NEED A CENTRE, CAN’T AFFORD A CENTRE

The Oilers need another NHL centre. Plain. And. Simple.

In a best case scenario they will start the season with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner and Boyd Gordon as proven NHL players, leaving Anton Lander, Marc Arcobello, Will Acton and Andrew Miller to battle for the 4th spot.

In a realistic scenario, they likely start the season with two healthy, proven NHL centres. Ouch.

You need depth down the middle and on the blueline to win in the NHL, and right now the Oilers depth down the middle is thinner than Strudwick’s hairline. As a follicly challenged man, I am well-versed in thinning/receding hairlines, and the Oilers’ centre depth chart has about as much chance of success as my hair growing back if I suddenly started using Propecia. It ain’t happening.

I knew when the "dream" was over, and the Oilers need to recognize you can’t compete in the NHL with no depth down the middle.

Taylor Hall is not the answer. He’s a dominant winger. He is comfortable as a winger, and while I’m sure he could play centre for a short time, that doesn’t solve the Oilers lack of depth. Using Hall or Ryan Smyth as centres should only occur when injuries have depleted your lineup, not for the opening game of the season.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I never expected Craig MacTavish to be able to overhaul a team that has missed the playoffs seven years in a row, into a playoff contender over one off-season, but if he wants to give his team a chance to fight for the playoffs, he needs to bring in another proven NHL centre.

I understand the need to give guys a chance, and Acton might be the one who surprises people the most, but it is still a risky venture to start a season with a lack of at centre.

SLIM PICKINGS…

The free agent crop of centres isn’t great: Mikhail Grabovski, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, Manny Malhotra, Marty Reasoner, Kyle Wellwood, David Steckel and Jerred Smithson. Vinny Prospal and Steve Sullivan have also played down the middle, but they are 38 and 39 respectively.

Grabovski, Connolly, Lombardi and Wellwood are the best offensive centres, but Lombardi and Connolly are injury-prone while Wellwood is buffet-prone.

Malhotra’s eye injury made it hard for him to be effective last season, and he’s a 4th liner at best. Steckel is good in the faceoff dot, but does he compete hard enough in other areas of the ice? He also would only be a 4th line guy, not someone who could fill the void until RNH is healthy.

The best option would be signing Grabovski for one year. Yesterday, Cam Charron and I were discussing the similarities between Grabovski and Alex Semin. Last summer, Semin didn’t sign a contract until July 26th. The Hurricanes gave him $7 million for one season. Many scoffed at the deal, but Semin proved them wrong producing 44 points in 44 games and the Hurricanes signed him to a five-year extension.

I see Grabovski as a cheaper version of Semin.

Signing Grabovski for one year at $4 to $5 million would be a good move, and I ‘d like to believe the only reason MacTavish hasn’t done that already is because he doesn’t have the cap space.

How a team who finished 30th, 30th, 29th and 24th the past four seasons doesn’t have the cap space to sign a top-nine forward is mind-boggling, but it’s even worse that they don’t have cap space to sign a quality centre man.

I’d much rather have my team short on winger depth, than depth down the middle. Right now the Oilers have too much money wrapped up in forwards, specifically wingers.

The Oilers have seven forwards, only two centres, making $3.5 million or more.

The only other team in the western conference with that many big ticket forwards is the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs have Paul Stastny ($6.6 mill cap hit), Ryan O’Reilly ($5 mill), PA Parenteau ($4 mill), Nathan MacKinnon ($3.75 mill), Gabriel Landeskog ($3.575 mill), Alex Tanguay and Matt Duchene ($3.5 mill). But four, five if you include Tanguay, who play centre.

Here is how the rest of the western conference looks with forwards making $3.5 mill or more.

5 forwards: Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, San Jose, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
4 forwards: Los Angeles, Minnesota, Nashville and St.Louis.
3 forwards: Calgary and Phoenix.
2 forwards: Anaheim.

The Oilers have too much money tied up on the wings. I don’t doubt MacTavish realizes that, which is why he stated in April that he’d be looking to move Ales Hemsky, but unfortunately for the Oilers that didn’t materialize.

Because of that the Oilers find themselves near the cap ceiling, with no room to add a quality centreman. It is a major issue, and could become a catalyst for the Oilers missing the playoffs for an 8th consecutive season.

It is a huge risk to enter the season with only two healthy NHL centres, but as of today, it looks like the Oilers will do exactly that.

PARTING SHOTS….

  • If you are in a need of a few good books to read to tie you over until the Oilers’ rookie tournament starts on Thursday, September 5th, here’s a few I recommend.

    I love true stories. The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz is a must read. Rawicz is a Polish man who was arrested by the Soviets and placed in a Soviet labour camp. It talks about his escape from the camp and his incredible journey from Yakutsk to India. A truly sad and heroic tale.

    I couldn’t put down The Book of Negroes by Canadian author Lawrence Hill. It was a captivating tale of slavery, with a strong tie to Canada and sadly reminds us of the terror we are capable of inflicting on another human.

    Predictably Irrational focuses on behavioural economics and irrational/rational human behaviour. What is behind our decisions? It is an interesting read if you want to better understand yours or others decisions relating to social or market norms.
     

  •  If you don’t know, the rookie tournament goes Sept 5th to 9th in Penticton. The Oilers play Calgary on the 5th, Winnipeg on the 7th and Vancouver on the 8th. The games will be streamed live on oilers.nhl.com.
     

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 

  • Tikkanese

    Hemsky is more likely to be moved closer to the deadline than anytime soon. Whether we’re in the playoff hunt or not, depending on the top 6 injury situation at that time that is.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    “Signing Grabovski for one year at $4 to $5 million would be a good move, and I ‘d like to believe the only reason MacTavish hasn’t done that already is because he doesn’t have the cap space.”

    This is a mind-numbing sentence.

  • oilerjed

    I really dont get all the Grabo talk, after spouting off about his old team and coach. we spent this last year ridding our locker room troubles in an attempt to create an atmostphere of winning and teamwork. Does bringing in a guy who insists on being handed minutes need to be here. If he was worth the time he would have gotten it in TO. I say leave him on the shelf and look elsewhere. A lack of depth for ahile is better then messing with the locker room. Another possibility will present itself.

    @JG

    It has been so quiet on the hockey front but there must be some whisperings out there of realistic possibilities.

  • Zarny

    The Oilers don’t just need another NHL C; they need the right kind of C.

    “Filling a void” until Nuge returns is short term thinking and isn’t going to win a Cup.

    Nuge and Gagner are probably the smallest 1-2 C in the NHL. In a 7 game series, Chara or Weber would eat them like an appetizer.

    Grabovski/Stastny and most C named are more of the same. Literally, you get nothing more than what you have in Gagner. Small, skilled and in a playoffs series against teams like Chi, LA or Bos likely to get beaten to a pulp.

    The Oilers will not contend for the Cup with the smallest 1-2 C in the league. They can make the playoffs but they won’t win four 7 games series against teams that have legit, shutdown D. Especially when none of the remaining top 6 F play like Lucic.

    A bigger body like Steckel on the 4th line would help; but realistically you need a 1-2 C that can go againt guys like Toews/Getzlaf/Malkin/Staal.

    The real solution is trading Nuge or Gagner for a bigger C with equivalent offensive skill.

    The problem of course is that is a very short list.

    • Jason Gregor

      Steckel can’t play. Eakins knows that, there is zero chance he comes here just because he is big. “I’m not sure there is a less intelligent player in the game today than Steckel,” John Shannon said today. Steckel is not the answer.

  • oilerjed

    One of the best ways to screw yourself in a negotiation is to make an assumption about what the other side thinks. We all seem to think Grabbo doesn’t want to play here, but why not? Here’s a few reason why he might:

    A) We will be paying him piles of cash.
    B) He played with scrubs in T.O. last year. This year he will play with stars to start the season, is the first guy promoted to the top 6 if someone else goes down, will likely get PP time regardless of what line he is on, and once injuries subside he still will play with one or more of Hemsky, Jones, Yakupov and Perron, all of whom have a little more talent than the likes of Jay McClemment and Clarke MacArthur.
    C) Other Russians.
    D) Being a part of the future contender that is the Oil
    E) Piles of cash.

    Seems kind of compelling. Send NSchultz somewhere for a 7th round pick, sign Grabbo for 4-ish and problem solved.

  • oilerjed

    Also, to the “Grabbo has a bad attitude” crowd, we don’t have any evidence that he ever complained when he was on the team, only after. I read those comments more as “you’re getting rid of me for poor play, but you set me up to fail” type comments, not bad teammate comments. Would you be happy in that situation?

    Now if Eakins (or someone else) has actual knowledge that he’s bad in the room thats a different story, but that’s not the story we have.

  • oilerjed

    Grabowski is a pipe-dream.

    Gordon was promised a third line role and ice-time, and Grabowski isn’t going to sign to play 4th line.

    Hopefully they can invite someone decent to camp, and make a move to free up salary before the season.

    I’m thinking Steckel, Reasoner or Smithson.

  • OilClog

    THE SKY IS FALLING! wait.. another moaning article/blog/comment about not having enough Center depth in August.. PANIC AT THE DISCO!

    MacT will bring in players, MacT isn’t Tambi, everyone needs to chill and sip on a can of RC cola.

  • **

    i think players and gms right now are playing the chicken game. It is behavioral economics all the way, gms want to cheapest bargain, players want the best deal, as showtime approaches gms will start to feel the heat, players will begin to panic, and the flood gates will open. everyone is in auction mode right now, the problem is they all (players and gms) think they are buyers.

  • **

    Gregor, for 2 years you’ve been promoting Hall for centre. Finally, you admit he is a power forward and best suited for wing. Nice change.

    For a least as long, you’ve been saying Gagner is not an NHL centre man. Now?

    Yes we need centre depth. 4-5. Very few teams have more than 2 quality centre men. That is why they’re called 3 and 4 lines.

    Size? RNH is 6’1″. Gagner, 200 lbs. yet people consider them both small. If you can play, size doesn’t matter. Does everyone expect 6’6″ 240 lbs for anyone to play in th NHL? Get over it people. We had a winger like that and many couldn’t wait to trade him to LA

    • Jason Gregor

      Are you serious?

      I’ve said for years Hall is a winger. He has no desire to play centre. I’ve said that all the time. I’ve said just because Messier made the switch, doesn’t mean anyone can.

      Where did I say Gagner wasn’t a centre? Please show me this.

      And you will notice I said proven NHL centres. You think good teams only have two good, proven centres…Do you watch the games?

      Boston…Krejci, Bergeron, Peverley, Campbell, Seguin (didn’t even play there).

      Anaheim…Getzlaf, Koivu, Palmeiri,Cogliano…

      Chicago…Toews, Bolland, Handzus, Kruger…

      Detroit…Datzyuk, Filppula, Abdelkader…

      Pittsburgh…Crosby, Malkin, Sutter, Adams and Kennedy…

      LA…Kopitar, Richards, Stoll, Fraser…

      San Jose…Thornton, Couture, Pavelski (played wing cause of depth), Wingels, Gomez

      Toronto…Kadri, Bozak, Grabovski,McClement…

      Wash…Backstrom, Ribeiro, Johansson, Hendricks…

      Van…Sedin, Kesler, Roy, Lapierre…

      I won’t bother going on…but you might want to look at some non-playoff teams and see their centre depth…Philly, Colorado and Carolina for example before suggesting teams only have two proven centres.

      You do realize that proven doesn’t mean offensive stars.

      And Gagner isn’t 200 pounds. Seems you are the one fixated on size, since it wasn’t mentioned in the article, but if you believe RNH and Gagner equal good size, then keep dreaming. The Oilers don’t have any size in their top-six. If you can show me a team that wins with zero size or grit in their top-six let me know.

  • **

    Do not remember where I read it but, an unnamed GM said Garbo was looking for big $ & term. Makes sense. Just because he was bought out, doesn’t mean he should/would play for less. Especially when KHL is a viable option for him.

  • **

    Have we all decided RNH has demonstrated he is a number one centre, what if he develops into a 2C? He has played portions of two seasons, he has looked very good in parts of those seasons, but he was on steep learning curve last year when Horcoff was out with an injury, I think he went zero for an extended number of games.

    He finished last year 141 in the scoring race
    And number 56 top scoring centre.

    And he played massive PK minutes and massive time with 4,14.

    If there a plan B if RNH does not reach full potential?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Our options are very limited. Best bet, put a few more AHL’ers in Oiler jerseys, and pass them off as NHL’ers. Worked fairly well these last five years. Who are we to question managements best effort.

    Those A type fans will buy anything, afterall, what choice do they have.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Finally! I’ve been waiting to see this article since the draft. MacT has been able to make some solid, long-term moves, but center depth has been a problem for years, and remains a problem.

    Moving Hemsky to free up cap space is a nice idea, but I don’t see it without a CoHo-type maneuver…play Hemsky on the first line, play him on the PP, give him an extended run with excellent zone starts, give him protected starts to get him rolling, and even then I don’t know if he’d be able to regain his 2007 form so that someone would be willing to offer a player, pick or prospect for him.

    In an ideal situation, one of the new D-men plays lights out enough to deal a Petry or Smid, and the need to trade Hemsky lessens. Belov was one of the top D-men in the KHL and is able to bring that across to Edmonton.

    But realistically, they’re stuck with who they have, and by Christmas we’re talking about next year.

  • Gordie Wayne

    Hey Jason,

    Whatever happened with the Zack Smith from Ottawa for Hemsky trade that was rumored?

    Would Ottawa still be interested or is that unlikely due to the Bobby Ryan trade?

    If that trade could be pulled off, and Corey Potter claimed off of waivers, we could sign Grabovski for the 1 year deal at 5 million.

    • Jason Gregor

      I’m not sure there was much to that rumour, from the source I spoke to.

      With Alfie gone, Sens could use another RW, but they have a supposed “self-imposed” salary cap and don’t want Hemsky’s contract.

  • **

    i think players and gms right now are playing the chicken game. It is behavioral economics all the way, gms want to cheapest bargain, players want the best deal, as showtime approaches gms will start to feel the heat, players will begin to panic, and the flood gates will open. everyone is in auction mode right now, the problem is they all (players and gms) think they are buyers.

  • Phuryous George

    Gregor, don’t you think for the stats and the money, Wellwood would be a better 1 year option for the Oilers? He got pretty discounted in this article.