Transition

When Punch Imlach returned to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer of 1979, he told the media the Leafs had only “5 or 6 good players.” He fined players for not wearing ties, he no longer allowed beer drinking on flights and he decided Darryl Sittler was a cancer to the team.

Imlach was a control freak and his tactics were outdated for the time (the Leafs actually were a pretty good hockey team during this time and had enjoyed some success under Red Kelly and Roger Neilson earlier in the decade) and he arrived just in time to shake up the franchise and move around the deck chairs.

Imlach mentioned in his book Heaven and Hell in the NHL that his biggest problem in the summer of 1979 was at center and involved foot speed. Darryl Sittler wasn’t as fast as he used to be, Walt McKechnie was slow even though he could do things, Jimmy Jones was a good penalty killer but not a fast skater and Paul Gardner was a fine scoring center but quite slow.

So in the group Imlach had some nice offense from Sittler and McKechnie and had a pure scorer coming in Gardner, but had very little in the area of speed. This would impact his club because he wanted a strong forechecking team that created offense from turnovers and at center the club wasn’t well suited to that style. Imlach’s drafts and trades that summer were made to get the club faster up the middle and by the summer of 1981 the Leafs top 4 centers were Darryl Sittler, Bill Derlago, Laurie Boschman and then guys trying to get established like Bruce Boudreau and Mike Kaszycki and Mark Kirton.

The one thing the Oilers don’t have to worry about moving forward is their centermen lacking a wide range of skills. Shawn Horcoff has good size and speed, some grit and is underrated as an offensive player (mostly owing to the calibre of players he’s out against every night). Based on how quickly he improved this past season, Sam Gagner may actually lead the centermen on this team in points this season, an exceptional accomplishment based on age and experience. Gagner doesn’t have top end size and speed but appears to be an elite talent whose intelligence and passing skills make him unique and multi-dimensional in a man’s game before age 20. Lordy . Andrew Cogliano is the perfect bookend to Gagner, with his tremendous speed and nose for the net. Although lacking in size I don’t think anyone would define him as a perimeter player, certainly not based on his first NHL season. After that it’s Kyle Brodziak, who has skill, grit and can fill the checking, penalty killing and (hopefully) faceoff roles that used to belong to the now departed Jarret Stoll. In the same family of players is Marc Pouliot who now has a two-year, one way deal in pocket.

This is a nice group of centers, with the only real flaws being lack of experience after Shawn Horcoff and a lack of size (Gagner and Cogliano). Giving 2line minutes to Sam Gagner or Andrew Cogliano isn’t going to be a major concern this season, and one of Brodziak or Pouliot should be able to fill the 3line role. They’ll make mistakes, but this team isn’t built for winning the conference anyway.

No, this Oilers team is about where the Montreal Expos were in 1978: not a serious threat to win the pennant but a team with all its arrows pointed in the right direction. That Expos team had 5 every day players 23 or 24 years old (Gary Carter, Larry Parrish, Warren Cromartie, Andre Dawson and Ellis Valentine). The following season they would add a few parts (hello Bill Lee) and win 95 games.

Many of the questions we have about this team at center (can Gagner continue to improve at an alarming rate? is Cogliano the next Butch Goring or is he the next Todd Marchant? Can Brodziak fill Stoll’s role? Where does Pouliot fit in? What about Brule and Schremp?) should be answered by this time next season. Brodziak will be a restricted free agent, Gagner and Cogliano will be one year away from huge paydays and the Oilers will have a better read on Brule.

A “Kyle Brodziak” training camp from Pouliot or Brule would help.

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30 Responses to "Transition"

  1. uni says:

    I’m hoping for one or both of O’Marra or/and Brule to come to camp and blow the doors off the hinges. Like both players and I think either one could be a damn fine checking centre who can chip in offensively, although O’Marra’s size does give him a huge advantage there.

    I’ve also followed Potulny with some interest over the last two seasons, I don’t like him nearly as much as I did Nilsson but I think he’s a fine player who could pot 20 playing 3rd line minutes, albeit he may never reach that potential.

  2. knighttown says:

    One thing that is mentioned over and over is the “who’s going to replace Stoll’s tough minutes?” question. Yes, 16 played the toughs but Desjardins will tell you he failed miserabally at it. Sure I agree that we have our fingers crossed that 51/78 can handle the traditional 3rd line role and that a Peca type would make us feel better, but we Jarret Stoll circa 2008 is not the answer.

  3. Sean says:

    this team isn’t built for winning the conference anyway

    Given that KLowe seems to want to make a push every year, I doubt the Oilers would just sit and wait. KLo was able to add Roloson, Spacek and Samsonov relatively cheap and while he may not be able to pull that one off again it wont be for lack of trying.

    They still have 4-6 core players in Horcoff, Hemksy, Pisani, Roloson, Morreau and Staois who I’m sure believe in the team. Add in cup winners in Cole/Penner and you have a good set of leadership to go with excellent young talent.

    While nobody is at the same level as Detroit, the wings have been and will once again be vulnerable to a hot goaltender ala Kippy, Roli or Giguere.

    I’m not saying the Oilers are legitimate contenders I’m just saying I wouldn’t tell KLo or Katz to their face. They’ve had a beauty summer and I see no reason to quit improving.

  4. Coach pb9617 says:

    Is Ryan O’Marra the next Rob Schremp for the HFboards crew?

  5. Paper Designer says:

    This camp is going to be interesting, because it’s going to determine not so much who is going to be a part of this team’s first shot at a championship, but rather, the next wave after that. I hope that Hemsky signs an extension, but if he doesn’t, this team will have to reload around its next set of offensive players. This is going to be a critical camp to see what this team might have five years down the road.

  6. Lowetide says:

    Coach: Yeah, probably. In the reasonable expectations for Springfield post I wrote “Ryan O’Marra (21). I keep seeing posts talking about his “lost season” being no big deal and about O’Marra being groomed as a shutdown center for 3line duty. I don’t think so. The Oilers sent him to the ECHL, which is the equivalent of rubbing his nose in poop. O’Marra will need to have an exceptional camp followed by a solid year in order to get back in the good books, and unlike the Islanders system, Edmonton has another guy on deck who can crush a fastball. O’Marra is in trouble as a prospect. Reasonable Expectations: A complete AHL season without getting sent to the ECHL or traded. Seriously.
    -

    I don’t think too many here would disagree with that but he does seem to have his followers. If he DOES play in the NHL this season O’Marra would have done what Liam Reddox did this season.

    It doesn’t happen often.

  7. Big T says:

    The extension of what you’re asking LT – are our centres going to develop enough this year? – has to be “Are our wingers good enough to cover for our centres this year?”

    Horcoff: Penner – Hemsky; not required to cover for him.

    Brodziak: Cole – Pisani; These two wingers are smart enough to cover for whatever growing pains Brodziak will endure. Same goes if it’s Pouliot that is pivoting this line.

    Gagner: Nilsson – Cogliano; is he the centre on this line? In either case, this is the biggest question mark. Can the kids continue to feast on the soft and take a step forward. IMO if any one of these players takes a step back, the entire line will be stepping back and will most likely be broken up.

    Pouliot: Moreau – Stortini; If this is the line up going forward, these wingers should do quite well against the other team’s dregs.

    It appears, on paper, that their is certianly enough depth on the walls to cover for most of the growing pains these young pivots will endure.

    As Vic Ferrari said the other day though, lord help us if something happens to Horc this season.

    T

  8. Vic Ferrari says:

    Nice post Lain.

    Personally, I’m on board with the Al Arbour school of team building – simply try to keep adding good players.

    Now obviously you don’t want 14 left wingers and no centres, but by and large if you keep adding good players, players who help you win hockey games (but not necessarily help you win hockey pools). Well eventually that will turn into wins on the ice.

    On a related note, this business of speculating on line combinations in July is pure madness, no?

    Still, if a coach has enough good players he can make a game plan that gives him a chance against any opponent. The Oilers headed in that direction this summer, but stopped just short.

    I can see it to a certain extent, if it were ALL about this year then the Oilers would have addressed the D and shored up the middle with proven performers.

    I mean hell, we all mock Giguere’s curious decisions this summer (starting with, and including, firing Q in favour of Granato). But they have Salei, Foote, Clark, Hannan, Leopold and Liles at the back. Even after losing Sauer, they have five guys who are a better option than Staios to go out against Crosby’s line for an own zone draw. And after Staios it’s a pretty big drop to Gilbert. And they have guys like Laperriere and Guite who the Oilers just can’t match in terms of impact for salary.

    Granted, you look at the goaltending and it’s easy to imagine the Avs losing a lot of games in which they were the better team.

    Back to point; I can understand the Oilers needing to leave space for Brodziak, Pouliot, Stortini, Smid, Grebeshkov, etc to get more ice time and responsibility than they have earned, they need to continue to develop. And Gagner is the kind of special player whose development you factor into the gameplan (like Hemsky for his first three seasons in the NHL).

    There is a downside though, and that’s the ability to attract high end UFAs next summer.

    I mean the fans of Edmonton, Phoenix, Chicago, Washington, etc are stoked about the future of their team … but if you’re Hossa (or equivalent) next summer, you’ll want to be damn sure that you’re signing you career contract with a team really IS going to be a contender for a while.

    Kisses and promises are great, but the Oilers finishing the season solidly in the playoff picture, and winning a round and fighting hard in another … these are the things that make non-fans of a team take notice.

  9. Big T says:

    O’Marra is interesting to many because of his tale of the tape. Big guy, reasonable wheels, etc…

    That and a lot of coverage during the World Juniors a few years ago and a lot of people have “seen him good.”

    Agreed he is waay down on the prospectsd list now and needs to do something Reddox-ian in order to have his stock upgraded from junk.

    T

  10. Big T says:

    vic;

    Does not a second half addition of someone from the Jim Dowd family make this team a threat to win a playoff round?

    Certianly not a favourite, but I’d argue that signing a top end UFA is something I’d be happy for Lowe to miss out on. Hossa is a hell of a player but 7-9yrs at $8.5MM plus puts this team in a tough position to retain or attract future talent.

    Perhaps the following year when Souray can likely be shedded (’10-’11) some salary can be added, but even then Gagner and Cogliano will have to be paid with a “What’s my Potential” contract. Not Cheap.

    I can’t believe that the salaray cap will be higher than $60.0MM that year. I’m sure you’ve seen similar info. but excluding the ’05-’06 season where the cap was set artificially low, the cap has only gone up in the 5% per year range.

    I don’t think one can rationally expect any large jumps in the future and hoping that an increased cap is gonna save you ala Sather is pure lunacy.

    T

  11. oilerdiehard says:

    Is Ryan O’Marra the next Rob Schremp for the HFboards crew?

    Well maybe you should actually read the board instead of making assumptions.

    Generally I believe in O’Marra but I would say many at HF are fairly down and skeptical on him (doing anything). I think we will find out this coming season whether he is going in the right direction or not. I think he is going to have a nice year in the AHL.

    After came back up from the E he embraced the shutdown checking center role. He was facing the other teams top lines and I think he was a minus maybe 1 or 2 games the rest of the season. So he was coming along a little bit.

    Let’s not forget the kid just turned 21 years old about a month ago.

  12. Vic Ferrari says:

    T:

    I think that the maximum salary rule results in the stars who are very good all-around players represent value. What is Iginla’s contribution to the team’s success? What is his share of the payroll?

    Same for dozens of others in this league. You literally can’t pay them enough because it’s not allowed.

    You can get guys who outperform their salary in every bracket, but the top and the bottom seem like the best bets. Admittedly a lot of the guys who “are good players who’ve had a bad season or two and should come cheap” … they often seem to be ending up in the RSL now.

    Still, when you look at a guy like Glencross (even though he will probably never have another stretch like he did for the Oilers), does anyone really think that he will contribute to less than 2% to the Flames’ ability to outchance and outscore their opposition? Sutter can’t go wrong with that deal.

  13. Vic Ferrari says:

    T:

    Also, I don’t think Dowd is close to being the answer. Experienced doesn’t necessarily equal good.

    And the guys that can actually do that gig for reasonable coin just never seem to be available at the deadline.

    We can make our list now … Belanger, Kesler, Laperriere, Pahlsson, Madden, Barnes, etc, but it’s pointless. You can almost always get the lesser version (Nichol, Yelle, C.Brown, Reasoner, etc.) at the deadline, but that doesn’t do you much good.

  14. Dennis says:

    I agree with most of what Vic said here; we can see that the Oilers were trying to go for it by looking at Hossa and Jagr but once that failed I think they decided to have one more year of letting guys learn on the job before they try and add big guys via trade like they did with Hossa and Jagr in the FA arena.

    A lot of fellows are locked up longterm at affordable pacts and as long as the cap keeps rising, this team’s in the catbird seat. Not for ’09 but by 2010 not making it to the second round should be considered a major disappointment.

  15. Scott says:

    Mike Peca deadline rental, anybody?

  16. Vic Ferrari says:

    Dennis:

    I don’t think that the Jagr pursuit was ever going to bear fruit, same for the other one-year suitors. And if you’ve ever seen Bidini’s terrific documentary on hockey in Russia during the lockout year, you weren’t surprised in the least that he signed for Omsk. And you were one of the few that believed him when he said he was seriously considering remaining with that team for 05/06.

    There are new beginnings and there are new beginnings … but damn. Good for him, though. And NOT offering Jagr multiple years is one of the highlights of the summer for Lowe and Co. IMO.

    Hossa is a completely different kettle of fish though. Hell, when he went to Atlanta they were a team bursting with young talent, willing to invest in good players, and being buoyed by one of the great young talents in recent memory (Kovalchuk).

    How did that go?

    I’d-like-to-play-where-it-is-summer-year-round types aside, you just don’t see high end UFAs, complete players, signing on with none-playoff teams that have long track records of poor results (regardless of how well the local fanbase has accepted the excuses for those poor results).

    The Oilers need a good year to get in that game. And that may be this season, but from where I’m sitting next season looks more likely.

    As an aside: I think you see Alberta as a place where NFers are an underclass who face discrimination. In my experience that’s simply not the case, Dennis.

  17. Big T says:

    vic;

    Didn’t mean Dowd the player, I meant a ‘Dowd’ type of player. A quality EV outscorer (or formerly one in Dowd’s case) who plays centre to take on the 2nd toughest alongside Cole/Pisani or whomever. I was refering to the type of player that, though not flashy, has experience and is a proven outscorer at EV’s.

    If that player were to be added, is this a team that could win a round? If not, what else is required in your opinion?

    T

    PS – I certianly agree that those types are not usually that available. Just trying to get a guage on how far off this team is from contention.

  18. spOILer says:

    The Oil might even be a step farther down the base path than the 78 Expos. 4 veterans, Horc, Pisani, Souray & Moreau, missed significant chunks of last season. We don't know the effect this quartet might have if healthier.

    Fielding seems to be the biggest concern. A shutdown D man, and a proven 3C should be enough to get us the playoffs. As it is, it's going to be a battle.

    (Add a proven starter on the mound and I'd think we'd have to call this team a legit contender, but Garon could still be that guy.)

    They'll score lots of runs, but will they be able to out barnstorm the men in the other dugout?

    As for centres…

    –I'm not yet convinced Gagner will ever be an effective first line centre in this league. Now, I admit his skating can still improve significantly and likely will, but as it stands right now I have Cogs at centre and Gagner still at wing on the kid line.

    –Nash is the player in the system that is the blue chip 3rd liner, IMO, not O'Marra. If O'Marra or Reddox or Potulny or Brule can make the Show, that's great, but I'm not holding my breath on the first three.

    –What if Schremp has the Brodziak TC? Where do we fit him in? Centre will be damn near impossible and the only real spot open (kind of) is 4RW, dropping Stortini, and making us smaller and softer yet.

    We still don't have balance, but we're a lot closer than we were. This is an important transition year, LT has it right yet again.

    Are we willing to risk the playoffs, MacT, UFAs (etc) to develop Pouliot/Brodziak as 3C?

    I think playoffs are definitely in the braintrust's sights as a goal this year, and if we see 3C or the D failing in Feb, a move will be made.

  19. Lord Bob says:

    If we’re looking for a veteran forward to lend some respectability to the bottom six, why not look Stu Barnes’s direction?

    The big minus is age (38). The big plus is that he’s spent the last five years as a reliable third-line option on a sometimes excellent hockey team. He can also play all three forward positions, probably wouldn’t cost us everything we own, and has video game durability (at least 72 games eleven of the last twelve seasons – and that one exception being a 68-game campaign).

    Is he a game breaker? Hell no, but he’ll look after you, is almost certain to outperform his contract, and knows the league as well as anyone. Isn’t that what we want?

  20. Dennis says:

    Vic: There’s no question that the Oilers have to put the cart before the horse when it comes to signing real difference-makers — guys like Hossa have proven they’ll turn down sick bucks to play here — but I think that there’ll be a nice buzz surrounding this club after the ’09 season.

    Somebody’s doing something right in the scouting and drafting dept. and it’s really doing a lot to mask the smell of shit that’s coming off some of the big guy’s trades and FA forays.

    If 10 stays healthy and 89 keeps picking up speed, by 2010 this club will be killing teams that don’t have two bonafide scoring lines. And like I said before, a helluva lot of guys are signed at affordable rates and for long terms.

    If Garon’s real and can play 60 games, if we can get rid of Souray by the end of this year AND if we pick up a legit top four defender, this team has a really bright future.

    And I think that’s Without any help from FAs; though, it would help to use some of that souray money for a real forward or D.

  21. Vic Ferrari says:

    Lord Bob:

    I’m down with the Stu Barnes thing too. Though usually guys of his age either hang up the skates or stay with the same team. Occasionally a one year deal with a team like DET or PIT.

    Still, he’s from the Edmonton area originally I think, and I don’t remember him ever playing in Canada. So maybe he’d like to end his career that way. Worth a shot anyways.

    And thinking about it, by Halloween most rosters in the league will have a top nine forward out with injury, and probably another key forward will be playing a diminished role due to injury. The Oil probably have room to add another guy methinks.

  22. Lord Bob says:

    Well, if Vic agrees with me, that can only mean two things:

    1) We’re probably right.

    2) No chance of it happening.

    Fun thought while it lasted, though. :P

  23. devin says:

    Dennis,

    We won’t be in any kind of cap trouble at all next year, so no need to pull strings to ditch Souray just yet. It’s the year after that we run into some serious issues, and that’s conveniently the point where his NMC runs out. Easy to waive him and bury him in the minors to make room for Gagner and Cog’s new deals.

  24. Oilman says:

    Still, he’s from the Edmonton area originally I think, and I don’t remember him ever playing in Canada. So maybe he’d like to end his career that way. Worth a shot anyways.

    Barnes is from here in Spruce Grove and according to my sources;o) (Stu’s Dad), he’ll either play one more year in Dallas or retire to a position in the team – he’s settled in Dallas and that’s his home now – he won’t be leaving.

  25. Bruce says:

    I don’t remember him ever playing in Canada.

    Vic: Barnes is so old his career started with the Winnipeg Jets (102 GP over parts of three seasons).

    if we can get rid of Souray by the end of this year AND if we pick up a legit top four defender, this team has a really bright future.

    Dennis: Are you prepared to consider the possibility, however remote, that Souray might himself be a legit top four defenceman?

  26. Bank Shot says:

    Perhaps when Tampa Bay’s one offseason quick fix falls flat they’ll be interested in possibly offloading Old Man Halpern for a wunder kid or pick.

    He’ll be dropping back to earth offensively no doubt with Stamkos stealing all the PP time, and quality linemates. Assuming his knee injury isn’t fatal for his career, he’d fit nicely between Pisani and Moreau.

    The 3 spot could give the Oilers all kinds of trouble next season they don’t find a trade like that. The center has so much more defensive responsibility then wingers that it will be hard for Pisani and Moreau to cover no matter how well they play.

  27. Dennis says:

    As long as there’s a cap and there’s other players to pay, I”ll only consider Souray in the “moving him” context, Bruce.

    :)

  28. Bruce says:

    Dennis: This just in: Souray has four years to go on his contract, two of them with a no-move clause. So pipe dreaming about moving him seems like a waste of time.

    I’m just hoping he’ll be healthy, earn at least some of that money, and help the team.

  29. Dennis says:

    You know what else seems like a waste of time?

    Counting errors:)

    I like harping on Souray because it’s Lowe’s not-so-secret shame; yet it’s one the press won’t touch.

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