It’s obvious it doesn’t take a vast intellect to see that the Edmonton Oilers remain alarmingly thin up the middle as training camp approaches because just about everybody who follows the team, be they fans or paid observers, has mentioned it or written about it this off-season.
The exception, at least in terms of public proclamation, seems to be GM Craig MacTavish, who, having played in 1,093 regular season games and another 193 in the playoffs as an NHL centre, should be the first person to recognize the merits of strength and depth down the middle. Yet, the Oilers, as of now, have neither.
While MacTavish has made moves to bolster his wing, adding David Perron, and his blue line, signing UFA Andrew Ference, and goal, jettisoning Nikolai Khabibulin and bringing in Jason LaBarbera, it looks to me and a lot of people like he hasn’t done enough down the middle.
With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, MacTavish’s best offensive centre, likely to miss the start of the season after shoulder surgery, Edmonton’s middlemen look short on offensive chops. It’s an undersized bunch with RNH, Sam Gagner, acquisition Boyd Gordon and Anton Lander in the first four spots. Even with Gordon, this isn’t exactly Murderer’s Row on the face-off dot, either.
And there’s more, or should I say, less . . .
Their individual attributes and shortcomings aside, the group MacTavish has penciled in right now for camp collectively is woefully thin on experience as actual NHL players. Gamesmanship, if you will.
In terms of NHL experience, Gordon leads the way with 486 games. The much-maligned Gagner, inked to a new deal, has also been around the block with 414 games on his resume. That drops off to 102 games for RNH, which isn’t a big deal because he’s easily the best of the bunch, and is getting better.
After that? Hmm. After RNH, you can add up the games of NHL experience for every other centre with an invite to camp and you won’t come up with 102 games combined. Lander could start the season here with 67 games in the NHL. Little Mark Arcobello has one game. Add up NHL games for Will Acton, Andrew Miller, Ryan Martindale and Travis Ewanyk – long shots each and every one — and you get, well, zero games. Zip. None.
Problem? Is there anybody out there who thinks it isn’t?
WHAT’S THE PLAN?
Without the addition of at least one more bonafide NHL pivot, heaven help the Oilers if Nugent-Hopkins misses more than a handful of games to start the season or if he struggles out of the gate because of limited playing time in the pre-season. Can Gagner carry the offensive load by himself? No.
Even if RNH gets back in a hurry and knocks off the rust, an injury to anybody in that top three puts the Oilers in a pickle, especially if Gagner goes down. Even with RNH, Gagner and Gordon in the fold, who pushes that trio for ice time? Lander? Not likely? Arcobello?
Isn’t there anybody out there – Jason Gregor mentioned Brad Boyes and Manny Malhotra today – worth a phone call? Nobody who’d rather take a one-year deal than a PTO or sit at home waiting for their agent to call? You’d think so, and maybe MacTavish has already made those calls and continues to – even if he’s indicated publicly, for now at least, what we see is what we get.
I hope so, because while the Oilers are hardly set from top to bottom at any position, they don’t look nearly good enough or deep enough down the middle. I can see it. You can see it. And you, MacT? What say you?
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.