Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Two Plus One Better Equal Three

Chopping them down one by one. Over the last few days several players have been sent packing and the Oilers roster now sits at 26 with three guys on injured reserve. There's some noise going around about the Oilers needing to trim salary for the purposes of the salary cap, but that isn't really the case since they can exceed the cap this year by the amount of bonus money due to their rookies (Gags and Cogs). This isn't an especially prudent move given the possible stagnation of the cap, but it does give them some flexibility to start the year. They can always move some salary out down the line.

Anyway, the cuts. In the news release the Oilers mentioned that their roster went from 32 to 27 which means that both Toni Rajala and Kurtis Mucha have been sent back to their junior teams. As far as I know Mucha has not been given a contract. Jordan Eberle is going back to junior as well. This is the right call. Eberle had my perfect camp this year in that everyone seemed impressed with him, but he didn't make his shots and "force the Oilers hand." This is a sad day for a team like the Colorado Avalanche who are keeping not only Matt Duchene but also another 18-year old draft pick in Ryan O'Reilly. That's just not good long-term thinking. Three years from now, when these guys are 21, three years from UFA and looking for raises they're going to be kicking themselves. I guess it's the price you pay for selling hope.

Three more players were sent to the AHL in Kip Brennan, Taylor Chorney and Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk's demotion here merely meets expectations, so there's nothing for him to be excited about. Brennan and Chorney, however, have both had fantastic camps. For Taylor Chorney it's a nice vote of confidence from the new coaching staff. We've seen several players move up and down the depth chart so Chorney had to be at least a bit worried that his spot might go to someone else. It didn't. I'm sure it still stings to get cut, but he can be proud of his work. Brennan, meanwhile, has showed enough that we could get the call if one of the pugilists goes down with injury. That's got to be satisfying.

The final cut on Monday was Rob Schremp who, this morning, was picked up by the New York Islanders. It's surprising to me that a guy like Ryan Potulny sneaks through while Rob Schremp gets picked up. Just another reminder that, even four or five years down the road, draft pedigree still matters. Nonetheless, this is great for Schremp. He's going to get a chance to play in an offensive role, probably some time on the PP and it's all right close to his hometown of Buffalo NY. Good for him.

Further news this morning includes Liam Reddox on his way to the waiver wire. There are always mixed feelings when this kind of news comes out. I like Powder and hope that he stays with the organization but it's obviously preferable for him to move somewhere else and play in the NHL. What sucks for him is the "re-entry waivers" stipulation which may serve to keep him in the minors all year. That's a rule that needs to be changed.

So that leaves us with 26 players. Peckham, Pisani and Pouliot are all injured at the moment so we'll see what happens with them. Peckham will surely be sent down once he gets healthy. If the other two get healthy and no one else gets injured, there will still need to be two more cuts. It could certainly be an interesting start to the season. Looking at the practice lines the Oilers under Quinn are going in a different direction. When you don't match lines, there's no point in creating "checking" lines and "soft minute" lines and "power v. power" lines. It shows in what the Oilers have going on at practice: two players plus a rubbydub and if the rubbydub turns into a player, so much the better.

Line One
The Players - Shawn Horcoff (C), Ales Hemsky (RW)
The Rubbydub - J.F. Jacques (LW)

As Tyler Dellow has pointed out, J.F. Jacques is about to set records. The Wayne Gretzky of rubbydubs is one of the big winners at this year's camp. The coach sees something in him and that's got to feel good. And you know what, these guys might actually make some hay. Unless the other coaches are matching lines, these three should get some good opportunities at EV. Horc and Hemmer have been playing together for long enough that they could probably create offence on their own. All Gretz needs to do is bang in the corners and crash the net.

Line Two
The Players - Patrick O'Sullivan (LW), Mike Comrie (C)
The Rubbydub - Ryan Stone (RW)

Here's a line that worked in the preseason. I said myself a few times that I thought they might try it on opening night and here it is. These guys might struggle taking on tough competition but could also feast on some of the lesser lights. If they don't succeed, I doubt it will be because of Stone alone. More likely, it will be that the whole line is just in over their heads and needs more of a defensive presence. I can definitely see Fernando Pisani taking Stone's spot if he's an Oiler when he returns from injury.

Line Three
The Players - Dustin Penner (LW), Andrew Cogliano (RW)
The Rubbydub - Gilbert Brule (C)

Of all the rubbydubs I find this one the most offensive. Penner and Cogliano did show some things together so I like that pairing but I think Brule is a much inferior option to several of the other potentials uninjured on the roster, namely, Liam Reddox (who could take C or move to RW) and Robert Nilsson (who would play RW). Both of those players showed more in the AHL than Brule has and in the case of Nilsson bring a history of quite a bit of offence at the NHL level too. Given the fact that Brule is no defensive whiz it's astounding that he's even in the lineup. When Pouliot is ready to come back from injury hopefully that pushes Brule to the pressbox.

Line Four
The Players - Ethan Moreau (LW), Zack Stortini (RW)
The Rubbydub - Sam Gagner (C)

I'm pretty convinced that this is the way Pat Quinn sees this line. Sam Gagner has not performed particularly well through the preseason and if it weren't for his "golden boy" status may have ended up in the same boat as Robert Nilsson. Nonetheless, this line has some potential. For all of his flaws, Ethan Moreau is a pretty good shooter. Over his career Moreau has shot 10.2% and the vast majority of his shots have come at EV. Further, this line will be doing a lot more dump-and-chase than Gagner is probably used to. It should help him break some of his bad habits at the bluelines. If Gagner realizes what this line needs to do to be successful (some dump-and-chase to the corners for his big wingers which could open up room for more occassional moves at the blueline which may lead to a shot for himself or a dish to, more frequently, Moreau or a trailing D as Stortini crashes the net) this line could really work out well. I think it will really help Gagner to develop his game.

The extras so far are Nilsson and MacIntyre. We'll see what happens with them once the other forwards come off of injured reserve. This system of limited line matching should be interesting. Last season the Oilers were "chasing" the strategy of the other team for too often. Hopefully with the Oilers pressing their own lines, the other team will be the one forced to adjust and the Oilers can create an identity for themselves. In order for it to work though two players plus one rubbydub needs to equal three effective players.


Black Dog said...

Pisani on long term injury reserve, this might be it.

As twisted as it sounds I'd prefer this ending to seeing him in another uniform. Sad, huh? But for once to have a player of note play his entire career as an Oiler.

I don't know Scott other than the whole PK, backchecking, cover your man, win faceoff thing, I like the look of this lineup..


Scott Reynolds said...

I know it feels like Fernando has been here forever but the man hasn't even earned his NHL pension yet. Calling him a "player of note" would be a big stretch if it weren't for 2006.

As for the system, I'm actually pretty excited to see how it goes since it's really quite different from MacT's line matching. It will be fun to see what works and what doesn't whether they make the playoffs or not. And really, it seems like it should be a win-win in that either the team will make the playoffs or they'll miss and we'll have a fun political blame-game over the summer.