Balance

Balance is one of my favorite words, along with “free” and “yes.” After the 2006 Stanley run, Kevin Lowe made a series of moves that upset the beautiful balance of the team we cheered like mad for that spring.

It wasn’t just Chris Pronger. It was everywhere. Take faceoffs. Peca unavailable? Well, let’s see. There’s Stoll and Horcoff, plus Reasoner before the deadline.

It was all over the roster, Need a penalty killer? The Oilers had a bunch of good ones, including Peca, Smyth, Horcoff, Stoll and Dvorak. On defense, there was Pronger, Steve Staios, Jason Smith and later Jaroslav Spacek.

Just a beautiful roster, filled with options. Options and balance. Lots and lots of balance.

Since then, and especially since 2007 and the invasion of teenage centers who don’t shave (who joined the blue that didn’t shave, they arrived the fall before) it’s been hard to make sense of the Edmonton Oilers. There’s every chance a useful player is right under our nose waiting for Ryan Smyth or Eric Belanger to show up.

Under these circumstances it’s become very hard to watch the Edmonton Oilers and envision a time when they’ll be competitive. As horrible as the Oilers were in the early 1990s, and baby Jesus knows I’m not lying when saying they were unwatchable (see: Shayne Corson through George Burnett Oilers), this past couple of seasons have wreaked. My Dad always used to say “never send a boy to do a man’s job” and we got a heaping spoonful of it over these last years.

All of that suffering, all of those losses, all of those injuries all of those coaches and all of those prospects, are hopefully in the rear view mirror as we speak. The Edmonton Oilers aren’t going to make the playoffs in 2011-12, but the management is going to give the coach and the gifted youth more horses in an effort to start the ball rolling.

If you’re read this far, you’re an Oiler fan.

The work isn’t all done. The Oilers had several holes last Friday and needed to fill as many as possible:

  • A veteran winger to help with PK/PP and guide the kids at evens.
  • Truculence. 
  • A veteran NHL defensemen.
  • A faceoff man to help with PK and to balance the C position.
  • A legit option for the moment when goaltending becomes an issue.

There is still much work to be done, and as you’ll see below there are some bullets in the chamber. However, a couple of those crossed out items have been on the list for a long, long time. Seeing Ryan Smyth, Eric Belanger and yes even the modern foot speed equivalent of Cory Cross arrive in our town is enough to make a grown man cry.

It isn’t perfect, but at least we know they’re alive.

I’ve thought quite a bit this afternoon about the roster and how they might align these people with each other. There is some balance here and with that there are options. Here’s how I see the depth chart tonight by position.

GOALER: Dubnyk, Khabibulin. There were rumors (that bikini girl is smart) that the Oilers had enquired about Tomas Vokoun this afternoon. I’m not suggesting they’re going to sign him or even that it’s a reasonable plan to allow ST in the same room with a goalie; however, it does suggest that the organization views the position as an area of need. This is not a playoff tandem, hell I don’t know if this duo gets you to 13th in the west. But the good news is the young one appears to be the better one and there are reasonable options to shore things up over the summer.

DEFENSE: Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert, Cam Barker, Ladislav Smid, Andy Sutton, Theo Peckham, Jeff Petry, Taylor Chorney. I have Sutton slotted lower than some and in looking back more than one season he appears to have been used in a more useful role in years previous to 10-11. However, I think the Oilers will move heaven and earth to make Barker into a player this winter, so that second pairing is going to see Barker paired with the best available option (possibly Gilbert). Sutton may well play higher than he’s slotted here, but I wanted to post the depth chart the way the Oilers might see it tonight.

At this point, I’d guess the pairings will go Whitney-Smid; Barker-Gilbert; Sutton-Peckham.

There is no doubt in my mind the Oilers will need to trade players before training camp, and along with the picks I imagine there’s a good chance the team will cash someone in for an upgrade to play with Barker on the second pairing. Candidates to leave town include Tom Gilbert (as mentioned by Tracy Lane today) and Taylor Chorney.

It’s hard to find a way for Petry to make this team with Barker in his way. It may not be a bad thing, Petry could use more time to get used to the speed of the game. I do think he’s going to be one of the 6 best defensemen in TC, though. The Oilers won’t keep him as a 7th guy.

CENTER: Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Eric Belanger, Andrew Cogliano, Anton Lander, RNH, Chris VandeVelde, Ryan O’Marra, Tanner House. Lots and lots of centermen now, and two can win faceoffs and have experience killing penalties. A joy to behold! A few items: one of Cogliano and Gagner is moving and I believe it will be Cogliano. The other guy is the better player, so some of it may come down to quality of return. With that as the backdrop, I think there’s a chance Lander or VandeVelde earns a roster spot and Nugent-Hopkins stays for the 9-game audition. This is the position that saw the most improvement today, and it was long overdue.

LEFT WING: Taylor Hall, Ryan Smyth, Magnus Paajarvi, Ben Eager, Teemu Hartikainen. First, I’m not a huge fan of having goons or one trick ponies on the roster so do understand the muttering over signing Eager and Hordichuk. I believe the alternative (Jacques, MacIntyre) was so lacking in skill that today’s additions will have a solid impact on the EV bleeding. I understand there are players on this depth chart that Detroit would never employ, but we’re not Detroit. There are two quality NHL players on LW and the Swedish kid is getting there. The Finn got buried today, but if he can climb out of it and onto the roster during the season we’ll know he’s a player.

RIGHT WING: Jordan Eberle, Ales Hemsky, Linus Omark,  Darcy Hordichuk, Ryan Jones, Gilbert Brule. I think we need to agree that Gilbert Brule’s status is in question and we shouldn’t count on him for 11-12. It might seem drastic but the Oilers had a few nights when they needed him to answer the bell this winter and he couldn’t do it. Not being critical, but it will probably impact the roster makeup. The group I’ve listed here is long on skill and short on checkers. I think this is an area the Oilers might think about addressing this summer: a veteran RW from the Pisani group.

Here’s the projected opening night roster:

  1. Devan Dubnyk
  2. Nikolai Khabibulin
  3. Ryan Whitney
  4. Tom Gilbert
  5. Cam Barker
  6. Ladislav Smid
  7. Andy Sutton
  8. Theo Peckham
  9. Taylor Chorney
  10. Shawn Horcoff
  11. Sam Gagner
  12. Eric Belanger
  13. Andrew Cogliano
  14. RNH
  15. Taylor Hall
  16. Ryan Smyth
  17. Magnus Paajarvi
  18. Ben Eager
  19. Jordan Eberle
  20. Ales Hemsky
  21. Ryan Jones
  22. Linus Omark
  23. Darcy Hordichuk

I don’t have Petry making the team unless Barker struggles and it kills me to say it but Linus Omark is in trouble.

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