Oilers sign Miller, what MacTavish said, and questions needing answers

Lots of stuff after the jump, starting with the Oilers’ most recent free agent signing and getting into some of the key questions to answer in the 2013 season’s dying days.

Miller Time

Yesterday, the Oilers signed free agent forward Andrew Miller out of Yale. He’s small for pro hockey (the Oilers’ Twitter account originally listed him at 5’8”, then corrected itself and said his official height is 5’10”, which presumably means he’s 5’8”). He’s old, too, turning 25 in the off-season. He’s the same age and size as Mark Arcobello (and the two were teammates in 2009-10). Hockey Prospectus’ Corey Pronman describes him (in part) this way:

The 24 year old center is a classic small, skilled college player. Miller displays above-average qualities in terms of his speed, puck skills and overall offensive instincts. In his Senior season especially he showed the ability to consistently create scoring chances and keep the play flowing in the right direction. The concerns I would have with Miller are firstly his physical game. He’s a 5′9′’ forward and although he does work hard, I’m not convinced he has the necessary grit and physical qualities to be anything more than replacement level in that area in the pro game. With Miller you also wonder if he has enough offensive talent, meaning if he’s dynamic or merely good, to overcome his size. I see reasonable arguments for and against him on that issue depending on which night you saw him.

College UFA signings are basically the NHL equivalent of found money; expectations of the team for Miller should be modest (essentially, that he be a useful AHL’er) with the hope that he’s a pleasant surprise.

What MacTavish did, and did not, say at his press conference

There’s been a lot of ‘the Oilers are going to move one of their big names!’ talk from a lot of different places. The amount of chatter – and the quality of the people engaging in it – suggests to me that more is being said behind the scenes and off the record than was said publicly. However, I do feel compelled to point out that for all the talk of doing bold things and exposing the team to risk, Craig MacTavish made his view of at least the first overall picks very clear at the presser which introduced him as general manager:

If you’re referring to the young core that we paid such an exceptionally high price to acquire, we would part with those assets very begrudgingly.

My guess, and a guess is all it is, is that the five young players integral to the rebuild – the three first overall picks, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz – are all Oilers at this time next year. Sam Gagner, whose exceptional offensive season has been a mixed blessing given the one-year contract he was signed to a year ago, strikes me as the most plausible candidate for a “wow” move because he has youth and real value on his side (everyone in the ‘why don’t they trade Hemsky for a top-pairing defenceman’ camp, this is the reason) and because the role he’s playing (centre of a secondary scoring line) is (comparatively) easy to replace via trade or free agency.

The things left to find out

Stauffer’s comments above make sense, and with Hemsky and Petrell both known quantities losing them doesn’t hurt the evaluation process. The questions I’d like to see a little more data for are these:

  • Are Anton Lander and Jerred Smithson good candidates for roster spots next year?
  • How good is Teemu Hartikainen?
  • Can Ryan Smyth still play if he’s put back on left wing?
  • Does Ryan Jones belong on this team next year?
  • Can Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle generate offence without Hall?
  • Do Corey Potter, Mark Fistric, and/or Theo Peckham belong on this team next year?

Some of those questions, doubtless, have already been answered in the minds of management. Theo Peckham’s played four games this year, and it seems a good bet the organization is done with him; if he doesn’t play between now and the end of the season we’ll know for sure. Smithson and Jones getting scratched last game could be tells, too.

Putting Hall with Gagner and Yakupov, and sticking Paajarvi in Hall’s spot on the Nugent-Hopkins line in that last game seem like attempts to answer some of these questions. So does putting Anton Lander in a third line role, with Shawn Horcoff on the wing, and dressing Fistric and Potter as the third pairing. A fourth line of Smyth, Smithson and Jones would help answer questions about that trio – Smyth’s been bad at centre, and both Smithson and Jones are pending UFAs – and would likely be more effective than any combination based on putting Smyth at centre.

My current answers to those questions, by the way:

  • Lander’s a good choice as first call-up, team can walk from Smithson 
  • Good enough to be on the 2013-14 opening night roster
  • Yes, in a reduced role
  • Depends on salary, but if it’s reasonable he’d be a very good fourth-liner (who could play special teams and move up as necessary when injuries strike)
  • I really don’t know, but if they could play effectively apart it would make it much more difficult for opposing coaches to match against the Oilers, particularly on the road
  • Potter and Fistric are both fine 6/7 options, depending on what else happens with the defence. 

But I’d like to see the last few games of the season to help answer all of those questions. 

Recently around the Nation Network

  • Spydyr

    What the team needs is a third and fourth line full of hitters.Guys that make the other team pay.Wear down the defense for the two skill lines. Especially in a 7 game series.

    Chip in a few goals along the way.

    If there has ever been a team in the NHL as the Oilers of the past few years that does not throw hits and make the other team pay. I cannot remember it.Only one that may come close is Detroit but they still always had a few guys banging.

  • Ducey

    Oh, and everyone’s other white whale, Lucic, looks like he will be a healthy scratch tonight after playing on the 4th line yesterday.

    $18 million is lot to pay over the next 3 yrs for a guy who can’t stay in the top 6.

    Sure hope the Oilers don’t overpay for him. I think he is going to be one of those guys that just lose the fire.

  • blueorangekoolaid

    I read something interesting that might make Hemsky more attractive as a trade commodity. Couldn’t we retain half his salary and still trade him? One year of Hemsky at 2.5 million looks a lot better than 5 doesn’t it? Now he’s a top 6 forward on a bargain deal and if he can’t stay healthy then you let him walk or sign him to a reduced price. He’s probably still not as valuable as Gagner but perhaps a package of those two (with the reduced salary) gets us closer to that top D or 2C.

  • Ducey

    I dont get the hate on for Jones lately. Hes coming off a rough injury that hampered the start of his season. Last season he had what, 16 goals playing 10-12 minutes a night? If were gonna get rid of him, who is out there to replace that?

    • This!

      If Smyth is really done, then I see Jones as the second coming. All Jones has ever done is work his way up from Junior B to a regular NHL spot (until this season). He has is the definition of utility player, being slotted in wherever and whenever needed. He brought instant energy when he returned to the lineup and though it wasn’t sustained, his work ethic when in the lineup his consistently good.

      Jones should be a glue guy that that is in the bottom six.

    • Ducey

      His goals are fine but have you noticed a lot of those come on breakaways and one man efforts? Its because he cheats for offense. He gives up more than he gets.

      If anyone should be cheating for goals its our smaller skilled guys. We need a guy who can score 10, crack a few heads, be hard to play against and can play against decent opposition. That isn’t Jones.

      Tim Jackman from 2 yrs ago would be nice.

  • Ducey

    I would be disappointed to see Lander in EDM to start the season. He needs more farm time.

    I would also hope they put Klefbom on the farm to start the season. The difference between Potter and a rookie defenseman is likely to Potter’s benefit. By midseason you can trade someone and bring up Klefbom.

    Willis, are you thinking they keep Brown?

    If the bottom six includes Smyth, Hartikanen, Brown, Horcoff and Jones, that means little change. I’d only keep Horcoff, Hartikanen and Brown with Smyth as the 13th forward. Petrell and Jones don’t bring enough truculance and each is pretty one dimensional.

    • If the Oilers end up running 14 forwards and go with a fourth-line/bottom-five made up of some combination of a UFA/trade centre, Hartikainen, Smyth, Jones, and Brown, I’m fine with that.

      I’d prefer a spare centre over Jones, but if Jones is willing to sign a cheap deal then I think you hang on to him. It would be easier to keep Jones if Smyth retired, but I think you need to save one buyout for 2014 and this year’s should be used on Belanger. With Lander as the first call-up, you’ve got some insurance for if a centre goes down anyway and Smyth can fill in for a game (but no more than that!) if necessary, IMO.

      • Oilfred

        What are the conditions on the compliance buy-outs? I was under the understanding that each team had two that could be used at any time during the length of the current CBA.

        If that’s the case I would hold onto them and use just use a regular buyout on Belanger.

  • Spydyr

    Only took 10 posts for someone to mention the latest Oiler white whale Weber.

    Maybe in three years when the team is ready to do some damage in the playoffs you go for the “Pronger ” type piece.

  • Toro

    I wonder if we could see a play for Shea Weber , maybe a combo of Gagner, Hemsky and 2014 1st ? 1 player could make a huge difference, just like when Pronger came here.

  • Rocknrolla

    Jones got to go. Potter to the AHL. Fistric your 6-7 guy. Lander off to see the wizard for a body that does not break every time someone hits him. Lander has heart and brains but lacks an NHL body. Petrell.Time to move on. Mike Brown has earned a 4th line spot. Ryan Smyth? Huge question. Hemsky. Move on.

  • Bucknuck

    Jon., are you suggesting that it is easier to replace a second line center , than a right winger. [ Gagner vs. Hemsky ], via the trade or UFA route, or that GAgner would garner more than
    Hemsky in return.

    Because there isn’t much in the way of Center or D men on the UFA list, unless you have topped off your annual supply of Geratol.

  • I don’t have any problem with either player, but the Oilers are already in trouble if their support cast for next year is led by Anton Lander and Teemu Hartikainen.

    Maybe one day, but the Oilers need some solid experience in their depth guys… and guys with a track record of getting the job done. Both Hartikainen and Lander are still unknowns, to me. In fact, I’d go so far to say as they’re a bit of a known.. as in it’s known that they won’t be able to get the job done for us yet. Maybe one day down the road, but right now we need a 3rd line that has more of a purpose than to stave off an attack.

    I do think Hartikainen SEEMS to drive the puck the other way (I don’t know what the stats actually say re: that though), but it doesn’t result in a goal anwhere near often enough. They need to find guys like, oh, I dunno.. Glencross and Brodziak.

    The Oilers do need to start by turfing the guys that definitely did not get the job done, from Vande Velde, on up to Smyth. So Smyth, Belanger, Eager, Hordichuk, Vande Velde, Petrell, and likely Jones now since everyone is on the hate-wagon. Replace these all with a new set of guys with potential to turn things around. But you need them all to reliable. One chink in the chain, and it could all fall apart.

  • Eddie Edmonton

    I believe Miller was signed as AHL insurance, nothing more.

    Where is this Oilers are going to move one of their big names chatter taking place? In the Oilers offices? Has anyone from the Oilers said anything publically? Or is this just gossip that was started about a week ago carrying on through the internet and the same old tired @$$ programming on TSN and Sportsnet?

    Smithson is not coming back, Lander maybe(if not traded).

    Teemu is alright, he stills needs work and more consistant ice-time and line-mates.

    I am hoping that neither Smyth or Jones are back next year.

    If RNH and Eberle can not generate offence without Hall, maybe one of them should be traded.

    I’d keep Fistric as 7th, Potter I’m not sure about but Theo can definetely stick to paintballing.

  • Sal-Sational

    Line up for next year
    Forwards: 4-93-64, ??-??-14, 91-57-56, ??-??-37
    Defence:2-5, 19-??, 15-??
    Lots of Holes for MacT to fill. Need bigger/stronger bodies

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Such an interesting summer ahead. No sense even visualizing what the roster may look like. Hopefully as many as 7 or 8 new faces in the lineup next season if we include Klefbom and the Oils top 3 selction this summer. MacTavish has to be the odds on favorite to pull a Holmgren in New Jersey in a couple months.

    Deadwood out, new blood in. Time to punch that accelerator.