Can the Oilers not panic, but also improve this team?

This current road trip and to date the Oilers season has a lot of fans worried. Expectations were that Edmonton would at least be competing for a playoff spot and playing meaningful games in April and May. The way the season has progressed has the appearance that may not happen -- yet again.

Fans and media suggest the Oilers aren't gritty enough, don't have the will and desire, lack experience, are too young, need a better blue-line... you name it and people have suggested these are the problems. All of them may be right.

An area Edmonton wasn't supposed to be lacking in was skill and goal scoring, but they've struggled their too and failed to get shots on the opposing goalies net. Not a good sign.

So, how does GM Steve Tambellini improve this club now, but not panic in the process. Should Tambellini look to make trades, I'm sure many a General Manager would take his calls, but they'd all be asking for the same returns. Hall, Eberle, Yakupov, RNH, Justin Schultz and Klefbom, are likely not going anywhere.

The reality is, Edmonton's best players are young. They're extremely skilled, but they lack the experience and ability on many nights to compete with talent at a level of their opposition in the NHL. They may be able to keep up in terms of pure skill; but get pushed around, out-chanced and often outplayed a lot of the time. That's going to happen with a team this young. A team who's highest on-ice time players are all under 23 years old.

The real problem is that these skilled players need a mix of veteran talent to play with. To have RNH, Eberle and Hall on the ice together consistently looks great on paper, but in reality can be a dangerous game defensively. The Oilers veterans are older, coming to the end of their careers and play on the bottom-six lines where they might have a good shift or two, but don't help the young guys when they make mistakes.

That is the downside to consistently drafting in the top three spots in the draft. You can't not play the kids, but the kids aren't always ready.

Here's a few cast members that could play with these young guys and may be available in the NHL right now.

Ryane Clowe 

Clowe is a bonafide top six forward. He plays big, he can score and he's on a team right now rumored to be heavily involved in the trade market.

Some people may see this and say, "no way, the Sharks won't trade Clowe". But the Sharks do make big trades including Heatley for Havlat, Burns for Setoguchi and so forth. They aren't afraid to make a trade, even if it means they lose it long-term.

Clowe for Hemsky plus a pick? Clowe is a free agent at the end of the season, so that makes his value a bit lower and also a slight risk for Edmonton. Clowe has had a bad year offensively with only six assists and no goals in twenty games, but he's consistently a close to or over twenty goal fifty point player. He's the type of grit Edmonton needs and a change of scenery could be good for him.

Imagine Clowe out there with Yakupov (who would get to move back to RW) and Gagner? That could be a pretty good combination of grit, skill and determination.

John-Michael Liles

He's an experience d-man and just isn't getting the time in Toronto who may look to move him for an asset. I don't think the return would need to be significant and Edmonton shouldn't be looking to collect more draft picks, but move some of what they have for help that can improve this team right now.

Liles has one goal and five assists in fifteen games with the Leafs and he's locked in at a decent and not damaging contract for three more seasons after this one at $3.875 million. By today's NHL standards that's a going rate for a 3rd or 4th pairing guy.

The trick is making sure that Liles is a 3rd or 4th pairing blue-liner and an upgrade over Ryan Whitney who is on his last year at $4 million per.

Paul Stastny

He's a big cap hit and having somewhat of a down year, but he's a perfect second to first line center that can exchange ice time with a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. If RNH is hurting or struggling the two can be interchanged easily to keep good skill on both lines.

Stastny has been rumored to be on the market - although I doubt there is a ton a validity to that - and with Colorado now having to pay Ryan O'Reilly big bucks on a matched offer sheet, could be on the move if the Avs can pick up a couple assets in return.

I'm not an advocate of moving Sam Gagner as I believe he's finally coming into his own in the NHL, but if you're going to, and the Oilers always seem to be rumored to, Edmonton needs to maintain a strong one-two punch and a bonafide center coming back is an absolute must.

Wayne Simmonds

I know, I know... I wouldn't move him either, but the Flyers may not have a choice. Their cap situation is going to cause them huge problems in the next couple of years. I would have said Jakub Voracek would have been the obvious move, but not after the year he's putting together. I don't see Voracek getting traded and the Flyers can't move Hartnell or Briere without their ok.

Yes, Gagne, Fedotenko and Jody Shelley come off the books, but that's not going to do much to help the Flyers long term who may be close to or over the new cap that kicks in next season. Simmonds has a new contract worth almost $4 million per starting next season and The Flyers could use picks, Edmonton can spare them. Would a package of Paajarvi, Marincin, 1st round pick and conditional 3rd rounder could get it done?

Edmonton could move an Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth to clear space to another team or on waivers (in Smyth's case) to make room for another right winger and I would do that if I'm the Oilers GM to get a guy like Simmonds who has skill and plays with the grit Edmonton is missing.

These guys are hard to get from other teams and despite the Flyers cap trouble, won't let him leave without a good to great return. He's young enough and locked up long term too so any team receiving him knows what they're getting for a long time.

If I had my wish, Edmonton's team would look something like:

Hall / Eberle / RNH

J. Schultz / N. Schultz


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Roman Hamrlik on Waivers. Should Oilers Consider It?

Roman Hamrlik was placed on waivers today by the Washington Capitals. A healthy scratch more than not this season, Hamrlik has played in only four games, has one assist and is a plus-minus -1.

Hamrlik is no stranger to the Oilers, having played here three seasons starting in '97 and was a respectable blue-liner for the club. That said he's 38 now and definitely on the down-side of his career. He's also been the topic of some off-ice news when he made public comments about the NHLPA and wanting to get back to playing while the players were sitting out. He may have been a bit of an outsider on his own team thanks to those comments.

Should Edmonton consider Hamrlik as an option? He is in the final year of a $3.5 million dollar per year contract. Pro-rated over the next couple months, it's a small price to pay doesn't really hurt the Oilers cap and while older, might be an improvement over a Cory Potter or Theo Peckham.

The question is, is Hamrlik a better option than Ryan Whitney?

It appears as though Whitney is being shopped by Edmonton. If so, he might only get the Oilers a 3rd round pick. So essentially, one would be trading Whitney for a 3rd, Hamrlik and a bit of cap space. The age difference is a factor, but apparently so is Whitney's ability to keep up with the speed of today's NHL and the requests being made by current Oilers coaching staff.

Or, do you demote a Theo Peckham and keep Whitney if you choose to, adding Hamrlik to your defence corp which would the consist of N. Schultz, J. Schultz, Smid, Petry, Potter and Fistric? Potter and Fistric are both out of the line-up with injuries.

Hamrlik is a bit long in the tooth, but could be a stability that Edmonton needs while not sure what to do with Whitney and nursing a few injuries. He's a big body, not easily pushed around and on the short-term, which his contract is, couldn't be worse than a Cam Barker or Kurtis Foster, which the Oilers have unsuccessfully tried to implement into their roster.

His ticket may scare a few teams off, but who knows. Hamrlik might be worth one last look.


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Oilers Add Sorely Needed Grit in Mike Brown Trade

It was pretty obvious that Edmonton was lacking heart in their losses to St. Louis and Minnesota. Only four times in franchise history did the Oilers fail to register a shot on net in a period of play. Sundays loss to the Wild made for five.

For most teams, when they lack that level of compete, teams call upon that one player who will make an attempt to jump start play with a big hit, a fight or a gritty shift. Edmonton didn't have that player, so they took steps to rectify the situation.

Enter Mike Brown, a character player for the Leafs who was on the wrong end of a numbers game. Toronto had an over abundance of tough guys, so Brown, who is third in the NHL in penalty minutes and not shy about dropping the mitts with anyone, became an Oiler for a conditional fourth round draft pick.

Leafs fans and players took to Twitter with a myriad of emotion. From disappointment that Brown was leaving to well wishes, it was clear the Leafs thought they were losing someone truly meaningful to their team. This is the type of player Edmonton needs and according to manager Steve Tambellini, someone Edmonton has had their eye on for a while.

Brown coming in creates a few questions on the current Oilers roster. Who goes down to make room for the grit? Paajarvi has had strong performances despite being a healthy scratch. His numbers and eligibility to go down to Oklahoma make him the odds on favorite. Petrell has had a rough go and while he's useful on the penalty kill, Brown is known widely for his ability to not only fight, but be reliable when a man down.

The question becomes, how willing will coach Ralph Krueger be to play him? Krueger has been reluctant to play toughness for the sake of playing a tough guy. Thankfully, and for Brown sake who has been a scratch in some of Toronto's games, Krueger was more upset in the Oilers last contest than at any other time in the season.

This may be the opportunity Mike Brown needs to make an impact and impact is exactly why Edmonton wanted him in the first place.


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Oil vs The Wild

Going In

Tonight at 6pm, the Oilers take on the Wild in what will be deemed a must win. Really, isn't every game on this road trip a must win? Perhaps not, but while the Oilers sit outside the cut-line looking in, all of these games are of critical importance if Edmonton wants not to slip too far away from recovery. The Oilers have three of a possible six points on this road trip. Five of eight is much much better than three of eight points.

Who's In and Who's Out?

Taylor Hall will not play. As Krueger explains it, "Taylor's still feeling a strain in his leg that we want to err on the cautious side of with this type of injury. It's day-to-day where we expect him back really soon."

As a result, the top lines for Edmonton will see the Nuge with Hemsky and Yakupov, while Gagner will centre Eberle and Paajarvi. Paajarvi is rested and looking to get into a more offensive role with Edmonton. I see him having a big game and being a force with his speed all night.

Potter and Fistric still look to be out so Ryan Whitney will get a chance to reprise his strong performance against St. Louis and for a regular top minutes man in Nick Schultz, this will be the first time the Oilers assistant captain returns to Minnesota to play his former team. He's looking forward to it. Schultz spent ten years with the Wild and still leads them in all times games played.

Dubnyk will get the start as will Backstrom for the Wild. If Edmonton hopes to beat Minnesota, they're going to need to get more shots to the net. Their display against St. Louis was a big step down from their road win in Dallas and the Oilers will need to return to that type of play to have any success against a team that traditionally has Edmonton's number. Minnesota is 6-3-1 in their last ten, so they host the Oil as the hotter of the two teams.

Big Game Players

I have my eyes on three Oilers tonight.

First is Jordan Eberle. He's been quiet in the last few and hasn't had much chemistry with his usual mates. He needs a jump-start and perhaps moving down a line and playing with Gagner and Paajarvi might be good for him. He needs to shoot more and not every play needs to be a TSN highlight of the night. If he can keep himself playing a simple game, he should have a good outing.

As mentioned before, I see Paajarvi playing well. He'll get good linemates five-on-five and play some short-handed minutes.

I also see Yakupov trying to do the most with his first line time promotion. He wants to shoot and if he's playing with Hemsky and Nugent-Hopkins, two pass first type players, he's likely got the green light to shoot and shoot often.

On Deck

If Edmonton can come out of Minnesota with a win, they get the Blue Jackets next in a game they should win. Most people didn't give the Oilers a chance to make nine or ten points on this nine-game road trip. If they can get two tonight, that gives them seven. A win against Columbus would put them at nine and make the rest of the road trip points that should move them up the standings.


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