WISH IT INTO THE CORNFIELD

I screamed so loudly that–for a moment–it felt like I’d fractured my larynx, and I ran around the living room like a child on Christmas morning. Fernando Pisani discovered utopia and shared it with Oiler Nation–it was, without question, one of the best moments of my hockey life. I remember it to this day, and if I ever forget that game it’s only a matter of grabbing the DVD to replay the cherished moment.

The years since then: if I could, I’d wish them into the cornfield.

hall eberle gif

 

This is the winter Edmonton gets to enjoy more wins than losses, more good than bad, the second season. The deadline will be a time for addition, the first round pick may be in play, the end of season All-Star nod won’t be a question for Taylor Hall, and on it goes.

I wanted to talk a little bit about center ice this morning, about the recent attention the depth chart has received in various quarters. We’ve talked about center all summer, and I’ve given you me reasonable expectations for the position:

CENTER ICE RE 13-14

NAME GP G A PTS
RYAN NUGENT HOPKINS 62 21 42 63
SAM GAGNER  82 15 37 52
BOYD GORDON 78 5 15 20
ANTON LANDER 50 4 8 12
MARK ARCOBELLO 25 2 6 8
WILL ACTON 20 1 3 4

The Oilers don’t get a lot of goals from centermen (48 goals projected) but it’s up from last season (26 in 48 games, which projects to 44 in 82 gp), and they do have two effective offensive players and a genuine checking center–possibly the best fit available for this roster, certainly the best free agent fit.

Whenever I read about a lack of depth at center, I remind myself of the fact that Dallas Eakins is unlikely to run his bench like Ralph Krueger. This isn’t meant as a Krueger bashing event, but he did roll 4lines quite a bit, and the 4th line was often prominent in games. Here’s the TOI for last season’s regular centers under RK:

  1. RNH 15:36EV; 3:02PP; 0:13PK
  2. Gagner 14:53EV; 2:55PP; 1:35PK
  3. Horcoff 11:50EV; 2:31PP; 2:29PK
  4. Belanger 10:47EV; 0:11PP; 3:08PK

TOTAL TOI PER GAME

  1. Sam Gagner 19:24
  2. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 18:51
  3. Shawn Horcoff 16:51
  4. Eric Belanger 14:07

RED WINGS TOI PER GAME

  1. Henrik Zetterberg 20:31
  2. Pavel Datsyuk 20:10
  3. Valtteri Filppula 17:46
  4. Cory Emmerton 10:48

I think that’s what we’re going to see from Dallas Eakins. He’s going to rely heavily on his best players, and there will be nights when the bench gets shortened very early.

  • Eakins: “You can’t just be a defensive team and you can’t just be an offensive team. In a perfect world, I want to be able to push the pace as high as we can, not only with our speed and our skill, but our fitness level so that when we have the puck we are going to challenge the other team with that kind of game.”
  • Eakins: “I am somebody that firmly believes that if you’re talented, just being talented is not enough. I want our players to be so fit, that a forward, if I ask him to play 26 minutes that night, he’s going to play 26 minutes at a high level.”

I believe that’s a key element right there, the line about 26 minutes for a forward on a given night. Mike Babcock ran the Datsyuk-Zetterberg combination well past 40 minutes many times a year ago, and I think we may see Eakins do the same with Nuge-Gagner (and he’s certainly going to ride Hall, I’ll be the house on that one).

One final thing: RNH must be healthier than we’re being led to believe. The Oilers 1-2-3 of Nuge-Gagner-Gordon is going to play a lot, and I do think there’s a real chance Nuge or Gagner gets increased PK time along with the EV and PP workload this coming season. Nugent-Hopkins forechecking diligence on the PK might remind some of us of the golden days of Davey Keon, who was so good at it opposition powerplays sometimes took 20 seconds to get out of their own zone.

When we talk about the Oilers lacking center depth, I believe we’re looking through the lens of a season ago, when the 4line center played 14 minutes per game. Part of that was injury, but another part was due to the democratic allocation of icetime. I expect that ended with the coaching change this summer.

When Craig MacTavish was coaching for the Stanley, he ran Shawn Horcoff (21:37); Mike Peca (19:05); Jarret Stoll (17:05); Rem Murray (8:37). I think we may see that kind of allocation on many nights this season, and notice Peca’s minutes during the playoff run (those are the Gordon minutes now).

The 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers are going to have nights when the 4line doesn’t play a lot. I firmly believe Dallas Eakins is going to let these thoroughbreds run free.

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34 Responses to "WISH IT INTO THE CORNFIELD"

  1. jake70 says:

    Ask Staois how much he screamed when that went in..lol. One for the ages.

  2. regwald says:

    I think the other part of the center depth concern is when does the Nuge come back from surgery ? It was the beginning on November for Hall last season and I think they gave him the maximum recovery time.

    If Nuge misses the month of October, that’s where the center depth is really exposed.

    I think twice now Stauffer has hinted that Nuge might be ready for opening night, but I would prefer him to come back only when he is 100%.

    Rushing him back is the biggest worry.

  3. Lowetide says:

    Regwald: I’ve heard many times over these months that the Nuge injury wasn’t as severe and that the recovery would/should be quicker. I suspect the Oilers know this, and are being extra careful because they don’t want any setbacks after saying ‘it is all okay.”

  4. Undisclosed_Personal_Reasons says:

    At the risk of drawing ire, heresay tells me the oil medical staff don’t think RNH will be ready for the start of the season.

    Even with RNH, i think our centre depth is a major concern. Second biggest problem after not having a bonafide top pairing D.

    The Detroit style ice-time works well if you have centres like Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Putting Gagner on the ice for that much time doesn’t yield the same benefit. Hopefully, Gags’ defensive shortcomings of 2012/13 were more a product of system than player but i have my doubts.

  5. regwald says:

    Lowetide,

    I sure hope you are right. The Oilers don’t need him for opening night, they need him to be healthy.

  6. Lowetide says:

    Undisclosed: I’ve heard the same rumor about Nuge, it’s been around awhile but I’m not buying. Why? If he was hurt, there are all kinds of options available on the free agent market right now, the Oilers would have protected themselves by now. Even Tambellini would address center if Nuge was going to be out past Christmas (which is the rumor I heard).

    Edmonton’s a great city, but rumors about Oilers injuries and Oiler wives are rife and wrong (mostly).

    I think center is far less a concern with Gordon in the house. If Nuge is healthy, then the 1line is set and they can push the river (Hall’s doing the pushing, but who cares?) and the 2line should be much better this season–Yakupov was really coming on at the end.

  7. daryl says:

    ” I want to be able to push the pace as high as we can, not only with our speed and our skill, but our fitness level so that when we have the puck we are going to challenge the other team with that kind of game.””

    Sounds like Fred Shero. I like it..

  8. russ99 says:

    That Game 7 still hurts, to this day.

    Not sure what else that team could have done to win it…

    As for center, I think MacT is doing something akin to what he’s doing with the bottom 2-3 defenders: Put a whole lot of inexpensive options into the mix and a player or two will step up and claim the role.

    IMO, Lander, Arcobello, Miller and Acton aren’t that much lesser options for 4th C as Belov, Potter, Larsen, Grebeshkov and N. Schultz are for bottom pairing and extra D.

    But I’d breathe easier about missing Nuge for the first few weeks of the season if they added an experienced training camp invite to that list.

  9. G Money says:

    Man, I hope you’re right about the line timings.

    I do believe this team is better than last years (growth of youth; personnel changes at 2L, 3C, and D; Eakins’ vs Krueger’s tactics).

    But I do not really share the optimism that we will see the second season. The third and especially fourth lines last year bled chances and goals like dee ess eff hijacks threads on ON.

    But maybe just maybe part of the reason is that taking that extra four minutes a game away from your best lines and giving it to your worst lines is a pretty big part of why the lower lines bleed so much. That extra time is likely to come against the other teams better lines. Put the Belanger line out against Datysuk/Zetterberg for four minutes every Red Wings game and Oiler fans will not enjoy the ensuing fireworks.

    I remain on the pessimistic side of the line, but your article has moved my needle slightly closer to neutral, and I will cross my fingers in the hope that you are correct, both about the tactic and the impact.

  10. Undisclosed_Personal_Reasons says:

    Lowetide:
    Edmonton’s a great city, but rumors about Oilers injuries and Oiler wives arerife and wrong (mostly).

    ha, true enough.

    IMO, the Oilers should be protecting themselves with another guy who can play centre regardless of RNH’s current health. If any of our top 3 centres get injured it sure throws the lines for a loop. Maybe MacT likes the depth or wants to test a winger or two at C to know what in-house options he has before going the FA/trade route. If RNH’s timeline is November (like any good rumour it differs from one person to the next), then this could be an opportunity to see what the team is made of.

    In terms of depth at C, ideally we could get a 3rd line LW/C option who could either step up into a top six role at C for a few games, cover Gordon while Gordon stepped up, or cover LW in a top six role if Hall could move to C.

  11. Lowetide says:

    I think we’re going to find out a bunch when the training camp invites and PTO’s start popping.

  12. Lowetide says:

    Dallas Eakins on tsn radio this morning:

    1. How do you coach young guys making a lot of money? “You can quit using the word young with regard to our team There’s not more time, it’s time to win. It also puts a dividing line in the dressimg room. I don’t care if the guy is making 500k or on a tryout, I will not treat anyone differently because of the amount of money they make.”

  13. Peacecountry says:

    My concern with the oilers center depth chart doesn’t have much to do with opening night. I’m far more concerned about what happens on game 32 when Gordon goes down with a ACL tear. I think the oilers would be able to live with out the 1C or 2C for a while. I think there are some of the new hires that could fill in if needed. I really don’t see a replacement for Gordon. Lander would have to shoot the lights out before I believe he can fill Gordon’s shoes.

    The 7(?) game slide when Horcoff was out was not due to coaching but lack of talent at the C position in slots 3 and 4.

  14. Lowetide says:

    2. It must be harder to motivate a young rich player. “I think fans and people put too much emphasis on the money and contract. When these guys walk into the room they want to win, they’re competitive people who want to win. The most valuable thing to these guys is their ice time, that’s what truly valuable to a player. And that’s what I hold in my hand”

  15. Lowetide says:

    3. Puck possession is the buzzword, how do you approach? “It’s such a no brainer puck possession. It only makes sense, if you have the puck things are going to go well for you. The best way to play defense is to play in the other team’s zone. It’s a challenge to get the puck and make educated decisions.

    we’ll approach things slowly. I like hard, upbeat practices, but early you have to go slowly and establish what is expected”

  16. Lowetide says:

    4. RNH injury? “My help for him will be to push him and help him with what he needs. This is a very young man who is coming off an injury, he has a lot of growing and needs to add ‘old man strength’. Ryan’s a kid we want to get up to speed to endure the rigors of the season but more importantly the 4 rounds of the playoffs.”

  17. Captain Smarmy says:

    Well I don’t think Mac-T will pull a Tambo and not get any centers when they’re all hurt like last season but I’m not sure what center you could get apart from maybe Grabbo that would make much of a difference if they Nuge can’t go.

  18. speeds says:

    If ice time is tilted away from the 4th line, is it more or less important to upgrade the final top 9 slot?

    Hall-RNH-Eberle
    Perron-Gagner-Yakupov
    ???-Gordon-Hemsky

    It’s also a not bad argument for upgrading the 3C spot, leaving Gordon to play “4th line minutes” plus double-shifting with some of the above W’s, and also taking some own zone draws with the top 3 lines and jumping off the ice. Along with heavy PK time, that type of workload might be bit more taxing than the total TOI might suggest.

  19. Undisclosed_Personal_Reasons says:

    Does Perron have any experience at centre?

  20. Lowetide says:

    speeds: I wonder about the 3line L slot. If we make a list of candidates:

    1. Jones
    2. Smyth
    3. Joensuu
    4. Ryan Hamilton
    5. Toni Rajala

    maybe they plan on an audition similar to the one we’re seeing on defense? I’m not really certain who the best or the worst player on that list is, but would guess one of them will emerge. I think that spot is wide open.

  21. speeds says:

    Lowetide,

    Those are likely the internal candidates, I wonder if EDM looks at a guy like Prospal as a potential fit?

  22. Lowetide says:

    speeds: Those are likely the internal candidates, I wonder if EDM looks at a guy like Prospal as a potential fit?

    He’d be ideal, actually. I wonder if he’d come here? I’d love to see the Oilers add such a quality veteran.

  23. slopitch says:

    The thing about Gordon is he played 12 min/game ES and about 15/game. The minutes he plays are taxing minutes so I wouldn’t give him a huge spike. It would be better to let lines 1/2 take most of the extra minutes but its going to be important that the 4th line isn’t a boat anchor like last season. Good teams still have 4 capable lines because injuries force the the issue.

  24. mps91 says:

    I still see two potential perfect fits tradewise:

    1. Hemsky for Vermette.
    -Phx has depth at centre, and could potentially part with him for more scoring. Vermette could fill in in the top 6 till Nuge is back, then slot into the 3C spot here.

    2. Hemsky for Gaustad
    -NSH has the room to absorb Hemsky, and need a little offense. They also just signed Cullen, and already have Legwand and Fisher. 3.2M is a lot to pay a 4C for Nashville, and Gaustad would really solidify our bottom 6. Love his grit, size and faceoff ability.

    This is our best bed for adding another centre, IMO due to the shortage of cap space.

  25. Hammers says:

    Lowetide:
    speeds: I wonder about the 3line L slot. If we make a list of candidates:

    1. Jones
    2. Smyth
    3. Joensuu
    4. Ryan Hamilton
    5. Toni Rajala

    maybe they plan on an audition similar to the one we’re seeing on defense? I’m not really certain who the best or the worst player on that list is, but would guess one of them will emerge. I think that spot is wide open.

    LT . I agree with nearly 100% of what you said and that doesn’t allways happen . My gut or wish is that Smyth starts the year on that 3rd line partly due to PK abilities and I think he will want to go out with a good year . We don’t mention enough that he played out of position a good chunk of last year or that his 1st half the year before was good . If given the chance I think he will come through especially early on in the season . Looking at who we have for that spot, that’s my wish unless Joensuu blows the doors off .

  26. Jordan says:

    You know, if Grabovski really wanted to try to up his value going into next season, it would probably work really well for him if he could play with Hall and Eberle.

    What if the Oilers invite him on a PTO, and then sign him once the season starts and RNH ends up on the IR, and his salary doesn’t count?

    Grabo pats his stats early, gets traded to a decent team around Christmas, and then goes on to earn a boatload of money next year.

    The oilers temporarily improve C depth, get an asset in trade, and give RNH more time to grow, recover, and play well when he returns.

  27. Lowetide says:

    Hammers: LT . I agree with nearly 100% of what you said and that doesn’t allways happen . My gut or wish is that Smyth starts the year on that 3rd line partly due to PK abilities and I think he will want to go out with a good year . We don’t mention enough that he played out of position a good chunk of last year or that his 1st half the year before was good . If given the chance I think he will come through especially early on in the season . Looking at who we have for that spot, that’s my wish unless Joensuu blows the doors off .

    Agreed. Smyth is the best option because he’s a veteran and can handle any situation. I’m hoping he has one more solid year in him, and as you mention he played out of position for a time last season.

  28. Hammers says:

    Lowetide:
    4. RNH injury? “My help for him will be to push him and help him with what he needs. This is a very young man who is coming off an injury, he has a lot of growing and needs to add ‘old man strength’. Ryan’s a kid we want to get up to speed to endure the rigors of the season but more importantly the 4 rounds of the playoffs.”

    Could you do that by putting Hall with Gags & Yak thereby making that line #1 and RNH , Ebs & Perron get 2nd line minutes and maybe an easier matchup . Just thinking .

  29. russ99 says:

    Jordan,

    Except Grabovski has top-6 skill and bristled at being used on the 3rd line last year.

    He’s going to want a specific amount of money and a specific top-6 role, neither of which we can give to him. Even part-time with Nuge being out, we’re talking weeks, not months.

    Had we traded Gagner instead of signing him at the last minute with trade protection (including the verbal promise that the Oilers kept with Hemsky last season) then it would be a different story.

  30. Manitoba Oilers says:

    russ99:
    Jordan,

    Except Grabovski has top-6 skill and bristled at being used on the 3rd line last year.

    He’s going to want a specific amount of money and a specific top-6 role, neither of which we can give to him.

    Had we traded Gagner instead of signing him at the last minute with trade protection (including the verbal promise that the Oilers kept with Hemsky last season) then it would be a different story.

    The oilers don’t have cap room without moving Hemsky

  31. Jordan says:

    russ99:
    Jordan,

    Except Grabovski has top-6 skill and bristled at being used on the 3rd line last year.

    He’s going to want a specific amount of money and a specific top-6 role, neither of which we can give to him. Even part-time with Nuge being out, we’re talking weeks, not months.

    Had we traded Gagner instead of signing him at the last minute with trade protection (including the verbal promise that the Oilers kept with Hemsky last season) then it would be a different story.

    Manitoba Oilers: The oilers don’t have cap room without moving Hemsky

    If RNH starts on IR, his money doesn’t count against the cap. So, the longer he’s out, the more cap room they have.

    It would be a very clever way to increase depth and value on the team.

    And while Grabovski wouldn’t be a good fit on the 3rd line, I seem to recall RNH being very good defensively. If he played there for any length of time and it impacts his counting numbers like last year, it might also reduce the value of his second contract.

    Not suggesting it’s likely or desirable, but simply an interesting scenario to consider.

  32. VanOil says:

    Playing or not I expect RNH to be weak until Xmas, after which he will dominate in a way that makes us think he might be the best of the #1s.

    A PTO to Malhotra and some luck that he has some vision left and our Center depth looks very different.

    Malhotra and Gordon schooling RNH and Gagner in practice would also pay dividends at the Dot.

    Hemsky to Ottawa, at or near the deadline. for some 4th line pluger and Lazar might not win us the Cup next year (and would give Ottawa a shot) but changes our prospect Canter depth as well.

    Lander might be able to be a third line winger to restart his NHL career if and when Hemsky departs.

  33. BlacqueJacque says:

    Souray has wrist troubles again, Ducks sign Fistric.

    http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=430140

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