If I were a new NHL fan and didn't want to jump on a bandwagon, I'm pretty certain my team would be the Tampa Bay Lightning. It's not because they've got a collection of superstars in their top six that would make Blackhawk fans jealous; it's not because they look like they're going to be a playoff team this year; it's not because they have the hotshot kid that just won a Richard trophy; no it's because they have a General Manager that seems to get this whole NHL thing. Steve Yzerman is in his first summer on the job and he's already proving to be an excellent student of what it takes to win in the NHL.
He plucked Simon Gagne out of cap-stressed Philadelphia for overpaid defenseman Matt Walker and a draft pick. He dumped overpaid defenseman Andrej Meszaros on the Flyers and somehow got a second round pick out of the deal. Those moves showed a deft hand and an excellent understanding of a capped NHL, but it was the rest of his off-season that the Oilogosphere is jealous of.
He replaced Meszaros with Pavel Kubina for $150,000 less annually plus that draft pick. He replaced three years of Matt Walker at $1,700,000 with two years of Brett Clark at $1,500,000. He signed Randy Jones to a one-year $1,000,000 deal. He signed Dan Ellis for two years at $1,500,000 annually. He added the always-useful Dominic Moore for two years at $1,100,000 per. To put that in perspective, Yzerman signed Clark, Ellis, Jones and Moore for a combined seven years and $9,200,000. The Oilers signed Nikolai Khabibulin for four years and $15,000,000. He convinced Marc Pouliot and Chris Durno to take two-way deals for the NHL minimum. None of these are amazing deals, but taken together, he's winning each incremental deal, which is necessary to successfully guide a team in the cap world.
Oilers Lines, as per EdmontonOilers.com
Taylor Hall - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky
Magnus Paajarvi - Andrew Cogliano - Dustin Penner
Liam Reddox - Colin Fraser - Gilbert Brule
Steve MacIntyre - Tyler Pitlick - Linus Omark
Ladislav Smid - Kurtis Foster
Richard Petiot - Tom Gilbert
Shawn Belle - Alex Plante
Tampa's Active Lineup
Forwards: Johan Harju, Niklas Persson, Teddy Purcell, Carter Ashton, James Wright, Brett Connolly, Dana Tyrell, Blair Jones, Adam Hall, Ryan Malone, Marc Pouliot, Steve Downie
Defensemen: Mattias Ohlund, Brett Clark, Mike Vernace, Randy Jones, Vladimir Mihalik, Radko Gudas
Goaltenders: Dan Ellis, Dustin Tokarski
Questions I hope the Oilers start answering tonight:
- Is Ales Hemsky 100%? Watching him dangle while simultaneously yawn in the Joey Moss Cup was like seeing a ghost. Yes, it's very exciting that the last three first-round picks are all hitting the ice against real opponents for the first time, but the Oilers already have a marvelous first-round talent working for them now. There's a chance that none of the three of them will ever be as good as Hemsky. There's a chance that we've only got two years of Hemsky left. Welcome back Ales, we've missed you. Please stay.
- Is Magnus Paajarvi rocket powered? He's just so fast. Fast like Todd Marchant would need a push to keep up with him fast. During the rookie games, he was slowing up to allow his linemates to catch him. He's got size, skills, hands, and two years of professional experience, so first, can he handle the physical play on the smaller rink? And second, can anyone keep up with him?
- Who is this Shawn Belle fellow? He's all of a sudden getting a local media push as a realistic option as the 6th defenseman and I'd like to see why. SumOil said he liked what he said of Belle at training camp, and I think we'd all like to see him against some real competition.
- It looks like Tom Renney is going to ask Dustin Penner to carry the second line on his own. Will Penner get Eberle or Brule on his right wing? Cogliano or Brule at center? Is Penner enough to keep that line from being destroyed at evens?
- Kurtis Foster is the replacement cannon at the point for Sheldon Souray, but will the Oilers try and force the power play through him like they did for Souray? Will Ryan Whitney team with Foster on the point? Does that mean that the Oilers third pairing is going to to be on the ice after every power play?
- Andrew Cogliano is talking the talk about being an all zones player and even the most cynical are buying into it. His play tonight, between a guy capable of carrying a line (Dustin Penner) and a guy capable of outracing an iceboat (Paajarvi) and has a willingness to backcheck.
- Is Gilbert Brule capable of carrying the play without Dustin Penner? He starts on a line devoted to defense and is the most skilled player among the three. If he's able to push the play himself, it would be a sign that he's not just an ice lamprey.