How Many At-Bats for the Kids this Year? (Pt 2)

This is Pat Conacher. He led all Oiler rookies in regular season games played during their first Stanley season (1984). It’s true. Conacher was 24 that year, went 42gp, 2-8-10 as a energy, depth player. Conacher had signed as a free agent in the summer of 1983 and even got into some playoff games (3, scored a goal) the following spring as Edmonton marched to its first championship.

Conacher was older than a few pretty good players on that team, including Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Kurri, Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Grant Fuhr, Charlie Huddy and Andy Moog. Of course those people were stunning talents, but they were also more experienced as NHL players than Conacher despite his being their senior.

The point? Rookies are fine and dandy, but winning teams employ few first year players and even fewer rookies play major roles. Ken Dryden’s wonderful spring 1971 is very famous but the list of flat out rookies who lead their team to glory is very small.

Let’s list the NHL regular season games played by the center of that great Oiler roster in the spring of 1984:

  1. Wayne Gretzky (393)
  2. Kevin Lowe (383)
  3. Mark Messier (375)
  4. Paul Coffey (314)
  5. Jari Kurri (290)
  6. Glenn Anderson (290)
  7. Charlie Huddy (204)
  8. Grant Fuhr (125)
  9. Andy Moog (103)

Lordy. Imagine Ales Hemsky (349 games currently) having 8 guys of similar calibre with that much NHL experience before age 25 (some of these men were just 22 at this time). Despite appearances, the Oilers were a pretty experienced (if young) group by the time they learned to win.

Which we know just from observing the game. A recent example would be the Pittsburgh Penguins, who got all the way to the finals this season before being humbled by a veteran group of NHL players. Detroit’s role in Pittsburgh’s emergence as a power may one day be compared to our own Oilers and their learning curve with the New York Islanders of the 1980s.

In terms of the current NHL Oilers, I think any reasonable person would agree that running these kids through the hay baler that is the big leagues has cost the team dearly in the standings since the Stanley run. I’m not going to argue with anyone about injuries or the Pronger trade or any of the things we’ve navel gazed about over the last 24 months.

Can we agree that rookies and winning championships, while not mutually exclusive, are rarely seen together and never march in lock step over a period of years? You’re either building or you’re winning.

Rob Schremp might be the last rookie to make the Oilers boat for the Hemsky romp through the rest of the decade, or maybe it’s Peckham. Whoever it is, let it be the last for a time. Enough with the building.

In the spring of 1983-84, the Oilers devoted 8 games to rookies during the post-season (5 to Raimo Summanen, 3 to Conacher). This represents 2% of the overall roster that spring.

In the last two NHL seasons, the Edmonton Oilers have devoted 5,963 on-ice minutes to rookie forwards. This represents about 21% of the overall minutes devoted to the Oilers forwards since the Pronger trade. I’m not arguing the merits of bringing in Gagner or Cogliano, that’s a no-brainer. However, the clock is ticking on that beauty Ales Hemsky contract and this post-Stanley swoon was completely self inflicted.

If the Edmonton Oilers had signed two veteran defensemen after the Pronger deal and then added a gritty, veteran winger when the injuries hit fall 2006 it is resaonable to argue the last two seasons would have turned out differently. Some of us were arguing it at the time.

How many at-bats for the kids this summer? Less than 1,500 minutes (including injuries) for the complete roster seems like a nice target.

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28 Responses to "How Many At-Bats for the Kids this Year? (Pt 2)"

  1. Dennis says:

    So, we’re gonna draft with the intention of the picks as trading chips?

  2. Paper Designer says:

    “If the Edmonton Oilers had signed two veteran defensemen after the Pronger deal and then added a gritty, veteran winger when the injuries hit fall 2006 it is resaonable to argue the last two seasons would have turned out differently.”

    Yeah, things would have turned out differently. Gagner would be suiting up for the Bruins, not the Oilers. And they still wouldn’t have made the playoffs.

    Does Kevin Lowe’s performance indicate that he was the type of GM who would try to go into the season with a 20 year old Smid as an automatic top six defenceman? No, he probably just experienced the same thing he did during the summer of 2007, a bunch of “Edmonton? No thanks.” statements by players. Keep in mind that everyone was wondering what had to be so wrong in Edmonton than Pronger had to leave after coming within a game of winning the cup.

    And I’m still not convinced it would have been enough. This was a team that with Smyth and before the injuries, was a 9th-11th place team. But I doubt those injuries would have been alleviated by other players enough to get them into the playoffs. They probably would be, with the injuries but a few extra veteran bodies, in the 9th-11th range.

    At the end of the year, that team was not a few players away from being in a playoff spot, they were about a dozen players away. Ultimately, Gagner made up for that lost year.

  3. Say No to Mike Johnson says:

    “If the Edmonton Oilers had signed two veteran defensemen after the Pronger deal and then added a gritty, veteran winger when the injuries hit fall 2006 it is resaonable to argue the last two seasons would have turned out differently.”

    This is the Toronto Maple Leaf mentality. Sign a bunch of plugs and be average forever. In a league with 29 losers it makes zero sense to try and go for 8th every year.

    Signing vet plugs and going for 8th is like staying at your 40k/year job. You can live comfortably, sure, but you will never be well off. Bringing in a bunch of kids is like going back to school. You’re going to come out with potential to make a shitload more money than your previous job. It’s always possible that you might not end up with a better job but at least you’re not guaranteeing that you’re going to be average or 8th place.

    You can sign Dvo and Aaron Ward and pay Smyth 5.5 million for 60 points and go for 8th place again or you can roll the dice with some youth and go for something other than that construction job in Lacombe.

    All I know is I’m glad that Lowe doesn’t leaf mentality like the majority of the bloggers out there.

    A lesser GM would have handcuffed the team by signing Smyth to please fans and trade off the Chorney’s, Petry’s and Schremp’s for veteran help to save his ass. Be thankful you had a GM who was always thinking down the road and not so idiot trying to build the next Toronto Maple Leafs.

  4. Say No to Mike Johnson says:

    There’s a difference in building a team to make the playoffs and building a team to win the Stanley.

  5. Paper Designer says:

    There’s also the Detroit Red Wings mentality where they’re always constantly bringing along a small rookie presence to eventually replace their top players once they retire or leave.

    Rookies in moderation, then. I’d prefer the Oilers free up another top twelve spot for a rookie (specifically, get rid of Pouliot), and another on defence (although I understand the need for Strudwick), but injuries will probably open up a spot or two anyway.

  6. boopronger says:

    I’m with SNTMJ on this one as well. I’d rather see the Oilers have big years or terrible years then fall into 7-11 place every year. Now i realize you can be top of the league every year and have a chance at the cup but not everyone can be Detroit.

  7. Lowetide says:

    Dennis: Not at all. Rookies need to come along at a pace that’s reasonable and when a team doesn’t have enough talent then the alternatives are thin.

    Having said that, developing Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid and Matt Greene at the same time is a bit of overkill. And that’s what they were doing, because an alternative (Hejda) was idling in the driveway for most of that time.

    paper designer: O, so it’s okay that Lowe traded Pronger for kids and then didn’t cover up the D because he got Sam Gagner? Well, I’m a Lowe supporter but that’s too rich for me. His procurement department got it right (it appears they would have had it right either with what with Voracek coming along rapidly) but the argument is pretty weak.

    And the whole Smid argument falls flat too. I said at the time the Pronger return was fine (really I did) but with the caveat that they needed to go get 2 established defenders. They never did get it done and that’s on Lowe because why in the wide world of sports would you trade Pronger before you covered your ass?

    It may not have been enough, but running Matt Greene and Ladislav Smid out there to do their impersonation of saloon doors was just pitiful.

    say no to mike johnson: The Toronto Maple Leafs were a helluva team for a long damn time. It’s always easy to rip them (God knows I do) but the Quinn Leafs were a pretty nice club and they still have some talent on that team. My argument has been that they stayed toon long at the fair with Sundin as the centerpiece but Jesus Murphy the guy was a killer.

    The Oilers situation is different. They have a few years here with Hemsky at a good price and guys like Gagner on their way to a nice payday. It’s time to stop the development wheel (and I do think they will this season, with Smid leaving and a more veteran D coming in) in favor of a balanced team on takeoff.

    That’s what this summer has been all about, I think. Playtime is over, time to man up.

  8. HBomb says:

    A lesser GM would have handcuffed the team by signing Smyth to please fans and trade off the Chorney’s, Petry’s and Schremp’s for veteran help to save his ass. Be thankful you had a GM who was always thinking down the road and not so idiot trying to build the next Toronto Maple Leafs.

    And a better GM wouldn’t have turned around and spent the Smyth money on a lesser player in Sheldon Souray – right?

    THAT is a move that reeks Maple Leafs. What do you say to that?

  9. Say No to Mike Johnson says:

    “That’s what this summer has been all about, I think. Playtime is over, time to man up.”

    We definitely have the organizational depth and assets to make a real run, not just this year, but if we’re smart, the next 5-10 years. A real credit to Lowe.

    Moving Smid would be a Leaf Mentality move (I agree with you on Sundin, but other than that…) unless it’s in a package for a guy like Volchenkov or Suter or a guy that’s basically a little more established than Smid but still young (and cheap) enough to grow with the young core that we have going. I would never move him for a one year of a Gator/Ward/Mitchell unless I thought my window of opportunity was closing. (it’s only just beginning)

    Even if Van wanted to trade 3 years of Mitchell @ 3.5 per for Smid would paying Mitchell 3.5 on the 3rd pairing make sense?

    Smid/Grebeshkov is actually a very good 3rd pairing long-term and short-term it’s probably just as good or better than most teams 3rd pairing. If this team is serious about winning right now then the play would be to upgrade on someone in the top 4. Gilbert just signed and will look like a steal in a few years, we just traded for Vis and Souray has a NMC. Staios is the guy.

    Send Staios and 3 of Brule, Schremp, Chorney, Pouliot, O’marra or even throw in Nilsson and replace him on the kid line with someone above and get Bouwmeester. (Although they might not like our assets as they traded Olli for trash even though the Oil were interested.)

  10. Say No to Mike Johnson says:

    “THAT is a move that reeks Maple Leafs. What do you say to that?”

    Souray, while overpaid, is still an asset. I didn’t like the move but he would still have 1st round pick+ trade value if he didn’t fuck up his shoulder last year.

    If not signing Souray meant we would get 3 first then signing him would make zero sense but that wasn’t the case.

  11. Say No to Mike Johnson says:

    Considering MacT was going to have a big say on who Lowe was going to sign/trade for last year and considering MacT has always had a shit PP I think Mac might be a little to blame for that one too.

  12. Lowetide says:

    I’d take Willie Mitchell for Ladislav Smid yesterday, today and tomorrow. Look, I like Smid and think he’s going to have a career.

    But the Oilers have another bunch of kids coming up and Smid’s the last guy on the rope again. Everyone else has either passed him or left town.

    He’s having a Pierre Bouchard career so far, it might be time to send him out for a veteran and then call up kids when injuries arrive.

    STARTING with a guy like Smid means that if Souray gets injured again (a stretch, I’ll agree) now we’re Smid deep, calling up Peckham and Chorney is learning how to drive to the airport from his apartment.

    You can’t compete in the NW division and develop defensemen for the National Hockey League every damn year.

  13. boopronger says:

    i wouldnt be opposed to having mitchell and visnovsky as the top pairing d men.

  14. Asiaoil says:

    “But the Oilers have another bunch of kids coming up and Smid’s the last guy on the rope again. Everyone else has either passed him or left town”

    The guys who have left town (MAB, Greene) were not near as good and the supposed guys who passed him (Gilbert, Grebs) are 2-3 years older. Tom Gilbert was still in college 3 years ago, Grebs had never cracked an NHL roster and was was toiling in the AHL. That’s the comparison to Smid and anything else is misleading. The younger guys are just that – younger – and are where Smid was 2-3 years ago. So Smid is really competing against no one as a 22 year old with 3 years of pro experience under his belt.

    Smid has gained a ton of experience as a very young defense-first dman and I think a Phillips/Volchenkov development path is on target. Just because the offense isnt there to counter the defensive gaffes right now doesn’t mean the defensive gaffes will not go away. He is exactly the kind of guy would bring along slowly. I think this season the light goes on and all of the trade Smid talk will look very foolish next summer.

  15. Asiaoil says:

    Forgot to mention….the only move on defense that I have disagreed with post-FCP is letting Hejda go and signing Souray. Not that I think that Souray is useless – it’s just a very poor use of cap space.

  16. Lowetide says:

    Bergeron routinely gets shat upon by Oilers fans but he’s having an NHL career and that means something.

    Greene’s size and speed are going to get him a lot of chances and he should also have a career.

    I’m not saying Smid is worthless, nothing of the sort. I’m saying he’s the guy you send away when the time comes to shoot the moon and win the division.

    Which, unless I missed the point of the Erik Cole trade, would be now.

  17. Say No to Mike Johnson says:

    “You can’t compete in the NW division and develop defensemen for the National Hockey League every damn year.”

    You also can’t have Steve Staios making 2.9 million on the third pairing because you traded away a young cheap 3rd pairing Smid.

    You need balance, you can’t have third pairing defensemen (which Staios would be if we moved Smid for Mitchell) making 2.9M and keep the Pisani’s and Moreau’s playing on the 3rd line. There is only so much cap space to go around.

    Having 6 top 4 defensemen would be nice but it isn’t attainable because the salary cap unless the team has no balance or you have cheap players filling out the bottom pairing.

    Condisering that the salery cap basically makes developing home grown talent imperative for success (Edmonton and Calgary probably moreso than anyone) wouldn’t filling the cheap player/easy minute role with a young defensemen like Ladi Smid make sense?

    Nothing against Steve Staios, he bleeds blue and leaves it all on the ice but it’s your dream to go for it big right now, not mine, so if we went after a top 4 defender then Staios would be the guy I would move.

    Having 6 top 4 defensemen might be nice but having 3 or 4 really good top 4 defensemen and Smid/Grebeshkov bottom pairing is better.

    Staios would be the guy I would upgrade but keep in mind that still being a contender 5 years down the road largely impacts my decision. If I didn’t give a shit about the future then yeah, I would deal Smid for (insert vet defensemen here) today, tommorow and yesterday.

  18. Lowetide says:

    Staios’ contract runs through 2011, I don’t know why they’d even think of getting rid of him based on how he played last season.

  19. Bruce says:

    You can’t compete in the NW division and develop defensemen for the National Hockey League every damn year.

    No, you pick the right defencemen and develop them for your own team. Minnesota has competed pretty well in the NW post-lockout while developing Brent Burns, Nick Schultz and Kurtis Foster.

    The Oilers trio of Gilbert, Grebeshkov and Smid is not a perfect comparable, for one thing they haven’t stuck with the team for 3+ years yet like those Wild guys, but that would seem to be the game plan.

  20. Lowetide says:

    Except that they weren’t all playing for Minnesota and learning at the same time:

    1. Kurtis Foster was drafted by Calgary in 2000 and was 25 (basically) when the Wild got him. He had played over 250 games of high level pro hockey before stepping on the ice for the Wild.

    2. Brent Burns rookie season was 03-04. He played in 34 games.

    3. Schultz was a rookie in 01-02. He’d played two seasons before Burns arrived.

    In the fall of 2006, opening night, Matt Greene (27 games) and Smid (0 games) were on the ice in this rotation (from nhl.com):

    D1: Tjarnqvist-Smith
    D2: Smid-Staios
    D2: Bergeron-Greene

  21. Asiaoil says:

    I still don’t see why you want to dump a promising kid entering his 4th pro season at the very young age of 22 who is making peanuts and is finally getting to the stage where dmen start to “get it”. Smid on the 3rd pair is not the issue by a longshot – Staios on the top pair or Souray taking tough ES minutes are the issues. So why get all wound up about trading Smid when he’s not a problem from either a hockey or financial perspective if he’s playing on the 3rd pair?

  22. Bruce says:

    1. Kurtis Foster was drafted by Calgary in 2000 and was 25 (basically) when the Wild got him. He had played over 250 games of high level pro hockey before stepping on the ice for the Wild.

    2. Brent Burns rookie season was 03-04. He played in 34 games.

    3. Schultz was a rookie in 01-02. He’d played two seasons before Burns arrived.

    LT:

    1. Denis Grebeshkov was drafted by L.A. in 2002 and was 24 when the Oilers got him. He had played over 200 games of high level pro hockey (NHL and AHL) plus more than 120 games in the Russian Superliga before stepping on the ice with the Oil.

    2. Tom Gilbert’s rookie season was ’07-08. He played in 82 games.

    3. Ladislav Smid was a rookie in ’06-07. He’d played (most of) a full season before Gilbert arrived.
    ***

    AO: I’m with you all the way on this one; agree with you on Smid (promising, developing, affordable, stupid to trade him), on Hejda (a good acquisition that got away), and on Souray (overpaid but hardly without value).

  23. Lowetide says:

    And if that’s all they’d done then we’d be in agreement. However, when Matt Greene is learning on the job at the exact same time then you have trouble.

    Here’s what Huddy told Dan Tencer in that interview awhile back about what they were considering running with:

    Souray – Staios
    Visnovsky – Gilbert
    Grebeshkov – Smid
    Strudwick

    If Smid stays in that slot all year long there is no worry. At all.

    What are the odds that no one gets injured and that the level of difficulty stays at that level?

    Zero.

    When MacT backed Smid off in terms of difficulty last season the results were positive:

    33gp, 0-2-2 -12
    32gp, 0-2-2 -3

    That second half is pretty nice.

    EXCEPT that it’s an end of the roster guy who struggles when the competition gets tougher and the Oilers spent the summer getting their cannons pointed in the right direction.

    You’ve got Souray who let’s face it has had some injuries in the past and is at an age where most players lose MORE games not fewer to injury. We have an aging Staios with some miles on him and we have Visnovsky who isn’t Rod Langway in his own end.

    And then we have the three young defensemen finding their way. I like all of them, fine players and with both RFA one year from now (and Grebeshkov apparently all over the KHL) Smid’s value to the organization in the future is obvious.

    I’d still trade him. The Oilers dealt an RFA in Pitkanen for one year of Erik Cole and have several defenders (Peckham, Chorney, Wild, Petry, Bisaillon) who are knocking on the door. These players are less experienced in pro hockey than Smid but they are making progress through college, junior and the minor leagues in a fashion that tells us at least some of them will have NHL careers.

    So, looking to the future (which is the place where Smid’s value lies) we have Smid (1986 born) up against Chorney, Peckham, Wild and Petry (1987 born) and Sebastien Bisaillon (late 1986 born, he’s 10 months younger than Smid) all knocking on the door.

    Aside from Strudwick who might be something more but looks like a stopgap currently, who is the next guy the Oilers dump? Well they might lose Grebeshkov to Russia and that’s a consideration but since Souray’s contract has a NMC for awhile yet and Staios is a guy you keep unless his skills go downhill fast (and that does happen with Dmen) then it’s Ladislav Smid.

    Since arriving in the NHL opening night, he’s been passed on the depth chart by Gilbert and Grebeshkov. Can he hold back Chorney, Wild, Petry Peckham and Bisaillon?

    It isn’t like he’s 5 years older or anything. He has way more NHL experience but the question is did it take?

    I’m quite happy the Oilers dealt Greene and kept Smid. I’d be happier if they dealt Smid for a more experienced hand on the blueline (and they do have some cap room) and then when Souray goes down they can call up Peckham and start his development as a 6-7D with Strudwick.

  24. Ribs says:

    And a better GM wouldn’t have turned around and spent the Smyth money on a lesser player in Sheldon Souray – right?

    Some fun numbers…

    Smyth 06-07: 71GP 36G 32A 68PTS
    Souray 06-07: 81GP 26G 38A 64PTS

    Keep in mind that Souray is not a forward on your first line.

    Just sayin’.

  25. Dennis says:

    LT: Yes, Smid could have a Mezeros plus/minus number if he stayed in that role and the team scored a lot of goals but as you said the trickledown is that he has to move up once someone gets injured and the bigger mark is that Staios/Souray are being expected to carry the mail.

    I think my next biggest problem with Smid will be if he decides that he really wants to get paid. He wasn’t sufficent bounty for Pronger and he’s about to clock in his third year and unless he takes a huge step this year — such as absolutely eating soft min and being killer on the PK — there’s no way you make the decision to really Pay him.

    Anyway, once again, we’ve got a team out of balance with the forwards/goalies being further along and/or more able than the D.

    I think we can win a playoff round if we stay healthy enough and other teams get injured enough that we finish 4th or higher and get HIA for the first round and thus MacT gets the matchups hammer. OTOH, one major injury in the D and we’re close to falling back into the void when it comes to defending.

  26. Dennis says:

    One last thing: where does everyone think everyone would’ve landed had the Oilers landed Laraque?

    Would Stortini have been cast aside? Pouliot? What were the timeframes for those signings as opposed to when BG was inked?

    That should tell us something, no?

  27. Slipper says:

    “Souray, while overpaid, is still an asset… he would still have 1st round pick+ trade value if he didn’t fuck up his shoulder last year.”

    Souray would have been worth a 1st+? With the 5.4 million dollar cap hit that takes him to the age of 36?

    I’m pretty sure Doug MacLean was out of a job before the beginning of last season.

    “Yeah, things would have turned out differently. Gagner would be suiting up for the Bruins, not the Oilers. And they still wouldn’t have made the playoffs.”

    If we’re going by this logic, then Lowe fucked up by missing out on Turris/Kane and Stamkos by not trading Hemsky and Horcoff in ’06, right? Or else we could be a little more sensible and realize the Oilers could have just as randomly been left in position to select Keaton Ellerby instead of Sam Gagner.

    Lastly, if “Leaf Mentality” means not trading a top 5 positional player in the league for multiple lesser players and some unqualified draft picks, then call me a fan of “Leaf Mentality”.

    The only thing the Leafs have done right in the past 5 years is not trading Sundin.

    Now if we want to talk about bogging up a salary structure by giving top pairing money to a defensive bench full of players who are NOT named Lidstom, Pronger, Zubov or Neidermyer- we then might be closer to what we share in common with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

  28. Doogie2K says:

    Some fun numbers…

    Smyth 06-07: 71GP 36G 32A 68PTS
    Souray 06-07: 81GP 26G 38A 64PTS

    Keep in mind that Souray is not a forward on your first line.

    Just sayin’.

    Which of these is more likely to be duplicated?

    Just sayin’.

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