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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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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  • 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


  • 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?

  • 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).

    • The Soup Fascist

      Don’t feel bad – no one can tell them apart. All bad GM’s look alike. You put Nonis, Gillis, Tambo and Feaster in the room they all look virtually identical.

      One just has more chins than the others.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • LinkfromHyrule

    I’m not sure the cap situation is all that dire, at least according to CapGeek. If they should somehow manage to acquire another centre it would mean moving Lander down to OKC, freeing up $900,000. There is also no way all 9 d-men currently on the roster will make the team, some a bit more cash will be freed up. The real problem as I see it is that outside of Grabovski, there aren’t really any attractice UFA options. Making a trade will likely involve moving one large contract (Hemsky, N. Schulz) for another (Gaustad for example). I think the team is likely wary of taking on long-term $.

    • Jason Gregor

      The Oilers currently have $1.3 million in cap space counting 24 players. Take off Potter and that leaves them with $2.1 million. You won’t get Grabovski for $2 million.

      Plus you’d like some cap flexibility during the season. The Oilers don’t have much room, especially for a bottom-tier team.

      • Jodes

        Agreed that Grabovski will certainly require more $ – I guess I should have been more clear that while he’s the best option he’s likely out of range.

        Your point about the cap space is well taken, especially as I have a feeling this GM won’t sit around and fiddle his thumbs if roster needs emerge due to injury or poor play. It was like Tambo took a nap between August and the trade deadline every year. I think MacT will be more active.

      • DSF

        That would leave them at 24 players still so they could also dump “say Ryan smith” and be at 4.6 which would leave lots of room for a “say David Steckel”. Or is 24 the minimum.

      • Benny Botts

        Hey Jason,

        You would like to think Mac-T wants to improve his lack of depth down the middle asap. He has stated a few times that he thinks a bunch of things will shake lose when teams start up their training camps and they realize a “need” on their rosters.

        I believe MacT makes a couple moves before opening night whether it is at training camp or pre-season. With the amount of depth on D, do you think it is most likely a d-man moving out or a forward..say hemsky?

        Glad your back on the air!

        • Jason Gregor

          Hemsky would be the obvious forward to move, if a team realizes they suddenly need him once camp breaks.

          Unless they consider moving Smid or Petry, I don’t see them getting much for the other guys they would move, (I don’t include J.Schultz, Klefbom and Ference) so I suspect if a move of significance is made it will be most likely be Hemsky.

  • 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..

  • 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.

  • 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).


    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.

  • 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?

  • 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.”

      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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • jooks

    YES. Gregor is correct.

    Nultz is $3.5M. Oil have $1.3M in space. Grabovski is asking between $4 and $5M, I expect. So bury/buy out/trade Nultz and pay Grabovski. He will not want third line minutes. Happily, he would start the season challenging for the #1 centre position with the opportunity to have Hall/Yakupov/Perron/Eberle/Hemsky as wingers. That’s not a bad way to get instant redemption. He’ll also have some friendly Russians in the room (Yak, Belov, Grebs). His worst case scenario is on the third line with Hemsky and one of Smyth/Jones/Joensu. A reasonably offensive third line that could challenge for ice time collectively, and he’ll still have every opportunity to earn individual time with the new coach and “new look” in place.

    I’m hoping someone has made this case to him and the delay is just convincing someone to trade a 3rd round pick for Nultz.

  • Jason Gregor

    Having read Mikey’s post, I forgot to consider that Eakins and Grabovski might have firm views about each other given their overlapping time in the Leafs organization.

  • 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… 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….

  • 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

  • G Money

    “Buffet-prone”. Ha ha, awesome.

    Still think the Oilers would be better with Wellwood at 4C (bumped to 2C and Lander/Acton at 4C until RNH returns), rather than with Lander/Acton at 4C and Arcobello/Miller at 1C until RNH returns. Might even fit under the cap if the Oilers give him some free buffet passes to Ponderosa*.

    * Is that place still around??

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Grabovski sure is the best one, but problem is he already made it clear he’s not a fan of being on the third line. What do you do when RNH is healthy?

    Wellwood of Connolly might be better options. Guys that have something to prove.

  • 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.