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 


  • Souby

    Ideally I’d love the Oilers to get Stoll back from LA or maybe Zack Smith from Ottawa, but I don’t see either of those happening. So I will throw this out there…..how about Hemsky to Winnipeg for Jokinen? Both guys are UFA’s after this year, their cap hits are similar (5MM vs 4.5MM)and the deal would leave both teams with approx 1.8MM in cap space. Winnipeg would probably not do this because it would leave them thin at C but you never know. Thoughts?

    • I’m pretty sure that if ANY team in the league had expressed ANY interest in Hemsky he would have been gone by now. We need that cap space for a C that badly.

      Despite having once been “the reason we watched Oilers hockey for a long time”, he’s now a huge question mark in the health department who has massively underperformed the last few years.

      • Souby

        I agree with you mostly, but I think Hemsky would have been gone already if the cap celing hadn’t come down this year. As training camps approach, I can see him being dealt. I 100% agree with your comment about health and underperforming, but I feel someone will be willing to take a chance because of his expiring contract. Just my two cent….

  • 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.

  • LinkfromHyrule

    I think the Oilers still have one more trade to do before they can say they are competing for the playoffs. Unfortunately it’s probably going to one of our young kids and it’s probably going to be one of the wingers. That means imo either yakupov or eberle, petry + w/e for a top D man plus a quality all round center.

    Even though it might or probably won’t be that exact deal but I think everyone at least can acknowledge something like that is going to happen and has to happen before this team can be competitive for a stanley cup.

  • 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.

  • Jason Gregor

    In hindsight it looks like not buying out Hemsky may have been a mistake. Furthermore, though I think trading Paajarvi and a 2nd for Perron was a good trade for the Oilers after the draft, free agency and the compliance buyout window, I think things could’ve worked out even better if that trade didn’t happen and Hemsky was bought out:

    Scenario 1) Sign Grabovski, move Gagner to the wing and sign a 4th line centre like Maholtra or Steckel (which I think they should still do).

    or

    Scenario 2) Make an offer sheet to Derek Stepan for $5M and possibly lose a 1st and 3rd but would still have a 2nd round pick if Paajarvi is still in the lineup. Still sign a 4th liner and move Gagner to the wing.

    In both scenarios the Oilers now have 5 NHL caliber centres (Nuge, Gags, Gordon, Stepan/Grabovski, Maholtra/Steckel), and they have an upgraded bottom 6 (Gordon, Paajarvi, Smyth, Joensu, Jones, Maholtra/Steckel).

    I know it’s easy for me as an armchair GM with no consequences and 7 weeks after the compliance buyout window and free agency but it was clear after the “Centre Injury Fest of 2013” that the Oilers were lacking depth in that department and the departure or Horcoff didn’t help that particular issue despite people’s opinion of the player.

  • 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.

  • Jodes

    Cap space is not a problem. Depends if you want to salvage a asset in Schultz. In no way would Schultz deserve it, but he could be buried in OKC.

    I don’t think MacT wants Grabbo, and I am tired of barking up that tree. Frankly sign Steckel or Smithson to help with the draws, and go with it, or bury a contract and pay a dollar or two for Grabbo or Boyes.

  • 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.

  • **

    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?

  • 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.

  • Jason Gregor

    Hey Jason, just for the “use a player from within” argument, what about having Eberle play center until Nuge is back. Did he not use to play center in junior? Plus you can move up Hemsky without having to out him or Yak on his off wing. Thoughts?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • LinkfromHyrule

    While I love that Mact has turned our kiddy pool defense into something with real depth (even if it lacks current top-end talent), I feel macT has backed himself into a corner here. He needs a center, but has no cap space to sign anyone with. He has assets he’s (presumably) willing to trade, that nobody seems to want. I think he may have signed one too many defenseman at the expense of C

    So the defensive depth is somewhat fixed, only to have the same problem at center..

  • DSF

    Demoting Potter and Lander would leave EDM with 22 players on the roster, and ~3M to spend on a C should they so desire, or if they can find one they think is worth that money.