Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Oilers in a Post-Gilbert Era

A.M.K. is a smart guy and a deadly-serious Edmonton Oilers fan. He reflects on their 2012 lineup and sketches out the team's future.

On trading away Tom Gilbert for Nick Schultz

There seems to be mostly negative evaluation of Tambellini and friends on the deadline day trade that happened like a car crash in the middle of nowhere. At this point I have not studied Schultz' game enough to offer a particularly intelligent opinion of him, but overall I agree with most of the comments infiltrating the blogosphere in that this trade seems to be a loss for Edmonton. That being said, I don't hate it.

Tom Gilbert / Nick Schultz
The trade can be considered a loss for various reasons. On the surface, Gilbert is one of the Oilers' top point-producing defenseman, and even though I wouldn't label him an offensive defenseman as many people do, he definitely has offensive ability. Offensive ability on a team whose defensive severely lacks such a thing. Minus one on the trade here.

Gilbert has averaged more ice time than anyone else on the squad in the past several years, meaning that he can be counted on to log a lot of minutes. He has logged these minutes sporting a much better plus/minus than the overall team, and he usually faces tough competition. His zone starts are not dominate in either way. Schultz on the other hand does not log as many minutes as Gilbert, but he does log over 20. I haven't seen anyone mention this yet, but perhaps if Schultz were on the Oilers over the past few years and Gilbert on the Wild, their minutes would be reversed. Furthermore, there is a difference between eating up a lot of minutes and being effective and eating up a lot of minutes and screwing up. Normally you'd think that if you eat up minutes you are entrusted to do so, meaning you don't make a lot of mistakes. This is the Oilers we're talking about though, and part of the reason Gilbert has been a minutes-eater has been because they don't really have anyone else. That being said, Gilbert is effective in almost every situation and dependable.

Schultz is counted on for even strength and penalty kill minutes and is similarly dependable in all the situations in which he is asked to play. On the surface this looks like an immediate loss--two guys, not prone to errors, who give you what you want in the situations they are asked to play, except one can play on the power play and add points.

A digression on powerplay defencemen

I would argue that Gilbert is the fourth-best PP defender on the Oilers at this point, behind Whitney, Potter and Petry. Actually I like Potter better on the first unit at this point--he seems to be a bit quicker with the pass and less prone to letting the puck hop over his stick and generally better at keeping the puck in--but neither are ideal guys if there is a breakout by the other team's PK. Whitney is immobile and Potter is terrible at defending 2-1 rushes. That being said, I still don't think Gilbert is needed for the PP on this team right now, seeing as they only run one defender (usually) on it. Even with injuries, I see the Oilers either adding a #5 guy or a top pairing guy before next season who can play on the PP. So even though Gilbert can be used on the PP, he doesn't need to be, and is not a better option than we already have. Redundancy is the issue here.

So why would we want to add Schultz instead of Gilbert?

Nick Schultz getting tough.
It has to do with the direction management wants the D to go in. I half like this decision because I think the Oilers are too soft on D right now. Gilbert is good positionally and a good defender but I don't think he is particularly scary or tough to play against. I think only Smid is tough and good positionally (Suttion just tough), and from what I hear about Schultz, his defensive positioning is even more sound than Gilbert's and he is harder to play against. He has sound positioning with his angles in the defensive zone and he is more likely to rough you up a bit if you cross him.

How it affects the rest of the team

I half don't like this decision because I'm worried that a tougher D means that they are not as concerned now about adding a tough top-6 left winger. I don't not think Pajaarvi cuts it right now. He might later, but he doesn't now. Ideally we add a tough first line left-winger via free agency (I can't see how they'd manage this) or we draft Forsberg and hope he's tough and is skilled enough to play on the top line. Penner again? He must be cheap right now. I will grudingly accept another year where no one quite fits the bill, but by 2013's camp we need someone ready to step into this position and fly with it. The other thing that I can see happening is drafting Grig as the 2nd line centre and trading Gagner and a couple prospects that aren't looking like great fits (plus Peckham and/or a pick) in exchange for a #1 left winger. This is probably the most plausible option and the most immediately effective one, which hurts me to write because I like Gagner. Ideally though he puts on a good show the last twenty games enough to have high value and it's a charade of talent so the Oil get top dollar for him.

What I think the defensive move boils down to, as has been mentioned, is a huge vote of confidence for Petry and a prayer that Whitney regains form. I like part one but am pessimistic with part two. Ideally I am wrong and Whitney regains form and Petry is what he looks like--if Petry keeps improving and Whitney comes back (the real Whitney) we could have a decent top pairing with a really good shut down pairing in Smid and Schultz. Or we could have Petry/Smid and Whitney/Schultz if Whitney isn't 100%, which is a more likely conclusion in my opinion. Not terrible, but not great, and certainly not elite.

High hopes for Jeff Petry.
It would be nice if the Oil pick up a top pairing defensive, get rid of Whitney (again, I am pessimistic) and either pick up a young up-and-coming defenseman as guy #5 or pray that Fedun recovers 100% and turns out quickly. I like Fedun more for next year than any other prospect stepping in at this point, even with his injury. Sutton and Potter can be 6/7. If you are counting on Fedun as #5 instead of first call up though, any injuries come to our top 5 we are screwed. Give me a young Leafs defenseman please; they have plenty still, even with Aulie gone. Has the ship sailed on Schenn?

What should happen in the next six months?

Ideally, in my head, some variation of this:

- draft Grigorenko at #2 overall (and stop winning games already goddamnit)
- or, win the lottery and grab Yakupov as our #1 LW; it will mean Gagner is 2C, Horcoff 3C and Belanger 4C, or Lander 3C/Horcoff 4C, and although all those people can probably handle those assignments, injuries = we're screwed because no one can move up in the depth chart effectively and not only that I don't think those players will excel in higher positions as much as if they were dropped down a peg with a big strong talented 2C

- trade Gagner, Whitney and Peckham for a #1 left winger to play with RNH and Eberle. Throw in Martindale and a pick if they want them.

- or, just sign one via UFA and not give up anyone; it could happen, right?

- Sign a UFA top pairing defender (or trade for one) to play with Petry/Smid/Schultz
- Sign a #5 defender as insurance in case Fedun doesn't pan out
- Get rid of other excess for draft picks or prospects

There, wasn't that fun? If no one wants Belanger/he greatly improves his game over the last regular season games, I would be okay with keeping him as 4C and leaving Lander down for another year. 2013 Lander can come up for 3C and Horcoff down to 4 if need be, or deadline deal Belanger next year and have Lander step up then. Perhaps Vandevelde can step in too if need be, people in OKC seem to like him as a 4C guy and he didn't look bad in his call-up last year.

Where does this leave next year's lines?

I'm glad you asked.

Trade guy - RNH - Eberle
Hall - Grig - Hemsky
Smyth - Horcoff - Omark
Harty - Belanger - Jones
Petrell, Eager

UFA - Petry
Smid - Schultz
Trade/Fedun - Sutton

OR, if we get lucky and win the lottery, how's this:

Yakupov - RNH - Eberle
Hall - Gagner - Hemsky
Harty - Horcoff - Omark
Smyth - Belanger - Jones
Petrell, Eager

UFA - Petry
Smid - Schultz
Fedun - Sutton

And lastly, option #3 in my head, which is what I actually think might be most doable:

Hall - RNH - Eberle
Who will it be?
Pajaarvi - Grig - Hemsky
Harty - Gagner - Omark
Smyth - Horcoff - Jones
Petrell, Eager

UFA - Petry
Smid - Schultz
Fedun - Sutton

A.M.K. was born sometime between the Gretzky trade and the Oilers' last Stanley Cup. He's not much of a sports fan, but he's a huge Oilers fan and a dedicated writer. He probably won't bother watching any playoff games this year.

[Images grabbed from Copper & Blue, The Edmonton Journal,, and]

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