When men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you've just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving Lowe :)
Go ask Ales
I think he'll know
("White Rabbit", adapted with apologies to Jefferson Airplane)
Double puns in the header and song lyric to honour two incoming Oilers, Patty O'Sullivan and Ales Kotalik. Whether we're arranging the proverbial deck chairs or placing the chess pieces for the decisive gambit remains to be seen.
Overall I'm happy with the two moves we did make, although still wishing we'd done something on the dot and behind the blueline as well.
Last summer's white knight has turned into a rabbit and disappeared down his hole, with 2 newcomers and one longer-term contract taking his place. With the same second-round draft pick coming and going and otherwise only a fifth given up, essentially it was a 2-for-1. Of course, unless logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead, we can't put 7 guys on the ice or dress a 13th forward ... somebody else has to come out to make room for both. And Coach MacT has to spot them in there wisely.
The incoming guys between them adequately cover most of Cole's skill set. Here's a head-to-head-to-head statistical comparison (2008-09 only) drawn from NHL.com., Behindthenet.com, and Timeonice.com. In the right column I have projected which of the newcomers better addresses the hole left by Cole's loss, where "both" means each guy covers off Cole, and "combined" means it will take the efforts of both together to fill the void. Of particular concern are the categories marked "neither".
Player * Cole **** AK *** POS **
Age ****** 30 **** 30 **** 24 ** AK
Cap hit 4.000 * 2.500 * 2.925 ** Combined
Expires* 2009 ** 2009 ** 2011 ** AK
Height * 6'2 *** 6'1 *** 5'11 ** AK
Weight * 205 *** 227 **** 190 ** AK
TOI/GP* 17:04 * 15:14 * 19:25 ** POS
ES TOI* 13:15 * 12:14 * 14:03 ** POS
PP TOI** 2:31 ** 2:58 ** 3:07 ** Both
SH TOI** 1:18 ** 0:52 ** 2:15 ** POS
GP ***** 63 ***** 56 ***** 62 ** Both
G ****** 16 ***** 13 ***** 14 ** Both
A ****** 11 ***** 19 ***** 23 ** Both
Pts **** 27 ***** 32 ***** 37 ** Both
PPG ** 0.43 *** 0.57 *** 0.60 ** Both
ESP **** 20 ***** 14 ***** 28 ** POS
PPP ***** 7 ***** 18 ****** 8 ** AK
SHP ***** 0 ****** 0 ****** 1 ** POS
+- ***** -3 ***** -7 ***** +1 ** POS
PiM **** 63 ***** 28 ***** 16 ** Neither
Shots * 145 **** 153 **** 200 ** Both
MsS **** 53 ***** 39 **** 100 ** POS!
Sh% * 11.0% *** 8.5% *** 7.0% ** Neither
Hits ** 134 ***** 93 ***** 60 ** Combined
BkS **** 33 ***** 13 ***** 29 ** POS
GvA **** 34 ***** 21 ***** 59 ** POS!
TkA **** 41 ***** 17 ***** 31 ** Combined
QualComp +0.01 * -0.04 * -0.03 * Neither
QualTeam +0.09 * -0.07 * -0.11 * Both
ESG/60 ** 0.70 ** 0.48 ** 0.65 * POS
ESP/60 ** 1.32 ** 1.16 ** 1.87 * POS
GF ON/60* 2.18 ** 2.23 ** 2.66 * Both
GA ON/60* 2.33 ** 2.42 ** 2.45 * Both
Corsi/60* +0.8 ** -0.3 ** +9.9 * POS
Sv% ON ** .928 ** .912 ** .920 * Neither
Sh% ON ** 7.8% ** 7.7% ** 7.5% * Both
PDO # ** 1.006 ** .989 ** .995 * Neither
PPG/60 ** 2.01 ** 1.26 ** 0.64 * Neither
PPP/60 ** 2.82 ** 4.19 ** 2.23 * AK
PP+/60 ** 5.24 ** 5.87 ** 4.14 * AK
SH-/60 * -2.36 * (N/A) * -4.78 * Neither
Pen.Drawn * 32 ***** 8 **** 27 * POS
Pen.Taken * 12 ***** 8 ***** 5 * Neither
So it's Kotalik who is the best match for age, experience, size, and contract situation. Surprisingly, both newcomers have outscored Cole this season, and with his big ticket and impending UFA status I'm frankly amazed we got as much for Cole as we did. Clearly Carolina was a target market, as they knew what they had in Erik and realized he was more important to their squad than Justin Williams. I'll be surprised if he isn't re-upped well in advance of June 30, whereas the likelihood of that happening here was vanishly small. It is this aspect which makes this trade a potential "win" from all three perspectives. Oddly, though, unless Carolina chooses not to sign Cole, it is anything but a salary dump for any of the three: Cole is an established big ticket player still in his prime and won't come cheap to Carolina; LA will pay Williams over $2 MM more than they would have O'Sullivan over the next two years; and Edmonton is on the hook for almost $5 MM in salary and $6 MM in cap hit over the next two years instead of having salary walk out the door on July 1. Such is the risk of this deal from an Edmonton perspective, who have added to their young talent pool of Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Pouliot but on a much bigger ticket. Indeed, O'Sullivan's contract based on one year of solid boxcar numbers isn't that different from the one Joffrey Lupul signed here in the summer of '06. Such contracts can very easily become albatrosses.
Nobody has said anything about how O'Sullivan's contract was heavily top loaded -- reason?? -- and therefore his actual pay cheque will be well south of his cap hit during his time in Edmonton. Something which would be more attractive to a floor team vs. a ceiling team I would have thought. For all the talk about how Daryl Katz is prepared to eat salaries by burying guys in the minors and so forth, I have yet to see evidence that he's not a careful man with a buck. And to tell you the truth, I don't mind that.
"The Other Ales" is an intriguing wild card as well. Here is a guy with talent, a Big shot, and a reputation for indifference. Suddenly he is traded for the first time in his career, and arrives on his new team to find himself inserted on the first line, with a buddy/budding star with a reputation as a playmaker on the opposite flank. Moreover, he's got 19 games to make an impression, in a playoff drive, and perhaps most importantly, in the dwindling days of an expiring contract. If he can't rise above indifference in that situation and actually make a difference, than that's probably all we need to know about that, and at least have the option of letting him walk. My guess however, is that rather than coming up small, Ales will be ten feet tall. If we see his best and most inspired hockey it's a very possible outcome that Kotalik could be the Oilers' leading goal scorer the rest of the way. Even more importantly, that his arrival might spark Hemsky to find the missing jump in his step. It's the first Ales we need to lead us through the looking glass and into the post season.
The double-edged sword of course is that if Kotalik puts together a Glencross-esque stretch drive, his cost goes up, and Oilers will have to pay him and hope like hell he doesn't lapse into old habits, or let him walk and risk the wrath of the faithful.
Where Cole will be most difficult to replace would appear to be on the defensive side of the puck, especially physically. Erik is well above both new guys in Hits and Blocked Shots, has a fine Takeaway/Giveaway ratio, and some truly excellent numbers in limited ice time on the penalty kill. Then there's the matter of QualComp, where Erik has played both with and against the top half of the roster, whereas both Kotalik and O'Sullivan appear to have been getting the soft. We haven't got two places to hide them, so it'll be interesting to see how MacT copes, and how the newcomers themselves fare under the microscope.