Saturday, March 31, 2007

A New Day?

Since the trade of Ryan Smyth the Oilers have been in a tailspin of monstrous proportions. If you had asked me a month ago where the Oilers would be sitting if they had garnered three points in March, I would have figured second last overall.

But teams like the Coyotes, Hawks and Capitals have this losing thing down to an art. I guess when you're that sad sack its just in your nature. Wow. Are they ever shit.

Anyhow, posted a few days ago about the plan going forward, in my eyes, and my conclusion was that this team is going nowhere next year - too many holes to fill. Lowetide responded in his own post about the same subject that while in general agreement about the Oilers' situation, he felt that Lowe was going to try and use his plethora of picks and prospects to try and address as many problems as he could.

The response in the comments in my post below was pretty positive about the Oilers - a lot of ideas and a general feeling that the Oilers are not in as bad shape as I make them out to be.

So, lets put our positive hat on and see what we can come up with.

Need - Two more defencemen who can play top four minutes.

Solution - Well, first of all sign Hejda. That's simple enough. Secondly, there are two options. Go after a high end guy like Redden. Or failing that, a guy who falls into the midrange of guys. He has to be a puck mover though. If Nashville manages to sign Timmonen maybe they will make Zidlecky available? (Although I will be honest here - I have no idea if he fits into our needs - just a guy who I have heard may be on the block). As I said a few weeks back - I think bargains will be out there. Teams up against the cap. Teams that make deep runs in the playoffs who suddenly have to pay a bunch of guys a lot more money then they would have otherwise. Teams that fall out of the playoffs early and are looking to change their teams in a big way (Ottawa again?). Teams that are looking to dump salary because they want to take a run at a UFA or because they are bleeding money.

Players will be there. Hejda is going to cost nothing but a contract. Lowe has to try and acquire the second guy for as little as possible. I'm thinking a midlevel guy. Because:

Need: Scoring. With Smyth gone there has been a little bit of an issue with putting the puck in the net. One answer may lie within - your man Ales Hemsky.

This is his team now. And maybe, just maybe, what we have seen this past week might be a sign of things to come. With three goals in three games it looks like someone may have twigged to the fact that he is the man now and that its up to him to elevate his game.

I like Hemsky a lot and I think he understands what has to be done. If he can take that next step then suddenly the Oilers look a little better.

Put it this way - if Hemsky becomes the type of guy who can play tough minutes next year and produce while doing so then you have one less guy you need to hide.

Secondly - they need to pick up a left wing to take what was Smyth's spot. Who and how - I haven't the foggiest - but that's what they need. And taht's why I'm thinking a cheaper option then Redden on the backend.

Ideally their roster looks something like this:

94 (:))/10/83 -94 being Smyth's replacement - this line is your power v. power line as Dennis calls it - in the roadtrip before Smyth was traded he, Horcoff and Hemsky dominated the best other teams could send out against them.

18/16/28 - this is obviously dependent on Stoll's health and also whether or not he can play this role (tough minutes) - if Stoll is still out then they have to pick someone up to play this role.

14/78/34 - a line that did well together - Pisani seems to make everyone better. And once again a line that can take care of its own end and chip in some offence.

Now in this scenario you have three lines that can do a reasonable job in their own end. Offence will come from Hemsky's line with the other two chipping in.

And your fourth line is the one that take the really soft stuff and PP time as well - I'm thinking along the lines of Getzlaf and Perry two years back.

So there you have your Nilsson . Maybe Pouliot if you choose to bring Reasoner back for that line. Lupul if he still is sticking around.

You'd barely see them on the road though.

Need - cap room. You always need cap room. Trade Lupul. It will never happen. But trade him somewhere warm to a team that needs to reach that salary floor.

Need - puck movers on the back end - well, one of those is acquired for the top four. Gilbert is your second. Maybe Grebeshkov is in your third pair as well.

So here's my team. Its nothing like Lowe will put together but so it goes.

94/10/83
14/78/34
18/16/28
Nilsson/Reasoner/Brodziak

(with Nilsson to get PP time and Reasoner/Brodziak PK)

MysteryDman/21
25/24
29/Gilbert

I have JFJ, Storini and Grebeshkov filling out the roster with Roy your first callup from Springfield.

Gone: Lupul, Winchester, Greene, Smid, Sykora, Peterson

More likely I know is that Smid will be where Shaggy is and Toby will likely be back too but who knows?

Anyhow, is this a great team? No. But its the same team as the one that was in first place in December -just a deeper and better D. Counting on Moreau to be healthy, Thoresen and Stoll ot play some tougher minutes (and for Stoll to be healthy as well of course) and on Hemsky to raise his game. So maybe not so bad after all.

The key to me - not the fourth Dman - I think they can pick up one pretty easily (although that's what we thought last year too, eh?) but getting that man to play with 83 and 10. If they can do that then I think things may fall into place.

There - sunny again! :)

Monday, March 26, 2007

OK, What Next? Seriously.

Lowetide always was fond of saying last season that the Oilers had five bullets with Chris Pronger. The first one came as close as one could come and with a D with he, Smith and Staios, a veteran goalie and a set of forwards with varied skills it certainly looked like Kevin Lowe had set the Oilers up for a nice run of playoff spots with the chance of finishing the job they almost completed last spring.
Of course, Pronger left and the 'glass half full' amongst us figured with Lupul and Sykora coming in we could count on a good offence and at least one of the kid D could make a difference and if not well then Lowe could work last year's magic and pick up a cheap vet or two.

And coming on Christmas although the vaunt was not so much and there were injuries to Hemsky and Smyth the Oilers were in first, thanks in part to our old friends, Smoke and Mirrors, but they were there and we waited for the cavalry and it never came.

ON HNIC a month back Lowe claimed to be working from last season's blueprint but it did not work out. Now the Oilers' plans for this season and the motives of EIG have been debated long and hard elsewhere by people a lot smarter then me and I won't rehash it here but it seems to me that a playoff spot at the very least was there for the taking early on and the disappointment of this season is that a move wasn't made to address the glaring deficiencies of this team back in the summer. Its one thing to refuse to give up a 2nd and a good prospect for 20 games of Yanic Perrault, say, but I'm thinking someone half decent might have been had in August for a little less. Then again, what do I know?

You cannot blame Lowe for the fact that Sykora has seven goals in three months or that Torres and Lupul have half the goals expected of them. But you can blame him for leaving guys like Jason Smith partnered with AHL calibre Dmen for most of the season. The team was taken to task for quitting last Wednesday. Well, since then the try has come back and while the players may have quit on March 21st for one night a lot of Edmonton media types seem to be willing to forgive management who apparently quit back in August.

So the question is, what now? What about next season? You look at the Canucks or Penguins, two teams out of the playoffs last year, both in this season, and you think, if them, why not us?

And the Canucks a good a bet as any to win it all, imo. Not likely but why not?

Now, here's the problem as I see it. Last season's team had an elite player in Pronger, a guy just below that level (and of course this too has been debated to death) in Smyth, a total of eleven guys who could munch up the top minutes (Smyth, Horcoff, Dvorak, Peca, Pisani, Moreau, Torres, Pronger, Smith, Spacek and Staios) and four Dmen who could move the puck reasonably well (Pronger, Spacek, Tarnstrom, Bergeron), one for each pair plus their seventh man.

Going into next year the number of guys who can play those tough minutes is down to six, with only two on the blueline, and the best offensive defenceman on this club is probably Tom Gilbert, who has four points, and eight games experience under his belt.

As an aside, saw the Nashville game on Saturday and Gilbert ended up in deep on a PP - he was on the halfboards, in Hemsky's usual spot, and showed tremendous poise and patience with the puck. The kid does not lack confidence at least.

So, say the Oilers fulfill our dream and pick up a true impact player from a team having a firesale, coming off a playoff disappointment (hello Sens?) or up against the cap.

If this guy is a Dman and the Oilers resign Hejda well then you have a nice top four and then you have to fill a few holes up front and you likely have a team that can contend for a playoff spot at least.

But this is what I see - I see Grebeshkov and Smid and Greene and Gilbert and Roy - in other words I see a lot of kids - and unless they have four vets set in stone and tell the remaining kids to try and win the remaining jobs on merit, losers go to Springfield, then I'm seeing four kids on D again next season. Now, it will all suss out this summer. Ideally to me we would see the four vets plus Shaggy and then Gilbert and Grebeshkov or Greene, take your pick. But that would mean Smid in the minors or traded and that's unlikely. Grebeshkov is not going anywhere so that leaves Greene or Gilbert to get moved and all I can say is, lets hope its the former.

Likely we will see four vet Dmen plus three kids with one of Greene or Gilbert moved and that's not ideal but what can you do?

Of course that does nothing to address what is happening up front, yep, we haven't even gotten there yet, where there is no vaunt and few guys to play the hard minutes and if anyone can tell me who is going to score next season, well, come on down. Ales Hemsky is the only reasonable guy who might even come close to that "near elite" status I mentioned earlier, never mind, elite, although two goals in his two games back certainly bode well and maybe show that he may be ready to make this his team.

Other then that the only kid who may be ready for primetime in any way is Thoresen who has been getting tons of icetime and thriving on it. I don't think Thoresen is ever going to be a scorer but if he pots ten and can take on the toughest the opponents can throw at the Oilers well that's fine by me. He may not be ready for it but I think he could be next year. That would be a start. Other then that I don't see a kid ready to give this team a whole lot.

Other then Thoresen (who played pro in the SEL, don't forget) there is not a lot going on and we forget that for every Staal or Malkin or Crosby there are 100 Horcoffs and Pisanis and Jason Smiths. I was thinking of Kevin Bieksa and Mike Commodore earlier and how they have found success - well Bieksa is a third year pro now and Commodore put in three years in the minors before his success last season, iirc.

In other words, folks, it takes time. In hockey, like in music, the "overnight success" has likely been grinding it out in clubs and dive bars for a few years before they hit the big time.

Lowe might be able to patch some holes and make a playoff spot a possibility next season.

But there are too many holes to fill. Two top four Dmen. Puck moving Dmen. Forwards who can play tough minutes. Forwards who can score. Forwards who don't need to be hidden. A Power Play.

This team is being built for 2010 and beyond - when your 23 year olds are 27 and your 21 year olds are 24. When all of these kids might have an idea of how to play NHL hockey.

Damn Pronger!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Oilers Back On Track


Mmm, maybe not.
With an injury list still close to double digits and with three of those being top four Dmen and with tonight being the last home game of the year, well, lets just say that last night might have been the last taste of victory for the club this season.
I'm thinking top five pick, maybe top three. Lowetide has been looking at some of the possibilities.
Emailed Dan Barnes yesterday after he ripped the team following their performance on Wednesday. Basically asked him what gives. How could he rip guys for quitting when management quit back in July. He replied that he has been taking management and the coaches to task all season but that he could not let the players get away with a performance like Wednesday's.
Anyhow last night saw the return of Hemsky, Reasoner and Gilbert. Hemsky scored. Reasoner scored the shootout winner. Gilbert played nearly 24 minutes and assisted on the tying goal.
Dan Syvret played 13 minutes instead of 25 and Bryan Young played only 7.
Big difference on the back end.
Looks like they're going to see what Gilbert can do over these last couple of weeks. He'll be getting the icetime Syvret was getting.
I think, based on nothing more then my gut and what I've read and heard, that Gilbert is the best of all of the kids we've seen this season, including Smid and Greene. I've barely even seen him play so what can I say? By all accounts he has a head for the game and the reports have been glowing from everywhere.
Hope that when/if Lowe clears out that blueline logjam that Tommy is one of those who stays.
And Thoresen gets almost twenty minutes last night, ends as a plus two and picks up another assist.
One of the few bright spots this season. And the only guy who got a positive review after Wednesday's debacle.
Not much left to see here. Lupul and Sykora finally scored and Lupul's goal was one of those we were expecting all season - a big one.
I think the kid is hopeless but we all know he's going nowhere this summer.
Anyhow, I know a lot of fans have been enjoying this freefall, partially for how embarassing it has been for Kevin Lowe and the organization and partially because a top five pick is better then another one in the mid teens. I'm glad that they stopped the slide though. The guys I feel bad for are guys like Smith, Roloson and Horcoff. After coming so close last season and then being put into the position they were this season ... lets face it, these guys aren't going to carry a team to glory by themselves, although Roloson did a fair job in the fall; they're good solid pros, however, and deserve better then to be made a laughing stock.
Their GM, on the other hand ...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Face of The Franchise


Been to the Journal online lately?
Their Oilers' page used to have a picture of a battered warrior, the heart and soul of the Edmonton Oilers. A guy named Ryan Smyth.
You may have heard of him.
All that an Edmonton Oiler could be.
The epitome of a hockey player.
A man all Canadians could rally behind.
A giant among men.
Traded ...
To replace him, the Journal could have posted a picture of the Oilers' captain. Or a rugged veteran like Steve Staios or Ethan Moreau. Or the veteran goalie who led them to the Cup final last year. Or flashy Ales Hemsky. Or local playoff hero Fernando Pisani.
Hell, I would have preferred a picture of Marc Pouliot, Mathieu Roy or Bryan Young.
Even Mr. Everything Toby Peterson.
Instead they post a picture of the soft, clueless, underachieving, Budweiser drinking, ballcap wearing, pushed off the puck by Jeff O'Neill, never forechecking, never backchecking, taking up spacing, vacuous, mumbling, non scoring "goalscorer", Joffrey Lupul.
Zoolander.
Face of the Franchise.
Stab me, shoot me and fuck me in the ear.
But hard.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Think Man Think! Here's an Idea For Lowe


Here's how Kevin Lowe can make himself look like a genius again. Actually, all kidding aside, this is what I think his plan will be.
All the talk has been about UFAs but before Lowe does the unthinkable and gives Briere or Drury 30 million over 5 years or Tom Preissing a big fat contract or trades one of his few core guys (Smith, Horcoff, Stoll, Hemsky) for a name guy, lets look at a simple scenario.
Start with the Coyotes, who as Mirtle pointed out are pretty well going to lose big money unless the owners turn back the clock to the 1940s and begin to give out team jackets as signing bonuses.
The Oilers' problem? They need a couple of difference makers. One up front. One on the back end. They have a lot of prospects (some of these suspects) and a lot of picks, including what is beginning to look like a top 3, I'd say, as well as two more first rounders.
They can't afford to part with guys who can handle tough sledding and they can't afford to part with frontline talent.
So, if I'm Lowe, its an easy choice. Turn the tables. The Coyotes are bleeding money.
Find someone who would love to have Eddie J. Call the Yotes and tell them you'll take that big anchor of a salary off their hands as long as they throw in young Z. Michalek. Then flip Jovo. Hell, flip him for fuck all. He's just a means to an end.
Look for a team that is rebuilding but needs someone to get to that salary floor. Then call up the Blackhawks who already have 30 M + committed to next season but need to make some noise. Take Aucoin and a kid (I know we have a million of them already) for a pick or prospects. The Hawks win, they dump Aucoin and use that money to shop - if it costs them Barker but they pick up Briere to play with Havlat that's pretty good for them.
Then flip Aucoin to the team that needs to hit that salary floor.
Lowe has to be creative and the opportunities are there. If I were him I would have a list of every team in the league with an analysis of their financial situation and target players on each team.
Which teams are financially doomed?
Which teams are maxed out for next season already?
Which teams will be going for it all next year as their window closes (hello Flames)?
What do each of these teams need? Clear cap space? Pick up a key player? Clear salary to stop the bleeding?
Get in ahead of the game, use the cheap assets that some teams will need and fix this team.
Lowetide argued a few days ago that a guy like Schremp has no value. I have to respectfully disagree, although my original answer to that was "damn right".
Schremp has value in that he is cheap. And the Oilers have a ton of guys who are cheap.
When the Penguins moved Jagr they picked up a bunch of never will be's but the trade worked for them because they were able to fill three roster spots for less then 2 million bucks.
If Lowe is smart, aggressive and gets creative, he could make things happen.
We'll see.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Curses!





Curses have always been a part of sports lore. Long suffering baseball fans in Boston and Chicago often explained failure as a result of their franchises being cursed. As I remember them, here are a few of your more famous curses.
- The Curse of the Bambino - The Boston Red Sox were very successful in the early part of last century, until they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, the story being that the Boston owner wanted money to finance a play. The result - countless world series victories for the Yankees. And a drought in Boston that ended in 2004 - their first victory since 1918. This is the most famous of curses (and probably the most tiresome).
- The Goat Curse - Supposedly in 1945 a fan tried to bring his goat into Wrigley to watch the Cubs play in the World Series. Although he had bought a ticket for the goat, he was denied and allegedly said that the Cubs would never make the World Series again. So far so good.
- The Curse of Pete Muldoon - Chicago sports franchises have long been saddled with the worst owners. Long before Bill Wirtz made the scene, the original owner of the Blackhawks (McLaughlin was his name iirc) made a name for himself as a bit of a nutcase. The Hawks won two Cups in the 1930s but the coach of the second Cup winner, Pete Muldoon, was fired anyhow. Muldoon proclaimed that the Hawks would never win another Cup. They did not for 23 years but their drought since that Cup win is now double that. The curse of Bobby Hull?
- The Black Sox - Not an actually curse per se but after the White Sox threw the Series in 1919 they did not win the Series until 2005.
The fact is, of course, that these cursed franchises were cursed by penny pinching owners (the cause of the Black Sox incident was their resentment of the notoriously cheap Charles Comiskey), managerial incompetence and just plain bad luck. I remember reading a few years back how the odds of neither Chicago baseball franchise winning the World Series from 1917 to 2005 were in the realm of 5000 to 1. That's a lot of bad baseball but the fact is that neither team built a club that was a legitimate contender year in and year out until the recent work of the White Sox. If you're not near the top of the league for extended runs then you're not going to be in a position to get those breaks to win a championship or even to play for one.
The overworked arms of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, the morphing of Wrigley into theme park rather then the centre of an actual baseball operation (sound familiar Leaf fans?), the failure of the Red Sox to integrate until long after the rest of MLB and their lack of pitching year after year, the Blackhawks' failure to pay anyone, even Bobby Hull, any money.
The list goes on and on.
The mythology surrounding these curses take on a life of their own. Bill Buckner is remembered as the goat in the Red Sox' loss to the Mets in 1986 but few remember that long before the ball rolled through his legs the Mets were down to their last out with nobody on base before relievers Bob Stanley and Calvin Schiraldi could not close the door. Cursed or just the failure of a couple of mediocre relievers?
The point of all this - in fifty years will the remaining Oilers' faithful talk of the curse of Ryan Smyth? The hometown boy who was dumped for prospects and a pick? Will Andy Grabia bore his grandchildren about how he saw the Oilers win the Cup in 1990, muttering about Kevin Lowe and Don Meehan as he sits in his rocking chair overlooking his massive cattle and llama ranch? Will Vic Ferrari, as he draws his last breath, curse Cal Nichols for selling out the fans by dumping the boy from Banff? Will Tyler Dellow, as the ancient head of the Supreme Court of Canada, attempt to enshrine the Oilers' right to win a Stanley Cup as the law of the land, only to be thwarted by Prime Minister Matt Fenwick? Will an embittered Lain Babcock assassinate Pat Laforge by smothering him with a pillow when he encounters him in their assisted care facility? Will Chris! and Pleasure Motors light themselves on fire in front of the statue of Craig Simpson's hair in the Rob Schremp Arena concourse as a last act of defiance, their compadre Mike Winters long gone, killed by the lemon gin he guzzled in vast quanitites after the fateful day Smyth was signed by the Leafs.
And me, you ask, well your beloved Oilers will have fallen so far that I will be team captain.
Will five time Stanley Cup champion and Maple Leaf great Ryan Smyth, comfortably retired in Rosedale, respond to entreaties from Oiler fans everywhere by lifting the curse?
Or will he reply to the messengers bowing and scraping before him:
"Fuck 'em!"
Kevin Lowe - you had better have a plan because this might turn ugly!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Like The Oilers (and Barry) I've Got Nothing


They say February is the cruelest month and like much of what you read in great works of art, it is true. Such as I do remember every single fucking thing I know. And I am a big fan of an Afternoon Delight. I also enjoy Pina Coladas and Walks in the Rain.
Never found love at the Copa, Copacabana however, so its not always true.
Anyhow, February ended with Ryan Smyth getting shipped to Long Island and now two weeks later the Oil are O fer and Bryan Young is fifth on the depth chart and only Fernie and Toby Peterson have managed to score in those two weeks.
Thirteen games left with their match with the Anze Kopitar less Kings tonight perhaps one of their best chances left to get a win. Seriously.
Horcoff is hobbled and probably wondering what has happened - two weeks ago he, Smyth and Hemsky were dominating some pretty good teams while facing the toughest that opponents could throw at them and now he is playing with a very game Kyle Brodziak and Raffi Torres, who at this rate is heading for a pay cut.
Matt Greene and Laddy Smid are playing 25 plus a night so I guess Kevin Lowe is happy?
Jacques still looks lost and whatever happened to Petr Sykora and we're still trying to figure out where Lupul has hidden those pictures.
Good Lord.
I wonder what Jason Smith thinks. Probably about making an outrageous contract demand this summer so he can catch a plane out of E-town as well. For the grief he has gotten from "fans" while playing with these clowns what would you expect?
The only positives so far - the try is there which speaks to a couple of things - that there are a bunch of kids trying to impress and also, seriously, to MacT and guys like Horcoff and Smith who are trying to show the kids something. Except for the disasters immediately after the trade they have at least given it their best shot while playing some pretty good teams like the Lightning, the Ducks and the Sharks.
And they are sliding down the ladder when it comes to the draft and that is a good thing. Nothing worse then missing the playoffs and getting some middling picks. No guarantees at the top but your chances are better at a blue chipper up there. No need to take a flyer on some tattoed headcase (might as well gamble though at that point) when you have six or seven guys that everyone agrees are top six or top seven and that is where you are picking.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Clockwork Oil


Now I am sure that there are some wags out there who would claim that the picture at left illustrates the next step for EIG, Pat LaForge, Jim Matheson and the rest of the media toadies in Edmonton as they try and convince Oiler fans that Lupul is Guy Lafleur, that Smid is Bobby Orr and that Ryan Smyth is to blame for this whole sorry mess of a season.
Good thing they dumped that Smyth guy.
But I would never say such a thing. Instead I found this shot to be a reasonable description of those Oilers fans who are suffering through the final month of this season by actually watching the games. Mike W. at CinO and I caught Wednesday's game against Tampa. I'm not sure if anyone else did. Maybe Lowetide.
I see few games so when I can I'll watch them regardless. My wife is making noises about getting one of those cable deals where you get 9439 channels and I've already warned her that if we get Sportsnet West she can expect me to watch a few more games. What can I say? I'm an idiot.
The game Wednesday was alright actually - Tampa is a fun team to watch and Vincent L. is unbelieveable. He and St. Louis had 81 goals coming into the game; the entire Oilers roster had tallied 91, iirc. By the end of the night the difference was in single digits.
And I'll give the Oilers credit - the try was there. Not much else but at least they didn't mail it in. Actually they pretty well carried the play in the first but then Staios went down and then Hejda and by the end of the game Toby Peterson was on the blueline and Bryan Young was getting pulled off his team bus and heading to the airport and the scary thing is if I were a betting man I would say that both outperform Matt Greene tonight.
Lowetide commented that Greene is going the wrong way and mused that he might be injured but I'm thinking its a head injury because Danny Syvret did what Mathieu Roy and Tom Gilbert both did before they went down and basically outplayed the big man and badly. I remember a few weeks ago when Greene looked to have found a home in the PB (well deserved) and my guess is he would still be there if not for the fact that there are now five Dmen down and out.
A microcosm of the entire season took place in a few minutes in the second period. Lupul gets the puck at centre ice and needs to dump it deep to get a change. Instead he coughs it up and Tim Taylor, of all people, completely undresses Greene who then takes a penalty. Shortly after Hejda goes down and then Jacques takes a penalty and on the ensuing PK Smid doesn't rotate over quickly enough and Prospal pops the first goal of the game.
That had it all - the youngsters without a clue, the injury to the key man, the penalties, the ineptitude on D, the complete and utter uselessness of Joffrey Lupul.
And Jason Smith looking skyward wondering (and hoping) that EIG lowball him this summer so that he can follow Smytty out of town, maybe head to San Jose. As we all know, he's the one at fault for most of this sorry season. I mean just check out Lowetide's post on the Desjardins' numbers to see what I mean. And if you check out the Internet boards (which I do not) apparently the talk there is of what a pylon old Gator is.
Right.
Anyhow back to Wednesday night and a few minutes later Gord Miller, talking about Tim Taylor, describes him as labouring and in quite a bit of pain as he has a bad hip that requires surgery.
As someone pointed out - Matt Greene isn't getting beat by the stars out there - he's getting burned by the ancient and infirm.
And I know he's a kid and all of that but so is Danny Syvret and the ex London Knight was poised and solid and played a terrific game. Which means he'll likely find himself in the minors next year or somewhere else. Despite the fact that he looks twice as good as Ye Chosen Ones (Smid and Greene).
So there you go. Not many games left and with a D consisting of Gator and not a lot else I'm thinking top five pick is a definite possibility. This team is O fer in the PS era and I can't see things getting better soon.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Give Me Another One of Those Pisanis With a Tarnstrom, Hold the Lupul and The Greene

Last spring when the Oilers were trying to close out a game or a series you would see the following guys on the ice over the last couple of minutes:

Smyth Horcoff
Peca Pisani
Dvorak Moreau
Pronger Smith
Spacek Staios

Well the summer saw four of these fellows move on and then Moreau went down and now with Smyth gone, you can see that we have a bit of a problem, especially with the fact that it wasn't exactly Jack Lemaire, Joe Sakic, Willie Mitchell and Marcel Pronovost coming in to replace them.

Now, add to that that the top four puck moving Dmen on last season's team were:

Pronger Spacek
Tarnstrom Bergeron

Ok, so it does not take a genius to realize that the Oilers needed a Dman or two who could actually play defence in the NHL and headman the puck on top of that but these two lists are pretty telling.

Unless Lowe puts into effect a massive overhaul this summer (which he may) there are a couple of areas that need to be addressed.

This team needs guys who can play both ends of the rink against the other team's best. On D you have Smith and Staios and it looks like Hejda who can fill that role, although it would be better if he were in the 3-4 spot then the top pair. Guys who can win puck possession by separating the opposition from the puck, guys who have a clue in their own zone, guys who can get the puck deep into their opponents' end and retain possession down there. Right now up front there are Pisani, Moreau and Horcoff with Torres and Stoll showing some promise to maybe take that step. Maybe. As well you have Pouliot, Thoresen and Brodziak as guys coming up who may fit that role. With Hemsky, Nilsson, Lupul and Schremp representing your "other" type of player plus the youth of our maybes, Lowe has three options.

Move kids or picks or buy a guy(s) who are longterm solutions.

Move kids or picks or buy a guy (s) who can hold the fort for a year or two.

Leave it as is and let the kids develop into these types of players, if they can.

Now, this is all dependent on what Lowe's plan is for this summer. We won't know until then when he begins to move. Is he going to acquire and sign a guy like Redden longterm with an eye to 2009/2010 when hopefully the kids will be ready. In other words a plan that addresses the shortterm - getting back into the playoffs - while keeping an eye to the longterm - getting a guy who can contribute to a contender two, three, four years down the road.

Or is it plan B - acquire a guy or two with a year left on their deals to get this team back into the playoffs or close to it - similar to this year but with a little more gusto.

Or is it plan C - kids kids and more kids.

Lowetide has a post on who is available and its interesting stuff. My thought is that this team, with the right moves, can get back into the playoffs next year but that it is also a couple of years from being a true contender. With an eye to that if I were Lowe I would go A, B, C. If he can acquire a guy and sign him longterm then do it. If he cannot pick up a cornerstone guy then get a shortterm guy to see if you can get into the postseason while the kids grow. Failing that, then build the team with youth, not short time stupidity/patch jobs.

1/ Sign Hejda. That gives you three guys who can play top four and if a kid grows up quickly or you buy at the deadline then if he or Staios are on your bottom pair you're looking damn good.

2/ Trade Lupul. This won't happen and his value is nil but he's eating 2.3 in cap space. With Nilsson, Schremp and Hemsky plus all of the kids who actually have a clue there is no room for him on this roster.

3/ Make a decision on Torres. I waver about Raffi and my guess is he sticks around now with Smyth gone. If he can learn to play the tough minutes and he has made strides in doing so, then he has value, plus he brings that physical edge. Will he ever figure it out? Probably not. If he could though ...

4/ Make a decision on Reasoner. If Marty can't do much more then he has this year then have Brodziak or the Swede, Almtorp, if he is ready, take his job. I like Marty but he has done very little, imo. Too bad because he sure is a likeable guy.

5/ Keep the centres. Unless you can get a stud #1 then having Horc, Stoll and Pouliot 1-2-3 is pretty nice. Get the cap room you need by moving Lupul.

6/ If you're floating around 7th or 8th and there's a guy you want at 4th or 5th then move up and take him. I think this draft has some nice prospects. If you're drafting that high and there is a guy you like flip picks and move up.

7/ Acquire another young goalie in the draft or, better yet, pick up a 21 year old prospect. Or older. Ideally in goal I'd like to see someone backup Roli next season with an eye to taking his job the following year, or worse case, the year after. You cannot have enough young goalies and while Dubnyk looks pretty good I'd like another, please.

8/ Move Matt Greene. I think he has an upside and yes, he's a kid but the fact that Gilbert and Roy both showed well in their short stints and that their skill sets are, imo, better suited for what the Oilers need, then Greene has to go. Having Gilbert or Roy on the farm for another year while this guy tries to figure it out is a waste and I'd rather have them, especially Tommy, then Greene, in any case.

9/ Don't blow your wad to appease the fans. Considering they didn't sign Smyth I cannot see this happening but if Lowe spends big money and term on a guy who cannot be a cornerstone guy then I will shoot myself.

That's all I've got for now. They absolutely need a Dman to play top four minutes if they are going to be competitive at all next year. They need to move Lupul to free up cap space that can be better used on a two way forward, ideally a left winger who can play the tough minutes and score 30 to 40 goals a year.

Wait a second!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Spin, Media and the UFA Foolishness


Remember this?
Anyone catch Bryan McCabe's comments after his atrocious outing against the Sabres last week - so says the genius (and I paraphrase) "I'm busting my ass out there - everyone knows that mistakes are a part of the game."
He coughed up the tying goal Friday night as well.
Well, Bryan, its certainly one part of the game that you have mastered.
Met Tyler from www.mc79hockey.com Saturday night - he came out for a game of shinny and afterwards we dropped by my local for a pint - caught a bit of the Oilers' game and enjoyed Pisani's second goal, if not the Flames' response.
We discussed you know what briefly and while we sit on opposite sides of the issue, as I said to him, we may as well not argue about it because I know his arguments are great ones. Plus he's a lot smarter then me. Plus a far better hockey player by the way. Of course my excuse is my advanced years.
I certainly can't add much to the general debate raging all about us except to make these points.
1/ I think that while everyone is angry with the trade itself, many are just as angry, if not angrier, with the spin. And here is where the Oilers are blowing it and making people who accept the trade, like myself, a little leery. Dropping hints like Lowe did Saturday that Smyth may have asked for 6 + (he did so in just a quick aside but people would pick up on that) or having Cal Nichols blather on about tax rates or employing the full court media press just smacks of foolishness. Saying that you feel that the guy is not worth the money he is asking for is all they had to say. People can agree or disagree with you then. Fair enough. At some point you have to say this is it. But saying that if they were still in the playoff race they would have signed him or saying that the gap may have been only 100K which then makes both parties look stupid (and I don't believe for a minute that was the case, btw - anyone who heard what Smyth said when that was posed to him on Thursday knows that was not the case. He's awesome but he's not a good actor, I would say.). Fact is, the Oilers apparently could have had him for 5M per last summer. If that is the case and you can live with that amount then they blew it.
Anyhow the Oilers would have done best to leave well enough alone and ride out the storm. My sister, who has no access to Edmonton media and no time to watch talking heads debate the subject, did catch Smyth's farewell at the airport. She emailed me to offer her sympathies and also remarked that if he wanted to stay so bad why did he not take what they offered him? Its not like he needed the money, she said. Now, I have NO PROBLEM with Smyth rejecting what was offered AT ALL before anyone starts piling on here. I'm just repeating what she said as an example of a legitimate opinion formed without any input from EIG or their media flunkies. Not everyone was sympathetic to Ryan's side of it and that's ok just as its ok to ream EIG a new one for their botching of the whole situation. Anyhow EIG should have kept their damn mouths shut. Its not like people will desert the team in droves ... yet :).
2/ Interesting notes on the whole media situation but let me tell you that Edmonton has no monopoly on this type of situation. With only a couple of exceptions the Toronto media does not ask the hard questions of the Leafs. You'd think their last Cup was 3 years ago, not 39. And those reporters who do question or mock MLSE are derided as having agendas. Interesting, huh? And they don't fuck around here either. When the Jays were becoming contenders back in the 80s we were all treated to talk of how they had the best outfield in baseball and how every prospect was the next Dimaggio. Anyone remember Lloyd Moseby? Nice guy, average hitter, signature move was coming in at the crack of the bat and then turning and running as the ball sailed over his head. I remember watching Willie Wilson from KC and thinking why he made it look so easy. Because he could play the position, that's why! And then Devon White came along and he could do it all and man was he a fielder. But for years people bought the crap about the Best Outfield In Baseball because that is what they were told, by EVERYBODY. And a member of that trio was a below average outfielder, I'd say. At best, he was average.
And while Edmonton media run down guys after they leave, they have nothing on the media here in Hogtown. You want to know if a guy is going to get shipped out or if he will be allowed to leave via free agency. Watch for the hints in the Toronto dailies about the guys who have lost a step, who are selfish or cancers in the clubhouse according to unnamed sources, and so on.
EIG has nothing on these guys. Hell, Roberto Alomar was getting booed long before his contract ran out and when he left the fans were ready to throw a parade.
3/ Finally the whole idea of where the Oilers go from here is interesting and originally what I planned on posting about today. I have my ideas of who should stay and who should go and am hopeful that Kyle Brodziak will show that he belongs in the next few weeks now that he has returned. We need more Pisanis and less Lupuls and that goes without saying. Anyhow, the idea that the Oilers are going to dip into the UFA pool is one that Lowe has to run with right now but if I were a betting man I would say that the big acquisition this summer, if there is one, will be made via trade. We know the numbers that get throw around in July and if you're not willing to give Smyth 5.5 over 5 then I can't see how giving Briere 6.5 over 5 is any smarter. We all know that come the summer the GMs' brains take a vacation. Vic Ferrari said the other day that the average GM is smarter then Joe Fan and I'd sure hope so - it is their job after all - but we all know that in the past there have been a ton of dummy contracts handed out. Smyth will likely get over 6M - as a matter of fact if he gets the Islanders anywhere I'd say he's going to get 6.5 plus over five. The argument that therefore the Oilers should have been willing to pay out for Smytty due to this fact does not make a lot of sense to me. After all these GMs are the same guys who gave Mr. McCabe, Marty Lapointe, Alex Yashin and so on hefty deals. Doesn't mean it makes sense or that its smart.
Now, my own opinion you can read below and I know from getting around the Oilogosphere that it is not the popular one. And if Smyth has five more seasons like this one or better (imagine of he got to play with, say, Crosby and Malkin?) then he's a bargain. Some would argue if he has three more then he is. And what can I say? The arguments on both sides are good ones and people a lot smarter then me are on the other side of the fence on this one. The fact that Smyth is Smyth and that EIG are EIG makes even me waver at times. As I said to Tyler Saturday night despite what I have said, if Smyth came back July 1st (not going to happen) I'd be a happy guy. What can I say?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Annus Horribilis or Oilers' Year Is An Awful Bumhole


Last year's team, as Lowetide would say, was a beauty team. A Cinderella story. Kids and vets. Long time favourites. Hometown heroes. Overtime victories. Winning against all odds.
And then on June 19th it all ended. A break or two short of the Cup.
And then it got ugly. I am sure other teams have had worse years but I am not sure if I can recall any team in sports that has had such a fall from the heights and, even worse, such a heartwrenching one.
Pronger's trade request and the underwhelming return. The firestorm of bitterness that this engendered.
Spacek going to the Sabres and Tarnstrom to Europe and Lowe's inability to fill the holes on the D at all, thus dooming this team to failure.
Peca's defection to the Leafs. We knew it was coming and we didn't miss him but the team missed that ability to play the tough minutes. And he sticks in our collective craw still, for some reason.
Fan favourites Laraque and Dvorak (well of some fans anyway) leaving town.
Only Samsonov, Rem Murray and Todd Harvey seem to provoke little response when we talk about those who left.
And then the season. A good start and then it began.
The strange use of Smid and Greene.
The team going from a gritty oldstyle squad to, can we say it, a soft team.
The injuries. Moreau gone. Stoll's concussion. Pisani, Smith, Staios, Shaggy, Horcoff all playing hurt and three of those missing time with injuries. Smyth and Hemsky out for an extended period of time.
The sourness of fans who turned on guys like Smith quickly and angrily despite his doing his best after being put in an untenable position.
The failed power play.
The overwork of the aging goaltender.
The underachieving of, well, nearly everyone up front.
And finally, the final gutshot, the trading of the team's heart and soul and the one guy who should have stayed an Oiler forever. Even as someone who has argued that the trade may have made sense, I feel physically sick thinking about it. And as I said earlier today, despite my arguments, if they brought him back at 5 years and 27.5 M this summer I'd probably be pretty damn happy.
The club has been shut out 8-0 in the two games since and what do people expect? They've had the heart ripped out of them.
What a disaster. Bring on the end of the season.
Put us out of our misery.
Please.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

What Will The Summer Bring?


Probably not this guy but you get the picture.
The Oilers are still good enough to compete for a playoff spot next year if they upgrade their roster.
But this is what I think we will see. And remember I figured right up to the moment they traded Smyth that they would sign him, so believe me at your own risk. :)
1. If the Oilers are out of playoff contention next year Jason Smith will also get moved.
2. They are going to try to sign Markannen to a two year deal. If they believed in JDD at all they would have moved him.
3. They are seriously thinking of keeping Sykora. (Well duh!) Likely they will try and ink him for two years for what he is making now.
4. They will not dip into the free agent market in a serious way.
5. They will trade for a big name player. Lowe has a ton of assets in terms of young players, prospects and draft picks. There are way too many youngsters who are ready or almost ready for their shot. There is not room for all of them.
6. While Richards is unlikely (great player but 7.8M is a ridiculous overpay) that is the type of player they will target. Quality player signed for two years plus.
7. Who, you ask? Focus on teams who may have cap issues, teams that fall short of the playoffs and teams that bomb out in the playoffs.
8. In the first case teams will try to clear space because they need to or because they want to take a run at the new UFA crop. Think Ottawa or Tampa as teams that have cap issues going into next year or any number of teams who want to give Chris Drury 7M a year.
9. In the second case there is still Philly but think of Atlanta if they fall short again as a team that may blow things up. Florida is another candidate.
10. The third case, well, this remains to be seen.
I see a situation where Atlanta decides to go in another direction and wants to move Hossa either because they are blowing everything up or to free up cash to pursue a UFA. Just as an example. And Lowe moves some youth.
And to my dismay, I don't see Lupul going anywhere. Although getting that 2.3 off the books would be a good idea.