Friday, February 15, 2008

A Handsome Man Enters

Mere words say so little.
Since Shawn Horcoff went down the Oilers have beaten the Flames and Hawks handily, competed hard in a rematch against Calgary, beaten Wild on Jack Lemaire, which never happens, and then handled the Sharks. That's four and one in a stretch which one likely would have predicted the opposite result and gotten agreement from most quarters.
The team is at .500 now and what follows does not mean that I am on board with what Lowe has done over the last two years. He has way more misses then hits and this team would have been better last season and this season if he had been a little smarter. A lot of fans point to the kids and think that its The Boys On The Bus redux but the truth is that kids get hurt, their careers derail, things don't turn out and the next thing you know you're the Islanders, wandering in the wilderness for a quarter century. Its all about smarts now and with Katz's money the Oilers are on a level playing field with, well, pretty much everyone. Giving the farm to Sheldon Souray when you could get someone who could play tough minutes and stay healthy for a third of the money (hell Jan Hejda took a million!) is NOT VERY SMART!
Its about getting bang for your buck. Interesting to note what has happened since the lockout. The feeling was that the lower UFA age would see the league's young stars the subject of insane summer bidding wars. I remember many Toronto pundits talking about how the Leafs were going to position themselves for Thornton, Iginla, Lecavalier. Now we've seen the younger stars cash in but we have also seen an interesting trend. For the most part they have cashed in with their current teams and we have seen RFA stars trading their own years of unrestricted free agency for big cabbage. There are still a handful of guys getting loose each summer and these guys will get paid too because there are fewer of them but the cash is finite in a capped league and soon some teams are going to start to get squeezed. The Leafs are stuck already. There is talk that Philly will have to move Carter and may have to walk away from Jason Smith because of the money they have tied up in Richards, Timmonen, Hartnell and Briere. The Rangers just committed big money to Lundqvist, adding his contract to those of Gomez and Drury (interesting to note how the Rangers looked like such a nice team the last couple of years and then reverted to their old ways last summer and suddenly look in tough shape again) and so what of Shanahan, Avery, Jagr? The Ducks have Pronger, Schneider, Giguere and Getzlaf signed to big money and still have Perry to sign this summer. You get the picture. Throw in teams like the Flames as well as those teams that will only spend to the floor and I think that soon, very soon, they're going to throw a party for the UFAs and nobody's going to come.
This summer I see the following "big names", so to speak - I am sure I have missed a couple - Langkow, Huselius, Campbell, Hossa, Cleary, Rolston, Demitra, Huet, Redden, Vrbata, Boyle, Prospal, Sundin. I would bet that Langkow, Cleary, Rolston, Vrbata, Boyle and Sundin return to their existing teams. Maybe Campbell too. Duhatschek said last week that given their druthers most hockey players would prefer to stay where they are. They are creatures of habit for the most part. The last couple of years bear this out. These guys aren't getting chicken feed but it is amazing how many players have chosen to sign rather then test the open market or see if they can get an offer sheet as RFAs. Giguere, Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Spezza, Heatley, Redden, Iginla, Kiprusoff, Reghyr, Phaneuf, McCabe, Tucker, Elias, Lundqvist, Thornton, Marleau, Crosby, Ovechkin. Etc etc.
I think this summer there are going to be some bargains and I think we might be surprised by who is available for a reasonable price. I think next year it may be even better. So it is important that Lowe is smart.
I think the best thing that could happen to the Oilers would be for Sheldon Souray to retire with a career ending chronic shoulder injury. But back to praising Lowe, not burying him, for once at least.
The team had a winning record in January, albeit aided by our old friend the shootout. It was in January though that the Oilers started to try something a little crazy, winning in regulation. Four and two in February and all four of these without a Bettman gimmick. Good to see. Other things to like lately:
- the return of some grit to the Oilers' game, led by Ethan Moreau; they're playing with a bit of an edge and I think its translated into some room for the skill guys and a little bit of respect from the opposition
- the play of Garon; he's been on more then a bit of a run now and based on his play in LA a couple of years back I think that the Oilers may have found themselves a number 1. He has put up decent numbers before. He reminds some people of Tretiak. I think Lowe signs him soon. He doesn't remind me of Tretiak but I think signing him is a good idea. Starting to warm up to it. Actually he does remind me of Tretiak, Igor Tretiak, the hot dog vendor near my work. Same haircut and he also has a heavy accent. And he smells like mystery meat.
- a bottom six that can do some damage. Brodziak, Glencross and Stortini have had a great couple of games (+3 at ES, is that right?) - its a nice role for Brodziak who gets a lot of time on the PK and can bump up to the third line if need be (hard to believe the rook was there most of the year, maybe that's why he's eating the scrubs alive - after playing tough minutes most of the year he's ready for some scrubicide and finding it a piece of cake). Throw in Moreau and Fernando and Cogliano and you have a bottom six that can hold their own pretty well. If they sign Glencross then you throw in Thoresen and another kid or maybe a true heavyweight who can play and you've got the bottom half of your roster set.
- a D that is developing nicely. Gilbert has hit the wall but that's to be expected. Greene and Smid have both made some strides and Grebeshkov has as well. I think Staios might be in demand at the deadline. I also think there are a lot of similar guys whose contracts expire who teams are going to prefer. Staios has had his struggles but his play of late has been fine and if you move him you have to replace him. Unless the plan is to move Roy into the top six longterm then I can't see them moving him. No D coming up through the ranks until '09/10 from what I can see. I think Stevie sticks. Joni too unless Lowe gets a killer offer. He'll get a raise but this idea that they have to move him is silly. I would say sign him longterm but if you're not comfortable with that (and I can see why some might not be) then sign him for a year or two. What's he going to do, hold out? Trading him for a pick or a kid prospect makes little sense. I think next year's D looks a lot like this year's and that's OK with me. See what you have. Turning guys over for the sake of turning guys over does nothing for me. Unless you can move Souray. ;)
- so that leaves the top six - Hemsky, Penner, Gagner, Stoll, Nilsson and, um, Reasoner. Definitely happy with Gagner, six points in five games and showing a lot more as his confidence grows. Two forty point plus rookies by the looks of it and that's damn good. Nilsson is Nilsson and I think he may have shown enough to stay. Politics involved there too. So if its those two kids, Penner, Hemsky (and damn has he arrived this year or what!?) and Horcoff then what's left?
Well Stoll seems to be back in form and that's good and so I think he sticks around until they sign Horcoff, if they do so. You trade Stoll and then Horcoff walks and then what do you have up the middle? Yep. And Torres comes back and he's the guy who gets dealt. If there are no takers then he slides down and he and Moreau are in the bottom six - nice pair on the LW there.
I think Lowe stands pat this summer. Unless he can do a quantity for quality - moving Stoll and Torres for a top sixer who can give them more offence - then I think not much goes on. Too few UFAs and its not the right time for that now anyway (just as last year was not). Some interesting bottom six options but I think the bottom six looks ok. Do you sign a Nagy for a year like you did Sykora? You might but at this point you still are trying to figure out Nilsson and there's Schremp, the one kid who might fit in that top six role as well.
Some teams are painting themselves into corners and Holmgren said the other day that the cheap young player is becoming more valuable as teams need these guys to fill out their rosters. So maybe Lowe can make that deal he was hoping to do last summer - a bunch of kids for a real player whose team can't afford any salary in return. The other side for Lowe is that the problem is that moving a guy like Torres or Pisani or Moreau isn't as easy anymore. They are valuable hockey players - we have seen how the Oilers have gotten better since Pisani and Moreau returned - but for some GMs having a guy who will play bottom six minutes, score ten to fifteen goals, play a role, this guy should be making a million. So moving any of these guys may be out of the question unless they can move them to a team trying to get to the floor with reasonable contracts.
A quiet deadline. A quiet summer. And hopefully a spring that builds on a little bit of the promise that we have seen recently.


Gord said...

Oilers have too many forwards filling the bottom two lines - something will happen.

Two windows of opportunity - now, prior to the trade deadline - or prior to the draft.

But we will NOT go into next year with 16 "NHL ready" forwards on the roster / salary cap - still missing 2nd line scoring forwards...

Black Dog said...

gord - who do you move - who can you move? Torres is a candidate and if they sign Horcoff then Stoll is too but if not ...

As to going into next season without 2nd line NHL forwards - well 05/06 was spent without proper goaltending, 06/07 without a decent D and this season with far too many kids everywhere, especially up front. I would not be surprised if nothing changes.

Daryl said...

Excellent post!

HBomb said...

BDHS: I think, due to the injury, Torres is completely unmoveable until at least next year's deadline. Which I'm OK with, because I'd like to see him come back and prove he's worth keeping. When he's on his game, he brings an element this team is short on.

The ideal deal in my mind, at the deadline? Stoll and Staios to Philly for Jeff Carter. Big guy with scoring touch who can play C and RW. Heading into next year, the forwards would perhaps look something like this:

Penner Horcoff Hemsky
Torres Carter Gagner
Moreau Cogliano Pisani
Glencross Brodziak Stortini
EXT: Pouliot, UFA Goon (Jody Shelley?)

Try and deal Roloson and put the savings towards extending Pitkanen and filling out the blueline with some sort of UFA signing (either a guy like Commodore for shutdown minutes, or a Matt Walker type as the 6/7 d-man).

Pitkanen Commodore
Greene Gilbert
Souray Smid
EXT: Grebeshkov

In goal, get Garon extended for 3 years at hopeully around 3 million per year.

That lineup would have an outside chance at a playoff spot next year, but would look very good going forward into 2010-2012.

HBomb said...

Oh yeah, Pouliot could just as easily be "Nilsson" as the 13F. One of them likely gets moved, don't you think?

I don't mind Nilsson, but I could see him falling victim to the label "not a MacT-type player".

Black Dog said...

I'm with you on the Torres thing, hbomb. He's in the same boat as Stoll was last summer. Blue skying I guess.

If they were able to package Stoll in a deal for another centre then it makes sense. If not then he goes nowhere until they extend Horc.

I like that lineup because of course you have replaced Stoll with a centre. I think they stick with Nilsson for a while yet though and you would see Torres slide down the depth chart.

I erred - it was Holland who made the comment about cheap young players who can fill roster spots becoming more valuable. Not Holmgren.

Roloson's name is coming up more and more now in the rumour mill. If they move him and one of Stoll or Staios then you've got some room under the cap for sure.

HBomb said...

BDHS: I've always liked the idea of maybe playing Torres-Cogliano-Pisani as the de-facto "3rd" line next year.

Penner Horcoff Hemsky
Nilsson Gagner Carter
Torres Cogliano Pisani
Moreau Brodziak Stortini
EXT: Glencross, UFA Goon (I think a Shelley or McGrattan type is a must for next year).

Nice and deep, that lineup. I think the writing is on the wall for one of Horcoff or Stoll (likely Stoll, assuming Horcoff doesn't ask for ridiculous money or imply that he plans on doing so), one of Torres/Moreau/Pisani and one of Pouliot or Nilsson (I include Pouliot in this discussion because I think he's the closest guy in Springfield to being a full-time NHL'er) over the next year and a half. This team needs to get away from having an "excess of depth" and try to add another high end forward to the top six, somehow....

And this is without even mentioning the Hockey Jesus once.