A WORK IN PROGRESS

For most of the summer, Oiler fans have been watching Craig MacTavish "build up the middle." A club with so much talent on the wing, and in clear need of an upgrade at G, D and C, would seem to have an obvious ‘To Do’ list–and for the most part new GM Craig MacTavish has followed the script.

However, the center position remains about the same; with Boyd Gordon replacing Shawn Horcoff, the Edmonton Oilers remain a team without true NHL quality and depth at the position. If the Nuge can’t play right away, the club will have to move Taylor Hall over from the wing, weakening an impressive left flank.

We’ve talked and talked about free agent solutions, but that arena of summer appears to be closed for the Oilers. How then will Craig MacTavish improve center ice? Perhaps we can learn something from his recent past.

PROBLEM SOLVING

So far during his time as GM, Craig MacTavish has procured talent in the following ways:

  • Signed NHL free agents (Ference, Gordon, LaBarbera, Joensuu)
  • Signed his own free agents (Jones)
  • Signed minor league free agents (Ryan Hamilton, Richard Bachman, Will Acton)
  • Signed college free agents (C Andrew Miller)
  • Signed free agents from pro league outside the NHL (Anton Belov, Denis Grebseshkov from the KHL)
  • Traded a veteran (Horcoff) for a fringe NHLer (Larsen) and a pick much later this century
  • Traded a young, less established NHLer (Paajarvi) for a young, more established NHLer (Perron)

If we’re guessing about how MacT will address center–and I’m pretty sure he’s going to at some point, it may be in-season–and we believe he’s done in free agency, it means a trade of some sort.

Question: what if MacT uses the Perron-Paajarvi deal as a template? What if he dealt Anton Lander and a high end prospect (Marincin?) or dealt Lander with next year’s 1st round selection? I think the idea of acquiring a solid NHL center becomes much easier using the trade made with St. Louis as a guide.

CENTER AVAILABLE?

The first thing we need to do is identify some teams that are unlikely to contend for the playoffs in 2013-14 or have tremendous depth at the center position. Even at this early stage, it’s very unlikely the Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres will be playoff contenders. Looking at their rosters, we  can come up with an interesting list of potential C’s for the Oilers based on a ‘Lander and a pick/prospect’ return. Other names below may be part of a crowded group, with a player like Lander being a better fit (Lander can be sent to the AHL without waivers).

  1. Mikael Backlund, Calgary: There are some serious problems in suggesting Backlund, not the least of which is that a Flames-Oilers pick happens once a lifetime and Steve Staios is the trivia answer for the 2000’s. The other problem is that Backlund is a wildly underrated hockey player (Kent Wilson has documented this brilliantly at Flames Nation). However, I think there’s some evidence the Flames don’t know what they’re doing and I’m pretty certain MacT would appreciate the skills a Backlund offers. The price might be dear, but the player is an outstanding fit for the Oilers.
  2. Shawn Matthias, Florida: I actually like a free agent Panther better (Peter Mueller) but Matthias has some things that make him attractive too. The Panthers have Marcel Goc as well, but I think he’s a little long in the tooth to be a legit Oiler target. Matthias has size and good 2-way skills, he is usually solid in the faceoff circle but was poor this season.
  3. John Mitchell, Colorado: The Avs have a stunning depth chart at center, with Mitchell possibly being the odd man out. He blossomed late, and isn’t a speed demon, but would be a very nice addition to the current depth chart.
  4. Brian Boyle, Rangers: Big man is being pushed out by insane depth in Manhattan, and could be available sometime this season (when all are signed and straightened away in NYC).

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

I don’t really believe Craig MacTavish would do so much heavy work on defense and so little at center–both badly needing improved quality and depth and he’s addressed one and not the other.

My feeling is that it’s not for a lack of trying and we may see something break before October. Something similar to the Paajarvi and a 2nd deal for Perron, possibly involving one of the many prospect defenders.

We wait.

(Lander photo by Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved).

  • Citizen David

    Not sure how much pus MacT has made in trying to deal Hemsky…. it would appear that teams dont want this over rated prema-donna.

    How about Hemsky for Stasney, and Colorado take back $1.6 of Stasnyès salary and it s an even swap, and cover the balance of their contracts.

    Would serve both teams well for this season.

    This idea of chasing 4 th line centers is dumb., with Nuge out, you need to cover the top lines,and this would give the team depth at center for the rest of the season…. I am not a fan of moving
    Hall to center on the interm basis… unless he goes there full time… then expect some lag time.

    • DSF

      One of the best trade proposals I’ve seen in along while.

      Colorado is loaded at C, so much so that they will likely move Ryan O’Reilly to RW.

      Duchene

      MacKinnon

      O’Reilly

      Statsny

      Mitchell

      Acquiring Hemsky for Statsny would allow the Avalanche to keep O’Reilly at centre although I doubt they would be willing to pick up the salary difference.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        Depending on how many of these folks stay and for how long, I think there might be a good chance that they break MacKinnon in at wing higher up the depth chart before giving him the conch.

      • Citizen David

        The Oilers would be giving up more than Hemsky to get a guy like Stastny. Goodbye to that first round pick. And perhaps kiss Marincin goodbye also.Still a trade I like.Even at that cost.

        • I don’t agree at all. I think Stastny’s stock has severely dropped, especially after the big pay day. I’m not sure the Avs would give him up for Hemsky or not, as I’m not sure how well that addresses their needs, but there is no way I’d be giving them Hemsky + 1st + prospect. Huge contract right now.. could become a UFA.. who wants to throw away 2 assets + a vet for that?

          That said, I would do Hemsky for Stastny swap if Avs would, as that would help the Oil right now.

        • DSF

          I don’t know.

          It’s an expiring contract for an expiring contract.

          The trade would address team needs for both sides.

          I think Statsny will be a walkaway at the end of his contract so acquiring Hemsky, with the possibility of re-signing him, might have appeal.

          • Lowetide

            sum ting tell me that Jagr, Elias & Zidlicky are gona get ol lou lamo…to acquire Hemsky from us….can we package hemsky with dubnyk, old Schultz , lander, marincin & 2nd round draft pick for Schneider and Volchenkov??

            they have the cap space….and they NEED the help/depth

            Marincin, Lander, and draft pick would be bonuses after addressing their needs…and with duby their rite back to where they were before acquiring Schneider at the draft…duby will be solid for them when martys done

            volchenkov fits n well with yak, grebby and belov

            hemmer fits n well with elias, zidlicky and jagz

          • Dan the Man

            I like it..
            look at it this way, New Jersey Gets Dubnyk, Hemsky, Marincin & 2nd round pick for ONLY…Schneider aka 10th overall/Horvat

            and its Nick Schultz straight across for Volchenkov in the same package obviously

            that’s a lot of aspects for Horvat…

            we add legit number one goalie and top 4 hard hitting volchenkov who fits in well with Belov, Grebeshkov and Yakupov

            p.s we also free up 4 mill in cap room

            I LIKE IT!!!

  • Citizen David

    No trading any first round draft choices……..ever! Team that employ this myopic style of thinking are delusional and most often fail.

    Mac T stated in earlier interviews, that Miller was going to surprise a lot of people……..I suspect he thinks that this player can be the stop-gap for the Nuge, and all that would be required is to bring up Arcebello for the experiment.

    God knows he has earned an opportunity to play a few games up in the bigs!

  • Zipdot

    I would prefer it if MacT was reviewing potential waiver wire pick ups to strengthen the C depth. Leave Lander in the AHL. Give Acrobello a cup of coffee for the 1st couple weeks.
    We are talking about a 4th line center. 10 face offs a game 6 minutes a night. Why the hell would we sell our future to fill this position.
    D has been our biggest problem for years. MacT has made some good moves, that may work out for the teams D. But they may not.

  • DSF

    why does it seem so impossible for Oilers to make trades…why couldn’t we land Bolland for a 2nd rounder?

    I would trade all my 2nd 3rd 4th and 5th round picks for proven NHL players for now!!!

    we have tons of prospects signed to contracts, lets start trading our 2nd, 3rd & 4th picks for some HELP NOW!!!!

    idk………………FML

  • Lowetide

    trade lander and prospect or draft pick for Brodziak back~!!!

    && why am I the only one who wants Zenon Kenopka?? he fights, hits &&& WINS FACE-OFFS!!!

    Kenopka or Boyle are badly needed!!! geeezz

  • Lowetide

    There is no solution short term to our center situation other than moving Hall to center. Which for me is real dumb move. It’ll take Hall 40 games before he even adjusts to center. MacT would have to offer a sweet deal to get a center at this point of the summer. Its a matter of how many assets do you want to expend to fix a short term need.If you spend 3 assets to get a top 6 center what in the world will happen when RNH gets back. You then move a Gagner or ? down to 3rd line? That makes no sense.

    I believe MacT give Eakins the nod to us one of Lander,Acton or Arcobello and see what happens. Got to know what you got in the bank before you can cash it.

  • Lowetide

    I think Brian Boyle would be the perfect fit as the Oilers 4th line center. He brings size and toughness. He’s good at face offs and if need be he could move up to play the third line at either center or wing once injuries start happening. He brings to table everything the Oilers lacking.

  • Zipdot

    I watched Matthias last season with interested. Seems to be a good fit with the Oilers with room to grow. On a reasonable contract too. With his age and skill set though I don’t think the Panthers would do Lander + a prospect for him, unless they really really liked the prospect.

  • Like you said, it isn’t for a lack of trying that the Oilers are still weak up the middle. I think while Nuge is in sick bay, they’ll have Hall at center. I too am not overly ecstatic about this, as he’s spoken several times about how much more he prefers the left wing.

    While it may be best for the team that we have to have Hall at center for a bit, I think we know that in the long run, it’s best for the team to find a much better, more comfortable centreman and put Hall back to his preferred position.

    I don’t really think Arcobello is going to get much opportunity at the NHL level this year (or ever, likely), so I don’t really consider him to be that viable of an option. The Oilers really need to move some assets for a more reliable C.

    But then once everyone is healthy.. what do you do? What do you do with Gagner in particular.. you know we won’t want him on 3rd line C? Or were you thinking that the Oilers acquire a good 3rd line C, OK 2nd liner type guy? I guess by the list of names above, that’s what you’re thinking. It will definitely be a lot more easier to acquire, but I wish the Oilers could get a more solid #2 option.

  • Zipdot

    I have been wanting to acquire Shawn Matthias for a few months now. He seems to be and have alot of what we need. I think he would want second line minutes though, and that would cause problems by November…