Jason Gregor spoke to Craig MacTavish on his Monday show and asked the Oilers general manager if he'd like to add another center for next season. The answer was a flat "no," although MacTavish did add that he expected Mark Arcobello, Andrew Miller and Will Acton to compete for a spot. In my humble opinion, this represents a pretty serious oversight, and here's why:
The Oilers' depth chart at center is not exactly bursting at the seams, even with a healthy roster. Here's the healthy list:
Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner, Gordon, Lander, Arcobello, Acton, Miller
Everyone on the chart fits nicely into their slot, and seems more or less capable of handling their assigned role. The trouble for the Oilers is the lack of players who can move up the roster in the event that injuries strike (which they will). We already know that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is not going to start the season thanks to the recovery from shoulder surgery. If Nugent-Hopkins misses the month of October, the Oilers will play 14 games without him, or around 17% of the season. With that in mind, here's the center depth chart for that period:
Gagner, ?, Gordon, Lander, Arcobello, Acton, Miller
I left the second line center position open because there is really nobody who can fill it. If Gordon moves up to a scoring line that leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the third, and Gordon doesn't possess much offense anyway. Mark Arcobello could slide in here, but the 24 year old is a veteran of just one NHL game. Keep in mind that this isn't a doomsday scenario -- it's something that the team is a aware will be a problem to start the season.
Now let's see what happens if Nugent-Hopkins comes back but Boyd Gordon gets hurt:
Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner, Lander, Acrobello, Acton, Miller
There are no options to reasonably replace Gordon's extremely difficult defensive responsibilities and handle them without getting buried. The bottom six wingers aren't exactly designed to help fill that void, either. Unless you consider some combination of Hemsky, Smyth, Brown, Jones and Joensuu to be workable defensive options, the team is suddenly facing a perilously uphill battle with one injury.
There is no center with a track record of winning faceoffs, and none with an NHL pedigree for the penalty kill. The Eric Belanger Experiment may have been an unqualified disaster, but at least he gave the Oilers another veteran penalty killer, who averaged more ice time than any other forward while the team was down a man. Boyd Gordon may replace Shawn Horcoff, but there is no veteran replacement for Belanger.
It's strange to the point of being unbelievable, but the Oilers are once again counting on a quick learning curve from some young players in order to be competitive. This may have been an understandable strategy during the rebuilding years, but not at a time when the team needs the playoffs more than anything else. A lot of things have to break right for this strategy to make sense, but any hockey fan knows that that's a foolish thing to hope for.