The moaning and whining in some corners about big talk and no action from Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish was only hours old Thursday when MacT pulled off a STFU move by unloading captain Shawn Horcoff and his bloated contract to the Dallas Stars.
With the new buzz suddenly all about MacTavish being a man of action, the table is set for what fans anticipate will be a frenzied Friday, starting at 10 a.m., for MacTavish and the Oilers. My guess is that expectation will be met.
It had better be, because while some fans are celebrating MacTavish’s ability to jettison Horcoff’s contact, the bottom line is the Oilers have a gaping hole in the middle with No. 10 on his way to Big D and Eric Belanger being paid to pack his bags and get to stepping elsewhere.
Those moves leave Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner as the top two centres with the cupboard essentially bare when it comes to NHL experience behind them. Anton Lander will no doubt get a crack at pivot on the fourth line, but, at the very least, MacTavish needs a third-line centre.
That need, of course, is in addition to addressing the need for grit up front, a bonafide defenseman or two and help in goal. Here’s what I think and here’s what I know about some of the names rumored to be of interest to the Oilers.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
The name I keep coming back to when I connect the dots as to who makes sense as a target for MacTavish is Zack Smith of the Ottawa Senators, who has been mentioned as a trade target, perhaps in a deal involving Ales Hemsky.
Smith, 25, is far from the biggest or flashiest name who might be available, but he’s a player with 200 NHL games on his resume who could fit nicely in a third-line role with the Oilers.
While Smith produces very little in the way of points, he’s a decent face-off man, going 51.8 per cent on the dot this season, has size at six-foot-two and 210 pounds and has some grit in his game.
New coach Dallas Eakins has the book on Smith as he was behind the bench with the Toronto Marlies when Smith was toiling with the Binghamton Senators. My best guess is Smith is at or near the top of MacTavish’s list as a candidate for his third-line centre. Striking that deal is another matter.
ADDITIONS UP FRONT
Lots of buzz about UFA David Clarkson making a visit to Edmonton and there should be. With suitors lining up, an in-demand player like Clarkson doesn’t have the luxury of taking the time to visit cities he has no interest in just for the sake of appearance. That he visited tells me something.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I like Clarkson a lot. I think he brings the leadership and edge the Oilers sorely lack on this roster. He’s tough to play against and, the way I see it, he’s exactly what the Oilers need. Statistics don’t tell the story with Clarkson. Given the make-up of this roster, he’s a fit.
Price point is obviously a consideration and we’re hearing is something at or north of $6 million a season for Clarkson. That’s a big overpay, but if that’s what the nutty NHL market will bear, that’s the price. I don’t like it, but if MacT is serious about bold moves, he’ll have to break out a big stack, especially with the Toronto Maple Leafs making a big pitch.
Clarke MacArthur of the Maple Leafs has also been mentioned. I’m not overwhelmed by the native of Lloydminster, but he’s a two-time 20-goal scorer with 403 NHL games on his resume and Edmonton associate coach Keith Acton knows him from his days in Hogtown.
On the face of it, I’d say there’s a better chance MacArthur ends up here than Clarkson, but the wildcard is I’m told the Pittsburgh Penguins want him and that he could sign there as early as Friday.
THE NAME GAME
I don’t for a second think MacTavish’s pursuit of Braydon Coburn of the Philadelphia Flyers is over and I expect he and Paul Holmgren will, or already have, re-visit this . . . I see Boyd Gordon, as Bob Stauffer of 630 CHED suggested, as an option for the 3C centre spot . . . difficult to ignore Ray Emery as a candidate to push Devan Dubnyk in goal, especially with word from TSN’S Darren Dreger the Oilers are in the hunt . . . Jason LaBarbera, as others have pointed out, seems a reasonable option if Emery says "no thanks."
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.