With the calendar inching towards August and the Oilers giving indications that their off-season makeover is nearing completion, the most commonly identified area of concern with the team's current roster is the bottom-six forwards. In particular, there are issues relating to the depth on the wings outside of the top six, and perhaps even more glaringly, a concern about the lack of proven NHL players down the middle.
In Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner and Boyd Gordon, the Oilers have three relatively proven NHL centers. However, if you look beyond that, the depth chart takes a nosedive and the names currently slated to compete for the 4th line job are Anton Lander, Marc Arcobello and Will Acton.
Given that it's likely Nugent-Hopkins will not be ready for opening night, the team is facing the proposition of beginning the season with only two legitimate NHL centers on the active roster, which is something that can't be considered ideal for a franchise that would like its fans to believe that they have serious playoff aspirations this season.
So we asked our writing staff: How would you solve the Oilers lack of depth at center?
Jeff Chapman: Trade Nick Schultz for a bottom six guy. Or, buy Nick Schultz out, and use his cap hit to purchase an inexpensive option like David Steckel or Scott Gomez. Don't do nothing, and don't just hand the job to Will Acton.
Dawgbone: Go with 14 F and 7D, putting both Larsen and Potter in the minors (saving roughly $1.8 mil in cap space). I'd also gamble that not all 3 of RNH, Yakupov and Schultz will hit their performance bonuses and give myself an extra $3mil in usable cap space, giving the Oilers roughly $6mil in cap space. From there pitch an offer to Grabovski for ~$4 mil or go after Manny Malhotra for $2 mil and look to add another winger (say maybe Dan Cleary).
Alan Hull: At centre I would try to bring in David Steckel or Scott Gomez to give some buffer to keep Lander et al in the AHL. It's already likely that they will need either Lander or Arcobello to start the year with RNH injured, but having both of them is borderline negligence. Steckel feels like a better fit over the course of the season, but Gomez gives you a more versatile option to deal with RNH's injury and any further issues on a scoring line as he has played there before and can fill in if needed. Steckel gives you a bigger body and PK presence. The size isn't the big factor for me (it might be for the Oilers) but his PK experience is the thing that tips the scales, IMO. Gomez is a 2PP guy, but doesn't play shorthanded. I'd consider keeping 14F and adding a guy like Tim Brent to be the extra man next to Brown in the pressbox, but I think it's evident the plan is to keep 8D.
Michael Parkatti: I'd sign Peter Mueller to fill in at 2LC while RNH is out, and then either slot him in as cheap scoring depth on the third line in the event of a Hemsky trade, or take the spot at 4LC. Mueller made $1.75M last year, and I'm guessing could be had for something like $1.25M or so.
Ryan Batty: If I were Craig MacTavish for a day I'd be on the phone with both Peter Mueller and Kyle Wellwood to see what it would take to get one of them to come to Edmonton. I can't see either commanding a deal north of $1.5M which would be easy enough for the Oilers to fit in and still give themselves the ability to keep the defencemen they want to and not have to make roster decisions based entirely on their cap situation.
Jake Pringle: See what kind of money Grabovski wants. If there was a way to fit David Clarkson at $6 million, there should be a way to fit Grabovski, even with David Perron. Failing that, Mueller is a good stop-gap and will come cheap. Steckel helps the fourth line but isn't much help to move up the lineup if needed.
Scott Reynolds: I think it's pretty clear that the Oilers need to add to their forwards, but they have just three contracts left under the 50-contract limit, and probably want to leave at least one spot open come September in case a significant opportunity arises. I'd probably add one player now with an eye to adding another player via trade if a team close to the cap is looking to unload someone at about $1.5M (Brian Boyle is the option I have in mind). I think the best options for signing now are probably Kyle Wellwood and Viktor Tikhonov (who I believe is still a free agent out of Russia). Tikhonov is particularly interesting to me because he's just twenty-five, but Wellwood is the more proven option. I'd be willing to spend $1.5M on one of those two players.
Derek Zona: Mikhail Grabovski is the obvious target, but the Oilers haven't approached him. It would take a buyout of Nick Schultz, but it would be worth it as Dallas Eakins could pair him with Ales Hemsky on a formidable veteran possession line. If the Oilers have no interest in buying anyone out, my next call is Patrick Thoresen. Thoresen is exactly what the team needs - an all-situations, all-zones pivot who can play up and down the lineup. He would push Ryan Jones down the PK depth chart, could fill in for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins if need be and would fit in the existing cap room. If he's not willing to come back to the NHL, even though he's expressed a desire to do so, Kyle Wellwood is my final stop.
Thus far, nobody has indicated that standing firm with the existing group would be a wise decision.
We will also put it out to our readership... do the Oilers still need to add another center? If so, how would you go about doing so?