Opening Night Rosters (and projecting 10-11)

It is impossible to project the opening night lineup (and lines, pairings) for next season. A new head coach, an extreme overhaul across the roster, a goalie with some legal issues, a defenseman in the doghouse. It’s a moving target.

With each new season we somehow forget just how important that opening lineup is to the upcoming season. Last year, we were greeted with a physical player on each line, the captain on the 4line and a horrible play late in the game for the first “L” of 09-10. Precursor of things to come? Yes.

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, they just needed a goalie.

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). That is horrible. 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.

The combined NHL games played for D 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

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

We see Pat Quinn’s touch on this lineup, with a physical player on every line and the captain on the 4line. That 2line should have ripped it up, but Gagner was soon forcing his way into the top 6F and Cogliano was soon set adrift. Comrie never did establish himself but he can still impact the offense with those quick hands.

The experience on the blue in 09-10: Staios (839); Souray (613); Visnovsky (549); Smid (202); Grebeshkov (176); Gilbert (176). That’s 2,555 NHL games experience. It is/was a nice group, but injuries and age (Staios) ruined the group. Still, the team had an experienced group last fall.

Opening Night 2010 (Projected)

  • L1: Horcoff-Penner-Hemsky
  • L2: Gagner-Hall-Eberle
  • L3: Brule-Paarjavi-Cogliano
  • L4: Fraser-Jones-Stortini
  • D1: Whitney-Gilbert
  • D2: (Souray)-Smid
  • D3: Vandermeer-Foster

There’s any number of ways to post the F’s, I’ve chosen a dedicated “tough minutes” group (L1) to line up against the other team’s best; a soft minutes 2line; a second soft minutes 3line and a 4line that might not be a 4line on nights when the kids are making too many mistakes or the club is on the road and the kids are getting killed.

It is not a playoff lineup, but two solid forwards (RH C who can PK and play tough minutes plus a quality veteran on RW) and a settled goaltending situation would make this team an outstanding candidate for 8th in the western conference. I’m not sure that will be the best plan for the future, but this team (if healthy) has all kinds of ability.

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