Did you know there was an American home improvement chain called Lowe’s? This is their logo and their website says “STILL DON’T KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN?”
Which is about where I’m at with this hockey team. As a fan I learned about team building through Sam Pollock and Harry Sinden of the NHL, and guys like Whitey Herzog and a man named Ewing Kauffman who was so far ahead of his time it was to laugh (example: Baseball Academy).
Sam Pollock’s moves could be seen a mile away. Reggie Houle got some at-bats in during the spring of 1970 as Claude Provost (an oustanding checking RW) wound it down. By the following spring, Houle was playing a key role for the Cupbound Habs, playing on a line with John Ferguson as he rode into the sunset.
Also retiring in the summer of 1971 was Jean Believeau, so Pollock needed muscle to replace Ferguson (Pierre Bouchard was the enforcer, Mahovlich the tough guy who could play with the skill players) and a franchise player to replace Beliveau (which he did at the draft by plucking Guy Lafleur).
The NHL has more than doubled since the spring of 1971 and it’s harder to dominate a draft or to fill holes with such ease in this day and age. However there are more tools made available to modern General Managers these days, including unrestricted free agents, the vast European pool of talent and of course offer sheets.
It seems to me that the Oilers have left the station unbalanced in each of the three seasons since the lockout ended and players returned under the new CBA. In the fall of 2005, the Oilers had some question marks in goal, in the fall of 2006 the Oilers had some worries on the blueline and this October we fretted over the actual number of NHL players on the roster and the number of players who weren’t old enough to be legal in all areas of recreation.
In the first of the three seasons mentioned above, the Oilers were strong enough to hover near a playoff spot until they were able to address needs (long list, basically G, D and F but mostly G and D) and get handsome return for pedestrian assets (Roloson, Spacek, Tarnstrom, Samsonov for a 1st, Rita, Salmelainen and three weeks of Marty). The key for that team was they were able to hang with the other teams near the playoffs. The trick was to outlast the also-rans so they would give up and trade their soon-to-be UFA’s for draft picks or secondary prospects. Last season, Lowe (I believe) realized he didn’t have enough on D when the plane took flight but couldn’t acquire anyone to help in time, or the asking price for immediate help was too dear.
This season, he has no choice.
I think the following statement is true: Kevin Lowe cannot survive an Entry Draft in which Brian Burke gets a lottery pick from the Penner offer sheet. Is that a fair statement? If Burke gets Doughty this summer, that has to be too much to take. Kevin Lowe would get bumped upstairs, Craig MacTavish (or someone else) becomes GM and a new era begins. Oh, and by the way Anaheim picks 2nd.
That being the case, it is my opinion Lowe needs to improve this team and soon. He stated during the injury phase of this season that the team would wait until everyone returned and he could evaluate the situation. Well, we’re almost there and the team is improved. The Oilers are 6-3-1 in their last 10gp, which is the third best record in the Western Conference during that time. They are tied for 11th currently and safely out of the race for the top pick overall in the 2008 Entry Draft.
Still, it’s an uneasy place. There are a mere 6 points between San Jose in 2nd place in the conference and Edmonton, Nashville and Chicago who are tied for 11th. The Oilers have only 4 points clearance from bottom feeders Phoenix and Los Angeles.
The Oilers are an interesting bunch of players and contracts currently. Here, let’s do a healthy depth chart:
- G-Garon, Roloson
- D-Pitkanen, Staios, Souray, Gilbert, Tarnstrom, Grebeshkov, Smid
- C-Horcoff, Stoll, Reasoner, Cogliano
- L-Penner, Torres, Moreau, Sanderson
- R-Hemsky, Pisani, Brodziak, Nilsson
- Extra-Stortini, Gagner
I’m not trying to be funny by listing Gagner as an extra, but he would be a guy imo who probably rotates in the 10-14F group with Stortini, Sanderson, Cogliano and Nilsson.
Even with all of that talent healthy, I think Lowe needs to make two deals:
- Another D to play top 4 EV minutes with Pitkanen, Staios and Gilbert. You may think Tarnstrom is the right man for the role, but MacT has HS’d him this season so it’s not a lock and everyone else has legit holes.
- Another veteran forward to improve depth and step into the lineup when one or more of Cogliano, Brodziak and Nilsson are struggling.
These aren’t superstars, but the Oilers need them. Possible trade pieces might include the ANA 1st rd pick next summer, any of the kids down on the farm (including Schremp, Pouliot, Jacques), Jarret Stoll (who might respond to a change of scenery) and Raffi Torres (whose time with MacT may be coming to an end).
If Lowe trades Stoll or Torres, he’s robbing Peter to pay Paul and would need elevated efforts from Reasoner and one or all of Sanderson, Brodziak or one of the minor league kids like Thoresen.
I think he has to make a deal and soon. His job as GM probably depends upon it, and the fact that the Oilers are improved over the last while should not cloud the real issue.
Which is (and has been since summer 2006) not enough NHL players. The auditions need to be cut way back.
And right soon.