DRAFT WEEK: LET’S MAKE A DEAL

It is Stanley Cup week for Oilers fans, and I’m not talking about the Bruins and Hawks. Your excitement and dreams of the Stanley Cup rest on hope, faith and the willingness to believe that the Oilers will draft two or three key pieces for the future this Sunday in New Jersey.

That is the reality when you’re a fan of a team with the longest playoff drought in the NHL, however, this week there is a distinct different feeling in Oilersnation than in previous years. The anticipation is higher,  and it isn’t focused on who the Oilers will draft, but instead what type of moves Craig MacTavish will make.

For the past three seasons Steve Tambellini held a press conference before heading out to the draft, but those announcements were never met with the heightened rumour-fueled frenzy that we saw this past weekend when the Oilers announced MacTavish would speak on Tuesday.

In an instant social media was a buzz with rumours and speculation on what MacTavish would be discussing. Will he have a major announcement, possibly, but it’s likely this is just the usual GM presser before the draft. That doesn’t mean fans won’t have a plethora of questions.

When will Dallas Eakins announce his coaching staff? Will you have any say in who he hires?

Have other teams expressed interest in Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky?

Are you looking at a long or short term contract with Sam Gagner?

Do you still believe you can make eight changes to your roster?

Any predictions on who you think will be the last visor-less player?

MacTavish has done a masterful job of getting fans and media anxiously awaiting his every move. He declared he would make bold moves and Oilersnation is impatiently waiting to see what those are.

Will he be able to follow through or will he strike out? I believe this week, specifically Friday to Sunday is when we will start to see some of those moves, and they will continue on until July 15th. The next 20 days will go a long ways in determining the future of the Edmonton Oilers.

I applaud MacTavish for admitting his organization needs a significant overhaul, both on an off the ice, but I don’t think fans should expect all the moves to lead to instant success. The Oilers need to build a team that becomes a consistent playoff contender, not a one-shot wonder, and that type of foundation can’t be built in the next 20 days.

The next three weeks will be the beginning, and likely the most exciting 20 days for Oilers in the past seven seasons.

QUICK HITS

  • MacTavish and the rest of management are very high on Sam Gagner. They love his attitude, and re-signing Gagner is much more likely than trading him at this point. The big question is how much are they willing to pay him? What is fair and wise contract for Gagner?
     
  • If Gagner’s camp wants $5 million will the Oilers pay him? If he goes to arbitration, he’d likely get something close to that on a one-year deal.
     
  • Under the new CBA teams are allowed to three retained salaries, meaning they can trade three players and retain part of their cap hit. I find it surprising that the Maple Leafs used two of those in the Bernier/Frattin/Scrivens trade. The Leafs retained $500,000 in salary between Frattin ($437,500) and Scrivens ($62,500). I’m curious to hear Dave Nonis’ explanation as to why he’d waste one of his retained salaries on such a small amount.
     
  • If the Oilers can trade Shawn Horcoff expect them to retain some of his cap hit. Here are the stipulations regarding retaining salary:
  1. No more than 50 per cent of the salary/cap hit can be retained.
  2. Salary/cap hit cannot be retained on more than three contracts in one season.
  3. The aggregate cap hits retained cannot exceed 15 per cent of the upper limit.
  4. A contract can be traded only twice where salary/cap hit is retained. 
  • The Oilers have given Horcoff and his agent permission to talk to teams about a possible trade. This is usually a good way to let the player and his agent understand how they are perceived around the league. Even with a $5.5 million cap hit, I’m sure Horcoff and his agent feel there would be lots of interest, but when teams give players permission that usually means the interest has been minimal. 
     
  • David Conte has been in charge or part of the New Jersey Devils draft for 29 years. They’ve had some very good late first round picks, and Conte discussed his draft philosophies with me.
     
  • Compliance buyouts can become "official" 48 hours after the Stanley Cup finals have wrapped up. If the Hawks win tonight, buyouts will start on Wednesday, if the Bruins win buyouts start Friday and then teams have a two-week window to use their compliance buyouts. Daniel Briere, Tomas Kaberle and Mike Komisarek have already been told they will be bought out, so that leaves 55 potential buyouts (Wade Redden and Scott Gomez were bought out in January). Some teams will act quickly, while some others that I’ve spoke with will wait to see who they sign when free agency starts on July 5th.
     
  • Expect the Oilers to try and trade Eric Belanger, and if they can’t facilitate a deal i’d be very surprised if he wasn’t bought out. 

CURTIS LAZAR

Edmonton Oil Kings forward Curtis Lazar is slated to be drafted somewhere between #12 -#22depending on the publication, but all the scouts feel strongly that he’ll be a consistent NHL player for many years. Lazar talked about the draft, his two-way game and the change he made mid-season to get his game back on track.

Jason Gregor: I’m sure that you’ve tried not to think about it, but do you lay awake at night wondering what is going to happen on the 30th?

 Curtis Lazar: Of course. I’m sort of at that point now where I want it to happen and get it over with and move on with my career. This season has had a lot of ups and downs, but I’m ready and I’m going to be quite happy and quite proud when I walk across that stage in New Jersey.

Gregor: In interviewed David Conte from the Devils last week and he said ‘I couldn’t say one bad thing about Curtis’ talking about the interview that you two had. Did you feel that your interview process with every team went the same, or did you feel, ‘I think that that one went better’ for whatever reason?

Lazar: Yeah, I mean for the most part, they went pretty well, but like you said, the Devils were probably one of my best ones. You just get that sense from them that they like  you, and they’re just such great people and they give you such great advice about yourself and it just takes off from there. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen in New Jersey.

Gregor: What kind of advice did they give you?

Lazar: Just to keep on working at it and recognizing all of my skills and my strengths as a hockey player. I’m on the doorstep of becoming a pro hockey player and just don’t stop working, the second that happens you don’t make it. They said if they’re lucky enough to select me then they are going to supply the tools for me to work on my game and just have fun.

Gregor: You led the team in goals this year with 38, however all of the scouts say Curtis Lazar has a very complete overall game and he’s a guy who’s willing to sacrifice individual stats for the team’s success. Have you always been that type of player, did anyone give you that type of instruction, where did you become that team first type of guy?

Lazar: I sort of brought it on myself. Growing up in Salmon Arm I played with the older guys and when it came to hitting hockey I was held back a season where I fit in with my age group. I used that year, an easier year, to work on the little things. That’s what I pride myself on; the detail part of the game. Focus on the D zone because you want to keep pucks out of your net, and defence wins championships and from there it’s just taking over. I got in my slump earlier in this season and the offence wasn’t coming. So I thought why not take that as a positive and work on the defensive part of the game.

Gregor: You overcame a slow start and then got red hot for the second half of the season. How did you remain poised and confident, because it is your draft year and I’m sure there was a lot of pressure to produce?

Lazar: Well that’s the problem, I couldn’t and it got to me. I was always focused on the stat side of my play. I’m a player that I could have some of my best games and not put up a single point, but that’s sort of my X factor about the different things or ways that I could contribute, however, the slow start was because I let the draft control who I was. I’m not proud of that. But come December I said ‘look I’m fortunate enough to be playing on a pretty good team with the Oil Kings, good league, so why not just enjoy it and have fun?’

Gregor: That is very honest of you to say, ‘I’m not proud about it, but I kind of let the draft control me and all of the hype around it.’ How were you able to regain control? Was it a conversation with your coach, or was it a one-on-one with yourself?

Lazar: A bit of everything. Derek Laxdal, he’s a great coach, and a great mentor for me. He always had the door open and if we needed to have a chat here and there he would pull me aside and let me know that he’s still happy with my play regardless of my point totals. And the same with my parents, they support me with all of my decisions I’ve made regarding my life, and they’re never pushing anything on me. So just knowing that they’re backing me, it helps develop that confidence not only in myself but also in who I am as a person.

Gregor: I’ve had a few people who are much closer to your team than I am tell me that you are a glue guy in that locker room and with a lot of the veterans leaving next season, you’re likely, whether you’re wearing the captaincy or not, will be the leader of the team. Talk about emerging as a leader and what do you think makes a good leader at the Western Hockey League?

Lazar: It’s huge and I really wanted to excel in a leadership role this season. I was sort of in that intermediate step this past season where you have a bunch of the older guys, and I had their respect because I was playing out there with them and contributing in that way, but I also I could relate to the younger guys breaking into the league.

I billet with Brett Pollock who’s a 16 year old in the Western Hockey League, and if he needed someone to talk to, I was always that guy that he could pull aside.  It is neat seeing a bunch of our veteran guys move on to the pro levels, but it just puts that much more emphasis on the leadership role for me next year.

It all starts in practice. Practice, the gym, it’s the work habits, leading by example which go a long ways and not being scared to be vocal. You’ve got to be able to step up and say something for the betterment of the team.

Gregor: How are your workouts going, is it easier or harder to stay focused on them at this time of the year?  

Lazar: I started training last week on my own regime and I work out one-on-one with my trainer in Kelowna. I was in the gym this morning with Josh Georges, Luke Schenn and it’s really cool to see those guys around because I can watch them and ask them questions as well. They’re good people and they’re familiar faces that I’m used to seeing around.

I’ll get some more information once I get drafted and we’ll see if they want to emphasize on me getting bigger or a little quicker. But I’m sure it’s going to be a combination of all of those things.

Gregor: Give me a quick scouting assessment on Seth Jones. I know that you faced him for seven games in Portland, what do you like about his game?

Lazar: First off, it’s his size. I mean his mobility for his size really helps jump into the rush. He’s got great offensive instincts and he’s got a really hard shot there, which I had the joy of standing in front of a few times. His poise as well, he takes control of the situations in his own end and he can make that good, hard, crisp first pass.

Gregor: Do you study any of the other players that you’re going up against in the draft? Do you compare where you’re at compared to the rest of them?

Lazar: Yeah for sure, I like watching hockey because it’s the game that I love to play as well but the Memorial Cup was special because seeing the guys the MacKinnons, the Drouins who happened to my linemates, in the Ivan Hlinka. Max Domi, Bo Horvat, Nikita Zadorov you get familiar with those guys as well. So I mean there are friendships along the way, it’s just really neat how they develop.

Gregor: If you had to compare your game so someone in the NHL, who would it be?

Lazar: What I have been saying is a combination of Mike Richards and Dustin Brown. I’m not an agitator like Richards is, but I like those leadership qualities that Brown has on the LA Kings. Both of them, both Richards and Brown play that 200’ game where they take care of the defence first and then they can push on the offence. 

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

  • ghostofberanek

    That was a great interview, and I’m seeing Lazar in a different light now. If we trade down to get him, I’ll only be slightly disappointed now. He might be a good pick after all.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    Watching the SCF has been sad because it only crystallizes the fact that we are so far off from that level of team. I agree, Rome was not built in a day and MacT will not make us reasonable facsimiles of CHI or BOS by July 15. Sure, he has done an amazing job of stoking fan interest up to now, but will it just turn out to be disappointing when he doesn’t bring in the entire laundry list of players needed for us to simply not suck again next year?

    I think he is on the right track and his head is in the right place, and the want and willingness are there, but I’m not expecting some kind of miracle to happen once this year’s Cup champs go partying into the night this week.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    I have never seen this kid play……but he sure gives a good interview. He seems very mature for his years and gives articulate answers.

    He reminds me a lot of Mark Messier in his build and hockey style………we could use another one of those for sure.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    What a meaty article. This was great. I do disagree that a cup winning foundation can be built in the next 20 days. He can shore up the goal tending situation. He can bring in a key defensive piece. And he has the tradable assets to both alter the balance of the top six, and overhaul the bottom six enough that the core team will be in place, with only a few trade deadline acquisitions and some experience standing between us and a cup. Oh, and the gruelling 82 game schedule in which competition seems to get tighter and tighter every single year. But that’s all really.

    I still think people will look back on the Tambillini era and realize he drafted the defence that took us to another cup. It is just going to take time for those prospects to develop properly. Klefbomb, J Schultz, and one of the other prospects could be the d core that gets us there. Add in a Smid, and a hopefully more developed Petry, plus one solid top 2 guy and that could be the best D in the league, just not in the next 20 days.