In a world where no one can agree on anything, Elliotte Friedman has universal appeal. He’s become one of the truly respected men in the sport almost overnight in historic terms, and does it the old fashioned way: hard work.
Friedman is a Godsend for Oiler fans, they’re a story worth Friedman’s time because the future of Hall, Nuge, Yak and Eberle is compelling for all fans. If they screw it up in Edmonton, maybe one of those guys ends up in Toronto for Jake Gardiner! OR, maybe Yakupov to Montreal for some New Brunswick maple syrup and a Michel Pagliaro .45 (go for “Some Sing, Some Dance” “What the Hell I Got” or the lovely “Rainshowers” if it comes to that).
Anyway, Friedman’s 30 thoughts this past week was a double-album’s worth of what’s ahead on the blacktop in 2014 for Edmonton.
FRIEDMAN’S KILLER QUOTES
- At some point, most likely after the season, major surgery is coming. All Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish must decide is where to perform the operation.
- MacTavish sees the games better than all of us who talk about them. It’s the same on-ice mistakes killing their chances. You can talk about the goaltending, the lack of size, the lack of depth, whatever.
- At some point, it’s no longer coaching. It’s about the way the group chooses to play.
- But this could go even bigger.
- The salary cap is going up and the average annual values going up with it. Why are teams chasing Evander Kane and MaxPacioretty? Because they are locked up long-term to contracts of excellent value.
- How long is it going to be before Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hoplins are seen the same way?
I’ve quoted too much, but wanted to see it as Friedman framed the issue—the “but this could go even bigger” angle—because it’s the most exciting and dangerous. Let me say first that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to deal Hall or Nuge, and I’m pretty sure there are no plans to deal Eberle. I’m less certain about Yakupov (but hopeful) and would think that all of Gagner, Justin Schultz and Ales Hemsky are available for the right price.
Let me cover each player one at a time:
- Sam Gagner may have a no trade, but his season is askew and he probably has the rest of the season to make good. MacT’s word is solid I’m sure, but Gagner’s wayward ways (and I understand he was hurt) need to end rfn (two weeks ago it was pdq).
- Justin Schultz is not having a good season at all. A lot of this is confidence I’m sure (Ralph was clearly hockey’s Sparky Anderson, a prospect whisperer) but at some point the defense has to stop making these damn dog whistle errors.
- Ales Hemsky gets a contract or he’s gone, there’s no neutral ground. I’m hoping contract.
THE OTHER WAY
Of course, MacT doesn’t have to trade any of the big four up front, he could go another route. The first defense MacTavish rolled out in Edmonton 2000-01 lacked superstars but everyone could do something well:
- Janne Niinimaa, 25, was a wonderful passer and PP option. His headman passes were brilliant in the old era, today he’d be an All-Star. Had some defensive lapses, but played 25 minutes a night.
- Tom Poti, 23, was a chaos D but could skate the puck up ice, pass expertly and had a large wingspan. He was not a brilliant defensive player.
- Igor Ulanov, 31, didn’t do it in a fancy way but got the job done. The guy worked hard every night, hell I always got the feeling that as long as there was vodka and herring he’d be in the league.
- Eric Brewer, 21, who made the usual rookie mistakes but also brought uniqueness to the group. He could close a gap in a heartbeat, had good range and toughness, plus he could do a little offensivey.
- Jason Smith, 27, in his prime and a brilliant player. Smith played with a lot of bite he was rugged and tough and filthy as required. Smith set the tone for the team defensively, and I think was very underrated for his mobility. Smith could scoot.
- Sean Brown, 24, tough guy and a kiss defenseman (MacT loved his keep it simple stupid defensemen).
When Frank Musil got hurt they cast about looking for a replacement and would eventually find Steve Staios, who was a Smith-type with a little more offense. Basically, he had exactly one guy we would call a two-way player (Brewer) and then some defensive guys who had some offense (Smith, Staios) and some offensive guys who could play a little defense (Niinimaa, Poti) plus the Russian Cocket.
Today’s Oiler team has a two-way player in the Brewer role (Petry), an offensive guy who can play in the Niinimaa/Poti style (Justin Schultz) and I think Belov fits in the Ulanov role pretty well. What they’re missing is the Jason Smith-Steve Staios type players—although I think that’s the role they wanted Nick Schultz (and Laddy) to play. Andrew Ference fits the description, but only in a ‘back of the roster’ manner—I don’t think he’s going to play a top 4 role unless it’s with Petry on a second pairing. Back in the olden days, the Oilers could find these guys at midnight in a snowstorm, how they grabbed Staios for nothing is a big part of the story of MacT’s coaching era.
If they merely keep Petry, Justin Schultz and Belov, and then add a Jason Smith/Steve Staios or two, could that be enough to get them into the playoffs? Men like Henrik Tallinder, Dan Girardi and Nikita Nikitin aren’t as sexy as Shea Weber, but they don’t cost an impact forward either.