Monday, March 26, 2007

OK, What Next? Seriously.

Lowetide always was fond of saying last season that the Oilers had five bullets with Chris Pronger. The first one came as close as one could come and with a D with he, Smith and Staios, a veteran goalie and a set of forwards with varied skills it certainly looked like Kevin Lowe had set the Oilers up for a nice run of playoff spots with the chance of finishing the job they almost completed last spring.
Of course, Pronger left and the 'glass half full' amongst us figured with Lupul and Sykora coming in we could count on a good offence and at least one of the kid D could make a difference and if not well then Lowe could work last year's magic and pick up a cheap vet or two.

And coming on Christmas although the vaunt was not so much and there were injuries to Hemsky and Smyth the Oilers were in first, thanks in part to our old friends, Smoke and Mirrors, but they were there and we waited for the cavalry and it never came.

ON HNIC a month back Lowe claimed to be working from last season's blueprint but it did not work out. Now the Oilers' plans for this season and the motives of EIG have been debated long and hard elsewhere by people a lot smarter then me and I won't rehash it here but it seems to me that a playoff spot at the very least was there for the taking early on and the disappointment of this season is that a move wasn't made to address the glaring deficiencies of this team back in the summer. Its one thing to refuse to give up a 2nd and a good prospect for 20 games of Yanic Perrault, say, but I'm thinking someone half decent might have been had in August for a little less. Then again, what do I know?

You cannot blame Lowe for the fact that Sykora has seven goals in three months or that Torres and Lupul have half the goals expected of them. But you can blame him for leaving guys like Jason Smith partnered with AHL calibre Dmen for most of the season. The team was taken to task for quitting last Wednesday. Well, since then the try has come back and while the players may have quit on March 21st for one night a lot of Edmonton media types seem to be willing to forgive management who apparently quit back in August.

So the question is, what now? What about next season? You look at the Canucks or Penguins, two teams out of the playoffs last year, both in this season, and you think, if them, why not us?

And the Canucks a good a bet as any to win it all, imo. Not likely but why not?

Now, here's the problem as I see it. Last season's team had an elite player in Pronger, a guy just below that level (and of course this too has been debated to death) in Smyth, a total of eleven guys who could munch up the top minutes (Smyth, Horcoff, Dvorak, Peca, Pisani, Moreau, Torres, Pronger, Smith, Spacek and Staios) and four Dmen who could move the puck reasonably well (Pronger, Spacek, Tarnstrom, Bergeron), one for each pair plus their seventh man.

Going into next year the number of guys who can play those tough minutes is down to six, with only two on the blueline, and the best offensive defenceman on this club is probably Tom Gilbert, who has four points, and eight games experience under his belt.

As an aside, saw the Nashville game on Saturday and Gilbert ended up in deep on a PP - he was on the halfboards, in Hemsky's usual spot, and showed tremendous poise and patience with the puck. The kid does not lack confidence at least.

So, say the Oilers fulfill our dream and pick up a true impact player from a team having a firesale, coming off a playoff disappointment (hello Sens?) or up against the cap.

If this guy is a Dman and the Oilers resign Hejda well then you have a nice top four and then you have to fill a few holes up front and you likely have a team that can contend for a playoff spot at least.

But this is what I see - I see Grebeshkov and Smid and Greene and Gilbert and Roy - in other words I see a lot of kids - and unless they have four vets set in stone and tell the remaining kids to try and win the remaining jobs on merit, losers go to Springfield, then I'm seeing four kids on D again next season. Now, it will all suss out this summer. Ideally to me we would see the four vets plus Shaggy and then Gilbert and Grebeshkov or Greene, take your pick. But that would mean Smid in the minors or traded and that's unlikely. Grebeshkov is not going anywhere so that leaves Greene or Gilbert to get moved and all I can say is, lets hope its the former.

Likely we will see four vet Dmen plus three kids with one of Greene or Gilbert moved and that's not ideal but what can you do?

Of course that does nothing to address what is happening up front, yep, we haven't even gotten there yet, where there is no vaunt and few guys to play the hard minutes and if anyone can tell me who is going to score next season, well, come on down. Ales Hemsky is the only reasonable guy who might even come close to that "near elite" status I mentioned earlier, never mind, elite, although two goals in his two games back certainly bode well and maybe show that he may be ready to make this his team.

Other then that the only kid who may be ready for primetime in any way is Thoresen who has been getting tons of icetime and thriving on it. I don't think Thoresen is ever going to be a scorer but if he pots ten and can take on the toughest the opponents can throw at the Oilers well that's fine by me. He may not be ready for it but I think he could be next year. That would be a start. Other then that I don't see a kid ready to give this team a whole lot.

Other then Thoresen (who played pro in the SEL, don't forget) there is not a lot going on and we forget that for every Staal or Malkin or Crosby there are 100 Horcoffs and Pisanis and Jason Smiths. I was thinking of Kevin Bieksa and Mike Commodore earlier and how they have found success - well Bieksa is a third year pro now and Commodore put in three years in the minors before his success last season, iirc.

In other words, folks, it takes time. In hockey, like in music, the "overnight success" has likely been grinding it out in clubs and dive bars for a few years before they hit the big time.

Lowe might be able to patch some holes and make a playoff spot a possibility next season.

But there are too many holes to fill. Two top four Dmen. Puck moving Dmen. Forwards who can play tough minutes. Forwards who can score. Forwards who don't need to be hidden. A Power Play.

This team is being built for 2010 and beyond - when your 23 year olds are 27 and your 21 year olds are 24. When all of these kids might have an idea of how to play NHL hockey.

Damn Pronger!


Anonymous said...

Lowe definately has some big moves to make this summer. UFAs, RFAs, or bringing a guy in via trade are all (hopefully) viable options.

The way I see it, if the cap does go up to 48M, teams are still gonna spend around 45M, and leave room for trades. If the Oilers do spend 43-44M, I just hope they use it wisely.

Forwards under contract:
Hemsky - 3.6, Horcoff - 3.6, Pisani - 2.5, Lupul - 2.535, Stoll - 2.2, Moreau - 2.75, Reasoner - 950K, Thoresen - 543K, Pouliot - 942K, JFJ - 650K, Stortini - 475K, Nilsson - 942K

So thats 21.687M for 12 guys. I think Pouliot and Thoresen are going to be regulars next season. They've got cheap contracts, and are capable of playing ES, PK.

UFA: Sykora, Petersen,
RFA: Torres, Winny, Mikhnov, Brodziak

Lowe needs to re-sign Torres. Give him a 3 year deal, 1.8M per year (too cheap?).

Sign Brodziak to a 2 way contract, around 650K or something, he'll most likely be an injury fill-in next season. Let Winny and Sykora go.

????? - Horc - Hemmer
Nilsson - Pouliot - Lupul
Torres - Stoll - Pisani
Moreau - Reasoner - Thoresen

JFJ, Stortini, Petersen (750K?)

So thats around 24.25M for 14 guys.

For D we have
Smith - 1.976, Staios - 2.9, Smid - 721K, and Gilbert - 835K [6.432M]

UFAs: Tjarnqvist, Hejda
RFAs: Greene (re-sign), Roy (2-way deal), Grebeshkov (I heard 1 year, 1-way contract, that true?)

Tjarnqvist had decent stats this year (37GP, 3G, 12A, +3). If he makes a full recovery I can see him re-signing with us for the same 1.625M (maybe less?).

I would love to re-sign Hejda too. Him and Smith would be solid on the 2nd line. Think he'll sign for around 1.5M or so?

Anyways, our D could possibly look something like this:

Staios - Tjarnqvist (1.625M)
Smith - Hejda (1.5M)
Greene (1.2M) - Smid
Grebs (1M) - Gilbert

So that would be roughly 11.757M for 8 D-men. This groups not gonna blow the doors off statwise or anything, but I think this is much better than what we had entering the season.

So if I've done my math properly, I've got 8 D-men and 14 forwards signed for about 36M.

If Lowe gets the green light to spend 43.5M (is that pushing it?) that would leave him about 7.5M. Does he leave the D the way I have it and go for a top liner worth 7.5M? I say why not. No sense splitting the money we have on two decent players. Spend it all on 1 guy. Do it by trade or in the FA market.

This year our offense has let us down, moreso than our D. If our D stays healthy and our offense performs at least up to standards, we'd be a decent team, IMO. We'd only have one line we'd need to hide (Nilsson - Pouliot - Lupul).

Maybe I'm overly optomistic, but thats always been a fault of mine.


Gord said...

I think ChrissyT has access to my computer - she stole 95% of my concept - except I firmly believe that Torres is gone and Mikhnov is NHL ready (he has been playing with Grebeshkov this year).

If everyone is healthy to start the season, I'll put our Dmen in the top of the NHL in every category except on the PP - it will take time for Smid / Tjarnqvist / Grebeshkov / Gilbert to mesh but by game 20, we should be on track...

Our goaltending is fine - it is our goalscoring that needs help - especially on the PP.

If we can not sign Sakic (my first choice) - Briere will be more than adequate. Or we could trade a couple of inexpensive prospects + throw in a few 2nd round draft picks for the PP specialist.

As you pointed out Black Dog, we were sooo close at Christmas & just needed to trade for the right player (Forsberg?) to make the playoffs.

Looking back does not help - but recognizing we played the previous game with only one Dman who had more than 100 regular season NHL games - give us a healthy Tjarnqvist, Staios, Hekda & Smith - and I am totally comfortable going into the next season.

That is if Lowe does not trade our top draft picks in a panic to save his job...

Mr DeBakey said...

OK, let’s put on our optimistic hat…

Did the some person or persons who scouted Thoresen & Hedja also scout Grebeshkov? It’s Likely; that’s good news! If they’re right again, then
Staios – Grebeshkov
Smith – Tjarnqvist
Smid- Hejda
At $10.8 Million total might just work
Up front, making 4 lines that look like they’ll work is much easier if you remove Lupul, it just is
Someone mentioned Handzus a week ago; I think he should be Job 1.
Defensively sound, played very well with Havlat when both were healthy – we have Sykora, Hemsky, and Nillson. Stumpul would be a second choice here.
Sykora – Stumpul – Nillson = scoring line $5.9
Left wingers Hartnell & Calder are both tough Prairie Boys who can pot the odd goal – sign one.
Calder – Horcoff – Hemsky = First line $10.8
Then mix n match the rest
Torres – Stoll- Thoreson = $4.0
Moreau – Pouliot – Pisani = $5.4
Two subs, one who can fight $1.2

Total for 3 D pairs & 4 F lines that work & 3 PB = $42.2
I think this is a playoff team
But, what about those cash or Cap strapped teams?
I’m not showing Greene and Lupul.
Could KLowe roll them & Anaheim’s for something, anything?
Damn right he can, Klowe’s our man.
Alfredsson, Hossa, Richards the sky is the limit.

Anonymous said...

I think ChrissyT has access to my computer - she stole 95% of my concept - except I firmly believe that Torres is gone and Mikhnov is NHL ready (he has been playing with Grebeshkov this year).

I think we have to keep Torres. Him and Lupul have almost identical shots (quick wrister) but Raffi's the better overall player. Hell, if Mikhnov does come back drop Toby and add him. Thor can take over Toby's roll, Toby's not gonna get any better, Thor is.

I'd love to get Sakic too gord, but I think he'll re-sign in Colorado.


Black Dog said...

Optimism abounds.

If Lowe can flip picks and prospects to a team that is cap strapped or bleeding money for a forward who can score and play tough minutes, that's a start.

If he can put together a solid no-name D which includes a puck mover or two then we are getting somewhere still.

Bring back Dvorak or the like ...

Nice to think so anyhow.

But there's still the PP.

Anonymous said...

Here's what I don't get...After a miserable season (admit it, it was horrible even before the injuries) no one seems to think the team will overhaul. Clearly this group can not produce, and is not competitive. So what, we keep them all and add one or two new guys and cross our fingers that somehow "chemistry" that has not developed this year will magically occur next season?

I think unless there is a major coaching change (ie: euther MacT or Simpson gone) there will be major roster changes. Otherwise next year we may really see what losing looks like.