Saturday, January 12, 2008
I read the Battle of Alberta every day. I have had the good fortune to spend a weekend in the company of Andy Grabia, an extraordinary writer and researcher, and have had a number of pints with sacamano, original Oiler Battler, doctor of stone and bone technology and all round great guy.
I have never met Matt Fenwick but I read his posts with interest. Always terrific stuff. Its too bad that he's a Flames' fan. Like Hamlet's indecisiveness, Conrad Black's arrogance or Tom Cruise's weirdness, its the flaw that makes his heroism tragic.
The other day Matt posted this beauty (by the way check out last night's post where he looks at Dowbiggin's musings on the Flames getting Sundin) where he looks at the Flames' lineup. In it he touches on a few topics which would be recognized by us Oiler faithful who have suffered this season. He also takes a critical look at Brad Richards which is on the money (and I say this as a fan of Richards).
I just wanted to riff on Matt's take on the Flames' lineup. He talks about a number of issues the Flames have up front. Presently they have two pretty good lines. Huselius-Conroy-Iginla and Tanguay-Langkow-Nolan.
Damn good I'd say. You might argue as to whether or not Conroy and Nolan are "true" top six forwards anymore and there is some thought that Lombardi might be a better fit then Conroy but the reality is you have four really good players right there and two old pros who don't fuck shit up.
From there Matt stumps for a line of Nilson-Lombardi-Yelle. Presently Lombardi is playing with two kids, Boyd and Nystrom, and things aren't working (sound familiar?). Well even as someone who sees the Flames rarely I know what Lombardi can do and Yelle and Nilson are two guys who don't score a lot but also don't hurt you.
And then a fourth line cobbled together that can hold its own against other team's fourth lines.
The key for the Flames here is that they have nine legitimate NHL forwards. While Dowbiggin stumps for a huge move for Sundin I think the Flames would be better off (short and long term) picking up a couple of guys who can flat out play in the NHL. Nine guys aren't going to last more then one round and once you start bumping guys up the ladder then your team is going to suffer.
Look at the Oilers. Lowetide has said from the beginning of last season and its been a common theme here as well, that the Oilers biggest issue is that they do not have enough NHL players. Recalling the SCF squad that was a team that had seven forwards that could play tough minutes - Smyth, Horcoff, Peca, Pisani, Torres, Moreau and Dvorak. On top of that they had three other legitimate NHL forwards in Samsonov, Hemsky and Stoll. Add to that a great top four on the back end and you can see why this team survived injuries to Moreau and Dvorak. They could plug in whomever with Smyth and Horcoff and they had a fourth line that could handle the other team's fourth line.
This year's squad's struggles can be traced to the fact that until recently the Oilers could ice a lineup that included four legitimate top nine forwards, five if you include Reasoner, which I would not. Horcoff. Penner. Hemsky. Torres.
Add in the mess on the backend and its pretty obvious why this team has struggled. I like Brodziak and Cogliano and Nilsson and Gagner. I like them all. Just not all as part of a top nine that includes Reasoner or a guy who is recovering from a major injury.
Now you add Moreau and Pisani back into the mix as well as Souray on the back end and things start looking a lot different. Souray remains overpaid but I will credit him with doing a decent job with tougher minutes then I thought he could handle. Contract aside, Souray is an experienced NHL defenceman and is a far better option then either Smid or Grebeshkov. Tarnstrom too. If the Oilers would play Tarnstrom and Greene as their third pair then you're looking at a pretty good top six.
Up front the addition of Moreau and Pisani has made a big difference. Suddenly you can plug Cogliano in between two good veterans and you have two pretty solid lines. So in the case of the Flames tomorrow night the Flames might be able to send out three lines but now the Oilers are at two and things look a lot better then a month ago when they did not even have that much.
And this is where it really is too bad that Torres is gone. He is maddening but he is a legitimate player. He's not going to hurt you. Put him out there with the resurgent Stoll and another kid, probably Nilsson or Brodziak, and now you have three legitimate NHL lines. These guys might have to play the Lombardi line to stay even or outscore and of course the Flames' top two lines might outplay the Oilers' top two lines but its a far better bet then throwing Sanderson-Reasoner-Brodziak out there against one of the Flames' top lines. Now that is your fourth line and its going to outplay most fourth lines.
Unfortunately with Torres out the Oilers are still a little short unless Reasoner can pick it up or two of Brodziak, Nilsson, Gagner and Thoresen can form a legitimate line with Stoll. I think Brodziak, Nilsson and Thoresen may actually be close to being legitimate NHL players (not talking about offensive production here but the ability to be a pro outside of the fourth line) but putting two on a line is not going to do it.
Finally, the Oilers are teasing us again with three straight wins and four in their last five. After the Flames they have the Kings and then a five game roadtrip through the Southeast.
This is where they may actually get out of lottery territory once and for all because if you look at the rosters on these Southeast teams you don't see a lot of legitimate NHL forwards and it becomes very clear why this division is such a sinkhole. Carolina is probably the best of the bunch. Even with Williams and Cullen out they can run Staal, Brindamour, Stillman, Cole and Whitney out there. The drop off after that is a big one though (I am not familiar with how Ladd is progressing but his offence is not there). And after Carolina it gets worse. Tampa has their big line, Richards and then its Ouellet and Hlavac. Atlanta has Kovalvhuk, Hossa, Holik, Todd White, Recchi and then its Perrin. Florida is only six deep, if that. Washington, who I watched beat an injury ravaged Avs team on Tuesday, has Ovechkin, Nylander, Kozlov, Semin and a nice rookie in Backstrom. After that its a bunch of kids. Protecting a one goal lead at the end of the game they had Brashear out there. And they are as likely to win the division as anyone.
Believe it or not the Oilers could put together a good run here.
Want to look at why the Ottawas and Wings stand head and shoulders above everyone else. Look at their rosters. Their fourth lines include legit NHL guys. Here are the Wings top eleven forwards - Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Cleary, Holmstrom, Hudler, Filppula, Samuelsson, Draper, Franzen, Maltby, Drake. If they add one or two bottom six guys and they likely will, they can roll four lines. (Hudler has thirty points and Filppula twenty four - holy smokes).
Ottawa is not as deep and a little more top heavy when it comes to offence - Spezza, Alfredsson, Heatley, Fisher, Vermette, Kelly, Neil, Schubert, McAmmond, Eaves, Donovan. I look for them to add a top six guy before March.
Easy to see why these guys are the class of the league. Look at each team's roster. The other contenders look a lot like Calgary. Nearly everyone else looks quite a bit like the Oilers.
Posted by Black Dog at 8:37 AM