Friday, February 23, 2007

Up Front Next Season

See the Oilers are already down two tonight. Second of a back to back against a Wings team looking to win their fourteenth in a row at home.
So, how about a look at the possibilities for the Oilers up front next season?
A disappointing year for nearly everyone up front. Smyth has thirty now and still might hit that forty mark. Hemsky is averaging almost a point a game and Horcoff is coming on strong and will likely hit twenty but the reality is that more was expected of both. Sykora had a nice start but faded when Hemsky went down. Stoll came on strong before he went down but he started poorly.
No consistency. And considering that this team had six guys with twenty plus last year and a couple more just short of that - well, even with the failure of the guys on the backend to headman the puck it has to be said that there are a lot of underachievers in this lineup.
So, the question is - what about next year? Well, there is one area that can be put down in ink, or almost, and that is centre. With the emergence of Pouliot and Stoll's strong play it looks like the Oilers will have three guys down the middle who may be able to handle both ends of the rink. Really the only question is whether Reasoner returns or if he gets pushed out by Brodziak or Almtorp. Marty is a nice guy to have around for sure but does he do enough to stick around?
And if Cogliano turns pro then another kid will be on the way. And no, I can't see Schremp supplanting any of these guys. It may very well be the wing for him longterm.
Its on the wings where the questions lie. And the first question is will Smyth resign? Thirty one goals now and counting. And if he and Sykora walk away who replaces that scoring?
Interesting -I was on the Oil message board earlier today. I rarely go there. A debate raging about Smyth and whether or not he is worth 5M; the biggest argument against being that he is not a franchise player. Thing is five million is not what a franchise guy gets now. Good players get 5 or so - Jokinen, Tanguay, McCabe, Kubina, Kaberle (I know I know the Leafs) - and Smyth is a good player. A few years ago good players got seven plus - Guerin and Holik amongst others who got nine. Hell, Marty Lapointe got five. Anyhow you can argue whether or not he deserves it but the whole franchise player argument doesn't wash. Franchise guys are getting seven plus, cap or not.
So if Smyth returns then you're looking at Smyth/Torres/Moreau/JFJ on the left and then Hemsky/Pisani/Lupul/Thoresen on the right.
Pretty nice but of course we are supposing that someone is going somewhere for that elusive Dman and also to free up some salary to help pay for the raises for Smyth, Staios and Moreau.
If Smyth resigns then the odds on favourite to go would be Torres I would think. If Smyth goes then I would think it would be Lupul or maybe a package of kids. Or maybe they try and dip into the UFA pool.
I'd really like to see Jacques get an audition with some better talent up front. Just as Pouliot stepped up when he was given Pisani and Torres as linemates and the 15-20 minutes of icetime so I would like to see Jacques get a similar opportunity. See if he might be our own Dustin Penner or Milan Michalek.
Anyone else notice how Stoll really took off when he got put between Pisani and Torres? And then Pouliot did the same.
Maybe put Jacques with Sykora and Pisani? With Carter fetching a fifth rounder what is Sykora bringing? Maybe keep him around for the last twenty games to see what JFJ can do?
If I were a betting man, this is what I would see happening leading into next season:
Smyth resigns.
Torres gets moved.
Jacques gets a shot on the top three lines next fall. If he fails then Thoresen or Schremp takes his spot.
With Lupul being part of the Pronger deal and listening to Lowe's comments I think he sticks around. Hopefully he does something next season. Trading a guy a year removed from 28 goals is one thing. Two years later - meh. May as well keep him for his contract year and reap the reward then.
So how do they line up?
Smyth/Horcoff/Hemsky - since they have been back together they have dominated and that includes on the road facing the toughest opposition they could. I know a lot of people like the idea of Hemsky getting the soft minutes but this line gives the Oilers one that can play with nearly anyone.
Moreau/Stoll/Pisani - these guys would be the shutdown line and face the toughest minutes
Jacques/Pouliot/Lupul - the soft stuff
Thoresen/Reasoner/Stortini (Brodziak)
Now this is dependent on a few factors and ideally I would prefer Lupul to move and Torres to stay in which case you could have:
With Thoresen slotting in if JFJ cannot do the job. Or maybe Hemsky gets the soft minutes with Pouliot and Jacques (or Schremp if he devotes as much time to his skating and conditioning as he does to his little tricks).
A lot of possibilities.


Anonymous said...

As a Leafs fan I can't resist a small correction... Kaberle's 4.25M/yr, not quite in the 5M+ range.
And at least for him I'm quite comfortable with his pay. He's still in the prime of his career, won't be too old when the contracts over and while he's not a Norris guy he's definitely someone you can count on to be amongst the top few D-Man in the conference in any given season.

Knock McCabe and especially Kubina's contract if you will, but allow us poor maligned Leafs fans at least one player we can be comfortable with... :)

Kyle said...

I think you're spot on everything. It seems like Lowe will stubbornly stick to Lupul, even though in my opinion Torres is the far more useful player.

Torres is inconsistent, but at least he's not consistently crap.

Black Dog said...

I stand corrected Rand, I thought he was making 4.75.

And he's a fine player, no doubt. I'd certainly take him over Kubina or McCabe.

Mr DeBakey said...

Stoll's head must be a concern right now - will we be sitting here a year from discussing his imminent return? The Oil might think about phoning Stumpel's agent – he can play C or RW.

Reasoner will likely be kept, his contract runs one more year, he can babysit a rookie or two next year while Brodziak works his way into the Top-12.

Mikhnov will be in camp next fall, Prendergast recently was talking about a pool of untapped talent in the RSL/Europe so he might not be the only one.

If some salary space opens up, my vote for UFA signing is Hartnell from Nashville

Katie O'D said...

Those forward lines look pretty good. I hated at first to hear of Raffi being moved, but the four lines are still solid without him, and if we could get a good de for him/with that money, it would probably be worth it. There are a lot of kids up front, though. Even if Pouliot/Lupul/Jacques were getting soft minutes, I might throw a veteran on that line just to help them out. Though that all depends.

Andy Grabia said...

Smyth resigns.

Where to? The Bahamas?

Black Dog said...

He has a sheep ranch in County Cork, Mr. English Man.

Mr. Debakey - well, there's Grebeskov and another Dman in the RSL who Lowetide was talking about. Also Almtorp from Sweden and a couple of other kids

Zhitnik and Tkachuk on the move, Brewer and Sturm staying put. Things are starting to get interesting.