The Elephant in the Room

The other day I started a series of “versus” threads and will keep doing them until the end of the month. One of the problems for the Oildrop (as I see it) is that the club is made up of players whose skills overlap and in very many cases they also have a matching set of weaknesses.

This isn’t a good thing. I think the biggest problem up front for MacT a season ago was the number of players who were small, skilled, not terribly strong on the puck and just learning on the job when it came to basic NHL law (where best to turn the puck over, why three forwards behind the opposition net is death, etc).

The new coach is going to have a bunch of things that will need to be addressed before fall time: a suitable replacement for the Stoll/Reasoner minutes on the 07-08 team; a goalie who can play; the sheer number of undersized forwards; the powerplay; the penalty kill; the veterans who didn’t lead.

It’s a team at a crossroads, and the two forwards who can lead them have extremely similar skillsets. Ales Hemsky is more ad-lib and reflex, Sam Gagner is more vision and cerebral cortex.

After that, there’s a train of similarities: pass-first, RH shot, finesse, deke-instead-of-shoot and on it goes. If a new coach is really going to have some options, then the GM has to look at these two players and be able to find complementary pieces on the roster (or acquire them). Craig MacTavish found a match for Hemsky in Horcoff, and Gagner had a nice run with Cogliano and Nilsson for a time in 07-08 down the stretch.

With everyone on the planet aware that the Oilers are easy to lean on, and with both Hemsky and Gagner being finesse players–where do they go from here? Can the Oilers marry Penner to one of them, find some sandpaper for both and roll on down the highway with Horcoff-Hemsky and Gagner plus? Or will they trade one of them in order to build the team around the other? There have in fact been rumors this spring about major names heading out of town as part of a major housecleaning.

Sam Gagner

  • Boxcars: 76gp, 16-25-41, 51pims
  • Shots: 156
  • Plus Minus: -1
  • Corsi: -0.9
  • GF/GA ON: 43-39
  • 5×5/60: 1.69
  • 5×4/60: 3.12
  • Quality of Competition: 3rd level
  • Quality of Teammates: very good 2nd level
  • FO %: 42.0% in 690 sorties
  • 09-10 Cap Hit: $.875M (nhlnumbers.com)

Ales Hemsky

  • Boxcars: 72gp, 23-43-66, 32pims
  • Shots: 185
  • Plus Minus: +1
  • Corsi: 4.3
  • GF/GA ON: 44-40
  • 5×5/60: 2.08
  • 5×4/60: 5.00
  • Quality of Competition: 2nd level
  • Quality of Teammates: best available
  • FO %: 0-for-4
  • 09-10 Cap Hit: $4.1M (nhlnumbers.com)

Hemsky is clearly the superior player and is approaching his prime. For all of his negatives (turns the puck over, there’s an injury concern, he’s stubborn and seemed to go through the motions during periods of this past season) this is a guy who can make a difference. He’s really good offensively and he’s 25.

I think Sam Gagner is going to be an impact player in this league and he is tracking ahead of Hemsky at the same age. However, for this organization to trade Ales Hemsky this summer there better be something historic coming back.

The Oilers have already made a major change since the end of the regular season; they can help themselves more by adding pieces to the talented group that includes Hemsky, Horcoff, Gagner, Cogliano, Visnovsky and possibly Penner. The new coach is best served by having Hemsky for the 1line and the PP, and using Gagner on the 2line with some gritty additions for both men. The Oilers have solved the hard part: wonderfully skilled players under contract with the lessons of two seasons learned for Gagner.

Finding complementary players is a lot easier than finding another Gagner or Hemsky. The procurement department found the hard-to-find gems; Kevin Lowe failed in his attempt to find working men with experience who could rattle and hum until the skill players could cash.

The key to solving the Oilers’ current problems doesn’t include sending away either of these players. Should they do so, there better be something special coming to Edmonton. And if they trade Ales Hemsky just as he becomes an impact player, the Oilers can look forward to another decade of watching other teams win the division.

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