Opening Night Rosters (Projecting 09-10)

I would normally begin a long series of “reasonable expectations” and “comparables” posts at this time of year. We’d project next season and find out that very few Swedish forwards have been top 10 picks and that finding a comp for MPS will be difficult.

However, there’s so much up in the air with regard to the NHL and AHL roster at this point I’m going to delay the reasonable expectations posts with the exception of this review.

Over the last several seasons I’ve mentioned the ridiculous lack of balance on the Oiler roster on each opening night. We have seen some progress (the blue has some nice experience now) but there are still challenges. Here’s a look book and ahead.

Opening Night Fall 2005
  • L1: Horcoff-Smyth-Dvorak
  • L2: Peca-Torres-Hemsky
  • L3: Stoll-Moreau-Pisani
  • L4: Reasoner-Harvey-Laraque
  • D1: Pronger-Staios
  • D2: Ulanov-Smith
  • D3: Cross-Bergeron

Important things to note here are just how many two-way veterans are in the lineup up front. Dvorak might not look sexy in the top 6 but he did some nice things. It’s also interesting to note that Mike Peca is out there again and the current group of forwards could use a hand like Peca.

The combined NHL games played of this D group opening night was 3333. Pronger (722), J. Smith (710), Ulanov (702), Cross (603), Staios (537) and Bergeron (59). That’s a lot of NHL experience and I think this roster represents MacT’s comfort zone: Some gifted young players coming along in defined roles, with veterans surrounding them both F and D. I think we could reasonably name this roster “ideal for Oilers” and be close to top dead center.

A beauty team.

Opening Night Fall 2006

  • L1: Horcoff-Smyth-Lupul
  • L2: Sykora-Torres-Hemsky
  • L3: Stoll-Moreau-Pisani
  • L4: Reasoner-Thoresen-Winchester
  • D1: Tjarnqvist-Smith
  • D2: Smid-Staios
  • D3: Bergeron-Greene

Important notes here include Smid’s role on the team despite being 20 years old and having no NHL experience, the hugely significant change on the 1line and the fact that Stoll-Moreau-Pisani was together two opening nights in a row.

The combined NHL games played total for those 6 defensemen entering opening night was 1871: J. Smith (786), Staios (619), Tjarnqvist (278), Bergeron (134), Matt Greene (27) and Ladislav Smid (0). The Oilers began the season with two rookies and another player with less than 2 NHL seasons under his belt, and gave up over 1450 games of NHL experience to the previous club (that had a very strong chance at the Stanley). Kevin Lowe traded Chris Pronger without a plan and that is reflected on this blue.

Opening Night Fall 2007

  • L1: Horcoff-Penner-Hemsky
  • L2: Stoll-Torres-Nilsson
  • L3: Reasoner-Sanderson-Brodziak
  • L4: Cogliano-Jacques-Gagner
  • D1: Pitkanen-Staios
  • D2: Souray-Greene
  • D3: Tarnstrom-Gilbert

Important notes here include the promise of that 2line, how much Brodziak had impressed during TC to earn that elevated role, the fact that Jacques is so unique he keeps getting chances. For those who STILL complain about Horcoff in the 1line role: give your head a shake. You don’t keep a job for three NHL seasons if the results aren’t there.

The combined NHL games played this time? 1558. Staios 677, Souray 506, Tarnstrom 258, Pitkanen 206, Greene 105 and Gilbert 12. Only one rookie this time, who would eventually pass Greene during the season (he passed Smid in TC). ANOTHER 313 games lost in terms of NHL experience when compared to the Stanley team.

I also come back to that 2line. It started with promise, faded, resulted in Stortini being placed on that line (with some incredible on-ice reaction from Stoll and Torres) and may or may not have contributed to Stoll and Torres leaving town.

Opening Night 2008
  • L1: Horcoff-Cole-Hemsky
  • L2: Gagner-Cogliano-Nilsson
  • L3: Pisani-Moreau-Penner
  • L4: Brodziak-Pouliot-Stortini
  • D1: Visnovsky-Souray
  • D2: Grebeskhov-Gilbert
  • D3: Strudwick-Staios
  • Garon started and that was news.

Important notes include Cole on 1line LW and Pisani at center. The kid line started the season together and the 4line once again featured Pouliot out of position. The D pairings looked more experienced and less ragged and Strudwick knocked Smid upstairs to begin the season.

The combined D games in the NHL? 2628, which is a massive improvement. Steve Staios 759, Sheldon Souray 532, Lubomir Visnovsky 499, Jason Strudwick 488, Ladislav Smid 142, Denis Grebeshkov 104 and Tom Gilbert 94. It’s not perfect but this was a nice improvement for the club.

I should also mention the ill-fated goalie platoon and that MacT went off the rails (Pisani at center, etc) a little this season. It was a trying year for the organization.

Opening Night 2009 (Projected)

  • L1: Horcoff-Penner-Hemsky
  • L2: Gagner-O’Sullivan-Nilsson
  • L3: Cogliano-Moreau-Pisani
  • L4: Pouliot-Jacques-Stortini
  • D1: Souray-Visnovsky
  • D2: Grebeshkov-Gilbert
  • D3: Smid-Staios

I like the top line. Horcoff is a splendid player and the most complete forward available on this roster. Hemsky is touched by God and although there is chaos he is the offensive driver on this roster. Penner has holes in his game but can help in the offensive zone and on the powerplay.

The 2line is small and skilled, destined to buzz at home and fizzle on the road. A huge leap forward from Gagner (and Cogliano) is both historically possible and terribly necessary. The 3line has two old hands with injury concerns and the belief they are on the back 9, along with a young and inconsistent center who bleeds opportunities. I cannot believe Pat Quinn will coach a single game with this line as posted. The 4line is a crash and bang line and makes sense based on Pat Quinn’s established preference for his bottom six forwards.

The combined D games in the NHL? 3114, which is a wonderful number. Steve Staios 839, Sheldon Souray 613, Jason Strudwick 559, Lubomir Visnovsky 549, Ladislav Smid 202, Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebeskhov 176 each. I think you can make a strong case that this blue is good enough to make the second season and has enough depth and sustain to be successful in the playoffs. Another veteran would help, though.

It’s early. However, the Heatley trade looks dead in the water and the prospects of unloading some of these salaries seems a distant bell. The Oilers will make changes to improve center and will shop for help in terms of size and scoring up front.

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