One thing that’s absolutely true: Every generation of Oilers fan has something to worry about heading into training camp. Back in the 1980’s, signing people was the issue and holdouts were commonplace. In the early 1990’s, not enough good players, and then later in the 1990’s draft picks were hit and miss and Slats had to trade his way to contention. Since the turn of the century, the Oilers have been trading away more than they brought in and much of that has to do with turnover in the front office and in coaching.
So, today, in an effort to scare you straight and convince you this year’s team is relatively low in terms of worry level, let’s hit the wayback machine to 2009 summer. Pat Quinn. I won’t scare you too badly, we’ll just talk about one position.
I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here is our recent work.
- New Lowetide: Why Dave Tippett’s training camp with Oilers will be so compelling
- Lowetide: Oilers first-round pick Dylan Holloway’s fast start has fans buzzing
- Jonathan Willis: A brief history of Oilers teams with goalie problems, and how they overcame them
- Lowetide: Some prospects who are remembered as busts deserve a second look
- Lowetide: Ideal style pairings for the 2020-21 Oilers
- Jonathan Willis: The Oilers are better with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl apart at 5-on-5
- Lowetide: The Oilers and the Calder Trophy: 5 rookies, 1 strong contender
- Lowetide: Oilers’ reasonable expectations for 2020-21: The results
- Lowetide: Oilers’ reasonable expectations for 2020-21: Goals against
- Lowetide: Oilers’ reasonable expectations for 2020-21: The Goals
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers defensive prospects are impressive overseas, but what comes next?
- Lowetide: Oilers pick up an intriguing addition in free agent Dominik Kahun
- Jonathan Willis: Oilers’ organizational depth chart: Where does Edmonton stand today?
- Lowetide: Oilers extend Kris Russell, solve expansion issue
- Lowetide: Why is Ilya Konovalov no longer starting in the KHL?
- Lowetide: Oilers Top 20 prospects, post-draft edition.
JULY 23, 2009
At some point this fall, Pat Quinn will realize there’s a distinct lack of NHL talent on the Oilers roster at some important spots.
When crusty old Punch Imlach arrived back in Toronto 30 summers ago he was vocal about the collective lack of foot speed of the Leaf centermen.
Imlach said he had “5 or 6 good players” and he fretted all summer about center ice. Quoting Imlach in his book Heaven and Hell in the NHL: “We needed more depth everywhere but especially at center. There we had Jimmy Jones who could check but couldn’t score and wasn’t fast enough; Paul Gardner who could score but wasn’t fast enough; Walt McKechnie who could do a lot of things fairly well, except skate fast; and (Darryl) Sittler, who could score but wasn’t quite as fast as he had been, and had some bad habits, like giving away the puck too often and frequently being caught out of the play when he went in too deep.”
We haven’t discussed a few things about Pat Quinn. We’ve touched on “what if he doesn’t match lines and leaves the kids exposed?” and “how many crash and bang forwards will there be on the 3 and 4 lines?” but we haven’t (that I’ve seen) asked how many of these guys are going to be Walt McKechnie’s.
I think center in Edmonton is going to be for Pat Quinn much like it was for Punch Imlach when he returned to Toronto. There are some issues here. He can count on Shawn Horcoff but #10 will be more help if there’s a veteran presence behind him as No. 2 center. Sam Gagner will improve and may even take some powerplay minutes away from Horcoff (Horc enjoyed 300 pp minutes, Gagner 232), but will he outscore opposition while playing center? Despite improved numbers last year, that’s a big question.
Andrew Cogliano has blazing speed and raw talent, but he also lacks experience. Marc Pouliot may be a hidden gem but the previous coach found him to be a conundrum. Gilbert Brule is the new Daniel Cleary, losing some of his youth to a bad hockey organization and attempting to find his way by spending a prolonged period in the minors after a long NHL stretch.
And that’s just center. Quinn has already discussed Hemsky (or at least I think he was talking about Hemsky it might have been Gagner) in a less than flattering light but the man has two eyes and part of his job is going to be squeezing offense out of these men so Hemsky will be a valuable man. Right? Let’s list off the 23-man roster currently and I’ll take a guess at Quinn’s opinion.
- Khabibulin: He’ll ride that nag until it drops.
- Deslauriers: Won’t last the season.
- Souray: Big, big minutes. Monster playing time.
- Visnovsky: Quinn’s new Kaberle will be relied upon.
- Gilbert: Valuable player Quinn should grow to trust.
- Grebeshkov: Has some chaos, Quinn will play him.
- Staios: He’ll get steady minutes.
- Smid: Quinn will want him to play uglier.
- Strudwick: He’ll be a reliable role player.
- Horcoff: Quinn will overuse him, he has no choice.
- Gagner: I think Gagner may face some early criticism.
- Cogliano: A big part of Quinn’s job is finding him a useful role.
- Pouliot: He should be a useful player, but MacT thought so too.
- Brule: The Oilers are giving him a push, but Quinn has enough question marks.
- Penner: I think Quinn gets something extra from him.
- O’Sullivan: Should be a quality player under Quinn.
- Moreau: Trusted warrior, he’ll get a lot of work.
- Jacques: Should be just what Quinn is looking for.
- MacIntyre: Likely to play much more this year.
- Hemsky: Some concern, but he’s the ignition.
- Nilsson: Man most likely to be traded. Now.
- Pisani: They’ll play him heavily when healthy.
- Stortini: Should play the same role as last time.
I was wrong on several players (he didn’t like Lubo, broke my heart) but not wrong about center. Quinn used 10 men at center, including Ryan Potulny who the coach favoured over several of the young Oilers who were pushing.
The point of this morning’s exercise is to reiterate that much good work has already been done, including a fortunate and astute offseason 2020.
This roster is much stronger at center than the Quinn group and more mobile if less established defensively (Lubo in his prime would not go amiss on this year’s model). The goaltending will be better than it was in 2009-10 and the wingers this year will be better than they have in some time (although Ales Hemsky prime would be a welcome sight).
There are some warnings from 2009-10 worth paying heed. My friend Bruce McCurdy and I have just been wincing looking back at how quickly the team cut bait on Andrew Cogliano, a young man who has played a productive decade since leaving for a second-round draft pick. Important to get the Nuge signed, keep that center depth strong. It can get away from you in a quick hurry.
Note: Sittler wasn’t fast, but Imlach always picked on his best players. A dreadful habit and thankfully those days are long gone from the NHL.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, TSN1260, we’ll hit the ground running with two terrific guests and much ground to cover. Craig Button from TSN will join us to talk about the World Juniors and how strong Team Canada could be in the current conditions. Frank Seravalli from TSN also joins us and we’ll talk about new vaccines and testing, plus the NHL-NHLPA negotiations that are currently a little up in the air. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!