Oilers sign Miller, what MacTavish said, and questions needing answers

Lots of stuff after the jump, starting with the Oilers’ most recent free agent signing and getting into some of the key questions to answer in the 2013 season’s dying days.

Miller Time

Yesterday, the Oilers signed free agent forward Andrew Miller out of Yale. He’s small for pro hockey (the Oilers’ Twitter account originally listed him at 5’8”, then corrected itself and said his official height is 5’10”, which presumably means he’s 5’8”). He’s old, too, turning 25 in the off-season. He’s the same age and size as Mark Arcobello (and the two were teammates in 2009-10). Hockey Prospectus’ Corey Pronman describes him (in part) this way:

The 24 year old center is a classic small, skilled college player. Miller displays above-average qualities in terms of his speed, puck skills and overall offensive instincts. In his Senior season especially he showed the ability to consistently create scoring chances and keep the play flowing in the right direction. The concerns I would have with Miller are firstly his physical game. He’s a 5′9′’ forward and although he does work hard, I’m not convinced he has the necessary grit and physical qualities to be anything more than replacement level in that area in the pro game. With Miller you also wonder if he has enough offensive talent, meaning if he’s dynamic or merely good, to overcome his size. I see reasonable arguments for and against him on that issue depending on which night you saw him.

College UFA signings are basically the NHL equivalent of found money; expectations of the team for Miller should be modest (essentially, that he be a useful AHL’er) with the hope that he’s a pleasant surprise.

What MacTavish did, and did not, say at his press conference

There’s been a lot of ‘the Oilers are going to move one of their big names!’ talk from a lot of different places. The amount of chatter – and the quality of the people engaging in it – suggests to me that more is being said behind the scenes and off the record than was said publicly. However, I do feel compelled to point out that for all the talk of doing bold things and exposing the team to risk, Craig MacTavish made his view of at least the first overall picks very clear at the presser which introduced him as general manager:

If you’re referring to the young core that we paid such an exceptionally high price to acquire, we would part with those assets very begrudgingly.

My guess, and a guess is all it is, is that the five young players integral to the rebuild – the three first overall picks, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz – are all Oilers at this time next year. Sam Gagner, whose exceptional offensive season has been a mixed blessing given the one-year contract he was signed to a year ago, strikes me as the most plausible candidate for a “wow” move because he has youth and real value on his side (everyone in the ‘why don’t they trade Hemsky for a top-pairing defenceman’ camp, this is the reason) and because the role he’s playing (centre of a secondary scoring line) is (comparatively) easy to replace via trade or free agency.

The things left to find out

Stauffer’s comments above make sense, and with Hemsky and Petrell both known quantities losing them doesn’t hurt the evaluation process. The questions I’d like to see a little more data for are these:

  • Are Anton Lander and Jerred Smithson good candidates for roster spots next year?
  • How good is Teemu Hartikainen?
  • Can Ryan Smyth still play if he’s put back on left wing?
  • Does Ryan Jones belong on this team next year?
  • Can Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle generate offence without Hall?
  • Do Corey Potter, Mark Fistric, and/or Theo Peckham belong on this team next year?

Some of those questions, doubtless, have already been answered in the minds of management. Theo Peckham’s played four games this year, and it seems a good bet the organization is done with him; if he doesn’t play between now and the end of the season we’ll know for sure. Smithson and Jones getting scratched last game could be tells, too.

Putting Hall with Gagner and Yakupov, and sticking Paajarvi in Hall’s spot on the Nugent-Hopkins line in that last game seem like attempts to answer some of these questions. So does putting Anton Lander in a third line role, with Shawn Horcoff on the wing, and dressing Fistric and Potter as the third pairing. A fourth line of Smyth, Smithson and Jones would help answer questions about that trio – Smyth’s been bad at centre, and both Smithson and Jones are pending UFAs – and would likely be more effective than any combination based on putting Smyth at centre.

My current answers to those questions, by the way:

  • Lander’s a good choice as first call-up, team can walk from Smithson 
  • Good enough to be on the 2013-14 opening night roster
  • Yes, in a reduced role
  • Depends on salary, but if it’s reasonable he’d be a very good fourth-liner (who could play special teams and move up as necessary when injuries strike)
  • I really don’t know, but if they could play effectively apart it would make it much more difficult for opposing coaches to match against the Oilers, particularly on the road
  • Potter and Fistric are both fine 6/7 options, depending on what else happens with the defence. 

But I’d like to see the last few games of the season to help answer all of those questions. 

Recently around the Nation Network

    • GVBlackhawk

      Totally disagree. He is a trainwreck out there most nights. He tends to run around in his own zone and doesn’t provide much in the way of offense.

      He is getting healthy scratched on one of the worst teams in the league. That’s not someone worth keeping, imo.

        • GVBlackhawk

          You cannot argue the fact that he was excellent value in the previous two seasons. 35 goals, no assets given up to get him. That is fantastic value (even though he was like a chicken with its head cut off in the Dzone…that hasn’t changed).

          However, his performance has fallen off a cliff this year. He should have been parlayed into a draft pick at the trade deadline. That’s a mistake by Dithers. And I would like to see a better player taking Jones’ roster spot next season.

  • Just from a UFA perspective, players that could replace Jones:

    Clarke MacArthur, Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell, Eric Fehr, Raffi Torres, Maxim Lapierre & Steve Begin.

    Some of these guys will cost more, some less, but all should be able to accomplish what Jones’ role provides. Energy, some grit, and a handful of goals.

    Can Jones get back to where he was last year? Are there better options out there? Can he repeat the 15 plus goals? personally, I’m not convinced he can, which is why I walk.

  • Bucknuck

    To the poster that goes by the name Jasmine……..we all know that it’s you Kevin Lowe!

    I know that you have been defending yourself by bashing the fans. You my friend are a great big BASHER, bashing fans that are tired of your bashing.

    Bash, Bash, and more Bash will not win you any fans, so please stop your incessant bashing!

  • Bucknuck

    Jamie Benn IS the type of guy this team really needs aside from a big, solid, prick of a D-man.

    Dallas, I’d bet, is building around him.

    I think Clarkson is the guy to go after. UFA. Throw the freakin’ kitchen sink at him! Give him ONE MILLION DOLLARS!!!

  • Bucknuck

    If San Jose fails to hoist the cup again, you have to wonder whether they would be ready to go in a different direction. Perhaps trade Joe Thornton, though I wonder if he’s a guy that would be a good role model for the youngsters, since San Jose can’t seem to win anything with him as their #1 Centre. He only has one year left on his contract, though.

    It would expose them to some risk, particularly if his play falls off.

  • Bucknuck

    I am a Flames fan since 1980 but I also follow the Oilers closely and (believe it or not) I want the Oilers to do well other than when they go head to head with the Flames. Both the Oilers Nation and Flames Nation sites are really interesting in the comments section due to the varied opinions of so many people. It is a great forum to state opinions and many people are very blunt and eloquent in their reasons for dissecting the Management failures of both teams Ownership, Presidencies and Management. Keep it up everyone!

  • The Oilers Shot Clock

    Most clubs going into playoffs made major acquisitions in star players to start season and/or trade deadline . We did not , and that should change with MacT. as GM .

    Just as only an example Oilers were to add a Lucic (in the doghouse right now) , Vanek with Weber . Lesser might be Callahan , Stafford , etc.. How many of current roster would we still require beyond some of our outstanding youth ?

    • DSF

      The Oilers cannot afford Lucic, Weber or Vanek considering the contracts they’ve already doled out to Hall and Eberle and what they face in re-signing Hopkins, Schultz and Yakupov.

      That they didn’t address their needs on D and at C while drafting in the top team for years in a row is unfortunate.

      Now they’re in a position where they will have no choice but to trade at least one of the kids to fill holes.

      Even a second tier player like Callaghan will be difficult to fit under the cap unless they move out a high ticket item.

      • The Oilers Shot Clock

        And depending on the value returning that’s not such a bad thing. It’s gotta be more effective trading for needs than drafting for them. Real assets will have to be moved but Edmonton can in effect put together a package rivaled by few if they wanted too. Eberle and a first would solve a few problems.

      • GVBlackhawk

        Minnesota and Pitts. are two examples that did add major parts – I believe we could as well. Hall and Eberle are bargains compared to other lofty contracts signed by others on other teams. If they can , we can .

      • I disagree. Last season I looked at the salary structures of the best teams, and most of the top teams in the league had 32-38M in salary going to their top 6 players. Tat means you can have as many as 6 guys getting 6M a year and still fill out your roster properly if, and here’s the caveat, you are competent.

        You beloved Wild have over 39 going to their top 6 contracts next season and almost 36 if they buy out Heatley.

      • Bucknuck

        with whitney and Khabibulin coming off the books that frees up 8 million right there. When Yakupov and Schultz are due for a raise, Horcoff and Hemsky’s contracts will be done.

  • GVBlackhawk

    McTavish has his work cut out for him as we have no prospects in the pipeline. We have our prospects in the show and nothing else coming up. Lowe and Tambi have wasted our picks on permanent AHLer’s.

    The guys they bring up have no emotion or compete level.

    So frustrated as an oiler fan.

  • geoilersgist

    I just actually watched that clip, I thought it was only going to show highlights of Miller. Carson Cooper is from my hometown of Bow Island. I had almost forgotten that he went there this year on his scholarship.