I think we’re all pretty much agreed on the shopping list for the Edmonton Oilers this summer: don’t screw up the draft, grab a defenseman and maybe a goalie when no one is looking. Oh, yeah. One more thing. a 2-way forward with or without crust.
When Craig MacTavish left as coach of the Oilers, he spoke with great passion about his team and what they’d tried to do; now this is old history but I wanted to quote one line and lay it across the current roster:
- MacT April 2009: "Virtually all year, we’re trying to get nonconfrontational players into confrontational areas where we’re going to score goals. It was a losing battle from a lot of perspectives."
As MacTavish has said in the last 24 hours, things have changed. No one can reasonably suggest Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle or even teenager Ryan Nugent-Hopkins shy from the confrontational areas. Although the Nuge doesn’t run over people, he certainly plays an aggressive forechecking game and uses his body to remove player from puck well. Lots of try in this group, and I dare say that veterans Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Jones, Lennart Petrell, Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk will hunt for pucks when the opportunity arises.
So, with all of these hairy men replacing wallfowers Nilsson, Cogliano etc what pray tell is the problem?
WHAT’S WRONG, PAL?
The problem is pretty easy to identify: not enough actual NHL players. Sometimes "crust" or "rugged" or "grit" get in the way of the truth: subpar players deliver subpar results.
The Oilers added Smyth, Petrell, Hordichuk and Eager to the mix last summer, but only Smyth proved to be a difference maker (and he faded as the season wore on). That’s a huge key for this season, and I expect the major item the three amigo’s (Tambelllini, Lowe and MacT) will look to address is the group of forwards behind the young studs. For our purposes, I’m including Gagner, Horcoff, Hemsky, Jones and possibly Magnus Paajarvi or Teemu Hartikainen as additional forwards beyond Hall, Nuge and Eberle.
Let’s take this one at a time:
- Eric Belanger: He had a poor season but still has term on his contract. I’d bet on a recovery of some sort, but rumors have him headed to Montreal. The Oilers would probably pull the trigger even if there wasn’t much at all coming back.
- Ben Eager: He delivered most of what was expected, although I thought he’d be better at passing and taking a pass. All that speed and size and he can’t catch a pass. Too bad. I think he might end up elsewhere, too.
- Lennart Petrell: He sure did pressure opponents on the PK, but he was overwhelmed at evens. Was it him or the other guys? The Oilers are unlikely to spend another season finding out.
- Darcy Hordichuk: I think he was just fine, delivered as expected. However,the Oilers may be looking for a bigger nuclear deterrent (someone like Parros).
- Anton Lander: I think the Oilers would do well to give him an entire season in the AHL.
ANYONE IN OKC WITH JAM?
The candidate we’ve talked about at length this spring is Teemu Hartikainen. He has size and talent, plus he’s show an ability to win battles in his brief cups of coffee in the NHL. Magnus Paajarvi is also a candidate, his speed is a major plus on the forecheck and the new coach may well find him useful when playing a more uptempo style.
If the Oilers are going to re-work their 4th line and tinker with their 3rd, then they’ll need more than these two in order to make a go of it.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The Oilers have some outstanding top end talent, and maybe another on the way via the draft. The job of Lowe, Tambellini and MacTavish is to make tough decisions: send Lander down and possibly Paajarvi or Hartikainen too; find a new home for one or more of Belanger, Eager, Horcoff or Jones.
They don’t have time for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk. And they have to decide some very important issues right away. Job one: signing Ryan Smyth. Although he didn’t have a strong second half, it’s also true the club used him heavy early and that can be overcome by handling him more carefully.
A top 9 that includes Hall, Nuge, Eberle, Gagner, Smyth, Hemsky, Horcoff and Jones has some strong points. That 9th man is vital, and the 4th line will need some actual players too.
Up next: who fills the 3-4 line roles after the flood.