Respect the Cluster

Last night Kevin Prendergast gave the clearest indication yet that the Edmonton Oilers are moving on from the Dany Heatley soap opera. Quoting KP (courtesy Dan Tencer): “I think we’ve given up hope on the Heatley scenario; but, I guess it’s not dead in the water. But, at this point, it looks like we’ll go to camp with the same team we finished with last year outside of a new goaltender. I think at this point, it’s pretty evident what’s going to happen. But, we haven’t closed the door on the whole issue yet.”

Reading the tea leaves, I think we can safely say Heatley is staying in Ottawa or heading to an NHL city not named Edmonton.

Which is a really good thing. I’m not coming late to the party on this, in my opinion trading for Dany Heatley (by giving up important parts of the young cluster) would have been a mistake. I entered the summer hoping Edmonton would be able to add a free agent scorer (my hope was Gaborik) and then fill in with a veteran R and D plus suss out the goalie situation.

Steve Tambellini (so far) has acquired a goalie (Nikolai Khabibulin) and sent away Kyle Brodziak. This is not in keeping with my template and it’s sure as hell not in keeping with his (a new GM has a short window of opportunity to show his acumen and Tambellini looks for all the world like the kid driving the Ford Falcon and losing the girl to the guy in the Barracuda) based on his spring press conference that sent Craig MacTavish away.

The most important item as I see it is keeping the cluser intact. From Ales Hemsky at the top end to Sam Gagner at the bottom, the Oilers have a nice collection of players who could exceed their contracts in 2009-10. Added to the veterans who are getting paid (Horcoff, Moreau, Pisani, Souray, Visnovsky, Staios, Khabibulin) this club should be able to add a few parts and then contend for the second season. Let’s list the young cluster:

  • Ales Hemsky, Tom Gilbert (26)
  • Denis Grebeshkov (25)
  • Patrick O’Sullivan, Robert Nilsson, JF Jacques, Marc Pouliot, Zack Stortini (24)
  • Ladislav Smid (23)
  • Andrew Cogliano (22)
  • Sam Gagner (20)

Now, let’s compare that young cluster to the group in the same bracket who play for the Calgary Flames:

  • Jay Bouwmeester, Curtis Glencross, Eric Nystrom, Fredrick Sjostrom (26)
  • Marc Giordano (25)
  • Dion Phaneuf, Nigel Dawes (24)
  • Dustin Boyd (23)

The Flames have added heavily (and smartly) to this cluster during the summer and the Oilers attempted to subtract heavily. Over the last several years Calgary has been the superior club and they’ve most certainly had a superior summer.

Dany Heatley would be a short term fix and would subtract from the future. Not to the extent that Calgary adding Bouwmeester did, but certainly enough to tip the scales from the point they were before the deal with Florida.

Kevin Lowe set this team on a rebuilding course the moment he traded Chris Pronger for kids and had no plan to replace Pronger’s minutes on the big club. Moving off course, divorcing the kids aged 20-26 and the ones coming up now would be an extremely poor bet. We’ve seen what Jarome Iginla can do to a generation of Oilers-Flames games, but the promise of Gagner, Cogliano and Hemsky and Gilbert is that a new day is just around the corner. Start messing with that and we’ll be hoping for 8th place forever. Surely there’s a better way.

I’m fine with the Khabibulin signing–it’s just money. I’m fine with dealing Brodziak because he wanted more money–his skill set is replaceable. But leave the main components of the cluster alone: Hemsky, Gilbert, Grebeshkov, possibly O’Sullivan and certainly Cogliano and Gagner.

The Oilers have not had a good summer, there were better moves to be made. However, I’m thrilled that Cogliano is still an Oiler and look forward to seeing how much better he and the others will be when they mature into actual NHL players. The failed Heatley deal along with a solid draft featuring a “manna from heaven” moment in the first round are strong arrows in the right direction. These moves stand for staying the course, building through the draft and not sending away kids in the “Miro Satan as an Oiler” phase of their careers.

Respect the cluster.

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