Choose Your Poison

I’ve been thinking about the Oilers top 4D for the last 24 hours and it’s an interesting group. First we need to figure out who they are, with the top 3 clearly being Staios, Pitkanen and Souray.

After that, we have Dick Tarnstrom in the Bergeron role, Matt Greene as the big lug who may someday be a defenseman, Ladislav Smid as the future Tommy Albelin, and then Grebeshkov and Gilbert as the guys trying to break in to the everyday lineup.

I’m reminded of a snappy bit of dialogue from the movie The Princess Bride. It goes like this:

  • Vizzini: You’ve beaten my giant, which means you’re exceptionally strong, so you could’ve put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you’ve also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
  • Westley: You’re trying to trick me into giving away something. It won’t work.
  • Vizzini: It has worked! You’ve given everything away! I know where the poison is!
  • Westley: Then make your choice.

I don’t know where the poision is. I’d think a nice top pairing (potentially) would be Pitkanen-Staios and the Oilers would probably like both Souray and Smid to play on the top 4.

Then again, maybe they’ll decide that Smid would be better served in the 5-6 tandem with Matt Greene, thus making Dick Tarnstrom the candidate for a Souray pairing.

  1. Pitkanen-Staios
  2. Souray-Tarnstrom
  3. Smid-Greene


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34 Responses to "Choose Your Poison"

  1. Andy Grabia says:


  2. momentai says:

    I still think MacT is going to run Smid out there in minutes. Tarnstrom may be a veteran in the league compared to the young buck, but I feel Smid can eat more minutes out there on the ice. Whether those are solid effective minutes are another story.

    With the way the lineup is position, I suspect the main option for MacT is to try and play very safe at ES and try to make some kind of difference on the pp. The gunners on the backline would certainly suggest that course of action. Of course, the problem with that is the lack of proven pp talent in the forward ranks. If we can manage Horcoff/Hemsky/Stoll on the first unit, it shouldn’t be too bad.

    But Horcoff will likely see a reduced amount of pp time for his ES and PK duties. In that case, a young guy like Nilsson or Pouliot could hopefully step up.

    We aren’t likely to be as good as SJ in playing this style but the way the roster is setup right now certainly implies this kind of strategy methinks.

  3. Ribs says:

    Souray and Tarnstrom could be effective offensively but I’m afraid they’d have a combined -300 by the end of the season as a second pairing.

  4. uni says:

    I seem to recall both cups being poisoned…this does not bode well.

  5. Tony says:

    uni – you’re absolutely right, and it’s a scary thought. I wonder what Princess Buttercup would think of Edmonton?

  6. Daniel says:

    If Huddy wants the kids to learn on the job, they might try pairing according to playing style.

    Pitkanen – Souray
    Staios – Smid

    Who knows?

  7. Bohologo says:

    LT, I figure you will first need to build up your resistance to iocane, could be a long year.

    On the other hand, there’s nothing to suggest Lowe is finished tinkering with the roster, nor is he in a hurry-he’s the guy who waited until the trade deadline to see what Conkannen would do, after all.

  8. Steve says:

    As I posted on BoA, I think the pairings will be


    Tarnstrom, as I remember him (and I seem to be nearly alone in remembering him this way) is not an NHL top four defenseman. Both Smid and Greene are supposed to be at some point, and both were forced to be at times during the last
    year. Besides that, MacT’s been all about mentoring rookie D with veterans where he can. I don’t know that either Souray or Tarnstrom can do what Staios (to Smid) or Smith (to Greene) did, but I can’t see him pairing two young guys together unless the alternatives are even less desirable.

    If Huddy wants the kids to learn on the job, they might try pairing according to playing style.

    Pitkanen – Souray
    Staios – Smid

    In that case, it would make more sense to pair Pitkanen with Tarnstrom (not that I can see that happening, since they’re at opposite ends of the depth chart). By no account is Souray a puck moving defenseman: he’s Andy Sutton with a great shot from the point. That’s all.

  9. Devin says:

    I suspect the main option for MacT is to try and play very safe at ES and try to make some kind of difference on the pp.

    I agree. But if that comes to pass and this is the opening night roster, why then would MacT sacrifice 10′s PP time to feed his PK time? 10 should rarely PK at all this year if it means he loses PP time (the drop in goal differential between 10 and say, 78 on the PP will be higher than the one between 10 and any of 19, 28, 78, or even 23 on the PK). Get what I’m saying?

    Horc’s PPP/60 last 3 seasons:
    03-04 5.37
    05-06 4.83
    06-07 4.87

    If Horc loses out PP time at the expense of PK time and the game plan is to “dominate on special teams” I will fucking snap. Then again, here is a PP that featured Toby “0.00 PPP/60″ Peterson on the point for all too many games (ie. more than zero ;))

    So if Brodziak needs to make this team over, say, Schremp, so as to pick up some PK and ES slack and let Horc and Hemsky have big PP mins, I am more than willing to bet that results in a better GD overall.

  10. Devin says:

    Oh, as for the D – I think LT’s pairings are possibly right, but I am pretty certain Smid will be option #3 at ES, so he’ll be on the 2nd pair either way. I pray to the hockey gods that Grebeshkov comes in as Hejda 2.0 and can handle some real ES workload (they’d probably have him in the PB for 40 games even then!)

    Btw- for those keeping track (and for the dummies who think this is a better D-core than last season) – the assumptions now include:
    - Pitkanen being able to handle the toughest ES minutes
    - Staois being able to handle top ES minutes while partnered with a young guy
    - Smid taking a big step forward at ES
    - Two of Greene, Souray, Tarnstrom, and Grebeshkov being able to handle significantly more challenging workloads than their past results would suggest they are able/ready for.

    Only if ALL these things work out will poor Roli not get bombed, nightly.

  11. Daniel says:

    A good point was raised in another thread. If this team is going to live any die by the PP, we’d best be having lots of them. Think anyone on the roster has agitator potential? Souray is large and fairly opinionated, does he have a reputation for this?

  12. momentai says:

    devin said…
    I agree. But if that comes to pass and this is the opening night roster, why then would MacT sacrifice 10′s PP time to feed his PK time?

    I’m just going by MacT’s past tendencies. He has always sacrificed Horcoff’s pp minutes to redistribute them at ES and the PK. Horcoff had a better rate than Sykora and we all know who received more pp time – Sykora on the point or no.

  13. oilerdiehard says:

    Well LT you screamed as loud as anyone about how awful we were about either moving or passing the puck out of our zone. I think you compared them to the 60s Blackhawks or something.

    You got your wish improved mobility and transition. Be careful what you wish for :)

  14. Julian says:

    This sounds like it should be some sort of a pool…. guess the ES TOI rankings for the top seven Oiler D along with the pairings, and at the new year, win a defibrillator!

    Any way you cut it, Staois is the only safe harbour here, and I’m sure Huddy has been having some sleepless nights since the Smith trade.

  15. kurri_17 says:

    Good job!
    I made a reference to the battle of wits yesterday on hfboards – someone was commenting on who should wear #44 and it sounded just like the whole back and forth argument from Vizzini

    I think this year will be a ton of fun – in a masochistic sort of way.

    I think Souray with Tarnstrom sounds scary, but at least Tarnstrom is mobile and Souray can beat people down in front of the net. I can’t imagine how badly Greene and Souray would get beaten.

    Pitkanen had such respectable +- in the last three quarters of last year that I’m optomistic. I think he just needs the right environment and hopefully we are it.

  16. Lowetide says:

    oilerdiehard: Except that Souray isn’t a puck mover or a passer. He’s a guy who rings the puck around the boards.


  17. Devin says:

    momentai – agreed, but this year we have no one who even approaches Sykora :)

  18. oilerdiehard says:

    LT – Oh agreed on Souray.

    But would you say Smid, Pitkanen, Tarnstrom, Gilbert, Grebs… are not likely an improvement in that area which gave you, I and a lot of others fits?

  19. Lowetide says:

    oilerdiehard: Agreed. I’d prefer a Jason Smith type now, though. Sounds like a bitch and moan session on my part, but the only guys I can see who are really defensive players are Staios and Roy.

    Pitkanen is the key imo. If he can play at EV without Staios (who’ll be needed for either Smid or Souray) then the Oilers have a chance at EV.

    Big IF though.

  20. Aaron Paquette says:

    My name is Edmontonian…you traded Gretzky…prepare to die.

    Where does it all end?


  21. oilerdiehard says:

    LT – Despite improvements in certain areas there is no doubt in my mind unless a few guys like Pitkanen, Greene, possibly a guy like Grebs can exceed expectations in their own zone then we are due for some gong show moments on a fairly regular basis.

    Let’s hope Souray was serious with all of his promises about stepping up his defensive game big time. Because we are going to need it.

    Our goaltending got better and we are going to likely need it to be very good.

    I still wish we would sign Mike Johnson. I would feel better about our ability to match the forwards up hard to cover the D a little.

  22. Nelson88 says:


    At its worst this D is compareable to last years starting D (i’m not including Hjeda who sat which was a crime).

    If Huddy works his magic and they play anywhere near their potential they are a much, much more talented and balanced group than last year. I actually find it funny that friends who are the most adamant Flames supporters (and Oiler haters) see this while many Oiler fans only see the negative. What a difference a year makes.

    Only time will tell but please count me with the “dummies”.

  23. Bendelson says:

    Pitkanen(PP)- Souray ($$)
    Staios – Smid
    Greene – Tarnstrom(PP)

    The big two will have to lead the way. Big money – big minutes.
    Pitkanen will likely be the 30min guy. We shall see if he is ready for such a role here in Edm…

    I can see Grebs and/or Gilbert being a more impressive option than Tarnstrom. He provides some depth and second unit PP, but I just don’t see Tarnstrom as an 80 game regular. With injuries, I’m sure he’ll have a role to play.

    Didn’t Staios and Smid finish the season together?

    Without all the added minutes, Smid and Greene should be solid this season.
    Depth is good.

  24. Black Dog says:


    How about ARGHHH!

  25. Black Dog says:

    But seriously folks, this D is a mess, again. Is it better then last season? Well, you subtract Smith, Hejda and Shaggy, who was alright until he threw his pubis, and you add Pitkanen, Souray and Tarnstrom.

    Obviously this group will be able to move the puck better with Joni and Dick as well as Gilbert and Grebs being next on the depth chart. I think we can also expect a lot more offence from the D based on that ability plus Souray’s shot plus contributions on the PP from these guys. No need for two forwards on the back end or even one, which will make MacT happy.

    But … at ES this group scares me. Because they forcefed Laddy minutes last season we never saw what should have been the top four – Hejda/Smith, Shaggy/Staios. That foursome is fairly reasonable, imo.

    This year I count three guys who are top four Dmen – Staios, Pitkanen and Souray with Souray iffy at ES in this role. Then we just have a bunch of fives and sixes all over again.

    So, unless Greene or Smid is ready to step it up (unlikely), Grebs or Gilbert come out of nowhere (inconcievable) or Tarnstrom suddenly turns the corner (impossible), we’re behind the eight ball again.

    I think if Joni steps it up then him and Staios might be a reasonable top two. Not great but with the right forwards they’ll get it done.

    But Souray and who as your next pair? If Sheldon is carrying the mail on the second pair we have a problem.

    Colour me unimpressed.

  26. Devin says:

    nelson88 – sorry for the name-calling, but I just don’t see it. Blackdog’s post above pretty much sums up the situation (as I thought I’d done too, I guess not). We lost 3D who are proven top-4 performers at ES and one guy in MAB who is a proven 5-6 guy at ES. We replaced them with one legit top-4 guy (second pairing – Pitkanen), one questionable top-4 guy (second pairing getting bombed in the East in front of great goaltending- Souray), and a bottom pair guy (Tarnstrom). We basically have a great second and third pairing, and extras, but the team has no top pairing. It’s like the depth chart starts at 3 and goes to 9, instead of 1-7.

    What makes you think Smid is ready for more than a 3-4 role (which he has yet to show he’s mastered?). What makes you think Greene is ready for anything but the 6D slot, in which last year he got killed? What makes you think Souray will become a passable ES player? Sorry, I don’t see it – the D this year is a mess.

  27. Nelson88 says:


    No offense taken. Just difference of opinion. Tried to post twice and two bloodly long winded of an explanation.

    Summary is this.

    Much better balance of puck moving. Prior to injuries Oil were pretty good D wise. Not spending 3/4 of the game in their own end will have a large ripple effect on better O and better D.

    End of season and WC imo show Greene is ready for top 4 ES mintues. However; Huddy will have to find him a mobile partner who can make an outlet pass. That will not be Souray so agree the pairings are tricky but have faith in Huddy.

    Souray can play PP and evidently PK. if Staios/Pit take most of the tough ES how much tough ES is he really going to have to play in new special teams NHL? imo his D shortcomings (mobility) will be less evident in the cycle, board play NW than in the NE.

    The depth rocks. our projected #7 guy did well in a top 4 role in tough RSL and was arguably one of Russia’s top 3 D at WC. Roy and Gilbert are also ready for # 5 or 6 roles. Huddy has lots of options

    Here’s to hoping i’m right and your wrong ;)

  28. Nelson88 says:

    just watched the Carb video on Sportsnet. Classy guy. Said that SS had a bad year defensively but he is better than that. Also that he was great in the dressing room.

    I’m not suggesting he is Nik Lidstrom but encouraging words from a guy who knows something about good D hockey.

  29. Devin says:

    nelson88- I hope I’m wrong too, but I’ll believe it when I see it. SS’s second pairing minutes in the East were 28 goals too difficult for him last year. I think “puck moving D” is a talking point — I’m more interested in GD, results. He’s probably not 06-07 bad at ES, but there’s no indication that he can be anywhere near good, either, and this team needs good+ at ES.

    That said, I have high hopes for Grebeshkov to supplant Greene, Roy, and maybe Gilbert as the class of the 23-24 yr old group. He’d better, or else the MAB trade was another cock up.

  30. jon says:

    It’s still not inconceivable that we might trade Greene, Nilsson/Pouliot, a pick, or some combination of the above for a veteran Niclas Wallin type defensemen. Maybe that would cool the queues at the suicide hotline. ;)

  31. Dano says:

    jon…if we take Lowe at hs word, he’s stated that he’s prepared to leave the defence alone now and see how it all shakes out. At the very least, it sounds like he’s not going to do anything before training camp.

  32. Dennis says:

    I think we need someone to pull a Bieksa.

    I don’t think you can count on Grebs to work out just because Lowe figures he’s a better bet than MAB. If that was the case, the whole Pronger thing wouldn’t have been such a cock-up.

    I don’t think Smid’s anything great either but I will allow that he played top four min last year and didn’t get murdered so that’s cause for some optimism. Of course that was while being mentored by Staios and that won’t happen this year unless Mac matches the old 5/24 tandem against the other team’s top line and lets 44/44;) take on the second toughest min. I think that’s unlikely though because Smid isn’t ready for that and Pitkanen’s obviously being groomed for the big role and he has a couple of more seasons under his belt than Laddy.

    Basically, whatever Huddy comes up with and throws at the wall will wind up being a gigantic mess unless someone pulls a Bieksa. Last year the aforementioned Bowling Green product paired with Mitchell to take on the tough min for the Dys and that was a blessing for Van. No one expected KB to make that kind of an impact and unless Greene takes a giant leap, Smid matures very early and to an extent that not even Kevin Lowe dreamed of OR Grebs comes out of semi-nowhere to be top four worthy, no matter what they try and do will be an ES failure.

    One last thing here and it’s regarding Tarnstrom. I really don’t know what we can expect from him because it’s been awhile since he played on a team that hasn’t been terrible. I’m not sure what the Isles were like when he toiled for them but he played on an awful Pens team for two years so it’s hard to judge what he can do at ES. Of all the guys beyond 5-24 and the 44′s, he’s the guy that might be able to take on the top four min. One thing though is that the way Lowe’s built the D is like the way JP Richardi builds bullpens. He just shows up with a bunch of arms and hopes that six guys can hang. That’s not a really bad way to look for a pen but it’s a fuck of a way to build a defense, and especially when you’ve got a lot of money invested in the back corps and up front is thinner than Janet Jones Bowman account.

    What I’m getting around to saying;) is that if you knew you wanted Souray, then instead of bringing in Tarnstrom you get a guy who’s more of a defender. Then again I guess Souray’s here for the same reason why Dick’s here; no one else will come here so you sign who’ll show up and then you hope it all works out in the end. And you know what, this might be a good D in ’09 and I’m being serious here. I don’t imagine that Souray can ever be more than a guy that drives the PP but that has some value. Smid and Pitkanen should improve. I give more for the latter than the former but it isn’t like Laddy’s a 30 year old Scott Ferguson either, this guy should get better every time the final buzzer sounds. If him and Pitkanen improve and Staios doesn’t break down, that’s a decent top 3. Souray can be sheltered in the bottom pairing and I bet him and Tarnstrom wouldn’t get killed playing together, or at least not at Rexall anyway;) The sticker is that we need Greene or Grebs to take a big leap this year and show the ability to play top four min. I’m not saying that’s gonna happen but if it does, then we’ll be OK going forward and we’ll actually have a chance to be pretty damn effective and balanced on the back end.

  33. Black Dog says:

    If Greene or Grebs can do that then things look a lot better. I guess Hejda did – maybe it can happen?

  34. uni says:

    Grebeshkov is definately the wildcard here. Can he deliver as he did in the RSL and transition smoothly, or is he going ot pull a Mikhnov?

    That said, I’m still hoping that Mikhnov comes over for training came and emerges as that scorer from that video that was floating around Youtube this time last year.

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