Monday, August 11, 2008
* With a tip of the hat to The Chief
There hasn't been an uneventful summer in Edmonton in years and Kevin Lowe did not disappoint again this year. The good news is that before Lowe was bumped up the ladder he had looked like he regained his mojo in July of 2008. Not as good a summer as three years ago when he brought in Pronger and Peca but certainly far better then the past two summers when the team he created went into camp with big holes. This team has good balance everywhere and while there are questions here and there for the most part Oiler fans should be pretty happy with what Lowe did in his last month as Oilers GM.
1/ Acquiring a PP QB and top four Dman in Lubomir Visnovsky. Oiler fans were coveting this guy before the Kings signed him to an extension. Not a great year last season but the Kings were brutal. Should help upgrade an Oilers' PP that seemed to turn the corner in efficiency last season. Also excellent first pass. This team looks to be building itself as a quick strike transition team and Visnovsky will help that. Acquired for a guy who had three goals at ES last season (one into an empty net) despite playing with Penner and Hemsky for a time and a guy who was getting passed by on the depth chart by player after player. Matt Greene might become a player and Stoll might rebound but Visnovsky is a veteran and a quality player.
2/ Picking up Erik Cole. Cole is the top six forward Lowe promised. With his arrival the Oilers have a legitimate top nine forwards for the first time since the '06 run. Unlike last year where raw rookies or Sanderson and Reasoner were asked to step into roles that they couldn't handle this season will see Moreau or Brodziak or both on the fourth line. That's a good thing. This team has depth up front. Cole is physical, fast, can score and can play the tough minutes. Too bad that it cost them Joni Pitkanen and Cole is UFA after this season but Joni wasn't a fit.
3/ Remaking the team culture. Joni, like Stoll and Torres, had serious issues with consistency. With the cap you have to carry kids and you have to be able to rely on your vets, even the young ones, to bring effort every night. Joni couldn't be relied upon and Stoll and Torres underperformed to the point where they were healthy scratches on a team that didn't have twelve NHL forwards at the time. I recognize the value of all three players but I think that with a young team you want to have your vets lead by example. I liked Raffi Torres but his head wasn't always in the game. You can't afford to have a guy on your team like that especially when he's surrounded by kids. I know words like chemistry and intangibles drive some guys nuts but I think that these moves may be cases where the phrase addition by subtraction may apply for those very reasons.
4/ Locking up Tom Gilbert, Robert Nilsson and Shawn Horcoff longterm. No Smyth drama for the Oilers' best allround player also sent the message to the long suffering fans that finally this team will try to keep its star players. Add into this a deal for the terrific young defenceman and the young winger who turned the corner in the spring and its good work for Lowe. Next summer brings Cole, Garon and Grebeshkov as the challenges but Lowe cut the possible headaches in half with his work this July.
5/ Getting the salary structure back in order. Dumping Stoll and Torres and even Greene rid the team of three guys who were underperforming. As I said I recognized the value Torres had as a 5 on 5 player, guy was tough to score on. But 2.25 for him and over 2 for Stoll - thats too much dough for two guys who don't bring enough to the table.
6/ Not giving away any of the prize kids for a quick fix.
7/ Keeping his head (sort of) in the UFA market. Unlike last year when he overpaid for a mediocrity Lowe went after the biggest fish and when that failed he looked at Jagr shortterm. Neither worked out (and if Hossa was a nine year deal that may be for the best) but compare what he did with the money thrown at Jeff Finger, Michael Ryder and so on. Sometimes what you don't do is as important as what you do and Lowe apparently had a good plan and did not panic when it did not pan out.
Was it perfect? No. Giving up Torres rankles some, which I understand though I don't agree with them. It would have been nice if Cole had longer then a year on his deal. Keeping Glencross probably would have been a good idea. There are still questions about goaltending, team toughness and who on this team takes on the tough minutes. It would be nice if they had a cheap Dman who could play the tough minutes and come out smelling like roses, like that Jan Hejda guy.
But overall in his last month on the job Lowe kept this team pointing in the right direction. They took a step forward while the rest of the division looks to have stepped back and they likely will compete for a playoff spot this season.
Lowe was golden in 05-06 and lousy in the two years following, imo. He got the flak for the last two seasons; he deserves credit for some good work this summer.
Posted by Black Dog at 8:02 AM