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 (

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 (

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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16 Responses to "The Elephant in the Room"

  1. 99thoilerfan says:

    Nice read ! Enjoyed it !

    Funny your “Title”…

    I would have to say that I agree with it.

    I can only hope Tambo says:

    Hey Kevin, What is with this Elephant ? It has a name ?

    It name is “lucky” ? *sigh* figures….

  2. Coach pb9617 says:

    There are a number of perfect fits for this club that could be available and not cost much. The frustrating thing is knowing that this team won’t get any of them.

    It’s also frustrating knowing that there is 4.7 million in cap space being eaten up by a bottom pairing defender and a 4th line left wing and that the club doesn’t have a problem with that.

    Wonder what it would take to get Stephen Weiss out of Florida?

  3. knighttown says:

    I’m pretty excited to see what this exact team will do with new coaching. If they have a quiet offseason and set expectations low AND they can find a coach who brings optimism and demands nothing from the players but effort and fun, like Bylsma in Pittsburgh, this team could cause some problems.

    The shooting stats i put together last year showed some remarkable stats (that I can’t seem to find).


    Oilers behind – +30 SOG
    Oilers tied – +25 SOG
    Oilers behind- -150 SOG

    …or something like that.

    This shows me that when their asked to hang back and clog lanes to protect a lead things go badly. When they’re asked to rely on their natural talent they’re at least competitive.

  4. Gerta Rauss says:


    Trading either of these guys this summer would be nuts.

    -vet 3c
    -move some bodies/contracts if you’ve identified players that don’t have a future here(and reduce the total number of contracts)

    …and let the new coach have a look at what we’ve got.

    I wonder if Staios/Moreau might have more value if we keep them until the trade deadline…the potential trade partner would be getting 2 playoff runs out of each of them while (for the most part) only have to pay 1 of the 2 years remaining on their deals.

    Although if you get an offer this summer,you move them along.

  5. quain says:


    Tyler has shown that almost every team goes into the ‘turtle’ defense when they have the lead. The Oilers aren’t unique in getting outshot when they have a lead. They also don’t do particularly poorly in those instances either:

    Leading After One: 21-4-1
    Leading After Two: 25-1-2

    Edmonton’s problem wasn’t their lead defense, it’s the fact that they weren’t good enough to get that lead in the first place.

  6. PDO says:

    How long till the draft?

    I think that’s when we’ll start to have a much better idea of where this team is going.

  7. Vic Ferrari says:


    I think MacTavish teams have historically had about 2.5% less possession when leading. That’s also the league average also. Being conservative on the forecheck and at the blue lines does that.

    In the back half of the season the Oilers ended up leading for big chunks of games against clearly better teams. S.J, DET and CHI all spring to mind, CGY too, ANA as well.

    Some of those games Roloson was good and lucky, you’ve got to have the puck hit you a lot to keep a clean sheet against teams like these for that long. The DET game especially was a horror show.

    The tied shots+/- and tied corsi numbers are through the roof for this stretch, it’s steady progress for a season and a half before that. From abysmal to merely bad, approaching average. To my mind, there is no way this team became well above average after Vis went down. Just the way the cookie crumbled. And there was nothing different in the way they were playing with the lead, and nothing notably different from other teams in that situation either.

  8. PDO says:


    I expect the answer to be no, but do you think this team makes the playoffs if Visnovsky doesn’t blow out his shoulder?

  9. 99thoilerfan says:


    I think he was the best at directing the O out of the back end. His steadiness could have helped the PP too,and maybe could of mentored the younger guys. His play could have helped a lot. Enough to make the show? Maybe…just maybe…

    LT, your two cents ?

  10. Lowetide says:

    A healthy Lubo and Lowe getting MacT one damn veteran center would have been enough imo.

    Why they kept letting some of these kids get their brains bashed in is beyond me.

  11. Coach pb9617 says:

    Lowe getting MacT one damn veteran center would have been enough imo.Is this the new Ryan Smyth?

  12. Lowetide says:

    Coach: I’m not following. What?

  13. doritogrande says:

    We have two complimentary players for Hemsky. Problem is the coach had a vendetta against the bigger one. If Horpensky had a full season to run together I don’t think we’d have to worry about Hemsky’s production.

    As for Gagner, he’s got good chemistry with Cogliano and Nilsson, but they’re both small. For that matter, as is Tambellini’s new pet in O’Sullivan who you’d figure to get top-6 time. The line still needs something more, something slightly bigger or meaner but still having the offensive compliment. IMO, Gagne from Philly is the best fit on the line but cap limitations might put a damper on that dream. Failing that Mike Knuble is UFA and definitely provides that grit aspect. He’s played PVP in Philly, wonder what he could do with lesser opposition bearing down on him.

  14. DBO says:

    great post LT. Love these discussions because i think this is something as an organization you need to examine every year. Unfortuantely, from past experience, the oil go too far the other direction when addressing their needs (ie. all gritty young guys out, skill in last year). Funny how if we had a torres type on 2LW, a Stoll at 3C and a greene at 4D we’d all be happy. I know they had to be moved for more then their play on the ice, but add those 3 types of players to what we have and our team is way more balanced and tougher to play against.

    Based on his WC I like O’Sullivan at 2W, or even 1C. May sound crazy, but he centered the top line at the WC, played well 5on5 and I think led his team in points. He’s a shooter, decent on the dot, and can play with skill. His cap hit is reasonable, and if you move Horcoff to 3C/tough minutes line, then our team has the balance we’ve been lacking.

    new (moen)-Horcoff-Pisani

  15. DBO says:

    And on a side note. Rumours now say the Caps may look to deal Semin if it means they could get some cap relief (add theodore) and get an experoienced top end dman (they mention Bowmeester and Pronger). So would anyone do this deal?

    Semin, theodore and Morrison
    Vishnovski, Nilsson and Cogliano

    it’s a hell of a lot to give up, and it means taking theodores contract for one year. But it gives us a 4D with a mean streak in Morrison and it gives us a 1LW who can score with crazy skill (and not to mention he’s an RFA after next season so we still hold his rights).


    not a bad top 2 lines, and as I mentioned in my last post i would consider O’Sully at 1C, and find another winger for Gagner and Penner and allow Horc to play 3C/tough minutes.

  16. Dennis says:

    I would think that 10′s name would be mentioned numerous times because his contract’s gonna look a lot more tenable as soon as 89 posts a full year’s work.

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