In the moments after Peca-Pisani scored the most thrilling shorthanded goal in the game’s history, Edmonton Oilers fans knew they were watching something special. The 2006 spring edition of their hockey club had some real chem and many outstanding players. Fast forward almost 7 years and it’s been a lot of weird summer’s followed by dead winters. Highlights include the draft lottery and each season’s entry draft, beyond that watching the kids grow up and waiting to shiv the Flames/Stars/Canucks has been the sport ’round here.
The perception I have of this team at this time is that the Jacks and Kings are here and the club needs to find the right 6′s and 7′s and 9′s. Ales Hemsky, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz are the Kings, with Sam Gagner, Jeff Petry, Ladislav Smid and Devan Dubnyk representing the Jacks.
Add in the new Marty Reasoner, a second generation Pisani and a couple of Jason Smith’s and its almost Saturday Night. Right?
A few items came up in a Jason Gregor yesterday in an EJ article. The title “Edmonton must add quality role players to contend” is right in the wheelhouse for the conversation we’re having today, but some of Jason’s conclusions are outside the narrow view I’ve framed above. Jason writes:
- The Oilers have to add some size, or at least some players who can be excellent complementary players with an edge, such as David Clarkson, Brad Marchand, Kyle Clifford, Dave Bolland or even a skilled pest like Alex Burrows.
- Tambellini must start shaping this team for the future. He’ll likely have to make at least two extremely difficult decisions when he trades some of his skilled forwards for players with less flash, but who will be better pieces to what the Oilers hope becomes a championship puzzle.
The overall thrust of Jason’s article agrees with what I’ve presented, but the specifics are interesting. Do the Oilers need to add players with an “edge” and “size” and do they have to trade Sam Gagner or Ales Hemsky to make it happen? It’s an interesting question. We agree that there’s work to do, but Jason feels a very specific item is missing, where I’d suggest the Oilers just need more actual NHL players (whether they wait for their group to mature or airlift them in is another matter). Are the Oilers one or two Raffi Torres’ away? Or would they be better served by adding a Pisani? What about a Peca?
My feeling is that the Oilers need to improve their overall depth, the bottom 6F’s and the overall quality of the defense. How does the future of this team compare to the best Oiler team in recent history?
THROUGH THE PAST, DARKLY
- Line 1: 2006- Horcoff (22-51-73); Smyth (36-30-66); Hemsky (19-58-77). This was an outstanding line, and they continued their exceptional work through the playoffs, combining to score 20 goals in the 24 post-season contests. The line was skilled, but they were also a ‘bust your ass’ line, and Smyth was a gritty bugger at that age. Horcoff could stand in there too, and Hemsky remained strong despite all kinds of abuse. I do not count any of the three as a “Torres” however.
- Line 1: 2013- RNH (1-6-7); Hall (3-12-15); Eberle (5-6-11). These guys are really starting to boot stomp the good opposition, not just the sisters of the poor. Man. I don’t want to get ahead of the script here but if this team were to make a post-season I truly believe the opposition coach would lose sleep over them. They are magical with their ‘dog chasing its tail’ passing routine and get chances galore. I’ve watched this team since Jim Harrison, don’t recall such a young trio doing this since the golden era. As with the 2006 1line, I don’t count a Torres in the trio, but Hall has a mean streak and Nuge has a dogged determination.
- Line 2: 2006- Jarret Stoll (22-46-68); Sergei Samsonov (23-30-53); Radek Dvorak (8-20-28). Lots of good things here. Stoll was a solid faceoff man who also had a big shot so could help on the PP. Samsonov scored some wild and weird goals for the Oilers but they counted them all, and Dvorak was probably my favorite player on the line. He was a 2-way type–a Pisani–on a skill line. This was once again a veteran group who gave the team offense without leaving too much on the table for the next swinging Dick with a pool cue.
- Line 2: 2013- Sam Gagner (4-11-15); Nail Yakupov (5-4-9); Ales Hemsky (7-3-10). This line–like the current 1line–are a better skill group than the 2006 edition. I like all three as offensive players better than the 2006 group, but their soft underbelly is the chores on defense. That’s a concern now, but should be cleaned up with Yakupov’s maturity and Gagner’s growth as a player. This is a classic argument. In baseball terms, do you want the guy with hair on his ass who can hit 30 dingers but make more errors than league average, or do you go with the 15-homer guy whose nickname is “scoop” for the leather? Stoll’s faceoff ability and PP shot against Gagner’s splendid passing ability with the man advantage? I do not count a classic 2-way Dvorak player in this group, and that is one area that Jason was probably referncing in his article (along with faceoffs).
Halfway through the forwards, and I’m not seeing a need for ‘edge’ but can see that experience, a 2-way player to re-set and play safety and some faceoff ability are missing from the current group. We’ve talked about faceoffs being overrated recently, so will give points only for a 2-way winger and experience in this area. 2 points Jason, but I get them too, as actual NHL players are exactly what we’re talking about here.
- Line 3: 2006- Peca (9-14-23); Torres (27-14-41); Pisani (18-19-37). This was the key line during the 2006 spring run, as Fernando found his inner Lafleur and Peca was just lights out defensively (he became known as “beer trip” that spring because you could go for a whiz or a beer without fear of a GA). Torres too, with his predatory hits and timely goals was a big part of the run. He was a baby then. This is where the ‘edge’ or ‘grit’ arrived in the 2006 lineup, Torres was scary that spring and I do believe his hit against Michalek changed the San Jose series.
- Line 3: 2013- Horcoff (1-1-2); Smyth (1-3-4); Hartikainen (0-2-2). Horcoff (now 34) and Smyth (soon 37) are on the back 9 and that’s for sure. However, despite wear you can see this season their value on the Oilers–Horcoff haters are having a helluva time finding the storyline, and Smyth, while flawed, is still a solid contributor and an absolute dream as a mentor (despite the recent rash of penalties). Hartikainen offers the team some of that ‘edge’ we’re talking about, and he has enough skill to at least get his 500 at-bats at the NHL level to see how things roll.
The points Gregor made in his article are obvious here: Torres was a better mousetrap than Hartikainen and Smyth 2013 is not Pisani when channeling Lafleur. I’d take Peca over this Horcoff too, but there’s nothing wrong with this Horcoff except age and wear. One quick note: I don’t think anyone can play the game Torres did in 2006 without suspension, so we have to temper our definition of grit or edge.
- Line 4: 2006- Rem Murray (1-1-2); Ethan Moreau (11-16-27); Georges Laraque (2-10-12); Brad Winchester (0-1-1); Todd Harvey (5-2-7); Toby Petersen (0-0-0). Pouliot got the kissing disease so the club had to sign Murray and to my eye he wasn’t helping. Moreau was still a solid, gritty player and he did play up in the order many times. Laraque didn’t play as much in the post-season (beginning of the end for him) and Winchester played sparingly but scored the big goal in Detroit. Harvey isn’t my favorite player-type, suspect he must phave had some value and Petersen was an emergency recall during the long trip to summer. Sometimes I think this club would have won the Stanley if they’d kept Reasoner, and that’s the God’s honest truth. Sigh. There is a lot of truculence here, from Moreau and Winchester to the fighter Laraque. Much more than the current group.
- Line 4: 2013- Belanger (0-1-1); Jones (DNP); Petrell (0-1-1); Paajarvi (2-0-2); Lander (0-1-1); Eager (0-0-0); Hordichuk (0-0-0); Arcobello (0-0-0); VandeVelde (0-0-0). Belanger has been solid to good this year, this is the guy we thought he was after the free agent signing. Petrell doesn’t reach Moreau’s level, but he is a good penalty killer; he doesn’t bring enough outside the special team skill to be considered a plus player. Jones would be a decent match for Moreau, but Ethan rifles was a much better actual player in 2006. Paajarvi is imo better than the prospects from 2006, but really needs to step up and grab the opportunity that is currently available. Eager shows Moreau flashes but maddeningly does the strangest damn things.
It’s funny, I find myself thinking “well, he was a MacT type” during this little exercise and we have to remember that the key was don’t give up anything–especially for the 4line. That DQ’s Eager and Hordichuk imo, with VandeVelde being a current example of a player EDM employs because he comes with a ‘low event’ rep. There’s more promise on the current 4line, I’ll say that much.
- Pairing 1: 2006- Chris Pronger (12-44-56); Jason Smith (4-13-17). Chris Pronger 2006 is the best defenseman to play in the uniform in the team’s history. Full stop. Smith was pretty damn good too, reliable and able to handle the physical game. Chris Pronger blocked out the sun, chance wise. Pronger was furious and mean. He was a prick. I don’t know that the Oilers will ever have one like him again, and don’t think we should worry about replacing him since its a lost cause.
- Pairing 1: 2013: Smid (0-2-2); Petry (0-0-0). This pairing has been disconnected recently, but for our purposes let’s go ahead and discuss them as the top pairing. I don’t think they are a de facto #1 group, but they certainly managed well last season when placed together and I do believe they’ll get it together this season. They are young enough to have a nice run as a top 4 pairing, but they are not mean.
You might feel this is an unfair comparison, but remember what we’re doing: the idea is that the Oilers are set at the top positions and that the bottom 6F and depth defensemen are the problem. The 2006 Oilers are screaming at us: improve your top pairing! And they’re right.
- Pairing 2: 2006- Jaro Spacek (12-31-43); Steve Staios (8-20-28). Spacek was an inspired acquisition (why they let him walk knowing Pronger was out the door is beyond me) and Staios had a really nice spring–including some impressive PP time iirc. The depth displayed on that 2006 spring team is a lesson for the ages. If you’re wondering about anyone in your top 4D you don’t have the depth. You’re screwed.
- Pairing 2: 2013- Schultz the elder (0-1-1); Schultz the younger (4-3-7). Schultz the younger may be an impact player and that changes the conversation. As it stands today, he is an outstanding rookie and we’ll see about how high he climbs. Schultz the elder is a serviceable veteran perhaps best suited to a third pairing tandem on a good, playoff team.
I think the Oilers might be looking to improve their 4-6D depth, but they might want to aim higher based on the makeup of the SCF 06 team.
- Pairing 3: 2006- Marc Andre Bergeron (15-20-35); Dick Tarnstrom (6-8-14); Matt Greene (0-2-2). This is the soft underbelly of the 2006 team, this is where it was lost. I don’t think there’s an argument against that statement. Bergeron was a pure chaos blue, and Greene was green as green can be, with Tarnstrom just good enough to get into trouble if used too much. The Oilers made some grand moves at the 2006 deadline, but dealing Greene for a veteran would have been a very nice addition. Double sigh.
- Pairing 3: 2013- Whitney (0-3-3); Fistric (0-2-2); Potter (0-0-0). Whitney’s injury makes the situation more difficult to assess, but I think the current bottom pairing is solid in terms of experience and range of skills, but wanting in actual ability. Is Potter more chaos than Bergeron in 2006 spring? Is Whitney more wonky than Tarnstrom?
I would take this year’s group on the third pairing, and the addition of Fistric means more truculence. But does it give them team an actual NHL player, the item I’ve suggested? We’ll have to see him over a season or more.
- 2006: Dwayne Roloson (43, 2.73 .908); Jussi Markkanen (37, 3.13 .880); Ty Conklin (18, 2.80, .880). Man. Roloson was such a key in getting into the playoffs and then winning series in Detroit, San Jose and Anaheim. I’ll go to my grave thinking good thoughts about Dwayne Roloson.
- 2013: Devan Dubnyk (13, 2.76 .918); Nikolai Khabibulin (2, 1.84 .936); Yann Danis (1, 0.00 1). I’m onside with Dubnyk as the starter and the other two have been outstanding, so goaltending isn’t a concern for me with the club currently. Dubnyk has earned the job and is playing well in the role.
I think goaltending is solid on both teams, after the 2006 deadline. Previous to that it was crazy how many points were left on the table and Roloson was a Godsend that deadline. Which group would I favor? Well, one of them got the Oilers to G7 SCF so we’ll take that one until further notice.
Quoting Jason Gregor in his article: General manager Steve Tambellini has to find the right pieces to surround his five young stars. The current Oilers roster has loads of talent and potential, but the harsh reality is Tambellini needs to incorporate some diversity into the top three lines.
I can agree with Jason on this point, but would add to it. The Oilers are making bets on guys like Lennart Petrell, Corey Potter, Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager. These are either expansion team calibre options or a little better. They need to aim higher. Previous to this, the reasons were things like rebuild and that free agents wouldn’t come here without an overpay.
I would suggest this: add all the truculence and size and grit and mean spiritedness you want, but for the love of God make sure they’re actual NHL players.