After last night’s loss to a clearly superior St. Louis Blues team, the Edmonton Oilers have an 8.7% chance of making the playoffs, only 18 games to climb past 5 teams who are playing well and about about one week to decide their direction at the deadline. The good news? Last night’s loss is an extreme “tell” in terms of deadline direction.
Sunday morning in Oilers Nation means the usual chatter after getting drilled by a superior team: Oilers are too small. I’ve never bought into that theory, the problem (and I’m sorry for repeating it) involves not having enough NHL players. What’s that old line about the size of the dog in the fight versus the size of the fight in the dog? The Oilers don’t lack heart, they lack ability.
And even at that they lack ability only in the support roles–Ryan Smyth is too old, Eric Belanger is too far gone, Lennart Petrell is too ginger, Ryan Whitney is too unable, and on it goes. I’m not blaming the players, to my eye the effort was there, the spirit was willing but the feet of clay held sway.
Where does the blame lie? You know, we all know. The question becomes “when” as opposed to “if” the Oilers make a change. Steve Tambellini can’t fire another coach, Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish aren’t going to take the GM job (why on earth would they?) for this hockey club. I remain convinced Scott Howson will slide into the chair at some point, but am unsure it’ll be this summer.
Elliotte Friedman mentioned last night during the HNIC marathon close that Steve Tambellini said the Oilers had “serious talks” with Ladislav Smid but would not elaborate on the nature of the talks. One imagines they are offering a short term and a long term deal, with the friendly cap hit being on the longer deal. From here, it looks like the club is not convinced he’s a building block and I suspect there is a real chance he is dealt away this week.
Bruce Garrioch has his Western conference trade deadline primer out today, and here’s the Oiler entry:
- EDMONTON OILERS: GM Steve Tambellini has a decision to make: Does he buy or sell? The Oilers have a shot at the playoffs, but can they stay there? None of the young players are available so no need for teams to ask. D Ryan Whitney is available and so is C Sam Gagner, who could fetch help.
The Gagner item doesn’t ring true, but Garrioch has plenty of connections and I have none. So, we’ll put him on our list, beginning with the most likely to go:
- Ladislav Smid (UFA): Edmonton hasn’t signed him yet and that might mean there’s a gap between agent and team in terms of zero’s on the contract. Smid is going to get paid, the Oilers have to figure out if they want to be the team to pay him.
- Ryan Whitney (UFA): Defensemen always have increased value at the deadline, Whitney is a veteran and a team with depth who could play him on the 3rd pairing plus PP might want him for that role. My guess is they surprise everyone and get a 3rd rd pick for the veteran.
- Mark Fistric (UFA): I think the Oilers sign him in the next few weeks, it is clear they like Fistric plenty. However, if a team came calling and management were of a mind to trade him I doubt the club would get less than the pick they gave up for him (3rd rd pick).
- Ryan Jones (UFA): He’s coming off an eye injury, but his wheels are fine. An NHL team might want to increase their offense in the bottom 6F and have a guy who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, either.
- Nikolai Khabibulin (UFA): Extreme longshot to play in another city at this point. Will the Oilers re-sign him?
- Ales Hemsky (UFA 2014): The Oilers were not getting strong offers for him a year ago (the rumored return was a 2nd and a 4th from Nashville).
- Ben Eager (UFA 2014): One year left at $1.1M and the concussion issues are a concern. Plus he’s been on waivers.
- Eric Belanger (UFA 2014): Makes $1.75M and might fill a need for a 4line C, faceoff guy and penalty killer.
- Sam Gagner (RFA 2013): Oilers could get a strong return for Gagner, I imagine this would be a PF return or perhaps the elusive defenseman. Seems like a summer/draft day deal, but Garrioch is connected.
- D Theo Peckham (RFA 2013): Forgotten man among the Oilers, but he’s a defenseman with NHL experience and that has value.
We should find out about a few items this week: some of the very good college free agents will sign, the Oilers have opened the window for signing graduating juniors and have Gernat and Rieder out there to sign. Also, I think we might see some roster shuffling, Nuge is apparently better and that may mean Harski getting sent down. I wonder if we’ll see a late season callup or Rajala, Fedun or Marincin to get a “cup of coffee” as Tambellini begins offloading assets.
IT’S OVER, ISN’T IT?
It was over the moment the broadcast rights holder began talking about Shawn Horcoff blocking the future. Losing organizations all have one thing in common: an unerring ability to blame the wrong guy.