Oilers Roundtable, Part 1 - The half-way point.

It's all gone very, very bad.  In fact, it's gone the way that most of us expected it would, the injuries have pushed the team down three or four spots further down in the standings than most predicted finishing spots.  All of our worst fears about the terrible Khabibulin deal came true, all of the teeth-gnashing over the lack of real forwards was warranted and the lack of organizational depth decried by most has been exposed in a big way  WIth that, The Copper & Blue brings back the fan's roundtable with one question:  How can this be fixed?

Our lineup includes: Shepso, combining modern western philosophy and misery at Bringing Back The Glory, with his co-writer BCB another of our contributors for this edition.  Chappy, owner of This is Not a Love Song (if it's about the Oilers it's a Blues song - and a bad one at that); HBomb, everyone's favorite bartender in the Oilers' 'sphere;  Dawgbone, one of our favorite writers in the sphere writing at After The Green Light; Doogie2k, the go-to guy on the WJC working at Still No Name; Woodguy, the level-headed and even-keeled commenter at LT's place; and SumOil, the most frequent commenter here and the biggest optimist that any of us know. 

Find the entire series here, tagged with 2010 general manager's roundtable.

SumOil, Chappy, Hbomb and Dawgbone all weigh in after the jump.

C&B:  How can this be fixed?

 

SumOil:  The Oilers are 16-23-5. On an 82 game schedule this extrapolates to a 69 point season. The only team worse than us is Carolina and they seem to be showing some signs of progress. We do not have many forwards capable of outshooting and outscoring opponents on a nightly basis. Our defense is porous and goaltending is inexperienced and shaky. The management is happy with the make-up of the team and in a recent interview during the world juniors our GM said that he is not making any roster changes any time soon. Vets like Sheldon Souray are ready to jump ship. Our captain is useless and his role should be taken over by the 2nd line winger who is hated by many here. Revered bloggers like Alan Mitchell are calling to trade the only productive winger in our system.

All signs point to one thing and one thing only: Rebuild. Rebuild is something that should have been done in the summer of '07. However the shortsightedness of some has led us to this point. The only thing I think of is: do we really want to fix this? After a long long time Oilers have a chance to add a top end prospect in their system(I am roting for Tyler Seguin or Cam Fowler). My only hope is that they do this right. Souray is willing to be traded and I am sure there will be takers. There is a lot of cap space to be cleared. Players like Steve Staois and Ethan Moreau need to be either traded or bought out.

Another issue to deal with is that the Oilers have too many undersized forwards with similar skill set. We have Gagner, Nilsson, Cogliano, Brule, O'Sullivan and others in the system namely Omark and Eberle. Odds are that a few of these forwards will not be able to develop in the same organisation. The forwards I will like to be traded are Cogliano, Nilsson and Omark. Cogliano on hype alone has a high market value and we should be able to get a couple of decent draft picks (which is key to any rebuilding process). With forwards like Eberle and MPS in our system, focus should be on defensive prospects.

If done right, I expect the Oilers to be back in business in 2 seasons from now. I say at least two seasons because we need to adress 2 specific needs. One is a stud blueliner (Fowler this draft or Adam Larsson next) and a high scoring forward (Seguin this draft or Ryan Hopkins next). With offloading of high end contracts such as Souray's and others like Captain useless and 2nd most overpaid number 6 d-man (after Redden), we should have space enough to add the right players via free agency.


Chappy:  First and foremost, there is no "quick fix" to this, and I don’t think that one or two star players thrown into the mix is going to have wildly positive results.  I can’t see this fix being any shorter than two years, so the team might as well begin building from the ground up.

First off; control yourself this offseason.  Don’t be the 19 year old kid who attacks an open bar at his cousin’s wedding, only to furiously blow up a karaoke version of Chiliwack’s "My Girl" after twelve Jagerbombs.  Don’t get into any heated marquee trade talks, try not to pull off any mind-boggling moves.   I believe that a lot of minor moves will help enhance a team’s end of day value as opposed to landing Jaromir Jagr.  The team’s image was further badly tarnished this past offseason in attempting to land Dany Heatley. Failing on this level will only further entice prospective free agents to stay away.  The team is going to need to show a commitment to win with the moves it makes.

My first "fix" would be to promote Pat Quinn to GM / Coach, as I think it would instantly restore some honour and integrity to a badly maligned Oilers front base.

THE TEAM

OFFENSE
This team has about $45M committed next year, and only seven forwards signed.  If I can find a new home at the deadline for Moreau, Nilsson, and Cogs, then I’m on that train for just about anything in return. Somehow, we need a physical centre in return to play on the third line.  I’m still high on the Blair Betts bandwagon, as he’s a UFA in Philly next year pulling in about 600K.  Get him in an Oiler uni for a little raise.  These moves will result in a net cap savings of about 3M, which I think would be best used in signing Sam Gagner.   I’m very much interested in keeping Brule, Jacques, and Stone if the price is right around the 1M mark.

O’Sullivan-Horcoff-Hemsky
Stone-Gagner-Penner
Jacques-Betts-Pisani
Stortini-Brule-Eberle
 
For the right price, (1-1.5 M) I’ve got Pisani around for another year.  If Eberle’s not seeing action with the big club in 2010, (which I’d be shocked if he wasn’t) then I’d be willing to let Liam Reddox or Colin MacDonald fight it out for 4RW.

DEFENSE
The time is near where Sheldon Souray should be moved.  Souray wasn’t just being cute the other day when he said matter of fact that he’d waive his no trade clause under the right circumstance.  It was his way of telling everyone within earshot that he’d like to GTFO in the nicest way possible.  Souray, while not having a career year is easily one of the most valuable commodities this team has.  As much as I would hate to see him go, he should.  The guy commands respect through his play and his actions, and his leadership is immeasurable, but this is one of few players we have that we can get a solid return on.  Losing his cap number of 5.4M would bring needed relief, and I’m sure we could land two young players for about half that.  Teams like Washington are making the playoff push (plus Brian Pothier is just coming back from a rib injury) and I think they’d just about eat the telephone to bring Souray to the club for a player (Jeff Schultz @ 6’6" 225lbs?) and a pick.

If Grebeshkov can be moved at the deadline for a pick or prospect, I say go for it.  There’s no way the team is going to be able to pay him what he’s making now for any length of time, and because of this I have a hard time finding him room.

Visnovsky-Smid
Gilbert-Schultz
Staios-Player/Prospect (or Chorney)

GOALTENDING
Naturally, a lot of things are going to have to happen in the next few months before we can solidly say what must be done.  For the sake of the discussion, I’m going to assume that Nikolai Khabibulin (whether he plays, or goes on LTIR) will keep us on the hook for his cap hit of 3.75 for three more years.  Dammit.  There’s no moving this guy, so I’m hopeful that he is able to recoup from his wonky back and come back like a force next year.  If this isn’t the case (and it probably won’t be the case) then we’ve got to make a firm commitment to JDD either as a 1 or a 1A.  Deslauriers has made what I think is the best of a worst case scenario, in the fact that he 1) has more often than not kept the Oilers in games they had no business winning, 2) the games he’s played God-awful have usually been followed with a respectable showing, and 3) his confidence isn’t in some dumpster behind United Furniture Warehouse after a bad game.

If I’m running the show, JDD has performed well enough to warrant a two or three year extension.  He’s been given a terrible situation to come in, and has performed admirably at the very least, and I have no problem depending on him between the pipes, especially if the team plays as a team for more than a period per night.  I’m thinking of a 3 year deal valued lo-hi 1.5-2.5 range with a yearly hit of 2M.  Assuming we move Souray, we will be able to fit this in.

So where does that leave us on backup?  Devan Dubnyk has one career start under his belt, and if Khabibulin is on the sidelines, and JDD is our 1/1A, then I’m very much interested in bringing in someone who can play 30 games behind the man with two last names.  Jonas Hiller, Peter Budaj and Alex Auld will all be 30 or younger come this summer, and could probably be nabbed for a couple of years for a little more than 1M per year.  It’s not a cure-all, but it’ll give us something else to think about while the Khabibulin mess unfolds into some God-forsaken mess.

And if by some chance, we’re not on the hook for the Khabibulin fiasco, then there’s almost 4M per year to make it a little bit easier for us.  But we already know how this is going to play out.  It’s going to put us near the cap again.

SUMMARY
This franchise was once the beacon of consistency.  It is the furthest thing from that at the moment. Give Quinn the reins to the team, let him plug a few big guys on the squad for a little coin, and watch 2010-11 unfold.  If we’re in the hunt next year, that’d be a nice little surprise for us, but we’re not getting better with the same.  With some subtle moves, and a commitment to building, respect will come, victories will follow, and we will be great once again.
 
PS:  Draft Taylor Hall.

 

HBomb:  Can this be fixed?   Absolutely.  Much joke franchises in pro sports have recovered to have success.  Detroit and New Jersey were awful in the 1980's.  The New England Patriots were a joke for a long portion of their existence prior to the turn of the century.  Heck, just over a year ago, the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays made the World Series.   Anything can be fixed.  
 
The questions really should be a) how long is this going to take to fix? and b) is this management team the one to do it?   With regards to the first question, Joseph Stalin may have done a lot of things wrong, but the concept of a "five year plan" makes sense.   Not that it's going to take five years to get back to the playoffs (with smart moves and a bit of luck, I think the Oilers could be back in the playoffs as early as spring 2011), but in five years, the groundwork could be laid for this team to be in a position to be in the playoffs more years than not, with strong squads capable of going deep every few years (i.e. they are in a position for sustainable success).  
 
Can this management team pull it off?  I'm not convinced in the least.   Kevin Lowe hasn't shown any ability to focus on the real issues since oh, somewhere in late June 2006 (preferring to hunt for white whales as opposed to address real issues such as quality veteran depth at affordable prices and shedding long-past-expiry-date contracts such as Ethan Moreau and Steve Staios).  Given Steve Tambellini's pursuit of Dany Heatley and glossy signing of Nikolai Khabibulin this summer while ignoring other obvious needs on the team (we're still waiting on that 3rd line center who can win a faceoff thing), he's either more of the same or taking orders from Lowe and Katz.    Either way, he's ineffective.
 
First things first is how they treat the rest of the season.  If they trade ANY long-term assets for a short term fix of any sort to get back into a playoff race they are all but out of already, that's going to be a sign that they're more concerned about short term appearances than long-term goals.   Deal whomever you can out of Moreau, Staios, O'Sullivan, Nilsson, Cogliano, Grebeshkov and Souray (the last three being the assets with the potential to return true value) and get some cap space in the process.   Sign guys like Potulny, Brule and Stone proactively to reasonable contracts, and work on doing Gagner long term.   Get Khabibulin the surgery he needs and hope like heck he's ready for next year, and while you're at it, shut down Shawn Horcoff and get whatever is ailing his shoulder fixed as well.   Go to the draft this summer and hopefully snag a Hall, Seguin or Fowler with one of the top three picks (Hall may be the BPA at first overall, but given the lack of an elite center or defense prospect in the organization compared to what we have on LW and RW in MPS and Eberle, either of those guys may be a better fit from a "need" perspective, so getting the first overall pick isn't essential - top three would be, however).   Then, when UFA season starts, don't do what I think they're going to do and offer Patrick Marleau 7 million a season.   The biggest free agent they chase should be a hardass tough-minutes D like Dan Hamhuis.   Rather, between what you can obtain in trade for Cogliano, Grebeshkov and Souray and some smart mid-level signings, improve the overall make-up of the team in terms of veteran depth and grit, without being a cap team again.   Start frest next September at training camp with eyes on the playoff prize, and go to summer 2011 in a position to get Hemsky extended long term, and potentially Penner as well.

 

Dawgbone:  A 5 megaton yield should suffice.
 
In actuality it's not that far away (the fix).  The key is to get the underperforming contracts off the books, get rid of the bubble kids, and start looking for value contracts.
 
The Oilers have 7 forwards signed for next season (Horcoff, Penner, Hemsky, O'Sullivan, Nilsson, Moreau, Stortini).  If you can find someone to take O'Sullivan and Moreau off of your hands, you are saving $4.925 of cap space.
 
The Oilers have 5 defencemen locked up for next year (Visnovsky, Souray, Gilbert, Staios, Smid).  Unloading Staios would save you $2.7mil.
 
When all is said and done, you've got 5 forwards, 4 defencemen locked up for a total of $32.95 mil.
 
From there you have a whack of RFA's to deal with.  Among the forwards you've got Gagner, Cogliano, Pouliot, Brule, Stone, Jacques and Potulny.  On defence you have Grebeshkov.
 
I think the time has come to cut bait on Pouliot and Jacques.  They aren't bringing in anything that's not replacable within the system and holding on to them just allows you to make the excuse that you can't bring in a veteran forward.  Yes, I ultimately realize that it makes the '03 draft look like a complete failure, but it's already near that point anyways.
 
That leaves you with Gagner, Cogliano, Brule, Grebeshkov, Potulny and Stone to sign.  The good news for the Oilers is that none of these guys have shown that they deserve a massive raise over what they make this year.  Brule and Potulny should make more coin (I'd cap it at a $500k raise max), but Cogs and Grebs have had off years.  The only issue with Grebs is that after his next contract, he's a UFA.  It might not be a horrible gamble to try and lock him in to a Gilbert-type deal.  Gagner is the other played I'd consider giving a longer term deal to.  Because the Oilers played him in the NHL as early as they did, he's going to be a UFA at 25.  I'd try and sign him to David Krejci money, but do it for 7 years (essentially buying 2 UFA years).  The Oilers have already committed time, money, cap space and losses to his development... why not see it through and potentially make something off your investment?
 
From there it's a matter of identifying veterans who are being under valued as UFA's (or who price themselves out in the early going).  The last thing the Oilers need to do is start waving money around on July 1st at whoever is available.  For the past couple of years, there have been solid players who made it to the later days of July (and farther) and ended up signing excellent value contracts.  The Oilers need to get a couple of these done (on forward and on defence).
 
The one guy I would make an early play for though is Zbynek Michalek.  He's a quality ES/PK defender and something the Oilers desperately need.  I wouldn't go above 3.5 mil for him, but it would be a great pickup.
 
The last thing the Oilers need is to address their goaltending.  JDD is an adequate backup (especially at less than 700k), but if he's looking for a raise he should be headed elsewhere.  Khabibulin needs to be dealt with as well... if he's better, good.  If he's not, find a veteran to replace him.  The goaltending market is going to be just as saturated next year as it was this year so the Oilers should be able to take advantage.
 
You'll notice no mention of players like Eberle, MPS or Hall/Seguin/whoever... damn right.  Eberle can start off in the AHL next year and force his way onto the big club (ala Perry/Getzlaf in 05-06).  MPS isn't hurting himself in Sweden so I'd let him stay there another year.  If the Oilers get Hall, he's just one season away from the Spezza rule (after 4 years of junior you can play in the AHL regardless of age).  I'm inclined to let him play one last year of junior, then play in the AHL and see where he goes from there.  It's about time the Oilers start developing young players on someone else's dime.  They do it occasionally (Tom Gilbert comes to mind), but often times they insist on spending NHL games and NHL coin on these players.  The Red Wing model has always been let them force their way onto the team, then make room for them.  That's the model the Oilers need to follow.

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