Last night Craig MacTavish held a TeleForum where season ticket holders could call in, listen and ask questions. Since I’m a season ticket holder I was able to listen in. His responses to goaltending and the future of Shawn Horcoff and Sam Gagner intrigued me the most.

He was asked about Horcoff and his future with the team. 

Well, I think that that will be determined as the summer goes along with Shawn. I have a lot of respect for Shawn as a guy that really saw him come into the league. He was a player that played at Michigan State and played in our minor league team and came in and I saw him really develop as a player and as a person over the years. The one thing I will say about players like Shawn that have been here for a long period of time, it can have a little bit of a negative effect on your spirit, when Shawn’s reaching a certain age in his career. He’s gotta get energized as well and we’ll see what happens or what the summer has in store for Shawn and the Edmonton Oilers. 

Very interesting comments about the captain. Maybe I’m reading between the lines too much, but I sense whether Horcoff is back or not the Oilers might have a new captain next season. MacTavish suggested he needs to be energized, which suggests Horcoff’s desire has been lacking, and I doubt you want your captain’s spirit to be lacking.

I do know that his family stayed in Detroit this past season, likely due to their kids being in school for the first half of the year, and no one wants to be apart from their kids for five straight months. Maybe that played a factor, but I’m sure that seven seasons of losing is likely the reason his spirit wasn’t as high.

Horcoff has a NMC that becomes a limited NMC (submit a list of ten teams) on July 1st. Maybe a change of scenary will do him good, and considering he is owed $4 million in actual dollars this year, while carrying a $5.5 million cap hit, he could look attractive to teams who need to get to the floor. If I was betting I’d guess there is a better chance he gets traded, rather than bought out.

Does he feel Devan Dubnyk is a legitimate starting goalie, and what about the goaltending situation as a duo?

Well, we’re going to be very active in finding at least a couple goalies. I’d like to say about Nik Khabibulin that when he did play, he played very well for us this year. The problem with Nik, from our perspective, is that he’s a 40-year-old body who wasn’t able to stay as healthy as what you need. But, he did play exceptionally well when he did play and gave us very adequate backup goaltending.

As for Devan, I think that you’re right, the verdict is out on Devan. I’ve always believed that when you’re assessing goaltenders, if you have to ask the question you know the answer. The question would be, has Devan established himself as a number one goalie in the National Hockey League? And I still think it’s a valid question. So, I think that Devan, although he’s trending upwards in his numbers and played adequately for us this year, I still think, and I know Devan feels the same way, that there’s another level for him. From our standpoint, we’ll see that he can get to that level.

We are looking for a number two goalie and the jury is still out on Yann Danis, who has done a great job for us in the American Hockey League playoffs in Oklahoma City. We definitely have identified goaltending as not an area of strength within our organization. We have very little depth in our organization in net and we’re going to address that, too, as well. 

I don’t see Danis as an NHL backup, especially if the general manager isn’t certain his #1 goalie is ready to be an everyday starter. It was obvious at the trade deadline, when we learned that the Oilers tried to acquire Ben Bishop that they wanted someone to challenge Dubnyk.

A quick scan of the free agent market reveals that Mike Smith, Ray Emery and Anton Khudobin might be the best bets to do that. I’m sure the Coyotes will try to lock up Smith, but the other two could be free agents on July 5th. Khudobin is the most intriguing because of his age, and he might feel he has a better chance to play challening Dubnyk than Tuuka Rask.

Which player on the current roster is would he like to sign long term? 

The one guy that’s definitely on our radar in terms of guys that we want to sign is Sam Gagner. He’s maybe our most highly profiled restricted free agent. If he chose not to sign a contract with us and took us to arbitration this year, he’d get a one-year award in arbitration and Sam would have the distinction of being the youngest player in the history of the National Hockey League to reach unrestricted status. So, we want to make sure that that doesn’t happen. 

Sam likes it here, he has been a valuable member of our team and is always trending up and he’ll be a guy that we’ll be looking to sign. 

Another interesting response. The Oilers love Gagner’s desire, passion and overall competitiveness. He’s well-liked in the room and his "give-a-shit" meter is high. There are concerns, however,  with Gagner’s defensive game and his inability to win faceoffs.

I’m curious what type of dollar figure and term he and the Oilers would agree on? Is Gagner a $5 million player? If he is, can the Oilers afford to keep him along with their other four young, skilled forwards, 4,14,64 and 93? It depends on their salaires, but MacTavish’s comments make it seem likely that Gagner will be an Oiler moving forward.

That leads us to the next obvious question.

Can the Oilers win with a combination of Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner down the middle, or does their lack of size concern him?

Firstly, they’re guys that have an exceptionally bright future. Nugent-Hopkins, at his age, being able to accomplish what he’s accomplished so far is quite spectacular, really. And he’s 20 years old. Sam Gagner is a 23-year-old centerman. 

We’re in a league of men and it’s a man’s game and our guys are very much developing. There’s every reason to expect that these players will continue, obviously, to develop and to be able to compete very well against the best centermen in all of hockey. You look at Detroit with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg as their 1-2 punch, they’re not players that are going to overpower you. But, they’re players that can win battles and I feel like our centermen are very capable of doing that.

Would we like to add a big centerman? Absolutely, and we’ll be trying to acquire that piece. 

I’m always skeptical to compare young kids to one of the best duos in the game. In a perfect scenario Gagner and RNH will morph into Datysuk and Zetterberg, but I think that is wishful thinking. Both of those players are Hall of Fame candidates and it is rare to have two HOF centremen on the same team.

I agree that Gagner and Nugent-Hopkins will improve, but I think the Oilers are setting themselves up for disappointment if they hope they will mirror Zetterberg and Datsyuk. That is an extemely high comparison. If MacT was comparing their styles, then that is a different story. Neither of the Wings’ centermen are overly big, but he is accurate in describing how hard they compete and how complete their two-way game is.

At this point Gagner would need to improve a lot in his two-way game to be in the same boat. That won’t come with maturity though, it will come from within him and a desire to become that player. You can’t teach that, the player has to want to become that player. We’ve seen offensive players do it, some later in their careers like Steve Yzerman, so it is possible, but it is also extremely difficult.

How will MacTavish approach free agency? 

The UFA market is always a very… I approach that market very cautiously. I think there are a lot of mistakes made with the UFA’s when you sign players who are diminishing in terms of what their contribution can be and they’re always inflated contracts. It is a vehicle where you can help your team and we’ll be as active as we can in the UFA market.  

We’ve known for months the 2013 free agent crop isn’t great, and some players will likely re-sign before July 5th, which will diminish the talent pool even more. I’m not surprised by MacTavish’s comments, considering Scott Howson said the exact same thing a month ago. Overpaying players in the UFA market rarely works.

The other interesting point that MacTavish referenced was that  from July 1st to July 5th there will be a recruitment window for pending UFA’s. Meaning teams will have more time to talk to a player and his agent, and even fly them to their city for a tour. The NBA does this and I think it’s a great idea. Imagine showing potential free agents Edmonton’s river valley, rather than the usual snow-filled route from the airport to the hotel that opposing players only see during the season. Edmonton is a much prettier city than most opposing players see from October-March.

Those were the hot topics for me. MacTavish said his main priority with the #7 pick was to draft a centreman, no surprise, and that Nathan Mackinnon, Alexsander Barkov and Sean Monahan. He didn’t name Elias Lindholm.

Did anything MacTavish said last night surprise or intrigue you?


    • OilersBrass


      That’s no way to talk about the man who accurately said Horcoff should be on the Canadian Olympic team because he is the best 5 on 3 PK man he’s ever seen. You show some respect for this knowledgable, and smart man.

  • Citizen David

    I see four types of players out there.

    1. The not a chance we’ll get them players
    2. The have to give up our Eberle’s and Klefbom’s for them players. Are we willing to do that?
    3. The aquireable players who will still make a difference. This is the group I would like us to explore. I suggest trading for Ryan Ellis to add a puck moving defenseman and Signing Patrick Thoreson. LT had this suggestion on his blog. I immediately drank the kool aid. Four straight seasons as a point a game player in the KHL could slide in as a third line center upgrade.
    4. The won’t make a difference players. Stay away please.

  • Citizen David

    First off ,not privy to Teleform . What did I get out of it . Gagner appears to be integral part of moving forward . Got the feeling Horcff could be part of a package with possibly Dubnyk for Luongo and another Canuck . Or perhaps same scenario with another team ? If he is adding two goalies I tend to think Dubbie may be up for trade bait . Canucks looking for a center by the way and a backup goalie .

    He’s not expecting/relying on the UFA market to replenish personnel , and that probably means buyout players as well .

    I just do not see us being competitive with lack of size in our new division . They are expecting too much from our group of smallish young developing forwards . So with a Horcff trade , then I suspect Gagner takes over third line centerman , and a new one bought in for first or second line ?

  • Citizen David

    I am very pleased to hear that Gagner will be a part of the team moving forward. Very good news. Also good news to hear that he’ll be careful with UFA’s. So far MacT has been very impressive in showing his vision and understanding. Let’s hope he can actually do the moves. If there are only 3-4 changes on this roster next year consisting of bottom level players than we won’t be in the playoffs.

  • Citizen David

    @ Gregor

    Good article. Although I wouldn’t have Zetterburg as a HOFer. I guess in the NHL everyone good gets in eventually so he probably will get in.

    • Jason Gregor

      I said a candidate, not a lock. Zetterberg will be a guy who gets consideration. He is already 61st in all-time playoff scoring, 8 points away from top-50.

      He’s also solid in regular season and likely has at least 3 of 4 solid years left.

      He’ll be on fence, but a good candidate I think.

    • I’ll take having a GM that can outline what he thinks are glaring weaknesses on the team and suggest a plan to address them as opposed to Mr. Mumbles any day of the week.

      It wasn’t just “get better”.

      It isn’t that Mac-T is articulate and good in front of a camera, I think he has a far better hockey mind than the yahoos that brought us an offer sheet on Penner, Sheldon Souray as a franchise defenceman, Nik Khabilbulin for a million years, and an aborted effort to trade for Heater.

    • Citizen David

      sure but haven’t we found that the opposite is often horrific at communicating.

      so i will gladly take the smart, articulate communicator over the dunce. at least he has a winning plan.

    • Citizen David

      Charisma, articulation and actual intellect does not directly correlate to success or ability. Some of the least educated and unsophisticated people I know are excellent in their respective careers. Conversely, some of the most educated and intellectual people I know can’t maintain employment.

      Unrelated: If Gagner signs a long term deal with a reasonable cap hit and manages 55+ points next year he may become an invaluable trade asset. Perhaps he may net us the player who puts us over the top.

      Patience from here is key as great teams (other than Pittsburgh) aren’t built in a season. I just want to see marked improvement on the ice in 2013-14.

  • I wonder why he didn’t comment on the possibility of compliance buy outs from around the league potentially saturating the UFA market, driving prices down and allowing some teams to get good player at reasonable rates.

    As for Gagner, if they can sign him to a decent contract, and he plays in the 60 point range next year. I think his trade value goes even higher and they won’t have to give up so much to get back an impact player.

  • Comparing anyone to Datysuk and Zetterberg is a joke you have 2 selke type players at Center. They are smallish but that is the exception to the rule.

    Oilers will never win with Gagner as their second center. Because RNH is not J Toews. You need grit and skill and size when your #1 center is skilled.

    I really don’t know why everyone is enamoured with Craig MacTavish’s TeleForum .

    Basically he said we need to get better. What GM would not say this.

    Watch my feet not my lips.

  • I think it’s very fair to compare RNH to anybody in the league, especially Datsyuk. He’s a number 1 pick and far superior to Datsyuk at the same age, but they play a similar game. Gagner to Zetterberg? That’s one I would not have made at all.