I looked at the Oilers' legitmate NHL players here and found that they've got a trio of tough minutes outscorers on the cheap. I'm going to look at the fourth liners next, and this may seem a bit out of order, but stay with me. A couple of years back Edmonton was able to ice the best fourth line in the NHL for twenty-six games. The combination of Curtis Glencross, Kyle Brodziak and Zack Stortini outscored their competition by a wide margin and was a primary factor in the Oilers having any semblance of competitiveness that season. Since then, the fourth line has been a mishmash of players that neither Craig MacTavish nor Pat Quinn have interest in playing.
This year, because of injuries, the Oilers have found themselves playing more than a handful of guys that have struggled in the AHL, let alone the NHL. There have been a few that have differentiated themselves this year, and the Oilers should carefully manage negotiations heading into the summer to make sure that they keep these low-cost, middling impact players in the bottom six.
There are three players on the team right now that can be classified as current NHL fourth-line players. Here's a quick rundown.
|2009 - Ryan Potulny||26||8||5||13||-1||10||2||0||1||0||48||16.7|
Ryan Potulny was somewhat of a puzzle to Edmonton fans. Since coming to Edmonton in exchange for Danny Syvret, he's outplayed expectations in both the NHL and AHL. He potted 38 goals on a dreadful Springfield team last year and performed quite well in his injury call-up last year. Unfortunately, Gilbert Brule was guaranteed a spot on the team because of his waiver situation and no matter how Potulny played in camp, he was destined to start the year in Springfield. Potulny was again called up because of injury and has again beat expectations. He's got a positive scoring chance differential, his raw and relative Corsi are both 5/13 and he's holding his own against second and third minutes competition. Potulny is capable of outplaying 4th line minutes and holding his own with 3rd line minutes. Potulny is making $595,000 this year and is restricted at the end of the season. His next contract should be under $1,000,000 and should mean that Potulny will be holding down the 4th line center job for much of next season.
|2009 - Ryan Stone||23||0||5||5||2||42||0||0||0||0||20||0.0|
Stone has been somewhat of a surprise. Originally kept around after training camp as part of Pat Quinn's "size on every line" experiment, Stone has outplayed all of the forwards in his grouping. Injuries caused him to miss 19 games, but the numbers don't lie. He leads the team in scoring chance differential and chances against per time on ice. He's one of only four Oilers with a positive chance differential. He's the team leader in raw Corsi and 3rd in relative Corsi. He's done all of this while facing second tough minutes with bottom level teammates. At the very least, Stone's play indicates that he should easily handle 4th line minutes, maybe even outplay third-tough minutes. Stone is making $600,000 this year and is a restricted free agent at the end of the year. A contract in the range of $800,000 per year would give the Oilers a much needed outplayable contract and bring some stability to the bottom six.
|2009 - Zack Stortini||42||3||4||7||2||89||1||0||1||0||29||10.3|
I'm not as enamored as some with Stortini. Since the breakup of the Brodziak / Glencross line, Stortini's numbers have fallen off sharply. This year he's giving up a full chance more per game than he's creating, but he's benefiting from the good fortune of a .954 even strength save percentage while he's on the ice. He's actually been involved in outscoring his opponents by a 13 - 10 margin. To give you an indication of the good fortune, if Shawn Horcoff was backed by that .954, he would be a +4, rather than a -19. Both Stortini's raw and relative Corsi is 10/13 on the team after a 2008-2009 season where he was 13/14 in both categories.
Stortini has one year left at $700,000 and has one more restricted contract after that. It is a low-cost contract, but Stortini isn't outplaying that contract at this point. However, if the Oilers feel the need to keep a pugilist on the team, Stortini is worth it - his low-impact underlying numbers fall in line with other enforcers like Colton Orr and Darcy Hordichuk.
The bonafides and the 4th liners are both relatively low-cost options that should be able to cumulatively outplay both their opponents and their contracts. It's the middle six that the Oilers will need to overhaul moving forward. More on that to come.