The Edmonton Oilers: Today & Tomorrow


Craig MacTavish has been busy in free agency, substantially altering the makeup of his team. It’s a sign of where he started from that there’s still substantial work to do to improve the Oilers’ roster.

Forward Depth Chart

The chart above is my interpretation of the current Oilers’ North American roster. I have included only players with an NHL component to their deal, and omitted players expected to be overseas. How does it look?

One thing that comes to mind is that there should be no shortage of competition for depth roles, something the team lacked a year ago. Anton Lander is pencilled in as fourth line centre, but players like Andrew Miller, Mark Arcobello and Will Acton will all be in the mix. Ryan Hamilton, Toni Rajala and Ben Eager should all also compete for playing time as things currently stand. Depth, particularly on the wings, is better than it was a year ago.

Additionally, in Boyd Gordon, Craig MacTavish located the best UFA replacement available for Shawn Horcoff.

But it isn’t good enough. The top line is fine – it was fine last year, and it’s fine now. Magnus Paajarvi is a stretch as a second-line winger at this point in his career, particularly on a line featuring Nail Yakupov, whose overall game is still rounding into NHL form. Jesse Joensuu, an occasional New York Islander in the past, is a long way from a sure thing on the third line. There’s likely still an Ales Hemsky trade coming, at which point the team needs someone to fill his spot – Ryan Jones can in a pinch, but asking Jones to play that role for 82 games is asking for trouble. Anton Lander’s riding an end-of-season hot streak but likely should start 2013-14 in the minors.

Ideally, the team should add three more bodies to the mix:

Second-line left wing – a guy who in a perfect world adds size, aggressiveness, and a two-way game is going to be difficult to find and almost certainly needs to come via trade. My guess is that the Oilers can probably land a player with two out of three for not too much – as examples, R.J. Umberger would add a responsible two-way presence and a 6’2", 220 pound frame while a winger like Ryan Malone (if willing to accept a trade West) would bring all three but comes with a significant injury tag. Finding a perfect fit will be very hard to do, especially without paying a fortune.

Third-line right wing shouldn’t be too hard to acquire – he’s likely the player that comes back when Hemsky gets shipped out of town. This is another position that probably needs to be filled via trade, as the UFA crop is thin on players who can kill penalties and handle a ton of defensive responsibility in this role.

Fourth-line centre is a spot the team should be able to fill. Players like David Steckel, Tim Brent, and Manny Malhotra are still unsigned, and would significantly shore up the Oilers depth, allowing them to continue developing Lander in the AHL for the beginning of 2013-14.

Defensive Depth Chart

As before, my interpretation of where the Oilers are, this time on the blue line and in net. Players with an asterisk are left-shooting defencement slotted in at the right-hand side for the purposes of this exercise.

Goaltending is relatively solid. Dubnyk is a respectable number one, LaBarbera a cheap and effective backup, and Bachman a number three with relatively extensive NHL experience. LaBarbera is seen as a pure backup in some quarters, but that likely isn’t totally fair – Ilya Bryzgalov and Mike Smith have been fairly difficult to supplant in recent years, and LaBarbera’s NHL numbers over that span indicate a guy who could play more without hurting his team. He is a real option should Dubnyk struggle or get hurt.

Defensively, depth is good, particularly on the left side. A quick note about Lee Moffie – he isn’t signed, but given that the Oilers traded for him it’s a reasonable expectation that he will be. There are eight defenders on my NHL roster at the moment, but I fully expect Edmonton to go with fourteen forwards and seven defenders – it’s a reasonable bet that the acquisition of Philip Larsen makes Corey Potter the odd man out. The AHL team should be bursting at the seams with recall options – Fedun (and possibly Potter, should he clear waivers and be assigned to Oklahoma) on the right side, Klefbom and Marincin for sure on the left. The problem is the top pairing: Petry and Smid struggled in the role last season. That means the Oilers have one slot to fill.

I have subtracted Nick Schultz from this equation, but Ladislav Smid is a player with significant trade value and could be out instead if the Oilers add a top-pairing player. Also worth noting: that player does not necessarily need to be a left-side defenceman – I have it set up that way because the pairing of Ference (or Nick Schultz) and Philip Larsen is one I would be more comfortable with than an Anton Belov/Justin Schultz pairing.

My guess is that this is why the Oilers were looking at Braydon Coburn. If they believe that Coburn is a similar player to Smid in many areas (especially as a physical presence in front of the net) but an upgrade in his ability to move the puck, than a Coburn/Petry top pairing makes some sense. That would leave Smid (or Andrew Ference) on a pairing with Justin Schultz, and Andrew Ference (or Nick Schultz) on third pairing duty with Philip Larsen. It still wouldn’t be an ideal defence core because of the lack of a clear number one defenceman, but as a by-committee approach it really isn’t bad.

The big, physical winger position is the one that has received most of the attention; the need for a new top-pairing defender might be the team’s greatest actual weakness, as currently constructed.

Recently around the Nation Network

There is still much to do in Edmonton, but it appears things are done in Calgary:

It appears the Flames are finished window shopping for UFA’s. Word is the club hasn’t even bothered contacting Mason Raymond and probably the only other worthwhile player on the market given Calgary’s needs is Mikhail Grabovski. Naturally, there hasn’t been even a whisper that Calgary has any interest at all. So, absent any left field trades, what you see is likely what you get when it comes to the roster.

Click the link to read more, or alternately, feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

  • Supernova

    Good overview on a needs assessment……..can’t help but wonder on the back end who will play the nasty ” in your face” role.

    The combinations by any measure show a weakness on the physical play and after a few games our small defenseman will start to wear down. I know that much has been written on needing a big body in the top six role ( Brad Boyes is still available) but I think we need a big mean defenseman more!

  • Supernova

    How about Brendan Morrow to fill in some of that bottom 6 winger depth, assuming Hemsky gets traded to fill another position. Long in the tooth, but his regular season was still productive last year with 25 points. Bombed in the playoffs tho.

    Still, he’s a bigger bodied guy and brings experience and leadership. If you ask him to stand in front of the net on the PP, he will.

  • Re: Larsen/Belov.

    It’s a matter of position. Andrew Ference can play both sides, but left-shooting defencemen seem to fare better on the left-side.

    Putting Larsen on the right side gives the Oilers three right-handed shots there.

  • Grabovski might have been an option if he did not go public and condem his coach .Doubt Oilers and many others would find that appealing , and considering those type of episodes we have witnessed here .

    Willis : Considering your list of personnel no matter which way you care to use them – do you honestly believe that lineup can finish above any of the top four in our new division ? On paper , to me and I suspect many others , it still looks like we might struggle just to remain above Calgary . We are unfortuneately in a very tough division with top 4 being good to begin with . Right now I do not seeing us making enough headway to overtake them at this point ,all things considered .

  • Why do the best players want to play in the US? As a true fan of the game, I need to know. The league loses credit with me when Teams like Tampa and San Jose get all the best free agents and former dynasties like Montreal and Edmonton only attract career third and forth line role players. How does Tampa win a cup and then pick no 1 in the draft within two years? no#one forward, over the height of six two has been drafted or willingly signed to a Canadian team for well over a decade. Considering how much Canadian teams suck this is a shocking miracle but probably a conspiracy of finance and American nastiness. The executives know that even unhappy, bored Canadians will still watch stupid television commercials to see their sad teams. What a clever idea! destroy the game that defines Canada and make sure, by whatever means, that the most talented players’ lives are waisted by using there talents to market the game to those currently uninterested south of the border. Those boring twins in Vancouver? boring. As an Edmonton fan, I feel sorry for Vancouver fans. I fall asleep whenever they get the puck against Edmonton. Then there is Danny H. Didn’t want to sign in Edmonton. What kind of waist of skin wouldn’t want to play hockey in the house that the great one and Messier built? No honor among over payed babies. Stay down there with the swamp people Danny because that is where you belong.

    • OilersBrass

      Free agency has not favored the Canadian teams except those few occasions they have been top competitive clubs . We had no problem getting them when we looked to be a top contender . Canadian teams are like any weaker teams – few want to go to those teams . Free agency allows every player to explore other options than their parent club to continue and finish their careers . They want to expand their horizons and go to a location of their choice . That is won/granted going to free agent status . Has everything to do with them having served their time and a chance at going to another location or in some instances the cash cow . When/if all the Canadian teams become the top clubs again , then the vast majority will choose us once again . That’s the reality and not a knock on Canada even though there might be the odd exception , but not the rule .

    • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

      Danny Heatley was was a 25 year old multimillionaire who had a limited no trade contract……why would he he choose a piece of crap team lead by Horcoff and Ethan Moreau?!?….when he could go to a contending team??

      I never did understand Edmontonians outrage around his choice… makes absolutely no sense.

  • JW… you’re bang on with identifying the needs of this club. Your needs analysis and depth chart mirror mine almost exactly.

    I think the Oilers still can solve the 4C and 3W position through free agency. Two guys I’d look at are Mason Raymond and Scott Gomez.

    As for 2LW and 1D…I think we’re looking at trades to find those guys, perhaps with Hemsky, N.Schultz, Gagner, prospects and picks as pieces going the other way.

      • Not entirely sure what this means, but a bottom six with Raymond/Gordon/Paajarvi and Joensuu/Gomez/Jones with Smyth and Brown in the pressbox is a vast improvement over anything we iced last year. A little bit of size, a little bit of physicality, but most of all players who won’t get absolutely owned when they are on the ice and can actually play a little defense and move the puck in the right direction.

        To me, that’s a pretty big thing. We had “physical” guys last year in Eager, Hordichuk, Petrell, and Brown, but every time they were on the ice it was an absolute firedrill in our own end. MacTavish recognizes this. You can’t give the coach a bottom-six that hurts you every time you put them on the ice. Ideally, you want guys with size who can play two-way hockey, but if you have to choose between them, you choose the two-way player every time.

        As for 2LW and 1D… I just don’t see that out there in free agency anymore. I think getting that through trade is really the only option. And you might have to get creative to make that happen.

  • alright someone answer me this, how do you see the oilers getting a number one d man? free agency? top free agents don’t want to come here (see last friday) even if a number one d man was available what would it cost?, trade? if nashville wanted to trade weber what would they want? hall + eberle +++? then could you get a number one d man to waive his no trade clause to come here? draft one? easier said than done plus by the time he’s at his best the ship will have sailed on our young forwards. the way i see it, while it’s a long shot an offer sheet on peiterangelo may be our best shot..

  • Earlier I brought up that both defenders Smid and N. Schultz won’t be on the Oilers this year and that is because of the contracts and that the Oilers have to make a trade splash liekly for that top LW they need.

    Concerning both is that the contracts are very similar but Smid is better as trade there because he is locked into 4 yrs more while Schultz is of just one more yr.

    I like Smid more so as to stay on the Oilers cause he is big, sakates well, blicks tons of shots, and he is fun/popular too in the Oilers room…but people/Oilers want that Top 1 or 2 defender still or that top high ned 2nd line centre or LW… so there will have to be a big trade!!!!!!

    The Oilers have a lot of Committee defencemen now and the kids are coming now up here faster each yr (Klefbom, Marancin, Fedun, Gernat, Musil, Davidson, Simpson)..then its the Nurse show…then they still got Gustafsson, Larsen,

    To get what everyone wants or still whines about, the Oilers have to start getting rid of some more players and Hemsky tops the list right now but then there is likely N. Schultz too…or Smid…then look at dealing Gagner, MPS, get rid of Omark, then there’s Rajala or possibly Lander, Pitlick, Martindale,… and also future picks to trade with….

  • grrrrrr, I can’t understand why you want to get rid of Hemsky a 60 pt RW who can QB the second line PP. Replace him with what, a 30 pt concussion prone 80 pim. Probably the cap hit would be the same. Hemsky goes ONLY in a PACKAGE for a real power forward.

  • OilersBrass

    Oh yeah, Smid…as for being traded is much younger than N. Schultz too which then places him a but higher/more valuable as an asset…

    I do state that I think N. Schultz should go before Smid but then again its what the other team wants back in a package deal, not just what edmonton wants to give…

    Other than that I think as well that if…if Belov plays, he is better than N. Schulzt for offence passing and skating too, as also being much younger. he has good size.

    My pairings if right now – and if N. schultz is traded…would be as follows (by Committee):

    Petry – Ference
    J. Schultz – Smid,
    Belov – Klefbom (if he is Wowsers on defence since training camp into the 1st 9 games).

    Potter as the extra.

    If Coburn was to come here, by trade somehow, then he slots in 2nd pairing with J. Schultz. Smid would go with Belov and Klefbom goes down to start on the Barons.

  • OilersBrass

    It’d be nice to add a bigger body at centre, but if he were a good bigger bodied centre, every team in the league would be after him, pushing the price way up. I’m looking in the bargain bin. Add a centre that can influence puck possession numbers by being good at the little things. Win faceoffs, limit turnovers, get pucks out of the zone.

    If the Oilers are going to be a puck possession team, they have to be better on defense and at centre. Chicago did that well enough to beat a bigger team in Boston that’s built to win battles on the boards.

  • OilersBrass

    Quick silver Ballet?

    D men like smid are easy to find?

    Lets look at
    comp level 1st
    zone start 48%
    EVGA 2.26
    there are 28 Dmen From 3% below or better than his numbers.

    His Pk numbers
    4.78 GA/60

    At this point there are 7 Dman:
    Chara Bos
    Boychuck Bos
    Hjalmarsson Chi
    Oduya Chi
    Jackman STL
    Petry EDM
    Smid EDM

    So easy to replace!


    • Quicksilver ballet

      I can play mathlete too Ricki…

      How does 7 yrs as an Oiler, and zero playoff appearances rate on your chart there. Is there a statistical category for that?

      It took a great deal of effort, but I created a pie chart for his time spent in the playoffs during his time here, here it is…

      – O -, I know it’s a little small, but you get my point? The white indicates non playoff years and the red indicates the times played in the playoffs.

      Yeah, he’s irreplaceable alright. Ladislav Smid, the Oilers answer to a top pairing blueliner, priceless.

      Can I get a virtual high five for the work involved in setting up that pie chart OB? PIE CHARTS RULE!!!!

      • OilersBrass

        No one ever said he’s a top pairing blue liner??

        We’re just saying he’s not an easy player to replace.

        Are you even an Oilers fan? All you ever do is come on here and bash the team and the players.

        • Quicksilver ballet

          There are just players, guys who’ve been here through the darkest eras ever of Oilers hockey. Half of them are gone now, but there are a few more to go.

          Pardon me for not being overly excited by 30th, 30th, 29th, 24th and 25th (this coming season) place finishes. Aren’t you frustrated by the lack of progress on this hockey club (management), the people who put the Oilers in this mess to begin with?

          • OilersBrass

            Ya it can be frustrating, but the team is rebuilding so this mess doesn’t happen again. The team is full of rookies with a lack of experience so of course they’re going to be at the bottom of the league. Management pretty much told everyone it would be like this for a while when the rebuild started (and yes I hate management just as much as you).

            I’m a fan of the Oilers and I always will be, I go into every season optimistic that they’ll do well, and i’ll support the team no matter what.

          • Not to jump in on your conversation, I mean no disrespect.

            That in itself is part of the issue and part of the overall problem.

            People like you and me, ( I have season tickets) are and will support the team no matter what.

            I recognize I am part of the problem!

            We support this team despite the incompetency it has shown for over a decade.

            The team knows this, it knows no matter how they treat fans, we will return!!

            They have zero accountability.

          • TeddyTurnbuckle

            Season ticket holders are the solution , not the problem . Cudos to those that hold them , for without them we might not still have NHL hockey here . Katz is probably just as disappointed as you with the results his team has . Pressuring Katz might or might not help . Much to i’m sure every ones disappointment, Katz has failed to deliver thru his managerial team a winner as yet . Maybe a new managerial would meet with better preferred results , then again it may not and set us back even further and more prolonged poor results .

            Make no mistake about it , season ticket holders support is still the ultimate solution /the glue that holds our chances in place .

      • oilerjed

        I expect better from you! Using the Oilers non existent playoff record on Smid’s shoulders is really weak. How is that you so undervalue him compared to most of the hockey world? Is he a #1 guy, no probably not. But Solid defencemen with that kind of effort and ability are harder to come by then you figure. Blocking shots isnt always about luck, you still have to get in position to be lucky. Mind you a lions share he turns around and gets nailed with by accident, thepoint is he drags his bruised ass off the ice catches his breath and doesnt miss a shift. That kind of effort is what wins you cups. If it is surrounded by equally talented dmen, which hasnt really been the case for his tenure here so far.

        Trade N Shultz if you have to, him being on his last year of a contract is valuable to cap heavy teams.

    • I really like Smid, but you’re seriously using his PKGA as an argument?

      Do you realize how small a number that is over a 48-game schedule? One more goal or one fewer goal would have resulted in a massive 0.4 goals/60 swing. It’s a ridiculous number to use because it is so very variable with just a tiny change in actual results.

      • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

        I really enjoy your articles JW…..and I think statistical analysis has great value in assessing players strengths and weaknesses……but it has its limitations/drawbacks….one being that you can find a statistic to back up almost any opinion…..

    • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

      Trust me on this one…….DON’T POKE THE BEAR!…….this guy knows his stuff….

      Even when I don’t know what his acronyms and numbers actually mean…I still devour what he’s servin up………….I’m serious!

      RTB has some of the most powerful posts in the blogosphere…he should have his own blog….

  • The Last Big Bear

    I am a Flames fan, so I’m really hoping that the Oilers continue to believe that the key to their success is adding tougher bottom-6 forwards.

    Ignore the fact that you have to deploy Jeff Petry as a first pairing defenceman. Focus instead on getting rid of Ales Hemsky so you can replace him with a 30 point grinder.

    I am a bit saddened that the goaltending situation seems to be turning around in Edmonton, because Dubnyk looks like a good-enough #1 option and Lebarbra is a very good #2 option.

    But the Oilers have a defence that is every bit as bad as the Flames, a forward group that is undersized, underaged, and even with Gordon they are not exactly world-beaters on the defensive side of the puck. I think you guys will be neck-and-neck with your miserable cousins down south for the upcoming season.

    • GVBlackhawk

      I think the term you are looking for is ‘tougher to play against’ bottom six forwards. And yes, the Oilers do need to address that. What they don’t need is a bunch of goons.

      The Oilers won’t likely have a #1 defenseman, per se. They will be a ‘by-committee’ style defense and will share minutes. There will be some mismatches on occasion and it will cost the Oilers, but overall the defense looks to be an improvement from last year’s disaster. The Flames will lean on Gio and Brodie for 5v5 minutes and Wideman will get his PP points. Their defensive depth is very thin and the Flames don’t have a Klefbom or Nurse coming.

      I agree with your assessment of the Oilers goaltending. The Flames goaltending situation is much more uncertain. MacDonald has never played an entire NHL season before but is a serviceable backup. Karri Ramo has been good in the KHL, but his previous NHL experience was a disaster (sub .900 SV%). Big question marks there.

      When you look at the changes that have been made to the Oilers this summer (player changes, Dallas Eakins, new captain), I think that alone will increase the team’s standings position by two positions. The x-factor will be: How much better are Hall, RNH, Yakupov, Eberle, and Schultz going to be this season? If it is mild improvement, then the Oilers will finish in 20th overall. If the improvement is drastic, then they will finish in 12-16th place and make the playoffs.

      The Flames will finish in 28th place.

    • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

      That’s a fantastic idea! Now paajarvi can play first line LW, Smytty 2nd line and then we can resign fistric and switch him to 3rd LW. He’s got size so it’s perfect. *

      * this is pure sarcasm. Filling one hole and creating another is just dumb. Also Hall might doesn’t really want to play C.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Defence by committee can be done. LA does it, for example. But your committee includes your big-minute centers, and guys like Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, and Jarret Stoll as a group are on a different level from The Nooj, Sam Gagner, and Boyd Gordon.

    I think the Oilers’ TOP 6 is the group that needs to get tougher to play against (as well as tougher in general), and MacT’s “we want Lucic” gaffe suggests that he agrees at least in part.

    I agree with your assessment of the Flames defence, with the one caveat that pretty much every centre in the organization (ie Stajan, Backlund, Monaghan, Knight, Jankowski, Bouma, Arnold, etc) are all guys that are very good defensively. There is something to be said for having every centre on the team as a safe PK option.

    Ramo’s poor numbers in the NHL were from many years ago, when he was a teenager on the worst team in the NHL. He is a big gamble, but I don’t think his stats from back then are any indicator one way or another about how he will perform this time around.

    The Flames looked worse than they were for most of last season because Kipper was flat-out awful. IF Ramo can put up a solid performance I see the Flames back in a similar position next year, at 20-25th overall (worse team but with better goaltending). If not, 28th sounds right.

    The Oilers on the other hand didn’t seem to have any major outlier causing their woes. Their defence was as bad as it looked on paper, their young scoring forwards tried to play river hockey, and their goaltending was good but not amazing. None of these fundamentals have changed. Yes, if all or most of their key players have great years at the same time they will make the playoffs, but that is true of every team in the NHL.

    • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

      the l.a kings do have a legitimate number one d man, drew doughty. i do agree though they play a sound defensive systm and are accountible, traits sorely lacking on the oilers. i only hope is that eatkins will change that, if he coachs the oilers the way he coached the marlies we may see sound defensive play and accountability for the first time in a long time. keep your fingers crossed guys.

  • With the lack of high end defenders on the roster I don’t see how people can keep subtracting Nick Schultz while leaving Justin in the second pairing.

    Frankly, I think the Oilers are going to need 5 top four defenders to have a decent group this season. 4 decent top 4 guys to give them an average top 4, and a guy capable of playing top 4 to baby sit Justin on the third pairing.

  • Word to the Bird

    The Oilers need a kicking on the backside and realize losing isn’t acceptable anymore. This team is not the team it was 3 years ago. We have a winning team in place. Let’s prove it to everyone.

  • oilerjed

    Am I the only one here confused that this guy thinks smid and poetry were the first d pairing last year? The Schultz’s started every game with the top line that I watched. Mact needs to focus on finding a 1a dman to play with J.Schultz and leave that plug NM Schultz on the 3rd pairing where he belongs or traded for some help up front..