The Key Overachievers

When the Oilers made it to the SCF in 2006 they had 6 players making $1 million dollars or less and delivering exceptional results for the money.

These players covered off (roughly) 1st line RW (Hemsky), 1st line center (Horcoff), checking RW (Pisani), 2line C (Stoll), 2line LW (Torres) and 5D with offense (Bergeron). That’s a helluva list folks, we shouldn’t expect that again for a long, long time.

But maybe we don’t need to this season. The Oilers have signed two huge free agents (Penner and Souray), plus they have everyone but Bergeron returning this fall from the list above. However, they’re all making more money.

In fact, let’s build a depth chart with the potential overachievers in bold and see how many holes there are in the roster. I am going to list the checking line as the top line, since (let’s be honest) there’s no way a MacTavish coached team is going to send Dustin Penner out to do Ryan Smyth’s job (at least not this year).

  • #1 Line (checking) Pouliot-Moreau-Pisani
  • #2 Line (2nd toughest) Stoll-Torres-Thoresen
  • #3 Line (soft parade) Horcoff-Penner-Hemsky
  • #4 Line (8 mins) Reasoner-Sanderson-Nilsson
  • Top Pairing (tough minutes) Pitkanen-Staios
  • Secondary (pretty tough too) Smid-Souray
  • The rest Tarnstrom-Greene

I think that’s fair. Bob Stauffer has mentioned recently that Robert Nilsson should get top 6 icetime (or maybe he said he might, I didn’t hear the quote directly) but I think that’s one of those summer ideas that won’t pass the first pre-season game (call it the Jason Chimera rule). If Pisani goes to the checking line, then I’d say Thoresen gets the cherry 2line role until someone takes it.

So, let’s see if this makes sense. The 5 guys I’ve bolded and their NHL career games are below:

  1. Marc Pouliot (54)
  2. Patrick Thoresen (68)
  3. Robert Nilsson (57)
  4. Ladislav Smid (77)
  5. Matt Greene (105)

Okay, let’s compare those players to the 6 breakout players identified in the post from July and their career NHL GP total entering the 05-06 season:

  1. Ales Hemsky (130)
  2. Shawn Horcoff (268)
  3. Jarret Stoll (72)
  4. Raffi Torres (111)
  5. Fernando Pisani (111)
  6. Marc Andre Bergeron (59)

Horcoff was well clear of anyone the Oilers have currently in terms of dollars + experience, but you could draw a parallel between someone like Stoll in the fall of 2005 and Marc Pouliot right now. Pouliot is quite inexperienced for the key checking center role (going up against the best C’s in the west is something Stoll didn’t have to do) so we might want to switch him and Horcoff on the list above.

The next question is in regard to skill level. Is there a Hemsky on this roster making 1 million or less? Clearly there isn’t anyone, or at least anyone they can count on this fall. Overall, does the skill set of the current 5 (my 5, you may have your own) come close to the terrific 6 from 05-06?

The answer is no. Big time pressure on the kid Pouliot, the kid Smid and a search for someone who can play quality minutes and deliver on RW that begins first day of camp. Plus the Oilers will need Penner, Souray, Hemsky and others to deliver on the PP and soft parade while Pouliot and his 54 career NHL games faceoff against Joe Thornton opening night.

Perhaps (as mentioned) MacT will move Horcoff to the checking line and run Horcoff-Moreau-Pisani out there every night and hope that Pouliot or someone else can put up counting numbers with Penner and Hemsky.

I know Craig MacTavish is working through the roster in his mind right now. I am led to believe that he had a large amount of input into the roster makeup.

So what am I missing? Is there another trade coming?

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16 Responses to "The Key Overachievers"

  1. Black Dog says:

    Hmmm.

    Again … hmm.

    Its still a mishmash. Penner adds to the mix but its still a bit of a mess.

    That 06 team. Damn, what a team.

    Oh well. I could see Pouliot and Horcoff reversing roles. I’m not really sure what else Lowe could pull in terms of a trade. They’re ~ 48 M now? Not sure how this team gets better moving Horcoff and Greene, as you suggested, for, well, who can you get for 4.5 M? Marleau?

    That puts a lot on Pouliot if they move Horcoff. Pouliot could handle a lot between Pisani and Moreau and then they could run Horc out against the Thorntons and Sakics of the world. If Horc is gone its all on Pouliot.

    The one good feeling I have about this team is I think there are a lot of guys who have something to prove. This team was complacent last fall.

    There are a bunch of guys either trying to rebound (pick almost anyone), trying to hang on (Sanderson/Tarnstrom/Reasoner) or trying to establish themselves as players (Pouliot/Thoresen/Smid/Greene/Grebeskov).

    Plus say what you will about Souray and Penner but I think they will be ready to play. Penner has overcome a lot and Souray, well, he may not be a good dman but I think he’s a pro.

  2. Lowetide says:

    BDHS: It’s ALL on the PP and the soft parade. A Craig MacTavish coached team relying on the PP and the soft parade and trying to survive the EV minutes.

    But he’s the one who chose these guys, apparently. Or helped in the choosing of these guys.

  3. Asiaoil says:

    Lines in terms of ES tough minutes

    1 – Moreau Stoll Pisani
    2 – Penner Horcoff Hemsky
    3 – Torres MAP Nilssen
    4 – Sanderson Reasoner Thoresen/Stortini

    Stoll is the young guy you lean on and expect to play tougher minutes – not Pouliot – no reason to put MAP in that situation. The top 2 lines can pretty much handle anything you throw at them at ES. I also like the Torres MAP Nilssen kid line against soft opposition – and would run with them to start and see how they do.

  4. Bank Shot says:

    Guys that don’t make under one million dollars, but could still outperform their current contracts by a large margin: Stoll, Torres, Hemsky, Pitkanen.

    Stoll already is outperforming his contract but you get one or two of these other guys to pull it off and we then we don’t have to hope for miracles from the sophmores.

    Given Mactavish’s coaching style I’d say the guys with 3-4 years in the league are more likely to have a breakout season.

    I don’t think it matters as much how much the overachievers make as much as it matters that there are a few of them blowing the doors off their current contract.

  5. IceDragoon says:

    black dog… Is that mishmash any relation to MacT’s blender? ;-)

    ………

    I think Stollie is the guy I’d rather have out against the Thortons and Iginlas, Lain. Pouliot with Thoreson & maybe Torres (or Sanderson?).

    And, I’m not writing off Reasoner till I watch him at TC. He was the second fastest Oiler coming out of the lockout and looked fine early in the ’05-’06 season. Saddled with assorted kids and misfits… tossed aside before the beauty run… got married… ’06-’07 team had no cohesion… It’s quite possible to lose focus when surrounded by mayhem.

    Meh… what do I know? ;-D First pre-season game is on September 17th.

    L8r
    Louise

  6. Lowetide says:

    If we’re going to take one of the veteran centers and have him play against the other team’s top line, I’d say Horcoff is a better option.

    So, what say you guys? Which line would you prefer playing the tough mnutes:

    Horcoff-Moreau-Pisani

    Horcoff-Penner-Hemsky

  7. Vic Ferrari says:

    Man O man, this is going to be rough. I don’t think we need to worry too much about philosophy, I’m sure it will change quite a bit just through the first few weeks.

    You and Dennis seem keen to throw Pouliot out against good players. I’m absolutely sure he’d get killed. Methinks it’s not going to happen.

    To me, the encouraging thing about Pouliot is that he’s improved dramatically in the areas he needed to as a pro. According to Ward, when he first went into the AHL he was completely clueless in his own end, was frivolous with possession going forward, and wasn’t physically strong enough to win battles, especially lower body.

    To me, it’s really encouraging that he’s turned that around. Once these things become good habits, then he needs to find the aspects of his game that got him drafted so high, the stick skills. I mean if he can’t create more offense … well then he’s just Josh Green at twice the salary and with about $2 million already invested in him. I like the player, he’s hard on the puck and he ended up at the right end of Raffi’s passes a lot. And since I’m pretty sure that Torres is just passing blindly through open lanes … I’m crediting Pouliot with anticipation at speed here :) Which is a good trait to have I think.

    Also, I think that BehindTheNet’s difficulty of opposition numbers have skewed some perceptions of players as well. Particularly in the NW where players like Iginla, Demitra, Gaborik, Sedin, Horcoff, etc aren’t getting anything close to the props they should be getting in this regard.

    I mean the Oilers got out of the blocks well last season, but really there was only one stretch where they outchanced the opposition for 4 of 5 games. That was after the DET spanking when Torres nearly killed some guy. That’s when they had 94-10 doing the heaviest lifting while carrying Lupul, and Petersen moved up with Sykora and Hemsky and that line played very conservatively.

    Pisani, who was fit then, was moved onto the starboard side of Stoll/Torres to take on the ‘soft parade’, as you call it.

    This must be triggering memories, LT, no?.

    Any rate, that’s when Stoll-Torres started their good run and Hemsky-Sykora cooled down. For obvious reasons.

    That Sykora was a much better all around player than I thought. They are going to miss his play, not just his goals. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t play him on the left PP point, but what can you do. He’s a lot smaller than I’d realized though. Still, a solid pickup on a good contract for Shero this summer I thought.

  8. voxel says:

    Bank shot is right.

    I wouldn’t be concerned about overachieving $1M players. I’d be concerned about $4M and $5M players playing at a high level they are expected to.

  9. Black Dog says:

    LT – Horcoff, Pisani and Moreau (or Torres) for sure. Maybe you can sneak Stoll out there as the alternative – with Pisani and Moreau or Torres, again, I think he might be able to handle it. ?

    Vic – I saw the game at the ACC last season and Pouliot played with Torres and Thoresen. That was the game where he scored on the penalty shot and, iirc, scored another. He was also on the ice at the end as they tried to (and nearly did) come back.

    What struck me in that game about the kid was exactly what you allude to – his ability to handle the puck at top speed and in heavy traffic. At one point he got a puck in his skates (may have been one of those Torres passes). Without breaking stride and in a serious mess of guys (if he had looked down he would have gotten killed) he had that puck up to his stick and was beating a guy.

    Hope he is fit and motivated.

  10. Lowetide says:

    I love Pouliot’s game with the puck. He can take and make a pass beautifully and as you say BDHS he can make things happen at speed and in traffic.

    So, does anyone think the Oilers aren’t done here? What do you think they might add?

    There’s not a lot of room for the plethora of rookies up front now, I keep thinking there will be a three-for-one here soon.

  11. Black Dog says:

    I don’t know LT – it doesn’t really add up for me. If they move three kids – say Greene, Nilsson and another then they are mighty tight to the cap. Drop Torres or Horcoff and you solve that problem but what do you really bring back for 4M or so that is going to maek that big if a difference. Unless it is Marleau coming back to play with Penner and Hemsky and Horcoff going the other way. That puts a lot on Pouliot and Stoll though.

    They say they are not done but I’m not sure what is next. Mike Johnson would still look nice but they would have to shed some salary.

  12. Lowetide says:

    BDHS: By my calculations they would be about $47.5M with cheap guys thrown in at the back of the roster.

    A lot of this stuff will become clear as the season rolls along and we answer questions like ‘is Stoll completely healthy?’ and ‘can Grebeshkov play?’

    Interesting lineup right now.

  13. IceDragoon says:

    Hey!
    What do you know?
    I do know something.
    ;-D

    Pouliot is in SoCal with Chad and the boys. *source* Guy Flaming – team1260 last night. What is it the web-youngsters say? w00t? (here’s hoping Penner joins them)

    After sleeping on it… black dog nailed it right out of the gate.

    Mishmash…
    till MacT determines the recipe.

    He’s lost two of his most trusted ingredients, but he has some new meat, and more substance & overall seasoning to start the year.

    Vic is right about throwing Pouliot to the wolves. I think he has it in him to get there, and judging by his spikes in progress it won’t take him long. But, he only has 54 games playing against NHLers. The big boys will chew him up and spit him out at this stage of his young career, even with Moreau and Pisani on his wings.

    I think Horcoff is best used with Hemsky and Penner. And, I think MacT will try them against stronger ops, as he thinks they can handle more heat.

    If Mike Johnson is a Dvo clone, I’m in.

    Grebeshkov got me thinking about potential pump & dumps in the RFA OS era. Not that I think he has limited talent which can only be polished up with soft minutes and a zoomee or two. I honestly don’t know. Just that some future exposed RFAs may, indeed, be in the highly buffed family.

    Vic… imho – the team game looked like crap even at the start of the year. Roli covered a lot of mistakes out of the gate. To my eyes… (I know you don’t put much stock in that, but I’ve been watching for 4 decades and have taken many lumps for preferring substance over style.)… there was a stretch of games in November where they seemed to get it more than not. And, I thought we played some of our best hockey on the eastern road trip. Just couldn’t get the bounces. Other than that… pure crap with a few flashes. meh… maybe I’m wrong. My focus had other priorities.

    Agreed on Sykora. What he lacks in size and speed, he makes up for in smarts. He’ll do well on the Pens.

    L8r
    Louise

  14. namflashback says:

    ID, Dennis,

    You recall correctly, the 06-07 team had that one fine stretch in November. Game after the Detroit spanking CBJ I think, and a game in St. Loo they should have won , but where Jussi lost the faith of MacT. 6 game win streak followed — culminating in the OT loss to ANA in the FCP return. Smytty getting dispossessed by Getzlaf. Hemsky and Smyth go down to injury. Well, you know how it went.

    Dennis, the Torres-Stoll-Pisani trio got the toughtest opp in the following games. Did well with it too.

  15. oilerdiehard says:

    If you seen the article Traktor from HF posted on Howson from the NHL.com site. Howson basically said well this:

    “Howson said he comes from an organization where input in all decisions comes from the coach… “I can’t count the number of times when Craig MacTavish made a comment about a player or a need that neither Kevin nor I really hadn’t thought about in Edmonton.””

    Along with Big George saying Lowe and Howson wanted to re-sign him but had to talk to MacT first. After talking to him, they no longer had any interest in signing him and George mentioned something about MacT getting it written in his new contract he would have more control over player acquisition / subtraction decisions. By the way he said all of that on Stauffer’s show.

    I think it shows these moves have Mac’s stamp of approval all over them and this more or less is the team he wanted. Maybe he is planning a bit of shift in his coaching philosophy?

  16. Dennis says:

    Good thread going here, LT will soon post another and bump this to the archives but I’ll add a couple of things before it “disappears.”

    If you’re thinking about stretches where the Oilers were really outchancing teams, I’d say the first one was when they walked into Van and Dal in the same week and won both games. I’m pretty sure the Van game was like dec 11th because it was the first snowstorm we had here and that’s memorable in any case but especially that early in dec. Then the win in Dal was Friday night.

    Other than that, yeah that was shit luck on the Eastern trip. For starters, the Oilers controlled that Tues game in Bos and just couldn’t get a fucking break. But in terms of outchancing or getting outchanced, I think we knew how it fell once, basically, Shaggy started missing time and we were icing a D corps that couldn’t make a first pass to save their lives.

    In terms of MP manning the tough min line, I mentioned earlier that you might want someone else taking his own zone draws but I still like the chances of him not getting murdered if 18-34 are riding shotgun. As for the change in the coaching MO, it’s a chance BACK to the way it used to be. For years you had the old MGM line taking on tough opp and Rem Murray was the honourary 4th member of that line when Moreau or Grier got hurt, ie Marchant hardly ever missed any time. So if MacT comes out with this strategy, it’s something he’s used to.

    And you know what? It might work to a certain extent. If Horc could hold his head above water against tough opp, then why couldn’t he murder soft opp? Same goes for Hemsky and 10-83 have played together for a lot of of years now and have some chem.

    Of course 14 saw tough opp last year and did OK as well and 34 has played it from the get-go. So maybe you go 14-16-34 taking on tough opp, Penner-10-83 take on the soft and 18 goes out there and crashes and bangs with 78-28 and breaks in the kids.

    I don’t think we’re gonna set the world on fire but I feel way better about the forwards corps then the D.

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