Hard to believe these two are members of the same species, no? Joni is not a handsome man.
The Oilers are fun to watch these days and after last night's miracle in San Jose some normally sane folks, including your truly, were actually thinking, if only momentarily ... um, playoffs.
Not going to happen - they have to win tomorrow and Thursday and, well, pretty well every other night they have left on their schedule but its fun that they are, in what looked to be an awful awful year, actually winning their share of games.
This despite some injuries and a number of guys who are off the charts underperforming. Its a good sign of things to come hopefully.
So as John Ferguson Jr. used to say "going forward" what can we expect? I am going to start with a few pretty reasonable assumptions before getting started.
1/ This team is being built for 09/10, 10/11, 11/12. Those are the last three years of Hemsky, Penner and Souray's contracts. When all is said and done they will blow it up, keep Hemsky and dump Penner, keep Penner and dump Hemsky, use the profits from multiple cups to sign all three :) - anyways that's what we're looking at, I think. Playoffs are the goal for next year. Then things really get serious.
2/ Money is not an issue. With Katz in charge this will be a cap team. Hell, they nearly are now.
3/ After seeing a trickle of kids (Greene, Pouliot, Winchester) in 05/06 increase steadily until it became a flood this season we may see one or two (Liam Reddox?) get a shot as a role player next year but for the most part its going to be a year to give the present kids a year to establish themselves. Looking at what's coming up there are a lot of nice pieces in the next wave- Petry, Chorney, Peckham, Trukhno, Nash, Reddox - I just don't think we will see any of them next year.
Reasonable? Can we agree on these points? Maybe a kid comes out of nowhere but I don't see it.
OK, so we have a team that has gotten its share of bonus points but has also been without a lot of key parts through the season. Lowe has said, to a lot of mockery from many quarters, including this one, that he likes this team. Of course, he's not going to say otherwise but one wonders if they had picked up another win here or there, if Horc was healthy, if Pitkanen had not missed a month earlier in the season, if they might not be ahead of the Canucks. Lets not kid ourselves here. This is not the team of two seasons ago, veteran, deep, playoff ready. This club would get clobbered in the first round but I think we can also say that compared to last year's mess the team has taken a positive step forward. Now, going into next season, what are Lowe's expectations and what should ours be?
The Top Six Scorer - this club was thin up front going into this season and early this year when they were outplaying teams but losing 3-2 and 2-1 every game (or so it seemed), the general consensus was that this team needed a guy who could play in the top six and score some damn goals. Well, don't look now but this team is middle of the pack in offence and the PP has been going at about a 20% clip over sixty games. Penner has been poor since Horcoff went down but one more goal gives he, Horc and Hemsky twenty plus apiece. Penner is not very popular right now but I would hazard a guess that with Horcoff instead of Stoll or Reasoner he would likely be good for another four or five goals in the last twenty games. These three make up a decent line with Horcoff and Hemsky both scoring at just under a PPG rate.
Now, throw in the kids since Horcoff went down and there you have Gagner at over a PPG, I believe, Cogliano close to that and Nilsson having established himself as a bona fide NHLer. It was just six weeks ago or so that the feeling was that Nilsson was the big question mark and the guy who had the most to gain or lose down the stretch. Well, he has become a player. I'm not a huge stats guy but I trust uber commenter Dennis who has Nilsson producing at a pretty good rate at ES, considering his minutes.
Gagner and Cogliano are over forty points. Nilsson will probably hit that level with nine games left. Gagner, at 18, has an outside shot to hit fifty and Cogliano could hit twenty goals.
Now, considering the fact that these guys all struggled to various degrees this season and saw their icetime doled out accordingly, why would this not be your second line next season? You never know what might happen but if they are each in the 55 -60 point range (reasonable, no?) is this not acceptable production for your second line? Why go out and spend 4 million a year on Michael Ryder? Why spend 2.5 million a year on him? Three youngsters, on the cheap - this is the way to go, imo.
Third line centre - its likely going to be Jarret Stoll. He has been pretty awful. Two ES goals and one of those into an empty net at that leave him eighteenth on the team. That production for 2.2 million isn't going to cut it but Stoll had 68 points two seasons ago and was putting it together last season before he got dinged. He's an easy target for sure but he has no trade value right now. A year from now he may also have no trade value but does it make good sense to give up on a young centre that easily? In 2009 paying him 2.4 million coming off another awful season when you might be able to slide Ryan O'Marra or Riley Nash or a cheap vet in there will make no sense. Hell even if he has a decent season next it might not make that much sense. But this team is not cap strapped right now and dumping a guy for nothing when he could rebound doesn't make a lot of sense. His season has been one to forget but you don't trash a guy who was coming on for one bad year. You might not like him when you become a contender again but if he has come back at least you can get value for him. Play him with Pisani and your LW for a season and see what happens. As for that LW ...
Third line LW - probably the most interesting issue for next season. Presuming they can sign Glencross who has been a nice find for the fourth line then you are left with deciding between Torres and Moreau for that third line LW spot. Moreau has barely played in two seasons now and I think Raffi on that third line is the better option. He was the better option in '06 and he hasn't gotten worse defensively in the past two years that's for sure. He's durable, this season notwithstanding. He can chip in more offence. He can hurt people. But unless Lowe tries to have his cake and eat it too by keeping all three then Raffi is going to get dealt and Glencross will be on the third line by Halloween when Ethan goes down. Hard to trade your captain and harder to trade a guy who has barely played the last two seasons. Shame.
Joni and Rachel McAdams - Rachel has nothing to do with this except I like thinking about her because she's so pretty! Naw, the million dollar question this summer is what do they do with Joni. Before he was injured in 05/06 he was averaging over a point per game. A Dman, playing for Ken Hitchcock, so you know he wasn't a fucking tool, averaging over a point a game. Hitchcock told Brownlee that since his two injuries that year (knee and ankle) Pitkanen was never the same again. Now, here is a guy who is a minus two (eliminating the EN goals) this season, playing tough opposition, generally ~ 25 minutes a night, with some real jokers in front of him. The Oilers have some nice D and then they have Joni.
Now, Joni gets hurt a lot, to the tune of around twenty games this year and he's no Jason Smith in terms of his intensity. He is also the most impressive raw talent on this club.
So, can you give him a longterm deal at ~4 per, especially when you have big cash already tied up in Souray, Penner, Hemsky and soon to be (hopefully) Horcoff? That is a big gamble.
Or do you trade him and watch him become Larry Robinson?
Either way Lowe could look like a genius or a total fucking dummy. And you know what, I would say sign him and if you were to say to me 'NO WAY' I would be hard pressed to argue. Its a real bitch and it could make or break this franchise for years.