Tuesday, July 5, 2011

On The Current Roster and Things to Come

This past weekend Steve Tambellini kicked off the second phase of the rebuild of the Edmonton Oilers. After blowing up the old roster, Oilers management made a commitment to rebuilding this franchise with an emphasis on the draft. But now after stockpiling a number of solid prospects who are beginning to show a great deal of promise, Tambellini has begun addressing team deficiencies by acquiring established NHL talent via trade and free agency.

With a young team short on leadership, Tambellini made a trade to bring back Ryan Smyth. With a group of centers having difficulty winning faceoffs, Tambellini signed Eric Belanger. With a roster lacking size and toughness, Tambellini signed Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk and traded for Andy Sutton. With a blue line looking for more help, Tambellini took a chance and signed a former 3rd overall pick in Cam Barker. Based on the flurry of activity over the weekend, it's clear that Oilers management is no longer satisfied with letting a young team sort things out themselves while remaining in lottery contention. The acquisition of a number of players specifically to address team shortcomings means that winning is now on management's mind.

Looking at the players currently under contract, the 23 man roster is starting to take shape. With today's signing of Theo Peckham to a 1 year extension, the Oilers now have 7 NHL-capable defensemen and the blue line may be set for the upcoming season:

Whitney, Gilbert, Smid, Barker, Sutton, Peckham, and Petry.

At forward the Oilers have a long list of players under contract and there will definitely be stiff competition at training camp for spots. These are the forwards who appeared in the NHL last season:

Smyth, Horcoff, Hemsky, Hall, Gagner, Brule, Belanger, Paajarvi, Jones, Eberle, Eager, Omark, Hartikainen, and Hordichuk.

With 14 forwards under contract, along with 7 defenseman, and a goaltending tandem of Khabibulin and Dubnyk, the Oilers would already be at the 23 man roster limit if the NHL season started tomorrow. In addition to this group, Cogliano is still yet to re-sign and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could very well make the roster out of camp. So clearly something has to give. From this list of players, Omark, Hartikainen, and Petry are still waiver exempt, meaning they would not be required to clear waivers for assignment to the AHL, which gives Tambellini some added flexibility. However, Omark has an out-clause in his contract that allows him to return to Europe this season if he so chooses. Omark was clearly unhappy last year when he was cut at training camp and may choose to head back to the KHL if he isn't playing for the Oilers in the NHL this October.

With the signing of Eric Belanger to a three year deal and the selection of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers are now a bit crowded down the middle. The most likely scenario would be for Tambellini to move a center for another NHL-ready defenseman. Trade candidates at this point probably include Andrew Cogliano, as he is yet to sign a new deal, and Gilbert Brule since he was already almost traded once this summer. However Brule is unlikely to yield a significant return in a trade based on his injury concerns, which turns the focus back to Cogliano, although Sam Gagner might also be available if the return is significant enough.

The current Oilers blue line is still a work in progress and hasn't gotten help as quickly as the forwards have. There are a number of promising blue line prospects in the system, including Martin Marincin, Colten Teubert, and now Oscar Klefbom, but they are all likely still a ways away from making an impact in the NHL. While the addition of Andy Sutton adds significant size and physicality, the addition of Cam Barker is still a question mark. Will the Oilers be getting the Cam Barker that scored 40 points in 68 games in 2008-2009 or will they be getting the Cam Barker that regressed and struggled these past 2 seasons? For the Oilers to start moving up in the standings they'll need to continue to improve their defense, and if the right deal comes along Tambellini likely won't hesitate to make it. If the Oilers are trying to model themselves after the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, they have their Kane and Toews in Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, but now it's time to find their Keith and Seabrook.

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