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.
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