This is Rick Monday. He’s just killed me. A series of unfortunate decisions led to the moment in time when Rick Monday hit the Steve Rogers pitch to Pluto and ended the dreams of Montreal Expos fans in 1981. And beyond. WHY did Jim Fanning bring in Steve Rogers, a starter? WHY did he keep him in the lineup after Ron Cey hit a long fly ball to deep left the previous at-bat?
Why oh why oh why.
The Edmonton Oilers are not (despite some who say it) burdened with a Jim Fanning “gut feel” gunslinger manager. The Oilers coach (Craig MacTavish) has over an 8-year span (’00-’08) made mostly rational decisions and on the biggest stage (Stanley Cup playoffs) pushed the right buttons in series against Detroit, San Jose and Anaheim. I’m also prepared to suggest that despite his choice of backup in the fateful G1 SCF that spring, the fault for the Stanley loss doesn’t fall at the feet of the head coach.
Since the Chris Pronger trade, this club has been in development mode. Thousands of at-bats have been given to Ladislav Smid, Matt Greene, Marc Pouliot, Tom Gilbert, Brad Winchester, Robert Nilsson, Kyle Brodziak, Zack Stortini, JF Jacques, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Liam Reddox, Jeff Deslauriers and a few I haven’t mentioned here.
While doing that, the Oilers have also tried to put a winning team on the field. They have some veterans who are long in the tooth (Roloson, Moreau, Staios), some who are in the heart of their careers (Horcoff, Cole), a few hired guns (Lubo, Souray), a mess of kids (above, plus Grebeshkov) and even one guy touched by God (Hemsky). They’ve even spent money, lots of it.
The Oilers have one fatal flaw: they never had had a balanced team. Because of the aggressive development group each season there has always been a gap here or there. One year it was the goaltending, the next it was madness on the blue, this season it’s veteran NHL talent who can help the PK. It’s a simple error to fix, and in fact the Oilers should have the people on-site to do the job. However, Ethan Moreau and Steve Staios seem to have lost a step overnight (I remember it happening to Jay Bell like this, one day he just couldn’t play shortstop anymore) in this regard and the kids can’t puck up the slack.
You’ve heard me talk about “replacement level” talent from time to time, players who are NHL average and can be had for very little. All sports have these players, often they travel from team to team because although valuable they can also be replaced easier than guys who perform at an above average level. As an example, Mike Sillinger has changed teams many times over the years despite obvious and measurable value. Why? Because a team dealing him picks up an attractive prospect or pick in exchange for someone they can replace in many ways during the summer. Maybe the Islanders use Tambellini in that role next year, or bring back the new Wes Walz or sign Marty Reasoner.
None of it matters, except to say that Mike Sillinger and members of his family are readily available at any time in the NHL. So, if that’s the case why in hell are the Edmonton Oilers standing pat?
They are bleeding out. Not because they don’t have talent, not because the defense is too young, not even (this time) because they’re developing too many kids at one time (which they are) but because they don’t have anyone to make the simple play.
Ball on two hops to second base. Flash leather, lazy throw to the bag, umpire raises his hand and the runner relaxes because he’s dead. He runs it out because of his training but he knew it was over before he ran halfway down the line.
They’re pissing away a season because they can’t find a replacement level player to do a job that requires less actual skill than pretty much anything else a major league player is asked to do. Is killing a penalty easier than scoring a goal? Stopping a breakaway? Making a butter pass to the slot in the split second window when the play is available?
You know the answer. You know the answer. So what are we waiting for? Blue Snow?