Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Expect The Unexpected" - Kevin Lowe


Wow. I was just working on my Robbie Keane post detailing the odd parallels between the Oilers and Tottenham Hotspur when I happened to learn about an interesting little change in Edmonton.
Wow.
Tambellini has been noted as a bright up and comer in management ranks for years now. No guarantees but I think he is a good hire. The hockey world seems to think highly of him.
And I think its a good idea to move away from the Boys on the Bus having their hands in every facet of this club.
An interesting time for Lowe to move on, considering how he seems to have regained his mojo this summer after a couple of years where his moves ranged from puzzling (Hejda) to outright stinky (Souray). He appears to have the Oilers back on the right track.
I'm at work and when I get home it will be baby time but hopefully more thoughts later. A quick recap of Lowe as GM.
- did a decent job when he had the prelockout financial constraints, as his Oiler teams were competitive, if not very successful
- rebuilt player procurement after an awful awful run to the point where the Oilers have a nice pipeline of kids in the lineup and on the way
- the year after the lockout was wonderful, everything he touched turned to gold and the team he built came within a break or two of winning the Cup
- the aftermath was his lowest point as he struggled to get value for Pronger, failed to address glaring needs on the blueline in 2006/2007, traded franchise icon Ryan Smyth, overpaid Sheldon Souray and let high value low cost Jan Hejda walk for nothing - the result was two years in the wilderness
- having said that this is a young quality club now and while Lowe deserves scorn (imo) for some of his mistakes in the past two years, he also deserves a lot of credit for putting this team together; I don't think the rebuild had to be so ugly but at least the Oilers don't look like they are going to be the Islanders, another decade in the wilderness
Interesting summer.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Getting There Is Half The Fun


The last two summers the Oilers had to worry about a lack of actual NHL players on their roster going to camp. Laddy Smid in the second pair on the back end two years ago. Rookies and castoffs scattered everywhere last season.
Things are looking up and if things work out for the Oilers then a playoff spot may be in the offing next spring. They will need Calgary and Colorado to take a step back, which seems possible, and they will need the kids to take another step forward.
The problem for the Oilers (its a nice problem to have) is that they have a whack of kids and kids are kids. They're learning on the job and that is going to cost the Oilers points in the standings.
In the last thread Riversq wondered whether Horcoff and Hemsky would be deployed in a power vs. power role and who amongst the Oilers' D would be sent out for defensive zone draws.
The problem for the Oilers remains that they are still inexperienced. Will MacT send Horcoff out when Iginla is on the ice? Likely, seeing as the pivot for the Pisani line will be Brodziak or Pouliot or Cogliano. A nice trio to be sure but any of them would get eaten alive by Datsyuk or Thornton, even with Pisani and Cole on their wings. They are not ready yet.
As for the D its going to be Gilbert and Grebs getting a ton of minutes, at least to start the season, I would say. Its going to cost them games but this year is about next year. Souray and Staios are going to get some of those defensive zone draws but watch for the kids to get the lion's share.
This team is built for runs in 2010, 2011 and 2012. They are not there yet.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Questions Questions


I'm not talking about the questions one ponders everyday, such as "Why am I wearing such huge pants?" or "Should it burn that much when I pee?"
I'm not even talking about the questions that face every team every autumn, like "What are the lines going to be this year?" or "Is this a playoff team/contender?"
I'm talking about what the Oilers are looking at as we wend our way through summer.
And there are not many. Its what LT has referred to as balance, something this team has lacked for many years. For once, there is little drama.
2005/2006
Will Conklin and Markannen be up to the task? Who is the first line centre? Will this finally be the year where there is no mad rush for eighth place?
No. Horcoff. No, although the end result of all of that stress in March and April was so so sweet. A beauty team.
2006/2007
Was that all Lowe could get for Pronger? When is he going to get some defencemen? And when is he going to sign Smytty?
We will never know. Never and again, never. What a nightmare.
2007/2008
Who is going to score goals? Who is going to play the tough minutes? And is this D as shitty as it looks?
Well somehow the offence turned out ok. A myriad of players played the tough minutes, with varied levels of success. And, no, thanks to the emergence of Gilbert and Grebeshkov. A pleasant year despite missing the playoffs. The sum somehow ended up being more then the parts.
What this year will bring is anybody's guess. The team looks improved to me. Three solid pairs on the back end. None that I would love to see out against Datsyuk and Zetterberg but none who scare the shit out of me when Tim Taylor is hobbling over the blueline. The kids should get better but of course they may take a collective step back. Injuries may rear their ugly head.
Fact is this team has seven legitimate NHL defencemen and Smid will be playing on the third pair with someone like Staios or Souray instead of in the top four. Two legitimate goaltenders. Nine top nine forwards, two thirds of a fourth line that committed serious scrubicide last spring.
Its a decent mix.
Questions for this season.
Who is going to be the Pisani pivot? Pouliot? Brodziak? Cogliano?
Will they keep three goalies? They are auditioning Deslauriers as the backup for next season and the years following. Does he supplant Roli right now?
Or do they keep fourteen forwards and, if so, who are numbers thirteen and fourteen?
Hardly earth shattering stuff but then again, I'm kind of tired of questions about the lack of actual NHL players on the roster that have plagued us the last two seasons. I'll take this, thank you.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Why It Means So Much


Matt Fenwick posted something last season, I believe it was, about players who have a chance to play their entire careers with one team. Nowadays there are very few veterans who may do this although one wonders if the numbers may go up with the huge lifetime contracts being handed out lately.
Compare this to as recently as the early 70s. I took a look at the 1971 Chicago Blackhawks as an example when Matt wrote his post and the vast majority of players were career Blackhawks. Even some of the few exceptions were players who played for one team and then came and played a decade or more with the Hawks to finish their careers. Pit Martin and Jimmy Pappin come to mind as examples.
With thirty teams, big money and free agency times have changed. Even the big money teams of the nineties had very few players who stayed put. Colorado has Sakic. Dallas looks to keep Modano. Even the Wings, an outfit known for continuity, only have Yzerman, the tragic Konstantinov and likely Lidstrom as examples of guys from this era.
And then you have teams like the Oilers who have nobody. Ever. The closest would be Randy Gregg and Kelly Buchberger who both played nearly their entire careers with the Oilers. All of the players from the great dynastic teams moved on. (As an aside how many Cups would that team have won if it had existed in an oldtime feudal system like the old Six Team league? Are they the greatest team ever? Have to be top three with the 70s Habs and 50s Habs I would think and an easy argument could be made for #1. Not that I am biased .... ;) )
Many of the players from the 90s are not lamented but any time a bright light shone through Oiler fans knew it was only a matter of time. Joseph. Guerin. Weight. Even lesser lights like Marchant and Grier. All gone.
With the lockout and the transformation of the Oilers into a have team, even before Katz arrived, things began to change. Longtime veterans Steve Staios and Ethan Moreau will finish their careers as Oilers unless they get moved out in the next couple of years. Money was not an issue when it came to keeping them. Fernando Pisani fits as well if he accepts less money on his next contract and he may be the first career Oiler, which would be fitting considering how much he epitomizes the lean years, as well as his story - low draft pick and local boy makes good, his heroics in 2006, his recovery from a terrible illness in order to continue his career.
That's why the fallout from the Smyth trade was so vicious. Hockey arguments aside, Smyth was the guy who was supposed to be the Oiler's first star player who was going to remain an Oiler. His trade hit fans hard - the lockout was supposed to end the exodus of players!
And this is why the happiness for the Horcoff extension as approached orgasmic heights. The guy is a terrific player and its a great contract, I think, but the most important thing is that finally one of our own is not going anywhere.
Hey, he may still get moved down the road. Who knows? Ask Lubo how much a longterm commitment from a team can mean.
But if Shawn Horcoff does what he does then he will at the very least play the vast majority of his career as an Oiler and could possible go wire to wire in Edmonton colours. The first Oiler's star to do so.
That is why this signing means so much. That is why the outpouring of emotion. It has been a long time coming.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Best Week Ever


Terrific player. Does it all.

Nice contract.

It appears that Shawn Horcoff is going to be the first player of note to have a chance to go wire to wire as an Oiler.

He can already claim to be the first prominent Oiler who will not leave town because the team refuses to pay him.

How sweet is that? Does anyone else feel like up is down and black is white? When it became clear that Katz was going to become this team's owner I posted that this meant that in my lifetime the Oilers would no longer be small market, no longer be in danger of moving. Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

Your man Shawn Horcoff is not going to UFA next summer. Sweet.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Kate Olwyn McLean



Welcome to the world.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Answering Colin Hay's Question

With the signing of Jason Strudwick it appears that Lowe's work may be done. Colin Hay's question has been answered for Oiler fans.

And good work it has been for Lowe, who slowly is getting this team back on its feet. He avoided the ridiculous Souray type signings, upgraded by bringing in Visnovsky and Cole, filled a hole cheaply by bringing in Strudwick, brought in a couple of more kids to fight for those bottom six roles, eliminated a couple of overpays in the bottom six and left spots for kids to develop further.

Lowetide often talks about balance and this team has it everywhere.

In net Garon will get his shot as a starter but they still have a veteran fall back just in case.

On the back end for the first time in three years they have three pairs that have balance. There may not be a shutdown pair, per se, but there is not a pair that is going to get eaten alive by the bottom six on another team either. Gilbert and Grebeshkov will have their struggles against Iginla but if they have a nice trio up front with them in those matchups they should hold their own for the most part. Adding Strudwick as the seventh man is a perfect fit. Maybe Roy stays as the eighth, maybe not, but now there is no need to throw Peckham, Chorney or Hrabel to the wolves.

Up front there are some nice options and the makings of two lines that can take on tough minutes while the kids take the soft. LW, an area of concern since Smyth's departure, has been beefed up. It also looks like the third line centre spot will be up for grabs. A few candidates. Cogliano, Pouliot, Brodziak, maybe Brule as a longshot.

And it looks like a bunch of nice young players plus Moreau for the fourth line.

Not too bad. Certainly a far cry from what we were looking at the past two summers. Injuries can always scuttle a season and maybe the kids take a collective step back but even looking at this team objectively I would think that they can compete for the division title.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Room For A Thoresen?



Lowetide looks at the Oilers' depth chart as well as opening night lineups from 2005 to this season (projected, of course).

The Oilers have a far more balanced team going into camp then they have in either of the past two summers. Lowetide notes the games played on the back end as a sign of this. There are veterans sprinkled throughout the lineup and of course the kids all have another season under their belt. Lowe has done a fine job. He has upgraded the team and has left plenty of room to take care of free agents next summer - Horcoff, Cole, Garon and Grebeshkov, assuming he decides to sign some or all of them.

I like this team going forward - I think that a playoff spot should be expected. The Oilers have improved and in my estimation every team in the division has taken a step backwards. Lets take a quick look at the Oilers.

Goal - Garon and Roloson - Roloson is the man they would have traded if they had landed Hossa or Jagr, I think, but with the room to keep him now I think that they will do so. Ride Garon as hard as they can to see if he has the goods but keep Roli who can provide decent goaltending on most nights he's in there. Better choice then DesLauriers, at least if they figure to take a shot at the playoffs.

D - Visnovsky, Souray, Staios, Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Smid, Roy - ideally they would bring a veteran, lets call him Jason Smith, because we all know that this group is going to lose at least one member for an extended period time and odds are someone else will go down as well. Having Smith as injury insurance makes sense. Having Smid as the seventh man does not. Kid needs to play and it looks like he will be in the third pair with a veteran, where he should have been all along. There is talk of waiving Roy but to me having Hrabel or Peckham sitting in the pressbox makes no sense at all. Give them twenty minutes a game plus in Springfield. This is Roy's ceiling and that is fine.

F - Cole, Horcoff, Hemsky, Gagner, Penner, Nilsson, Cogliano, Pisani, Moreau, Brodziak, Pouliot, Stortini, Potulny, Schremp - up front is where I could see a move. Ideally they would bring in Owen Nolan although I am not sure how they convince him to bide his time playing fourth line minutes while he waits for someone to get hurt. Maybe some of that Rexall money?? Anyways, Moreau insurance would not hurt. One more vet would be nice. Marty Gelinas is another guy I like.

I have Potulny on the list because he has to clear waivers, I believe. Shremp is on the bubble once again, mostly because if Cogliano or Penner or Cole is on the Pisani line its likely they get the bump up to a scoring line before Schremp would get the call. Unless MacT can somehow spot him on the fourth line. Maybe its possible?

So, after all of that here is the question of the day. As this team gets better we're going to see a lot more lineups like 2005 - that is, no surprises, no rookies out of the blue.

In 2006 we had Jan Hejda, although with that D it wasn't too much of a surprise that he would get his shot. Certainly nobody expected what he ended up bringing. Yeah, I'm still pissed off about that. I would label him as a surprise though (I remember a lot of folks figured him to be a longshot at best) although not as big as Patrick Thoresen. Kid came out of nowhere, well Norway, and put in a nice year and a half as a fourth line energy guy before he was claimed last season. Poor bugger has my hands.

Last season there were a lot of open spots and a number of surprises as Gilbert passed Smid by and Cogliano, Brodziak and Gagner all stuck. Seems funny now but going into camp it figured that Gagner was on his way back to London, Cogliano and Gilbert to Springfield for seasoning and Brodziak was a guy who had disappeared off the radar the year before.

So with a team that has more experience and plenty of spots already filled is there anyone who might come out of nowhere and grab a spot? I think the backend is pretty well set. Hrabel and Peckham might show better then Roy in camp but sitting them in the pressbox makes no sense.

Up front however there are possibilities. To me Pouliot and Stortini seem like the locks on the fourth line but based on Pouliot's past two camps and the fact that Stortini still strikes me as a marginal player at best (sorry Bruce) I wonder if we might see someone pop up there.

Lots of possibilities but I'm thinking Ryan O'Marra. Big body who can skate and who was humbled last season. I think he might come into camp ready and with a chip on his shoulder. If he catches MacT's attention early he might find himself a spot.

Best if he does because I think next spot there are not going to be a lot of job openings on this team.

Who do you like to surprise?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Nice







These are a few of my favourite things ...
Ok, so the dust is beginning to settle. Mirtle has a list of who has cash left to spend. Also here is who is left.
From an Oilers' point of view its been a good few days. The rumoured length of the Hossa deal was a little much but going after the best player available has charged up the fans and the team and its a nice start to the Katz era. And he turned down Montreal, Boston and New York too and there aren't mass suicides there so enough whinging about the inability to attract free agents to Edmonton, please.
I already talked about why I like the Cole and Lubo deals and I still stand by that. They will miss Torres' ability to play the tough minutes but I'm willing to give that last top nine job to Moreau or a kid and then bring someone in as a stopgap if it doesn't work out.
Look around the Northwest and there are some big holes on the Oilers' rivals. We know that some of these will be filled but for the first time in three years it doesn't feel like the Oilers are bringing a knife to a gunfight.
Lowe deserves credit just as he earned scorn the last two summers. He has picked up two very good players and an intriguing prospect. He went after the best player available and now it appears he has a one year deal on the table for Jagr. Apparently if that doesn't work then they are done - no big money or lengthy terms for maybes. Look at the Leafs (Finger) who only have seven million left and barely an NHL roster. Of course having the fifth best defenceman in the western conference will certainly make a difference. Or take the Rangers and you can see the damage that can be done. Strange how with a 39M cap Sather put together a nice roster and now that he has more money he has gone and looks to have made a mess of things in New York again.
The danger of blowing your brains out on big contracts can be seen in Philly. Fell short last year, need an upgrade on the backend and haven't a dime to spare.
Best to hear is the apparent prioritizing of an extension for Horcoff. Might he be the first prominent Oiler (Randy Gregg almost did it) to play his entire career with the Oilers? Here's hoping.
LT and others are calling for Cole to play with Pisani. I can't see it. I think he either plays with Hemsky and Horcoff or Nilsson and Gagner.
Cole/Horcoff/Hemsky
Penner/Gagner/Nilsson
Cogliano/Pouliot/Pisani
Moreau/Brodziak/Stortini
Potulny/Reddox/Schremp/Brule as extras
I don't like Penner with the kids and maybe he and Cole are swapped there. Also we all know that a veteran to eat up the tough matchups with Pisani would be nice. Failing that a veteran Dman a la Jason Smith.
I like what I see, having said that. Lowe has left cap room for next summer. He has upgraded with two significant players. He still has enough kids to keep an affordable roster and it looks like he has left spots for them to develop. Bringing in Huselius might have been a sexy move but at this point I'd rather have Robert Nilsson. It will pay off in a year or two.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Nossa


So I guess Detroit saw Hossa good, huh?
Actually the crux of this deal is that Hossa saw the Wings good.
And we may do this all again next summer.
Considering how often athletes say they want to win but then take the money and run I admire Hossa for this move. He wants to win and he signed with the team that has the best chance to do so.
As for all of the whining that has already started about UFAs not coming to Edmonton, just please stop once and for all. This is about one thing only. Hossa wants to get his name on the Stanley Cup. He will get his big payout next summer. It may be with the Oilers. Maybe not.
Guy wants to win and he has all the money he will ever need already. Good for him.
Now, Kevin, lets not settle for any of the other quacks out there, alright? This guy was THE elite difference maker out there. No need to bid for Huselius to make a splash.
Lets shore up Pisani's line and then we're done.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Crazy


Wow, what a day. What a couple of days really.
And Marian Hossa sleeps on being an Oiler. Kypreos says the Edmonton offer blows everyone else out of the water.
It will make for cap issues if the unbelievable happens but make no mistake about it, Marian Hossa is an elite player. An offyear last season, yes, but this guy is a terrific player in every way.
As for the moves so far, well the Oilers have picked up two quality hockey players, a top six forward and top two Dman, in exchange for:
- a fringe NHLer who was about to passed on the depth chart, again and again
- a bottom six forward making over 2 million a year who had 3 goals at ES last season, one of those into an empty net if I recall correctly
- a bottom six forward making over 2 million a year who is a terrific player at ES and brings a nasty edge to his game - problems include head shaking inconsistency, two straight subpar offensive seasons and the fact that he is recovering from a season ending knee injury
- Pitkanen - now, don't get me wrong - I liked all three of Torres, Stoll and Greene and Torres play at ES needs to be replaced - but Pitkanen is the one guy who its difficult to watch go; having said that your man Joni misses a lot of time and for all of the flash and dash he doesn't produce a whole lot on the offensive end - this guy could prove to be a big star and playing in the East might help his game but Visnovsky does what they were hoping for from Joni and he does it now and his cap hit is not much more then Joni is apparently looking for
One of the big issues on this club was that it was bottom heavy when it came to salary. Shipping out Stoll and Torres starts to fix that - I liked both players but those spots have to be taken by guys making less then that money. They also have to do that job well and with consistency.
I think it was Ty who said it earlier today; it appears that Lowe is looking at all of the cheap youngsters on his roster and figures that they may as well strike now while that is the case.
Negatives - the fact that Cole's contract is up next summer is disappointing. They need some grit in a big way and presently it looks to me like the tough minutes line may not be great - in some cases I have seen Brodziak's name there, in others I have seen Moreau's or Cogliano's. Possible problems with all of these.
But really can anyone look at the return and complain? (Well, yes they can and have been, I know ;) ) Katz's willingness to pursue the biggest name out there is beyond exciting after years of players heading out of town. The Northwest is in flux and while Chicago and Phoenix have both improved by the looks of it I think the Oilers, if healthy, can get into the playoffs. Actually I think they can win the division.