Edmonton - June 16, 2014 - Now that the 2013-14 NHL season is officially over and the Champions are crowned (Congratulations Kings fans!) it is time for the gritty business of improving the Oilers to get underway. There is lots of room for improvement, and some change has already begun.
The Edmonton Oilers made a change to their coaching staff earlier this week; they shifted Kelly Buchberger to a position in Player Development, and hired Craig Ramsay as their new Assistant Coach. This is a big move for Edmonton, as the Oilers have been remiss to let go/replace any of their Assistant Coaches, despite going through multiple Head Coaching changes in the past couple seasons.
For Oiler fans this is a good sign, it means that Eakins is being trusted to bring in guys on the bench he feels will help the team best. It is also a great move to get Ramsay, a former Head Coach, and Assistant Coach with Tampa Bay when they won the Stanley Cup. Ramsay brings a fresh voice to the team, and could help reinvigorate the power play and defensive group, the areas where he will focus his efforts.
So what does the rest of the summer hold? The moves can't stop here, there is massive room for improvement. Here’s six things that may happen between now and training camp.
1. The Oilers draft Leon Draisaitl
Heading into the NHL Entry Draft there are four guys that could have their name called at Number One overall by the Florida Panthers, Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett or Leon Draisaitl. The Panthers and Sabres will take two of these young men, leaving the Oilers to choose between the remaining two.
Odds are it will come down to Draisaitl and one other, and when it does, Craig Mactavish will choose size down the middle. When you have Nuge as your number one centre, you have to back him up with size. Enter Leon Draisaitl.
Draisaitl is a German born player who put up 105 points in 64 games for the Prince Alberta Raiders of the WHL this season. He uses size, playmaking and vision to slow down the pace of the game and make smart and effective plays. His ability to control the puck down low is a missing piece for the Oilers. He wants to improve defensively, and he should have time to do so. The Oilers simply won’t pass up a 6’1 200 lb. centre with skill.
2. The Oilers won’t trade Sam Gagner for pennies on the dollar.
Sam Gagner has worn out his welcome in Edmonton. After signing a three year deal last summer, Gagner had one of his worst seasons to date. A broken jaw slowed him down at the start of the season and he would never really recover. Night in and night out he was exposed defensively, and he didn’t put up the numbers offensively to make up for it.
He became a whipping boy for his inability to make smart plays defensively, and his inability to show any improvement in this area means he is on the way out.
Unfortunately for Edmonton his value has never been lower. This low value may be the only reason he doesn’t get traded this offseason. He has a NTC that kicks in this summer. If Mact was to make a deal before that NTC kicks in, he would be trading Gagner for nothing. The smart move is to hold onto Gagner, shift him to RW, bring in a centre through trade or free agency, and pray that the lower responsibility allows Gagner to have a breakout season offensively.
3. The Oilers Trade one of Marincin or Klefbom.
The Oilers are in a strange position right now. They have a plethora of youth on defense that is currently working their way into the NHL. Marincin, Nurse, Klefbom, Schultz, Gernat, Simpson. The list is quite large, and with a severe lack of depth down the middle, one or more of these young men will be involved in a deal to improve the top 6.
The most likely trade involves Klefbom or Marincin. These are the two of the group that would likely be the most sought after. Alone, neither player brings in a top 6 player, but packaged together with another asset they most certainly do. Both these young men showed well in limited NHL action this past season (especially Marincin), and teams will have taken notice.
The smarter move, in my opinion, is trading away Justin Schultz who is a RFA and may be looking for big dollars. Schultz has offensive tools there is no doubt about that, but he has failed to establish any sense of defensive awareness. He bleeds opportunities and makes poor decisions in his own end of the ice, and has shown little improvement in this area of his game.
Regardless, an interesting name that immediately makes this team better is Evander Kane. On the hot seat in Winnipeg due to apparent attitude issues it would be a risky add. The last thing this team needs is a poor attitude. But sometimes trades wake up young cocky players and make them come to terms with maturity. Just ask Tyler Seguin and the Dallas Stars.
Due to the apparent severance of his relationship with the Jets, Kane could be a real steal right now. Last season Kane scored 19 goals and 41 points in 63 games a CF% of 51.5% and a CF% Rel of +3.1%. He is a big body, with room to grow physically and has the potential to become a premier power forward. If he is available, he will be costly to acquire, but he may be worth the cost.
4. The Oilers sign Nikolai Kulemin and Daniel Winnik.
Nikolai Kulemin is a 27 year old LW from Russia who played with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. He had a very disappointing year in terms of production and possession, but he was playing heavy defensive zone starts.
He scored just 20 points in 70 games, had a CF% of 41.3%, a CF% Rel of -2.0%, and a ZS% of 33.9%. He was part of a line that was consistently thrown on the ice for defensive zone draws, and his numbers were clearly affected by it. He is not an offensive stalwart, but he kills penalties and he has some skill offensively. He would be brought in as a 3LW for the Oilers and a penalty killer.
Another positive of bringing Kulemin is that he can be a mentor to fellow Russian born player Nail Yakupov. Yakupov struggled last season, and communication may have been part of the problem, bringing in Kulemin could help bridge the gap.
Daniel Winnik would be another solid pickup for Edmonton. Winnik is a 29 year old centre who spent last season with the Anaheim Ducks. In 76 games he scored 30 points, had a CF% of 48.0%, a CF% Rel of -2.8%, and a ZS% of 48.3%. He was used primarily as part of a shutdown role for Anaheim with most of his zone starts coming in the defensive end.
His numbers are not outstanding, especially playing on Anaheim a very good team this past season. Winnik kills penalties, and is a solid option for 3rd line centre. He is aggressive, and at 6’2 and 210 lbs. would bring an element to the Oilers forward group is missing.
5. The Oilers sign two of Ron Hainsey, Anton Stralman, Mark Fayne or Nikita Nikitin.
The Oilers need defenseman at the NHL level. They have a group of young players that are rising through the ranks, but they are still a couple seasons away. Last year the defensive depth was handled poorly. Mark Fraser, Denis Grebeshkov and Anton Belov all failed as Oilers (though Belov didn’t seem to get a chance). This off-season Mact needs to make some smarter bets.
These four players are all solid puck possession defenders, and would come cheaper than the big names on the market such as Matt Niskanen. Mact is not going to land Niskanen without a significant overpay, so the smart play is to focus free agent dollars on defenders who can play solid minutes and take some pressure off the defensive core as a whole.
Spreading the defensive responsibilities throughout the entire defense would be a smart move for the Oilers. They will be able to bring their young defenders along at a smarter pace, and would be adding experienced, effective defenders to the team who could serve as mentors.
Anton Stralman is having a great Playoffs for the Rangers, and as a result has likely priced himself out of Edmonton. Meanwhile Nikitin had a rough season for the Blue Jackets, and seemed to have lost the favor of the coaching staff.
The two that Edmonton should focus most heavily on are Ron Hainsey and Mark Fayne. Both players had great years this past season defensively. Neither is going to bring much offense, but if paired with a guy like Schultz (an offensive minded defenseman) it would allow Schultz to use his strengths to be more effective on the ice.
The nice thing about signing two of these players is that they aren’t likely to cost the moon. This will allow Edmonton to continue the search for a trading partner to bring in a 2C and a top 2 Defender.
6. The Oilers Trade/Sign a Second Line Centre
This move is maybe the most glaring and obvious need, although a top pairing defenseman is right up there as well. The fact of the matter is if the Oilers enter next season with Sam Gagner or Mark Arcobello as the second line centre, this team will struggle mightily. The plan should also not be to have Leon Draisaitl as the second line centre… That would be just as painful, and would probably destroy the confidence of the young man (something the Oilers must stop doing). So where does that leave us? It leaves us with a glaring hole at the second line centre position.
The Nuge is anchoring the first line, and he’s learning and growing his two-way play on the fly and he has had his struggles, but I believe he will come out on top of the challenge and become a great player who is capable in both ends of the ice. The second line has no such hope right now outside an incoming draft prospect who may turn into an exceptional centre in the NHL, but it certainly won’t be next season.
In other words, the solution must come from outside the organization. This may be through trade or it may be through free agency, but it needs to come from somewhere. The options in trade market that have been floated are Brayden Schenn, Ryan Kesler (never going to happen) and Mike Richards. In free agency the options open up a bit more if the Oilers are willing to open their wallets. Mikhail Grabovski, Dave Bolland, and Michael Handzus (please no, please please no) are three names standing out, but I am going to focus on Schenn and Grabovski.
If the Oilers and Flyers can work a deal that brings both Braydon Coburn and Brayden Schenn that would be a great move and would immediately improve the outlook on next season. Is that deal out there? I think it might be, the cost is what comes into play, and giving up the third overall pick would most certainly need to be in the equation. A steep price, but you don’t get value without giving value (unless you are named Dean Lombardi apparently).
The Problem with Schenn is that he may not be any improvement on Gagner in this role. He most certainly has more potential in my opinion, but potential and actual value is two different things. Last season in 82 games Schenn scored 20 goals and 41 points, had a CF% of 47.9% and a CF% Rel of -2.9% while playing far easier competition than Gagner was. Can he handle all that comes with being a second line centre in the Western Conference? Not yet, but he certainly has the potential. It’d be a risky move, but if the alternative is Gagner, it is a risk worth making. Schenn has more tenacity, and is 6’1 weighing in at 190 lbs. He has a bigger frame and relies more on physicality than Gagner. This makes him more valuable in that spot already in my eyes.
Mikhail Grabovski would be a fantastic addition in my opinion. He is a possession master, has offensive upside, and is apparently friends with Nikolai Kulemin. Last season Grabovski was a late signing by the Capitals and in 58 games he scored 13 goals and 35 points with a CF% of 51.0% and a CF% Rel of +4.0% while playing roughly the same zone starts and competition as Gagner. The value in Grabovski comes from his ability to tilt the ice into the offensive zone of the ice. If the puck is in the oppositions end more often than your end, well I think we can all agree that is a positive.
Grabovski is also more of a finisher than Gagner, and would be able to help the second unit power play, possibly becoming a setup man for our young Yakupov. He is not the big bruising centre that we all crave, but his ability to win the puck possession battle offsets this fact. He would be costly in free agency, and the Oilers being the Oilers would have to overpay. Coupled with the fact that he should be highly sought after it will take some great convincing by Mact and Co. to get him here. Perhaps they get Kulemin on board first and use that in to wrangle in Grabbo as well. If the Oilers came into next season with Grabbo as our second line centre, we are already looking better off.
There are options out there for this 2C spot. Bolland exists as an option though that injury history and price tag are damning. The move to improve will be costly, and the Oilers may fail to land any improvement outside the 3rd overall draft pick. This will be troubling, and will no doubt be impair any efforts for this team to improve next season.
The Oilers have lots of room to improve, bringing in Ramsay was a great first step. It signals to not only the team, but the fans as well that for the first time in years, actual changes are going to take place. There is a hope that this team will not only continue to improve from within, but with some tweaks to the roster can at the very least play some important games beyond December. Here’s Hoping.
This article uses information from extraskater.com and capgeek.com