Oilers would be foolish to not shakeup roster prior to the off-season
By Rob Soria
With the Edmonton Oilers sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference Standings, fans in Oil Country are losing their patience with GM Steve Tambellini and President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe. While this season is likely lost, Oilers management still has some work to do.
Edmonton - March 10, 2013 - With the Edmonton Oilers in the midst of what has now become a yearly tradition of plummeting down the Western Conference standings.
The vast majority of those in Oil Country are calling for the dismissal of one or all three of head coach Ralph Krueger, General Manager Steve Tambellini and President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe.
If the Oilers present free fall continues for much longer, they may get their wish on some of those fronts. The more likely scenario would seem to be the organization doing something in the coming off-season, should this year end up being another write-off.
Having said all that, this organization is more than capable of ridding themselves of some veteran players, in the here and now, that ultimately serve no purpose or are seemingly uninterested in being part of the solution.
That group of players would include Eric Belanger, Ben Eager, Ryan Smyth and Ryan Whitney.
Let's start with Belanger. In his ninety-nine games in an Oilers uniform, the well traveled former fourth round pick of the Los Angeles Kings, has put together the following stat line:
When one thinks back to the day Tambellini signed Belanger, the majority of fans were happy with the signing. Heck some felt he might even be capable of replacing Shawn Horcoff in the pecking order. Ninety-nine games into his three year/$5.25 million contract , one would have to say the thirty-five year old has been bust.
After having an absolutely dreadful opening year in Edmonton, where he not only struggled on the ice but was apparently a problem in the room, Belanger seemed to finally accept his role as this team's fourth line centre. Unfortunately for him, since being elevated up in the lineup due to Horcoff's injury, he has accomplished next to nothing and his on ice body language in recent games, is reminiscent of the guy that checked out during the 2011-2012 campaign.
While he has been as advertised in the faceoff dot and fairly good on the penalty kill, he brings nothing else to the table. With this team already featuring two smurfs in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner down the middle, having a third as your fourth line guy makes little to no sense. Add to that, the fact he doesn't seem to want to be here, logic would dictate he should be sent packing ASAP.
Some might ask, who would take him? My answer to that, any team needing a depth faceoff man for the playoffs. Will they get anything in return? Probably not but removing him from the equation, should be payment enough. Finding a guy to play fourth line centre for the remaining twenty plus games, should not be an issue. Worse case scenario, they could re-call Josh Green for the reminder of the year.
As for Ben Eager, he is what he is and after suffering a couple of concussions, that isn't a whole helluva lot. He has a skill set that this team desperately needs in their bottom six, physicality and speed, but seems less than engaged on many a night. While he may think he is more than a fourth line player, he is badly mistaken. What has Ben ever shown during his brief time in Edmonton that would suggest he is anything more than just that? Having trouble coming up with something?
Let's be honest here, if Eager was doing his job in any way, do you honestly think the Oilers make a move for Mike Brown? Like Eager, Brown is signed for another year but unlike the former first round pick, he understands exactly what is expected from him in his role and is willing to do it. Edmonton definitely needs to add size throughout their lineup and re-work their bottom six but have no need for two guys filling the same role.
Of the players listed above, Eager is the one guy they could have trouble finding a suitor for between now and the NHL Trade Deadline on April 3rd, due to his $1.2M salary for 2013-2014. If they can't move him now, so be it. He sticks around until the end of then season, at which time the organization can buy him out of his final year.
Which brings us to Smyth. Management made the massive blunder of re-signing him to begin with and muddied the issue further by handing him a two year extension. Leaving themselves with a massive problem on their hands. They do not want to "disrespect" one of the most beloved Oilers in franchise history but the guy simply can't play anymore. Plain and simple.
After his tremendous start to the 2011-2012 campaign, #94 has scored all of six goals since January 3rd, 2012: Which is a stretch of sixty seven games. If he can no longer chip in offensively, what is it he is exactly contributing?
Stats guys will tell you he still serves a purpose. I am all for stats but what purpose does he serve?. He is no longer a top six forward and on this team, he brings absolutely nothing to the table as a bottom six forward, that isn't already present. All he has managed to do over the last calender year, is take away valuable ice time from Magnus Paajarvi at the NHL level.
Outside of a handful of games, Smyth has been downright invisible all season and yet he continually finds himself in the lineup. In his defence, he has played out of position for stretches, which further solidifies my point. If he is so essential to the equation, why is he the one being moved? The answer is obvious but no one wants to say it too loudly.
Like Belanger, in the right situation and with the right players around him, Smyth could contribute something to a team making a playoff run. That's not the case in Edmonton. It's wonderful that the thirty-seven year old wanted to come back home to finish his career as an Oiler but unless he retires asap, he needs to be moved.
Bringing us to final name on the list, in Ryan Whitney. While he is nowhere near the same player Edmonton acquired from the Anaheim Ducks during the 2010 Trade Deadline, one has to wonder why he wasn't moved during the off season. It was clear when training camp opened, that Whitney wasn't in the Oilers plans. By anointing Nick Schultz as Justin Schultz partner before camp even started, the writing was on the wall for the former fifth overall selection.
It was a demotion Whitney likely didn't see coming and one he felt was unwarranted. Be that as it may, he has done himself no favours on the ice, as his play has ranged from average to awful during most of his seventeen appearances. It is clear he is unhappy and just as evident that he is no longer in management's plans moving forward.
So what's the hold up here? With his current level of play and injury history, any sort of return will be minimal, at best. Let him move on with his career and rid the dressing room of yet another bruised ego..
There is not a single reason that Tambellini or Lowe could give that would explain why at least three of those players would still be members of the Edmonton Oilers after the 2013 Trade Deadline. This has nothing to do with asset management and everything to do with building this team in a healthy and positive environment.
Outside of the possibility of acquiring a mid to late round pick for Whitney or Smyth, Edmonton will see absolutely nothing of use coming back their way. However, it will allow them to free up roster spots and salary cap space to try and find those missing pieces. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
With twenty-four games left in the season and the Oilers currently sitting in fifteenth place in the West, the playoffs are nothing more than a pipe dream. With that being the case, it is absolutely imperative for this organization to know what the likes of Paajarvi and Teemu Hartikainen are capable of come April 27th and where they fit into the equation moving forward.
Come 2013-2014 this team needs to not only compete for a playoff spot but likely find their way into the post-season to please the masses. In order to have any hope of accomplishing just that, they need to upgrade their roster and make a decision on some of their second tier prospects. The time to wait and see how things pan out has passed. It's now time to make some tough decisions.
Rob Soria is the Edmonton Oilers' correspondent for OurHometown.ca. Rob was born and raised in Edmonton and is the author of the Edmonton Oilers blog - OilDrop.ca. He has been a dedicated follower of the game and its history for years but his focus remains on his hometown Edmonton Oilers. If you have questions or wish to contact Rob, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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