This is Miro Satan. One of the truly hilarious quotes from Ron Low was this about one season after Satan had been dealt:
“He could always score but he was a very streaky scorer. We’ve got streaky scorers here too, but they’re all streaking the wrong way. Miro’s become a lot more complete player there than here, like a lot of young players.” Thanks, Ron. At least you were honest.
Satan, who from all reports is a reasonable fellow, had this response those long years ago: “He (Ron Low) wasn’t confident in me and I wasn’t able to convince him to be that way. Once you get an opinion about somebody it’s hard to change them.” Amen, Miro.
The best quote on the story comes from Darcy Regier, who made off with the loot for Buffalo. He said “With young players there’s a window of opportunity, especially ones with skill. You don’t know if you’ll be able to help them find the switch in time before the window closes. Some make it, some don’t … some just squeeze through and that’s the game we all play.”
I think the Oilers do a much better job of playing that game now than they did a decade ago. First of all, a note on Satan. He wasn’t a “Rob Schremp” type, a guy who was putting up solid but unspectacular numbers. He was kicking the living crap out of the minor leagues early on (24 goals in 25 AHL games at age 20) and he scored in his first trip to the majors (18 goals in 95-96 with the Oildrop).
The 1995-96 season had a major impact on the decade that would follow for the Oilers. Ron Low, Glen Sather, Bruce MacGregor, Barry Fraser and the others involved in procurement and evaluation had managed to gather a lot of young talent. The key of course is to keep the right people, send away players who don’t make it for useful parts and move the battle forward.
Let’s list the forwards on the major league roster who were 25 and under:
- Doug Weight (24) 82gp, 25-79-104
- Zdeno Ciger (25) 78gp, 31-39-70
- Jason Arnott (20) 64gp, 28-31-59
- David Oliver (24) 80gp, 20-19-39
- Todd Marchant (22) 81gp, 19-19-38
- Miro Satan (20) 62gp, 18-17-35
- Dean McAmmond (22) 53gp, 15-15-30
- Marius Czerkawski (23) 37gp, 12-17-29
- Scott Thornton (24) 77gp, 9-9-18
- Ryan Smyth (19) 48gp, 2-9-11
- Kent Manderville (24) 37gp, 3-5-8
- Louie DeBrusk (24) 38gp, 1-3-4
- Ralph Intranuovo (21) 13gp, 1-2-3
- Jason Bonsignore (19) 20gp, 0-2-2
- Tyler Wright (22) 23gp, 1-0-1
- Dennis Bonvie (22) 8gp, 0-0-0
I didn’t include Kirt Maltby (going) or David Roberts (coming) because it always gets confusing when you use half-seasons and player who were traded for each other. Okay. Do you know about these players? Maybe I should just do a real quick thumbnail sketch on each just to make sure we’re on the same page. Good?
- Doug Weight: Excellent playmaker, intense as a young NHLer. He once belted Dmitri Yuskevich so hard the Russian went over the boards and when Garry Galley came to his aid Weight split him open with his stick. He was no Nancy boy, but he was a beauty player with leadership skills upon arrival. Weight had done his early development work in the NHL by the time he arrived in Edmonton.
- Zdeno Ciger: Oilers got him from the Devils because he was on Peter Stastny’s line and wouldn’t shoot the puck. He had size and skated pretty well but wasn’t tough or anything. Oilers got him for Bernie Nicholls at a time when they were just gathering players who were young and might be something.
- Jason Arnott: That first season was magic, maybe the best rookie season ever by an Oiler. Arnott displayed many of the skills we’d see later in that first season, but we soon found out he also had a penchant for injury and a reputation of entitlement. A gifted player but not a perfect fit.
- David Oliver: He was a goal scorer who had a lot of success in college. The Oilers made effective use of him on the powerplay. Oliver had good size but wasn’t a banger.
- Todd Marchant: Marchant was a good center when the Oilers had a bunch of good young ones who were just ahead of him. But he had blazing speed and he could score some.
- Miro Satan: A great natural talent who had lapses in terms of effort and wasn’t a fabulous pupil. He was very streaky and played for an Oiler team with plenty of options when he was in a slump.
- Dean McAmmond: He was a nice prospect (a role player on the ’93 WJC team for Canada), lots of speed and some skill but there were injuries early on (back troubles). He was gritty and could score goals in bunches.
- Marius Czerkawski: He was in the group of LW’s (Marchant, McAmmond, Satan) trying to establish themselves but was a little older. Czerkawski was a good offensive player but one dimensional, probably the most one dimensional player on the team. There were also rumblings about contract troubles.
- Scott Thornton: He was part of the famous Anderson/Fuhr-Damphousse trade. Thronton was a checker and a role player, a gritty winger who made himself useful.
- Ryan Smyth: He scored 91 goals his last two seasons of junior, he played motivated and early on he got results in the NHL (20 PP goals and a nice post-season in the year we’re discussing). Ryan Smyth was a crowd favorite very early on.
- Kent Manderville: Famous to Oiler fans as the guy Calgary drafted the summer they won the Stanley (all of the hockey magazines featured the Flames all summer long) and he was a player who used size and speed to create energy. He was overwhelmed on this list in terms of offensive talent.
- Louie DeBrusk: He was an enforcer. Good size and he could run people through cement. Had some memorable bouts.
- Ralph Intranuovo: Cogliano without the jam. He used to do this curl inside the blueline, did it every time I saw him. Never drove to the net, ever. He was a talented player though. Small, good speed. Killed AHL pitching.
- Jason Bonsignore: A big finesse center who was more pass than shoot. He came with great expectations because of his draft number. The truth is, unlike pretty much all of the others here, I never got a feel for him as a player. I remember seeing him but he was one of those “also in photo” players. Nothing much seemed to happen. But he was highly touted, I mean they talked him up real good. Earned the nickname “Bonsign-snore”.
- Tyler Wright: He was a fun player as a youngster. Played with an edge (despite being average or a little undersized) and he had speed so buzzed around the ice all night. He had a sputtering, Pouliot-type start to his career and injuries were a factor early on too.
- Dennis Bonvie: He wasn’t an NHL player or anything, but I always liked him. Tough guy, hard worker, did everything asked. Fought a lot, ended up setting PIM records.
Okay, I think that’s it. Using Darcy Regier’s profound quote above (“with young players there’s a window of opportunity, especially ones with skill. You don’t know if you’ll be able to help them find the switch in time before the window closes. Some make it, some don’t … some just squeeze through and that’s the game we all play”) and using hindsight it’s much easier these years gone to grade Sather on performance.
Now, you have to remember that we Oiler fans had just seen the dismantling of a dynasty. You can live with dealing Coffey or Linseman or even Gretzky when the Stanley’s continue to roll but you’re never going to win those deals and when the Messier trade came down (imo) the Oilers handed the keys to greatness right along with them.
So I was never on board with Sather from the Messier deal forward. I mean, looking back these are fine players and when you have no money and are trading Tikkanen and MacTavish getting back Weight and Marchant is just about as good as it gets. But I’ll tell you buddy it sure as hell didn’t feel like it at the time.
So, if we’re going to use our hindsight let’s make three lists: A-List, role players and bait:
- A-List: Doug Weight, Jason Arnott, Ryan Smyth, Miro Satan.
- Role Players: Ciger, Marchant, McAmmond, Czerkaswski, Thornton, Wright
- Bait: Oliver, Manderville, DeBrusk, Intranuovo, Bonsignore, Bonvie
You’d like to see the GM keep the A-Train, allow the coach to find the useful role players and weed out the rest, and bait can be used to fill out the roster and be dealt when something better comes along or someone has a specific need and is willing to overpay a little.
Sather traded Arnott because the town was eating him up (and I’m not lying here, when Arnott left he was called everything from spoiled to lazy and every time he said anything it made things worse) but got a nice return. He blew it on Satan big time (especially because Satan wasn’t shopped, we know this from interviews after the fact. Sather wanted the players he got in return) but the coach was the real culprit in that battle.
I think we need to give him credit for getting max return on people like Bonsignore and others. If there’s a quibble the organization didn’t give Tyler Wright enough of a shot but that’s probably just me being a fan. I do know they didn’t get enough in return for him.
We also need to understand that while these kids were gifted, re-signing them was a bear. After the Adam Graves fiasco (don’t ask, it’s too painful) Edmonton would often deal off guys who might be contract hassles before they needed to just because Sather needed to bodies. I don’t know how you quantify it but this was a factor.
Bottom line in all of this is that by the late ’90s Edmonton was in some classic playoff series and although the Weight Oilers never won a damn thing the table was set for the 2000s. A team with Weight-Smyth-Guerin at the top, a checking line (Marchant-Moreau-Grier) that could do some things and some nice role players plus some pretty good prospects (Horcoff arrived fall 2000).
Now, I said at the top somewhere that imo the Oilers are handling this “finding the switch” deal with kids better now than they used to. I think there was a point when the Oilers changesd their way of doing business and I think it was Mike Comrie. Since Comrie, if there’s any issue of maturity the organization falls into snail-pace and waits for the kid to mature. They fast-tracked Hemsky and Gagner but they (like Ryan Smyth above) were unique talents.
I’ll have a follow-up to this post in the future, with specific attention to Lowe’s tenure before the lockout. I have some questions for you:
- Did Sather do his job after the Messier trade? Did he re-stock the cupboard?
- Did Lowe use the assets wisely?
Thanks in advance.