This is not breaking news by any stretch, but by next October the Oilers will have 50% of their opening night roster from this season changed over. With Anton Belov signing a four-year deal to return to the KHL that means three of the Oilers starting D-men from last October won’t be in the lineup this coming October.
It isn’t just the defence that will have a massive overhaul.
Last season’s opening night roster looked like this: (players in bold are no longer in organization)
Those eight along with Ryan Jones and Denis Grebeshkov (not re-signing), Wil Acton and Jesse Joensuu (shouldn’t be on roster) and Sam Gagner (trade) makes 13 of 26 players who dressed early last season, who might not be here in six months.
You can look at those changes two ways:
1.) It means the Oilers realize they aren’t good enough and had to improve.
2.) You should be concerned because many of the players they brought in last year weren’t good enough.
Can anyone say with certainty that the players they bring in this year will be better? I don’t think you can. I believe that Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin have much more potential than N.Schultz or Belov, but will that potential appear right away?
The Oilers had to change their roster because it wasn’t good enough, but MacTavish must ensure that he and his pro scouts bring in competent replacements this year. If the organization wants to grow they can’t afford to sign guys who can’t play. They need to bring in better players.
- On Tuesday MacTavish gave a glowing report for the assistant coaches. “I think we have the right people in place,” he said. He went on to say he and Eakins will sit down in a few weeks to discuss the team and coaching staff. MacTavish said Eakins will have the final decision on who is on his staff, but if the GM is on record as saying they are great, how will that impact Eakins? If there are no changes on the staff then I believe the coach didn’t want to go against his GM. If there are changes, which I expect there to be, then Eakins does have free reign to choose his staff.
- MacTavish is big on loyalty, and him speaking highly of his assistants didn’t surprise me. I’m sure he believes what he said, and if one of them isn’t returning, he was never going to throw them under the bus prior to leaving. I’m very curious to see how this unfolds. I believe this situation will say a lot about the direction the organization is going, how much freedom Eakins has to make decisions, and if he will make a tough decision.
- Last year MacTavish said Sam Gagner was one of the core players, but on Tuesday he wasn’t mentioned amongst the core; Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Schultz were. It doesn’t guarantee he’ll be traded this summer, but all arrows are pointing to that. I still believe Gagner will be a 50-55 point player, and the broken jaw in the preseason completely derailed his season, but I think a change of scenery would benefit both parties.
- MacTavish didn’t mention Yakupov amongst the core, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t high on him. I doubt the Oilers can get fair value for Yakupov this summer, and I get the sense they believe he can still play a big role in the future. MacTavish will try to hard to find a 2nd line centre, a playmaker who is good defensively, who will compliment Yakupov and allow him to succeed.
- The Oilers need more scoring from their 5th-12th forwards. I expect Yakupov to be better next year, but they need decent production from a few others. Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks are good role players, and won’t produce much, which is fine, but here are a few UFA options who could help.
Mikhail Grabovski. He isn’t perfect, but he possesses the puck well and can produce.
Dave Bolland. If he wants $5 million/year then pass. He can chip in with 30-35 points and is very good defensively. Excellent 3rd line guy who could move up to 2nd line for a few games if needed.
Brian Boyle. Would add size down the middle or on the wing. Outside of one 20-goal season he hasn’t been very consistent offensively, but he does have decent offensive skills.
Devin Setoguchi. Good complementary player. He likely wouldn’t cost much, but the former #8 overall pick has skills despite a poor season in Winnipeg.
Nikolai Kulemin. A big body who is responsibly defensively, produces shots and chances. He scored 61 goals his first three seasons, but has only scored 23 in his past 188 games. He could be a solid 3rd line left winger.
There are some big name offensive players like Tomas Vanek, Marian Gaborik, Matt Moulson and Milan Michalek, but all of them are left wingers and the Oilers have Hall and Perron, so I don’t see why you would add more top salaries on the left wing. If the Oilers were going to spend big in free agency then I’d go after centre Paul Stastny.
Stastny is 28 and has become a solid two-way player. He’s exactly what the Oilers need, but if he tests the market I think he’ll be the most sought after UFA and will command $6-6.5 million over 7 years.
- MacTavish said he won’t go after any middle of the road D-men, instead he’d rather give an opportunity to Klefbom, Marincin or Darnell Nurse. That makes sense, as long as his definition of middle of the road refers to guys like Grebeshkov, Belov, Philip Larsen, Corey Potter or Mark Fraser. I don’t see any reason to sign players like that, but I’d assume he is still open to signing a proven veteran defender.
The Oilers need some experience on the backend other than Andrew Ference. Last summer I said they should look at Ron Hainsey, and he would have been better than any of the five aforementioned D-men. I’d still consider him, but they also need a right shot veteran. Matt Greene would help their leadership and size, and even though his footspeed and puckmoving skills aren’t great, I wouldn’t have an issue with him on their third pairing. The free agent list of defenders doesn’t have many big, strong, defensively sound players, but MacTavish has to get a proven player, rather than a wildcard.
- I’ve noticed many people believe the Oilers are over valuing Justin Schultz. I’m not in that group. I think Schultz is still developing and he’s done some very good things in his first 122 games. Since 1990, only 25 D-men have had a better points-per-game in their first two seasons than Schultz.
I understand people are concerned about his defensive play, but I don’t need him to be great defensively, just solid. He needs to work on when to pinch and when to stay back, but his offensive instincts are very good. He excels in that area, and as he matures and learns the defensive side of the game he will be very valuable. A good comparable could be Matt Niskanen. Niskanen’s first two seasons were fairly good, then he struggled for a few before being dealt to Pittsburgh, and now at 27 he has emerged as a very good D-man.
It takes time for most D-men to develop, especially those who were pure offensive D-men in college or junior, and I suspect that Schultz will prove many of his detractors wrong in the future.
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The OKC Barons lost 2-1 to first place Texas last night, but they still sit in 8th place with two games remaining. The Barons have a two-point lead on Charlotte and Rockford. Their final two games are Friday and Saturday against the last-place Iowa Wild. The Barons own the tiebreaker over Rockford, but not Charlotte. If they pick up three points this weekend they are in the playoffs, and they could guarantee a spot Friday night if they win and Charlotte loses to Milwaukee.
It would be great for Klefbom, Nurse, Lander, Pitlick and the rest of the Barons to get some playoff experience. Nurse has played very well according to Todd Nelson and the more experience those young players get the better prepared they will be to battle for a spot at Oilers training camp in October.
I only see room for one of Klefbom or Nurse in Edmonton next season, and maybe neither to start the season, but both will come to camp hungry to make the team. I’d send Nurse back to junior just to get more seasoning, but at some point soon it will be a refreshing change when the Oilers can send some players down who are actually ready for the NHL, but didn’t make it because they have too many quality NHL players.
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