Cooling the Jets But Looking at the Blue

The title of this post makes it sound like I'm going to give my two cents on the Winnipeg talk. I'm not. Instead I'm giving my three cents on the newfound and possibly unwarranted enthusiasm in Edmonton.

It's easy to get excited. The Oilers just came off a prospect camp where rookies looked great against other rookies. Edmonton also has the first overall draft selection and two top end prospects looking to crack the roster.

With all that going on, fans are starting to get an idea of how this team is going to shape itself up and often people get a bit carried away as if all of a sudden the Oilers could be a playoff team.

I'm not saying Lowetide is one of them, but he recently did a depth chart examination for the Edmonton Oilers. In there he suggested with a few possible changes the Oilers could be a playoff team. He's right -- they could be. But the Oilers may not make those changes and if they don't, it might be best not to get too carried away.

Every once and a while I throw out possible combinations and a quick glance at the Oilers depth. I tend to reserve a full examination and an up close and personal look at the roster until much closer to opening day because there is simply so much that can still happen. I'm changing my approach a bit because it occured to me that maybe this newfound excitement warranted a bit closer than a general peek at the roster.

Overall, there is a chance that the Oilers surprise everyone (much the same way Colorado did). Theoritically, they could have one of the better records to open the season and the kids light it up. The logical approach however would be to suggest that there will be some major bumps along the road.

Kids tend to tire over a long NHL season and the Oilers will have a lot of kids playing major roles. Injuries play their part and the Oilers have a vast history of injury concern. Finally, while different, the Oilers are not proven to be vastly superior than they were last year. With every young prospect we have high hopes for, that same prospect could do little to nothing.

The goaltending is still a mess and may not get sorted out for a few weeks. Even if the Oilers keep all three (Bulin, JDD and DD), two are unproven and one is injury riddled. With how often goaltending can steal a victory this lineup of netminders suggests the Oilers might not steal too many.

The forwards have major promise but outside of Penner and Hemsky offer no real guarantees for production. MPS, Hall and Eberle (if they play) could have 40-50 point seasons. They could also easily have 20-30 point seasons. Penner seems to be the best weapon, but he's streaky and Hemsky is on the verge of being a superstar but never quite gets there for multiple reasons. Both have also been trade rumor for over a month.

The defence might be the area that surprises a few people. The lineup is quite different and still has some question marks but also has a proven track record of performance. This could be a real shining spot for the Oilers.

The Oilers have Gilbert, Whitney, Souray, Foster, Smid, Vandermeer, Strudwick. I don't include Peckham or Chorney because I'm not sure either start the year here and I think the Oilers move Souray, but I go back and forth on it the longer this soap opera plays out.

Ryan Whitney had a shaky 2008 campaign but is a proven 40-60 point defencemen. That shouldn't be overlooked. Whitney rejuvinated himself with the Oilers and I think is serious in showing people he's not the guy you trade away -- he's the guy you trade for.

Tom Gilbert hasn't had a season with less than 30 points and has been known to go on massive point producing runs. He's also known to have poor spurts throughout the year, but it seems it's when he's partnered with someone forcing him to play a role he's not comfortable with. Playing with Whitney, Gilbert was red hot. We can expect that the hotter rather than the colder is a fair assumption.

Ladislav Smid is still a tad unproven but he's Edmonton's new shut-down kid and he's good at it. He's never going to get you much in the way of offense but it looks like he'll be relied upon to shutdown the top end guys. Whether he can do it might be a question mark and he should be a good 3 or 4 blueliner, but it's up for debate.

Kurtis Foster could be the real surprise for me here. His injury history is a concern but if he plays close to a full season, Oilers fans should prepare themselves for a 40-50 point offensive weapon. We shouldn't underestimate how quickly he can put up points if he's used on the powerplay and his ability to get that puck on net creating goals for other players.

If Souray comes back, we all know what he provides. Multiple 50 plus point seasons, powerplay threat and size are all things he has going for him. His attitude and a mutual desire to be somewhere else by both parties? Not so good.

Vandermeer is a more defensive tough man not suited for anything beyond the 5 or 6 slot. If he's asked to play more than that it could be a problem for the Oilers. Along side his partner Strudwick big minutes of ice-time could be an issue. Vandermeer could prove me wrong though. I don't think Strudwick will.

Overall the Oilers have a strong case for a good blueline. Their top four (especially with Souray) is as good as many. It's more offense than defense, but all four aren't the worst defenders by any means and Smid is a key player there.

Let's look quickly at the other teams in the Northwest to see where they rank. (I'm not a big stats guy so this is a pretty rough look and should be in no way taken as more than my opinion).

Calgary:

Mark Giordano, Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regeher, Ian White, Corey Sarich, Steve Staios, Adam Pardy.

Despite the fact that the Flames came off poorly from free agency, the Flames have seven viable options on their blueline. Whether they start the year with all seven remains to be seen and with the Flames as close as they are to the cap, one of these players will likely go. One would think Calgary will try to make room to get Ian White under contract which at this point he isn't. That won't be easy considering White will be due a large raise over last years $800,000 salary. (13 goals and 38 points from the blueline will do that). Keeping him means likely moving another defenceman because the Flames are weak at forward depth.

Giordano, Bouwmeester, and White are all offensive threats. Bouwmeester has to be considered a huge disappointment having his worst NHL season to date along side his most expensive one, but the odds he'll be that poor offensively again in 2010 are slim. Regeher, Pardy and Staios are more your defensive guys, but Staios as Oilers fans know is providing less and less value vs what he brought teams in years past.

To me, Calgary still has a strong blueline. Much stronger than the Oilers if you consider the "superstar" factor associated with Bouwmeester and Regehr. I think Bouwmeester, who can still be played in any situation, will need a bounce back year though to keep that status and if one of the big names is traded, the Flames blueline is much weaker since losing Phaneuf and whomever else might go.

Colorado:

Scott Hannan, Kyle Quincey, John-Michael Liles, Adam Foote, Kyle Cumiskey, Ryan Wilson

Colorado's blue is much less proven. Adam Foote is a soldier, Liles is a good but overpaid offensive threat and Quincey had a breakout year. Beyond that, one has to think that defence will be an issue for the Avs this coming season. It's somewhat well rounded, but still contains a lot of question marks.

While Ryan Wilson came in a showed he had the chops to play in the NHL and Quincey was much better than people had expected and played a more prominant role, Foote is like the Staios of Calgary and on his way down in terms of effectiveness. Hannan and Liles are both on trade watch in Colorado.

There are no real star threats on defense with the Avs. No defencemen that an opposing team really needs to watch out for and no offensive threats so big that a team is at a disadvantage while they are on the ice. Quincey and Liles might be close, but no more than Gilbert or Whiteny who I'd give the edge to.

Vancouver:

Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Shane O'Brien, Alex Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, Andrew Alberts.

The Canucks became an offensive threat overnight. They were already pretty good, but one would have to classify them now as scary. Adding Ballard and Hamhuis did wonders for their perception around the NHL, but with about $25 million tied up in 8 defencemen, the Canucks will have to move someone. Popular belief is that the someone is either Kevin Bieksa or Sami Salo.

Salo has major injury concerns and like Souray from the Oilers is somone few teams might be willing to gamble with. Salo is a less expensive option than Souray so he has that going for him, but Bieksa might be the player that gets the most value in return for the Canucks.

That still leaves them with at least four 20-40 point defencemen, some poop disturbers and some strong defensively minded players. Outside of Hamhuis, the Canucks are more offense than defence, but they are extremely strong. Easily the best blueline in the Northwest division.


Minnesota Wild

Marek Zidlicki, Brent Burns, Nick Schultz, Cam Barker, Greg Zanon, Nate Prosser

Minnesota's top 4 could be a sleeper pick on defence. Zidlicki has proven his worth and Brent Burns is somewhat of an inigma. Burns had one great season, but injury seems to have hurt his progress and he hasn't been quite the same since his one 43 point season in 2007/2008.

Schultz and Barker are average to better than average, but I'm of the opinion Barker benefited from playing with the Blackhawks and his production in Minnesota is more reflective of his true value. He's still a pretty strong player with upside at a young age.

Zidlicky seems to only real comparison defencemen with the upside of the Gilbert's, Whitney's and Souray's of the Oilers. He hasn't reached the same offensive heights as any of them though. It seems the peak of each Oilers player is higher than any on the Minnesota blue.

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In terms of where the Oilers sit, I'd put their blueline at the #3 spot of 5 in the Northwest. I think however if Gilbert and Whitney click and Foster stays healthy, they could be #2. But, this is the area I consider the strongest for the Oilers.

If I rank them 3 out of 5 and that's their strength, it tells me perhaps I don't want to get too carried away. That would be good for about 18th to 22nd in the NHL if that trend throughout the other divisions continues.

2 comments:

Who plays on the PK? Forwards & DMen?

Anonymous
July 11, 2010 at 4:04 PM comment-delete

@ Anonymous?

For whom? The Oilers? or in gereral terms?

If the Oilers, they still lack a couple strong pk units. That is one the question marks at defence.

For the Oilers as is Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney played the most of any defencemen. Whitney at 3:01 per game and Gilbert at 2:39 per game. They led the team there.

At forward Edmonton loses something not bringing back Pisani, but Fraser can kill (5th on the team in Chicago amongst forwards) as can Horcoff, Cogliano and Penner. I would also guess Eberle with his hockey sense might get a shot as will MPS with his start and stop speed.

Foster wasn't relied upon to but Vandermeer spent about 2:17 game doing it, which is pretty good.

The Oilers could definitely use at least one PK machine otherwise they'll be doing well to rank in the middle of the NHL.

July 11, 2010 at 5:00 PM comment-delete

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