Death by a Thousand Cuts

Kyle_Brodziak

If there is a constant to the Edmonton Oilers failures post-Chris Pronger, it is the team’s unique ability to fritter away useful hockey players for nothing or close to nothing. One of those players, Kyle Brodziak, is currently plying his trade in the second round of the playoffs for the Minnesota Wild.

The Trade

Steve Tambellini (2)

At the 2009 NHL Draft, the Oilers shipped Brodziak off to Minnesota in a trade that made it clear exactly how much value they saw in the player.

Brodziak and a sixth round draft pick went to the Wild in exchange for fourth and fifth round draft picks. The Oilers picked defenceman Kyle Bigos with the fourth-rounder (he’s presently playing in the ECHL, never having been signed by Edmonton) and goaltender Olivier Roy with the fifth-rounder (sent along with Ladislav Smid to Calgary in the trade that brought back Roman Horak and Laurent Brossoit).

Oh, and just for good measure: the Wild drafted goalie Darcy Kuemper (12-8-4, 0.915 SV% this season) with the sixth-round selection they got back.

Jason Gregor, who was in attendance at the draft, wrote down Tambellini’s post-trade comments in a post on this site:

We do need to change our line up a bit. We have too many bodies at forward. We are willing to give some people a chance that haven’t had a chance before… [Gilbert Brule will] get a very good look this year, there is no question about it. But I’m not sure if that’s exactly what’s going to happen with that position.

What Actually Happened

27-Gordon-1

Brule got a chance – and had a great season – mostly while playing on the wing. Marc Pouliot had some injuries and wasn’t all that impressive when healthy; never again would he be a full-time NHL’er. Mike Comrie was brought in and had a decent half-season, marred by injury. By default, minor-league journeyman Ryan Potulny ended up with the second line centre job; he’s played 10 NHL games since.

Brodziak had a terrible shooting percentage year but still ended up with 32 points; he followed that up with 37-point and 44-point campaigns. He struggled badly in 2013, but rebounded somewhat this year, largely used in a third-line role at even-strength by the Wild.

So far, the deal has cost the Oilers five years of roughly average (on balance) third line play from a guy who kills penalties, wins faceoffs and adds a bit of size (6’2”, 208 pounds) to the lineup. For a team that has struggled for ages in those departments, it’s a terrible move in retrospect. Edmonton finally filled the third-line centre role with Boyd Gordon, a smaller version of Brozdiak who lacks the same offensive touch, but he may well be bumped to the fourth line in the off-season.

Why Did They Do It?

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Gregor’s immediate analysis of the Oilers motives is instructive:

Brodziak’s departure opens the door for Gilbert Brule to slide into his 4th line centre spot. The Oilers wanted Brodziak to be grittier and got tired of waiting it seems.

It seems to me that those two sentences sum up some key tendencies of Oilers management the last few seasons pretty well.

There’s always some new kid to rush into duty, and a desire to create space. The Oilers have done this forever, but they’ve been especially bad in the brutal post-Pronger years. Sam Gagner (who, like Brodziak, will probably be moved for peanuts and who, like Brodziak, is probably going to rebound somewhere else) is the poster boy for this, rushed into the NHL fresh out of the draft. Anton Lander, who replaced Brule as the Oilers’ fourth line centre, is another good example. Have things changed? I’ll answer that after I see which league Oscar Klefbom starts in next season.

Married to this in the case of Brodziak is that eternal desire for more grit. There’s a nasty tendency in Edmonton to turn on bigger players who don’t knock heads together, and the Oilers have done a bang-up job of shipping out big guys who play like that over the years. Size does matter in the NHL, but a lot of times bigger players can be effective (winning battles in the corners, blocking off the front of the net, going to the front of the opposition net, and so on) even if they don’t cut a bloody swath through the opposition. Detroit understands this; it’s baffling that the Oilers can’t seem to figure it out.

Today

Craig MacTavish9

The case of Brodziak is just one example of a larger trend that saw the Oilers ship out useful player after useful player which reached its zenith under Steve Tambellini. The end result has been a decimated and ineffective supporting core, both up front and on defence.

Take, for example, the Oilers’ bottom-nine forwards. I count one player (David Perron) who finished 2013-14 with the Oilers who outperformed in that role. The depth chart for next season includes him and – if Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon from the nucleus of the fourth line – two others who should provide above-average play in those slots.

It’s interesting that all three are Craig MacTavish additions, and useful to consider the purchase price. The Perron acquisition was a bargain, but cost significant assets (Magnus Paajarvi and a second) that the Oilers don’t have an abundance of. Gordon’s a fringe third-liner (i.e. a guy who can be effective if he’s supplied with excellent third line wingers) and he cost $3.0 million per season on a multi-year deal. Hendricks, ideally, doesn’t play above the fourth line at all, and his contract has three more seasons at just shy of $2.0 million.

Adding those three guys helped, but MacTavish has finite assets and finite cap space. To undo the damage caused by years of incompetent management, he needs to find his own Tambellini, someone who will trade him a useful and undervalued piece – like Kyle Brodziak – for pennies on the dollar.

It is as hard as it sounds.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Brodziak would be a better fit between Perron and Yakupov then Gagner. There will never be an explanation good enough for giving him away. Kuemper is just an extra kick in the n#ts on that one. I think MacT is probably a better GM than Tambo, but he made many questionable moves in his first year and plans on sewering next year as well by keeping Eakins around so who knows if this rebuild will turn out any better than the bumbling idiot. At any rate, outside of a miracle this team will be in the running for the two studs at the top of next years draft and it will likely take years to undo the damage Tambellini inflicted. In all likelihood we are another failed management group away from respectability.

  • Slapshot

    That Brodziak deal still haunts me too Willis….. When it happen I was like what the hell!! Your’re right rushing to find spots for guys who haven’t earned is just the worst.

  • Slapshot

    Kevin Lowe deserves even more blame than Tambellini,he hired him as the GM and also stood by as dithers did nothing but set this team back,Lowe should have been let go at the same time as Tambellini, how he still is the POHO after 8 years of missing the playoffs is a Six Ring Circus and incompetent ownership .

  • MattyFranchise

    Good writing, Broz was what they needed but couldn’t see, Glencross they could see but didn’t need. That’s some second tier management via 6 rings

  • MattyFranchise

    You look at Hemsky Ottawa loves him

    Smid Calgary Loves him

    Horcoff Dallas loves him.

    MacT got nothing for them, why are these players playing well for other teams? Oilers management is dreadful. I can’t believe they pay these guys to make decisions.

    • 2004Z06

      I think you have the facts significantly twisted.

      Ales Hemsky averaged 25 points a year for the last four years at a cost of 5 million per.

      The fact that anyone was willing to give anything in return for a pending UFA was miraculous!

      Now Horcoff at 5.5 for another 2 years on the 3/4th line? And people think Gordon’s contract is bad! The hockey analysts and most of the fans felt Mac T was going to have to retain half of Horcoff’s salary and get nothing in return.

      Mac T getting a prospect and not having to retain salary was a huge win!

      Last but not least…Smid is a 3.5 mil a yr 5/6 defenseman that asked to be traded…..

    • camdog

      When you play for a horrible team, it makes you look bad and eventually you are bad . Putting these players on hard working teams and some teams with talent it showed that these guy are hockey players.

      Unfortunately Oilers ruin players.

  • 1979

    This is why it is positive we have 3 of our top 6 signed long term and management is giving verbal on not giving up on any of them or Yak. If they trade Gagner it is not giving up on him but realizing they need a different player type in that role. Hopefully Mac-T continues to be patient where he needs to be and hopefully Vancouver hires Tambellini 😉

  • MattyFranchise

    “Married to this in the case of Brodziak is that eternal desire for more grit. There’s a nasty tendency in Edmonton to turn on bigger players who don’t knock heads together…”

    And yet they’re apparently really keen on Draisaitl?

  • 1979

    Trading value of most players is downward. Hemsky and Horcoff Oilers didn’t get much, and now Gagner perhaps Yakupov. If Oilers trade Gagner alone for a NHL player they won’t get much. So they will be creative and try to trade for a draft pick or an AHL play with potential. Yakupov has some value but not nearly as much as last year.

    You can’t be one of the worst run teams in sports and expect positive results.

  • Bishai in the Benches

    I think “size” is the most misrepresented aspect of a player in the entire hockey world. While I agree that the oilers are too soft and too small, Brodziak would fit in very well here, even though the oilers brass decided he was not gritty enough. In my opinion, playing strong on the puck is very different than playing gritty. Playing strong on the puck implies that you have the puck, and you are tough to take the puck from. Gritty typically implies you are chasing the puck and end up taking stupid penalties.

    Evidenced by two older players, I believe Smyth plays a gritty game, while Jagr is strong on the puck. Very different players, and Jagr is still extremely useful. He only had 2 hits this season, lowest in the NHL, but he drives the play, uses his body effectively, and is a sizeable strong player. This is what we need. Not grit.

  • MattyFranchise

    MacT has done a good job on the player front in his first full season in Edmonton. I can’t think of any major blunders he’s made with the exception of hiring Eakens.

    • MacT's Neglected Helmet

      I’m a MacT fan, but he hasn’t been mistake-free (obviously, they finished 28th!!).

      Questionable moves:
      – trading Smid for magic beans
      – Dallas Eakins
      – Not maximizing Hemsky’s value

      Bad bets:
      – Acquiring Mark Fraser
      – Sam Gagner
      – LaBarbera (similar to Tamby’s Eric Belanger, a good bet on paper, but turned out awful)
      – Jesse Joensuu
      – Grebeshkov & Belov

      I guess you’re right in that he hasn’t made any MAJOR blunders, though it doesn’t get any more MAJOR BLUNDER than the alleged David Clarkson contract offer…

      • MattyFranchise

        With Smid’s playstyle they never were going to get a lot for him but Broissoit at this point I think is a better goalie than Roy and Horak added some center depth. He’s got a 4th line ceiling but at least he’s actually a center, something the Oil was sorely lacking at the beginning of the season.

        As for Hemsky, no one really got max value for their deadline deals aside from the swap between NYR and TB.

        I’m going to say that I am not an Eakins fan and leave it at that.

        I think I can agree with your bad bets. Gagner’ contract just isn’t good, there’s no two ways about it.

        On the good side though is Scrivens and Fasth. Excellent moves for a team has struggled with goaltending since Roloson left. Perron and Ference were great pickups too.

        Overall I’d give Mac a passing grade on his tenure so far but if that Clarkson offer is true then he better pull up his socks and play lights out or Mac will never live that down.