Yesterday Craig MacTavish came on my radio show to discuss his thoughts on free agency, Sam Gagner, Ryan Jones, goaltending, a desire to find heavier players and more.
Here is our conversation along with my thoughts/opinions to his answers.
Jason Gregor: What is your plan with Ryan Jones and Mark Fistric?
Craig MacTavish: The plan is to see, get a little bit more information on what we are capable, or able to do coming through the draft. I know that the timeline is squeezed pretty tight but right now I’ve spoken with Ryan already, but it’s just trying to buy a little bit of time and see what happens in the draft. I’m not sure how this is all going to shake down. And then we will be in a better position to assess our own UFAs.
Gregor: You mentioned again today that you need to improve your bottom six. Last year you had guys who could at best break even and likely were a negative type player. Two years in a row, Jones had 18 and 17 goals playing 3rd line minutes, but last year coming off of that freakish eye injury didn’t have the same production. Do you look at him as a bottom six forward who still has enough skill that you desire to play that role?
MacTavish: Yeah I do potentially. I like a lot of things about Ryan Jones. He’s a very hard working guy, very good guy in the room for our group, very good teammate. I think that coming off of this season, the lockout season was a little bit of a different season for everybody, especially Ryan. So we’re just trying to get a read on what our needs are going to be coming through this draft and again as I said we’ll make that decision at that time.
***The Oilers have talked to Jones’ agent, but it sounds like they will explore some trade opportunities at the draft first. If they don’t land the guy the want, they will circle back to Jones. MacTavish didn’t even address Fistric, so I’d guess he isn’t in their plans. Sounds like they will be looking for D-men with good puck moving skills.
Gregor: You’ve admitted you’re a big fan of Sam Gagner, not only as a player but more as a person; how hard he competes and everything he brings. Do you think Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner as a tandem, whether it’s two, three years down the road , have enough intangibles that you can be successful with those two as your top centres?
MacTavish: That’s the question, that’s the unanswered question right now and I think that for us, we want to build through the draft and the way that we develop players. We drafted Sam at number six, so at that point we were obviously very prepared to put a lot of stock in smaller centremen. He’s a couple hundred pounds and people forget that he’s only 23 years old.
Remember the Conn Smythe trophy winner was probably just a little under that height of Sam. Maybe we need to surround Sam with something that is more a fit for him and make that read at that point. But one thing that I know for sure about Sam is that he is a real good hockey player on a pro-rated basis you would have had 63 points in an 82 game schedule. He’s durable; he’s gritty so there are a lot of things that I like about Sam. I do have confidence that Sam is going to be a part of the solution here.
***The Oilers are close to signing Gagner to a contract extension. A source told me it could be a four-year deal.
Gregor: You mentioned the main priority for you at the draft would be a centreman with the number seven position, and you`re probably not going to trade up because it’s worth too much to do. I talked to Stu MacGregor about trading down yesterday, and he mentioned number 14 was where he thought that there was a drop off. If by chance you got a good enough offer to move down, is it accurate to say you likely won’t go past number 14?
MacTavish: No I think that that’s unlikely that we’d go even that far back, but I think that we would move back a little bit, given the right set of circumstances. What the right circumstances are, my definition of that and my trading partner’s would be the critical issue.
***The Oilers won’t be trading picks with the Maple Leafs. I don’t see the Oilers moving down past #10. MacTavish was adamant at his press conference that he wants to improve the team now, but he won’t sacrifice too much of the future. He is hopeful this will be their last top-ten pick for many years.***
TRADES AND SIGNINGS…
Gregor: There was a story today by Mike Russo regarding Cal Clutterbuck. I know that you can’t comment on players specifically, but is that the type of player that you feel is a necessity to acquire? A guy that can add a little bit more angst to the opposition, because your team hasn’t been hard to play against for a few seasons.
MacTavish: Well you know the division that we’re going into. You have to have some competitiveness and it’s been well documented, we’ve beaten it around for almost two months now that that’s one of our primary objectives is to get bigger and heavier and that’s something that we’re trying to address on a daily basis. So those types of players are the types of players that we would like to add, no question.
Gregor: What’s your plan for the second round? Would you look at a goaltender or have you done enough studies to suggest that you can get a quality goalie for the future later in the draft?
MacTavish: We don’t have a 3rd and we don’t have a 4th, so we’ll see what the scouts have to say. We get into New York and into those meetings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and yes we’d like to add a goalie. We’ve talked about that being an area of need for the organization but we’ll see what’s available when we’re picking.
Gregor: Ilya Bryzgalov will be bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers, would you have any interest in a veteran like that.
MacTavish: That’s the first time that I’ve had that question. I’m anticipating that about 30 different times between now and when I walk out of that draft but we’ll see. We’ll talk to the pro scouts and see what our interest level is on Ilya Bryzgalov.
Gregor: Are you looking for a guy who will push Devan Dubnyk or more of a veteran who will support him?
MacTavish: Depends on the cost. It’s not an either or, it’s something that you’ve got to measure the cost. Ideally you want the best goalie that we can find to go in there with Devan, but what that cost is remains to be seen and what we want to pay for that piece is all going to be a part of the judgement that we apply to some of these moves that we’re contemplating.
Gregor: Many fans want to know about Linus Omark. What’s the plan, do you think that there is any chance that he comes back to the Edmonton Oilers, or is he potential trade bait?
MacTavish: I have not had a team inquire about him. I’ve had Linus’ agent ask me if I’d be willing to move his rights and I would be. Again, he’s had a good year in Europe, playing in Zug I think, and so far no one has called. We’d be happy to get involved in a discussion with Linus, about Linus.
***Hopefully this will end the constant speculation that Omark should be used as trade bait. It is hard to trade a player, if no other team is interested in acquiring him. MacTavish’s last line was interesting though. I sense he would talk to Omark about a return to Edmonton, but only if he was willing to compete for a job, and not walk away from the AHL if he didn’t make the team right away. I don’t see how Omark fits in Edmonton. The Oilers don’t need more skill in their top-six, and I’m not sure he fits in their bottom six. He competes hard for pucks in the offensive zone, but his defensive game wasn’t great. I’d like to see him get another shot in the NHL, but I don’t see it happening in Edmonton.
Gregor: Do you see Mark Arcobello as a guy who can potentially work his way up to the NHL?
MacTavish: I think that he’s got potential, sure. I liked him last year, I was an advocate of giving him an opportunity, especially in our bottom six last year, but he only came up for the one game. It all boils down to your ability to make plays with the puck. When he played with Hall and Eberle in Oklahoma City this year earlier, his production was excellent. It was actually on par with Nuge. I’m not saying that he’s Nuge, but it was on par with Ryan. So I think that we’ll get him to training camp.
When we signed him again to a contract I had a conversation with him and told him that he would get a look at training camp. He hasn’t played in an exhibition game or didn’t last year, so we’ll get a look and the rest will be up to him to prove to the coaching staff that he’s got enough game to warrant a bigger look as training camp goes by. I promised him that opportunity and we’re going to give it to him.
***Interesting to hear MacTavish say Arcobello only got to play one game. MacTavish likes his skill and awareness with the puck. Is it possible they would look at him as a 4th line C? Seems unlikely due to his size and stature, but MacTavish made it very clear at his press conference he wants guys in his bottom-six who are smart with the puck, and have the ability to make smart plays all over the ice.
Gregor: What about the RFA route, would you contemplate an offer sheet, or is the UFA pool deep enough?
MacTavish: Well there aren’t too many examples of offer sheets paying off as far as I’m concerned. It is a tool, our organization has done it in the past, so it’s something to contemplate, but at this point I don’t anticipate that happening. The UFA market this year, we’ll sit down with our pro scouts at this draft, they’ll be there, and spend some time with them. We had our pro meetings about two weeks ago and have our lists down and will try to formulate what exactly our specific strategy will be going into July 5th.
***MacTavish wasn’t the biggest Dustin Penner fan, so it isn’t a surprise he is leery of making an RFA offer sheet.
Gregor: Can you give us an update on Oscar Klefbom? Do you expect him to compete for a spot on the roster in camp, or in an ideal world would you like to let him to develop for a half a year in the American Hockey League?
MacTavish: I think that that’s all going to be dependent on what the coaches’ opinion is of Oscar. I know what my opinion is of Oscar having seen him over in Sweden this year. He’s a very complete guy. I liked his game immensely, but one of the things that I really view as a benefit is a fresh set of eyes on our players. Dallas will come into our camp with a fresh set of eyes; largely form his own opinions and conclusions on our players. I would be extremely surprised if Oscar doesn’t make a good case for himself to stay, but we don’t have to predict that now, that will be based on training camp.
***The more the Oilers talk about Klefbom the more I feel they plan on playing him next season. He’s big, strong, skates well and makes good decisions with the puck. If he starts the season in the 3rd pairing that would make sense, but it is very risky to have two players, (J.Schutlz and Klefbom) in your top-four with a combined 48 NHL games.
Gregor: When you look back at the years you coached, you didn’t have Hall, Eberle type of offensive guys. [Ales] Hemsky was really the only high level offensive player that you had. You had a lot of guys that worked incredibly hard and battled and got the most out of it. Did those players have that in them or was that a little bit of you having the ability to get that out of them? Do you think that Dallas Eakins can get more guys to be more competitive on a nightly basis?
MacTavish: Well this is a great opportunity for a self-serving comment on my part, but I’m going to avoid it. I think that largely that level of competitiveness has to be attributed to the players that we had here at the time. We had a very determined, close knit group of players, and really they went to war for each other on a nightly basis. At that point, we didn’t have enough skill.
We made a decision way back when to try to get some more skill in the lineup because the goals were normally by attrition and now the team’s really made a 180 degree turn and we need the Todd Machants and the Mike Griers and the Ethan Moreaus and the Rem Murrays and the Todd Harveys and the guys that have that character and all of that grit, and an amalgamation of the team that we have now. The team that we had then would be very exciting to watch for a lot of years, if we had the skill we have now, but right now I think that it is paramount in our mandate to try to get those players in to compete hard and we’re going to try to do that.
Gregor: Have you had any preliminary discussion for a contract extension for Magnus Paajarvi?
MacTavish: We really haven’t with any of our RFAs with the exception of Sam, a little bit. But again, those discussions will start quickly.
Gregor: Do you think the new window to talk and court free agents on July 3rd and 4th can make a difference in free agency?
MacTavish: Well, I know that Edmonton is a pretty nice place to be in July. I think that that can make a difference, but I’ve said many times that our story here in Edmonton is a very compelling story to not only young players, but veterans as well. You’ve got an opportunity to play a prominent role on an emerging team. In this game you’re never going to outrun expectations forever, but we very much plan on exceeding expectations here and that’s when you can have some fun. It’s a great story here to tell players that are open minded and want to play a prominent role in the re-emergence of the Edmonton Oilers and that’s what we want to be able to try to do.
Gregor: Patrick Kane was named the Conn Smyth trophy winner. I’m not sure there is a better player on zone entries in the NHL. He’s incredibly confident with the puck; he can come across the blue line and just out wait everybody. Do your skilled guys, Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle and Yakupov need to improve that aspect of their game, and if so, how does the coaching staff or even management help them do that?
MacTavish: Well I would make an argument for Nugent-Hopkins being every bit as effective and will be as Patrick Kane. Taylor Hall, he’s a little bit different player, he’s more of a power player. He’s got stick skill but he doesn’t have quite the dexterity as Patrick Kane, but Patrick doesn’t have his power. So I think that we saw Patrick Kane on the tying goal, on the entry and beat a few guys, he’s a jitterbug out there, but Eberle has a great set of hands. The play seldom dies with him; he’s great at making the right decisions at the blue line and backing people off. Yakupov too, with his skill set can back people off so we got lots of guys like that, so the future is going to be bright here.
***In the future the Oilers might match Kane, but today he is the best in the NHL on zone entries. One NHL player text me, "The guys has no worries in the world with the puck on his stick. He looks so relaxed and confident. It is amazing."
- It is clear MacTavish is willing to make some trades, and I’d be very surprised if he left New Jersey without making one. He stressed the value of 2nd rounders yesterday, and since the Oilers have two, we could see him include one of them in a package deal.
- The NHL closed a loophole in the CBA so teams can’t trade a player, have new team buy him out, and then re-sign back with his original team. Larry Brooks had the story.
- Reminder there is a new wrinkle in free agency this year. From July 3rd to 4th teams will be allowed to speak to pending UFAs. They can even fly them into their city for a tour.
- The compliance buyout period ends at 5 p.m. EST on July 4th. This means teams can court a pending UFA for a day and a half, and if they verbally agree to a contract, we could see some teams use compliance buyouts closer to the deadline. If you have a replacement confirmed it is much easier to buy a player out.
- MacTavish wouldn’t comment on which RFAs the Oilers will qualify. Gagner and Paajarvi will be qualified. MacTavish already said they will let Theo Peckham walk. Teemu Hartikainen, Colten Teubert, Antti Tyrvainen, Alex Plante, Phillippe Cornet, Niko Hoivenen and Taylor Fedun are the other RFAs. I don’t see the Oilers qualifying both Plante and Teubert, and it will be interesting to see which one, or possibly both, they choose to let go.
- Chris Vande Velde (group six), Yann Danis, Darcy Hordichuk, Tanner House, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ryan Whitney, Jerred Smithson, Lennart Petrell, Fistric and Jones are UFAs. Jones and Vande Velde are likely the only two they would re-sign. Danis might get a new deal if they can’t land any other goalies, but they’d prefer to find a #3 goalie in the system who has a shot to be a regular back up in the NHL.