Dallas Eakins spells out the Oilers’ off-season plans

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Dallas Eakins’ press availabilities are almost always worth watching, and in a nearly 20-minute session yesterday he hit on a lot of things, including the type of players Edmonton needs to add in the off-season.

Supplementing the Core

The future up front

Asked about where the team was in the process of turning things around, Eakins talked about the improving habits of the team’s core, but also identified the need for external improvements:

We still have a lot of work to do around [the team’s core players]. We need to supplement this group with probably some veteran leadership, some guys who can make plays, and not so much a toughness aspect but guys who are going to win battles in this conference… During the summer Craig [MacTavish] and I have got to sit down and make the right decisions for our hockey club, to add and subtract what we need to move up in our conference.

It’s been a difficult eight years in Edmonton, and since the fall of 2006 the Oilers’ primary weakness has been both readily apparent and all too frequently ignored. Given that history, it’s nice to have Eakins identify it so clearly. The team needs real NHL players, guys who have the ability to win battles and take and make a pass. It’s that simple; there aren’t enough of them on the roster.

The Same Page

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Eakins manner in that answer might have been a little presumptuous, in that general manager Craig MacTavish is the guy in charge of the player personnel, but given that both coach and manager are clearly on the same page it likely isn’t a problem.

Leaving aside the bit players, the list of MacTavish additions to the Oilers roster reads pretty much exactly as the kind of player that Eakins described. David Perron, Boyd Gordon, Matt Hendricks and Andrew Ference are all NHL veterans, all people who can take and make a pass, and all players who are known for their willingness to engage. They’re all greasy players, the kind of secondary support types that the rebuild stripped away from the Oilers organization. The contracts aren’t all ideal (except for Perron’s, which is fantastic) but there’s a definite theme in those acquisitions and it’s exactly the one that Eakins expressed in his presser.

The Summer

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MacTavish’s first season hasn’t been perfect. If the rumours about Edmonton’s ardent pursuit of David Clarkson last summer are accurate, the team most certainly dodged a bullet when he moved on to Toronto. A lot of the ‘flyer’ type deals (most prominently Denis Grebeshkov) didn’t work out either.

But we can probably expect more of the same general approach to improving the team. One hopes the Clarkson experience has left the team a little gun-shy when it comes to signing the overrated tough guy who can play, and overhauling the defence is going to take some creativity and will be a tough job, but on the whole the players are going to be from the Perron/Gordon/Hendricks/Ference family.

Now it’s just a matter of getting it right. The team can pursue the right kind of player and still get things very wrong – as they would have with Clarkson – if the money is stupid. As a for-instance:

But there are doubtless still solid additions out there via trade or free agency, players like Perron or Gordon that can be added without compromising the team’s ability to compete in a salary cap world. The Oilers may or may not be able to find them, but unlike in some recent summers there can be no doubt they’re actively looking.

  • Serious Gord

    Eakins said exactly zero that we didn’t already know and have known FOR YEARS.

    MacT also kept around players who didn’t help – gagner, hemsky Smyth and brought In others who didn’t – Acton, Grebs. So please, Jonathan try to be a bit more balanced.

    • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

      exactly. oh boy, we need players that win battles and can compete in this conference. Who know? Brilliant. We armchair managers have been saying this for years. It took them 3 lost season to figure this? ‘I know a little something about winning’, my -ss

    • Gord, it’s really easy to start your own blog. I’ll even set it up for you. It’s even easier than criticizing guys writing part-time for a blog you pay zero dollars for.

      You’ve got opinions, you can write, get a domain and start writing! Make sure to include a comments section so you can see how grateful people are for the work you put in.

      • Not to argue your point, but isn’t this what the Nation was made for?

        Serious Gord has an opinion, whether you agree with it or not is the whole point.

        You don’t even make an argument against his point.

        Tell me what writer isn’t immune to some criticism warranted or not?

        Just my opinion.

    • 1. This is a piece that focused on what the Oilers were trying to add, not subtract.

      2. I referenced moves that didn’t work (the flyer deals) and I referenced the Clarkson debacle. I’m not sure why you’re complaining about balance.

      3. Hemsky was an awfully good soldier, even on the third line. Smyth’s been an awfully good soldier, even at centre. You can disagree, but I don’t see any reason to call out either player.

      • mesa

        Jonanthan – the thing that you are missing is Hemsky and Smyth have been good soldiers but NOT good enough. They should have both been gone years ago and other who are GOOD enough in their place.

      • TKB2677

        Jonathan, “was and been” is not what this team needs moving forward. Not sorry to see Hemsky leave, no matter what he does in Ottawa, and Smyths
        odometer has clocked out.You have to move on,
        they are not factors on a team striving to go far in the play offs.

        Further more is bugs me that Eakin has Smyth on the first PP , chasing some insignifcant record
        , while guys like Nuge, who needs the experience are sitting on the bench.

        • Romanus

          He is on the PP becuase he is one of only a few players on the team willing to go to the front of the net and retrieve/win battles behind the net. Otherwise we can just keep passing around the perimeter until we lose the puck.

        • Derian Hatcher

          Thank-you!! I totally agree with you! Smyth has been struggling keeping up with the rest of the league. He plays way to much power play and penalty kill which takes away from the young kids to play and learn and make mistakes. He has been selfish trying to get a PP goal. He has to move on for any chance for them to become a better team. I would rather let some prospects play there instead of him.

        • He’s not playing him there to chase a record, he’s playing him there to be Holmstrom. I don’t believe for a second that Smyth is the problem with the PP and it certainly isn’t him taking time from RNH since they have entirely different roles.

      • Serious Gord

        “…the Oilers’ primary weakness has been both readily apparent and all too frequently ignored. Given that history, it’s nice to have Eakins identify it so clearly. ”

        There are ten games left and he is only talking about it now. That’s not “nice” in my book.

        You only mentioned the additions that held to your theme that MacT is making the changes to “the oilers primary weakness” you did not mention the additions and retentions that only furthered “the oilers primary weakness”. I call that being unbalanced.

        Hemsky and gagner’s and Smyth’s style of play IS that that primary weakness. And MacT did not address that. They might be “awfully good soldiers” but they are soft hockey players. They should have shipped to someone else’s battlefield.

        • If you seriously think that Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth are ‘soft’ hockey players, you don’t understand the meaning of the word.

          And no, I specifically mentioned the attempt at Clarkson and the ‘flyer’ deals that didn’t work out. You can whine that I didn’t cite Will Acton or Mark Fraser by name but it’s pretty clear that’s who I was talking about.

          But that’s fine; you have your opinion, you’ve expressed it clearly, and I’ve decided I disagree emphatically.

          • Serious Gord

            All right let me rephrase something:

            Hemsky Smyth and gagner are easy to ay against. No one on another team is worried about going into a corner against any of them. Sure they take a lot of hits. But they are soft to play against.

          • toprightcorner

            Realistically there are probably about 5 forwards in the league that players would be worried about going into the corners with and none of those players will be available in a trade.

            Soft players are players that dont want to go to the corners, Smyth and Hemsky were definitley not afraid to go anywher on the ice. In the past Gagner wasnèt afraid to go anywhere, this year, likely due to injury, he is gun shy of going to the tough areas.

          • Serious Gord

            There are lots of players who ‘lean on’ the opponent – who wear you out over the course of a game – getzlaf, Toews, etc. they are hard to play against.

          • I’ll agree nobody was afraid of going into the corners with Hemsky, but Smyth’s been an ‘elbows up’ player for his whole career.

            Besides which, I doubt anyone’s afraid to go into the corners with Boyd Gordon, but that’s not terribly relevant – it’s nice to inspire fear, but winning battles is the important thing.

            Your average NHL player might rather go to the corners with Ales Hemsky than Luke Gazdic, but his team is more likely to retain the puck when it’s Gazdic there than when it’s Hemsky.

  • Don’t be surprised when they try to trade for Clarkson this summer. Hockey people like to believe they are smarter than everyone else. I’m sure they look at Clarkson and feel it was a bad fit and he had the weight of TO on his back.

    Just saying…

    • Sevenseven

      I think they will try to get Clarkson but ask the Leafs to hold some salary. If Clarkson comes in at around $3 million or so then, while still risky, I can see some potential value.

      There will be no sure bets or easy answers. There will need to be risky plays, this might be one worth making. Obviously he’s had a terrible season, but maybe with a change of cities and better luck he can land somewhere between his current production and his high water mark of recent past. If that comes in at a more reasonable salary then it’s worth talking about.

      • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

        Gagner is a bad contract too, so don’t expect the leafs to eat too much of Clarksons contract. I think at best they might be convinced to eat 1 to 1.5 million of Clarksons contract in a Clarkson for Gagner deal. In fact they may refuse to eat any of it given Gagner’s contract.

        Although Gagner’s deal is only for 2 more years so eating 1 million doesn’t seem that unreasonable.

        • Joe Mamma

          Yep. In fact I would be surprised if they would even go as high as 1 million. More likely they would be willing to eat the 425k difference, at best. More likely still, they’d probably tell MacT to pound sand, one for one or forget it.

  • Sevenseven

    I look back to the start of the season, when Eakins redecorated the locker room. He took down all the glory years stuff. This is YOUR TEAM, he told the players.

    I hope Katz takes this lesson from Eakins. This is your team, forgot all the players from the past, and make it your orginization. No more ex oilers, unless its Bill Ranford as the new goalie coach. Everything he touches in la turns to platinum. Go out and do what you did building rexall, bring into the oilers some of the most proven hockey managers and minds in the industry.