Waiting for the Leftovers - Ottawa Senators

We've taken a peek at quite a few teams close to the cap and prior to the start of the season who will need to make moves. I suppose it only fitting that we examine a team who is over the cap. It dawned on me that I hadn't considered Ottawa yet simply because we've spent this entire time looking at Dany Heatley, who is in fact still technically an Ottawa Senator. As a result, I just sort of ignored the rest of the team. I probably shouldn't do that however; because I know for a fact that while Heatley fills the most direct need on the Oilers, there are others on this team that Edmonton would have interest in.

Ottawa at this point is $563,000 over the cap. It's an easy fix if they choose to do so by moving a contract to the minors, but they haven't stopped fielding offers for Heatley in the hopes they can move him. The problem is, they can't. The Rangers are out, so are the Sharks. The Oilers say they're out, but they're really not. Minnesota has interest as do a couple teams like Philadelphia and Boston, but that interest is more the internal team conversations type about what they'd have to do to clear room to make that happen and both teams are quickly realizing it isn't realistic.

The most interesting part in Ottawa for me is that they have interest in a few of our players. If they were willing to take Penner, Cogliano and Smid; they likely still would be. Does that mean Ottawa, could they not be able to move Heatley would consider moving Spezza?

The Untouchables

Alfredsson by all accounts will finish his career a Senator. He's their captain, he's 36 and he's signed to a reasonable number on the downslope of his career. He's the one shining star or face of the franchise so to speak left in Ottawa and they won't get rid of him.

Chris Neil sparked some interest in the offseason, including in Edmonton; but if Ottawa retained him at $2 million a season for 3 years, which to me is an overpayment; they intend to hang on to him.

Kovalev won't be moved. Not after he's the one name that has in some way kept Ottawa from looking worse than they do during this offseason. He's not going to be as effective if Heatley comes back, but at this point, I don't think Ottawa cares. To me, Kovalev was a publicity signing, nothing more.

Filip Kuba is popular in Ottawa, but would be moved for the right price. He's not necessary in Edmonton however, thanks to the depth they have in similar style players.

Nick Foligno is coming into his own as a goal scorer and Ottawa sees big things for him. He's not going anywhere.

The Unwanted

I'm going to include Heatley in there, but under the understanding that had Heatley not expressed his desire to leave, he'd have been welcomed back to the team despite their poor play the last couple seasons. Even in a bad year he gets you 39 goals, and it's not that teams out there don't want Heatley, it's more that he comes with a high price tag, a long contract and baggage teams don't want to or can't take on.

Miker Fisher would be moved I think quite quickly if they could find value for him. He signed a big contract and hasn't come close to living up to it. He shows signs of flash and like he's going to turn a corner, but he doesn't. While he brings a physical game (led Ottawa in hits last year with 211) and his faceoffs are good at 51%, his price tag is simply too high for him to be a third line center which would be the ideal fit for him in Edmonton and kind of what he is in Ottawa.

The Wanted

Jason Spezza has been on the radar of the Oilers for at least two years. He's the perfect 1st line center. He passes more than he shoots, but despite that, he still shoots a lot (last year 246 times which was 2nd only to Dany Heatley). Spezza (53% faceoff guy, plays the powerplay and short handed), would take a lot of heat off of Horcoff which would be critical for Horcoff's offensive stats and has the ability to succeed in a crazy hockey market like Edmonton. But, I think if you're going to obtain Spezza, it takes Gagner and something with a substantial cap hit to do it. I would still make the trade, but I don't think a lot of people would agree with me. Hard to say if the Oilers feel the same way.

My darkhorse would be Jesse Winchester. He brings not much in terms of offense and from his stats, he has horrible hands -- a 2.6% shooting percentage. What he does offer, is a low contract ($550,000), great faceoff ability, 56.8% (granted on only 199 attempts) and he's got an edge to him in physical play while staying out of the penalty box for the most part. If the Oilers ended up making some kind of trade and Winchester was a thrown in, he'd work out well with this team.

I may be in the minority, but I'd almost rather have Spezza than Heatley. His cap hit is marginally lower, he doesn't come with the baggage, but he adds a lot of what Horcoff is relied upon to do every night which is key for Horcoff's future success. I'd still take Heatley if things go sour and he can't return to Ottawa, but Spezza is a great second option and it might be nice to have a player in Edmonton that has no bones about being here.


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Who is the Player to Watch?

For a lot of fans, when a topic with this kind of title gets posted, people usually expect to see a prediction for which Oiler is going to have the best season. That's not exactly what I'm going for here.

When I ask, who is the player to watch; I wondered who on the current Oilers roster is going to be a part of the headlines in the next few weeks more often than any other and in possibly more than one way. Either via trade, demotion, promotion and/or finally living up to his ability or change in attitude under new coaching that seems to directly affect the team more than any other player. I think that player is Robert Nilsson.

Do I believe that Nilsson should be an Oiler if the possibility of improving this team exists? No. Nilsson is the odd man out in a number of situations and I think much like Cogliano would do better on a team that has a defined role for him and not a lot of similar style players as the Oilers do. That said, I do like what he brings when he's play at his potential or for that matter what he brings in terms of moving a player like him to another destination.

Despite most people jumping on to suggest that Nilsson is the one Oiler above all others the team should get rid of, I tend to think that people ignore his stats more often than not before they rush to judgement.

2008/2009 - 64 GP 9 g 20 a for 29 points. (not great) plus/minus 1 which is surprising to many people I'm sure. 4 powerplay goals. and 11 points. Not bad considering he wasn't on the man-advantage as often as a player who can set-up his teammates as well as Nilsson can. And his numbers the year before were much better. 41 points in 71 games... yada yada.

I'm not trying to make a case for Nilsson, but should he be an Oiler, there are some areas in which Nilsson has the potential to live up to his contract and I don't see him as the biggest let down of the year by any stretch.

Should he not stay with the team, I see him as a part of something big. Whether in a package for a top forward along with a defenceman, or being waived or buried in the minor strictly due to cap questions, Nilsson has the potential, above all other to headline team news over the next couple weeks to a month.

I'm simply saying, if I were to make a guess; something involving Nilsson will be a part of future news for Edmonton. Who would you suggest?


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Could Shawn Horcoff Play LW?

This summer for the Edmonton Oilers has been spent scouring the league for two things. One was a goaltender to take the place of the departed Dwayne Roloson. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on who you ask (see the article in The Hockey News if you're wondering what I mean), the Oilers were able to land Khabibulin on the first day of free agency.

The rest of this time has been spent seeking a first line LW. If they weren't pawning over Dany Heatley, they were making phone calls to see who, if anyone was available via trade. So far tire kicking has involved Phil Kessel from Boston, some unknowns from San Jose (which would inturn help facilitate a Heatley trade) and a couple other players who have no trade clauses. Not the most positive results are coming from that tire kicking and it's easy to understand why.

But perhaps, the Oilers have what they need in house. Hockey guys in the know, namely Jason Gregor from the Team 1260, are reporting that the top 6 forwards outside of Hemsky on 1st line RW is not even close to being a lock and that the coaches will determine who will play and where come training camp.

One player Gregor had the chance to talk to was Shawn Horcoff, who had some interesting answers to some straight to the point questions. Can Cogliano play LW? Was Horcoff's production hampered by the sheer amount of face-offs he was forced to take all season? Does Hemsky's style of play change your style? Horcoff's answers revealed, at least to me that perhaps one thing many of us haven't given thought to, is putting Horcoff on the LW with Hemmer and Gagner in the middle.

Horcoff is in an unenviable position. He has a large contract, is being relied on to be the two-way faceoff specialist, but gets chewed out by Edmonton fans if he doesn't produce 60-70 points a season. It's two distinct roles that when looking after both, means neither will be as potent as they could be. When one only has to worry about one thing (see Dany Heatley as an example) production is a whole lot easier to measure.

Horcoff did make the transtion from wing to centre and admits that move is much harder than the other way around. For Gagner, his face-off percentage isn't fantastic at 42%, but it's respectable and likely to get better. And if it doesn't, Horcoff is already there to take the odd draw or the majority of them which would still be lessen than the 1756 draws he took last year. On the second line, you can put Cogliano or O'Sullivan at centre with Penner. Now Cogs and O'Sullivan are not going to win you many draws, so you have Penner who can at 47.4% and 55% the year before share the load as those two improve. It's a much more balanced attack with room to add any of these top 6 in positions to take a critical faceoff at an important juncture in a game.

On your third line, either Pouliot or Brule have the ability to be better than average faceoff guys and of course the jury is still out on whether or not the Oilers add a piece prior to camp like a Blair Betts.

Do I believe this is what the Oilers will do? Probably not, so why would I suggest this? What this does, is give Cogliano a defined roll on the 2nd line (which I believe he needs to see his potential). It lessens the load for Horcoff to get him back on the shoot first mentality he had in 2007/08 when he was on pace for a point a game and 33 goals before his injury and it reduces the burden of one to two guys being the only players who can win faceoffs and shares the load a bit more. The Oilers went two years ago from 5-6 players over 50% in the faceoff circle to currently 1, maybe two who are even better than average (technically Brule was 80% in the his NHL faceoffs last year, but that for in an extremely limited roll and hardly worth relying upon).

The problems it causes will revolve around Gagner's ability to be the 1st line centre we're all hoping he will be, and it may be asking Penner to take a lot more faceoffs than he's used to, which may be something they need to look at if his production suffers as a result. And of course again, this moves Nilsson into no man's land. . He's not going to do well on your 3rd line if it's checking roll, but he does have a better plus/minus than people give him credit for and can be relied on defensively if it's not about being physical.

At the very least, it would be worth a look if all parties were willing and excited about the changes.


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Radio Show Back ON AIR 10pm Edmonton Time

We'll be going on live tonight at 10pm to make up for our show last night. Tune in to catch what we couldn't bring you on Wednesday. Email your questions to oilersinsider@live.caListen to Oilersinsider on Blog Talk Radio


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Patrick Kane: A “Regular” Kid?

Who knows whether Patrick Kane is guilty of beating a cabbie in Buffalo or not? Certainly, the facts are not in on this particular case – and it would be premature to assess or dismiss blame. But, in reading about the incident, one phrase simply leapt off the page at me – the phrase was “regular kid.”

On Thursday, before the alleged beating, Patrick Kane was talking about how happy he was to hang out back home in Buffalo. He noted, “The best thing about it is my friends treat me like I'm a regular kid. They don't treat me like a celebrity or whatever they might treat me like in Chicago.” Later, Patrick Kane’s lawyer (Andrew LoTempio) told media: “It's a regular-kid incident, I think. I think part of the reason it may have escalated after the fact was because of who he is.”

That’s scary. When even being close to a beating or robbery is “regular kid” stuff, life is messed up. Furthermore, Patrick Kane’s comment about liking to be a “regular kid” shows how deeply affected the lives of these young hockey players can be. And, I would assume that the lives of other young athletes who suddenly rise to stardom and experience the new-found status and lifestyle that go with stardom are also not “regular kid” things! I feel sorry for all these rich, young guys.

“Regular kid” things are asking Mom to borrow the car, then being sent to Dad to ask again.

“Regular kid” things are “forgetting” to do your homework or study for a test at university.

“Regular kid” things are to be torn between going out when your girlfriend decides, or watching the hockey game at your friend’s house.

Just the other day, a friend told me a story about Ryan Smyth and Kelly Buchberger (who is from Langenburg, Saskatchewan). Smyth, then a young man, had just signed his first contract with the Oilers (and received about a $1 million bonus) and was taken out to lunch in Moose Jaw.

When the bill came, Smyth paid his portion of the bill but declined to pay the entire bill – perhaps another $50. Buchberger took Smyth aside and “mentored him” about his fortunate (notice the root word “fortune”) new status and the responsibilities that went with it. It is obvious that the lucky Smyth paid attention.

One point of this story is that, for these “regular kids,” one day you are a young guy for whom $50 is a fortune, and the next day you are a millionaire. It must be horribly confusing and difficult – especially when you are so very young and, because you have done so little on your own except play hockey, not yet mature in your thinking. Add to that making a living daily in a sport where solving issues literally means beating on someone, and where for punishment you receive an entire five-minute penalty before it is back to business as usual.

And we wonder why there is some immaturity? And we wonder why Dany Heatley seems like a prima donna? I suppose it is easy to sit back and judge, and say, “This would never happen to me. I would be smarter.” Sadly, others have said this, too, and been wrong. The list of young athletes of all sports who are virtually penniless after making millions of dollars is staggering.
Michael Vick, just released from prison and now attempting to find any team to play for in the NFL, was the #1 overall pick NFL Draft and a three-time Pro Bowl QB for the Atlanta Falcons whose estimated lifetime earnings are more than $130 million. At one time, Vick was one of the 10 richest athletes in the world, and on the Forbes 100 list of all people. He has filed for bankruptcy and his homes for sale.

Latrell Sprewell was a four-time NBA All Star with an estimated lifetime earnings $50 million. He turned down the Timberwolves’ $21 million offer to extend his contract for three years because, as he said, “I've got to feed my family.” Within three years, Sprewell’s yacht was repossessed, he defaulted on a $1.5 million mortgage, lost his home to foreclosure, stopped paying his bills, and defaulted on a $10 million home loan. He is not alone. In 2008, the NBA players association released a statement that almost 60% of former NBA players file for bankruptcy five years into retirement.

Finally, Darren McCarty, a former Stanley Cup winner and is now a Detroit Red Wings player – or rather spent more time in 2008-9 with the Grand Rapids Griffins. McCarty’s estimated lifetime earnings were over $12 million, but he declared bankruptcy and listed over $6 million in debts. His business partner looted their company, and he owned 20% of a company with one asset – a truck stop. McCarty’s partner – probably once a great friend – took out a $3 million dollar loan and forged McCarty’s signature for $650,000.

All this put together suggests that the dreams of young men to play hockey and get rich can turn into nightmares. It might not be so bad, after all, to just be a “regular kid.”


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Oilers Sign Smid, Brule and Ryan Stone

As per the Oilers website:

General Manager Steve Tambellini announced today the Edmonton Oilers have agreed to terms with defenceman Ladislav Smid on a two-year contract (financials unknown but estimated around $1.2 million per season), and forwards Gilbert Brule and Ryan Stone on one-year, two-way deals.

Smid, 23, established career highs in assists and points with 11 in 2008-09. But more importantly seemed to establish himself, or at least make strides toward being a gritty in your face defensive defenceman. For me, he was the one name involved in the Heatley trade that I thought might be the hidden gem of the deal.

And for fans who thought Smid might be a bit disturbed by the news he had been traded by the Oilers, it seems he's laid that myth to bed. “This is great news for me”. Smid commented upon signing his agreement. “I really enjoy playing for the Oilers. I feel my game is improving every year and I can’t wait to get started again this fall.”

The Oilers also signed what looks to be their next fourth line centre in Gilbert Brule. Brule, 22, split last season between the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League and the Oilers. I would expect that even though the Oilers protected themselves by putting Brule on a two-way contract, (waviers come into play here) he'll be up with the big club far more often. In his short stint with the Oilers, Brule had two goals and one assist for three points and 12 penalty minutes in 11 games for Edmonton. The 5’10”, 180 pound centre has played in 157 career NHL games with 14 goals and 21 assists for 35 points and 64 penalty minutes. He should add to those numbers this year.

Ryan Stone, is a 6’2”, 215 pound forward who came to the Oilers as part of the exchange for goaltender Mathieu Garon on January 17, 2009. Prior to being aquired by the Oilers, Stone played 38 games with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, recording nine goals and 19 assists for 28 points. In 39 games with the Falcons after the trade, he notched eight goals and 20 assists for 28 points. In eight career NHL games, the 24-year-old centre has recorded one assist and seven penalty minutes.

If I was a betting man, I'd expect Stone to be an AHL go to guy for Springfield, but it won't surprise me if he pops his head up with the Oilers once or twice. More than I can say for Schremp, who seems to be the only forward not yet signed.


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Making a Case for Theo Fleury

We posted a quick poll on this site regarding Theo Fleury's attempted comeback, and honestly I was quite surprised with some of the responses. To my own discredit, I assumed perhaps that fans would be more one-dimensional. I figured that quickly people would dismiss his attempts ala Claude Lemieux and move on -- but they aren't.

Fleury who hasn't played an NHL game in six years, wants to retire the right way. He says it's important that he do what he can to leave the NHL under circumstances different that he sits right now. After being indefinitely supsended for substance abuse related issues, Fleury would have to first get approval from the NHL to lift the ban, then find a team to give him another shot. I for one, think they should. Even more so, as a fan, it would be something to see that happen in Edmonton.

If we're in an NHL where players like Heatley, Kane, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Phoenix Coyotes ownership and others can give the sport and the organiztional structure of the NHL a terrible rep (which they are), a guy like Fleury who at one time had a problem, but since has committed himself to being clean and taken the time to get himself into what he considers NHL shape, the NHL should at least give Fleury a poke at it. Who cares if the real reason might have more to do with money than his so called "legacy".

When Fleury played he defied odds. He was an amazingly gritty and skilled winger for a small, stocky runt who no one expected to amount to much in professional hockey. On occasion Fleury was or was close to a 100 point player. Of course that was 15 years ago. And while it's not the same at all, from what I understand, Fleury still has wheels.

I've got a brother-in-law, who is a professional firefighter and at one point, a very very good hockey player. Every year he plays and organizes a tournament where ex NHL players for charity raise money playing the firemen in their county. When I asked who still had it, without hesitation, he said "Theo Fleury is rediculously fast!"

I'm not suggesting we compare this tourney to the NHL or anything close, but this example isn't the only place Fleury's been playing. Despite his public statements that he hasn't played in years, it sounds as though Fleurys passion (something he was known for) hasn't waivered as he plays in almost any organized game he can. Is it NHL caliber? Of course not, but we're not asking a team to give him a contract. We're asking a team to give him a tryout and then a contract only if he proves he can play at the NHL level.

We did so for Anson Carter who wasn't even close to the caliber player Fleury was. Could the Oil do it again? One thing we know, is that Fleury who just recently said if he's allowed to play, he'll play anywhere, would love Edmonton for giving him his shot and give everything he has to the Oilers. A determined Theo Fleury might be an interesting but pleasant surprise and a Daryl Katz, who lived the glory days of the Oilers as a fan, was probably a fan when Fleury was in his prime.

I'd go to a pre-season game if I knew I'd get to see Theo give it a shot. Maybe the Oilers have had the same thought, even though any real future from the deal is unlikely.


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Waiting for the Leftovers - San Jose Sharks

In a number of articles, I've written about the cap troubles for the San Jose Sharks. Their situation hasn't changed. They have too few players to ice a team for this upcoming season and not enough cap space to add a player without making a trade.

So what does this mean? Well outside of the fact that San Jose is bound to make player moves in the next couple of weeks, they may make a very strong trading partner for the Edmonton Oilers whose main need is to add those one or two players who provide more than what they currently have, but shed a couple of roster contracts. San Jose needs players, Edmonton needs to move players. Makes sense that these two teams should be talking.

The Untouchables

In my opinion, not a single person on the team for San Jose. Some will say Joe Thornton or Dan Boyle, but neither have helped the Sharks do what they need to do come crunch time and playoffs, which is win. They both make fantastically large amounts of money, have value among the league and could be moved. If they aren't it's only because of their no trade clauses. This also applies to Marleau and Nabokov, both of whom would have to approve a trade before it could be made.

The Unwanted

It seems Cheechoo no longer fits into the Sharks plans. They have players that have jumped him in the depth charts over the last couple of seasons and he's been relegated to 3rd and 4th line ice time, which is the major factor for his drop in numbers. He's missed a couple games due to injury, which allowed for players like Pavelski, Clowe and Michalek to fill his place.

Patrick Marleau has come up in a bunch in rumors, but the Sharks have also said publicly their stance on not moving him. No word on whether they've officially asked Marleau to lift his no trade clause, but it hasn't stopped the Marleau to Montreal or Ottawa rumors.

Rob Blake they want, but I don't know why. At least not at $3.5 million. Blake is a veteran on his way out of the game and that was a hefty number that has really hand tied the Sharks and their ability to make further improvement. It also struck me as odd because of the depth for San Jose on defense. Blake just didn't make sense for that kind of money. San Jose has 7 defensmen all making over $1.5 million each.

The Interesting

Ryane Clowe. As a RFA, he signed a very large contract when the Sharks were rumored to be in on Dany Heatley. Despite how unlikely the Heatley trade is, and we've been through that over and over on this site, Clowe not signing could have changed all that. At first I figured maybe it was a sign and trade situation, but that must not be the case, because if San Jose had desire to move Clowe, he'd be gone already. I see Clowe as a strong corner piece for the Sharks in the coming years and have no doubt he'll live up to the size of his contract.

Milan Michalek is a top line LW and if by some miracle a trade for Heatley does happen, is who I see going to Ottawa. A 20 goals and 55+ point player for the last three seasons, he'd be a welcome fit with the Senators or the Oilers if San Jose is willing to move him to clear space. The only issue is that the Sharks either need to move Clowe to 1st line LW or replace Michalek with whomever he's traded for. The only offer the Oilers have is Penner and the salaries are almost a wash so it's not likely.

The Being Moved?

Someone on defense. The Sharks have too much money tied up in defensemen and too many of them, when they badly need more forwards. Expect some like Vlasic, Erhoff or Douglas Murray to go seeing as how they each make over $2.5 million. That's enough money if they are moved for prospects or picks to sign the forwards they need to at least fill the roster.

Areas of Interest for the Oilers?

I'd look at either Clowe or Cheechoo. An earlier article I wrote explains how I think the Cheechoo trade helps Edmonton. http://oilersinsider.blogspot.com/2009/08/edmonton-oiler-trade-proposal.html


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Kane Not Helping the Blackhawk Cause

With the eyes of the NHL on a few topics as of late, one of those areas of interest has been the royal mess that seems to follow the Chicago Blackhawks. With news worthy items such as botched qualfying offers, to UFA signings under investigation; another Blackhawk has found himself in the news... and not for a good reason.

Patrick Kane along with his cousin James M. Kane, 21, were arrested about 5 a.m. on Eastwood Place, according to Buffalo police reports.

According to an article in the Buffalo News, the pair allegedly punched the cab driver and grabbed money they had handed him after he told them he didn't have twenty cents in coins to give them their change, the report said. http://www.buffalonews.com/home/story/758903.html

Could the Blackhawks have any more issues this off-season? I suppose, but I can't imagine what would be coming next.


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