Over the last few days, we’ve looked at the Oilers forward corps, position-by-position, entering the summer. What happens when we put everything together?
The Proposed Roster
We’ve made a series of assumptions to arrive at this suggested roster:
- Sam Gagner is done as an Oiler. This is debatable – he is still under contract – but his deficiencies are a bad fit for the Oilers and his good points are more needed elsewhere (I keep coming back to Nashville, a team that’s needed more offence since Day 1). If he returns, he’ll likely be on a protected scoring line.
- Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks are moved to a defensive zone line. This is a bigger assumption, but it’s one that just makes sense to me. A dedicated defensive zone line would ease the load on some of the other forwards, and these guys are built for this kind of work. As for their contracts: big whoop. The Oilers have the cap space to do this, and the ugliness of paying a No. 10 forward $3.0 million pales in comparison to the ugliness of another season of total irrelevance at the team level. Alternatively, the team could keep one (Gordon) or both on the third line.
- Luke Gazdic will retain a spot in the top-14 forward group. The Oilers value his skillset.
- I have Mark Arcobello and Anton Lander winning the last two spots on the roster. It doesn’t have to be those two; any of the group of Jesse Joensuu, Tyler Pitlick or Steve Pinizzotto could take those spots without surprising anyone.
Four spots on the list above need to be addressed, but that isn’t as daunting as it sounds.
The Obvious Moves
If Gagner stays, he takes one of those spots. If he goes, the Oilers may get back a lousy contract or a lesser player but the guy coming the other way needs to be a top-nine forward. Colin Wilson’s name has been mentioned since at least February and Josh Bailey since at least April:
— RCN (@RossCreekNation) April 3, 2014
Either one would be a decent fit on a second-toughs line with David Perron. It seems reasonable to think that there’s a deal to be made somewhere in the league that would see Gagner swap places with a player of that type; if the Oilers have to add a little or eat some salary on the transaction that’s not an impossible hurdle.
The second spot, in all likelihood, could go to the player the Oilers take third overall in the 2014 Draft. There are three centres available, and one very well might be ready to make the jump. If he isn’t, that’s what Mark Arcobello is for – he filled in very nicely early in 2013-14 and seemed to have nice chemistry with Yakupov. This setup leaves room for a rookie to push his way on to the roster but also allows for the coach to send him back if he isn’t ready.
Mr. Outside Hire
The above still leaves two vacant spots in the rotation – a top-six and top-nine winger (or one winger and one centre, if Gagner brings back a winger instead of a pivot). There are a few teams presumably looking to move salary that might be willing to dump a player for futures (Chris Kelly in Boston is an obvious candidate) but the Oilers could also choose the free agent route to fix those problems. Among the candidates:
- Marty Havlat – Bound for a buyout thanks to an ugly contract, the Czech winger is a prime bounce-back candidate and shouldn’t come with too hefty a price tag. He has excellent size (6’2”, 210 pounds) and could play on either a sheltered scoring line or a tougher minutes unit.
- Nikolai Kulemin – He probably won’t score 30 goals again, but he’s a terrific defensive player, he’s big (6’1”, 225 pounds) and before the arrival of Randy Carlyle he was a pretty good scorer too. He’d be a great fit for the Oilers.
- David Moss – He’s 6’4”, 210 pounds, can score a little but beyond that he’s an exceptional two-way player who would add another (much-needed) defensive presence to Edmonton’s lineup. He could fit in on either of the lines above but might work best in a mentorship role on the Yakupov line.
- Matt Moulson – He’d be pricey but would look great opposite Perron on the second line; he’s not big but he has okay size (6’1”, 200 pounds) and might not be a hot commodity after a poor playoff.
- Dustin Penner – I know, I know. There’s no room for a 6’4”, 247 pound two-time Cup winner who scores and keeps his head above water even on terrible teams (he was plus-six on the 2009-10 Oilers). Yadda yadda lazy, yadda yadda unmotivated, yadda yadda MacT hates him, whatever. He’s going to be available dirt cheap and he’d be a bloody good fit for the Oilers’ middle-six. It would be nice if the team would accept that his skillset is a great fit for them and accept what he is rather than what he isn’t.
- Devin Setoguchi – He might be an under-the-radar selection after a terrible scoring year. He’s not big but he isn’t small either (6’, 205 pounds) and he adds speed.
- Daniel Winnik – A big, defensive left wing, he could fit as a defensive watchdog on the “third” line.
That’s seven potential fits, without looking at guys like Tomas Kopecky or R.J. Umberger or Viktor Stalberg – poor-ish contracts that their teams may well be looking to unload and who (under the right circumstances) might be decent in Edmonton, too. Every single one of the players above makes the Oilers bigger; more importantly every single one of them makes the Oilers better on the ice.
That has to be the focus this summer. If Edmonton comes out of free agency with Dustin Penner and Nikolai Kulemin or Marty Havlat and David Moss or even Matt Moulson and Daniel Winnik, the forward corps is going to reap the benefits next season in the form of three lines that can play and three lines that can be a threat to score. For the first time since 2006, the Oilers would have strong forward depth.
The Proposed Roster 2.0
Obviously, this still isn’t a perfect roster. But it’s a big step forward – in terms of defensive ability, in terms of size, in terms of capability period – and it has the advantage of being doable.
If I were setting a minimum line for the Oilers to meet up front for summer 2014 to be successful, I’d put it in this range. Edmonton needs a forward corps capable of handling things by-committee – that means a useful fourth line, three lines that can score and at least two that can handle tougher minutes respectably.
At least, that’s how I see it.