SIXES AND SEVENS AND NINES

Everywhere you look, there are legions with reasons the Edmonton Oilers are in dire straits today. Don Cherry thinks they need to add fear, others suggest a powerforward, still others want another Pronger (where is that guy anyway?). The truth now is as it has always been: the Edmonton Oilers don’t have enough actual NHL players.

Number 11 is Mark Messier. Of all the factors that have turned the Oilers around in the last few weeks, none has been more important than Mark’s decision to apply himself. The reckless abandon of the early months had now turned into a controlled fury on the ice, and in many games he has been the Oilers most exciting player.

He kills penalties and adds zest to the powerplay. Although he has been converted from centre to left wing on Matti (Hagman’s) line (with Glenn Anderson), Sather still sends him out for crucial faceoffs. It is a favorite play for Sather to send him out with veteran center Stan Weir, then have Stan deliberately mix it up with the opposing center, get waved off and then hand the faceoff duties to the kid.

No one knows for sure what has turned Messier around, although it appears more than coincidence that he began his new dedicated approach at about the same time as his cousin (Donny Murdoch) was banished to the minors. So many of the other youngsters take their moods from him that there are those who believe he will one day be the captain of the Oilers.

Peter Gzowski, “The Game of Our Lives” McLelland and Stewart 1981.

Taylor Hall is the leader of this team, and this season he has stepped into another zone, a higher level. He is the leader of the group of players who can impact every game in a positive way–even last night when the team has lost the script–and should be regarded as the center of the Oilers cluster.

HOW MANY ACTUAL NHL PLAYERS DO THE OILERS HAVE RIGHT NOW?

It’s a moving target, some of these guys are not having good seasons, and your mileage may vary. However, if I were making a list of players to protect from the expansion draft (Portland, Quebec) the "must" list would look like this:

  1. Taylor Hall
  2. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
  3. Nail Yakupov
  4. Jordan Eberle
  5. Sam Gagner
  6. Ales Hemsky
  7. Magnus Paajarvi
  8. Shawn Horcoff
  9. Justin Schultz
  10. Jeff Petry
  11. Ladislav Smid
  12. Devan Dubnyk

From that group, I don’t think we can count Yakupov and Schultz the younger as being "actual NHL players" yet but that will come quickly because both are elite level talents. I’m comfortable suggesting the organization will be able to count on them as early as next season to impact games consistently.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’d suggest Shawn Horcoff is going to exit the definition at some point and that moving Taylor Hall to center might be a consideration at this point.

THE REST?

Well, the rest are on each side of the bell curve: some are not yet inside the window (until recently Paajarvi would have been there, Hartikainen is outside the rope as are a few others) and others are on the other side (Smyth, Khabibulin) and still others never got there.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

The Oilers have their elite talent, their Jacks and Kings (Hall, Nuge, Yak City, Schultz the younger, Ebs, etc) but need those role players. They should be the easiest guys to acquire, and maybe the Oilers management will go out and offer Viktor Stålberg a chance to play with Gagner and Hemsky and maybe he says yes and maybe that’s a perfect fit.

But let me suggest this to you: getting a "power forward" for that line or an "enforcer" for the 4th line is less important than finding actual NHL players inside the bell curve, inside the area where they are effective players at a high level.

Find enough of those and you find consistency because there are no soft spots in the roster, no weakness in the batting order.

As much as Taylor Hall is doing to help the Edmonton Oilers win, the bottom of the roster is giving it all away and more. That is the lesson of this season, and chasing a specific player type as suggested by Don Cherry loses the heart of the matter.

Find NHL players.

  • Sox and Oil

    LT so your saying we have a shot at Monahan especially if he is 7th . Agree with your top end list but I would add Hartski & probably Lander . Require 2 “D” & 2 forwards . That should be out there with cap space issues & trade possibilities but as so many have said not with Tambellini . As I remember Lowe did an OK job the last time we passed through a lockout season .Just saying .

  • Lowetide

    Sox and Oil: I like the JSG idea too, suspect he’ll re-sign though. I like Dubnyk as the starter but it’s a good idea to have a strong backup.

    At forward, depth is always an issue and you’re right center is tough for the Oilers. I do believe the idea of trying Hall at center might take this time.

    If it does, they’ll have insane depth. If not, then getting a good option at center is one of the important items for summer.

    Monahan probably goes at #7 or earlier.

    • Sox and Oil

      I fear that Tambo will go in “project mode” when it comes to the back up position. I thought Mason was for sure coming to town until Philly proved no one knows less about goalies then them.

      So if Hall does move to center then how do you see the lines shaking?
      Nuge – Harti – Eberle
      Hall – MPS – Hemsky
      Gagner – ??? – Yakupov

      Left wing is still a concern I agree is the logical choice for a move to the middle but still doesn’t change the fact that we have glut of RWs.

      As of today Edmonton is 23rd in the league and would be drafting 8th. I’d love to see them make a small trade to move up a spot or two and draft a player that would fill a need. Then they could play Monahan on that 3rd line LW for his rookie season.

  • Sox and Oil

    Hey LT, sorry in advance for floating some next season hypotheticals..

    First is the back up goalie scenario, I like the idea of a positive veteran who brings experience as a starter (playoffs too but doesn’t need that cup) to help develop Dubbie and push the room. I like the idea of JS Giguere as long as its not more the 2 years and more then 2 mill per.

    Second is bringing in (again positive veterans) 2 or 3 forwards that can play up or down the roster in the event of injury. Also with this more back up Centers are a must, or at least players who can shift to centre if the need develops. I haven’t really looked at this summers FA crop but i’m not suggesting bank busters, i’d rather Edmonton adopts the Phoenix strategy of focusing on the 2nd and 3rd tier UFA’s. Someone like Brad Boyes could be a good starting point.

    Lastly please god can we draft Sean Monahan.

    Sorry if this makes no sense, i’m still a little buzzed from last night. Hopefully next year I have some happy hangovers instead of these “look forward to a future that may never come hangovers”

    • Trouble is that players won’t sign in Edmonton unless they overpay. No matter how hard they try these players sign for less with other teams. See Glencross. He wanted close to $2M in Edmonton and signed for way less in Calgary.

      • Hair bag

        Glencross signed for the exact same money in Calgary as Edmonton eventually offered but too little to late. Edm drug their feet getting an offer to him because they were focused on trying to get Hossa, the Flames came knocking and the Oilers missed out…

  • DoubleJ

    I’m tired of everyone who is in love with Hemsky. The guy is not a team guy plain and simple. He’s a huge reason the second line is brutal. He’s the first guy gone IMO. I could care less how talented he is he’s a one trick pony with a ” give a sh*t of zero”. No leadership, shows up one out four games.

    Also the third line and fourth line are so bad it’s imbarassing. I hate seeing Smyth this slow and completely ineffective. We need four new forwards and at least two NHL dman.

    Hartnell has had a bad year with Philly maybe we could get him cheap.

    . And Yandle and Horton are my hopes this off season.

    But with tambo at the helm I doubt we get anything close to that.

  • paul wodehouse

    …wundrin if 4 has read the Gzowski book…he should…nuge needs to get his shoulder fixed now and begin to eat a lot of cheeseburgers…sign our backup goalie to a one year deal @ whatever is a goalie minimum salary…whata great get Stalberg would be…but really and truly especially focus on finding a way to aquire as many NHL players as it takes to rid this team of its’ fringe prospects and draft picks this summer…oh yes and the only way to do that is to fire our GM 24 hours after the last game of this yet again tanked albeit shortened season…please?

    p.s. thank the Lord&LT for Marilyn Monroe

  • Eddie Shore

    No argument with the ” keeper list”, other Hemsky, who is a waste of oxygen!.

    The real question is how do you add 10 decent players between seasons end and training camp, when you have not be able to do a single one in the last 3 or 4 years. [ no counting the lotto picks, those were gimmes ]

    • Fans are the reason Oilers have trouble signing players. Players know that Lowe is mistreated and bashed and players are run out of town.

      Oilers fans should be proud that they’re the reason no one signs in Edmonton and that includes potential GMs and coaches.

      A rebuild needs to have the same coach and not 4 coaches in 6 years but fans are trying to run Krueger out of town.

      • Zamboni Driver

        Said this on the other thread too (btw, you come across like the “Leave Britney alone guy” on youtube).

        Kevin Lowe brought you:

        $7 million for Horcoff
        $3 million for FERNANDO FRICKIN’ PISANI
        No clue on a goalie
        Bajillion year extension for his best buddy as coach.

  • Milli

    Any addition of size should be of the Brouwer/GlenX type not a Coke machine. That is not even an issue for me. I want players that can play the game.

    so the argument is not Tony Rajala or JF Jacques. It is to add a player who can add an element of grit while being fully capable of playing

    Very subtle question on High Noon yesterday:resign Gagner or Map? spit coffee everywhere

  • Sox and Oil

    Very good article LT and Cherry’s ramblings are outdated and belong in the sixties. Kyle Wellwood is a prime example of a top 9 player who’s carved out a career on the third line who can be shifted around as a offensive contributor and has become less of a liability defensively, all the while coming in at 5’10 180.

    Chicago is going to have cap issues even if they buy out Montador so I’ve been thinking for a long time that they should take a shot at Stalberg. I also think they should deal Gagner and Hemsky in a package of some sort to a team that is the polar opposite of Edmonton in that they have lots of role players but have little to no skill forwards like Winnipeg or Nashville. The Oilers need to let Jones, Smyth, and Belanger go by dealing them, buying them out, or just letting them walk in FA. The only player to even consider keeping is Petrell because he’s cheap and wouldn’t be terrible as a 14th forward to spot in. Also if you lost him in waivers if you were making other moves it wouldn’t be a big loss.

    • Oilers fans doing what Oilers fans do best. Run one of the better players out of town.

      Fans are the reason players don’t come to Edmonton. Don’t you think players hear how Oilers fans run players out of town. That’s why players with NMC/NTC have Edmonton on the list they don’t want to get traded to. Ray Whitney when Oilers tried signing him while Lowe was still GM said he didn’t sign in Edmonton because of the fans.

      It’s hard being GM of a team where fans are reason players don’t sign there and are run out of town.

  • Milli

    In the history of all professional sports has their ever been a team that’s missed the playoffs for 7 straight seasons, finish last to near last for 4 straight years and became the joke of the league and actually KEPT the management responsible?

  • Lowetide

    It’s not even the fact that we got out played by our biggest rival who dressed 6 ahl players, it’s the fact that we have just as many wins as a team that gave away theyre franchise players and is in the midst of their most depressing season ever. 3 years into this supposed “rebuild” and we can’t even compete with the worst teams in the league!!! It’s embarrassing to be a fan of such a pathetic team. If Lowe and Tambi are still guiding this kamikaze next year It will have to be some kind of record for the most incompetence shown while still keeping a job.

    • STOP THE LOWE HATRED. THIS IS ALL ON TAMBELLINI. When Lowe was GM, he actually made moves to help the team. Lowest team finished with Lowe was 25th, yes that’s right 25th.

      Tambellini likes finishing 30. So it should be Tambellini that should be fired. He’s fired 3 coaches and fans want him to fire Krueger. I’m sorry but having 4 coaches in 6 years is why the rebuild isn’t going anywhere and off course Tambellini.

    • 15w40

      The elephant IS the elephant – Katz.

      Do you think an owner like Steinbrenner would have put up with this crap?

      I know I’m repeating my self but readers of the this post should google Phillip wrigley.

      And ponder an owner like him having endless sellouts in a new, govt funded building surrounded by real estate he owns, counting and folding his money not motivated in the slightest to make real changes to the on ice product…

      For the next THIRTY-FIVE years.

      We are hostages to his contentment with being surrounded by sycophants and mediocre hockey.

      • Hair bag

        Your comments are becoming borderline ridiculous – conspiracy theories about Katz now owning the Oilers because he thinks they are/can be a cash cow!! Come on! I have know problem with criticizing management for their decisions and possibly Katz for leaving them in their positions with their poor track record, but what you are insinuating is just stupid. Katz is a billionaire, I’m pretty sure he knows a lot of other better ways to make money than by owning a professional sports team in a small market city. I’m sure he definitely is looking to turn it into a money making venture but he would never have purchased the team strictly for that reason…

        • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

          it isnt that far fetched to see the oilers are the driving force behind a downtown area that is going to make alot of already rich people more rich.

          the oilers are probably a nice hobby for him, but in the bigger picture owning the oilers put him in a good spot to make a huge amount of money if/when the arena district finally goes

      • Stewie

        I agree! Why would Katz be motivated for significant change? The rink is full regardless of whether the Oilers put a good effort out or not. The fans continue to hold onto a feeling that someday there will be success.

        To add more, the City of Edmonton bowed to Katz’s demands to build him a new rink.

        Katz wont let this team get to maximum cap levels because he doesn’t need to. The barn is sold out regardless.

        I have a hard time believing there is a real appetite for improvement.