Tomorrow the Oiler player will each have a final meeting with the coaching staff, pack their bags and then head their separate ways after another disappointing season. For some it will be their final time inside the Oiler dressing room as an Oiler, but who won’t be returning?
Let’s start at the top.
It seems likely that Steve Tambellini will continue as GM, and he will be in charge of trying to lead the Oilers out of their draft lottery wilderness. If he does get an extension, he better be on a very short leash considering his recent track record signing free agents and making trades.
The fact is, Tambellini needs to be much better at evaluating proven NHL talent if the Oilers want to become serious contenders. This team has a long way to go before they will be competitive against the Canucks, Wings, Bruins, Rangers, Penguins, Flyers and other elite teams.
It is unrealistic to expect Tambellini to re-shape them into an elite contender within the next six months, but he needs to make some moves that will at least make them able to stay in the playoff race longer than the first 50 games of the year.
My concern with bringing back Tambellini is that he doesn’t ooze leadership. Maybe he does behind the scenes, but from many conversations I’ve had with those in and out of the organization his decisiveness is lacking. Maybe it’s a learning process, but realistically if he doesn’t have the confidence to make the tough decisions by now, I’m not sure if he ever will.
How he handles the Tom Renney situation will shed some light on how he will deal with big decisions moving forward.
Renney and his entire coaching staff of Ralph Krueger, Kelly Buchberger, Steve Smith and Fred Chabot are all waiting to see if they will get new contracts. The Oilers won’t be making an announcement on their future tomorrow, but how long will they make them wait to find out their fate?
I don’t see why this decision hasn’t already been made.
They’ve known all season that the coaches’ contracts were up, so if they haven’t extended them by now, then why not just make an announcement this week that they are moving in a different direction. Conversely, if they want Renney back then why haven’t they signed him already?
For the past few weeks I’ve spoken to some players who played for Renney on different NHL teams and even some guys who played under him for Team Canada. The feedback I got from them was that he was an exceptional teacher. He was always prepared and his understanding of the game is excellent.
A few of them did say something interesting though. He isn’t a fiery guy who gets guys amped up. That’s just not in his persona, which isn’t a bad thing, but I wonder if guys would go through a wall for him?
For the past few years, my main criticism of the Oilers has been that collectively they weren’t hard enough to play against. Not just physically, but more mentally. I wonder if the Oilers need a more fiery guy behind the bench. Of course they had that in Pat Quinn, and it was a disaster, but what about a coach with the persona of Quinn but the technical smarts of Renney? Obviously they need more gritty players, but maybe they need a different personality behind the bench as well?
Let’s start with the easy decisions.
Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins aren’t going anywhere. They are the main building blocks moving forward.
Ladislav Smid had a very solid season and he will be expected to be as good, if not, a bit better next year. Nick Schultz isn’t flashy, but he doesn’t make many mistakes and is a reliable NHLer. Jeff Petry will get a new contract over the summer and I’m curious to see if he continues to progress. He has the potential to be a solid #2. Ryan Whitney used to powerskate every summer, but he hasn’t for the past two years due to his ankle issues. He’s admitted his leg strength suffered because of that, so I’m curious to see if he can re-gain his footspeed this summer. If so, he should make them better next year.
Shawn Horcoff likely isn’t going anywhere. Many have speculated that if the the new CBA has an amensty clause that will allow teams to buy out one contract and not have it count against the cap, then Horcoff will be the guy. However, he has $13 million remaining on his deal, and I doubt Katz wants to pay a player $13 million not to play for him. If you don’t focus on his salary, Horcoff is a very useful NHLer. He’ll be back.
Ales Hemsky should have a pain-free and rehab-free summer, and I hope he uses his time to strengthen his shoulders. Hemsky can still challenge defenders one-on-one, and should be a solid 2nd line RW next year.
I’d sign Dubnyk to a one-year deal, maybe two, and see how he plays next year. I really liked his play from January to April, and if he can stay consistent next year I think he’ll keep the Oilers in most games.
I doubt the Oilers buy out Khabibulin, and unless they get him to go play in Russia he’ll return as the backup.
Andy Sutton and Corey Potter will be back, but I’m not sold that both will be in the lineup to start next season. I think Potter will be challenged to keep his spot. Sutton will be a useful role player.
Teemu Hartikainen has a spot to lose. The Oilers desperately need his size and strength, and I hope he works tirelessly on improving his first step over the summer. If he can improve his skating, he could be a force.
Ben Eager needs to understand and accept his role next year. Whether it is Renney or a new coach, they need to be crystal clear what is expected from Eager. He should be a guy who can rotate between your 3rd and 4th line on any night. Eager needs to realize when to be protective. I find that he’ll fight or get physical when someone goes after him, but he didn’t show that same spirit when one of teammates was taken advantage of. He needs to have better "gamesmanship".
Ryan Jones is in the same boat. He can be a productive 3rd liner, but he needs to be more assertive. He scores to the tough areas to score, but I’d like to see him add some sandpaper to his game.
WHAT ABOUT THE REST?
Where does Sam Gagner fit?
We likely won’t know for sure until the draft. If the Oilers draft 2nd and take Mikhail Grigorenko then Gagner could be dealt. Gagner is one of the few players, who the Oilers would consider trading, who has actual value. Teams like his desire, tenacity and skill, so if the Oilers draft the big Russian they might use Gagner as bait to fill a void on the blueline or maybe try him on the wing.
Magnus Paajarvi will be given a chance to crack the top-six next year, and it is up to him to grab that opportunity. Paajarvi is another player who has trade value. Would the Oilers deal him for a young forward who is more aggressive? It is way too soon to give up on Paajarvi, but if you could fetch a player will similar skill, but a big more bite would Tambellini pull the trigger? It’d be a risky move, because Paajarvi might be a slow developer, but teams who win take the odd educated risk.
Eric Belanger can’t possibly be as bad offensively next season, and if he returns I’d expect him to be a10-12 goal guy. I’m just not sure that you can have him and Horcoff as your 3rd and 4th line centres though. I’d want a guy with some grit in his game down the middle in my bottom six.
Lennart Petrell should get another one-year deal. He’s a solid penalty killer, and he has some size and decent skill for a 4th liner.
Darcy Hordichuk knows his role and accepts it. I don’t see the Oilers starting the season with 14 forwards next year, so I doubt they bring him back.
Linus Omark won’t be back. The Oilers will try and deal him before the draft.
Cam Barker didn’t pan out at all. The Oilers won’t be qualifying him.
They Oilers will re-sign Theo Peckham, because they need depth. If they end up signing or trading for a veteran D-man, then maybe they lose him on waivers next October, but they will qualify him rather than let him become a UFA.
Ryan Smyth wants to stay in Edmonton, and the Oilers want him, but the price and term is the issue. I’d sign him to a one-year deal with a base of $2 million and bonuses. If he produces it is a win-win for both parties. He gets more money and the Oilers get good production.
I’m sure Nugent-Hopkins would love to go play for Canada at the World Championships, but if I’m Kevin Lowe I sit him down and tell him that it’d be better for him to rest. He looked tired the past month, and he needs to get stronger. Let him recover from a long season and then focus on getting stronger. There is no reason he should be playing until next September.