For most of the summer, Oiler fans have been watching Craig MacTavish "build up the middle." A club with so much talent on the wing, and in clear need of an upgrade at G, D and C, would seem to have an obvious ‘To Do’ list–and for the most part new GM Craig MacTavish has followed the script.

However, the center position remains about the same; with Boyd Gordon replacing Shawn Horcoff, the Edmonton Oilers remain a team without true NHL quality and depth at the position. If the Nuge can’t play right away, the club will have to move Taylor Hall over from the wing, weakening an impressive left flank.

We’ve talked and talked about free agent solutions, but that arena of summer appears to be closed for the Oilers. How then will Craig MacTavish improve center ice? Perhaps we can learn something from his recent past.


So far during his time as GM, Craig MacTavish has procured talent in the following ways:

  • Signed NHL free agents (Ference, Gordon, LaBarbera, Joensuu)
  • Signed his own free agents (Jones)
  • Signed minor league free agents (Ryan Hamilton, Richard Bachman, Will Acton)
  • Signed college free agents (C Andrew Miller)
  • Signed free agents from pro league outside the NHL (Anton Belov, Denis Grebseshkov from the KHL)
  • Traded a veteran (Horcoff) for a fringe NHLer (Larsen) and a pick much later this century
  • Traded a young, less established NHLer (Paajarvi) for a young, more established NHLer (Perron)

If we’re guessing about how MacT will address center–and I’m pretty sure he’s going to at some point, it may be in-season–and we believe he’s done in free agency, it means a trade of some sort.

Question: what if MacT uses the Perron-Paajarvi deal as a template? What if he dealt Anton Lander and a high end prospect (Marincin?) or dealt Lander with next year’s 1st round selection? I think the idea of acquiring a solid NHL center becomes much easier using the trade made with St. Louis as a guide.


The first thing we need to do is identify some teams that are unlikely to contend for the playoffs in 2013-14 or have tremendous depth at the center position. Even at this early stage, it’s very unlikely the Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres will be playoff contenders. Looking at their rosters, we  can come up with an interesting list of potential C’s for the Oilers based on a ‘Lander and a pick/prospect’ return. Other names below may be part of a crowded group, with a player like Lander being a better fit (Lander can be sent to the AHL without waivers).

  1. Mikael Backlund, Calgary: There are some serious problems in suggesting Backlund, not the least of which is that a Flames-Oilers pick happens once a lifetime and Steve Staios is the trivia answer for the 2000’s. The other problem is that Backlund is a wildly underrated hockey player (Kent Wilson has documented this brilliantly at Flames Nation). However, I think there’s some evidence the Flames don’t know what they’re doing and I’m pretty certain MacT would appreciate the skills a Backlund offers. The price might be dear, but the player is an outstanding fit for the Oilers.
  2. Shawn Matthias, Florida: I actually like a free agent Panther better (Peter Mueller) but Matthias has some things that make him attractive too. The Panthers have Marcel Goc as well, but I think he’s a little long in the tooth to be a legit Oiler target. Matthias has size and good 2-way skills, he is usually solid in the faceoff circle but was poor this season.
  3. John Mitchell, Colorado: The Avs have a stunning depth chart at center, with Mitchell possibly being the odd man out. He blossomed late, and isn’t a speed demon, but would be a very nice addition to the current depth chart.
  4. Brian Boyle, Rangers: Big man is being pushed out by insane depth in Manhattan, and could be available sometime this season (when all are signed and straightened away in NYC).


I don’t really believe Craig MacTavish would do so much heavy work on defense and so little at center–both badly needing improved quality and depth and he’s addressed one and not the other.

My feeling is that it’s not for a lack of trying and we may see something break before October. Something similar to the Paajarvi and a 2nd deal for Perron, possibly involving one of the many prospect defenders.

We wait.

(Lander photo by Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved).

  • CaptainLander

    I think Steckel could end up an Oiler, but I still think Mac T will attempt to acquire a 3/4 center via Hemmer trade. Steckel is a filler not a 3-5 year solution. I agree that a solid 24-26 year old center with a good contract is what the Oil need. Finding one that a team is willing to trade is another story.

    I found exactly zero. Likely best best is to find the fringe NHLer that has a break out year. No problem.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’ve always liked the idea of bringing in Brian Boyle. I’m surprised that the Rangers would not be interested in replacing Gaborik’s skill with somebody like Hemsky.

    I think things are on hold in NY with AV settling in as the new coach. After training camp, we’ll know where things fall and maybe Boyle become available if Brad Richards looks real good.

  • Aitch

    Lowetide, I’m usually with ya, but once I read package Lander and a 1st to fix the Centre issue, I tuned out. There’s no way we should be dumping a future first rounder (not to mention other aspects) for a 4th line Centre. Way to expensive.

  • 2004Z06

    Cracks me up that most of you still see Gagner as a legit #2C. What we need is to get a natural#2C that forces Gagner out to the wing. Stastny for Hemsky works!

  • The biggest factor this year, just like the last few years is our compete level. Every time we are supposed to make the jump to the next stage in the club’s development there seems to be one or two teams that we should be better than on paper that overtake us. And it’s because of work ethic.

    Mac T has made a few decent moves to get us some “character” guys who’s track record shows that they can compete, but (Sorry for the baseball reference) as the Jays have shown, you can have a great roster, but if the chemistry and the competitive nature is not consistent, those great names aren’t going to take you anywhere.

    If Eakins can get these guys to compete on a nightly basis and the players (namely our burgeoning core) buy in, then this could make for an interesting year. If not we are going to be having the same discussion about what guys we need who could turn the tide for us next year.

  • I’ve brought up the idea of Brian boyle for a long time now.. Massive 4th line centre with great pk and face-off stats. He brings size and is just what the oilers need. They need to do this. If thinking either a pick or prospect. Not hemsky because rangers are high on cap hit As it is