think we’ve just seen a hint of his true abilities, and they could never win that trade.

    Good luck to Brule, whatever happens to him. Hell of a good kid.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Id be somewhat surprised to see a trade happen before TC just to see if RNH makes the team, if he does say bye-bye to Cogs. Horcoff with his contract and leadership isn’t goin anywhere, and Gagner still has to much upside to be sent packing.

    Brule…if he is healthy i could see being put on waivers just because no GM is giving up a warm body for him or gets traded to TO…could be the #1 center Burke is lookin for ;)-

  • Skidplate

    The kid line makes me a little nervous. Two sophmores and a rookie. They are all stellar talents, but maybe a little too unseasoned.

    Mind you with RNH’s vision and Hall’s shot, you may not be able to separate them; and of course Eberle and Hall are a must.

    • Lowetide

      I looked long and hard at options, but the Oilers wingers are mostly inexperienced (Hall, Eberle, Omark, MP).

      The two ideal veterans (Smyth, Hemsky) are a possibility for RNH (as I mentioned) but imo they’ll have a look at the Kid Line in camp.

      One of the things about RNH that Cam Moon and Craig Button kept coming back to was that this guy is very elusive. I know the NHL is the best league in the world, and one hit could have a major impact, but if his game translates (and the last several #1’s have been able to do it) I don’t think you can hold back the water.

  • raretomediumrare

    Why don’t they ever try wingers on the opposite sides? Maybe move omark up onto a line with hemmer, smyth on a third line with belanger/horcoff and MPS?

    • Lowetide

      I agree & personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Brule. In my eyes this was clearly gamesmanship by Lombardi to squeeze a little more out of a bad situation for the Kings. RNH will be back in Red Deer & Brule will be on the roster, probably as an extra & who knows he could grab the 4L job between Eager & Jones. I also think Cogs might be a candidate to be moved.

    • Lowetide

      I don’t want to get into the details of his injury because it should never have seen the light of day. Suffice to say that any NHL trade is imo pretty much impossible and a buyout is also impossible.

      So LTIR is the only option available if these concussion-related issues keep happening.

  • Ducey

    RNH back to junior after a few games. Cogliano moves back to 3 or 4 C and assists with PK. Hordichuk takes Jones’ spot against some of the heavier teams – and Vancouver 🙂