Sunday, January 27, 2008

Who Says All Star Weekend Has To Be Boring?

For some it will come as a shock but we all know that these celebrity hookups never last. The gigantic egos, the excessive lifestyle, the easy access to alcohol, drugs and sex ... I, for one, am not surprised, although like Dennis I am thrown off by the timing.
Speaking of sex, back in late October I came back from a Friday night Capsule game feeling quite a bit the young lion. We had beaten our rivals (yes, we have rivals, believe it or not) 2-1 and I had set up both goals with beauty passes, none of these little homo second assists for me, no sir, and had participated in a gang beatdown of their team dickhead who insists on starting shit every game and gave our goalie a two handed slash with a couple of seconds left.
So, I'm feeling my oats and I come in the door and there's my lovely bride and we have some drinks and we talk about maybe having a third kid and while we had talked about starting to try this spring we figured, ah, what the hell, why not give it a whirl tonight? Now, we conceived our first two children almost immediately when we started trying but the next morning we figured, ah, what are the chances?
So, lets just say that if Laddy Smid could shoot like me there'd have been no need for Lowe to blow his wad, so to speak, on Souray. Of course there was no need anyhow but we won't mention that.
So yeah, another baby on the way this summer and then its the clinic for me. Hell I'll perform the operation in my basement with a skate and a bottle of Jameson's if I have to.
And here's a final thought as we wind down this snoozer of a weekend, hockey wise anyway. I'm going to put this out here right now. A lot can change in a year and a half but if autumn '09 looks a lot like right now in the NHL then Shawn Horcoff deserves a long look for the Canadian Olympic team. Canada is deep as hell at centre (there are actually eight Canadian centres with more points then Horc, only three with more goals though) but as we all know its about putting the best team together. The Salt Lake City team had Peca and that guy, what's his name, played in '04 and '06 too, oh yeah, Smith, right ;) and a couple of other guys who were picked over big scorers and its not like Horc is Rob Zamuner, right?
All kidding aside here's the argument for Horc being the fourth line centre or 13th forward.
- he can play LW
- great on the PK, great on the draw
- experience on the big ice (and success on it in Sweden and in the WC)
- a guy who can play the defensive shutdown role and still chip in some offence (remember he shut down the NHL MVP, outplayed him actually in the '06 playoffs)
Now I am biased but I would bet that if he plays into December '09 like he is now, he has a shot.
The competition is fierce. Lecavalier and Spezza are locks. Crosby likely plays the wing I think. I don't believe that Savard, Ribiero or Briere get the call. Brindamour keeps on trucking but I would bet he may have lost a step by then. So that leaves three spots at C, imo. These are the guys looking for that spot: Thornton, Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Horcoff, Eric Staal, Langkow, Sakic, Brad Richards.
Yeah I look at that list and think longshot too but I think that a couple of guys besides Crosby go to the wings, which actually look relatively weak. And while Spezza proved last playoffs that he can handle the power versus power matchups and come out on top, that's with Alfredsson riding shotgun mind you. What I'm saying is you can't have four lines centred by guys who are all offence first. You're going to need at least one line that's probably going to outscore the bad guys' best, a line that is going to get you possession late in the game in your end, move it down into their end and then keep it down there.
Oh baby!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Pitkanen - What Are You Going To Do?

Terry Jones had another blockbuster of a column the other day, wondering how come the Oilers always fall short when they are a game short of the magical .500 mark. Here's a newsflash for Detective Jones, likely going through Daryl Katz's garbage right now trying to find some incriminating evidence - the Oilers have no mental block when it comes to getting over the hump - they just aren't that good.
Its like this just completed Southeast trip. Nearly everyone figured it would be five wins and out. Now the Southeast is awful but so are the Oilers and if you look at a team like the Canes they have more NHL players then the Oilers and the ones that they have are better then the Oilers. Staal, Whitney, BrindAmour, Cullen, Stillman, Cole plus you throw in Walker, LaRose and Samsonov and a D that is underachieving but still a veteran group and you have a group that should beat the Oilers, all things being equal. This idea that the Oilers would sweep through this gang ignores the fact that, even healthy, the Oil are not that good.
Still, a .500 trip and the successful homestand before and the Oilers remain within striking distance of the top twenty. I think that would be a decent season, all things considered.
And the trade deadline approaches. Always an interesting time of the year. To me its Detroit, Anaheim, Ottawa and a bunch of pretenders but I could see a few teams, notably San Jose and Vancouver, putting themselves into a good position with the right moves.
As for the Oilers thoughts are flying fast and furious as to what may happen. Here is what I think.
Next year is going to be a long year again. Maybe not as bad as this, although bad enough that injuries could put them in lottery territory.
Lowe is too competitive to be a big seller. While he knows this team is no playoff team he can, barring a huge collapse in February, sell a standpat at the deadline as a reasonable position. While some fans say 'who cares' to where Burke picks, I can assure you that Lowe is not so sanguine about it. Penner has been a good acquisition and he is looking like he may be a great one but Lowe doesn't want to be known as the guy who traded Stamkos for him. Far easier to sell a twelfth overall pick for Penner then a top three.
On a team this bad my list of untouchables is actually quite lengthy. You've got the obvious ones - the big line, Garon and the primo kids - Gagner, Cogliano and Gilbert. You've got your veterans who can play tough minutes - the Oilers have so few that they have to hold onto the ones they have got unless they can pick up a guy who can do the same thing plus a little more. In other words you can't move Staios unless you're replacing him, imo. You also have what I will call your useful kids - Brodziak, Thoresen, Smid, Greene - all guys who have NHL experience, who can play roles or who may still be trending upward. Unless moving one of these guys nets you a bigger fish who can do a lot more then I think you stick with them. You need those cheap guys who can help you in some way.
So, who is left? Torres is like Stoll last year - not going anywhere until he comes back and is healthy. Stoll himself has little value after the year he has had and I cannot see them going with a centre corps of Horcoff, Cogliano and Gagner quite yet. If they get Horcoff signed longterm then I think Stoll gets moved next season or in the summer of 2009. Going into 2009/2010 with Horcoff a possible goner and Stoll traded would set this team back years. They need to hold onto him at least until they have #10 signed.
Nobody is taking Roloson now - a backup goalie with a year left at a 3.6 cap hit (I thought it was 3.9 - whatever). They may be able to move him this summer to a team looking to split duties between a kid and a vet or to a team struggling to reach that salary floor. But its not happening before March. And Tyler Dellow makes it pretty clear why he's not getting bought out either.
So who's left? The veteran flotsam - Tarnstrom, Reasoner, Sanderson. And Pitkanen. Rumblings have him asking for a big wad of cash and the Oilers not looking to pony up. What is Pitkanen worth? I would say low 4s - he and Gilbert have been quality this year. Having them locked up longterm would mean a stable backline for a while.
Problem is (and it always seems to come back to this, doesn't it?) the Souray contract. At 5.4 million per this boat anchor has tied the Oilers' hands for four years after this one. All together now - spending big money longterm on a player over thirty is not a great idea unless his name ends with, say, Lidstrom or Sakic. There are others but you get my drift. Ask the Leafs how that works out - they have over 40 million tied up for next season, not including Sundin. The media here talks about the Leafs moving guys like Kubina, Tucker, Bell, Raycroft, McCabe and Blake - there may be a sucker born every minute but very few of them are NHL GMs, I'm afraid. Too bad because the one guy I'd like to move fits in with that crew. Not enough bang for a whole lot of bucks.
Sheldon has been ok but certainly not 5.4 million worth and this contract is going to bite us in the ass for years to come. They have to pay Gilbert and Horcoff and Garon (or whoever will be their starter) and then they will have to give deals to the kids. I don't think Joni is worth 5.4 million either but I would rather have that money invested in him then in Souray. Problem is its already in Souray and so Joni, like so may quality players before him, might be bye bye but in this case its not the Oilers' financial straits doing them in, its their own foolishness.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Becoming A Player

I haven't seen the last two games but from a numbers standpoint the kids have come out on top in both. Yesterday Nilsson had a goal and an assist, Gagner a beauty of a goal, Cogliano an assist. All a plus two and both of their goals scored against Kovalchuk, Recchi and their centre, once Holik, once Todd White.
I would guess that was the matchup Waddell wanted and while I did not see the game from what I have read the kids did ok in terms of scoring chances. So, a nice night's work and this follows two point nights for Cogliano and Gagner against the Canes (Nilsson also picked up an assist) and a goal for Nilsson against the Caps.
Interesting to note that Nilsson is second on the team in road assists too. One of those "good news/bad news" stats I would say.
This is certainly not one of those blue skies posts where I wax poetic about the kids and how Moreau will be accepting the Cup from Commissioner Shanahan in 2010. I've had the optimism sucked out of me bit by bit since June 19th, thank you very much. I enjoy watching this club and I do think the future is bright but I'm not in the "Waive everyone over 25 and call up the kids" brigade that seems to remove their collective heads from their collective arses long enough to spout said nonsense.
Having a rookie ridden roster is a surefire way to pile up the losses so its been nice to see the Oil picking up points recently. Even with the Canes' disaster they are 6-3-1 in their last ten and that's a nice stretch no matter how you slice it. The fact that they have been winning some in regulation has been good to see as well.
What has really been heartening recently is the play of the kids, or some of them anyways. Smid and Grebeshkov have been a gong show for the most part and hopefully Pitkanen will return soon and between him and Greene one of these guys will have a seat. Other then the Danger Twins things have been looking up for the kiddie corps. They're taking their lumps and that's to be expected. I did a post back in August where I looked at the numbers some pretty good hockey players put up as rookies. Gagner and Cogliano pretty well fit in with what a lot of these guys did in their first years. Guys like Crosby who come in and tear it up are few and far between.
Sam Gagner is still overmatched in most games but he's the youngest player in the league (nine months younger then Kane) and he hasn't the size or wheels to make up for his youth at this point. Lately he's been getting his chances and now he's getting some points and the fact that he is doing it with his peers (that is, not hitching a ride with Horc and Hemsky with a pile of second assists) makes it a wee bit impressive. He's a point shy of twenty but lets see if he gets over thirty for the year. A tough learning experience for him and I think a lot might say a waste of a year on his entry level deal but time will tell on that. He certainly hasn't been bowed or broken and I think nearly everyone would admit that they like the future for this guy.
Cogliano hit a tough stretch but playing with Moreau and Pisani seems to have gotten him back on track and a nice couple of road games with Gagner and Nilsson seems to indicate that he has his confidence back. Hard to say what his role down the road will be. I think that a few years down the road the Oilers' centre corps will be made up of him, Gagner and Horcoff as the top three men but that's a ways away yet. Fifth on the team in scoring and on pace for around thirty five plus points and its hard to find anyone to say anything bad about the guy other then he's young. Looking good.
Tom Gilbert's season is just ridiculous any way you cut it. Playing on the top pairing against the other team's best players for the most part, as a rookie, he is a plus player and has eight goals and nine assists, mostly at even strength. This while playing for a pretty mediocre team. I would say he has to make the all rookie first team (who has been better on the blueline this year as a rookie?) but there are a lot of kids who are more flashy and more famous and as a result he will likely be overlooked. Best story of the year by far though and that's saying a lot with the emergence of Garon, Hemsky's coming out, Penner's arrival and the year that Horcoff has put together. In all of those cases you may have seen it coming but no way anyone saw Gilbert doing what he has done.
Brodziak is the guy who gets overlooked but he can chip in on offence and he is one of those guys who does the little things that help the team win. He's Pisani, Moreau, Dvorak - he's not sexy (well, Moreau is sexy) but you're glad he's on your side. Underrated and likely a guy who has a spot on this team for years to come.
The one guy who is really interesting is Nilsson. He's older then Gagner and Cogliano and he is the one guy in the bunch (actually Brodziak was in this boat in September) who has something on the line in the next few months. Add in the fact that he was traded for Ryan Smyth and that his father is Kent Nilsson and he becomes even more of a story.
I referred to this recently - Nilsson has the most to lose and the most to gain between now and April. He's officially at that make or break point of his career. Now here is a guy who has been to the minors and has been scratched this year and now he is fourth in the team in scoring and on pace for about a forty point season. Defensively he has made his mistakes but for the most part he has been alright. And he puts points on the board. I'm starting to think he might make it. He's certainly no Lupul. (Which makes me wonder - Lupul supposedly succumbed to the pressure of playing in his hometown. The one thing I never got about this is that usually pressure manifests itself in a guy trying too hard - overcompensating by going for the big hit, squeezing the stick, being too aggressive - I've never seen a guy made completely lazy and indifferent by pressure. Interesting.) Anyways, Nilsson's still a little streaky but I think that everyone would agree that the kid may be a player.
Now in a week's time Nilsson may be back in Springfield and a couple more blowouts will take the sheen off of everyone but for now I'll try my best to look on the sunny side. Its my nature, after all, which tells you how badly Lowe has broken my spirit. For me to be a pessimist just isn't right.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Wait 'Til Next Year!

As the Oilers and Caps battle it out in The Doughty Bowl tonight, trading goals while Oilers D fall one by one (just turned on CHED and the first thing I hear "Another bad giveaway by Grebeshkov"), my thoughts turn to next year.

What, we don't have our first round pick this year? Wha!?

Oh well.

Interesting listening to MacT's pregame podcast where he confirms a couple of things for us dummies - they're going to play the kids and Dick Tarnstrom is going to be traded. Oh yeah and they're going to play the kids.

Now the Oilers have been hanging around and considering what MacT has had to work with its been a reasonable year. What is also becoming clearer is where things are going, meaning more of the same I would say. Lets take a look shall we?

Goal - Mathieu Garon is going to be given a chance to run with the starting job. If he can prove by this time next year that he can handle it then they will extend him as a starter. And with the Caps just scoring from behind the goalline you can see why Roloson is likely going nowhere, as much as Oiler fans would like Lowe to shed that contract. If this was the last year of his contract then some team would pick him up for insurance, sure, but nobody has the room to suck up 4 million of cap space next year for a backup goalie. I don't think Lowe is going to make any big moves this summer anyways. He has to sign Pitkanen and Gilbert but other then that there are no big raises to hand out. In other words they can eat Roli's contract for one more year. Maybe they waive him and give JDD a chance but he's on the books next year somehow.

D - The last two years have seen the Oilers shake things out and I really think this summer nothing is going on unless they have made decisions on Smid and Grebeshkov. There are no kids coming up from Springfield next fall. It will be the following season where we might see guys like Chorney or Peckham begin to make a push. So out of the nine Dmen who started the season we know that Tarnstrom is gone and Roy, as well as Rourke, are the injury callups. Pitkanen and Gilbert are the top pairing and having two guys under 25 to play that role - that's damn good and Lowe should be commended (although nobody expected this from Gilbert, lets be honest, certainly not this soon). Souray and Staios are the second pair and that's fine now. Greene is being groomed to move up the chart and replace Staios. So, its between Smid and Grebeshkov for that sixth spot and a future with the Oilers between now and April of 2009. Loser is gone and the winner might be too unless one of these two shows some bit of sense sometime soon.

Forwards - Here is where we may see some interesting battles next season. The Oilers presently have a pretty good number one line in Penner, Horcoff and Hemsky with the latter two justthisclose to being PPG producers and Penner exceeding expectations and looking really good. Then you have your old pros in Moreau and Pisani flanking Cogliano. Torres is going nowhere, even if they want to move him, until he shows he is recovered from his injury, just as Stoll was going nowhere last summer. As for Stoll, I think he returns. He may be tradebait soon but they have to make sure that they can extend Horcoff and that Cogliano and Gagner can play before they move one of their two guys who can play centre in the NHL (no offence to Marty Reasoner).

So as mentioned in my last post the Oilers need someone else to play in the top nine and here is where it gets interesting. Will it be Nilsson? Will it be Gagner? Will it be Rob Schremp, who I think has earned his shot for next season? Or will they go with the Anaheim model from a couple of years back, having two lines to grind it out, one big line and then a line with a couple of kids (a la Getzlaf and Perry) and a vet who get soft minutes and learn the ropes. It looks like Pouliot and Jacques have played themselves out of the organization. My guess is that Nilsson is running out of time.

I'm also thinking its going to be another long year next.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Professional Hockey Players

I read the Battle of Alberta every day. I have had the good fortune to spend a weekend in the company of Andy Grabia, an extraordinary writer and researcher, and have had a number of pints with sacamano, original Oiler Battler, doctor of stone and bone technology and all round great guy.
I have never met Matt Fenwick but I read his posts with interest. Always terrific stuff. Its too bad that he's a Flames' fan. Like Hamlet's indecisiveness, Conrad Black's arrogance or Tom Cruise's weirdness, its the flaw that makes his heroism tragic.
The other day Matt posted this beauty (by the way check out last night's post where he looks at Dowbiggin's musings on the Flames getting Sundin) where he looks at the Flames' lineup. In it he touches on a few topics which would be recognized by us Oiler faithful who have suffered this season. He also takes a critical look at Brad Richards which is on the money (and I say this as a fan of Richards).
I just wanted to riff on Matt's take on the Flames' lineup. He talks about a number of issues the Flames have up front. Presently they have two pretty good lines. Huselius-Conroy-Iginla and Tanguay-Langkow-Nolan.
Damn good I'd say. You might argue as to whether or not Conroy and Nolan are "true" top six forwards anymore and there is some thought that Lombardi might be a better fit then Conroy but the reality is you have four really good players right there and two old pros who don't fuck shit up.
From there Matt stumps for a line of Nilson-Lombardi-Yelle. Presently Lombardi is playing with two kids, Boyd and Nystrom, and things aren't working (sound familiar?). Well even as someone who sees the Flames rarely I know what Lombardi can do and Yelle and Nilson are two guys who don't score a lot but also don't hurt you.
And then a fourth line cobbled together that can hold its own against other team's fourth lines.
The key for the Flames here is that they have nine legitimate NHL forwards. While Dowbiggin stumps for a huge move for Sundin I think the Flames would be better off (short and long term) picking up a couple of guys who can flat out play in the NHL. Nine guys aren't going to last more then one round and once you start bumping guys up the ladder then your team is going to suffer.
Look at the Oilers. Lowetide has said from the beginning of last season and its been a common theme here as well, that the Oilers biggest issue is that they do not have enough NHL players. Recalling the SCF squad that was a team that had seven forwards that could play tough minutes - Smyth, Horcoff, Peca, Pisani, Torres, Moreau and Dvorak. On top of that they had three other legitimate NHL forwards in Samsonov, Hemsky and Stoll. Add to that a great top four on the back end and you can see why this team survived injuries to Moreau and Dvorak. They could plug in whomever with Smyth and Horcoff and they had a fourth line that could handle the other team's fourth line.
This year's squad's struggles can be traced to the fact that until recently the Oilers could ice a lineup that included four legitimate top nine forwards, five if you include Reasoner, which I would not. Horcoff. Penner. Hemsky. Torres.
Add in the mess on the backend and its pretty obvious why this team has struggled. I like Brodziak and Cogliano and Nilsson and Gagner. I like them all. Just not all as part of a top nine that includes Reasoner or a guy who is recovering from a major injury.
Now you add Moreau and Pisani back into the mix as well as Souray on the back end and things start looking a lot different. Souray remains overpaid but I will credit him with doing a decent job with tougher minutes then I thought he could handle. Contract aside, Souray is an experienced NHL defenceman and is a far better option then either Smid or Grebeshkov. Tarnstrom too. If the Oilers would play Tarnstrom and Greene as their third pair then you're looking at a pretty good top six.
Up front the addition of Moreau and Pisani has made a big difference. Suddenly you can plug Cogliano in between two good veterans and you have two pretty solid lines. So in the case of the Flames tomorrow night the Flames might be able to send out three lines but now the Oilers are at two and things look a lot better then a month ago when they did not even have that much.
And this is where it really is too bad that Torres is gone. He is maddening but he is a legitimate player. He's not going to hurt you. Put him out there with the resurgent Stoll and another kid, probably Nilsson or Brodziak, and now you have three legitimate NHL lines. These guys might have to play the Lombardi line to stay even or outscore and of course the Flames' top two lines might outplay the Oilers' top two lines but its a far better bet then throwing Sanderson-Reasoner-Brodziak out there against one of the Flames' top lines. Now that is your fourth line and its going to outplay most fourth lines.
Unfortunately with Torres out the Oilers are still a little short unless Reasoner can pick it up or two of Brodziak, Nilsson, Gagner and Thoresen can form a legitimate line with Stoll. I think Brodziak, Nilsson and Thoresen may actually be close to being legitimate NHL players (not talking about offensive production here but the ability to be a pro outside of the fourth line) but putting two on a line is not going to do it.
Finally, the Oilers are teasing us again with three straight wins and four in their last five. After the Flames they have the Kings and then a five game roadtrip through the Southeast.
This is where they may actually get out of lottery territory once and for all because if you look at the rosters on these Southeast teams you don't see a lot of legitimate NHL forwards and it becomes very clear why this division is such a sinkhole. Carolina is probably the best of the bunch. Even with Williams and Cullen out they can run Staal, Brindamour, Stillman, Cole and Whitney out there. The drop off after that is a big one though (I am not familiar with how Ladd is progressing but his offence is not there). And after Carolina it gets worse. Tampa has their big line, Richards and then its Ouellet and Hlavac. Atlanta has Kovalvhuk, Hossa, Holik, Todd White, Recchi and then its Perrin. Florida is only six deep, if that. Washington, who I watched beat an injury ravaged Avs team on Tuesday, has Ovechkin, Nylander, Kozlov, Semin and a nice rookie in Backstrom. After that its a bunch of kids. Protecting a one goal lead at the end of the game they had Brashear out there. And they are as likely to win the division as anyone.
Believe it or not the Oilers could put together a good run here.
Want to look at why the Ottawas and Wings stand head and shoulders above everyone else. Look at their rosters. Their fourth lines include legit NHL guys. Here are the Wings top eleven forwards - Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Cleary, Holmstrom, Hudler, Filppula, Samuelsson, Draper, Franzen, Maltby, Drake. If they add one or two bottom six guys and they likely will, they can roll four lines. (Hudler has thirty points and Filppula twenty four - holy smokes).
Ottawa is not as deep and a little more top heavy when it comes to offence - Spezza, Alfredsson, Heatley, Fisher, Vermette, Kelly, Neil, Schubert, McAmmond, Eaves, Donovan. I look for them to add a top six guy before March.
Easy to see why these guys are the class of the league. Look at each team's roster. The other contenders look a lot like Calgary. Nearly everyone else looks quite a bit like the Oilers.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Your Man Horcoff. All Star.

Well done.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Prayer Is Not The Answer

With the Oilers on a roll and relatively healthy the opportunity is suddenly there for them to make some hay.

I can't believe I just said that.

Before the All Star break the Oilers have three more games on this homestand - Phoenix, LA and Calgary. Then a five game road trip through the Southeast division. The possibility of a good run is there, enough of a run to give Lowe the excuse to become a buyer in February.

A few good things have happened.

Garon has established himself as the starter, at least shortterm. He is giving the Oilers good to great goaltending
each night.

Souray and Staios have teamed up to form a good second pair. Souray's offence isn't there but by all accounts he has performed pretty well in his own end. With two legitimate pairs now the Oilers back end actually looks decent. Ideally Greene's return will send Smid back to Springfield and when Tarnstrom gets over his sciatica (what, is he pregnant?!) the Oilers would have a nice third pair as well.

Up front is where the problem lies and Torres' loss makes things more difficult. Presently the Oilers have a legitimate top line. The return of Moreau and Pisani has given them a second good line and has revived Cogliano.

They're still short up front. Stoll seems to be coming around a bit and Reasoner seems to be doing alright lately. If Torres were healthy there would at least be a legitimate NHL line but he's not.

So I have two words: Ladislav Nagy.

UFA after this season. Playing for the one team that is definitely out of it, the Kings. A plus (!?) somehow and some reasonable production, likely against soft opposition but that is what he'd be getting with the Oilers.

Pry him loose now and you add some more juice to the PP and a legitimate player on the second line. He, Stoll and take your pick - Reasoner, Brodziak or Thoresen to do the dirty work or Rowbert or Gagner for a little more skill.

Not sure about what he would cost but why the hell not?

Also a good read in the Globe today as Maki takes a look at EIG. He's no Terry Jones but I'd recommend a look at it. Now!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Halfway Done - Sucking as Few Suck Suck

Thank Dog for the Juniors. Once again the Oilers lick big bag. Speaking of licking bag did anyone see Jarku Ruutu tune up Darcy Tucker last night. If I had dropped dead on the spot it would have been with a gigantic smile and a big boner. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Anyhow, here are the grades as I see them at the halfway point and yes this is based on expectations, contract and results.
Ownership - F - What bugs me is the spin. I don't blame them for trying to make money or for having self interest. I do blame them for making Katz out to be a big bad bogeyman who will move the team at the drop of a hat. Painting yourselves as the white knights who saved the team while musing on huge debt financing to buy the team and build an arena and slagging the guy who is trying to negotiate a purchase in good faith is amateurish at best. EIG saved the team but this Butler guy is shining the silver cup of that legacy with a cloth covered in shit. Nice.
Management - F - For the second straight year Lowe has put together a team with huge holes. While last year's team had a joke blueline this year's squad is still weak back there while also lacking honest to goodness NHL players up front. As noted in the post previous to this one Lowe has demonstrated absolutely no plan. He has one of the highest payrolls in the league and no results to show for it. Have they won ten games in regulation in the last sixty? Ottawa tied the can to Muckler after a SCF appearance. Dallas fired Armstrong despite a number of years in the playoffs. Lowe gets a four year extension. Of course that goes back to ownership.
Coaching - C - While I often wish that Ken Hitchcock or Andy Murray was an ex-Oiler MacT has this pile of crap pretty competitive nearly every game. Charlie Huddy deserves credit for getting Pitkanen back on track and for the work of Tom Gilbert, I would say. The PK, as usual, has been good. Some of MacT's decisions (Tarnstrom WTF) don't make me happy and the PP, which cost this team the Cup in '06, is still a gigantic clusterfuck but he's taken a towering glass of assfuck and turned it into, well, not Gritstone but maybe Coors Light? Its crap but its better then drinking what comes out of a bum after someone has taken a trip up the old dirt road.
If you know what I'm saying.
Roloson - D - Roli is done and that makes me sad. And they're getting squat for him with that contract so dream on.
Garon - A - If it wasn't for Garon this team would be so far out of it Pronger could have redone his basement in Steve Stamkos' favourite colours right after Halloween. Because of him there is still a chance that Lowe won't look that bad. Is he a number 1? Maybe not. But like Hejda was, he is a terrific under the radar pickup.
Gilbert - A+ - Rookie is on pace for ~ 30 points, plays in the top pair against tough opposition, stays out of the box. Going to get a big fat contract and anchor the Oilers' blueline for years.
Pitkanen - A - Big Finnish weirdo makes Lowe look like genius. Also going to be a rich man after this season. It had better be Oiler money that makes him so.
Staios - B - Like Smith last season, Staios has become a whipping boy among fans, in this case because Smid has had to carry his ass night after night. ;) Stevie is Stevie. He has cut down on the mistakes of yesteryear. He's no Lidstrom but he's a nice solid second pairing guy. Too bad he has nobody to play with.
Souray - D - Has been surprisingly ok in his own end but as the team's highest paid player he should have fifteen goals and be their best defenceman. Plus he should have played every game. Oh, last year was a career year offensively and he's injury prone? Who knew?
Greene - C+ - Before the freak injury Greene was showing improvement. He's a bang it out guy but that's ok. At least he's figured out how to stay out of the box.
Tarnstrom - C - Dick is Dick. He's no star on the back end but he's a better option then a couple of the other clowns. Why they don't let this guy run the PP is beyond me. Probably wondering why the fuck he signed up for this shit. Oh yeah, the money is pretty good. He's tradebait.
Smid - F - Should have been in the minors last year. Decent start when he was called up but has gotten progressively worse. Elemental shit too. Only saving grace is that he's so young. Have to admire his willingness to mix it up and after that fight the other night maybe Stortini should worry about his job. But honestly, he's crap.
Grebeshkov - D - Who knows with this guy? I certainly don't.
Rourke - A - Seriously, when you're the tenth man in the organization and you come in and do nice solid work on the third pair then you deserve an A.
Roy - incomplete - Bad Luck Schleprock.
Horcoff - A - A little slump now but remember that little bit of hope we had a few weeks ago? That was Horcoff's doing. Does it all. Maybe not an elite offensive centre although some of the numbers tell us otherwise. Certainly an elite centre in this league based on everything he does.
Penner - B - He's getting there. My guess is he pops around thirty. Considering he came in out of shape and has been asked to play tough minutes and a pile of them one has to like where he is getting too. It was rough at first but he's no Lupul. Thank God. Honestly seeing how far he has come no complaints.
Hemsky - B - Almost there. Imo, he's taken another step. Worry about his health though.
Nilsson - C+ - Wish we's see more but he's better then expected in his own end.
Gagner - C - He's been awful but its a C - he's barely 18. What the hell can be expected?
Cogliano - C+ - Nice start, then a lull, showing life again playing with Moreau and Pisani (no shit). He'll be ok.
Brodziak - B - How many kids is that now? Any wonder why this team is so crappy? Kid makes the team, hangs in there, does the dirty work. Good role player. Maximum effort every night. Good on the PK.
Sanderson - F - Still has some legs but he is so done. Nice career is over. Some say he will bring a return at the deadline. Come again. Scratched 4th liner on this team. Are there sixty rounds in the draft? Maybe they'll get a 44th rounder?
Reasoner - D - Almost done and certainly cannot do what is being asked of him - tough minutes and so on. Great guy and its too bad.
Stortini - C+ - For effort. Certainly not for talent.
Torres - C - - First ten games I thought Raffi had turned it around. You big tease. But he knows what to do in his own end and too few do on this team.
Stoll - C - Sure he's an F but I'm not going to hack on a guy trying to come back from concussion. Friends of ours are friends of an NHLer whose career was ended by concussion. He was fucked for a long time. Serious pain. Depression. The whole shebang. He's been terrible but circumstances count in this case.
Pouliot and Jacques - F - Had their shots and blew it. They're gone.
Thoresen - C+ - He is what he is. Wish he was 6'1. Didn't sulk when he got sent down and has come back nicely. Work work work.
Pisani - A+ - What else? Masterton please.
Moreau - incomplete - Has to stay healthy - four games back - two goals, two assists, drew the penalty in OT v. the Blues. Bad penalty too against the BJs but overall the guy is a big plus. Has to stay in the lineup.
So overall this team is going nowhere fast but a quick look at the roster tells you why. Kids everywhere you look. Its impossible to hide so many guys that need to be hidden and when you need a goal, after the first line who do you send out? Moreau, Pisani and Cogliano?
Its all on Lowe's shoulders. And for all of you guys who think he is doing such a great job, for the last fucking time, the team did not have to be this bad! Last year or this.
Oh well, at least these guys are pretty fucking funny.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Optimism Leaves Town; Does Not Purchase Return Ticket

When I was introduced to the Oilogosphere back in March of 2006 by Vic Ferrari, this site was described as the best place to go to after an Oilers' loss. I am an optimist by nature - I always look at the bright side of things.
But this is getting pretty fucking hard to take.
Here we have a team just eighteen months removed from losing Game Seven of the Stanley Cup that is amongst the very worst in the NHL.
Injuries? Forget the whine. The injury situation from last spring when the number of regulars out of the lineup reached double digits? That was an excuse. To paraphrase Andy as he put it (sarcastically I might add) in a comments thread - just wait until everyone is healthy ... and gets thirty games to gel - then we will see what this team is made of.
Bullshit. All teams go through injuries and deal with it. The problem arises when you don't have enough quality NHL players so that when you lose one or two of the actual ones that you have you reach critical mass almost immediately.
We're coming on almost a year since Smyth was traded and has the number of regulation wins reached double digits yet?
This team has spent almost up to the cap. Since the Rangers before the lockout has there ever been so much money so poorly spent?
The Loweapologists look at Smyth's numbers in Colorado and say I told you so while we watch the guy who got that money, Souray, do even less. I was one of the few guys who could get on board with moving Smyth - it made no sense to me to spend the money on an aging player when the trend was to give the youngsters the big bucks. Then Lowe turned it all around by signing a lesser player, with a terrible history of injuries, who had one good year. A guy who Habs fans were all to glad see leave town.
The Loweapologists say that Lowe has a plan, that they will be saying I told you so in two or three years when this team is contending again.
See, here is the problem. These kids may not turn out. It happens. And if this team is in rebuilding mode why dump your first round pick in a deep draft? There are only two explanations. Either you think your team is not going to be near the lottery, which means that you cannot evaluate talent, or you don't have a plan, which means that you should resign. Lets review shall we ...
1/ Lowe's hands are tied to an extent by Pronger's request. Ignoring David Staples' advice that we should just give Lowe the benefit of the doubt because he is Kevin Lowe, we should ask two questions. Why did he think that Lupul was worthy to be the centrepiece of the deal? Either the kid is crappy (I think so) or he could not handle playing in his hometown. You think Lowe, with his vast experience and finger on the pulse, could have figured that out. The second question is could he have gotten more? Reason tells us yes. At the top of his game and signed to a beauty contract, Pronger's value should have set this team up for years. At the very least they should have gotten a quality NHLer for him. And he did not. He traded one of the three best defencemen in the game for nothing.
2/ Lowe fails to address losing Pronger, Spacek and Tarnstrom on the blueline as well as Peca and Dvorak up front. Three veteran puckmoving defencemen, two who played tough minutes, and two out of seven forwards on the Oilers finallists who could play the other team's best players. Instead the Oilers enter the '06/07 season woefully short of experience on the blueline. When Moreau goes down they are left with Smyth, Horcoff, Pisani and Torres who can handle the tough sledding. When Staios goes down only Smith and Hejda are left to do the same on the blueline. With too many guys who can't play anything but the soft stuff (how do you hide four defencemen and eight forwards anyhow?) the team predictably slides. Smyth gets sent away.
3/ So much has been said about Smyth all I will say is this. All of those people who are slamming him as part of their support for Lowe - how do you reconcile this viewpoint with Lowe himself saying this summer that he made a mistake by not signing Smyth? For that matter what do you think of his explanation that he was surprised to see the cap go up?
4/ Lowe's defence for not signing Smyth revolved around his age and his non-elite status yet he immediately threw big money and term at Nylander and then Souray last summer.
5/ Rebuild? Lowe took the MLSE route - after Oiler fans waited patiently for over a decade for their squad to get back to success, Lowe decided that they would not wait for another young team to develop so he tried to have it both ways. Unfortunately he blew it once again. Rather then spending money on short term solutions - giving two year contracts to guys like Guerin, Hejda, Markov, Johnson (much like he did with Tarnstrom) - to buy time and wins while the kids developed, he blew the wad on Souray. The result - a defence deep in guys who can play on the third pair and a forward corps once again thin on veterans and guys who can handle the tough sledding (the two go hand in hand obviously). He is lucky that Tom Gilbert has arrived. Imagine this team without him. And before everyone goes on talking about how this shows how astute Lowe is when is the last time a rookie defenceman stepped in and played top two minutes in the NHL? Don't go telling me that they figured Gilbert was Bieksa. They did not.
So we are left with a team that is too thin to handle any injuries without falling apart. A team with too many kids up front and on the back end. A team with iffy goaltending, inexperienced defence and forwards, built for tomorrow but with a maxed out cap, a team that is losing game after game but doesn't even have its first round pick to show when all of this will be said and done.
And while all this is going on nobody calls the man responsible for this mess to task.
All of these kids had better turn out or we're Phoenix.