Thursday, November 23, 2006

Lowe Expectations? Or Something's Gotta Give!!

Dan Barnes in today's Journal began what could be a "Bring Brad Stuart Home" campaign but for now we'll just consider his to be the first name in list of vets who could help the Oilers backend. It's basically just the start of a series of pieces where all the writers will harp on just how inexperienced, unpredictable and at times ineffective the Oilers D corps have and can be. Heading into camp the writers and fans alike were dreaming of a season where the Oilers could score 275 goals or better and how having Roloson for a full year would exorcise some of the old Salo demons. The story that wasn't getting the ink was how much hay this team could make with all the fresh horses on the backend. Despite a 12-8-1 start and an early share of the NW Div lead the offense hasn't been going gangbusters and certainly haven't produced to the point of keeping the tale of the Oilers blueline on the backburner. And in recent games there have been enough nerve fraying own zone stretches that the pundits finally took notice. The next step is when the writers realize the young depth the Oilers have accrued and how it might be used to shore up the big club but here at IOF we're gonna beat them to it;)

To finish on Stuart, the Bruins and Barnes the whole musing was a pretty sloppy piece of work by Barnes. He failed to mention that Stuart is UFA at season's end and at this point would be a rental. He also didn't even bother to speculate on what the Bruins might be looking for and the first clue would be what their lacking in regards to organizational depth. If you peer into their pipeline and then look at their current day roster the B's have three young forwards in Savard, Bergeron and Boyes who are solidly under contract and whom they can build around. These are established guys and I didn't even mention young Phil Kessel who's aquitted himself fairly well over the first 19 games of his pro career when you consider he just turned 19 in October.

So the B's are looking good at forward.

Their defense is another matter altogether and I'd imagine that if they've decided not to try and keep Stuart around past this spring they'll be looking for a dman in return. Stuart's currently logging the third highest TOI among B's dmen and trails only Chara and Mara. The first guy isn't going anywhere and the second guy has some expensive years left on his pact and I'd guess it wouldn't be easy to offload him. In terms of defensive prospects the Bruins curernt two best bets are Mark Stuart and Matt Lashoff and neiher guy looks like he'll set the world on fire so I think the B's are looking for a dman in return for Stuart The Brad.

So in regards to the Oilers the first guy that might be going back the other way would be Bergeron who's quite affordable and and is also signed for a few years yet. I don't think the Oilers would part with either Smid or Greene and the only other young dman the B's might want in return would be Tom Gilbert who's playing in the A for the Pens minor league affiliate.

I wouldn't mind a Stuart acquistion in the least and if both him and Ryan Smyth were somehow signed to longterm pacts than I'd be satisified with filling out the latter part of the Oilers roster with young kids or cheap vets because lord knows the Oilers have enough of the former and some of them have to play somewhere and soon.

Right now there's a huge disconnect between the preparedness and proven abilites of the netminding and forward corps as opposed to the guys who work behind the blue. Roloson is bona fide personified in the crease and while kids like Stoll, Torres and Lupul might be currently struggling you'd still lay more money on them outplaying opposing forward corps then you would kids like Smid and Greene outplaying their blueline peers. Not to mention that the guys up front have vets and established kids like Smyth, Horcoff, Hemsky and Sykora to carry the mail while the defense is more of a co-op venture and some of the senior members like Smith and Tarnqvist are having problems with their newfound leadership.

Lowe has to make a decision whether he's going to go for another Cup run or if he's gonna let all of Smid, Greene and Bergeron make '07 errors in order to better prepare them for '08. If he wants to go for it this year though he certainly has a lot of cards to play and might not have to mess up much of his big league roster.

There are a lot of kids in the pipe who look alright and right now the 21 year old Marc - Antoine Pouliot is the frontman. He averaged nearly a PPG down in the stretch in the A in '06 and has 12 points in his last 10 games played this season. I'd suspect that if he's dealt off we're looking at someone coming back who's good and who's also affordable in the longterm. The Oilers though haven't forgotten the days of having Weight and little else down the middle and they won't take parting with a pivot all that lightly. Alexei Mihknov is a bit longer in the tooth but the winger's just turned 24 and has just began his North American pro career. He's a certified project and I doubt many teams would want to take that on and if they did they wouldn't want to give you much in return. Rob Schremp is the wildcard. He's a 20 year old centre who I think is destined to play wing under a MacTavish coached team and let's face it: Craig's not going anywhere soon. RS has four goals and 15 points in 16 GP and has done nothing to tarnish his prospect status. Can he play on the same team as Hemsky and Lupul? I doubt it. Would he fetch a lot on the trade market? I'd bet on it. Jean-Francois Jacques is 21 years old, had 24 goals in 65 games in his first crack at the A in '06 and is 6-4 220. If teams are still taking chances on guys like Brad Isbister, ie the Rags picked him up yesterday from the Canes, then there's no way someone wouldn't give you something interesting for Jean-Francois. BTW, all these guys are Tom Gilbert's teammates and have helped the Baby Pens to an impressive early season start.

Those four guys, not to mention the extra first round pick from the Ducks acquired in the Pronger rape, give Lowe plenty of chips to bring to the table if and when he sees fit. Potentially extra valuable chips mind you as they all have talent and are all under a team's control for the next seven years. Some of these kids can be flipped for a high profile rental and some could be used for a kid who could stick around for awhile. Chances are though that at least two of these guys won't play 50 games with the Oilers. There just isn't room on the present day roster and there might not be room come the '08 season either. With the big league backend being a question mark and most of the Oilers young talent concentrated in the forwards corps it would make sense for Lowe to finally trade some forwards for some defensemen.

Stuart's most likely just the beginning of a spate of rumors and if Edmonton can't get together with Boston there should be a fit somewhere. It's not to the point of an embarrassment of riches but there are some Oilers picks kids who look ready to play and if they aren't in Nov of '06 then they damn well should be come Oct of '07. I know that Roloson and Butch Goring are by far the most significant and productive deadline rentals but if you could look ahead to next October to see where some of the aforementioned kids are playing and how they wound up there it could give us a big clue to just how far the Oilers went in the spring of '07. And at the very least it would give us an educated guess as to which 19 skaters the Oilers dress for their first playoff game in April of '07.


Blogger Black Dog said...

Nice post Dennis.

To me Lowe has to answer two questions.

One, do the Oilers take a shot this year or are they looking to 08, 09, 10 as their years? If he feels that they do have a shot this year (and except for the Ducks nobody has really stood out in the West) then does he sacrifice part of that future for the here and now? If this year looks truly like one or two and out then I'd personally be loathe to give up Pouliot or even Schremp, two guys who they might need in two years when they have a better shot, ie/ not relying on a lot of breaks to get where they are going. Having said that Roli won't be around forever.

The second question is rentals or a longterm solution? Rentals are cheap and there are plenty of them and you'd probably not have to move either of the two aforementioned or Cogliano for example (based on last year's moves). Of course a year from now the Oil would be breaking in Gilbert although Smid and Greene would presumably be better. Or can they pick up one of our favourites - a guy who is cheap and good already. In that case I guess we give up one of the big prospects or Stoll/Lupul/Torres?

BTW I think Torres goes nowhere, even if his value goes up, until Smyth resigns. And Stoll either due to the aforementioned dearth at pivot. Or Lupul because he's part of the Pronger deal.

So where does that leave us?

11/23/2006 6:16 pm  
Blogger Dennis-IOF said...

Pat...16's painting himself more and more as a ST guy and that doesn't make him indispensible. I would gladly deal him for Seabrook but I'm not sure if either of Tallon or Lowe would make that deal.

I know that in two or three years guys like 83/14/16/15/28 should all be better and 34 and 10 shouldn't be falling off the face of the earth either. And hell even kids like MAP and RS could be making a small impact as well or maybe even a JFJ. Not to mention that 5 and 2 might be cornerstones on the backend by then. But for my money Smyth and Roloson are the wildcards. It might by that by '09, Roli's last year, the Oilers are truly ready to stand out and I guess if that's the case it would only be 94 who was left behind.

Looking at that list it doesn't make sense for Lowe to shoot for the moon this year even though it's hard to keep rooting and waiting until next year;) So I'd say Lowe only moves if the D really really keeps shitting the bed or if the team comes close to falling out of the playoff race.

11/23/2006 10:25 pm  
Blogger Asiaoil said...

Lowe's MO is clear - he will move to get a dman until the price is right and not before. Face it boys - this team is interesting but not even close to being SCF ready this season - selling the farm for a vet dman who is a UFA to be or only 1 year left on their deal makes little sense. I'm with Vic - a cheap guy like Keith makes sense this season unless we deal Smyth for Stuart.

11/24/2006 1:11 am  
Blogger Kyle said...

Forget all the variables - I don't think Stuart is even really an upgrade to anyone on the Oiler's D. He was so highly regarded that he was a main peice of the puzzle in a trade for Thornton, and then less than a year later he could be traded again? That doesn't look good on Stuart.

Although, no one has ever accused the Bruins of managing player personnel effectively.

11/24/2006 1:14 am  
Blogger SweatyO said...

Smyth for Stuart?

Overpay. I think that:

a) They can get Stuart for much less (think "Bergeron plus")
b) They can (and WILL) re-sign Smyth before July 1st (this, to me, is a given, and the alternatives are just scary)
c) That they can extend Stuart at reasonable coin beyond this season even after showing 94 the money.

All this being said, Sykora probably isn't re-upped, simply based on budget considerations. However, with Pouliot, Jacques, Mikhnov and Schremp all possibly in the picture for next year, and considering whatever improvement comes from having Stuart (or Visnovsky, or whoever) to play with Smith on a REAL top-pairing, I think it wouldn't be an irreplaceable loss.

Unlike Smyth. Lowe's first prioritiy is to get that guy extended, and then go from there. Without a doubt.

11/24/2006 8:41 am  
Blogger namflashback said...

I think the "party line" from the GM down is that they're goal is to "win the last game." The secret truth amongst the hockey ops folks is that a big run is really only likely for 08 or 09. They know it. We know it. The general fan looks at counting stats so they are happily munching on the party line.

So, like the goaltending situation last year, they will take painfully long to make a change on the blue line. They will want a D guy for ahwile, not just a rental, so that they can break some new rookies in at forward and have relative stability on D. The longer they stay in contention in the standings, the less likely anything happens.

11/24/2006 10:06 am  
Blogger Dennis-IOF said...

I don't think the '07 Oilers are as eqipped as were the '06 Oilers but the '06 Oilers weren't really ready either until they picked up a game changing goalie plus another guy who could play 20 min on the backend. By the time the playoffs came around they had four D they could heavily lean on, a bunch of talented kids up front, a proven goalie and a wildcard in Peca. Then everything came around for the better part of four rounds as I'd wager that besides the Wings series the Oilers won every series in terms of scoring chances for and against.

Right now Roloson is covering up a lot of mistakes by the D and is sorta hiding the relative suction of the offense. I still think the O will come around because for some guys like Horc it's just been a matter of puck luck. I never used to believe that but he's had some awful bounces/luck so far. Just off the top I can remember him hitting Lupul in the ass instead of an unoccupied goal and then the tip off the bar in Stl. I don't think the demons will plague him all year long and I'll bet that he puts up close to 20 and that Torres will wind up streaking the right way.

We know how Lowe works though and we know the Oil have a 39 mill budget so he's gonna take his sweet time. The deal about waiting though is if Roli's gonna be ready when everyone else is. I believe in the guy but you're not talking about a 30 year old inked to a longterm pact. Roli's at an age where his next injury could be the one that takes him down. I think that's something to be considered. I will concede that the Oilers most likely wouldn't take the Ducks in a seven game series but I'd like their chances against anyone else if they pick up one or two d.

11/24/2006 11:28 am  
Blogger Black Dog said...

I'd agree on that and of course who's to say - maybe the Ducks run into Kipper or Luongo in the first round and flame out - right now its hard to see but as we know anything can happen in the playoffs :)

I'm thinking Lowe is going to load up if its not going to cost him too much - ie/Schremp, MAP, Cogliano, Gilbert - winning in this league now requires that you have cheap players who can contribute - picking up a rental might win a round but if its a crapshoot and you might win/lose a round regardless ...then maybe you go as the Sharks did last year and see how far you can go with what you have.

But Roli has to figure into this - the guy is one of the top goalies in the league right now - if he continues at this pace do you "waste" this year when you have a guy who might win you a round on his own?

11/24/2006 1:14 pm  
Blogger Bank Shot said...

I'm not sure that the Oilers will be in position to challenge for the cup again until their most talented players become some of their best players.

Last year it was Pronger, Roloson, and Pisani as the team's best players. In the case of Pisani, it's unlikely he'll be able to morph into a game breaker again come playoff time.

This season it's been Smyth, Staios, and Roloson leading the team in performance. No offense to Smyth and Staios, but I don't think a team can win the cup with these two as the best players.

The Oilers will have a better chance to be winners if/when players like Hemsky, Smid, and Lupul become some of the team's best players. Unfortantly the Roloson window will be expired by then and who knows if Lowe will be able to find another cup quality goaltender.

I wouldn't be adverse to stocking up on some rentals to make another charge this season, but unless the pick-ups are of Forsberg calibre then it will be a small miracle to see the Oilers repeat last season's success, let alone win the last game.

11/25/2006 12:38 am  

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