What the Oilers have/What the Oilers need: Forwards

The Edmonton Oilers enter the Olympic break on the upswing, having gone 5-1-1 over their previous seven games, primarily thanks to strong goaltending. The break gives the organization a breather to take stock of where they are at and chart their path over the last quarter of the season and into the summer.

Let’s take the opportunity here to do the same.

What we’re going to do is go through the roster position by position, and determine what changes need to be made over the summer and at the deadline and what questions need to be answered to make those changes.

Top Six Forwards

The options:

  • Jordan Eberle
  • Sam Gagner
  • Ales Hemsky
  • Taylor Hall
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
  • David Perron
  • Nail Yakupov

The Oilers have seven top-six options for next season, making this technically a position of strength but the mix needs to be changed. The consensus view seems to be that size needs to be added, particularly down the middle. While I think a bit of size would be a welcome change in the complexion of the group, I also think the most important thing here is to add two-way ability.

People forget that teams like the 2011 Boston Bruins (to pick one example) weren’t actually all that big up front. Boston’s top six had two big wingers (Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton), two tiny wingers (Mark Recchi and Brad Marchand) and a lack of size down the middle (Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci). Overall, that group averaged out to being 6’, 204 pounds. That’s still bigger than the Oilers – and Edmonton could really use a guy (especially on that second line) with the size to create chaos in front of the net. But the big thing with Boston’s group was that it had a pile of dedicated two-way guys. Edmonton has two, maybe three if we’re feeling generous.

In my view, Edmonton needs to axe three of the seven players above. They currently have seven players for six spots and need a two-way centre and a power winger. I’d nix Sam Gagner (owing to two-way indifference), Ales Hemsky (owing to age and health concerns) and Jordan Eberle (it’s him or Yakupov if the team needs help on defence and Eberle looks to me like the guy who will fetch more in trade).

All three are good players, particularly Eberle. But the mix needs to change and Edmonton needs trade assets.

The Third Line

The options:

  • Boyd Gordon

Some might include Matt Hendricks or Ryan Smyth or Ryan Jones on this list. I don’t, though I’m close with Hendricks (the problem with Hendricks is age and style – he’s a guy likely to drop-off in the near future and consequently counting on him here is problematic). Ales Hemsky might be included too – he’s been fine in the role this year – but I have a specific vision for this line and Hemsky’s skillset isn’t a great fit.

A Dennis King tweet lays out my vision for this line exactly:

We’re trying to make the top end more defensively responsible, but it will take maturation for guys like Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov to get there, so in the meantime a dedicated hard-checking, nothing-happens defensive line will help ease the burden. Gordon’s one member; the Oilers need two more.

Forwards 10-14

The options:

  • Mark Arcobello
  • Luke Gazdic
  • Matt Hendricks
  • Jesse Joensuu
  • Ryan Jones
  • Anton Lander
  • Tyler Pitlick
  • Ryan Smyth

I’m a big believer in a few things. Ideally, a roster should have 14 forwards and seven defencemen (since the eighth defencemen ends up sitting for long stretches), it should have a fifth centre and with the exception of the 10th forward guys on the fourth line should generally be both cheap and young. I’ve included the NHL guys this year as well as the relevant AHL guys who won’t clear waivers next year as options; the Oilers have five spots for these eight (plus whatever they want to add).

Personally, I think the team doesn’t need to add anything here; there’s lots to like in the depth group. Assuming that Luke Gazdic’s role is seen as essential, the four others I’d take are Arcobello, Hendricks, Lander and Pitlick, with Joensuu buried in the AHL (or being the beneficiary of a training camp injury) and the others departing as free agents. That gives the team three guys who can play centre, a legitimate top-six fill-in option and brings two young AHL’ers who are coming on strong into the mix (I laid out the case for Lander and Pitlick the other day). It also gives the coach four penalty-killing options (everyone but Gazdic) at the end of the roster.

Completed Roster

Naturally, there’s wiggle room here. If Nail Yakupov or David Perron work in trade as well as Jordan Eberle does, it’s possible to keep Eberle and move one of them. If third-line wingers prove impossible to find, Matt Hendricks could slide in at left wing and one of Smyth or Jones could replace him on the fourth line; a cheap Ales Hemsky could work on the other side too if it comes down to that. If a two-way centre absolutely cannot be added, than Sam Gagner could be retained as a place-holder until such time as one is. And so on.

But this is the basic plan I’d pursue in Craig MacTavish’s shoes, and any trade I made would need to fall in line with it. In other words, if some team offers me a fourth-liner, I don’t care because I already have a fourth line; I’m moving players either for other trade ammunition (picks, prospects) at the deadline or for players who will help fill the actual holes I have in my lineup.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Reg Dunlop

    You make a good point about the top 6. Balance there at the expense of assets like Eberle should make the oil a better team.

    You make a bad point, ‘hoping for a training camp injury’ regarding JJ. Hopefully you were being facetious.

    You make debateable points regarding Hemsky. If you think a non-aggressive 30 year old UFA who has an injury history is a better bet than a hardnosed 32 year old with term left on his contract… with what the oil lack now I have to disagree.

    • I’m not sure you took my points the way I meant them.

      I don’t think Joensuu’s an everyday NHL player.

      As for Hendricks vs. Hemsky, I think it’s important not to be carried away by Hendricks’ play for the Oilers so far. He has six points this season; on a good team he’s a versatile fourth-line forward who does a bit of everything and can move up on a defence-oriented third line if and when injury hits. Hemsky’s a skilled second-line winger with enough defensive game to fill-in on a defence-oriented third line when necessary.

      I don’t think either guy is a good fit for the line; I was just laying out fallback positions.

      • **

        I think a 4th line of Joensuu-Hendricks-Jones is adequate. A third line overhaul centered around Gordon is a huge challenge but necessary. And a 2c like Orielly of course

  • DSF

    If you can move Eberle for a top pairing D (somewhat doubtful), you’re left with Gagner, Hemsky (a rental who would likely only yield a draft pick), Smyth (likely no value because of age) and Jones as trade chips.

    I would imagine you could try and move Klefbom or Gernat for 3rd line help so the acquisition of a #2C and a top 6 power winger become problematical unless you can acquire them as UFA’s

    • I think you can probably move Gagner in the summer for a third line winger, and you should be able to add a guy like Moss or Kulemin or Penner as a second line wing via free agency. Assuming Hendricks moves up into a third line spot (which isn’t ideal, but possible), that just leaves the 2C position – which I fully acknowledge will be difficult to fix.

      Hemsky, Smyth and Jones are all UFA rental trade chips, I think – you’re adding draft picks there so that moves can be made in the summer. Hemsky should bring something back, and I’d bet Smyth would too (if he’s willing to move) because teams always seem to have time for his kind of experience for a long playoff run. I’m on the fence about Jones, but maybe you get a depth pick for him.

      That second line pivot’s going to be very tough to fix while still fixing the D; I think we might see the Oil draft a centre with their first round selection and plug him into that slot, which would make a shutdown third line all the more important.

      • DSF

        Are any of the draft eligible centres NHL ready to the degree you can plug one of them into the #2C spot?

        I would assume Buffalo, if they retain the top pick, will take a centre since they are loaded with D prospects so which one of the 3 rated in the top 5 do you think could step in and play next season?

        • I haven’t spent as much time keyed in on draft prospects this year as I have in years past, but from what I’ve read and heard I’m inclined to believe both Bennett and Reinhart will be in the NHL next season, likely as 2Cs. Agree/disagree?

          • DSF

            No idea but it’s always a risk to rely on an 18 year old in that prominent of a role.

            I think, if I’m MacT I would take a hard run at Ryan O’Reilly from Colorado.

            The Av’s have Duchene and MacKinnon as their top 2C’s and, even if they don’t re-sign Statsny have Max Talbot to play #3C.

            Eberle might get that done.

          • DSF

            A restricted free agent and he’ll be really expensive to re-sign.

            Perhaps the Oilers can move Eberle’s $6M to the Avs if they throw in another asset.

            Colorado also needs D but with the emergence of Erik Johnson this season, their need isn’t quite as severe.

          • Fuhr4Life

            I’m playing GM Mode on NHL14 on hard setting and at the deadline I traded: Hemsky, Gagner, Arcobello, Jones, Bryzgalov, N.Shultz, Ference, O.Roy, Maricin, #1 & # 2 2014 picks, #2 2015 pick.

            In return on trades and free agent off season I added: P.Stastny 2C, Cam Ward G, Brad Stuart Top 2 D, Jarome Iginla 3RW, Mayson Raymond, 4LW, Jamie Olesiak Top 6 D, Dan Hejda Top 4 D

            My Line-Up is

            Hall Nuge Yak
            Perron Stastny Eberle
            Smyth Gordon Iginla
            Raymond Lander Gadzic

            Jonessu Hendricks Pitlick

            Stuart J.Shultz
            Hejda Petry
            Fedun Olesiak

            Fraser Belov

            G 1. Ward Back-up: Scrivens

            In the 2015/16 season we finished 1st in the division. Tool out Chicago in the 1st Round and playing Phoenix now.
            Note: in this game it’s really hard to make trades

          • With all due respect… I don’t like you’re idea to move Eberle at all, unless its for a legit top pairing defenseman (which is very unlikely because teams rarely trade good top pairing defenseman in today’s modern era).

            Perron is the key peice to move in my opinion. His trade value has never been higher in his career… and if we are being realistic, the Oilers will never even come close to winning a cup in the final 2 years of his contract. Eberle on the other hand is an even better player than Perron, and is locked up for years so that he can be an essential part of the team 3-4 years down the road when the team has a realistic shot of being a legit contender.

            If I were GM, I would be looking to…

            1. Trade Hemsky before the deadline for the best prospect or bottom 6 forward that you can get for next year (I am under no illusions of getting an amazing player for Hemsky, but I would prefer a decent 4th line player for next year as opposed to a 2nd or 3rd round pick which is meaningless to me right now). Retain as much salary as you can if it will improve what you can get back.

            2. Trade other UFA’s like N. Schultz, Jones, Smyth, Potter for the best picks that you can get.

            3. Trade Gagner for the best 2-way physical winger with size that you can get like Dwight King (At the deadline, or wait till the offseason if you aren’t getting the value that you want). Retain half his salary if that’s what it takes to get the value you need in return.

            4. Package the Oilers 1st round pick, Perron, and a decent defenseman prospect like Gernat or Simpson… for a top shelf young defenseman like a Seth Jones/Brodin/Trouba type player OR a top shelf young centre like a Barkov/Monahan type player.

            The Oilers aren’t likely to be a contender next year no matter what moves they make because they lack the assets to fix all the problems that they have, and don’t have enough overall depth or experience at key positions to play consistent for an entire season. It would be a huge mistake to trade a guy like Eberle who is a proven player that should be a key part of the teams future. It smells of desperation to make the playoffs… Players with skill who most likely wont be with the team in a couple years like Perron and Gagner should be the ones to trade.

            If you think I’m wrong, then what happens 2 years from now if…
            – Yakupov never develops into a 2-way player, demands more money than Hall and RNH, or decides he doesn’t like playing for the Oilers (All very possible).
            – Gordon, Perron, Gagner are all no longer with the team because of free agency.
            – Hall, RNH or 1 of the players that you trade for gets a long term injury

            I don’t expect the Oilers to be an good in the short term. I personally don’t think they will be anything special until guys like J. Schultz, Marincin, Nurse, and Klefbom have around 150-200 games of NHL experience. I’m the type of person that would rather have a defensive minded Paajarvi’s rights for the next 5 years as a 3rd line winger than Perron for only another 2years no matter how many points he puts up. Keep collecting assets that will actually still be with the team in 3-4 years (And will actually be effective), while our young defenseman develop … That’s what I say to do. Try to speed things up and take shortcuts just to make the playoffs next year, and we will be in the sane position 3 years from now.

          • Marincin is providing some argument for development JW! D-corp has changed significantly with this young fellow back there & I’m hoping we get a chance to see Klefbom during the last 22 games of the season! When you combine that with the change’s in net, we’re starting to see some positive signs!

          • #ThereGoesTheOilers

            And just imagine how positive things would be looking if we could secure if one legit top-pairing defensemen.

            Let Petry and Ference thrive on easier minutes, let Marincin and the rest of the up and comers ease into things.

  • DSF

    With the position that the Oilers are in, at least we have a longer time-frame to worry about making these moves. I would focus on adding picks and prospects at the deadline for players that are no longer in our plans and giving guys like Pitlick and Lander a long look. Teams might be more willing to make deals for guys like Eberle or Gagner in the off-season when the cap goes up.

  • Basically agree with this. After the break I would anticipate that Lander and Pitlick will have to play more hockey in the NHL.

    To really understand what we have in these two we have to create room for them to establish themselves are NHLers.

    I would like to see Lander played in the 2C slot and the PP, to see him with skilled players. If he can be successful here he can play the 2014/15 season as the 4C.

    I would like to see Pitlick play 3RW, with lots of minutes and NOT benched when he makes a mistake…it is about play time and growth.

    That means we need find another slot for Gagner and Hemsky… Prune to grow.

  • I know I’ve said this before but I would really like to have a Dubinsky and Jenner on this team.

    I would move Peron way before Eberle, I see Eberle has more upside, he has a favorable contract with length & term, Peron will be a UFA in two years, and the chances of him staying at this point would have to be pretty slim.

    Yakupov shouldn’t be dealt but have a strong feeling the Oilers are moving him this summer.

    Sam Gagner has to go! If the Oilers are ever going to improve this is the guy that has to be replaced.

    I would be hesitant to deal Hemsky.

    • I’d move Perron before Eberle too, if the trade value on both was the same. I don’t think it’s even close; Eberle has way more cachet.

      The trouble is that Edmonton needs help on D and I don’t think anyone movable other than Eberle or maybe Yakupov brings that back.

      • So with that said Jon, do you think the Oilers could get by with an Ehrhoff to stabilize the defense?

        My thinking is the Oilers are going to bring in Nurse, possible Klefbom and have a real good chance at drafting Ekblad.
        One or possible two of those players could be in the lineup come next season, if you include Marincin as a starter that’s three new defensemen.

        Is that true heavy minute defensemen really a priority for the Oilers right now?

        I can’t see an Eberle for an Ehrhoff making much sense? I can see a Peron for Ehrhoff or possible Yakupov for Ehrhoff but certainly not Eberle.

        Of course this all depends on if those kids are really ready to be NHL defensemen and if the Oilers are even interested in Ehrhoff.

        Will Klefbom be ready?

    • I honestly don’t think Phoenix moves Hanzal; you’re better off looking at a team with a surplus of pivots.

      I really like Thoresen, but he’ll turn 31 early next season and that’s a concern. On a cheap one-year, one-way deal I’d happily add him to the roster but he’s making big money in the KHL so I doubt that appeals.

  • DSF

    Great analysis. Does Lander have what it takes to be that 4th line centre? He hasn’t been overly impressive at the NHL level., thus far. I kinda was hoping Hartikainen would come back into the fold next year and possibly battle for a spot. The Mark Fraser trade looks senseless thus far based on what I’ve seen of him so far.

    • I think Lander’s good-to-go and giving him Hendricks/Pitlick offers him some proper wingers.

      The nice thing about this setup is that if he isn’t ready to go the team’s still okay, because Hendricks can slide over into centre.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    yup, seems easy to make all the right moves….problem with the Oilers is will they actually make the suggested moves? we also have to compete with all the other teams for the good UFA’s, so trades for the players we need seems more logical, though i always worry about trading a player who’s happy here for a player who might not want to be here or stay here.

  • DSF

    Wow, I actually agree with everything you said. As much as I like Ebs, I agree he fetches more in a trade (right now) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him initiate contact or finish a check. I know he’s clutch in the jrs but I don’t how that will hold up in the playoffs if he never plays the body.

  • Chainsawz

    Clear-thinking analysis. As a fan I have favorite players, but the team comes before the individuals.

    If you broaden the perspective to include the holes on D, the trade chips have to be spread a bit more thinly.

    Does an Eberle fetch an OEL or equivalent top pairing D?

    • I’ll be hitting on the D and the overall situation tomorrow. There’s no question the trade chips are going to be thin – especially since (unless they sign Markov) the Oilers almost certainly needs to address 2C and top-pair D via trade.

      One thing the Oilers do have is some prospect/pick ammunition and they should have a bit more post-deadline.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Boyd Gordon is, in my opinion, one of MacT’s best acquisitions. The guy’s a rock. Nuge should be getting one on one time every practice with him, learning the art of the face off.

    Gordon gets real low, usually ends up on one knee after each draw. I don’t know if Nuge has the upper body strength to pull this off yet.

    EDIT: Ebs has been my favorite Oiler ever since his first goal against Calgary. But I would be willing to part with him+ if it meant a top D man or clear cut 2C coming back.

  • If the team could get every free agent it wanted, btw, I’d fill those missing spots with the following:

    • Paul Stastny
    • Dustin Penner
    • Nikolai Kulemin
    • David Moss

    There’s no way that happens, of course; there’s only so much money and every team’s going to be competing for a small list of available UFAs.

    • Batfink

      Not Penner. Never Penner. His last year with oilers he was -12. I don’t see this as the real Penner any more than I see the real Penner this year with his +19. Somewhere in the middle on an average team with average linemates is more realistic. With the Oilers again? Who knows. Playing with Getzlaf and Perry is like being whatever pylon the Canucks used to put with the Sedins. The Detroit octopus thrown on the ice could put up numbers with these guys.

    • DSF

      Stastny- too small, too expensive,upgrade on Sam?
      Dustin Penner-will he suddenly be motivated?
      Kulemin-He would be great if he would come.
      David Moss-Like his game as well.

      Johnathan, what do you think of Jamie McGinn?
      He is a rugged player with decent hands and good speed.

      • Stastny’s a massive upgrade on Gagner, IMO – he’s an exceptional two-way pivot and a better scorer too. As for Penner, if he can score 25 goals per season and change the dimension of the second line, I’m okay if he occasionally looks lazy.

        From what I’ve seen I don’t mind McGinn; he’d be a third-line option for sure.