Mark Arcobello is set to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and if I were him I’d look hard at moving on to another NHL organization. If I were the general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, on the other hand, I’d put some effort into keeping him, but it isn’t clear that will happen here.
As It Stands
It’s probable that Arcobello has played his last game in an Oilers’ jersey this season and, given his contract status, possibly ever.
For one, the Oklahoma City Barons need him. OKC is (somehow) in the thick of a run for a post-season berth (the team won again last night, giving them six wins and a shootout loss in their last seven). Arcobello has been dynamite for the team, scoring two points per game, and there’s no question that he’s the top pure offensive player in Oklahoma City. That works against him getting a call-up.
Further working against Arcobello is that the organization has a desire to give Anton Lander a chance in offensive minutes. Lander’s been excellent all season for Oklahoma City but especially of late (he has 20 points in his last 15 games). He’s younger than Arcobello, bigger than Arcobello, and more of an unknown at the NHL level than Arcobello. If a centre goes down and a spot opens up on the big team, Lander’s the guy who will be given a shot.
Finally, the coach has shown his view of the player. Arcobello’s versatility – he wins draws, he hits, he kills penalties, he plays both centre and right wing – put him in the mix for a depth job in the NHL, along with a bunch of other players. Dallas Eakins has chosen to employ people like Jesse Joensuu and Ryan Jones in the available jobs at right wing, opting for size over skill.
This summer, Arcobello has the option to try and hang around with the Oilers (they’d almost certainly keep him on a two-way deal) or try his luck elsewhere. Elsewhere’s probably the right move (especially if current coach Todd Nelson gets picked for a major league job in another city, an entirely plausible eventuality).
Arcobello earned a job on this year’s Oilers team on merit. He got a chance thanks to injury, has outplayed Sam Gagner all season and showed so much in other roles that there isn’t much doubt he’s one of the top-12 players on the team. He doesn’t have a job because it’s hard for a team to bump a sixth overall pick in favour of an undrafted 25-year-old, and because the team would rather have a 6’4” behemoth like Joensuu than a 5’9” guy who can do a little bit of everything. Both reasons are understandable for a team perspective, but it does indicate the difficulty of Arcobello’s position.
The story might be different elsewhere. A team with size up front might be more willing to look at Arcobello – Los Angeles, for example. A team with serious cap concerns might even be open to bringing on a cheap forward and giving him a shot in the top-six. Given the choice between trying to win a job (again) on a team that has made it clear it doesn’t see him as a fit and trying elsewhere, elsewhere seems the logical choice.
The Oilers are in a difficult position this summer, and there are a lot of moving parts. Gagner seems likely to move on over the offseason, and his replacement seems uncertain. Is it crazy to bring up both Lander and Arcobello and hope that one of them can fill the role? It’s not something a contending team would do, or even a team certain of its playoff hopes, but with help needed in so many places it’s at least plausible.
More likely, though, the Oilers make a move to add some size up the middle – a team like Columbus seems a logical trading partner in that regard – and that opening vanishes.
For the Oilers, Arcobello is a nice option because he does a lot of different things. If the club employs 14 forwards next year, having Arcobello as one of the spares would be a good fit because he can plug in anywhere in the lineup and at some point an extra centre is going to be needed or the top-six is going to need help.
There’s downside, too, however. Clearly, the Oilers want more size in the top-six, and just as clearly they aren’t interested in small players in the bottom-six. Arcobello’s a better centre than Ryan Smyth, but the coaching staff opted to move Smyth to the pivot position on line four and send Arcobello back to the minors rather than leave both in their natural positions.
That’s why Arcobello’s probably just marking time in Oklahoma. His best shot at an NHL employment likely lies in another city. The Oilers kept putting him in a position to fail and he kept not failing, but eventually it became clear that it didn’t matter: the team wasn’t going to look past the combination of size, pedigree and immediate need.
Good players sometimes get lost in bad teams, and Arcobello shows all the signs. He may or may not turn out, but he will be a nice cheap bet for some smart team out there.