Making the Oilers Competitive Next Season

Photo by Lisa McRitchie, all rights reserved

So, last night, after a clinic of how not to play defense by Corey Potter and Ryan Whitney, not to mention a host of other problems, the twitter account of this site posted the following:

@CopperandBlue "Oilers need a goalie, 2-3 new D and at least 3 forwards next season to compete."

So, naturally, this got me thinking about whether it would really take that kind of turnover to create a competitive team. The point of this post is not to muse about how they would go about addressing those needs, as that is about a 12 part series of posts, but merely to identify which pieces the Oilers have for next season and where they SHOULD slot into a depth chart for a playoff calibre team.

Of course, Oilers' management has been incomprehensible, and even if they had all the right players, you need look no further than the Washington Capitals to see that if a talented group of players doesn't have the right coaching, they won't get very far. But, making the HUGE assumption that those items were not issues, how many of their current players can this team slot into a line-up for next season and have a realistic expectation to compete for a playoff spot?

I'll take a shot at examining that after the jump.

The Forwards:

This is the area that you might think requires the least amount of work, but that would not necessarily be the case. Let's start with the easy ones. Five of the top six next season, barring trades, will be Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky. Assuming a competent player on the second line LW, this would be a a good enough group of forwards to be considered a playoff calibre top six. In my opinion, the top line would be Hall - Gagner - Hemsky, as those three have shown the ability to play the tougher minutes. Hopefully next season would allow for a gradual balancing out of those tough minutes to a second line made up of TBD - RNH - Eberle. Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle have not yet shown they can play the toughest competition and thrive (Just ask Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey if you disagree with that statement). Eberle is at a point where that is the next frontier for him, while RNH still needs to figure out how to swim at even strength regardless of the calibre of opposition. Again, The first line takes the hard competition to start the year, but hopefully it can be balanced out to a degree as the season goes on to avoid burning out that top group.

Hall - Gagner - Hemsky

_______ - RNH - Eberle

Moving on to the bottom six group, there are some serious tough decisions to be made. Rumours of a contract amnesty in the next CBA bring about questions of Shawn Horcoff's tenure coming to an end. This would be a major development as he and Eric Belanger would be pencilled in for the bottom two centre slots. The fact is that Horcoff's body no longer appears to be able to tolerate the grind of an 82 game season, and he is being broken down by the heavy burden he's being asked to carry. Personally, I don't believe Belanger is a 3C at even strength anymore. At his age, I think his usefulness is as a 4C with added time for key face-offs and penalty killing. Call it the "Marty Reasoner role". That said, there would still be a need for a third line centre, and while I won't get into specific players and targets, what they need is a "Brandon Sutter-type" of player:

Player 5v5 TOI/60 4v5 TOI/60 Faceoff % Corsi QoC Corsi REL QoC Off. Zonestart % Off Zone Finish %
Brandon Sutter 14.23 2.09 50.3 1.252 1.649 36.3 46.4

Whoever it may be, to me, it is becoming clear that Horcoff can no longer handle the job over the course of an 82 game schedule. I imagine the Oilers hope that Anton Lander could eventually be that person, but it certainly won't be next season, and Belanger is not capable of it at this point either, so it is a need they will have to address in order to compete next season. On the wings, the third line is the right place for both Ryan Smyth and Magnus Paajarvi, although they both typically play the left side. Paajarvi has played the off-wing in the past, but if that's not an option, then one will likely be forced into a role they are not suited for, either up or down in the line-up. For now, let's assume we can flip Paajarvi to the right side. The fourth line, while typically just left for marginal players and goons by the team in the past, would need an overhaul. Belanger is suitable for that spot, but would need new wingers, perhaps a youthful energy player, like Teemu Hartikainen on one side and a role player in the mold of Kirk Maltby to play the other side and help ensure that the team doesn't bleed scoring chances when the 4th line is out there. Someone like an Adam Hall from TB. Overall, that would leave us with:

Smyth - __________ - Paajarvi

Hartikainen - Belanger - _________

The thirteenth and fourteenth forwards are perfect places for the likes of Ben Eager and Ryan Jones. Guys with at least something to offer a team, but questionable in their ability to play every game. They would be quite expensive for a press box duo, but hey, they're already under contract.

Overall, we're left with three holes to fill up front if we're interested in talking about playoffs next season, So far, @CopperandBlue is right on track.

The Blueline:

This is where the loss of Tom Gilbert is going to hurt. Because guess who the Oilers need now? Tom Gilbert. In all seriousness, they need players to fill the hole created by Gilbert's departure (see here for my suggestion on who they should target). In addition to adding a young, all situations Dman, as the linked post suggests, the Oilers also have a decision to make on Ryan Whitney. Credit to Derek Zona, who put this out there on twitter last night and suggested that buying out Whitney may be an option. However, if the Oilers wish to keep Whitney around, I think the only way you can consider him a success as a contributor to a playoff team is if your expectation is for third pairing minutes and some PP time or the "Cam Barker role". Whitney may not be what he used to be, but a one legged Ryan Whitney is still a step up from Barker, who should not be back under any circumstances. Even if you we're willing to accept that Whitney can play in the top six for a playoff team at this point in his career, that still means the Oilers will need to add one more player to their top four or be faced with Andy Sutton or Corey Potter as every day players. I can't sign off on any depth chart with that reality as being one worthy of playoff contention. So they'll need to acquire another player to push those two down to seventh defenseman and AHL call-up status respectively. Working with those parameters, we have this depth chart. Please note that I'm not ranking them 1-6, but based on what side they play (I believe):

Smid - _________

Schultz - Petry

Whitney - ________

(Quick Side Note: I have no idea how the Schultz/Gilbert trade was supposed to "balance out the line-up" of the Oilers? The team certainly needed to add someone like Schultz, but doing so at the expense of Gilbert created a bigger hole. The team is now loaded with left-hand shooting blueliners and will likely need to ask Schultz to play his off-side if they want to slot people properly on the depth chart. It also creates a need for a two way, tough minute blueliner who plays the right side. Do you know how difficult those are to find?)

Anyway, assuming Sutton occupies the 7th spot, the team will now need two blueliners for their top six (preferably both capable of playing in the top four) if, as is the premise of this post, they intend to contend for the playoffs next season. They would need to add a third in the event they decided to purge Ryan Whitney. So, 2-3 blueliners, once again, right in line with @CopperandBlue's comment.


This one is easier. The simplest solution is quite frequently the right one. With the exception of his brilliant first 9 games this year, Khabibulin has proven over the course of his three seasons in Edmonton that he is no longer an NHL calibre goaltender, so, he's not here next year if this is a playoff team. This would allow the team to, almost by mistake, fall into what many consider to be the ideal sceanrio for their goaltending tandem: The Detroit model. Two competent, yet inexpensive netminders to split the job and compete for playing time. Devan Dubnyk will likely form part of that tandem, and the other half can be filled reasonably easily on July 1st as goaltenders are usually playing musical chairs trying to find a place before the music stops, as it did on Marty Turco this past off-season.

So, with a tandem like this:



We see that we'll need to add one more roster spot, which pretty much makes @CopperandBlue a perfect 3 for 3 on the predictions.

My initial thought was that needing to change 6-7 players off this team before it could reasonably contend seemed maybe 1 or 2 too high, but upon doing the analysis, I can't help but agree.

Based on the current roster, those left out of NHL employment next season include: Shawn Horcoff, Darcy Hordichuck, Linus Omark, Lennart Petrell, Cam Barker, Theo Peckham, Corey Potter and Nikolai Khabibulin.

How, you may ask, are the Oilers going to turn that group into a 2nd line LW, a 3rd line "Brandon Sutter-type" centre, a reliable 4th line winger, a young top-pairing blueliner, another reliable right-handed defenseman who can move the puck and a goalie to split time with Dubnyk?

Well if you can't find an answer, then imagine how management must feel, because if they can't find one, then this team will find themselves on the outside looking in once again in 2012/13.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this FanPost are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of the staff.

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