Let’s assume, for a moment, that Kevin Lowe is a big believer in Joni Pitkanen as a hockey player. Let’s further assume that he is on the 2008-09 squad in ink. What does our team look like, player-wise and salary-wise?
Here’s the defense (note that Visnovsky is actually a right-side defenseman):
LD: Pitkanen (RFA), Souray (5.4), Grebeshkov (1.5), Smid (.915)
RD: Visnovsky (5.6), Gilbert (4), Staios (2.7), Roy (.5)
The nice thing about that list is that the top-6 all have the ability to play middling opposition; there is no big weak link that needs sheltering. Additionally, Gilbert and Pitkanen can play the toughest opponents with a reasonable expectation of keeping their heads above water 5-on-5.
Salary-wise, we’re talking 20 million, before we sign Pitkanen. Barring a trade, I think it’s clear that a one-year contract is in the best interests of both the Oilers and Pitkanen, and I’m going to assume it’s for Gilbert money (4M). That makes 24 million for an above average NHL defensive group, one that needs no additions and is ready to go as is.
This leaves around 32 million for the forwards and goaltenders, a group that currently looks like this:
1st line: Penner (4.25), Horcoff (3.6), Hemsky (4.1)
2nd line: Cogliano (1.13), Gagner (1.63), Nilsson (2)
3rd line: Torres (2.25), Brodziak (.497), Pisani (2.5)
4th line: Moreau (2), Pouliot (RFA), Stortini (RFA)
Ex: Schremp (.815)
Goal: Garon (1.1), Roloson (3.67)
Assuming that Pouliot and Stortini are signed for a total of 1.5M, which means that around 31.25 million has been spent, leaving a total of 750K. The obvious solutions are as follows:
1) Get rid of Roloson, if possible
2) Get rid of Souray, if possible
3) Trade on of Moreau/Torres
The third line centre spot is the clearest weakness in the line-up as it is right now. The ideal solution would be to replace Roloson/Souray with cheaper alternatives, but that seems pretty unlikely, as the Oilers are hardly the only team with cap issues. The organization seems unlikely to trade Moreau, and trading Torres only exacerbates the team’s weakness on LW.
Going for the best-case scenario, if Pitkanen is not dealt, Roloson will be sent away for a late-round draft pick, and a cheaper alternative (ideally Auld, probably Deslauriers) would replace him as backup. Some of the money will then be used to acquire a legitimate third line centre, or failing that, Marty Reasoner will be resigned and the third line centre will be a committee position. Barring any acquisitions, a possible scenario is Cogliano in the third line role with Schremp playing 2nd line LW (just for you, DG), but given Lowe’s repeated comments to both the media and Visnovsky, it seems a free agent winger is in the cards, and as nice as it would be to see Souray heading out of town in that trade, the smart money is still on Pitkanen.