Last week the Oilers announced they had signed former Edmonton Oiler Denis Grebeshkov to a one year deal. It isn’t a huge cap hit at one and a half million dollars. For me, this move makes a lot of sense.
All general managers and coaches tend to bring in people they know and trust to help them have success. This just makes sense to me. Why wouldn’t you want people you can depend on in your organization or playing on the ice?
When MacT was the coach of the Oilers and both Grebby and I were playing for him I always got the sense that MacT trusted Grebby. He and Tom Gilbert ate up quite a few minutes and could both move the puck. Now that MacT wants to make sure the Oilers improve on last season he is bringing in a player he knows very well.
What he and almost no one knows is what kind of player the Oilers are getting. I think it is impossible to know. You can look at Grebby’s stats the last three years or talk to people who watched him often but I don’t think these are great yardsticks. The KHL is very different from the NHL. The game is played differently. The same goes for Belov. Until I see them both in training camp in six weeks I will reserve judgment on what the expectations should be for them.
When we played together I always thought Grebby was a player that took the game seriously. He was in good shape, never an issue in the dressing room and fairly predictable in what you could expect from him from game to game. The one area I do remember him struggling was making risky passes.
We were in Ottawa to play the Senators. Their big line was Heatley, Alfredsson and Spezza. This trio was having a huge year. Huge! They were the reason the Sens were having some success. Before the morning skate, MacT went through the game plan for that night.
His first and most important message was that we had keep the Spezza line off the score sheet. He thought if we kept them quiet we could beat the Sens support players. Very reasonable plan. It was clear to everyone in that room that MacT wanted us to play smart when this line was on the ice and not take risky chances that could result in a turnover and quick break chance for their big guns.
MacT repeated his strategy moments before we headed out to start the game. I don’t remember the forwards that started for us but the Spezza line started for the Sens and we started the Gilbert/Grebby defence pairing. Our centre won the draw right back to Grebby.
Grebby got the puck and started to skate up the ice. He was nearly at the redline when he started to get forced by the Sens forwards. At this point chipping it forward or getting it deep would have been the safest and best choice. Grebby took a different path.
He is nearly at the red line and decides to throw a cross ice pass all the way over to Gilbert. To say Gilbert was surprised would be an understatement! I don’t think anyone would have predicted that pass. It flies across the middle of the ice, lands ugly and then explodes off the boards. No chance for Gilbert. Good chance for the Sens top line. They go right in and score, barely ten seconds into the game.
Our bench was shocked but I will never forget the look on MacT’s face. It was priceless! Still now I laugh about it.
I am not telling you all this story to make Grebby look bad, I just think it is a really funny story. I really don’t know what we should expect from Grebby this year in an Oiler uniform. I do know that his presence will increase the competition for the five through seven spot.
Training Camp Battles
Some combination of Ference, Justin Schultz, Petry and Smid will be the top four. After that there is a pile of guys for the last two spots. I expect Nick Schultz to get into all the games. He is the other calming presence on the Oilers blue line along with Ference. That leaves spot number six for Belov, Grebby, Potter, Larsen and Klefbom. Let’s watch camp first before we say who gets to play where.
MacT said he wanted to have more puck movers from the backend. He has swapped out Peckham, Fistric and Whitney for the group fighting for the number six spot above. The new group can move the puck, I am not sure who will be physically battling amongst that group.
Both Smid and Ference will battle. They compete hard with their bodies. When the Oilers play teams that like to crowd the crease to get in the goalies face and someone needs to push back who is going to do that? The game has changed a bit but at some point during the year this group of Blue liners will need someone to step up to protect the flock. Who will be that shepherd?
I put the over/under for fighting majors on the backend of the Oilers next year at two. Thoughts?