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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

    Gagner isn’t exactly small. 5’11” 199 is not much under the league average 6’1″ 205(I believe it is). He also doesn’t play small. He isn’t a hitting machine or anything, but he does stand up for himself, which does give him some room out there. He is a decent fighter, some call him the Featherweight Champ of the NHL.

    Grabo isn’t coming here to become a 3rd line Center. Gagner isn’t a 3rd line Center either for that matter.

    Doubt they move Gagner to the wing for Grabo or other Centers as Gagner, Perron and Yakupov are not 3rd line type players and one of them would have to be moved down to the 3rd line with such a move. Hemsky on the 3rd is bad enough.

    Hopefully Lander or one of the other kids takes the opportunity and runs with it. If they all fail, I’m sure a Malhotra or Reasoner will still be available, or a trade for something similar will be easily achievable. Although that said, I am one that believes that Lander needed another full season in the AHL.

  • Jason Gregor

    I totally agree that the Oil need to do something at centre, and I think Grabovski would be an excellent addition, but I just don’t see it as a realistic possibility:

    1) We don’t have the cap space to sign him

    2) We could probably make the cap space to sign him if we could dump N. Schultz’s salary or trade him for a lower-paid player. However, I assume that MacT has been trying to find a home for N. Schultz all summer and has not been successful (you have to think that was part of the plan when he brought in 101 new and more mobile defencemen). In any event, the cap issue remains.

    3) Even if there was no cap issue, it seems to me that Grabo would slot into the 3rd line spot behind Nuge and Gagner, and would push Gordon down to the 4th line. That looks like NHL centre depth to me, but I don’t think Grabo has any interest in being slotted as a 3rd line C. That is where Carlyle had him for long stretches last year, and, as I recall, Grabo called Carlyle a fat $%^& this summer. My bet is that Grabo finds a home that gives him top 6 minutes or he plays in the KHL.

    4) I think our best bet is to give training camp invites to Malholtra or Reasoner and see what happens (no cap issue here). Malholtra might not be as far gone as it seems – Nonis might have been keeping him off the ice for “his own good” for cap reasons (I admit this is pure speculation).

    Alternately, if we can dump N. Schultz’ salary, I would have no issue offering Prospal or Sullivan a 1 year deal. They’re both old, but have remained relatively effective. They can’t command much more than 1 yr deals in the NHL marketplace, so it would be a low risk move for the oil until they can sort out a longer term option for the Centre position (i.e. either a new acquisition or letting Lander grow into the 4C spot).

  • 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.

  • justDOit

    FYI: Teams that want to ‘bury’ contracts in the minor leagues only receive cap relief of around $900K. So Hemsky to the Barons would still leave $4.1 of his salary on the Oilers’ cap. That cap-circumvention loophole is closed.

    Also, the window has closed this year for buying out contracts – so that option isn’t available

  • Jodes

    *pours out a bottle of propecia in honour of us folically challenged men*

    also you are spot on about the center situation.

    Hemsky has to go. is losing the trade worth losing a many games at start of season?

  • Jodes

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.. The Oilers haven’t been deep down the middle since Doug Weight left and of course in 06 (Peca, Horcoff, Stoll, Reasoner). Idiotic management decisions by both Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini again decimated this franchise. They’ve buried this club so deep it’s going to take Mac T a long time to dig himself out.

    So get use to Lander being 3rd line come the beginning of the year folks. No white knight on a horse is coming.

  • 916oiler

    As much as I agree that Grabo would be awesome to have it would have happened already if it was in the cards.

    Grabo doesn’t want to play here.

    He knows there’s interest from other teams, and sees that we have RNH and Gags locked up for a few years. He wants opportunity, and stability, in a top 6 roll. He doesn’t want to have to fight with Gags to get his minutes. And he sure as hall doesn’t want a defensive-oriented assignment…i think…pretty sure…yup.

  • **

    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.

  • Spydyr

    A poster to remain nameless post four days ago the Oilers need at lease one more center if the they wish to make the playoffs.

    They received 15 trashes and 4 props.

    Things sure change fast on ON.

    • DSF

      The continuing problems resulting from drafting the “best player available” when that is nothing more than an opinion and is not supported by actual results 5 years after the draft.

      If it’s even close, you should ALWAYS draft the centre ahead of the winger and drafting D in the top 10 is dumb unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure that D will be an impact top pairing D.

      The infamous Derek Zona has a piece up this morning lamenting the Oilers lack of C depth and pining for the depth of the Carolina Hurricanes.

      “What do Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty, Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu, Jeremy Welsh, Nathan Gerbe, Riley Nash and Zac Dalpe have in common? They’re all natural centers and only three of them have stayed that position throughout their careers.

      There’s a good chance that at least 50% of the forwards currently in the NHL have played center at one point in their careers and most teams like to stock up on guys who can play this position.

      Most teams. The Oilers counter with an injured Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner, Boyd Gordon, left wing Ryan Smyth, Anton Lander, Mark Arcobello, Will Acton and Andrew Miller.

      Or they can move Taylor Hall to the middle and wreck their left wing depth. Back to Sznajder:

      The point here is that having a lot of centers gives your team versatility and that’s never a bad thing.”

      http://www.coppernblue.com/2013/8/20/4628992/oilers-dilemmas-centre-depth

      Just take a look at the Blues C depth.

      Backes, Berglund, Oshie, Roy, Sobotka, Lapierre, Aucoin.

      Or the Kings.

      Kopitar, Richards, Carter, Stoll, Lewis, Fraser, Nolan.

      Or even the lowly Panthers.

      Barkov, Matthias, Goc, Shore, Bjugstad, Howden, Gomez,

      7 deep in all three cases.

      And yet the Oilers drafted a D and then went out an acquired another 372 bottom pairing D.

      Go figure.

  • It’s no good for us to just trade for some mediocre, centre man with name recognition in order to “plug the hole”. The Oil tried to do that before with Nylander and Gomez and thank Christ that never came to fruition. Hemsky has to be the one to go but they need to have patience and see if they can make a deal for a guy with actual upside and not some duster who can’t play 200 feet. Maybe a guy like Brooks Laich?

    Garbage man out.

  • Jodes

    Good read, Gregor. I have been relatively happy with MacTs first summer as GM, but it is nuts to go into the season with 2 healthy NHL centremen (both small).

    I know we have no cash, but I would love to see David Steckel in the Oilers lineup. He’s big and wins faceoffs. For me, that makes up for any lack of foot speed.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • LinkfromHyrule

    What is the longest playoff drought? Mac T better be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat. With the current situation that we have up the middle it could be eight years without the post season dance.

    • Jason Gregor

      The Oilers at 7 years is the longest active playoff drought. The longest in NHL history is 10 season set by the Panthers.

      If the Oilers miss this year they will be tied with Boston and Washington for 3rd longest all-time. Glorious times in Oilersnation.

  • Spydyr

    As the GM of the Sharks said, some teams draft and some teams deal. Even with all the deals Mac T made, I still think we are a drafting team. Because of that we have to look for one of our drafted players to step up and take that 4th line centre spot and run with it.

    At the very least he created a competitive situation at 4th line C allowing one of the drafted guys to emerge as the right fit for that spot.

    I personally like the fact that Hall is already gearing up to start the year at C until Nuge comes back. He’s been against it forever but now out of necessity he sounds ready to give it everything he has.

    It might just be the thing for the team to say, “see, look how good you did there, lets keep that going.” Especially since we have all this talent on the wings, if Hall can be the player he is but move to centre, that would completely change the look of our forwards and give the Oilers a bunch of options for line combos.