Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Walk the Line



Before the playoffs started I wrote about how the Oilers were moving ahead in what I called The Process - that is, moving forward to winning a Cup. Who knew that they would fall a game short when I wrote that.

So now, Kevin Lowe's job is to put his team in a position to win that last game next year and in the years to come. The goal is to be, as Lowetide put it in a thread a while back, the New England Patriots, not the Arizona Cardinals. You may not win every year but if your team can get to the playoffs every year and have the right players and coaches then good things are going to happen.

A lot of people are claiming that the Oil may be lucky to even get in the playoffs next year but I foresee a good regular season, perhaps leading to a top four seed in the West. Once in, anything can happen, but the naysayers are missing the fact that with decent goaltending this team is likely top four or five seed this year and also that while the Oilers have plenty of free agents most of them either played minimal roles with this team or were late season additions. Kevin Lowe can ice a team to start next season which is almost exactly the same as the one that began this past season. And he has a lot of cap room.

What does he have to do? Can he make the right choices?

Goaltending

Roloson is a UFA and the team has an option on Conklin that I have a feeling that they will not pick up. Call that one intuition. Markannen is under contract.

I think Markannen will be back. He's a reasonable backup goalie, proving in the finals that he can get the job done when called upon. Not up to being a starter or co-#1.

As for a starter I feel its paramount that the Oilers have someone in place right from day one of the season. No repeat of this season. The list of teams that need goaltending is a long one - Detroit, Toronto, Tampa just to name a few. The quality netminders out there. Not too many.

I think Pronger said it best though during the playoffs - Roloson was solid, not spectacular (with a few exceptions). He didn't have to be Patrick Roy, just a solid keeper back there.

Roloson is probably the first on their list. If he goes elsewhere then where to look? Some suggest Luongo. I'd rather spend that money and assets elsewhere. If Roloson signs elsewhere then there are a lot of guys out there but most are one year wonders or iffy in some way. Lowe might gamble again. I'd rather he not but with goaltending at a premium he may have no choice but to go with someone like Raycroft.

Look for them to draft a goalie this Saturday as well.

Defence

Probably short term the area of least concern but also something that may quickly become one in a year or two. A few of these guys are getting a little long in the tooth.

Pronger, Smith, Staios, Greene and Bergeron are under contract for next year. So essentially their top four D from the beginning of next year plus Greene. Good enough for the playoffs? No. But these are the guys they ran with plus Ulanov and Cross until they acquired Spacek and Tarnstrom.

Spacek, Tarnstrom and Ulanov are UFAs. Ulanov is probably going to retire, I would think. Robin Brownlee at the Sun thinks Tarnstrom is definitely gone and that Spacek is a priority for Lowe to resign.

The general feeling is that Bergeron is also likely to be gone.

I like Tarnstrom as a member of the third pair and as the QB of the power play but the way he was used in the playoffs leads me to believe that MacT was not a fan. Why else would he be on the second unit? Why else would he be in the pressbox instead of MAB? I think he is gone.

My issue with Spacek is this - I'm not a big fan of signing defencemen over 30 to longterm deals unless they are named Pronger. Spacek is going to get at least a three year deal on the open market. I think unless they can get him for a real bargain that they should trade for an equivalent who has a year or two left on his deal. I like Spacek but I think he's replaceable. Ask me for a name. I have no idea but you just have to look at Carolina's D or Tampa's for that matter to see what I'm thinking of. A solid guy who can be your # 3.

I'd like to see Pronger and Smith and defenceman X and Greene to start the season as our top four with Staios and defenceman Y as our third pair. Defenceman X should be a legitimate top four guy. Defenceman Y can be a kid, a veteran guy, Tarnstrom (although I can't see it). If Greene struggles then Staios can move up to top 4 but I think its time to reduce his responsiblity a little. Put it this way if he's in the third pair rather then second pair when next playoffs come along I think your D is upgraded, no?

Forwards

Here is where I think we will see changes. I don't think Lowe will jump into the UFA market but I think we will see a Peca/Pronger type deal. This team needs an offensive talent - someone who can jumpstart the PP and provide goals at ES as well. A star player, in other words. As I said, a talent. I think he trades for our mystery man and I think he's a centre from a team that's looking for cap relief.

Just don't ask me who. Hah. There aren't many, is the problem.

Smyth, Torres, Moreau are all under contract for next year and will all be back. Jacques will be on the LW as well. Torres is going to get his shot at big minutes on the top two lines. Moreau is going to see his minutes drop if Jacques can get the job done. Sammy is a goner. Not enough bang for the buck.

Pouliot will be our fourth line centre or third line if Lowe deals a centre. Horcoff will be back but here's hoping its second line behind ??? I love Horc but think of this team if this guy is only your #2. If this happens then Stoll becomes our #3 guy or maybe he's trade bait. I like him and he's just a kid but his lack of production in the playoffs was startling. In a perfect world he'd be our # 3 and MAP our #4 but they may have to deal him to get that #1. Peca was brilliant in the playoffs and if Lowe doesn't have something cooking for a centre he will try and get him back. Without him this team goes nowhere these playoffs, I think, but he will likely get a longer deal for more money out this way (T.O.? N.Y.?) Rem is probably going to retire or he may come back in a Harvey role. He got better as the playoffs wore on.

The right side is a mess. I like LeGG but he's of no use anymore, I believe. Hemsky will be back of course. Pisani too - look for an increased role and a nice contract.

Pisani has almost as many goals in the playoffs (12) as he did in the regular season (18), but the Oilers believe that with his hands and his composure around the net, he may not be a one-hit wonder, but a player who can duplicate his playoff scoring heroics next year in the regular season.
Not bad for someone who will turn 30 in December and has only 191 National Hockey League regular-season games under his belt.


That's from Duhatschek in Saturday's Globe and Mail. If Oiler sources are telling the Hat this on the record then Pisani is going to get his contract and it will be with the Oilers.

Brownlee thinks Dvorak is a goner. I like him on the fourth line, maybe on the third - I know the stats guys will throw a lot of love his way, not to mention Sacamano, but no goals in the playoffs, right? Even Toby Peterson got one, for Christ sakes. I don't know. I'd like to see someone who can do what Dvorak does but who could actually finish. You can give me all the stats you want but ...

So here is my Oiler lineup:

Smyth - Mystery Man #1 - Hemsky
Torres - Horcoff - Pisani
Moreau - MAP - Dvorak or Mystery Man # 2
Jacques - Brodziak - Kid #1

Pronger - Smith
#3 D - Greene
Staios - Kid # 2 or ????

Roloson or ???
Markannen

Mystery Man#1 = #1 centre acquired in trade
Mystery Man#2 = free agent signing, kid or trade
#3 D = Spacek or equivalent acquired in trade or UFA signing

This is to start the year. If Pisani does not succeed (and many will doubt it) then he will drop a line. Same with Greene on D. Lowe will give these guys some rope and fill in the holes where he has to, as he did this year. Payroll will be @ high 30s/40M.

Stoll, MAB, maybe Raffi (though I can't see it) and a bunch of kids are tradebait.

There are holes here but I think its a good team.

This team will, barring catastrophe, make the playoffs as a top four seed. After that, well, anything can happen.

3 comments:

Chris said...

An interesting breakdown. Obviously my opinion will come from someone who saw the Oil a few times in the regular season and a lot in the playoffs.

Goaltending this off-season is going to be hectic. A lot of teams got burned in the playoffs. The word is now that Detroit is looking towards Gerber, especially with the Anaheim connection between him and Babcock. I can see Markkanen and Roloson competing for the starting spot, assuming Roloson is re-signed. Markkanen was awesome in the Finals. Luongo is great, but the Oilers would have to give up a lot - too much, I think - to get him. I'd be ecstatic to see Roberto as far away as possible, though - so by all means go for him. We see him 8 times a year, not counting preseason, and he plays almost every game. When he's on, he's in your head. Amazing goalie.

Of the five defenseman under contract, Greene is the only question mark for me. He took a lot of bad penalties in the Finals. I've seen plenty of Tarnstrom in the east when he was with Pittsburgh - lots of offense (although, when you played on the PP with Mario, that's not surprising). He's never been solid defensively - something MacT obviously realizes.

The big hole in your prospective lineup is obviously that first line center. They don't exactly grow on trees, so that will be a tough spot to fill. Without that, it would unfortunately push Horcoff to #1.

Remembering the lull in 03 after the Canes' first Cup run, I can tell you that making the playoffs the following season with the very short offseason is hard. MacT knows what it takes, but the players really don't, so it will take some adjustment. Good luck. :-)

Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Greene only had 27 games under his belt going into the playoffs - he definitely took far too many penalties - a lot of that was overexuberance, a lot of it was due to the fact that he put himself in position to take a penalty and a rookie is not going to get the break that Pronger will, for example, on the same play

Thing is he is already better then two, maybe three, of the six they started last season with - I think that he is a keeper and that he's going to get the icetime next seson

Will be interesting to see if they stumble out of the gate or if they pick up where they left off - there will be some turnover too.

I've picked on Horcoff but I would actually be happy with him back as a #1 if he had a winger with him who was an elite talent. I think ideally he would be a #2 but if he is our #1 we could do a lot worse. We need a guy who can create offence - Samsonov was supposed to provide some of that but not so much.

Chris said...

I didn't realize Greene was a rookie. Wow, he played pretty well all things considered.