The Oilers Centre Depth Chart

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins2

A year ago, the Edmonton Oilers entered the year with a centre depth chart featuring Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner (both injured) in the top two jobs, Mark Arcobello as a fill-in, Boyd Gordon in the third-line job and Will Acton on the fourth line.

The results weren’t pretty. Where do they go from here?

The Givens


The first-line job seems destined to remain with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I’ve heard some complaint about that from Oilers fans – the consensus seems to be that he isn’t big enough – but this is what happens when a team does the kind of scorched-earth rebuild the Oilers have engaged in. Young players get pushed into hard jobs before they’re really ready for them.

Nugent-Hopkins is a special player; I think everyone realizes that. He’s a good bet to grow into the role and it’s difficult to see the Oilers finding someone better than him over the summer (Jason Spezza, to pick the obvious choice, would be a nice fit but he’ll be costly to acquire and he’s a year away from free agency). Barring something very unexpected, the Oilers’ best play is to leave Nugent-Hopkins in the top slot.


Boyd Gordon did a nice job in a tough role last season, but in a perfect world he slots in on the fourth line next year. The Oilers need to get some offence from their third line, and that would be helped immensely if the fourth line can take a pile of defensive zone draws and take some of the ugly defensive work away from the top-nine. With Gordon and Matt Hendricks, that’s a real possibility.



Sam Gagner has been traded on the internet countless times over the last couple of years, and this summer it seems a good bet that he’ll be traded for real. He’s a better player than he sometimes gets credit for, but he has significant issues and an injury at the start of last season helped highlight those.

In the unlikely event that Gagner stays, he’ll centre a protected scoring line. If he’s dealt, it will likely be to a team with a surplus of checkers and a need of some scoring. The names generally mentioned in rumour are guys like the Islanders’ Josh Bailey (6’1”, 194 pounds, career-high 38 points) or Nashville’s Colin Wilson (6’1”, 216 pounds, career-high 35 points).

The upshot is that the Oilers could end up with a second-line centre, a third-line centre, or something else entirely there.


Mark Arcobello and Anton Lander were both re-signed by Edmonton. Arcobello is a gifted offensive centre who showed a capacity to do a lot of different things last season, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if there was some hesitancy by the Oilers to pencil him into their top-nine. Lander is a gifted defensive centre who has struggled to convert his game to the NHL level; if he’s in the starting-12 it will likely be on the fourth line.

The Oilers also currently hold the third overall pick in the 2014 Draft, and the most likely selection is a centre. If the Oilers come away with any of Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett or Leon Draisaitl that player would likely be bumped immediately to the NHL as the centre of a protected scoring line – perhaps with Nail Yakupov on one wing and a veteran defensive winger on the other side.

So What Happens?

Craig MacTavish9

Edmonton won’t be able to finalize their plans until after this summer’s entry draft. If they add a centre, there really isn’t much room for Gagner, and trading him for a third-line pivot (and bumping Boyd Gordon down to the fourth line) makes great sense.

If, instead, the Oilers add a defenceman via the draft, things get more complicated. My guess is that they would still attempt to move Gagner for a third-line pivot and then try to find a replacement second-line centre via free agency.

The only certainty here is uncertainty. As Kevin Lowe might put it, expect the unexpected.


  • Serious Gord

    Gordon is paid like a high-end 3rd liner. And Hendricks like a 3rd liner.

    They will play on the 3rd line. If you are playing 3rd liners on the 4th line, of course, it will be a good 4th line, but you aren’t going to have enough money to pay for enough 3rd and 2nd liners.

    A better strategy is not to think 1-2-3-4, but build two tough minutes line, one soft minutes line, and build a 4th line capable of D-zone faceoffs against everyone except the opposition’s best line.

    Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle (tough minute line)
    Perron, Gordon (Kulemin-type-signing) (tough minute line)
    XXX, Gagner or replacement, Yakupov (soft minutes, protected line)
    Hendricks, Lander, Arcobello (4th line capable of D-zone draws)
    pressbox (Gadzic, Joensuu)

    That 4th line has 3 players capable of taking a draw. They can be aggressive in the circle, and they can chose the best matchup to take the draw.

    With a 4th line that can ease the D-zone faceoff burden on Gordon, Gordon’s faceoff ability can be used more in the offensive zone, to try and maintain ozone time.

    • crabman

      I really like your thinking on how to structure the forwards line. I don’t like Gagner and Yak playing together even on a sheltered scoring line. They played that role this year and still got eaten alive. Even on a soft minutes line Yak needs a more defensively responsible center until he can learn to be better in that way himself. Swap Gagner out(as you eluded to) for that type of center and I think this has the makings of a competitive offensive group.

      • crabman

        How many 4th liners get 4 year contracts? 4 year contracts for $1.8 million per season.

        That is 3rd line money.

        So if Matt Hendricks isn’t 3rd line capable, then MacT is a bad GM for trading for that contract.

        Money and duration tells a fan what role the GM thinks the player can play (in a hard cap world).

          • 24% body fat

            Agreed on that statement. Brandon Prust is a 2.5m hit for 4 years and is basically the same type of player. A very hardworking 4th liner who kills penalties and can mix it up.

          • Matt Hendricks is 32 years old making 1.85 million for 3 more years and had 7 points last year………..That’s not 3rd line points and certainly not worth the money he’s getting paid, That has overpay and 4th line written all over it!

            Here are the Kings 4th line players during the regular season.

            Lewis – 11 points – 1.5 mill – x 2 more years is 27 yrs old

            Clifford – 8 points – 1.1 mill – x1 more year with RFA status is 23 yrs old

            Nolan – 10 points – 700 K – RFA next season is 24 yrs old


            This is L.A’s set up during the SC playoffs.

            Some actually think Hendricks is an acceptable 3rd line player at 1.85 million, how do you think the Oilers get better if they are over paying talent for the 4th line when a Stanley Cup contender like LA has better players and cheaper players playing in the right positions making less?

            Hendricks is NOT worth 1.85 million, not by a country mile.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            The surf pounding is bit better at Venice Beach than the Ft.Saskatchewan River.

            Edmonton will always pay more to attract players.

            I know this was a trade, but Hendricks is what this club needs, better to over pay him by half a million $$$$, than a slug like Penner, overpaid by $3 million.

          • nuge2drai

            Oiler Domination To Follow

            Our team needs a few more Hendricks.

            What he brings to the team can’t be measured by points.

            He’s a warrior, defends his teammates and makes other teams more accountable.

            Who cares about the 1.85- you really think the Oilers are going to spend to cap this year?

            If so who will they spend the 28+ mil in cap space on?

            Would it matter if it was 28.75 instead of 28 million- seriously man who cares?

            Your wasting your energy discussing Hendricks salary.

          • No they don’t.

            A warrior? Good grief.

            The Oilers need a number 1 defensemen.

            The Oilers COULD use a number 2 defensemen

            The Oilers need a whole 3rd line.

            The Oilers need a 2nd line center.

            Your talking perpetual rebuild with adding overaged over priced talent.

            28 million takes no time to get to.

            The Oilers have massive holes filling them with middling over priced players is a disaster waiting.

            Not to mention you have two big RFA’s coming up.

            When exactly do you want the Oilers to stop sucking?

          • nuge2drai

            Oiler Domination To Follow

            So Hendricks extra 300k in salary is preventing us from being able to bring in a #1-#2 dman and a #2C?

            I know those are our biggest concerns – they have been for the last 7 years…

            In no way is Hendricks cap hit the issue here.

            Horcoff, Hemsky were the reasons we were unable to balance the team and they are gone now.

            Team toughness has been an issue for the last 7 years as well- I think Hendricks contributes to the solution.

          • Serious Gord

            A couple of weeks ago Scotty Bowman was on a radio show – I fail to remember which – saying that the 3/4 lines should not have an average per player salary much more than 1 million. What is the oil’s average?

          • Quicksilver ballet

            While I do agree with what you’ve mentioned. Sometimes it’s hard to follow any structure when 3 out of every 4 players say, “Thanks, but no thanks” to the idea of working in this market.

            There’s certainly some beggars can’t be choosers karma going on here. Try to become competitive first, then whittle away at these monetary areas of concern.

          • Serious Gord

            And this is the catch-22* that the oil are in – a disgraceful franchise failing at almost every aspect of the business both on and off the ice with the most nepotistic ownership in North American pro sports – can’t attract the kind of talent both on and of the ice to resurrect the team.

            Thus the folly of discussing/debating on-ice issues without changes to oiler management…

            But it’s raining outside, what the hell else is there to do…

            * – excellent movie need to remember to watch it again soon…

          • Serious Gord

            I was hoping someone would know off the top as I don’t have access to paper and pencil or a laptop.

            So using my iPhone – the oil have seven mill tied up with only five players. That means 1.4 mill per player and we still need to sign another third liner.

            That’s way over the line drawn by bowman.

          • 24% body fat

            3rd and 4th Line Players as they are currently lined up in the playoffs:

            LA KINGS = 2.89 Million/ Player on average.
            They however have a cheaper 2nd line(1.33 mill/avg per player).

            Chicago Blackhawks =1.79 Million/ Player on average.

            NYR = 1.61 Million / Player on average.

            Montreal = 2.85 Million/ Player on average.

            Hate to burst your bubble but teams don’t always stick to what you might think is a 3rd/4th line players. None of the remaining 4 teams in the playoffs come close to 1 mill on average. Either Scotty is getting old or this is an unrealistic # to go by.

          • Serious Gord

            Or I misquoted mr bowman… Wish I could remember who’s show it was then I could find the podcast – it was an excellent discussion on pro-scouting and cap management focussing on 3/4 line issues.

          • Serious Gord

            It seems like the most successful teams pretty much roll their top 3 lines in which case the 3rd line players have to be a high enough caliber to handle that load. This would stand to reason they are reasonably paid. The 4th line for sure should average 1 million/player or less however. So if you have a 3rd line that averages 2 mill and a 4th line that averages 1 mill. Then the bottom 2 lines are in the $1.5 million range. That seems like a # to aim for.

          • Serious Gord

            By my math 1.4 mill is 40% higher than bowmans recommended number. More significantly – take a look at what that over-spend is getting the oil: lander, joenssu, Gordon, Hendricks and arcebello – hardly top flite stuff compared to what contending teams have for similar or less money.

          • Serious Gord

            Mt point is that if “not more than” means $1.2M, then the overpay is about 15%. No doubt extra money spent on the bottom 6 is not ideal, but I would suggest that this issue doesn’t make the top 5 (or maybe even top 10) list of things wrong with the Oil.

          • Serious Gord

            No doubt we need Hendricks-type players, but not for that kind of money and especially not for that kind of term. Sure the oil might not be near that cap this year, but what about the next years?

            What this team really lacks is good pro-scouting. That is THE most under-reported failing of this team. Low-cost 3/4 line role players are out there – just look at the four teams still in the playoffs. Low cost 3/4 line players free up space to get top-flite 1/2 line players.

            That said, the oil ownership and management and their reputation makes the oil a no go destination for the majority of those top-flite players.

          • nuge2drai

            Oiler Domination To Follow

            What about next year when the cap goes up ? You think we will be spending to cap?

            Unless we sign Statsny, Niskanen, Downie and Ott this offseason we will be no where near the cap ceiling.

            This year or next. Again talking about Hendricks cap hit, is absolutely pointless.

            We cleared Hemsky, Horcoff, Dubnyk, Smid, N Shultz, Belovs cap space and we have no one to replace those players with.

            Hence, Hendricks cap hit is the least of our concerns- now or in the future.

            Now if Hendricks played like a soft European we would have something to discuss or if his cap hit of 1.85 prevented us from landing Statsny- which will not be the case.

          • 24% body fat

            It is never a bad thing to discuss good contract management in a capped league.

            If all the oilers were paid on what they should than we could afford to overpay a little when we are a competitive team. When that finally happens we will not have cap space.

            Eberle should be 5.4 not 6

            Gagner should have been signed the year before for four years at 3.9 or 4.1

            fair value for Gordon is about 2.4

            ference should be around 2.5

            look at how much we would save and think of the trade value these players would have if we didnt overpay them

            it is never bad to talk about properly managing your assets.

            p.s. get rid of that stupid oilers domination to follow crap. no one takes you serious because of it.

          • nuge2drai

            Oiler Domination To Follow

            If we somehow became the only NHL team to not have a single poor value contract then we would have 33 million in cap space and not 28 million.

            Than we would do what exactly?

            Overpay and sign a bunch of poor value contracts when free agency hits?

            I can’t see us spending the 28 million let alone 33 million, there’s only 5-6 star Ufa’s and with the cap going up all the contendors have cap space.

            We don’t need value contracts we need value players and Hendricks is just that.

          • HardBoiledOil 1.0

            Agree wholeheartedly with everything you are saying here. But the current situation in Edmonton as it stands is that there is going to have to be a few overpays here n there to get players to come. While I agree Gagner was an error as he could of been had in a value contract or gotten value in a trade.

            But Ference and Gordon were going to get that pay cheques somewhere. Once the team turns the corner then attracting the free agents will become cheaper most certainly. So it’s important that they very carefully and sparingly choose when and where to do this in the short term. But I think we have to accept when a specific player comes along that a slight overpay is going to be necessary sometimes.

          • nuge2drai

            Oiler Domination To Follow

            You do realize we got Vikto Fasth for Hemsky dont you? Smid sucks. He averages under 10 points a season at close to 4 million a year.

            Depending which ufa defenseman MacT spends Smids cap space on this off season will determine how good the trade actually was.

            Jury is still out.


            Smid(3.5) + N Shultz(3.5)


            Matt Niskanen(5.5), Horak, Broissot and a pick

          • camdog

            Fasth was the number 4 goalie in Anaheim, Horak signed in the KHL, Oliver Roy was traded straight across for Broissot.

            No matter how anyone shakes it the Smid deal was an awful trade for the Oilers organisation, not necesarily because Smid was good, but because the Oilers don’t have anybody else better than him in the organisation and the young guys won’t be better for 3-4 seasons, when his contract would be set to expire. And to top it off trading Smid exposed Petry’s weakness’.

          • Serious Gord

            First Hendricks cap hit isn’t in and of itself a huge concern, rather it is the habit of this team to overpay/under scout for this type of player.

            As for the cap going up – it goes up for all teams thus it will end up being eaten by salary inflation – it is nowhere near the panacea that many make it out to be.

            The real short to mid-term beneficiaries will be those teams that are near the cap now and have lots of good players tied up to long term contracts. Edmonton is not in that group.

          • nuge2drai

            Oiler Domination To Follow

            Every team has contracts of players who are being overpaid.

            Oilers actually aren’t that bad when you look around the league.

            MacTs actually don’t a good job of clearing a ton of useless cap space left from the useless Tambellini era.

            Dubnyk, Horcoff, Hemsky, Smid, N Shultz are some examples.

            Thats over 20+ mil in cap space – which will hopefully be used this off season.

          • Serious Gord

            Agree that for the next couple of years the Oil appear to have some cap space and they if they could leverage this to either: trade for a need whilst taking someone else’s cap issue or sign a big fish, would help a lot. Even if the player is only here to 2 or 3 years. This is one of the reasons the Oil should seriously consider trading the No.3 pick if they can find the right deal.

          • Serious Gord

            Bingo. It is absolutely critical that the oil get a 1/2 D and C using salary and high draft picks via trades – free agents aren’t coming to at for this management team.

            And how confident can one be in MacT wanting to or being able to pull that off? All the talk about being bold and he has yet to make a trade or aquire another team’s 1/2 line player.

  • Sorensenator

    I think Arcobello ends up in that 3rd line spot. Gagner should be gone but we’ll find out what he gets moved for. They need some scoring touch on that 3rd line and if they can bring in a couple of wingers to play with Arcobello, it would be huge and allow Gordon, Hendricks and possibly Pitlick to play the 4th line.

  • Harry2

    Brian Boyle would be a perfect fit between yak and perron. If Mac can land a him and draft one of the centers I see no need to rush a Gagner trade which will will allow the pick some valuable seasoning time in the CHL.

  • Word to the Bird

    Could C possibly be a greater need on this team than D? If so, forget drafting a center, sign/trade for one. I just don’t see how Bennett/Draisatl could help the team next year.