Kevin Lowe could probably spend the summer addressing the blueline (and possibly goaltending) and ride the wave next season in regard to the current forward group.
He’ll have to cull the herd a little since there are simply not enough slots in the batting order to go around but there looks to be enough skill, grit and experience among the three forward positions to safely assume this club is playoff worthy for 08-09.
Here’s a quick glance at what the current depth chart might look like and some of the issues facing the organization.
- RW Ales Hemsky: Salary is reasonable ($4.25M) for the next four seasons. Although he is no longer the only straw that stirs the drink, Hemsky is bona fide. A wonderful player who makes his linemates better, he’s about to pass 50 assists for the second time in his young career. EV/60: 2.34; PP/60: 5.82.
- C Shawn Horcoff: Salary is ending, one more year at $3.6M and then he’s free to sign with the Red Wings. With respect to all of the other IR All-Stars, it is the injury to Edmonton’s best all around player that had the biggest impact on the season. Despite a pretty nice record since the All-Star break, Horcoff’s wide range of skills have been badly missed over the period. He may have lost his PP job to Gagner for next season (despite getting similar results) but he helps out in so many ways his position as the club’s top pivot is obvious. Also obvious is the need to sign the man. Horcoff is in a bit of danger as an Oiler if Kevin Lowe makes little or no effort to resign him this summer, as he’ll be in the Ryan Smyth seat come deadline day 2009 if they can’t get a contract done. I would think this would be Job 1 for the organization but haven’t seen much about it from media or team. EV/60: 2.59; PP/60: 4.00.
- LW Sam Gagner: Cap number for next season I believe is $1.625M. He has played so well at age 18 in the NHL one would think some scouting staffs are already kicking themselves for letting him fall to the Oilers last summer. A ridiculous offensive talent, smart player and has certainly gotten better as the season progresses. Looks like a future “end of the season award” type player, giving the Oilers two (Hemsky) from the draft pool in the Prendergast era. EV/60: 2.05; PP/60: 4.02.
- C Andrew Cogliano: $1.133M as a cap hit for the next two years. A revelation this season, Cogliano is another smart forward with skill and this guy has breathtaking speed. Watching him live is pretty damn exciting and more than a few defensemen are going to look idiotic playing him off the rush as time goes on. Effective player whose numbers are exceptional across the board, even in the categories rookies usually perform poorly in (he’s +1). He’s going to be an Oiler for a long time and his role in important situations will only increase. EV/60: 2.39; PP/60: 2.62.
- RW Robert Nilsson: Unsigned for next season, his cap hit was $1.013M this year. Ranks as probably the third best passer on this club (Hemsky, Gagner) but that’s an elite group. I think his AHL seasons and one NHL year on the Island must have included a bunch of time in roles (and with linemates) that couldn’t pick up what he was putting down. I understand he turned a corner this season and is certainly playing better than he did at the start of the year but how a kid with this skill set spent over 100 games in the AHL is a mystery. Sign the man, three years at reasonable dollars. EV/60: 2.50; PP/60: 2.78.
- LW Curtis Glencross: His salary for this year was $522,000 and he’ll get a big raise. I think signing this guy is a key item on the agenda in the off-season. Although we haven’t seen him for 500 at-bats it’s clear Glencross brings a lot of energy and skill to the club in a complementary role. He may be capable of taking on a larger role, in fact based on skill set Glencross might be a better match for the top line (10-83) than the slow-footed Penner. When we’re talking about the Edmonton Oilers priorities this summer, Curtis Glencross is going to be a big part of the conversation. EV/60: 1.90; PP/60: 2.10
- C Kyle Brodziak: His salary for next season ($500,000) makes Brodziak the biggest bargain on the team. The two things that have impressed me most about him this season are his offense (he’s scored 14 goals, 5th on the team) and his consistency. The few times in the season where his bat died he still did a great job with the leather. He certainly has a roster spot for 08-09. EV/60: 2.01. PP/60: 0.
- RW Fernando Pisani: He’ll make $2.5M for the next two seasons. It’s a little tough to judge his season because frankly the fact he is playing at all is a miracle. Pisani was in some trouble last summer and it went beyond just his future as a hockey player. For him to be playing at his current level is exceptional, which should surprise no one. He’ll have a roster spot inside the top 9 for next year. EV/60: 1.55; PP/60: 3.15
- LW Dustin Penner: His salary is $4.25M for several seasons rolling out. I think we’ve seen enough of him to suggest that a 30 goal season isn’t out of the realm of possibility and he does some nice things in the offensive zone. He is not a complete player but is getting paid like one and would be extremely difficult to offload at this time. Based on his first season as an Oiler I think you could make the claim that Penner could be an effective winger on a strong contender if he had enough superior players surrounding him up front. And he does. EV/60: 1.33; PP/60: 3.98.
- LW Raffi Torres: He’ll make $2.4M next season. I think the Oilers trade him, but if they don’t Raffi brings a lot of important things to the table. He’s an effective EV player and even though he’ll stick out like a sore thumb amongst the butter passers on the team now, each of those lines could use a Raffi to storm the beaches once in awhile. Plus his results over a long period of time indicate a pretty fair offensive player and EV results favor his team often enough to take luck out of the conversation. EV/60: 1.22; PP/60: 1.43.
- RW Zack Stortini: He made $475,000 this season which was a bargain. He’ll cost more next year but has earned the contract and the roster spot. I don’t know how much his role on the team can be expanded based on skill set but have tired of betting against him and being wrong. If he scored 12 next season on the PP as a tip-in artist I wouldn’t be any more surprised than I was with his impressive 07-08 season. EV/60: 132; PP/60: 0.
- C Marty Reasoner: Made $950,ooo this season, he is a free agent in the summer. Marty’s role on the team is likely to decrease next season as more young players force their way onto the roster. I think we can predict with some confidence MacT will push to have him signed to another cap-friendly deal which gives him a nice, inexpensive option with a lot of experience plus forces the youngsters to step up and earn the job. EV/60: 1.46/ PP/60: 2.61.
- C Jarret Stoll: He made $2.2M this season and is an RFA. He’s in trouble as an NHL player. I know Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish have been saying nice things about him but there’s something wrong and it isn’t getting any better. He’s over one year removed from the concussions and there have been many nights where Stoll has been the least effective player on the ice. Hi -24 is a team worst and although he can still pick it in the FO circle and is an effective penalty killer he’s a guy who is in danger of washing out of the league in a couple of seasons if he can’t get it together. The Oilers may sign him in the summer to a one-year deal for 4th line C and if he doesn’t improve Jarret Stoll is going to have to find himself again before getting another NHL shot. Probably in the minors or in Europe. EV/60: 0.71; PP/60: 3.64.
- C Marc Pouliot: He made $942,000 when he was in the NHL this season, and a key to his sticking around next year might be a more attractive to the Oilers contract. Say two years at $750k. I can see the Oilers offering him a one-way deal somewhere in there. Either way I think he’s “in the mix” at center with two veterans (Reasoner and Stoll) and how the organization goes this summer with regard to 08-09 will tell us a lot about what the expectations are for the spring of 2009. Pouliot has not proven himself at the NHL level but has shown flashes the past two springs. I would estimate it at less than 40% that he has a top 12 job in the fall but his EV numbers are superior to both Stoll and Reasoner despite that awful start. I’m pulling for him, even if his future is in another town. EV/60: 1.78; PP/60: 0.
- LW Ethan Moreau: He’ll make 1.75M next season (2M caphit) and if they don’t trade Raffi then Ethan rifles is on the outside looking in. Moreau has missed a lot of hockey over the last two seasons and although he isn’t yet in the Eric Daze phase of his career he is also a guy you can’t count on anymore. By the end of this season, he will have missed 132 of the last 164 regular season games played by this hockey club (80%). Ethan Moreau will be 33 in the fall. EV/60: 1.21; PP/60: 5.15 in very little playing time.
- LW Liam Reddox: How this guy moved up the charts this season is one of the truly interesting stories surrounding the Edmonton Oilers. He’s passed a few first round picks this year and although it’ll be tough sledding from here on in he’s performing well in the AHL and should see more playing time in the show 08-09.
- LW JF Jacques: Everytime we get around to JF Jacques I think of Fred Shero. That guy got more mileage out of players with Jacques’ skill set than anyone in human history. Bob Kelly, Don Saleski, Dave Schultz there were a ton of them. Increasingly though I’m thinking Jacques might be Rick Foley (a pretty good skill D for the Flyers who was massive and should have had a career but ran afowl of Shero) which is a shame. He’s had injury trouble this year so that’s an issue but our man Jacques has a pretty tough depth chart to climb on LW.
- C Rob Schremp: In a recent article on his blog, Guy Flaming quotes Schremp’s agent as saying “It’s obvious that Rob’s not happy or satisfied with the situation. We’d obviously like to be in a different spot [as opposed to Springfield] whether it be Edmonton or on another NHL team I don’t know but, we think he’s proven himself at the level that he’s at and hope he gets the opportunity but that’s where everything stands at this point.” I think Schremp’s problem is that the Oilers drafted better players at his position after they drafted him in 2004. Cogliano (2005) and Gagner (2007) are ahead of him now and will be for the forseeable future and that is some pretty bad fortune. The recent SEL rumor that hit the internet may indeed have been garbage or maybe it was the agent’s way of getting his client’s name out there for possible trade this summer. Either way, Rob Schremp is between a rock and a hard place with the Edmonton Oilers and it has more to do with Gagner and Cogliano than Craig MacTavish.
- LW Slava Trukhno: Has played well enough in the last several games to deserve a mention. Trukhno went 8-8-16 in a 12-game span and saw his scoring streak end at 12 last night. Kevin Lowe’s recent comments about him should be tempered with the knowledge that the team has plenty of skill already in the top 6 but is heartening all the same.
The key elements for the Oilers at forward this summer are signing Horcoff and Glencross, deciding how to handle the logjam at center behind Horcoff, Cogliano and Brodziak, and choosing between Ethan and Raffi.
It’s tempting to say that they’ll have a good team up front no matter which direction they go, because this is a very nice group of forwards.