Tuesday, June 20, 2006

No Time to Dwell

As heartbreaking as that loss was, Kevin Lowe has no time to waste crying over spilt milk. The draft is this Saturday and he's got a lot on his plate in the meantime. If there is a silver lining to the loss, it's that Lowe shouldn't be overly sentimental with this roster. (Trust me, I know I'm reaching with that one.)

- The cap is now $44MM with a $28MM floor and the Oilers have just 11 players under contract for 2006-2007 (Pronger, Moreau, Conklin, Harvey, Markkanen, Bergeron, Staios, Smith, Smyth, Greene, and Torres) for a total of approximately $19.7MM. I'm not sure what happened to Winchester here, but I'm under the impression that he's under contract for $500K this year as well.

- The RFA list isn't lengthy but it's probably expensive: Horcoff, Stoll, and Hemsky.

- The UFA list is better described as both lengthy and expensive: Peca, Dvorak, Pisani, Spacek, Tarnstrom, Roloson, Samsonov, Laraque, Ulanov and Murray.

- The list of kids knocking at the door is growing as well. Jacques, Pouliot, and Schremp look to be near NHL ready and The Yeti Named Mikhnov is lurking in the background as well.

I guess the major thing to address are the Oilers' specific needs, which I would rank in the following order:
1. Goaltending
2. ES play
3. Defensemen


Goaltending is a critical area of need that the Oilers must address. It appears to me that Markkanen is a suitable backup, but there is a significant question regarding Roloson. Will he be healthy? How much did his price drop? Is he due for a decline in 2006-2007? Longtime OilFans poster GabbyDugan (who needs to hurry up and join the damn blog) posted a list of UFA goalies here which he gleaned from this link. The eternal wisdom of the Boston Bruins has pulled Thomas off of Gabby's list, but I think the rest of them are fair game. There are some options there for sure, but it's hard to say any of them are any better than Roloson if you assume he's capable of replicating his recent performance over the past couple of years.

The ES play this year concerned me and although the goaltending was crap for most of the season and the Oilers had some iffy defensemen at times, I still think the forwards were out of sorts. MacT used the Smyth/Horcoff/Hemsky line in a bizarre way to the detriment of the team at ES and the fourth line was never used consistently enough to provide much of an impact. The Oilers stand to lose a couple of solid performers as UFAs in Dvorak, Peca and Pisani. All three are generally very strong in terms of GAA and although Pisani might come back down to Earth offensively, the other two can be expected to rebound offensively. Peca's a goner, but Dvorak's price should be right and the Oilers probably can't do much better with a different RW from the UFA ranks. Personally, I think the Oilers are better off spending their money on known commodities at ES than blowing huge wads of cash on PP divas.

The Oilers already have five defensemen signed and probably 3/4 of their top two pairs, but they need a little depth. Personally I'm in favour of letting Spacek walk and signing Tarnstrom at a cut rate - something like $1.5MM/yr. He had a horrible year statistically and his track record suggests he'll bounce back hugely on the PP if he gets some minutes there. Personally I despise the use of two dmen on the PP, but MacT/Simpson are going to insist on it then very few teams have a pair like Pronger and Tarnstrom to have back there. While I think Tarnstrom will be serviceable at ES with middling difficulty of minutes, the Oilers likely need another veteran so that MAB/Greene share the 6/7 minutes.

Lastly, here's my two lists of UFA's to look at:

Oilers
Pisani
Dvorak
Tarnstrom
Roloson
Laraque?

New UFAs
Elias
Langenbrunner
Arnott
Friesen
Reasoner
Mitchell
McKee
M. Eaton
D. Markov

Elias is a pipe dream for sure. Mostly because he'll want $7MM/yr for 4-5yrs and the length of the deal in particular would be hard for the Oilers to stomach. It seems that's the deal in pro sports these days. If you want an elite free agent you have to be willing to pay him big money for two years after he's gone off the deep end. Paging Neil Smith! Paging Glen Sather!!

Arnott's a dicey one as well mostly because of his history in the town. If it wasn't for that I'd love to see Horcoff, Arnott, Stoll, and then Reasoner or Pouliot as the Oilers' four centres next year. I'm fairly certain MacT would like to play four lines at ES a little more than he did this year and he probably can't do that with Peca surely gone, Murray over the bend, and unknown rookie commodities.

My wishlist would be the following: Sign a UFA goalie for about $2.5MM, keep Markkanen at $0.85MM and cut Conklin loose. (Does a buyout make sense here? I think it might - there's no replacement player cost to consider really because they're paying Markkanen regardless of what happens. If you can't trade him, you save about $400K) I'd like to see Tarnstrom and a veteran UFA dman added for $3MM combined to bring the blueline total to about $14.8MM spent on 7 dmen. I'd like to keep Smyth ($3.5MM), Horcoff ($2.5MM), Hemsky ($2.5MM), Stoll ($1.5MM), Torres ($0.9MM), Moreau ($1.1MM), Dvorak ($1.0MM), Reasoner ($0.7MM), Harvey ($0.54MM) and Pisani ($1.8MM) as nine of the forwards totalling $16.0MM. This grand total is roughly $35MM assuming a Conklin buyout. I assume the Oilers will spend around $40MM this year which would leave about $5MM for Lowe to pay a couple of youngsters and upgrade a forward spot. This would mean Elias is out of the picture, but potentially Arnott or Langenbrunner could be available.

The amount of work that has to be done is either a blessing or a curse and I can't decide. On one hand, Lowe's got way too many things to screw up here. The flipside is that he's got plenty of freedom to make significant gains.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Julian said...

Maybe it's just me, but it feels kinda wrong to be thinking of next year already, kinda like hitting up a bar or joing an online dating service the day after getting dumped by a girl you were crazy about.

That said, you're right, Lowe has to start thinking about next season pretty damn soon. Your last paragraph is pretty good, it'll be alot easier for Lowe to screw up this team than it will be for him to make it better. At least he should have some extra money to play with..... of course, that might just mean he's got one less thing to hide behind.

6/20/2006 7:03 pm  
Anonymous Julian said...

Oh, and I was under the impression that Conklin's contract is a team option for next year, so a buyout won't be necessary.


I met Brad Davis at a bar in Waterloo (he lives here apparently) back in April and he was incredibly excited about Mihknov, he specifically said that the kid was capable of playing "on our top two lines right now". I've had what are probably too-high hopes/expectations for him since then.
He's probably too much of a question mark right now though to fit into any plans, I mean, none of us have seen more than a single game out of him, so we don't really know if he's any good in his own end and so forth.

6/20/2006 7:14 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Great post riversq.

Personally I think that an area that needs to be addressed is the defensive depth. I think that the type of player that the new NHL affected most was the fringe NHL defensemen. The Scott Ferguson types. The guys who lived on the edge of the clutching line even before it was moved back.

In the old NHL, a sharp bench coach like Huddy could do a hell of a job of keeping these guys away from the other teams best players. And if these defensemen looked up and saw Forsberg coming over the boards ... throw the puck down for an icing or over the glass for a whistle at the first opportunity, then get off the ice :D But with My NHL ... couldn't do that, and those guys took a pounding.

I mean when you look at Carolina and Buffalo; top pairings of Tallinder-Lydman and Hedican-Commodore don't scare anybody, certainly not famous guys. Both teams play a forward on the first unit nearly all the time though, so an offensive guy wasn't really necessary. And Carolina had six good defensemen (Wesley-Wallin as your bottom pairing kicks ass imo), Buffalo five (Fitzpatrick was a goal-against waiting to happen all year by the results, Regier would surely have flipped Biron for a decent veteran defenseman at the deadline if could have a do-over) and when they started losing Dmen in the playoffs it really hurt them, more than most.

Having said all of that, I think we'll see Matt Greene The Penalty Machine spending next year learning the NHL game the hard way. I'm sure he'll get better though. And usually a quality D man who is approaching UFA status in the summer ... the going rate at the trade deadline is a 50th overall pick or thereabouts, so it's not like it's a rush to get it done before October, so long as Lowe is confident that his team can make the playoffs.

6/21/2006 6:00 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

julian:

Interesting commentary on Mihknov from Brad Davis, thanks.

I remember you saying that somewhere before, and the thing that strikes me most surprising -- how the hell does anyone recognize Brad Davis? :D You're a hardcore fan when you can do that.

6/21/2006 6:03 am  
Blogger Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Julian is right, I think. Team has an option on Conklin.

6/21/2006 7:13 am  
Blogger RiversQ said...

Black Dog Hates Skunks said...
Julian is right, I think. Team has an option on Conklin.


Even better. That sounds right and knocks about $700K off of my rough numbers.

6/21/2006 11:16 am  
Anonymous Bling said...

I am a tad disappointed with forward corps here in Edmonton. I don't know if it was a shift in offensive philosophy or a mental thing, but I noticed that the Oilers, at least in the playoffs, were absolutely horrendous at creating offense 5 on 5 off the cycle. I don't know how the hell you even begin to address that.

Guys like Torres and Hemsky just flat-out suck, but at the same time I don't want to see them moved because they bring other things to the table. Dvorak is decent, which is why it would be sad to see him go, and I liked Peca's work along the boards as well. He's definitely gonzo.

6/21/2006 11:36 am  
Blogger RiversQ said...

Vic: I agree with you and I think Lowe has to wonder about MAB. I know you've put up some numbers that partially prop up MAB, but there's no real substitute for size for a dman. He will never be a PP producer, so that makes it even harder to justify hanging on to him.

I would say it's a real quandry for Lowe to improve the depth because he'll have to make a tough decision there.

- Greene is young and has all the tools including a makeup that Lowe no doubt appreciates. But he's young. And he's young.

- MAB can't handle big forwards and can't produce on the PP. The flipside is that he might be the perfect dman to have behind your bottom sixers vs. the other team's bottom sixers. If the Oilers want to go power vs. power this year and beat teams with their bottom six again, then why not have one of the better ESP/hr dmen in the league helping to drive the results? He's also got the cheap contract. The negatives are hard to ignore though because he's basically a #5 for life and it's got to make you wonder if he's an attractive trading chip like Mike York was last year.

- Tarnstrom looked fine at ES to me but like MAB, you don't really want the big matchups. The thing about him though is that he's a veteran, he moves the puck well, he's got to be cheap, and I expect big things from him on the PP. He's another guy worth hiding, but the problem is that the Oilers probably can't really improve by having all three on the roster.

6/21/2006 11:41 am  
Anonymous namflashback said...

Good observations all. But ummm . . . bling, what is this about Hemsky and Torres sucking?

IIRC, Torres was second in goals in the regular season (albeit all in a bunch,) and prolly close to #1 in goals at ES.

The playoffs have certainly given him a clue about his defensive game.

Hemsky was #1 in points, with a good portion on the PP and the playoffs also should help him improve his ES play. I would assume a concerted effort to continue to maintain the "standard"

We cannot afford what it would cost to replace their points with more experienced players, so points/$$ x risk ratio is pretty favourable.

My bigger questions are regarding Center position, since the defensive game is much more complex for this position. . .
- with Schremp and Pouliout pushing the issue, have Stoll and Horcoff learned enough from Peca to play the role of stable 3rd line C and teacher for the young

My guess is Lowe hedges and re-signs Peca, waits through training camp and early season to see whether or not the young prospects can stick. Then, if it appears they can play consistently, he can trade Peca. Peca's reg season aside, I believe he had a positive teaching effect on Stoll/Horcoff. His complaints about the reg season and travel may be balanced against the fact that he said the playoffs were his best hockey time ever.

I think the stability factor is needed to bring the rookies along.

By all accounts the following are ones the Oilers would like to see:
Mikhnov RW
Schremp and/or Pouliot C
Winchester RW
JF Jaques LW

So depth on the right:
Hemsky
Mikhnov
Pisani OR Dvorak
Winchester
Laraque OR Harvey for depth

On the left:
Smyth
Torres
Moreau
JFJ

6/21/2006 12:05 pm  
Anonymous namflashback said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/21/2006 12:05 pm  
Anonymous namflashback said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/21/2006 12:05 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

Hmm... I don't know about Mikhnov, but right now my RW depth chart is probably:

Pisani
Dvorak
Hemsky
Laraque
Winchester
Harvey

Which means it's really the bottom four right now. Yikes.

Of course Hemsky will play up from there, but that's how the ES minutes should probably shake out. We'll soon see early in the year if Hemsky figures out his ES game a little.

Torres did lead the team with 21 ES goals and he had a nice 2.1 ESP/hr number. He also finished EV+/- +4. That line played a fair amount of soft opposition though.

6/21/2006 12:16 pm  
Blogger Asiaoil said...

Riv I'l disagree with you to the extent that we lost the SCF not because of defense, not because of goaltending - but because our top 6 simply could not score goals against a rookie tender (hmmm sounds familiar). Hemmer will be solid top line material in time, Horcoff is a great #2 center, Torres is a #2 LW, Stoll is a 3rd line C, we have no #2 RW at the moment, and then there is Smyth. Lord love him and his play - but we needed way more from him this season and in the playoffs than he can deliver with his skill level. Hemsky was the only guy in our top 6 that scared CAR - and we need another guy on the top line who does scare people and who can create his own shot. Elias is clearly the guy for me - but can we sign him? Money is not the issue if we dont resign Peca and trade Smyth.

Elias Horcoff Hemsky

That's a line that you can win a SCF with......

6/21/2006 3:08 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

asiaoil: Don't make the mistake of overinterpreting the playoff results. Especially those of injured players.

I don't give a flying fuck about the SCF and the Carolina Hurricanes at this point.

The Oilers definitely could use a true impact forward at ES. That could be Elias but I'd love to see Arnott here. He's had outstanding years in terms of ESP/hr and I imagine his outscoring numbers were pretty decent as well.

It's a shame that Pronger's presence makes getting that forward a difficult proposition, but the big man had such a tremendous all round performance that I can't complain that much.

Lastly, I think a top 3 RW of Hemsky, Pisani, Dvorak is awfully hard to beat. Just like the Oilers maybe didn't have a true #1 centre this year and got excellent performances by committee - that trio is capable of the same. Dvorak can give us much more than many RWers out there and likely at half the price.

6/21/2006 3:48 pm  
Anonymous Julian said...

how the hell does anyone recognize Brad Davis?


Actually, he's posted a few times on HF, I saw he was from waterloo (no idea who he was at the time) and mentioned a bar there that had centre ice and showed alot of oilers games, I thought maybe he might not know about. I went there that very evening to watch the Wild come from behind to beat edmonton 3-2 and Davis came up and asked if I was from HF and introduced himself. The name clicked, and then i noticed the big ass ring on his finger. He bought me a beer and I tried to ask as many questions as I could without seeming like I was probing too deep. Of course, when I got home, I thought up another hundred questions I wish I'd actually asked... what I would give to run into him again like that.

6/21/2006 7:41 pm  
Anonymous oilswell said...

I'm guessing they told Greene a lot about going behind the net and how to use the other D. He's a ways from a solid vet, as is Bergeron, but a veteran (capable) D corp throughout usually means some money. Greene and Bergeron are cheap and I have to think Lowe could eyeball Bergeron's top end but still wanted to lock him up cheap for a reason. Hard to tellif his strategy has changed much.

I also worry about depth D but I also happen to wonder if the issue wouldn't be so pressing if a decent goalie showed up or the team had stronger forward lines throughout?

6/21/2006 10:36 pm  
Blogger Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Julian, what is it with you and people knowing who you are in a bar without actually knowing who you are??

6/22/2006 7:08 am  
Anonymous lowetide said...

Depth D isn't really a worry for this team imo. They've made great use of guys like Staios who had career crossroads coming up unless they settled in, and vets like Cross and Igor.

Igor I think is the poster boy for this team on D. Chaos everywhere but Edmonton where his mistakes were still there but fewer and farther between.

They could go with Pronger-Bergeron, Smith-Staios and put Greene with someone inexpensive from the UFA tree.

I mean if we say "Sean Brown" we think one thing, but this Oiler coaching staff seems to be able to elevate those 5-6 guys into something useful.

As for Greene, I know he drove everyone crazy but that's what rookie defensemen do. I think he's going to be a solid defender down the line.

Until then, the Oilers are flying sorties with him, but as we all saw down the stretch last season even a kid like Phaneuf struggles.

DENIS POTVIN struggled.

6/22/2006 7:24 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Lowetide:

Well, the Oilers success with Dmen who were fringe NHLers, that all happened before the league changed the rules, otherwise I'd agree :-)

Having said that, although they made us nervous, and even though the Oilers were forced into a lot of penalties when they were out there, all of Tarnstrom, Greene and Bergeron were +1 overall at 5on5 during the playoffs. So it didn't sink them over that stretch anyways.

6/22/2006 9:58 am  

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